Believing Science

by Thomas G. Brown
At six, my son began his dinosaur phase.  Like many precocious youngsters, he had the multisyllabic names mastered, could cite the diet of the dinosaurs and in some cases knew the height and weight.   At a time when Jurassic Park was still on the drawing board,  my son lived and breathed dinosaurs.  Somewhere in our attic collection sits a set of prehistoric creatures fashioned in molded plastic — figures that my son never doubted were true representations of the original.
Long before computer aided reconstruction of skeletal remains became possible, artistic representation of scientific conjecture has been used to ignite the imagination of a public eager for scientific stories while unable (or unwilling) to grasp the methods used in the analysis.  And textbook editors have often found the artists’ depictions more compelling than the scientific results–the most enduring images of dinosaurs are not the fossils, bones and dating methods but the flesh and blood fiction of a Jurassic Park. And the enduring images of evolution are not the robustness of genetics and the amazing adaptation of species in response to environmental changes.   Instead,  the general public is treated to artistic representations of evolutionary ancestry that may, or may not, fit the latest genome research.
Good writing connects artistic expression and scientific practice in a particularly powerful way.  Writers of fiction not only clothe the science with a flesh and blood feel, but they humanize the scientists themselves, producing the most unlikely geek-heroes.   This is a time-honored genre,  and one which has often fueled young imaginations.  But the way in which science has been treated has changed in recent years.   While  the popular classics covered themes in which the science itself was fiction (whether Star Trek style teleportation or pre-1950’s space flight, the authors never claimed to be describing actual contemporary science),  the new fiction presents the science itself as real and current.   Additional characters and conflicts form the plot,  but references to real scientific experiments and actual research organizations are used to lend credibility to the story.
And they do.   Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons (prequel to The Da Vinci Code)  cites actual antimatter creation experiments at CERN in support of the plot.  “Pound for pound,”  the author expounds through his characters  “antimatter is hundreds of times more powerful than a nuclear warhead.”    Antimatter is a 100% efficient source of energy, we are told.  And physics has answered all of the foundational questions,  from the structure of the nucleus to the big bang.   Except, of course, the grand unified theory — but that is simply mopping up the details.  The casual reader never pauses to realize that the burst of gamma-radiation in electron-positron recombination must somehow be captured and converted to a usable form of energy, a process that is never 100% efficient. Or that antimatter cannot be mined — it is created at considerable cost.  Nor is she told that the best minds in physics have struggled over formulations of a grand unified theory, and failed.
But these are details.  It is a good read,  and why should little inaccuracies about science bother us?  Especially when Vittoria seduces us by combining beauty with the credentials of Europe’s most advanced research center.
Why indeed?  The answer to this question goes well beyond Brown’s popularity as a writer of fiction and the  influence the views of his characters have on his readers.  Angels and Demons is not the best, nor the strongest, example of the use of actual science in fiction.  Michael Crichton’s State of Fear quickly has the reader convinced that the data on anthropogenic global warming is highly uncertain.    And his essay at the end of the book is a no-holds-barred criticism of the politicization of science typified by many environmental groups.   In The Constant Gardener, John LeCarre uses the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis as a setting to convince readers of the evil of large pharmaceutical corporations.
The philosophical and political influence of well-crafted fiction is immense — the hero is, almost always,  a character we like.   And so we emerge sympathetic to his point of view.  The protagonist in State of Fear represents MIT,   is a committed environmentalist and a thorough skeptic of global warming.   And we like him — we like him enough to be convinced.    Because literature personalizes both the science and the scientist,  the reader is convinced by the character and not by the strength of argument.   The result is the easy introduction of flawed or incomplete scientific conjecture done in a very convincing way.   In Timeline,  Crichton smoothly mixed the concepts of quantum entanglement (for which convincing experiments exist)  with the highly metaphysical notion of parallel universes (one possible philosophical interpretation of entanglement).   As a result, the reader is left convinced that the experimental demonstration of entanglement proves the existence of parallel universes. Even when the science is sensible,   the casual reader mixes the science, metaphysics, and even theology together into hopelessly muddled thinking.
As tempting as it is to level criticism at skillful writers of fiction,  there is much more to be gained by understanding the reasons for their success.   We can do so by addressing a few core questions:  Why is the general public often so willing to believe the science taught by a fictional character? And what can we scientists learn about the ease with which even we are convinced by an incomplete argument presented in an attractive way?
The simple answer is that people, including scientists, are often more convinced by believability than by formal proof.  Whether or not the purveyor of information has earned such trust is secondary — learning is often built much more on trust than on reasoning. (Even so-called inquiry based learning is generally based on an axiomatic framework combined with an outside body of prior knowledge.)   This relationship between learning and trust extends well beyond the education of the public and extends into the professional training of scientists;  indeed, it is part of the fabric of what we like to call the scientific method.  In the discussion which follows,  I will make two assertions:  1)  The education of both young scientists and the general public requires a great deal of trust.   2)  Science is most successful–indeed, it is only truly science–when the collective activity transcends the moral failures and questionable motives of individual scientists.

Trusting our teachers

The first assertion is best illustrated by considering the educational development of a scientist.  The Physics 101 student has a textbook,  an instructor, and perhaps a graduate teaching assistant or tutor.   It will be several years of regular physics and mathematics courses before he will be prepared to read primary sources — even then,  his reading may be limited to a small sub field.   He trusts the textbook and the instructor to get it right. The student is guided through instructional experiments — experiments that may or may not prove the principle convincingly,   and are carried out on an apparatus put together and characterized by a student assistant.   The textbook author and editors generally rely on the review literature,  occasionally reading one or two primary papers that represent seminal experiments.   More often,  they make use of review articles which cite the original work and corroborating investigations.
What of the instructor?  In some cases,  she may be conducting her own original research — research usually very specific in nature.  Most of the principles she teaches are matters she has not personally investigated.  However,  she knows the textbooks and literature and has every confidence that the ideas, as laid out,  are correct.   The vast majority of scientific information communicated at the high school or university level does not require that the student,  the textbook author, or the instructor personally verify the particulars.
This continues through graduate school.   The Ph.D. student cannot repeat every experiment on which she is building her dissertation — rather, she scours the literature looking for  unanswered questions and experiments that have yet to be conducted.   A typical dissertation will have hundreds of references of prior work,  few of which will have been tested or personally verified by the student.
We may summarize as follows:  For any individual scientist, the vast majority of scientific knowledge is gained,  not from direct observation or application of a scientific method,  but from hearing, reading, and believing other scientists.   Teaching science and doing science are two quite different activities; to the extent one is removed from the actual investigation in question,  there is an inescapable mixing of philosophy, art, and science.  Indeed, textbooks and popular articles are riddled with the phrase ‘scientists believe . . .’
But why do scientists believe what they do despite the fact that they have personally investigated very few of the facts they assert?  An important nonscientific dimension to science education lies in human relationships:  Most great scientists had both mentors and a community of fertile thinkers.  They learned the facts and principles of science from their mentors,  and refined and disciplined their thinking by intellectual interchange.  And, crucially, they learned the language and pictures of science, and wove those into scientific relationships which worked together to yield productive research.   Science, if you like,  finds its incarnation in human beings and the scientific community.   Believing science requires that we trust those who represent it.
My home institution was founded in 1929 to ‘study light in all its forms’.   While there were many physicists and engineers around the world studying various properties of light,  only a few schools existed that had attempted to build a comprehensive curriculum around that specialty.   The result was a community of scientists that had established ways of teaching and thinking about light that were more unified and comprehensive than any other.    The impact of such a community on science extends beyond simplistic pictures of hypothesis and experiment:   Such communities demonstrate that the language and the relationships of science must be included in any notion of a ‘scientific method’.
It is therefore clear that nonscientific attributes give form to science — that the only scientific method we know is embodied within community and culture.   Viewed from the inside,  the language and relationships in science blend with the process of dissemination and evaluation of scientific assertions in such a way that it is a very natural, integrated process.  The rapid pace of scientific progress in fields ranging from physics to molecular biology and nanoscience stands as witness to both the effectiveness and the accuracy of science done in this way.
Both science education and scientific activity are framed by language and relationships that require a network of trust and a community of scientists that uphold that trust.  ‘Doing science’,  it appears,  requires a great deal of faith.
Understanding science as a lay person requires even more trust. For their understanding of science, the public depend very much on hearing, reading and believing scientific ideas that have been translated, distilled, and  spiced up for public consumption.  Both science and the scientific method are idealized to the point that no scientist can individually measure up to the ideal.   Can those who depend  on accurate science for their health and economic well being trust a community of flawed individuals to get it right?
Trusting the community of scientists

We now turn to the second assertion: Science is most successful–indeed, it is only truly science–when the results transcend the moral failures and questionable motives of individual scientists. While any individual experiment or scientific observation may faithfully adhere to traditional notions of scientific method,  the results are approved and disseminated by a review process governed by flawed individuals.  The community which embodies this scientific method has many individuals with impure motives (government funding or commercial profit), fraud,  sexism, political bias, and negligence. Yet we argue–with considerable justification–that a system exists in which truth emerges despite individual flaws and prejudices.   We trust one another to eventually–collectively–get it right.  Belief — trust in the process of scientific discovery and dissemination — pervades the process.

Modern science has added an extra layer to this process.   The vast majority of modern experimental science makes use of sophisticated electronic instrumentation and computerized data acquisition. Accompanying this is often a layer of data processing (software) by which enormous volumes of data may be processed and analyzed.  While most good scientists develop their own tests to ensure the consistency and accuracy of the instrumentation and software,  modern science requires a layer of trust in the technology which is assembled for data-gathering.
In short, we have a belief that the method itself transcends political backbiting, fights for funding, and character flaws.  The scientific community, it appears,  has a very well founded assertion that scientific truth can be accurately communicated through many generations by individuals having incomplete knowledge, impure motives,  and extreme personal prejudices.   Individual scientists have confidence in the process,  and we call the process the scientific method.   It is clear that there is a fundamental difference between the idea of science–its broad epistemological and ontological basis–and that of any specific scientific activity, an activity that is as riddled with flaws as are the characters that represent it.
To many of us outside the world of climate science,  the publication of the so-called climategate e-mails cast doubt on the integrity of the key witnesses; when the raw data was declared unavailable for independent examination,  our mistrust increased.  The result has been a large community of skeptics, a community that includes many reputable scientists.   The problem is compounded by the impression that careers and empires have been built on the hypothesis of high climate sensitivity to anthropogenic carbon dioxide (strong positive feedback) and that these witnesses are no longer the objective observers they once were.   In response,  many have stepped into the gap in an effort to both increase public confidence in the data and provide a more open forum for the evaluation of other climate drivers–both natural and anthropogenic–that may be more significant than CO2.
In the scientific enterprise, we place an extraordinary level of trust in the processes and individuals that preserve and disseminate the knowledge.  The trust is both institutional and individual,  whether it pertains to Tobias Lowitz’  detailed description of the skies over St. Petersburg (June 18, 1790), or to the latest images transmitted from a space telescope.   One may freely choose to believe one scientific record more than another and, indeed, may have rational reasons for doing so.  Yet that simply reinforces the underlying principle, that trust–faith, if you like–of some sort is central to the preservation of knowledge.   Indeed,  one might say that the modern scientific method only operates well when there is a healthy tug-of-war between trust and skepticism.
For our part,  individuals within the scientific community would do well to recognize that we have been given an extraordinary trust.  Rather than object to public scrutiny,  the scientist must recognize that,  while the public (and the politicians that represent them) may not be equipped to critique the scientific results,  the public has both the right and the responsibility to critically examine the character and community of scientists and the political positions they hold.  The words of St. Paul “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” remain as true today as they were in the first century.   May all of us–especially those that spend the taxpayers’  money plying our trade–be found worthy of the trust of our colleagues and of a world that depends, increasingly,  on scientific progress for its health and material well-being.
Author note: Thomas Brown is Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester.
JC note: Note, Climate Etc. had a previous thread on Scientists in Fiction. Check it out if you missed it the first time 

336 responses to “Believing Science

  1. Thank you, thank you for the post.

    Yes, I too fell in love with science as a young man.

    Only belatedly have I realized that dogmatic religionists and dogmatic scientists are identical twins – hiding under different cloaks of respectability.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    • BlueIce2HotSea

      Oliver –

      If your point that the dogmatic persona is equally at home in either religion or science, I’m OK with that idea.

      You could make the argument that the role is the same in both cases: the preservation and transmission of established truths. And as long as the science is in a normal phase (confirmatory), the dogmatists will be on good terms with all.

      Hope that didn’t across as too dogmatic. :)

      • Although we agree that dogmatic religionists and dogmatic scientists are identical twins – hiding under different cloaks of respectability,

        And that dogmatic, arrogant certainty has no place in science or in religion,

        Yet we may accept the validity of Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, “Truth is God. God alone is and nothing else exists.”

    • BlueIce2HotSea

      Oliver –

      One more thing. I think it would be a mistake to feel betrayed by a dogmatists seeming immunity to truth and logic. Their superior ability lies in the memorization of facts, not in the analysis, and in knowledge, not understanding.

      Again, hope that didn’t across as too dogmatic. :)

      • Facts are little shard of glass that wecherry pick and mount on our emotions, to do battle with our opponents

    • Oliver –
      Dogmatism has been a part of science for the last 2500 years (at least), but in the past there have been counter balancing views that, if valid, eventually become incorporated into the general body of knowledge. But sometimes it takes a long, loooong time. How long between Aristotle’s astronomy and Kepler’s? Between Kepler and Hubble?

      Patience, my friend, the world changes slowly, but change it does. Even for those who expect it to be forever static. :-)

  2. I read State of Fear a few years ago and thought nothing of it.. a good story..

    Loking back and re-reading it now, well I think he got the politics and the environmental extremism aspects just about right..

    And quite a lot of the science ;)

  3. I’ll read this over again, but the lead needs a quick comment. Science is based on skepticism. We read, we listen, we learn, we constantly compare. We accept what was done in the past, but we always have to be ready to jettison precepts when new data, new experiments, now theories come along. Belief may be too strong a word. I don’t “believe” scientists; I accept scientific conclusions as long as t they conform to a sense of logic,and is based on data and facts, and builds on past science.

    • Jim,

      There is little or no difference between modern science and religion:

      Religion: “In the beginning, God created everything . . . ”
      Science: “In the beginning, nothing exploded and made everything . . .”

      That is the root of the problem.

      • Sorry Oliver, that’s far too simplistic. Most religions that I know of have a “creation story”. Fine. Your definition of “science” doesn’t make any sense. You’re obviously referring to the “Big Bang Theory”. I’ve never heard any part of that that says “nothing exploded”. In fact, to this scientist, the Big Bang “Theory” is more of a hypothesis than a real theory. But beyond that, science is a process, not a conclusion. Science is gathering facts (data) and applying logic the data to explain phenomena and develop estimates about what might happen in the future. Is the earth getting warmer or colder (yes to both by the way)? Can we explain why its happening? Can we forecast what might happen in the future?

      • What exploded?

      • Beats me. I’m not an expert in this field, but what I have been exposed to has never suggested that “nothing exploded”. What’s your source for that statement?

      • I’m not an expert either, Jim, but its obvious that absolutely nothing exploded !

      • So you just made that up? You think that gives you some credibility, just to make a statement and say “its obvious”?

      • Jim,

        A single big bang would have everything in the Universe of the same age from a single massive piece of mass.

      • Joe, I never said there was a “single big bang”, much less originating from a “single massive piece of mass”.

      • Jim,

        One thing science has not looked into is that solar systems are on a flat plane. Which makes sense if you wanted to avoid many collisions as they are moving through space. Two dimensional rotation is the cause of this effect.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        I don’t think the subject is really relevant, but since it was brought up, maybe I can clarify the Big Bang some.

        The first thing to understand is the theory behind the Big Bang never focused on the start of the universe. Instead, it was just trying to explain why the universe is expanding the way it is. A consequence of this expansion is at some point that expansion must have started. That start got labeled the Big Bang. In actuality, the theory only handles expansion, so whatever started the expansion isn’t covered.

        This means the Big Bang has nothing to do with “nothing.” The most the Big Bang says is at some point everything in the universe was located in a single compact point. This point then exploded causing the universe to take form. Where the point came from is a mystery science says nothing about.

        In short, the Big Bang is creatio ex materia, not creatio ex nihilo.

      • Thanks Brandon; That sounds pretty good to me, thanks for the elucidation. Not sure how we got off talking about it, but thanks for your input!

      • Neither science nor religion can truly explain why there is something rather than nothing; nothing can be totally satisfactory because whatever you say started it all off, you can ask with good reason “but where did that come from?” Where does God come from or where did the initial singularity come from?

        Most science however isn’t about the beginning of time, but about observable entities of which there are plenty of examples, and we’ve managed to find mathematical consistency in their behavior.

        Religion is different in that it tends to take some book written hundreds or thousands of years ago and says it tells you every important thing you need to know. Maybe we have a psychological, biological hardwired need to think we’ve somehow been told everything we need to know, but part of a scientist’s job is to never believe that. Big difference.

    • Jim –
      In the past, science was based in both scepticism and trust. Scientists may have been sceptical about what others presented, but there was, and still is to a large degree, trust that what was being presented was not false. The public (non-scientists) also based their faith in that same trust.

      Today, for many of us, that trust has been broken. YMMV


      • Thanks Jim; Trust is indeed a fragile thing. I generally trust people based on two circumstances: experience and consequences. If someone has proved trustworthy in the past, then I’ll generally trust him/her now. If the consequences of a failure of trust are large, then I may want more verification or safeguards regardless of experience. Trust but verify (have we heard that before?). I’ve read the emails from “climate-gate” that got the most attention (i.e. the ones that Beck thought were so egregious). Didn’t seem so bad, perhaps a lack of professionalism in one or two cases, and certainly nothing that gave me pause. Reminded me of what I used to tell folks who worked for me: “don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want to see on the front page of our local paper tomorrow. ” The question that the deniers don’t answer is “what do you think is happening now and if its not warming, how do you explain what we see all around us”. An answer of “its just natural cycles” is not very satisfying.
        yes, at-l.

      • I trust until the the trust is abused. But if a man lies to me once, then he’ll lie to me again. The trust is broken – and tends to stay that way.

        Read the emails – you’re running blind. I have no idea what you got from Beck. I don’t play Beck or Limbaugh any more. But I do play Curry, Spencer and Lindzen – and Feynman – and others.

        The question that the deniers don’t answer is “what do you think is happening now and if its not warming, how do you explain what we see all around us”.

        Who cares? It’s not their job to prove anything except that the science as presented is not right. And that isn’t even hard to do.
        See my other posts on this thread.

        An answer of “its just natural cycles” is not very satisfying.

        Not even to me. At least not until proven – and it has yet to be. But “It’s ALL CO2” is even less satisfying – and leaves no room for “natural cycles” or anything else. And there are a large number of probable candidates. It’s job of the scientists to eliminate those – by actually proving that they’re not valid or relevant – not by proclamation or from authority. Which is what’s been done to date.

        And “It’s ALL CO2” hasn’t been proven either. :-)

        at-l: thought so.

      • Beck did some filtering and pulled out two or three of what he said were the “smoking gun”. Nothing of the kind but he would pull out the ones he could make a show out of; the most egregious. No one that I’ve read says its all CO2; far from it. Methane is much more worrisome.
        You say “It’s not their job to prove anything except that the science as presented is not right.” I’m waiting for the deniers to prove that the “science as presented is not right”. I’ll not hold my breath! :)

      • Beck did some filtering and pulled out two or three of what he said were the “smoking gun”. Nothing of the kind but he would pull out the ones he could make a show out of; the most egregious.

        So you based your judgment of Climategate on 2 or 3 emails that Beck pulled out? Out of roughly 1000? Beck may be very bright, but I doubt he knows, even today, how any of the emails fit in context with the activities of the main actors in this ongoing saga. But that kind of conclusion based on that kind of evidence wouldn’t be very scientific.

        Look at the MSM – where do you find methane mentioned? Read through the comments on the various threads on this blog – where do you find methane? Look at threads on models – you’ll find the words to this effect – “The models don’t work without CO2 as the main driver”. No mention of methane.

        And actually, I don’t entirely disagree with you on this point, Just keep in mind that there are GHG’s that are far worse than either CO2 or methane.

        You say “It’s not their job to prove anything except that the science as presented is not right.” I’m waiting for the deniers to prove that the “science as presented is not right”.

        Not sure where you’ve been living, but that’s already been proved. And you don’t even have “my” excuse – you haven’t been spending 6 or 8 months per year in the backcountry. Read some of the threads on this blog – read the sceptics – and understand that many of those sceptics are as (or more) qualified as you to judge the science.

        Just for grins – how many PhD’s do you think have commented on this thread alone? How many of the sceptics are included in that number? You can’t tell the players without a program – and you apparently don’t have one yet.

  4. there are two relevant threads at collide-a-scape pursuant to the AAAS sessions on climate communications. There was a panel with Gavin Schmidt and Kerry Emanuel, and their message is “blame the journalists.”

    IMO Thomas Brown has much more insight into this issue, which is generally in line with Randy Olson’s views at The Benshi.

    • Well, there is also the issues raised in the previous post ‘Epistemology of Disagreement’; if people are already convinced that all climate science is a fraud, no amount of good communication will help much.

      • I think it’s the ‘trust the teacher’ part that has suffered in climate science recently, largely as a result of overblown disaster predictions and “climategate”…..not that I’m belittling the problem: I do agree that the current situation is pretty dire.

      • I am quite optimistic and see this heat creating more light. IMO it would be dire if one believes we have no time for the heat to engender light.

    • To me, the issue resembles the parable of Lazarus and Dives. After he’s dead and in Hell, Dives asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets. If they don’t believe these they won’t believe if a man comes back from the dead.”

      The line of evidence is there from the quantum level to lakes in Siberia where permafrost used to be. If people don’t believe these, they don’t want to believe.

    • It seems to be impossible for many climate scientists to realize that the issue is not in convincing the public that they are right on those points on which they have reliable understanding. It is true, that even those points are not accepted, but that is only a projection of the real issues. The projection cannot be removed as long as the argumentation stays on the wrong level. Those scientists join with a part of the skeptics in preventing the progress in getting to real issues. That is the real failure of communication – and it is not obvious that all of those scientists would keep all their conclusions after they have realized, where the real problems are.

    • It looks like everything is fine after all- people will still believe the science

  5. Here is info on the AAAS panel

    Communicating Diversity in Science: Implications for Climate Change Denial

    Evidence from numerous scientific disciplines has painted what should be a convincing picture of anthropogenic climate change (ACC). Yet, well-funded and organized campaigns have managed to undermine public confidence. This symposium discusses how contrarians are often given false credibility on ACC because science communication rarely addresses the methodological diversity that exists in science. The public instead hears scientists speak of “the” scientific method and “the” way that science works. This misconception of science being homogeneous creates a situation where scientists are considered an authority on almost any scientific topic. Rather than portraying a single approach to science, emphasizing its methodological diversity might better communicate the key idea that scientists are not knowledgeable about all of science. The public might be more inclined to believe in ACC if they only listened to scientists from the field who do the day-to-day work and understand the complexities — such as from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Panelists will combine insights from the history and philosophy of science, rhetoric and communication, climate science, and science reporting to show how methodological diversity in science should affect ACC communication. By leveraging this expertise, the symposium will help advance both climate and general science literacy.

    Discussant: Andrew Revkin

    Thomas Lessl, University of Georgia
    Reforming Scientific Communication About Anthropogenic Climate Change
    Naomi Oreskes, University of California
    Of Mavericks and Mules
    Gavin Schmidt, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
    Between Sound Bites and the Scientific Paper: Communicating in the Hinterland

  6. Fascinating essay. I’m particularly fascinated by the discussion of science in fiction. Homo sapiens is defined by stories. They are part of our DNA, our heritage and the fact that the fireside story is still with us – in the form of television – says much about the way we are inspired to explore our world.

    I think that a great sci-fi movie is a wonderful for inspiring people to learn more about the frontiers of science in the real world: the popularity of documentaries that try and make sense of some of the ideas portrayed in feature films is a sure testament to our ancestral love of a great story and our desire to learn more as a result.

    Having said that I totally agree with the “trust of the teacher” section. From an inspirational as well as a foundational perspective this is, of course, vital to the future development of the next generation of all academia, including the sciences. Also the idea of accepting a certain set of first principles is vital even beyond nagging questions as to their ultimate veracity: The “Slaying the Greenhouse Dragon” series here amply makes this point.

    The directions scientific and technological progress takes in the future is intrinsically linked to the inspiration that drives the imagination of our various cultures. The ancient Egyptians were experts at this idea, marrying spiritual and cultural traditions to ultimately achieve the fantastic technology of the pyramids. This is why I think Thomas G. Brown’s essay is an important perspective on how science sits within the wider metempsychosis of the human condition.

    …..and now I think I’ll have a cup of tea and a lie down. :-)

    • “Homo sapiens is defined by stories. ”

      Not quite. Those old reproducible technologies helped.

      I bet you didn’t enter your post via a story. I bet you entered it on a computer.

      • Yes Jeffrey, but the computer is merely a recording, transmitting device. The story is an abstract thing, a uniquely human thing, the thing that inspires us to seek to define our world.

      • Sorry.There’s nothing “mere” about it. A nail is just as inspirational as a tale.

      • To borrow the terms of existentialism – we have no essence that precedes existence, no unchanging being, humans are obliged to reinvent ourselves at every moment. This occurs primarily in the fluidity that is consciousness and is transmitted through story, dance, art and technology. The nail is a being whose essence preceded it’s existence – it is something we imagined and then created. Unlike us – it has no obligation to reinvent itself.

        ‘Being-in-itself and being-for-itself have mutually exclusive characteristics and yet we (human reality) are entities that combine both, which is the ontological root of our ambiguity. The in-itself is solid, self-identical, passive and inert. It simply “is.” The for-itself is fluid, nonself-identical, and dynamic.’

        Perhaps it’s simpler to say that the story precedes the nail.

      • “Perhaps it’s simpler to say that the story precedes the nail.”

        Well, it’s more convenient to manipulate the anti-science crowd with a story, that’s for sure.

        It’s just as reductionist to think of stories as a kind of technology.

      • I am sure I don’t know what you mean. If it is simply a cheap shot at climate zombies we can leave it as that.

        But language, drawing and mathematics are our greatest technologies – it has allowed the development of all else. Beyond that there is poetry – which is an approach to the in·ef·fa·ble/inˈefəbəl/Adjective

        1. Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words: “ineffable beauty”.
        2. Too sacred to be uttered.

        Perhaps this is why the objection to reducing stories to the utilitarian alone – which is not what I meant – because stories have an overarching meaning. They are how we invent ourselves moment by moment and we have a choice – we are a sacred instrument, we are a bag of bones or we are something in between.

        “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Nelson Mandela

      • I don’t object to stories. I love stories. What I object to is the over-abundance of grim humbugging going on in the AGW discussion. It’s schmaltz with a sinister edge. So, I made fun of it. Sweeping grandiose definitions of Science, Skepticism, doubt … all larded with self-praise. It’s like a parody of Day of the Locusts.

      • Er…umm…I was just really going along with Saaad’s rather pleasant digression about the metaphysical importance of stories.

        As for AGW – I feel that both sides have their fair claim to humbug. The question I keep asking is what happens to the politics of carbon reduction if the planet doesn’t warm for another 10 or 30 years? This is not a theoretical potential but something that arises out of peer reviewed science – as in the PNAS link in the comment below. People know about this – but every time it pops up it just keeps getting swept under the carpet. It is madness I say.

  7. Here is another communication session from AAAS

    Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What Comes Next?

    Climate science and “mainstream” journalism interests are undergoing what some call, in the case of journalism, an “epochal transformation.” The communications challenges facing climate science — manifested in part by widespread misunderstanding on the part of many in the public and their policy-makers — will play out against fundamental changes, shaking the very nature of journalism, communications, and science education communities, with blogs, list serves, and “tweets” increasingly complementing (or are they?) conventional journalism. Climate science and climate journalism in the end need each other if we’re to have a more informed and more engaged citizenry. Steps each sector takes during the coming months and years will help shape public and policy-makers’ understanding of the climate changes we all will face. In this session, one of the nation’s most respected students of modern journalism pairs with two journalism practitioners whose reporting frequently puts them in the public spotlight in responsibly informing the public about climate science and policy. The three share critical insights into navigating climate science communications in this “perfect storm” of an economic, geopolitical, scientific, and environmental issue. They serve up a feast for the climate science expert discussant to kick off an exchange with the audience.

    Discussant: Kerry Emanuel, MIT

    Tom Rosensteil, Project for Excellence in Journalism
    The Quickly Changing State of the News Media
    Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
    Reporting on Climate Change for a Wire Service
    Elizabeth Shogren, National Public Radio
    Covering Climate Science and Climate Controversies for National Public Radio

  8. Note, Climate Etc. had a previous thread on Scientists in Fiction (which for some reason got very few hits/comments). Check it out if you missed it the first time

    • I must admit I missed it. Would it be an idea to bring it up the ‘pecking order’ a little, as it would make a great companion to this essay?

    • I gave up on that thread – posters persisted in misrepresenting the point of various novels and when challenged, refused to answer the questions … pointless

  9. I was fortunate to have a fifth grade teacher who insisted that because we never see the back side of the moon, it doesn’t rotate on its axis. She created a skeptic and I am forever grateful.

    • I never thought about that before, but she is right, the moon rotates about the Earth axis.

      • simon abingdon

        The Earth rotates on its axis every 24 hours: the Earth orbits the sun every 365 days.
        The Moon rotates on its axis every 27 days: the Moon orbits the Earth every 29 days.

      • The moon rotates around its axis keeping the same “face” visible to us as it revolves around the earth. The periods of rotation and revolution are the same.

      • simon abingdon

        I think it’s time to Google “lunar month”.

      • You just need to understand the difference between the Sidereal Month ( … measured by observing how long it takes the Moon to pass a fixed star on the celestial sphere.) and the Synodic Month ( … measured from New Moon to New Moon.). (Wikipedia)

      • simon abingdon

        Sidereal Month 27 days: Synodic Month 29 days. Rotation and revolution the same?

      • First, it’s good that you don’t take my (or anyone else’s) word for it. Look at this animation …

        Second, the above link was the first returned when I typed “siderial vs synodic month” (without the quotes) into Bing — Google too. The combination of powerful search engines and people willing to donate their time and knowledge to the edification of perfect strangers is a wonderful thing.

      • simon abingdon

        The animation makes it so obvious. Nice, huh?

      • Speed that was a beautiful exchange and your patience and simon’s persistence did not degenerate into silliness. Now if only we can scale this.

    • But even at the level of high school science should be taught as an experimental subject.
      How many millions of times has Boyle’s Law, the Conservation of Momentum and Snell’s Law been tested independently by pupils and confirmed.
      What a dismal prospect for pupils if they were told that these things had been tested by experts, the data was unavailable and that therefore the overwhelming consensus should be accepted as adequate proof.

      • I.e. we should not teach high school students about quantum physics?

      • I helped run a cardiovascular dog lab for first year medical students. It was optional since some had “animal rights” concerns. Many of those that participated were nervous as we started.
        After all the instrumented experiments were done we reproduced the classic Stephen Hales experiment with a glass tube that stretched up past the acoustic tile ceiling. The whole lab was a hit and a positive teaching and learning experience.

    • It is more correct to say the moon rotates around the center of mass of the earth. Its rotation is not aligned with the earth’s axis.

    • S0, do you have a column of CO2 that doesn’t absorb LW radiation?

      Science isn’t merely skepticism and painting it as such is false and largely, in the case of AGW, political and economic.

      Science doesn’t presume to do anything other than to increase human happiness by making our lot easier and more predictable.

      A political movement built around denying easily reproducible experiments is an interesting phenomenon. Very worthy of skepticism.

      • Experimentally it has been proven that a column of CO2 absorbs LW radiation. Experimentally it has not been proven that the postulated knock-on effects of that phenomenon are real. For example my column of CO2 contains no clouds, salty oceans, circulating oceans, ice caps, air/ocean interfaces, soil or vegetation.

      • “Knock on effects”? What could you be talking about? Are you trying to suggest that there’s a kind of energy that doesn’t warm its surroundings?

        “Knock on effects” is just rhetoric.

      • Jeffrey Davis, Re: Knock on effects or Climate Change Feedback.

        Climate change feedback is important in the understanding of global warming because feedback processes may amplify or diminish the effect of each climate forcing, and so play an important part in determining the overall climate sensitivity.

        Forcings, feedbacks and the dynamics of the climate system determine how much and how fast the climate changes. The main positive feedback in global warming is the tendency of warming to increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn leads to further warming.

        The feedbacks listed are included in climate models that are the primary (only?) source of dire predictions of global warming. None are as well understood as CO2, some are little more than educated guesses but all are important to the model results. None are “just rhetoric.”

      • Ah, yes. Feedbacks. Yes, “feedback” is the standard phrase.

        Yes, CO2 has a calculable direct effect per doubling of concentration of around 1C.

        You’d be surprised at how many people [looks around] don’t accept that.

        But climate sensitivity is probably in the neighborhood of 3C with a fairly accepted range of uncertainty: from 1.5-4.5C. You’d be surprised at how many people [looks around] don’t accept that. According to them we get glacial advances and retreats by magic. So, there’s good reason to believe that climate sensitivity isn’t 0. We really couldn’t get glacial advances and retreats with 0 sensitivity. And, there are people who worry that sensitivity can go as high as 7C. At various times in the past, after all, there was an ice free planet. So, melting the whole shebang is possible. But, hey, why am I telling you this? You know this stuff already.

      • Science doesn’t presume to do anything other than to increase human happiness by making our lot easier and more predictable.

        Science doesn’t presume to “increase human happiness, etc” at all. That may often be a beneficial side effect, but it hassnothing to do with the purpose of science. Not sure where you got that from, but it’s entirely false.

        But climate sensitivity is probably in the neighborhood of 3C with a fairly accepted range of uncertainty: from 1.5-4.5C. You’d be surprised at how many people [looks around] don’t accept that.

        You should be looking around because you’re presenting an unproven hypothesis as fact.

      • “but it’s entirely false.”

        So you say. I wasn’t there when you were made Big Mugwump of Science.

        “You should be looking around because you’re presenting an unproven hypothesis as fact.”

        fairly accepted range of uncertainty
        how many don’t accept

        What was false?

      • Jeffrey Davis, you say,
        Yes, CO2 has a calculable direct effect per doubling of concentration of around 1C.
        Which is derived from experiments in the tube filled with CO2 that started this discussion.
        Then you say,
        But climate sensitivity is probably in the neighborhood of 3C with a fairly accepted range of uncertainty: from 1.5-4.5C.
        Which is not based on experiments performed in a tube or anywhere else. Then you say,
        According to them we get glacial advances and retreats by magic.
        It turns out that there is a lot we don’t know about the earth’s climate system and it is important to admit it. Changes in climate are the result of neither magic nor the intervention of a supernatural power but of some interesting and complex series of interractions which violate not one single law of physics.

        So, what caused the ice ages? The last one covered the spot where I am now sitting with a mile thick layer of snow, ice and rubble. And then it went away … as if by magic.

      • Speed,

        I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re trying to say.

  10. Two quotes from the author of Jurassic Park, Dr. Michael Crichton, address the current crisis in science well:

    “The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    – -Michael Crichton, The Caltech Michelin Lecture, 17 January 2003

    “Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.”

    – -Michael Crichton, Speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, 15 September 2003: “Environmentalism as Religion”

    From my perspective there are two ways of “Truthing”: Seeking to understand “what is”, while admitting that you will never have the whole truth – more will always be revealed later.

    1. Science – making measurements – and
    2. Spirituality – meditation & awakening.

    By either path,
    “Truthing” is a process of ego reduction.
    “Truthing” generates humility and reverence.
    Claiming that you have truth is a sure sign of failure.

    If mankind finally comprehends that life is powered by N-N repulsion in the neutron core of the Sun, we will all get “right sized.”

    Then we will understand why Al Gore, the UN’s IPCC, the scientific establishment, and world leaders are as powerless as the rest of us.

    • Oliver,

      Sometimes you have really excellent stuff!

      • Thank you for your kindness.

        The challenge is this: Can scientists and religionists recognize that theirs is not the only path of “truthing?

        Otherwise society will oscillate back and forth between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightment:

        1. When religionists had the upper hand, the findings of Copernicus and Galileo were kept from the public in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

        2. When scientists had the upper hand in the 20th and 21st Centuries, they convinced world leaders that CO2 emissions control Earth’s climate.

      • … said one thread bomber to the other ….

      • Brian,

        At least some people are breaking new ground in science by going where boundaries have been placed to not cross.
        When you are in the realm of a different mindset then you see the mistake left behind that has been taught as facts and unbreakable laws.

        Some people are content with staying naive as to avoid learning new things.
        Do you fit into this category?

  11. Wow. This is a really, really good essay that is very much after my own heart as I’ve recently written two essays about the importance of trust in science — but my writing is nowhere near as sophisticated. This is a sample of really good writing. Thanks for posting it.

    Just last month I spent two weeks teaching in Norway and was struck by the level of trust that exists in their society. From over there, looking back, the U.S. looks like a such a mess.

    I increasingly view a lot of what you talked about here (i.e. the multiple levels of information transmission) from the perspective of the standard physiological curve of food assimilation. You starve a rabbit, it digests a high percentage of everything it’s fed. But if you overfeed it, most of the food goes through with very little being digested. This is my mental image of our overall society these days with regard to information flow. And I say this from the perspective of having been trained as a scientist starting in the late 70’s when you felt like you could digest all the new literature in your field each week, to today’s science world where it’s become an “information firehose” as Richard Lanham puts it in his excellent book, “The Economics of Attention.”

    The assimilation efficiency of information has become so bad. That’s a lot of the focus of the two articles last fall by Andrew Freedman in The Atlantic (“Lies, Damed Lies and Medical Science”) and Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker on the scientific method. The medical literature is overflowing with bad science that nobody has the time to reexamine. The whole machine is running at too fast of a speed. And the question becomes whether it may eventually collapse or blow apart. There certainly is an instability factor that leaves the system vulnerable to attack, as demonstrated with Climategate.

    And lastly, when I was making my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” a friend put me in touch through email with Michael Crichton. We spent four months trading lengthy emails in which he kept referencing his book, “State of Fear,” until I finally was forced to read it. What a piece of junk. Artistically. The writings of an angry old man using a bunch of stick figures to run around and illustrate his bitter rants. It was kind of comical that he would reference the book so seriously. I kept wanting to reply, “Yeah, but it’s like a really, really dumb and hokey story you wrote.” It’s fascinating the endless dance between substance and style. I think he had some interesting and even valid points in it. But at some level you have to bring some art to the communication.

    • Dick Lanham: A great teacher and a nice human being as well.
      Most everything I learned about rhetoric, I learned from him.

  12. The value in science lies in it’s ability to make predictions.
    Theory must progress to prediction, then experiment design and results to demonstrate that predictions are possible. Rather then verify each supporting piece separately a few well designed tests can shortcut the process. If the experiment fails then the chain of theories that support the anticipated result must be examined and the broken bits removed. Note that nothing is proven, but belief in the framework that supports the theory is strengthened.
    Climate science must now begin this process if it is to become a settled science (whatever that is). The climate science community seems produce a constant stream of new climate effects that will surely led to our demise – but where is the validation. Isn’t it time that this mature science back up its claims with observational results before these new finds are taken seriously? When a prediction fails, as so many have, shouldn’t that be taken as a serious challenge to the consensus.
    Ultimately, successful prediction will beak the politics and dogma that plague this science.

    • Very hard to make a prediction when science has no clue to how the planet operates. Many guesses with very little substance.

  13. Emmanuel? Revkin? Surely you jest.

    The article conflates the interactions of the scientific community with “the Scientific Method”. Stripped to its guts, the Scientific Method is :
    1. Observe
    2. Make a guess about what is going on.
    3. Elaborate the guess into a logically consistent speculation about causes and effects.
    4. Propose and begin conducting experiments and observations that have the maximum potential to provide results which disagree with and break the “hypothesis”, and invite and urge others to do the same.
    –4a Anent which, all details of data gathered and analytic procedures are made open to all for replication and challenge.
    5. Continue above; even when, despite thorough and competent efforts, no contradictions have been found, remain assured that someone sometime will come up with a better and more inclusive theory. And promote same.

    As for “trust”, teachers would do better to tell students, “Distrust, and verify wherever possible”.
    My best h.s. science teacher, in the early ’60s, put down and denigrated my observation that the landmasses on either side of the Atlantic obviously fit together, and must have been joined at some point. He emphasized the Consensus, rather than the observation. Pace, Dr. Horwood. I forgive you. Sort of.

  14. From a non scientist

    You are correct to stress the importance of trust….my life is filled with the flow of large amounts of information that I cannot personally confirm….if I cannot trust the professional sources of this information my life comes to a standstill as I will get nothing done except the verification of the data flow…and that is an impossible task for a modern human involved in business as I am.

    As a business person my work life is not about numbers but about understanding people. The numbers are easy. Understanding people then is my life, and understanding politics is my primary hobby.

    This is why Climategate had such a negative impact on my trust of the science of AGW. I fully understand English and so could read the emails without relying on other people to interpret for me. I gave the writers lots of wiggle room recognizing the informality of that communication mode and the fact that for the most part the email traffic was among colleagues who knew, understood, and trusted each other.

    After reading as many of them as was possible I became saddened as the realization dawned on me that I could trust nothing that they said, did, or published…even if most of it were true….I do not have the time or ability to sort the bad science from the good so without trust it all goes out the window!

    The fact is they were practicing politics and not science and their emails, written in clear English, showed what they were about. For me there could be 50 committees from any range of professional societies or political organizations investigate and declare them innocent and it would not matter.

    I READ THE DAMN EMAILS and know what they are about.

    It would be very easy for any number of scientists “convinced” of AGW to think that someone such as myself, an “unconvinced” member of the non scientific community, has no meaning. That would be a terrible mistake, but a mistake that is being made as I write this.

    You see I am a non scientist but I am an active VOTER! It is people such as myself that are putting the pressure on politicians in Washington to stop this corruptible level of spending being lavished on the investigation of Climate Change….this corruptible level of spending that has clearly caused too many scientist involved in this work to think like a politician and not like a scientist.

    I am “convinced” of Global Warming because I believe and trust the Science that tells me that on the spot in Maine where my Daughter has a home the ice was apx 1.5 miles thick 20,000 years ago. How could I not believe in Global Warming when today in the summer they often have a spell when the outside temperature reaches 90 degrees?

    I am “convinced” that mankind has an impact on the Climate because I have lived in 3 of the largest 4 cities in the USA and have experienced personally the temperatures being so much higher in the city as in the surrounding countryside. I understand as a layman that humans have cleared unimaginably large tracts of land worldwide of trees for agricultural purposes and accept that this must have the potential in several ways to affect our Climate.

    Unfortunately I am also “convinced” that the untold billions of dollars that have been forced into the study of Climate by governmental bodies to satisfy political agendas more than anything else has corrupted the science.

    Politics are necessary…..the alternative is simple Anarchy. But any scientist who does not recognize that the toxic brew of politics and money that has been poured over the heads of the Climate Science Community in such a short period of time has resulted in a lot of bad science is very naive.

    … that Scientist let me say clearly; I simply do not trust you, and do not want you spending MY money!


    • Well said, Santiago. Thank you.

    • Santiago,

      That is the problem. Trust that the science is accurate when the science is only a generalization and has no thoughts of accuracy. Then this was generated into science laws. Accuracy should be the most important tool but it is not.
      This train of thought has been passed down generations.
      When the actuality is that WE HAVE TO THINK DIFFERENTLY than the past as our idea of a simple planet is actually highly complex.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I am an Engineer/Scientist.

      My views likely overlap yours to a significant degree.

    • I amnot a practicing Engineer and I am in your choir. AMEN

  15. Thomas,

    Current science has generated barriers that cannot be broken down no matter if it can be proven that the science should be shelved into the fiction category.
    Science is content with being general and does not regard actual evidence as science.
    If I prove time travel and teleportation are impossible, then quantum science is effected and so are the thousands of students and professors.
    Missing one insignificant piece of the puzzle can create a cascading effect.
    Exact points are currently impossible in a moving Universe.

    Think about it…..

  16. Jonathan Gilligan

    This is a very well-written and sensible essay. I would strongly recommend people who enjoyed this essay also read Jacob Bronowski’s 1956 book, “Science and Human Values,” which makes very similar points about trust in the scientific community. The book is very short and very well written.

    Bronowski takes note that trust in the scientific community does not depend on scientists themselves being morally pure, so long as the community itself holds together; and the governments around the world could learn a lot from the scientific community, which has governed itself successfully and profitably for over 400 years—longer than any nation’s form of government lasted (for clarity, some nations are older, but they have dramatically changed their forms of government, as in England’s transfer of power from King to democratically elected Parliament).

    He also draws connections between science and literature in a different way from this essay: he emphasizes that both art and science aim at finding unifying principles that connect diverse phenomena in nature. Kepler’s organizing the planetary orbits into three laws and Shakespeare’s metaphors in Romeo and Juliet are manifestations of the same purpose, although, of course, arts and science take this purpose in different directions.

    • Bronowski takes note that trust in the scientific community does not depend on scientists themselves being morally pure, so long as the community itself holds together; …

      There’s one point Bronowski made on which I disagree. It does depend on individual scientists being moral, open, and truthful. Science cannot exist hand-in-hand with dishonesty. To older people of science this would have limited effect for they can see it to be shunned but for the young moving into science it is pure poison for these are the very science authorities on whose knowledge they must rely to some degree when first learning.

      • No. Science is a human activity and will always have human limits.

        Doctors have faked studies, but Medicine trudges on. Etc.

      • I read that as scientists, plural, like many key scientists, not a single dishonest scientist. Of course even if all scientists turn corrupt the word science would still exist, maybe that was what Bronowski was addressing, like for instance during the Dark Ages.

      • Science like most human activities has a history. (Though humbugging seems to me from the dawn of time.) The development of the scientific method came after the Dark Ages.

      • The development of the scientific method came after the Dark Ages.

        From the 16th Century. But the roots of the scientific method came from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

      • There are lots of roots. Too fine a search for “roots” can lead to all kinds of reductionist nonsense.

      • Learn some history – you need it.

      • Jonathan Gilligan

        Read E.S. Reich’s book, “Plastic Fantastic,” which analyzes the Jan Hendrik Schoen scandal in physics. Reich shows that the conduct of top condensed-matter physicists and the peer-review process in condensed-matter physics had enormous problems with fraud and misconduct. Unlike the so-called Climategate emails, these were instances of gross fraud and fabrication of data and the peer review process failed to catch any of it.

        And yet, no one doubts that organic transistors are real. Many of the discoveries Schoen faked were later confirmed by real experiments.

        Read Gary Taubes’s book, Nobel Dreams, with its account of the way Carlo Rubbia abused the scientific process during the “alternating neutral currents” episode; and Taubes’s later piece of reporting for Science, “The One That Got Away,” about the way nuclear physicist Jack Greenberg let his dreams of a Nobel Prize lead him into sloppy science that wasted years of several researchers’ lives and millions of dollars in attempts to replicate a discovery that never happened.

        It’s fascinating to see the extent to which people want to hold climate science to a much higher standard than they hold research in physics, medicine, biology, etc.

        For all the fuss about CRU’s failure to archive data tapes of its old temperature analyses, I don’t hear much outrage over the failure (documented in the Feb 11 issue of Science) of particle physics experiments failure to archive their raw data and computer codes. This posed a huge problem for researchers who wished to re-analyze the data from the JADE experiment at DESY.

        I am not aware of a single climate science paper that was retracted as a result of fraud or misconduct. Yet there have been dozens of instances of papers being retracted in the past decade due to documented fraud in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine (see, e.g., and

        Yes, climate science should hold itself to the highest standards regardless what everyone else is doing; but critics should also be fair. Climate science is in fact doing a very good job and it’s puzzling to see people express outrage over practices in climate science when they aren’t bothered by much worse practices in medicine, physics, and chemistry.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        I don’t think it makes sense to say climate science is being held to a different standard. Climate science is widely used to push for major changes in the world. If some aspect of chemistry was being used for the same purpose, it would be held to the same standards.

        In other words, people don’t care much about problems in science. That’s science’s problem. If climate science stays out of their lives, they wouldn’t pay any attention to those sort of problems in climate science. The standard here has nothing to do with the field of science.

        Incidentally, I don’t think there are any examples in any other field which are comparable with the hockeystick.

      • I agree that most scientific fraud and lesser misconduct are intramural problems. On the other hand, it’s hard to find an example of fraud that has had more serious adverse effects on the public, including almost certainly many deaths, than Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent paper linking vaccines to autism. It may take another century to undo the damage.

      • Try the faux-scientists on the tobacco company payrolls that tried to “prove” for many years that smoking had nothing to do with cancer.

      • Jim – a clue – that line of argument doesn’t work. It crashed and burned long ago.

      • I am not aware of a single climate science paper that was retracted as a result of fraud or misconduct. Yet there have been dozens of instances of papers being retracted in the past decade due to documented fraud in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine (see, e.g., and

        And why doesn’t that make you suspicious? Especially when there are papers that obviously should have been retracted and yet, are still used as reference.

        it’s puzzling to see people express outrage over practices in climate science when they aren’t bothered by much worse practices in medicine, physics, and chemistry.

        Why are you puzzled? In the other sciences, there are scientists who will speak up when they discover fraud. But in climate science, obvious misconduct goes unremarked and/or whitewashed and indeed, sometimes rewarded.

  17. Joe Lalonde, perhaps inadvertently makes a good point when he says, “Science is content with being general and does not regard actual evidence as science.”
    I think and hope that he is speaking of science as a profession or organisation, not as an intellectual discipline. Science, is a method of knowing and must be completely based on evidence. Otherwise it is witch-craft. The organisations that administer or speak for science may be made up of scientists but the former do not do science. And that is a big problem. Science is done by those who produce, test and examine evidence and are skeptical about it.

    • Morley,

      If we are to understand science, we have to start thinking totally differently.
      In “observed science” do we include the dozen or so processes going on that we do not see?
      No, we only write and post what is seen even though the experiment would not exist without the complex system around us that is not included.

      • Joe
        “In “observed science” do we include the dozen or so processes going on that we do not see?”

        A major consideration (and limitation) in experimental work. There’s a whole complex causal structure, some of which may not be known, nuch less understood. The more that isn’t known, the more uncertain the conclusions are, but this is not quantifiable, in my experience.

      • Harold,

        The current and past way of understanding and experimenting in science has shown to generate many mistakes.
        Unless this way is changed, our understanding of science will forever be boxed and bound by the parameters man has created for himself.
        Significant factors to experiments not covered as they are in the area of some other category in science. So, these are NOT included as the experimentor was NEVER taught.

  18. As almost any scientist I have had a deep science curiosity since about eight years old. That was my first exposure to super conductors, magnetism at the engineering level, motors, generators, etc. So no wonder I ended up with a major in science. I think most here have a similar story.

    But I couldn’t disagree more on the level of “trust the instructor”. By the time I was ten I had already learned that not all “instructors” (being books, science teachers, documentaries, parents, siblings) didn’t always teach the same content of a given concept and I had to dig a bit deeper to get to the “right” answer and that was to the library to dig. Of course at that age I was always limited by my current knowledge and math (very limited) state of mind but the concepts I could usually dig out the correct one that made sense. So was my final “correct” answer I found always the actual correct answer? No, not always but most of the time. Some after forty years of following astrophysics, particle physics and many other branches I have still have question marks by certain concepts. My learning never ends.

    The way you described the process I should have never started to learn until I had the ultimate teacher so I could learn only what he knows but could 100% trust that everything he was telling me, also through the books he chose for me to read, was the absolute answer and I could then stop to learn, for then, I knew everything. And year by year, teacher by teacher, I would be programmed to know exactly what was correct for my trust was 100% and would never have to go one step further.

    To me that is what is wrong in this “climate science”. Through all of my discussions with the AGW side they have all read the same books, learned the same concepts, and not once have any ever questioned their learning, they feel they learned it 100% correct from the 100% correct professors and books and so their learning is over.

    I’m sorry but that is so foreign to me. With those types of minds I don’t see science going much further from that side but at least there are many here that I hope have the same kind as mine, always seeking, testing, and learning what we might still have wrong.

    However I am sure many things I feel are “correct” the other side also agrees. We are all limited to the current limits of precision and understanding. CODATA constants undergo constant updates, So many of the numbers we deal with are always in flux unless they have been defined to a constant status. All of the basic relationships in physics are well defined and understood but even many of these are not constant in application but rules of thumb generalities. Adjustments have to made in specific cases. In other words I don’t view I am any different that any other real scientist who has to deal with these limits to our current understanding.

    It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we find in the end that radiation passing through our atmosphere is not governed by any of the areas currently suspect as GHGs, clouds, albedo, ocean cycles, etc. but instead the geometry of a sphere, the gravitational potential energy (lapse related) and densities that vary when any temperatures change locally. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit. The deeper I dig the more I know we still haven’t a foggy what the real answer is.

    But who am I to question this, the powers to be would just look at my mere three letters a scoff, that I know from experience.

    • Wayne,

      Your very insightful at a young age to pick up on having an open mind.
      I found much arrogance in teaching. If we have it in a book or in writing and it is absolutely correct.
      The deeper I delved into science, the more mistakes and generalized science is. Individualized areas to try and explain a highly interactive and complex system as this planet and life. With no regard to missing a whole pile of knowledge and evidence. Theories of the past are unbreakable laws that collapse when put in the past when the planet was rotating faster.

      • Joe,

        Great point. You seem to see many of what I see, loose ends. My grandparents bought me that science encyclopedia when eight and I’ve had an insatiable curiosity of anything physical ever since, any area goes, with the library being a frequent stop. Guess that is why I always lean toward physics and chemistry. I owe my love of science to them for that one simple gesture years ago and I can’t stand what is happening to it today.

  19. I wonder whether this is the right forum to speculate what will happen to cloud cover as a result of the recent Forbush minimum.

  20. I really wish scientists would stop with the “scientists believe”. The word “believe” has a double meaning. Religeous meaning and a “scientific inference of the evidence” meaning.

    What we need is a new word that encompases what the term really means:

    At the moment the evidence is very compelling for this position to be accepted as reality, until other evidence comes along and changes our perspective of that reality.

    That’s what scientific”belief” actually means. But lost on the public who don’t understand that.

    That’s why when asked I tell people I don’t believe anything, nothing, nodda, zippo. I accept what the evidence is tending to indicate about reality.

    That way when new evidence changes that perception, you accept that new evidence. That means you can never be wrong, but it also means you can never be certain of the Truth (with a capital T).

  21. It’s interesting that so many posters have conflated the study of climate or climate science with the disputations surrounding just one aspect of the subject, namely, the effects of CO2. Why should just one minor part of a whole field of research dominate? Why should climategate tarnish a wide discipline worthy of study and research? Whether this dispute should have compromised climate science only time will tell. But I sense that many will be deterred from making climate science their chosen course of study for the future even if they have no interest in pursuing the cAGW meme.

    • I agree, there seems to be some on both sides of the debate who think Climate Science is based solely on the extent of the “greenhouse effect”.
      If such an effect had very little influence on the climate, some suppose that would be the end of Climate Science.
      However with increasing information forthcoming about our planet and others, then Climate Science will develop further, independent of this particular issue.

    • Baxter –
      The basic physics of CO2 are not generally in dispute. It’s the unproven extension and ampification of those effects into catastrophic (and largely unbelievable) consequences that generate much of the agita.

  22. Michael Larkin

    When do we believe? When we don’t know.

    Bearing in mind that we know very little – if anything – in an ultimate sense, are we therefore sentenced to an eternity of belief?

    No: there is another option, namely, agnosticism. Trouble is, it requires humility and a tolerance for uncertainty. Neither of which is conducive to the maintenance of an ego.

    That science has enabled us to make astounding progress does not prove that any beliefs it might have been based are anywhere near complete and finalised. Rather, I think it merely proves that even imperfect knowledge allows us to produce useful technologies. One doesn’t have to believe anything, but simply posit particular understandings as temporarily useful vehicles for making progress.

    A real paradigm shift would involve acceptance of the relativity of knowledge – not as culturally dependent postmodern claptrap where any idea is as good as any other – but where we continually seek the current best understanding without becoming emotionally invested in it.

    Scientists aren’t trained how to be emotionally detached. Some manage to be so, but in my perception, many – perhaps most – don’t. If one were to ask them, they’d probably all recognise the value of such detachment, but make the unconscious assumption that an ability to do “scientific” things and have a higher than average intelligence somehow magically imparts it.

    Not many scientists will stand up and openly admit to ordinary hubris. They will be convinced they are dispassionate, and tend to believe those working in different specialisms are also dispassionate. The fact that they may be as mistaken on behalf of the latter as they are for themselves may escape them.

    I’m persuaded that we can eliminate conspiracy theories and mass delusion to explain much of the situation in climate science; rather, basically, it’s the consequence of a lack of understanding of human nature. We do not routinely teach our scientists the art of detachment, much as we do not teach our doctors the art of bedside manners, or, it has to be said, our university teachers the art of pedagogy. Those who acquire such skills appear for the most part to be autodidacts. However, I believe their acquisition is too important to be left to chance.

    • Michael,

      What if we have been doing experiments incorrectly due to the prescribed way we have been taught to do it in?
      Would this not create a society that needs theories rather than actual evidence?

    • People differ strongly in their tolerance for ambiguity, even scientists. If you hate ambiguity it is not comfortable to question fundamental issues and you may be hostile to those who do.

  23. 1) In my view, the acceptance of the current body of work should be provisional. It is like standing in a bog–it is good to have a place to stand but don’t stay there too long. New methods, math, stats, and instruments often give the breakthroughs, as well as those who question various aspects of the received wisdom.
    2) “eventually we get it right” well, not always. In psychology and other “soft” sciences, there are few signs of progress. For example pretty convincing proof over 50 yrs that talking therapy (esp Freudian) is not much better than a placebo (or having a friend who is a good listener) has not extinguished Freudian analysis. Progress is more guaranteed where controlled experiments are possible, but this is not the case in climate science.
    3) The received body of wisdom often has certain strong principles or “laws” which can inhibit new discoveries. For example, basic evolutionary theory stated that evolution was slow, due to gradual accumulation of changes, and that gene exchange and sorting due to sexual reproduction was a central part of this process. Microbes seemed an uncomfortable exception until it was found that they did exchange genetic material (in fact even across species, as was found with drug resistance genes). Thus the discovery of species without sex (parthenogenetic) was difficult to get published–there are even lizard species that have this system. Likewise, the fact that species can arise in an instant was hard to swallow. Hybrids of plants or animals can form an instant new species by being incompatible with both parents. In plants, increase of chromosome number at reproduction can create a new species in a single generation since these are usually incompatible with either parent. The dogma that all inheritance is genetic has made it impossible to get funding for or publish work showing that epigenetic factors (methyl groups etc that turn genes on and off) could be inherited. It was only as the mechanisms of gene regulation became uncovered in the past 20 yrs that it became clear that this process is possible and experiments began to demonstrate it. Again, it took careful experiments to prove these facts. I bring up evolution because it is given as an example of a theory that is attacked by certain groups. If you ask people (even most scientists) if they “believe” in evolution, they probably believe some very general things and are unaware of the exceptions I mentioned above. In all these cases the general theory and orthodoxy inhibited discovery of the exceptions to the theory.

    • Craig,

      Our foundation in science and the laws generated had started out incorrectly.

      Two paths that look the same but have a totally different outcome.

      One path needs theories to prop up theories and a mathematics in constant adjustment(our current path). This was brought about by the system of balance and exact opposites(our current LAWS).

      The other path is of a system that changes due to evolution of natural slow down and expansion. Compression of gases expand when slowed down due to centrifugal force and rotation. This path uses actual physical evidence.

    • It is like standing in a bog–it is good to have a place to stand but don’t stay there too long.

      … or at least until you find somewhere firmer to stand. ☺

  24. The first step on the path to wisdom is the recognition of our own ignorance. I wish some climate scientists understood this.

    Science is only self-correcting to the extent that studies are audited and replicated. Climate science doesn’t work that way. Climate science isn’t really self-correcting. So I have no confidence in the opinions of the hubristic “experts” who fail to examine themselves for bias and fail to put each other to the test. Given how many of the studies that were trumpeted to the world turned out to be garbage, there won’t be any trust until there is a consistent effort to audit, replicate, verify and validate. Until there is, climate science is merely a cult dressed up in the trappings of science.

  25. “Even when the science is sensible, the casual reader mixes the science, metaphysics, and even theology together into hopelessly muddled thinking.”

    Similar to the effect that ‘Post Normal Science’ has, wrt muddling all of those things, plus politics.

  26. Science means to question data, models and interpretations again and again. It is required to question your own theories and models as well as the theories and models of your peers. If you want to teach science you have to educate people how to think for themselves, to think beyond mainstream and consensus, to question textbooks and peer-reviewed literature. Trust in people is nice, but trust is not required in science. This is what we also need to teach a layman that he needs on some point to think for himself, to read different sources and to question assumptions.
    It is not that different from the task we have as citizens in our democracies. We have to question politicians and demagogues. Trust in people is nice, but trust is not required in our democracies. We have a system in place that is able to control and correct mismanagement.
    I agree with Thomas Brown, we can have trust in the scientific process, but we don’t need to trust individual scientists or even scientific communities or organisations. We do not need to trust in a consensus that is acclaimed by a group of people.
    Best regards

  27. There is a problem with trust within the peer-review system. Editors seek reviewers based on subject expertise. They rarely have information about their bias or willingness to gatekeep or tendency to make unfounded assertions. If they detect it during the review process, and don’t ask that reviewer again this has little impact overall because there are thousands of editors and the word does not get to them. That is: no self-correcting process here.

  28. As a non-scientist, though one who reads widely in the sciences, I think the issue is now one of both trust and access. For example, take the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature project. I welcome this effort, as we need this additional comprehensive source of data IMO, but how do I know to trust it? Should I look at the scientists involved, or the funding sources (i.e. Koch Bros)? Is there a reason to have skepticism about any of these?

    In general, there is far too little trust in the intentions of scientists. There is a certain belief that certain scientists are intentionally out to deceive in order to prove their positions, but it is far more complicated than that I would think. Simple deception, for whatever the motive is easy to understand on some level for the protection of funding etc., but harder to understand (and harder to weed through for someone on the outside) is when scientists truly believe what they are bringing forth and that belief blinds them to seek other explanations.

    An excellent post…

    • Mr. Gates,

      If science is to move ahead, then many areas of Earth sciences have to be combined to get a true understanding of EXACTLY what is happening on this planet. Generalized science in boxes is a huge mistake as the next person does not understand what the person beside him has learned.
      Lets take everyone in the same field within the same education and group think new science does not work as all have been taught to be of like minded and try to think the same way.
      If you take people from many fields to work together(and not a bitch fest) then new ideas and strategies are bound to come forth.

  29. I think my science education was much better than what the author of this article believes occurs today.

    I was introduced to the idea of repeatability very early on, and that part of any new science was that your new idea had to be presented such that others could repeat and verify your results.

    And in my studies, from the top of my head, I did the Miliken oil drop experiment to measure the mass of the electron and the Michealson-Morley experiment to measure the speed of light. So in my experience it was far from trust the teacher.

    And as a professional, I make antimatter.

  30. To many of us outside the world of climate science, the publication of the so-called climategate e-mails cast doubt on the integrity of the key witnesses; when the raw data was declared unavailable for independent examination, our mistrust increased.

    You are too kind. What climate science has became has been defined as a zombie science:

    Although the classical ideal is that scientific theories are evaluated by a careful teasing-out of their internal logic and external implications, and checking whether these deductions and predictions are in-line-with old and new observations; the fact that so many vague, dumb or incoherent scientific theories are apparently believed by so many scientists for so many years is suggestive that this ideal does not necessarily reflect real world practice. In the real world it looks more like most scientists are quite willing to pursue wrong ideas for so long as they are rewarded with a better chance of achieving more grants, publications and status. The classic account has it that bogus theories should readily be demolished by sceptical (or jealous) competitor scientists. However, in practice even the most conclusive ‘hatchet jobs’ may fail to kill, or even weaken, phoney hypotheses when they are backed-up with sufficient economic muscle in the form of lavish and sustained funding. And when a branch of science based on phoney theories serves a useful but non-scientific purpose, it may be kept-going indefinitely by continuous transfusions of cash from those whose interests it serves. If this happens, real science expires and a ‘zombie science’ evolves. Zombie science is science that is dead but will not lie down. It keeps twitching and lumbering around so that (from a distance, and with your eyes half-closed) zombie science looks much like the real thing. But in fact the zombie has no life of its own; it is animated and moved only by the incessant pumping of funds. If zombie science is not scientifically-useable – what is its function? In a nutshell, zombie science is supported because it is useful propaganda to be deployed in arenas such as political rhetoric, public administration, management, public relations, marketing and the mass media generally. It persuades, it constructs taboos, it buttresses some kind of rhetorical attempt to shape mass opinion. Indeed, zombie science often comes across in the mass media as being more plausible than real science; and it is precisely the superficial face-plausibility which is the sole and sufficient purpose of zombie science.

    Full paper Zombie science: A sinister consequence of evaluating scientific theories purely on the basis of enlightened self-interest Charlton (2008) Medical Hypothesess 71, 327–329.

    • This boldface zombie stuff is crap. Kuhn explained what is wrong with the classical test-and-falsify theory of science a full 50 years ago. Scientists are trying to understand and explain the world. Testing occurs along the way but it is not the objective. Moreover, testing usually leads to discoveries, not falsification. There is nothing per se corrupt or zombie like about this. There is a lot of inertia in the system but it is the inertia of productivity. One does not close a mine just because there is a big find down the road.

      The problem with climate science is quite different. Climate science has been captured by a political movement. This is relatively unique in history.

    • tmtisfree: Thank you for bringing up the concept of ‘Zombie Science’. There is more on ‘zombie science’ at the ‘mantle plumes’ site:
      Mantle plumes are a geological concept invoked since the 1960s to explain ‘hot spot’ volcanism, particularly those volcanic centres, such as Hawaii, which are located within (rather than at the margins of) tectonic plates. The ‘plume’ hypothesis or theory is not however universally accepted and there is an ongoing, mostly good-tempered, debate among interested earth scientists about the issue. As David Wojick points out, the plume debate differs from the climate (AGW) debate in that it has not become politicised (and seems unlikely to do so). Nonetheless it could be instructive to compare the positions taken up by the opposing factions (proponents and sceptics) in these two debates. Will climate sceptics, prompted by the unwelcome ‘denier’ tag, be tempted to take a leaf out of the book of ‘plume sceptics’ and start describing mainstream AGW climatologists as ‘zombie scientists’?

  31. Scientism:

    “a kind of over-enthusiastic and uncritically deferential attitude towards science”


  32. “Evidence from numerous scientific disciplines has painted what should be a convincing picture of anthropogenic climate change (ACC).” I’ve heard this over and over again but I’ve never seen any reference to anything that really summarizes the case, just unquantified ex cathedra assertions that “carbon dioxide absorbs IR”, references to the highly questionable land temperature record (I’ve looked in vain through the NOAA data to try to find one station record that looks clean for even 50 years), and lots of discussion on paleoclimatology which seems to be a discipline more similar to phrenology than physics.

    In my quantum mechanics class we spent a lot of time studying the hydrogen atom, and understanding emission and absorbtion of radiation with just one proton and one electron is extremely complex. Where can I find a corresponding quantitative explanation of how the carbon dioxide molecule absorbs IR radiation?

    • JFK,
      I cannot tell, whether you can find a good and understandable presentation of the emission and absorption calculation of IR by CO2 anywhere. There are certainly original scientific publications on that written and published tens of years ago. I am sure these papers produced an reasonable agreement wit the experiment, but I have not done any literature search on it. The calculation of vibrational transitions of three atomic molecule like CO2 is not a particularly difficult problem to solve, when maximal accuracy is not required. Thus a good and rather simple description may well be available somewhere.

      Another observation is that the HITRAN database has been created to a large extent using quantum mechanical calculations and confirming the correctness of the results from experimental data for very many absorption lines including certainly the most important lines of CO2. Theoretical calculations have been used, because that is the only achievable way of including all lines in the database, empirical confirmation need not be done for every line as a subset is enough to assure that the theoretical models are correct.

      The HITRAN web pages have links to publications where its methodology is described.

      • “The calculation of vibrational transitions of three atomic molecule like CO2 is not a particularly difficult problem to solve…”

        True. Students of IR spectroscopy are taught how such calculations are done.

        If JFK seeks a summary, he/she could start with this short article. Of course, summaries tend to employ ex cathedra statements, so one should follow up by examining some of the many listed references.

        One can get a pretty good idea of the differences between paleoclimatology and phrenology by going to the library and browsing through textbooks like Paleoclimatology by Crowley and North (1991, but updated since then). And of course there are the professional journals; abstracts are available free online, full texts can usually be obtained free from the authors.

        By just reading the blogs it is easy to dismiss climate science as shoddy, misguided or corrupt. Less so, when the full range of scholarly sources are consulted. Try it.

      • This is also helpful. So the fact that there are programs that solve the Schrodinger equation numerically and produce absorbtion frequencies that are reasonably close to the observed values is reassuring. I I had not seen this before, and certainly wasn’t aware of the HITRAN project (although it makes sense that something like this would exsit since astrophysicists are able to deduce the composition of remote objects from their spectra).

        When I compared paleoclimatology to phrenology I was thinking specifically of the Mann et. al. reconstructions which seem to me to have lots of problems: sample of convenience, tree ring proxy data that diverges from the actual temperature record in modern times, bristlecones used as proxies, and use of fancy statistical techniques on data that seems to have a lot of problems. Previewing Crowley and North shows that the field of paleoclimatology is much broader than that.

        I never thought climate science was shoddy, misguided, or corrupt even if there are a few bad actors. I think that having discussions around ” Implications for Climate Change Denial” are about as useful as discussing “Implications of Gravity Denial”. If the data and arguments are clear enough then it should be possible to make a case to the scientifically literate layperson beyond just saying something as vacuous as “the science is settled “.

      • Thanks, this is helpful. Googling “CO2 IR absorbtion” gives some good illustrations of the spectra of CO2, H2O, and other common molecules, with animations of some of the modes. Theoretical and experimental wavelengths can also be found. Spectroscopy is a much broader field than I appreciated. There is some elementary (college chemistry) information here:

        There are also papers at varying levels of sophistication that make pieces AGW case, although none really lays out all the information in a compelling way.

  33. You make a number of assertions and state outcomes as fact as represented by the following quote from your article.

    “Even when the science is sensible, the casual reader mixes the science, metaphysics, and even theology together into hopelessly muddled thinking.”

    How do you know this, or better, why should I believe you? In this single sentence and others like it you demonstrate a laser-precise example of what your article focuses on. And there are other such examples in your brief (careful, Josh!). Here, for example:

    “Not many scientists will stand up and openly admit to ordinary hubris. They will be convinced they are dispassionate, and tend to believe those working in different specialisms are also dispassionate.”

    If I am to mark your paper I must mark it FAIL. I’m not skeptical – I don’t even know if you are right or wrong. You’ve simply given no reason to believe you. However – you have been motivational as I will now dig deeper into several of your assertions to seek the deeper reality. And for what it is worth I did the same after reading Jurassic Park. Crichton left me wondering about the science. That makes me one example of how one of your assertions is wrong, or perhaps over general.

  34. Folksy introductory story to establish connection to the general reader and frame the argument in the context most convenient to the author’s agenda?


    Intricately and artfully worded but plausible secondary hypothesis presented to link folksy but mostly unrelated introductory story to theme?


    Faulty assertion slipped in while the readers’ defenses are lowered?

    “And the enduring images of evolution are not the robustness of genetics and the amazing adaptation of species in response to environmental changes. Instead, the general public is treated to artistic representations of evolutionary ancestry that may, or may not, fit the latest genome research.”

    At one level, this is just a wordy way to say we remember pictures when we think of pictures. However, this plainly also asserts little or no value in the content of publications either to the publishers or to the readers.

    Naturally, someone who believes this will write a piece that illustrates this.. and be embraced by readers who typify it. All pretty pictures and stories, unproven but convincing, for a credulous audience.

    In this way, we prove Thomas G. Brown right simply by not skeptically and critically disputing his claims.

    Let’s look at another faulty assertion, again constructed periodically in the paragraph and again conjunctively connected to an irrelevant but plausible garden-path Judas-goat introduction:

    “But the way in which science has been treated has changed in recent years. While the popular classics covered themes in which the science itself was fiction (whether Star Trek style teleportation or pre-1950’s space flight, the authors never claimed to be describing actual contemporary science), the new fiction presents the science itself as real and current. Additional characters and conflicts form the plot, but references to real scientific experiments and actual research organizations are used to lend credibility to the story.”

    This is baldly a lie.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used exactly the same science fiction method in Sherlock Holmes that Thomas G. Brown suggests did not exist until long after Star Trek, and imputes was somehow pioneered by Dan Brown, Michael Crichton and John LeCarre. Ever hear of Jules Verne? Or Voltaire? Or Jonathan Swift? Or Daniel Defoe? I know these obscure names are easy to overlook in literature, compared to Crichton and LeCarre, but the evidence exists for those persistent few who look hard.

    It seems an unnecessary lie, at first glance. A minor detail. Like the grand unified theory.

    The argument, however, hinges on there being something to this lie. The phenomenon must be current, new, unanswered, and Thomas G. Brown’s thesis therefore the new solution to the new problem. Other solutions, older and proven, must thereby not be considered; how could old methods apply to this radical new problem never before faced?

    Critical thinking, critical reading, skeptical questioning and the ability of grown ups to distinguish fiction from reality.. these have always been available to readers.

    “The simple answer is that people, including scientists, are often more convinced by believability than by formal proof. Whether or not the purveyor of information has earned such trust is secondary — learning is often built much more on trust than on reasoning.”

    How is ‘formal proof’ different from ‘believability’?

    I have met many formal proofs that were believable and contrary to other equally formal proofs that were to many believable too. Haven’t you?

    Is the solution some particular one true formal proof?

    Is the solution disbelief and inaction until that one true formal proof comes like the Messiah, at the end of time?

    This is Thomas G. Brown’s ultimate hidden thesis: scientist do nothing, say nothing, work on nothing unless the general public is ready to embrace it.

  35. Joe Lalonde:
    I probably do not understand your views on expansion and contraction of gases in relation to concepts of the methods of science. There is a paradox as to what constitutes reality since all of the external reality is filtered through our senses whereas our thoughts are not. Some might say that thus our thoughts constitute reality.
    However there is an apocryphal anecdote that seems to apply. A psychiatrist has a patient who is delusional: the patient thinks he is dead.
    Psychiatrist: “Do dead people bleed?”
    Patient: “No.”
    The psychiatrist then pricks the patient’s finger with a needle. A drop of blood appears.
    Psychiatrist: “See, you are not dead.”
    Patient: “I guess dead people do bleed.”

    • Morley,

      You in a round about way hit the crux of the problem in that we are all not in the same fields of what we have been taught or what our interests are.
      For science to move forward takes patience and open mindedness that maybe our past teaching were not all that correct.
      I’ve had to teach myself to try and think multi-layered and absorb many areas of knowledge. Meanwhile in doing so, many areas in science are not all that correct.

  36. Nice essay. I’d like to hear the author’s ideas on how emotion factors into belief and rational analysis.

  37. Jeffrey Davis
    :..The line of evidence is there from the quantum level to lakes in Siberia where permafrost used to be. If people don’t believe these, they don’t want to believe…”

    Let us not forget the Norse settlements in Greenland now being exposed or the large amount of human artifacts being exposed in other areas of the artic under the retreating permafrost.

    So..we are in the “Warmest peroid ever” according to the “scientists”..humm

    • Cite the people who have said that this climate is the warmest ever.

      • It is repeatedly claimed that it is the warmest in 1000 or 2000 years as “proof” of AGW by Mike Mann, for example. Google it.

      • Yes. I’m aware of the study. As a global mean temp, it’s probably true. There have been several proxy studies that indicate that.

        Google it.

      • Global mean temp hasn’t been measured. Indicators give direction for future work; they don’t give you an answer to the question at hand.

      • Your chasing your tail with nonsense definitions.

        Measurements are always incomplete.

        (Are you one of the bogus personas that were exposed over the week-end?)

    • The Norse settlements on Greenland have never been under the ice, ie. they have always been exposed. (They are by the coast.)

      • But settlements in Switzerland under the ice from the medieval and earlier times are currently being exposed.

      • Here there’s confusion about glaciers and ice coverage. Whether these expand or contract depends on whether the amount of snow (or freezing rain, etc) falling in a year is more or less than the amount of melting / runoff / evaporation in a year. This is much more complicated than temperature alone.

      • But you did not write about Switzerland in your comment above?

        (And I am sorry, but I would like to read your references for that before discussing it further. Your loose handling of facts regarding Greenland did not impress.)

  38. Thanks for that interesting (if a little long) post. I think this gets to the heart of an important issue – that groups of scientists are now deliberately trying to deceive the general public. For example, you will fool a proportion of the population by talking about the hottest year ever, or the second hottest ever, but you won’t fool anyone who glances at the data with even a modicum of statistical knowledge. They will recognise this for what it is – a way to disguise the truth that the temperature curve has leveled off, by commenting on the noise! Incredibly, you couldn’t get away with that in physics 101, but you can when billions of pounds of investment depend on the argument!

    This is producing a spreading distrust of areas of science – not just climatology. I now look at every area of science where big money is involved, and ask myself, do I believe this. For example, the LHC management obviously employed the services of an image consultant, who chose to hype the fatuous idea of a “God particle”. Of course, all that rather backfired after a section of the magnets burned out, producing months of delay! However, suppose the LHC doesn’t find anything remarkable – can anyone be certain they wouldn’t fake it? Five years ago, I would not have entertained that idea, but now I am not so sure – a lot of scientists chose to keep quiet about the Oxborough non-enquiry into the AGW research going on at the UEA.

  39. Thomas,
    I agree, trust is important and it is based on honesty and accountability.

    So let’s have an open and frank discussion. In fact, your beliefs predate the emails incident. In case you don’t remember, you were a signatory to the APS Council Study open letter demanding that the APS change its statement on climate change, along with Robert and Fred. That was two years ago.

    The letter ‘announcing’ this ‘review’ (there was a subcommittee struck to consider your petition, but that is not a review – you see, I, too, read Council minutes) was characteristically misleading and exaggerated, with no demonstrated understanding of the science that your credentials suggest you are capable of reading.

    It coincided with the main signatories’ opposition and lobbying against the introduction of a new energy/climate bill. But perhaps that was just a coincidence, so irrelevant.

    What is clearly relevant, however, is that there are, what, some 40 or 50,000 members of the APS? 54 signed your petition. That’s not a lot of your fellow scientists. One wonders why you consider your response to climate science to be ‘rational’, but theirs is not.

    At the time of your letter, the only one of your group that seemed to have a climate-related paper was William Happer, Chairman of the Board of the George C. Marshall Institute:

    You make some interesting assumptions about who to trust about climate science.

    Re the emails. Multiple independent investigations into the emails hacked at CRU found no misconduct in the research on the part of the scientists, and no scientific malpractice. We did learn that issues around the release of raw data and computer code in response to FOIA requests was partly about the misuse or perceived misuse of the FOIA request process for political purposes that had nothing to do with the honest goal of reviewing scientific data. Still, a FOIA request needs a response. Steps to improve routine sharing of data in future, and to alleviate concerns of this kind, are (according to the university administration) being taken and can be publicly monitored.

    You have written a contextless, unbalanced summary, with little application of your more thoughtful concerns to yourself.

    The irony of this post on how to promote integrity, is not lost on me.

    • Martha, again, your point is what? Its lost on me. The APS statement is one of the worst statements I’ve seen by any of the professional societies making such statements. Thomas signed a letter complaining about this statement. Your smear tactics just aren’t very effective here.

    • “Re the emails. Multiple independent investigations into the emails hacked at CRU found no misconduct in the research on the part of the scientists, and no scientific malpractice.”

      Have you ever stopped to wonder how that could be – how it is that such damning evidence of unscientific behaviour and sheer incompetence (see the HARRY_README.TXT file) could all be a mistake?

      Take a look at the Oxborough report and some of his replies to the Bishop Hill blog. The truth will soak in better if you discover it for yourself!

    • Martha, well said.

    • Martha,

      Read the e-mails. These investigations are obvious cover-ups. That’s blatantly obvious on their face. One was put together over lunch. They only bothered to talk to Mann or the CRU scientists. They have already been exposed for a number of untruthful statements that misled the public. In fact, the investigations were so badly flawed that some have speculated those involved in putting them out deliberately sabotaged the work as a way to indicate that the fix was in.

      But why not read the e-mails for yourself? Aren’t you qualified to reach an understanding without being told what to think?

      • Stan, have you read the emails? I don’t mean excerpts, I don’t mean 20 or 50 or 100 of them, but all 1,000 emails and 2,000 other files?

        If not, on what basis do you state with such authority about what’s “blatantly obvious” or not? Should we assume you’ve “been told what to think?”

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        PDA, why would you ask a question like that? There would be absolutely no need to read all the e-mails to make the statements he made. Even if you think there was a need for context or something, there are plenty of e-mails which contribute absolutely nothing to one’s understanding of the topic. For example, why would anyone need to read an e-mail discussing travel plans?

        Worse yet, you ask him if he read the other files. You asked if he read things like data files. Or cartoon images. What would reading lists of numbers or looking at pictures made to mock people contribute to one’s understanding of whether or not the investigations were meaningful?

        As a side note, I have read every e-mail and data file (or rather, looked at the numbers in the data files), but I didn’t need to. A person wouldn’t need to read a single e-mail to be able to tell the investigations were horribly inadequate.

      • Nobody needs to read thousands of emails. To understand the quality of the work that was being done, all you have to do is read the code files. They don’t meet any quality standard I’d accept, and it’s apparent there weren’t quality standards. Do I consider reporting results with no quality standards scientific misconduct? Only if you subsequently use them for something (which they did).

      • Which code standards do you refer to? As far as I know, there is no such thing in place for scientific work, neither have I ever seen it actually cited as a reason for rejection of a paper or result. What matters is what algorithms are used, not the identation and naming schemes.

      • I think you should read the HARRY_README.TXT file, released along with the emails. You do not need a formal standard to know that something is wrong when the programmer has to guess the format of some of the files – which contain a bare array of numbers. That programmer also talks about the difficulty he his having reproducing some existing results, and how the whole suite requires a re-write.

        Academic software can be pretty awful, because it tends to get written by a succession of graduate students, whose main subject was nothing to do with software. Nevertheless, one might have thought that this software would be of a higher standard considering what is at stake!

      • Sure, it’s not the best example of research software I have seen (as judged from the above mentioned readme-file), but it is not the worst either. And I do not know if the stakes are radically higher in this area of research than many other I have been involved in. (e.g. no lives are directly dependent on the results, as compared to medical research.)

        And still – awful software does not make the scientific findings based on it automatically to be wrong, especially not when the same result has been shown by separate groups, all using their own software. So the readme-file is, as far as I can see, a windmill to attack for interested parties that has nothing to do with the scientific findings themself.

      • You make the implicit assumption that despite all software kluginess and data corruption the package does what it’s supposed to.

        I find that remarkable and utterly insupportable.

      • Its a reasonable working assumption that anybody who can write good clean code has the self-discipline and mental strength to be a good scientist.

        Like writing a good research paper or essay, it shows that the author is able to organise her ideas in a logical and structured way and keep them so sorted for an extended period while creating the work. It also means that they probably have a good understanding of the underlying science.

        But messy horrible code does not inspire confidence. It does not show a facility for logical thought or for an organised work method.

        It may be that by some happy chance, such code gets to work well once in a while, but for a betting man, the chance of success will always be higher with the organised approach.

        It also makes it much easier to explain what’s going on to the peer-reviewer or examiner. And in my experience, its not harder to write. You just spend more time planning it but save an awful lot on debugging it.

      • John Q. Lurker

        Academic software can be pretty awful, because it tends to get written by a succession of graduate students, whose main subject was nothing to do with software. Nevertheless, one might have thought that this software would be of a higher standard considering what is at stake!

        Not the first time that’s been said, but how true it is! People don’t appreciate it. I once was called upon to improve a program that had been developed by a think tank. When I read it, I was astounded. The person who wrote it had no idea of what he was doing. They probably paid some undergraduate a couple hundred bucks for it.

  40. The article is reasonable up to the last sentence before the section on “Trusting the community of scientists”, then it goes off into an unfounded set of allegations and conspiracy theories.
    The first part is fine. It states that science is built on trust that what you are taught goes back through a solid line of evidence, through textbook knowledge, to scientific foundations. Also those who are not taught science have to trust that the scientists they listen to are well taught in this tradition. After that section, it implies current science is something different, where we are now taught based on where the funding comes from or what is politically expedient. This is a complete non-sequitur in the dialog, and is typical of over-reactions to Climategate.
    We need a discussion on what science conclusions changed after Climategate, because none of the key parts of AGW were affected, and few seem to realize that. What was affected was the evidence for the MWP, which already was in the 2007 IPCC report two years before Climategate, and the trust in CRU surface data, based on unfulfilled FOIA requests, that turned out not to be an issue with the data itself at all, so that suspicions were unfounded. You can attack some scientists based on Climategate, but not the science of AGW nor the IPCC report conclusions, so it makes no sense when people say they lost trust in the science after Climategate. People who say this need to specifically talk about the science points they lost trust in, not people, to make their case. I have not seen this addressed yet, and it just looks like non-scientific bad-mouthing without it.

    • Jim,

      Near the beginning of your post, you state “Also those who are not taught science have to trust that the scientists they listen to are well taught in this tradition.”, then later you follow up with “…so it makes no sense when people say they lost trust in the science after Climategate”. There is a disconnect between those two statements. The emails illustrated a breach of that trust on the part of a very few, but I think the reaction from the scientific community broadened the loss of trust. No amount of “context” changes the fact of what was done and that it violated the law. The insultingly superficial “investigations” didn’t help.

      While I agree with you that the science has not changed as a result of Climategate, perhaps it would be better if something had. The reason I say this is because perhap it would have lead to a stronger reaction from the climate science community against those that had crossed the line. The “thin blue line” attitude is a long-term loser – you suffer more of a credibility hit from defending the indefensible than you would from dealing with the infraction and moving on.

      • I think a lot of scientists would have attitudes not far short of those of Richard Muller of UC Berkeley (leading the BEST team) that he expressed about Climategate misconducts, though he might be a little extreme in not reading their papers anymore. See if this link works that I got from WUWT.

      • OK, it seems to work. The Climategate part starts at 6:00, but he has interesting things to say before that about CO2 growth and policy proposals.

      • Jim,

        Thanks for the link (and bravo to Professor Muller). My disdain for those involved in this stems from the fact that I fully accept that temperatures are trending up. For them to have muddied the waters in this manner is unacceptable. I’m hopeful the BEST team’s efforts can put some of this right.

      • I think Muller’s attitude reflects that of a lot of scientists in the field that don’t like seeing their profession sullied by Climategate, which it has been. The majority of scientists believe in the ideal of ‘let the results speak for themselves’. The peer review system should not be
        co-opted for opinion-mongering by either side, and papers should stand or fall on their own merit.

      • Thanks for spotting this, a must see in terms of “hide the decline.”

      • Lol WUWT.

        And Richard Muller? Please.

  41. Thomas Brown

    Excellent post.

    Thank you so much.

  42. From John Beddington

    “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality…We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method,” he said.

    Beddington said he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that… we need to recognise that this is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.

    ”I really would urge you to be grossly intolerant…We should not tolerate what is potentially something that can seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.

    “There are enough difficult and important problems out there without having to… deal with what is politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.”

    In closing, Beddington said: “I’d urge you, and this is a kind of strange message to go out, but go out and be much more intolerant.”

    Amen to that Brother…Amen to that!

    • Lysenko could not have said it better.

    • And so the science “community” should have been intolerant of Kepler, sho overturned Ptolemy; of Newton, who overturned Aristotle; of Einstein, who overturned Newton? Did your mother raise any other foolish children?

      • Are you sure? :-)

      • if you are wise you are probably sure of little

      • No. They contributed to the knowledge. He’s talking about the snake oil salesmen, propped up by the likes of SPPI.

      • Science must build a difference form anti science, choosing intolerance means removing the difference, not building it.

        There is nothing wrong in attacking wrong claims or exposing falsifications, but that can and must be done without recourse to intolerance. Intolerance is in strong contradiction with the scientific process. Scientists cannot maintain their status unless they act as scientists.

        Who is the one to tell where the necessary skepticism and scientific criticality ends and the anti science begins. Some cases may be clear, but selecting intolerance implies more than identifying a few clear cases. Where are the activities of Mike Hulme, Hans von Storch and Judith Curry? A few have told their judgment. Is that, what we want?

      • Pekka,

        Some scientists will have to get off their high horse of being absolutely correct no matter the evidence attitude.

      • And why do you think you are the arbiter wrt who is contributing to the knowledge today?

    • I wonder what Beddington’s attitude towards ‘hiding the decline’ (see video in the comment above) is? Would he call that ‘pseudo science’ or ‘politically motivated nonsense’?

  43. One of the challenges that the climate change deniers have is explaining what *is* going on. They’re pretty good at casting stones at those who are trying to explain it; not so good in developing their own explanations. Its very reminiscent of the tobacco company scientists trying to ‘explain’ why tobacco is not causing cancer. Now, even the energy companies have stopped trying to deny global warming, and most seem to not even be trying to deny anthropomorphic causes.

    • But the real question, Jim, is what the energy companies say about anthropogenic causes, don’t you think. By the way, just what is the energy companies’ view on anthropomorphic causes?

      • Here’s one….
        “– Thirty-two corporations — including Duke, Caterpillar, Xerox, News Corp, Dow Chemical, and PepsiCo — are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has called for a cap-and-trade system.”

      • And I believe the way that cap-and-trade works is that the fat-cat corporations make a buck off the deal and Joe-six-pack (a notable personage on this blog) pays the bill through his increased energy costs. Sorry, Jim, but I don’t believe in the concept of the do-gooder corporation–reminds me too much of the tobacco companies and their dubious science.

      • Yep, no such thing as a “do gooder” corporation. But you asked for an example of a company that was dealing with anthropomorphic global warming. There is no free lunch; anything they do will be passed to the consumer. We will pay the costs that will result from global warming and the costs of mitigating it (if that’s even possible at this point).

      • Jim, you might want to look up the definition of the word “anthropomorphic.” My first comment in this thread was a gentle ribbing, but I see my little joke has fallen flat.

      • Sorry; didn’t mean to be obtuse. Anthropogenic! Thnx!

      • How many of them have pulled out recently? Look it up.

      • Naah. I’ll take your word for it that some have pulled out of that groupage. But the point is that there are some energy companies that are addressing AGW. They’re not ignoring it. And I’m sure they’ll figure out how to make a buck off of it.

    • Jim –
      It’s not the business of the “deniers” to develop their own explanations – their business is to show that the “science” has “holes that one could drive a truck through.” And, as presented, it does.

      Science does not work without the sceptics.

      • Skeptics are ok (scientists by nature are skeptics imho), but they need to be held to the same standards if they want to have credence, yes? Use data to support arguments, logical frameworks, avoid ad hominem attacks, etc. Sorry Jim, don’t see the holes. :)

      • Then look closer. They’re all over the place.

      • Oh, should have added this – pay attention to which side of the dance floor the ad hom is coming from. 90% from your side.

      • Well, I sure don’t see that, and I pay attention pretty closely.

      • Heh! Stick around. And pay attention. If you don’t see it, then you’re part of the problem.

  44. Well I for one am happy that the scientists have figured out why I am skeptical so I don’t have to. I thought I was skeptical because there was a lack of a tropospheric hot spot as modeled. I assumed I was skeptical because scientists went from saying they didn’t really understand the stratosphere to saying the cooling was the fingerprint of AGW in just a couple of years and now it appears they don’t really understand the stratosphere after all. I perceived my skepticism was derived from the lack of ocean warming despite a large energy imbalance. I was guessing that maybe the climate sensitivity was less then generally accepted values because the historic response to forcing has been less then indicated. And I pondered if I should trust the judgement of people that seem to see signs of their oncoming catastrophy in every wobble of a trend in ice, snow, species populations, droughts, floods, and even tsunamis. Now I understand. It is Fox news, skeptical blogs, and conservative think tanks that have warped my sense of reality. Of course there remains the possibility that their attribution of where my opinion comes from is wrong. But they are scientists and I should trust them so I must go with what they tell me (sigh).

  45. Thomas Brown is quite correct in asserting that lot of assertions are made about science that are taken on faith and not experimentally proved. But, what makes all the difference from the “psuedo” sciences is that everything can be tested, all along the way. That’s a really big deal. When assertions are made that have nothing more behind them but “Trust me”, you’re getting on awfully thin ice, ice that can be shattered by something like Climategate.

    • Tom,

      I can mechanically prove experiments in the pseudo-sciences as they were written off years ago and no one is teaching these areas. Such as centrifugal force has a huge role in science yet was written off as unprovable. Compressed gases and storing energy were never thought of as well.
      These areas play a huge part in understanding this planet.

  46. Jim Lynch says “One of the challenges that the climate change deniers have is explaining what *is* going on”, to which I have to reply that they are under absolutely no imperative to have a valid counter interpretation to deny one that they believe is not right, and cannot be proved scientifically. It is entirely possible that no known explanation is correct.

    • Tom, you’re absolutely correct. The deniers do not have to offer an alternative explanation. They can indeed just keep throwing stones and playing “gotcha” games with scientists’ emails. But by doing so, they lump themselves in the same category as “Lord” Moncton, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. You’re right in that it is “possible” that no known explanation for our current climate patterns is correct. But that’s the job of scientists, to try to figure it out. There are credible and hard working scientists doing just that, and there are others who shrilly denigrate them. I would give the deniers tons more credit if they at least made an attempt at using data and logic to explain what’s going on.

      • Go read the emails – then you “maybe” won’t make a fool of yourself the next time you talk about them.

        To repeat, the sceptics only have to show that the Science, as presented, is incomplete, uncertain or untrue. And that is obvious to many of those who have had contact with it over the last ten years.

        It is the job of the scientists to prove that their hypotheses are correct. And they have yet to do that. If you believe they have, then please explain exactly why the models don’t work as advertised or why there’s no real conclusion as to CO2 sensitivity/feedback or why the CO2/temp relationship is still in the unknown column. Until you can provide at least one of those explanations, you’re just blowin’ smoke (expressing your own bias).

      • The deniers (hate to elevate them to the honorable level of “skeptic”) haven’t shown any of what you say, other than to the extent that any science is incomplete and uncertain, which is, of course the nature of science. Not sure what you mean by “untrue”; that implies conspiracy and fraud. Even Glen Beck has given up on that, (but our Attorney General is continuing to make a fool out of himself with that one). I’m biased? Darn tooting. Biased toward those who use data, publish their findings, use models and improve them (been there, done that), continue to improve their findings and decrease the level of uncertainty. This is basic science, nothing magic about it.

      • “You’re right in that it is “possible” that no known explanation for our current climate patterns is correct. But that’s the job of scientists, to try to figure it out. There are credible and hard working scientists doing just that, and there are others who shrilly denigrate them. I would give the deniers tons more credit if they at least made an attempt at using data and logic to explain what’s going on.”

        Scientist A studies an enormously complex, chaotic system, with multiple subsystems, not all of which are even known. Scientist A has been unable to construct a model that can be validated by the past, or predict the future, but claims nevertheless that his faulty model is the best we have. Skeptic B says, no, the system is simply too chaotic and complex to predict, that is why your models don’t work. He will not vote to pay trillions in new taxes and endanger our entire economic system based on your belief in your unverifiable models.

        And your critique of Skeptic B is that he doesn’t come up with his own method of predicting that which he believes cannot be predicted?

        If you were pitching a paper to Science or Nature, you might have an argument. But in the real world, where policy is made and taxes are raised or lowered, it doesn’t wash. In reality, most skeptics I know could not care less what CAGW alarmists think about their criticisms. The only opinion that ultimately matters is the voters. And so far, they aren’t convinced either. Nor do they seem likely to be in the near future.

  47. I have a few minor quibbles. The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics derives from a collapse of a probability density function in wave/particle duality rather than quantum entanglement. Nonetheless, it is a metaphysical interpretation of the mathematics.

    Quantum entanglement may in fact enable teleportation –
    – beam me up Scotty.

    And hell – perhaps there are other ways to make or capture antimatter – – and anti-matter was what powered the Star Trek warp drive.

    One thing I have just discovered is that I am a ‘deflationist’. Yea team.

    ‘One reason for the popularity of deflationism is its anti-metaphysical stance. Deflationism seems to deflate a grand metaphysical puzzle, a puzzle about the nature of truth, and much of modern philosophy is marked by a profound scepticism of metaphysics. Another reason for the popularity of deflationism concerns the fact that truth is a semantic notion, and therefore takes its place along with other semantic notions, such as reference, meaning, and content. Many philosophers are concerned with trying to understand these semantic notions. The deflationary theory is attractive since it suggests that, at least in the case of truth, there is less to be puzzled about here than one might expect.’

    I might add that belief and trust are mere semantic notions as well. If we take the Special Theory of Relativity – it is something I return to again and again – it is a beautiful flower unfolding in the mind oven decades. If it is true, however, is a matter of no concern. It has proved very useful for coordinating atomic clocks on GPS satellites. Does that make it true – or is there something that might emerge in the unified equations of quantum mechanics and relativity to create a better understanding. Much as relativity itself introduced a little wiggle to Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. So we have elegance and utility but no guarantee of absolute truth – if truth itself was more than a mere semantic notion. To assert that it is true adds nothing of any value to the theory.

    I feel a little the same about evolution – it has great utility certainly leading to the first green revolution amongst many other things. Is it truth? I will reserve judgement certainly until someone explains to me how time dilation doesn’t do away with the arrow of time as an all encompassing theory of time.

    So – add truth, belief and trust to the pantheon of overrated semantic notions and we may get somewhere. I am a simple man. I am sympathetic to the notion that we shouldn’t continue – ipso facto and willy nilly – to change the composition of the atmosphere – and that in a ‘spatio-temporal chaotic system’ such as climate is, prediction is moot but risk is ever present. I am with a Bart (who shall remain unnamed) – how much more do we need to know?

    There is certainly little else in climate that has much meaning. If we look at the level of scientific understanding of various forcings in AR4 – well it speaks for itself. If we look at data from the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument on the Terra satellite – it shows large changes in radiant flux that is cloud change associated with ENSO. Something that is very poorly understood indeed. If we look at decadal changes in the Pacific the potential exists for cooling for a decade or three more. If we look at abrupt climate change – it suggests that climate is a ‘spatio-temporal chaotic system’ – there is uncertainty at the core of climate processes which establishes theoretical limits on predictability.

    I keep saying to people to imagine the political implications of a planet that does not warm for 10 to 30 years more. No mere scenario – but something that emerges from peer reviewed literature – see for instance

    Yet there is a close mindedness (applying equally to both sides) that consists of going down a track with rigid ideas with which the world at large is not conforming – and failing to see the non-conformance. ‘The need for assured knowledge labelled more technically as the Need for Closure constitutes a fundamental mechanism whereby the potentially interminable epistemic sequence of hypothesis generation and testing comes to an end, affording one a sense of firm knowledge. Arousal of such a need (e.g. by uncertainty evoking events) is shown to induce a state of close mindedness in which individuals are (1) less able to empathize with others, (2) intolerant of diversity, (3) centered on their in-group, and (4) hostile to out-groups. Thus, a psychological, individual-level, mechanism of knowledge formation is shown to be relevant to major societal phenomena, and to play a potentially significant role in the shaping of politics and history in the world at large.’

    I guess we will just have to muddle through.

    • Chief
      I am very much taken with your theory about the linkage between PDO, cloud cover and albedo. The changes to SW radiation and measured albedo since the late 70’s seem to be quite strong supporting evidence and I agree that something does seem to have shifted after the 1998 El Nino. With this in mind, if the PDO is shifting to a cool phase, then planetary cooling or temperature stagnation certainly seems to be quite a possibility.

      So what will happen if we get 20 years of cooling?

      The proponents will have to accept the dominance of the PDO but will argue that the AGW signal is still present but temporarily masked. They will state that GW will continue after a pause.

      The skeptics will point to natural variability as a dominant feature and will continue to oppose strident policy prescriptions. The main arguments will be directed at the magnitude of CO2 climate sensitivity.

      The public will dig the snow from their forecourts, shrug their shoulders and say it was all a storm in a teacup. There will be little interest in expensive mitigation.

      Politicians will react to electorates. They will probably reframe many of the sensible policies such as energy efficiency and security but will walk away from expensive mitigation.

      There will be increased focus on regional forecasting.

      The whole matter may well die down completely.

      Many climate blog owners may go out of business due to lack of customers :)

      • Hi Rob,

        It is rather a basin wide phenomenon – involving the modulation of the frequency and intensity of ENSO events. There is an evident connection of ENSO to cloud – it shows up strongly in the CERES data. ISCCP-FD, ERBS, and HIRS show as well increases in LW out – something that would not happen with sulphates or with greenhouse gases.

        Another 10 to 30 years of no warming – and most of the voting public will be confirmed in their thinking. I will be left saying – hey we still do need to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a funny world.


    • John Q. Lurker

      I feel a little the same about evolution – it has great utility certainly leading to the first green revolution amongst many other things. Is it truth? I will reserve judgement certainly until someone explains to me how time dilation doesn’t do away with the arrow of time as an all encompassing theory of time.

      Can you explain that a little better? How would time dilation do away with the arrow of time etc.?

      • ‘Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.’ Albert Einstein

        The weirdness of time?

      • John Q. Lurker

        Thanks. I haven’t watched the video. “Time’s arrow” refers to the fact that entropy increases. I don’t see that time dilation would change that. It doesn’t have any reference frame running in reverse with respect to another. Looking around the web just now, I see there’s a problem with entropy and relativity, but I don’t think it’s anything that would do away with time’s arrow.

        I’m worried that this is too far off thread topic.

      • On topic…off topic…I am sure that Judith will delete us if she must. But this is far more interesting than hiding the decline.

        Ah entropy thy name is ‘that the world is inherently active, and that whenever an energy distribution is out of equilibrium a potential or thermodynamic “force” (the gradient of a potential) exists that the world acts spontaneously to dissipate or minimize.’ Entropy is different for different inertial observers –

        If we go back to Einstein, however, entropy is still ‘the evolution of a three dimensional existence.’ I don’t pretend to understand the space/time continuum – and nor did Einstein I think.

        ‘Space-time does not evolve, it simply exists. When we examine a particular object from the stand point of its space-time representation, every particle is located along its world-line. This is a spaghetti-like line that stretches from the past to the future showing the spatial location of the particle at every instant in time. This world-line exists as a complete object which may be sliced here and there so that you can see where the particle is located in space at a particular instant. Once you determine the complete world line of a particle from the forces acting upon it, you have ‘solved’ for its complete history. This world-line does not change with time, but simply exists as a timeless object. Similarly, in general relativity, when you solve equations for the shape of space-time, this shape does not change in time, but exists as a complete timeless object. You can slice it here and there to examine what the geometry of space looks like at a particular instant. Examining consecutive slices in time will let you see whether, for example, the universe is expanding or not.’

        3 dimensional beings thinking in 4 dimensions is very difficult – but necessary. For entropy we have the unbroken glass and the broken glass – existing in separate moments in the unchanging space/time continuum.

        This is an astonishing idea leading to horrors of horrors. All the moments of existence in the unchanging space/time continuum. All the crime, murder, torture, rape – moments of horrors preserved like ants in amber for eternity. For no particular reason I believe that the space/time continuum is perfectable and it is our light that the lights the darkness across all space and all time. If we are not light we are darkness.

        So why not view a four minute video? Anyway – the space/time continuum doesn’t run forward or backward – it simply is.

      • John Q. Lurker

        So why not view a four minute video?

        Because I guessed it wouldn’t have more than a very remote bearing on your remark about evolution and time’s arrow. Now I’ve watched it, and I see that it’s even more remote than I guessed; I had expected it to be about the twins “paradox.”

        Anyway – the space/time continuum doesn’t run forward or backward – it simply is.

        Yes, but I think the question is whether relativity can make entropy run backwards as observed from another reference frame, and I think the answer is no. If there is no such reversal, I don’t see why any problem with relativity and time’s arrow (entropy) would lead you to reserve judgment about evolution. Evolution could be observed as running faster or slower, but that’s all. I’m not competent to judge the paper you’ve linked, but it doesn’t look to me like it implies that a reversal is possible.

      • It is precisely the twins paradox. But it is not a paradox – it is a measurable reality. I have quoted Albert Einstein and Stanford University physics dept. Let me try once and only once more. You are certainly right about inertial references. Entropy – by the paper I linked to entropy happens faster and slower according to the reference frame. It is time travel – an amazing astonishing idea.

        But think beyond the players – with a God’s eye view. Take in all of time and space in a glance. ‘It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.’ Albert Einstein

        It is a natural interpretation of time dilation – so we have this 4 dimensional world line that doesn’t evolve but simply exists as single entity. The unbroken mirror is just as real in the unchanging worldline as the broken mirror. We see the universe as 3 dimensional because we are 3 dimensional consciousness in an inertial frame. Entropy and evolution happen in 3 dimensions and an evolving timeline – but in 4 dimensions each mathematically indistinguishable and unchanging, what can these things be?

        I don’t know – but you do yourself a disservice by not seeing the deep mystery in the eternal and infinite space/time continuum.

      • John Q. Lurker

        It is precisely the twins paradox. But it is not a paradox – it is a measurable reality.

        That’s why I quoted the word “paradox.”

        The rest of what you say is that, from a God’s-eye view, all of space and time exists together. OK, fine, but that’s no more a challenge to evolution than it’s a challenge to the cooking of dinner or any other process.

        Time dilation does not exist from a God’s-eye view, either, so you’re as much as arguing against it.

        I don’t know – but you do yourself a disservice by not seeing the deep mystery in the eternal and infinite space/time continuum.

        I see mystery, but I don’t see a challenge to evolution or any other claim of process or any scientific theory about a process.

    • “Quantum entanglement may in fact enable teleportation”

      As I understand it, quantum entanglement can permit data to be transmitted (but no faster than the speed of light even though entanglement itself is instantaneous), and the data could be used to construct a replica elsewhere of a material object here. However, the object itself could not be teleported on the basis of current understanding.

      • but no faster than the speed of light even though entanglement itself is instantaneous

        Hmmm – the way I see it that that’s an unproven hypothesis based on unproven assumptions. The FTL question has been attacked from several directions – so far unsuccessfully. But then, many scientific and tech problems have taken years or decades to resolve. There is no room for absolute certainty in science.

      • “There is no room for absolute certainty in science.”

        Are you sure?

      • Nothing in life is absolutely “sure”, Fred – except death and taxes. :-)

      • The discussion on the quantum entanglement and its relationship to the various interpretations of quantum mechanics is still going on and new proposals of making use of it come out every now and then.

        I think is is safe to say that no direct violation of causality has been observed, not without considering special relativity or including it. No agreement has on the other hand been reached on the potential final resolution of the open questions like, how the quantum entanglement can be used or do the different interpretations lead to observably different results.

        Contrary to Chief’s comment the quantum entanglement and the different interpretations (like many worlds) are closely related issues in attempts to understand quantum mechanics as something else than a mathematical formalism that can be used to calculate accurate valid results on physical systems.

      • Hi Pekka,

        I am not clear on the collapse of the wave function in quantum entanglement – and therefore many worlds implications.

        ‘Quantum entanglement is a physical resource, like energy, associated with the peculiar nonclassical correlations that are possible between separated quantum systems. Entanglement can be measured, transformed, and purified. A pair of quantum systems in an entangled state can be used as a quantum information channel to perform computational and cryptographic tasks that are impossible for classical systems. The general study of the information-processing capabilities of quantum systems is the subject of quantum information theory.’

        The classic discussion of quantum interpretations emerged I thought from the collapse of the probabilistic wave function in wave/particle duality – stemming from the original quantum idea of Max Planck.

        Still – it is always more complex in physics than I understand with my eclectic bower bird of a brain.


      • Rob,
        The collapse of quantum state in a measurement is known as basic in the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. This interpretation is an idealization of the measurement process. The real measurements are never exactly like the idealization, but they are close enough for making the idealization very useful. The quantum entanglement is most easily described as directly related to the same idealization.

        The Copenhagen interpretation is used in almost all practical calculations, because it makes them well defined and as simple as anybody can make from QM, but it leaves unanswered the problems of Schrödinger cat (can a cat really be both alive and dead before a human observes its state) and the Einstein-Podosky-Rosen paradox, which brought up the question of quantum entanglement.

        The many words interpretation is one way of saying that the cat can be both dead and alive, in some worlds it is dead, in others alive, and the human observer observes one of those worlds, when he looks at the cat. Exactly the same happens with quantum entanglement. An observation of part of an experiment leads to a collapse or selection of one of the worlds. Then we know what must be true at another point after the collapse or the selection of one of the worlds. The philosophical issues of interpretation are very closely related and the issues have survived and remained active precisely, because of quantum entanglement. Without it the would not be such lively interest in the interpretation of QM.

        (I minor side remark: I was working at CERN Theory Division around the time when Bell formulated there his inequality, which lead to experiments, that verified the results of QM in a way that could not be explained satisfactorily without quantum entanglement as predicted by the Copenhagen interpretation of QM. I didn’t know him well at all, and my main interests were others, but the interpretation of QM has been of interest also for me since those years.)

      • Thanks Pekka

        Having exhausted my paltry understanding – I will have to renew my interest in quantum entanglement. I had come to the conclusion that the Copenhagen Interpretation was the consensus position amongst physicists. It appears that that may be an example of premature ‘closure’. Stephen Hawkins amongst other have supported the many worlds idea.

        The world gets weirder by the moment.


      • I have always wondered what Schrödinger’s cat thought of all this. Rather than the problematical superposition of states in the Copenhagen or the multiple states of the Many Worlds. The cat is either dead or alive and the cat knows which – but not both at the same either as a superposition or in alternate universes?

        Ah – it gives me a headache.

      • The following is from Roger Penrose’s book, “The Emperor’s New Mind”:

        “According to the outside observer, the cat is in a linear superposition of being dead and being alive!

        “Do we really believe this would be the case? Schrodinger himself made it clear that he did not. He argued, in effect, that the rule U of quantum mechanics should not apply to something so large or so complicated as a cat. Something must have gone with the Schrodinger equation along the way. Of course, Schrodinger had a right to argue this way about his own equation, but that is not a prerogative given to the rest of us! A great many (and probably most) physicists would maintain… that we have no right to abandon that type of evolution, even at the scale of a cat.”

        (note – U refers to evolution of the Schrodinger equation that is deterministic rather than probabilistic at the quantum level.)

      • “gone wrong” not “gone” regarding Schrodinger’s opinion of his own equation.

      • Fred—since you are someone who is reasonable , and believe that added CO2 is bad; I hope you will take the opportunity to point out evidence that a warmer planet is really worse for humanity. I for one would be willing to change my position with better evidence. I suggest that you will find it very difficult to find evidence that is outside the range of natural variability or is not based upon a computer model that has not been demonstrated to be even reasonably accurate.

        I keep asking this most basic of questions and do not get even reasonable answers from people here. These same people propose raising taxes to lower current CO2. Please tell me why?

      • Rob – Thanks for your confidence in my reasonableness, but the truth is that I expect whatever I say will be argued with, and that’s an argument for a different thread. You stated that you had read AR4 WG2, were unconvinced, and concluded that all predictions of harm were model based. Since I disagree with that assessment, the best I can do is urge anyone else who is interested to read the same text and references (plus any other data sources) to draw his or her own conclusions.

        (On the other hand, if this thread were explicitly devoted to the human consequences of continued increases in CO2, I would try to describe the basis for my conclusions in more detail. Maybe that will happen and then we can have a more expanded discussion).

      • I simply ask that you point out some future condition that you think will be dire that can not be very easily managed or mitigated via proper infrastructure construction over the time periods involved. It seems to be the only reasonable solution.

      • the stated principle is that any carbon taxes should be revenue neutral…ie if there is a tax on say the electicity generators for sending out carbon dioxide emissions, then that increase should reflect in a reduction in taxes elsewhere. So it is about re-balancing taxes to achieve lower emissions which, on balance ought to be good. However, big gov just wants to increase taxes.

      • Don’t believe everything you read – the argument was an example of reductio ad absurdem aimed squarely at the probabilistic (Copenhagen) school. Of course the damn cat was alive or dead – and not both.

        The quantum entangled particle has a spin in one directions or another. If it is observed by Bob to spin in one direction then the other particle can be observed by Alice to spin in the other direction. If you change the spin on one particle – the spin on the other changes. Hence spooky action at a distance. The particle can only move at the speed of light – but the change in spin is instantaneous regardless of how distant the particles are.

        And of course the ‘wave function’ – a probabilistic density function describing the possible locations of a photon in a space – is merely a mathematical formalism because we don’t really understand the nature of the wave/particle duality.

        It is all too much for a deflationist hydrologist. But this is the poetry of the universe – and the answer to life, death, the universe and everything is, according to string theory, 42.

      • “the ‘wave function’ – a probabilistic density function”

        It’s my understanding that the wave function is deterministic rather than probabilistic, and that the probabilistic element emerges when one tries to go from the quantum level to the macroscopic level at which we operate. This is what is implied by the concept of “wave function collapse” in the Copenhagen interpretation. However, other interpretations invoke the concept of quantum “decoherence” to explain the emergence of one particular state available to our observations among those that actually exist (e.g., in a many worlds interpretation).

        I gather from Penrose’s description that most physicists do not believe that the cat is either dead or alive, with a particular probability for each state. Rather they would argue that there is a 100 percent certainty that the cat is alive and also a 100 percent certainty that the cat is dead – no probability is involved. Which of these states we observe is a matter of probability.

      • The probabilities are indeed related to the measurement process, not to the development of the wave function in absence of unknown external influences.

        Perhaps there is no point in going deeper into QM. I add only that the issues related to the development of unperturbed wave function and to the collapse of the quantum state, when observation is made, are related to the comments that I made in the discussion on Claes Johnson’s writings. Analyzing the situation without the early introduction of discrete photons is related to leaving the observation undone as long as possible and avoiding thus the quantum collapse related to the actual observation of a photon. As we are finally not interested in individual photons, it is possible to solve the problem without them. This may be impractical, but it should be possible. The results are of course the same, when two alternative approaches are both correct.

      • You guys crack me up.

      • Rob,

        Copenhagen interpretation is certainly still consensus in the sense that it the basis of all the useful applications of QM in all fields of physics. There has not been any need of giving it up, but perhaps this is not true forever, as people are looking for ways of expanding the range of results. As one indication I give three links to New Scientist

        At least some of them are not free, but even the abstracts tell that the field is not dead.

        (Correction to my earlier comment on Bell. I was at CERN several years after the original formulation of the inequality, Bell was there at the time of my stay. The related experiments came later.)

      • This was certainly my understanding.

        ‘The most common interpretation is that the wave function represents the probability of finding a given particle at a given point. These probability equations can diffract, interfere, and exhibit other wave-like properties, resulting in a final probabilistic wave function that exhibits these properties as well. Particles end up distributed according to the probability laws, and therefore exhibit the wave properties. In other words, the probability of a particle being in any location is a wave, but the actual physical appearance of that particle isn’t.’ –

        It is a problem of understanding this very essence of the quantum idea – E = hv – and address it as probabilities. The mathematics leads to the idea of superpositioning of states – the particle is here and the particle is there – the cat is alive and the cat is dead. Certainly so but it is because of our lack of understanding rather that otherwise. The Copenhagen Interpretation is that it is merely the mathematics of probabilities of wave/particle duality and has no deeper meaning than that. The cat is most certainly alive or most certainly dead – despite the existence of multiple possibilities.

        Where is the particle in space? How can we have a packet of energy in a wave? There is in my opinion still a fundamental mystery here.

      • Rob,
        The cat is dead or alive, not a superposition of both. Small particles follow laws of QM in a way that is in contradiction with similar reasoning. That is proven most strongly by the observation that empirical studies of the Bell’s inequality exclude so called hidden variable theories and follow instead QM with Copenhagen interpretation. In other words the quantum entanglement is shown to exist in this specific experiments.

        The question remains: Where between individual particles and the cat is the dividing line that separates situations that may lead to different outcomes, when observations are made, from those, which have already been bound to one outcome. Small atoms have been observed to behave like individual particles, but interference or other similar effects have not been observed for macroscopic bodies (there are macroscopic quantum effects like superfluids, but that is a bit different).

        The explanation can be stated to be in the buildup of decoherence. That is the way I like to think, but it does not give precise answers, but rather a general idea of how the difference builds up gradually, when the system gets more and more complicated and more and more likely to have been in interaction with other physical systems. In the Copenhagen interpretation the decoherence is instantaneous and precisely defined act, but in the alternative view it can be thought as a gradual stochastic process.

      • Schrödinger himself didn’t believe these other exotic states for the cat – 100% dead and 100% alive according to Fred, or both in different universes (a later Everett twist).

        I do believe I keep saying that the cat is dead or the cat is alive but not both. The cat was an analogy and not a good one. It has somehow stuck a chord with the public – and this may get back on topic. Such things as chaotic butterflies in Brazil, cats that are both dead and alive, or both in separate universe unexpectedly catch the public imagination. So what is belief in science for most but a colourful image that captures the imagination for a moment? Oh well.

        Decoherence, however, arises from measurement – the position of the particle is determined precisely and so all other probabilities in the wave function decohere. I am a little intimidated by a gradual decoherence and can’t imagine what it means.

        But Brian has it almost right – and it is that I was trying to get to. QM emerges from both the classic two slit experiment that shows light as behaving like waves
        and Planck’s observations that led to the concept of a photon – literally a packet or quantum of energy that is related to the frequency of the wave – E=hv – where v is the frequency. There is where the ‘quantum’ in quantum mechanics originates.

        The interpretations of probabilistic decoherence are a distraction I believe – it substitutes for a question that is still unanswerable. Brian is right in saying that the real mystery is still the nature of the wave/particle duality itself.

      • I am a little intimidated by a gradual decoherence and can’t imagine what it means.

        When the quantum mechanical system interacts with external world, the wave function is influenced. Determining partially the state of the system introduces an incoherent influence on the quantum state. If the measurement is not accurate or if it determines only one value or few values of many independent variables the quantum collapse is not complete, but much of the earlier state information remains unaffected. This is partial decoherence. Determining the state as completely as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle allows lead to total decoherence and a new state determined by the result of measurement.

        The interpretations of probabilistic decoherence are a distraction I believe – it substitutes for a question that is still unanswerable. Brian is right in saying that the real mystery is still the nature of the wave/particle duality itself.

        This statement is close to the early thinking on QM, but my view is that the approach is very limiting and presents an attempt to describe QM in a language that cannot describe it.

        This comes close to Wittgenstein: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.” or “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” In this connection: You cannot describe QM with classical concepts. For describing QM you need a language capable of describing it. Mathematical formulation gets closest to that from what we have available.

      • Concerning the gradual decoherence I add that it is perhaps easiest to understand when QM is formulated using density operators instead of wave functions. The formulations are equivalent, but different aspects of the theory are easiest to understand in each formulation. The formulation in terms of density operators was developed by John von Neumann and described in his book “Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” in 1932.

      • I’d personally be a lot happier with the Copenhagen Interpretation if it weren’t for those dang one-photon self-interference two-slit experiments.

        Somethings is happening, and we don’t know what it is.

      • And it is not only for the photon. Similar results are obtained for massive particles like protons and even for atoms.

        Quantum mechanics has been successful in all tests that have been done to test it directly. It is different from what we have learned in macroscopic directly observable world, but it is true in the sense that it makes correct and very accurate predictions. We must learn to accept that the world follows the laws of quantum mechanics even when they appear counterintuitive.

      • John Q. Lurker

        The many words interpretation

        I’ve never heard of that one. :-)

    • Chief

      Your friends are a little worried about you.

      Were the ingredients on that pizza fresh?

      Did you get the mushrooms from a reputable vendor?

      Was that really oregano?

      You’re coming off a little, shall we delicately say, “Bartish” of late.

      If it’s me rubbing off on you and you’re permanently this way now, I’ll be quite put out with myself.

      • I may have been referring to a different Bart.

        The oregano came fresh from the garden – at least she said it was oregano?

        I was just so happy to find an in group I could belong to. I have even had buttons made up – “Deflationism Rules”. About the best I could come up with before was Lisa Simpson. I like to be more like Bart or Homer – but there it is – an awkwardness with people, a merely moderate intelligence (I have 1 less IQ point than Lisa), unrealistic ambitions, a liking for jazz, the beat poets and oregano.

        Life is what it is – but thank you for your concern.

      • Oh Chief

        I don’t really have enough ego to care which nameless Bart you’re obsessing about of late.

        Or to wonder whether I should get my IQ tested to find out how far below 156 (or 159) mine is.

        Heck, I don’t even wonder how far below Maggie’s IQ mine is.

        And as much fun as it is true deflationism is, it is true you get over it after a while. It’s just not that interesting all in all. It is true.

        Maybe spend some time exercising?

        And lay off the oregano.

      • Mere semantics – but you get 100% for the Simpsons trivia quiz – or did you Google it?

      • I knew Maggie’s IQ.

        Lisa’s was Googled, of course.

        Who would measure their IQ against Maggie’s and not think to at least make use of efficient and available tools to improve their correspondences?

        You don’t get spelling like mine without Google.

      • Bart,

        I am afraid that Googling Lisa Simpson’s IQ is just sad. I hesitate to suggest it – but you might think about getting a life. Try some oregano on your pizza, take up base jumping, become a Friar of the Order of Saint Francis, chain yourself to a tree – anything but, to get back on topic, stop believing in science and let GO OF THE COMPUTER.

        Yours in sympathy

  48. The arctic is melting back and all kinds of human items are being found under the ice.

    here is one article I found in just a few minutes

    “..Top: a birch arrow (in four pieces) and the stone projectile point. The arrow is 270 years old. Bottom: A 340-year-old bow reconstructed from several fragments found near the ice. (Credit: Image courtesy of Arctic Institute of North America)..”

    “…”We realize that the ice patches are continuing to melt and we have an ethical obligation to collect these artifacts as they are exposed,” says Andrews. If left on the ground, exposed artifacts would be trampled by caribou or dissolved by the acidic soils. “In a year or two the artifacts would be gone.”..”

    “The implements are truly amazing. There are wooden arrows and dart shafts so fine you can’t believe someone sat down with a stone and made them.”

  49. And yes, they are finding Norse settlements under the permafrost

    “..At the Viking site near here, artifacts were locked in permafrost and buried under several feet of sand. Many organic artifacts, like antlers, bones, skins and wood, did not decompose. All farm animals appeared to have been evacuated, with the exception of a stray goat, which took refuge in a barn. Six centuries later, its mummified remains were under the collapsed thatch twig roof…”

  50. Right

    So, in one case, hunters bringing hunting gear specifically went to glaciers to hunt because caribou became trapped by them.

    In the other case, exposed glacial sand blew in and covered an unviable farmstead after it had been abandoned.

    This is not evidence of recent glacial advance, and does nothing to date or place glaciers especially.

    This is more like grasping at really colorful and interesting straws.

  51. For our part, individuals within the scientific community would do well to recognize that we have been given an extraordinary trust. Rather than object to public scrutiny, the scientist must recognize that, while the public (and the politicians that represent them) may not be equipped to critique the scientific results, the public has both the right and the responsibility to critically examine the character and community of scientists and the political positions they hold.

    They don’t object to public scrutiny, they object misinformation and deception. There is hardly a ‘speptical’ claim that fails to misrepresent what the scientists are saying, and then attempt to deceive using that misrepresentation. The claim that they object to public scrutiny being a prime one.

    • Those who object to “misinformation and deception” will ask why the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, and the editors of Science and Nature promoted misinformation on:

      1. The Sun’s origin
      2. The Sun’s composition
      3. The Sun’s source of energy, and
      4. The Sun ‘s influence on Earth’s climate.

      Experimental data that documents “decades of government-funded misinformation and deception” about the Sun are in this paper and in other papers cited there:

      “Neutron Repulsion”, The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo

  52. Thomas,
    A good read – you raise many interesting points and your point about different motives chimes with some of the points made by philosophers of science such as Latour, Haraway and Shapin & Schaffer.
    I think the context about the availability of information related to climategate (the famous FOI requests) was all about mistrust between UEA scientists and members of other groups (some of whom were also scientists). The sense of paranoia was palpable – I think Phil Jones illustrates this clearly when he said he thought the requests were “coordinated” and were (intentionally) “time consuming” rather than genuine. Scientists and others acting in good faith would be happy to exchange information and test each others’ arguments, but the way many individuals from each “side” mistrust the motives of the others (and each side acts more strategically and “politically” so not to be outmanoeuvred by the other or give them any information that they could use against you) is what needs to be overcome.
    One of the excellent things about this blog is that there is space to present different viewpoints and actually see where disagreement remains. I think the reality of science is not about total trasparency, but were scientists to be more open and critics to be sincere in there analysis, the results would be a great improvement to the benefit of all those interested in the knowledge that the science affords ( I am perhaps being too naive, though).

  53. Tomas Milanovic

    The main problem I have with this kind of texts is that it doesn’t pass a reality check.
    People whose profession is to develop and understand methods of efficient communication always stress that the rule number one is to perfectly identify and characterize the audience.
    First question every communicating person has to ask “With whom will I communicate?”
    It is only after having acurrately and relevantly answered this question that the actual content of the communication can be elaborated.
    So when I read a convoluted, sometimes confusing text, I always ask this question.

    When you read:
    The community which embodies this scientific method has many individuals with impure motives (government funding or commercial profit), fraud, sexism, political bias, and negligence. Yet we argue–with considerable justification–that a system exists in which truth emerges despite individual flaws and prejudices. We trust one another to eventually–collectively–get it right. Belief — trust in the process of scientific discovery and dissemination — pervades the process.

    who is the “we”? Whom is T.Brown adressing?
    It would appear it is the scientists. So it is a kind of pro domo argument relevant for what fraction of the human population? 1%? Less?
    Basically he is asking whether the scientists should believe in science.

    I submit that the answer is trivially yes even if only because this is how they earn their daily bread.
    And I would also submit that this question and answer is irrelevant for the remaining 99% of the population.

    A quite another and in my view much more important question would be whether the 99% of non scientists should believe in science and what does this mean in the real world.
    Obviously in virtue of the First Law of Communication the text posted here is totally inadequate to adress this question.
    For that it would be necessary to make an effort to understand what counts for these 99% and how do they weight priorities.

    First it is clear that they generally don’t interact with scientists and even less with science.
    Their most general attitude is indifference. These questions are simply not their priorities.
    They really don’t care whether the Riemann’s conjecture is still a conjecture of if it has been proven.
    Their experience of everyday’s life for centuries has been that whatever these people in white coats do, it is not their problem.
    Even if the popular (popular as in movies and comics) image of a scientist is rather a negative one – a person laughing crazily in front of sizzling apparatus and wanting to become a master of the world, the general public has tolerated scientists and their funding for a long time.

    Actually a good portion of the general public sees what the engineers do and considers it to be right and good.
    Even if an engineer is also a scientist as far as his training is concerned, he is not considered as such by the public.
    An engineer is never evil in popular comics or movies because he never wants to become the master of the world.
    He merely finds good tricks that allow us to be warm in winter, cool in summer, be transported 1000 km in 1 hour while reading a book and more generally have a much better and longer life than our grand fathers.

    So even if there is certainly science inside or so the general public thinks, the fondness for engineers doesn’t extend to scientists.
    I would bet that if there was a poll, the consensus of the general public would define the scientists as a more or less necessary evil.
    There is certainly not much trust and belief involved. Perhaps some sort of tolerance but not much more.

    What brings me to the actual core of what I wanted to say.
    Let’s imagine a hypothetical case.
    There is a group of scientists who puts it in their head that the whole general public should follow some recommendation.
    The important point being that it is not just somebody or that there is a choice.
    No, in our hypothetical case the scientists insist that it must be EVERYBODY.
    Now let’s add another hypothetical property of this hypothetical recommendation – it is formulated in such a way that it is percieved by the general public as asking for some immediate sacrifices.
    Of course our hypothetical scientists would argue that the sacrifices today are justified not only by science (which as our quote shows is always getting it right) but also because it will provide for happy futures full of well being.

    Well the general public is not stupid. It had heard this call for “Sacrify yourself for future generations and do it NOW.” dozens of times.
    Invariably it has always been some wannabe Masters of the World whose call for sacrifices today has been very real but the promised happy futures less so.
    And everything finished in disasters of varying proportions.
    So now the general public puts 2 and 2 together and not surprisingly finds 4.

    Our hypothetical group of scientists has been sofar only tolerated because they were wise enough to use the billions of fundings to construct their particle accelerators to look for the deep mysteries of the Universe and to entretain the general public by amusing colourful stories about parallel worlds or 6th dimensions.
    OK, they were half crazy but inoffensives.
    Even though…. there has been a movement against the Large Hadron Collider because it could make a micro black hole which would swallow the Earth and possibly the Sun.
    You never know what these crazy people are able to do just to discover those deep mysteries they keep talking about.

    But now this hypothetical group of scientists did at last show what the science is about – really becoming Masters of the World and saying so openly.
    The general public will see it clearly and the initial tolerance will transform in deep distrust.
    Of course it has nothing to do with the actual arguments of the scientists because the general public can’t evaluate the validity anyway.
    But the spontaneous distrust will be enough to find its expression in the votes and the general public will do what it does best – have its will expressed in laws.
    Eventually our hypothetical group of scientists will be forced to strongly tone down their claims and sent back to their labs to be prevented to mess with things they understand nothing about, like economy, purchasing power or prices.

    The summary would be that if you want to force the general public to choose between sacrifices and doom, be sure that they will take neither and will not look at the messenger fondly.
    And if you have on top the handicap of being a scientist, then think that for the general public who decides about funding, science is mostly just a nice to have.
    In dealing with the general public, being modest and unpresuming is your best bet.

  54. Judith,

    If Newton and Einstein were alive today, they would be absolutely pissed at the science community as a whole.
    Their pioneering work was meant to be a guideline to expand upon and not taken as absolute LAWS that then stifles science growth.
    If they were wrong then that would be fine too as no one was able to tell them if they were correct or not.

  55. Jim Lynch – They also lump themselves in with the likes of Morley and Michelson, who demonstrated that there was no “aether” and made no attempt to construct an alternative solution. They merely showed that the existing, and very widely accepted, paradigm was wrong. Einstein came along decades later and supplied an explanation that is the existing paradigm today. It is a possibility that the experimentalists that prove that a proposed theory is wrong also are theorists that have an alternative solution, but this is by no means required. Science really doesn’t care.

    • Sorry, to say that fringe publicity hounds like Moncton and Beck can be “lumped” with reputable scientists like Morley and Michelson is a real stretch, bordering on heresy. And to call them ‘experimentalists’? Please! I’ve yet to see any global warming denier resort to any experiments or cite any data to prove their stone-throwing assertions.

      • Spencer and Lindzen, just to name two. There are others – including the recent Antarctic slapdown by O’Donnell et al.

      • The “slapdown” as you call it was hardly that. It’s been discussed in depth in J. C. Moore’s copyrighted blog. Quoting Steig, whose paper O’Donnell et al commented on: ” As one would expect of a peer-reviewed paper, those obviously unsupportable claims found in the original blog posts are absent, and in my view O’Donnell et al. is a perfectly acceptable addition to the literature. O’Donnell et al. suggest several improvements to the methodology we used, most of which I agree with in principle. ” Further quoting J. C. Moore “This reasoned debate stands in sharp contrast to McIntyre’s assertions. The exchange between O’Donnell and Steig is an excellent example of the kind of open academic debate that underlies every significant research conclusion in science. I would not consider O’Donnell’s paper a refutation, but an addition to our understanding. The significant point to me, and they both seem to agree, is that Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, is warming.”

      • You ignore the fact that it was the “sceptics” who corrected Steig’s original assertions. And that McIntyre was one of the “et al”.

  56. On the topic of “Believing Science”- what is the scientific evidence that a warmer planet is actually bad for humanity?

    It appears to me that Judith does not really believe that there is any scientifically valid evidence to demonstrate that a warmer world is actually bad for humanity in the long term, but is not willing to actually say so directly.

    If we (those who pay taxes) are going to do something regarding CO2 emissions, isn’t it essential that science demonstrate a valid case demonstrate increased atmospheric CO2 is actually bad for humanity. I have been reading about his issue for years now, and have studied the modeling and have come to the conclusion that there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that a warmer world is actually harmful for humanity over the long term.

    I challenge anyone reading this to reply with data demonstrating that my conclusion is incorrect. I accept that higher GHG’s will eventually lead to a somewhat warmer planet. I do not agree that science currently understands how that will impact rainfall in any area and that would be the factor affecting humans and not the temperature change.

    • There’s been quite a lot written about this in the popular press. Not sure its been studied much on a scientific basis nor am I sure who would study it. Might write your Congress person and ask him/her to support some studies along these lines. From what I’ve read, food and water are going to be big problems forcing at a minimum massive population migrations. Stand by!

      • From what I’ve read, food and water are going to be big problems forcing at a minimum massive population migrations. Stand by!

        Reference please? Popular (MSM) press doesn’t cut it. They’re the same ones who claim glaciers are melting, sea level is rising and temp increases are “unprecedented and dangerous.” Not to mention that CC is the cause of new and wonderful malaria infestations and other catastrophic events.

        Oh, you – migrations – that’s already happening – but not due to CC.

      • So, glaciers aren’t melting? sea level isn’t rising? dengue fever isn’t moving into Florida?

        You ought to know that not every exorbitantly rich person supports the rather bizarre notion that climate isn’t warming. And I strongly suspect that not everyone who says they don’t believe it is telling the truth.

        Skepticism, remember?

      • Jeffrey–Don’t you have to agree that every long term fear of a warmer climate being worse for humanity is based upon models that have been shown to be inaccurate?

      • No. The science isn’t based on models. It’s based on the physics behind the absorption of certain frequencies of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere. Anxiety about AGW antedates GCMs by many decades.

      • So which part of melting glaciers, rising sea level or dengue fever is based on the physics behind the absorption of certain frequencies of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere?
        Which part of the “hockey stick” is based on the physics behind the absorption of certain frequencies of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere?
        Which part of the prediction of 4 to 6 degC for a doubling of CO2 is based on the physics behind the absorption of certain frequencies of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere?

      • The melting glaciers is based on the rise in heat.
        Dengue Fever has moved into south Florida because its warmer there.
        The “hockey stick” shape of recent temperature proxy studies (plural) reflect the elevated temperature.

        The estimates of climate sensitvity are based on warmer temperatures and geological studies of how the planet has reacted in the past.

        So, the physics of absorption of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere has a hand in all of them.

        Thanks for asking!

        Physics. She’s the mother of the other sciences.

      • doesn’t follow.

      • The melting glaciers is based on the rise in heat.

        Bullfeathers. Glacial ice melts due to wind, rain, soot and dust. Not due to rise in heat.
        In addition, “some” glaciers are melting. others are growing – and it’s about 50-50 in the Himalayas and 30-40-30 in Alaska.

        Dengue Fever has moved into south Florida because its warmer there.

        Have you talked to the epidemiologists who say you’re wrong?

        The “hockey stick” shape of recent temperature proxy studies (plural) reflect the elevated temperature.

        Based on Bristlecone, Yamal and upside down Tiljander. And “hide the decline, the LIA and the MWP.” Wrong again.

        The estimates of climate sensitvity are based on warmer temperatures and geological studies of how the planet has reacted in the past.

        Then why are those estimates not working?

        So, the physics of absorption of LW radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere has a hand in all of them.

        And no other “physics” are necessary? Really??!?

      • Last things first:

        “And no other “physics” are necessary? Really??!”

        You just made that up. You just made that up. (One more time for good measure. ) You just made that up.

        You ignored other proxy studies that show the same thing. And since other scientists have vetted the studies you blithely dismiss (do you want to discuss the wowzers in the original M&M attack?) I’m going to stand by all the proxy studies.

        And you discount the obvious re: glaciers: ice will melt when warmed. I’ve seen it. And you under-estimate the number of glaciers melting.

        Dengue Fever has expanded from its first introduction last spring. The first were probably brought by travelers from abroad. Except the mosquitoes have survived and spread.

        If you want to continue to have a discussion, fine. If you want to fight straw men, I’ve got better things to do.

      • You just made that up.

        I did, I did, I did. It was a question – you failed to answer it.

        You ignored other proxy studies that show the same thing.

        No, I didn’t. Those other proxy studies used the same kind of proxies and the same basic techniques that were shown to be wrong when Mann did them.

        And you discount the obvious re: glaciers: ice will melt when warmed. I’ve seen it.

        Yup – if you use a blowtorch. But it’ll take a long time like that. Better yet – go talk to the glaciologists. Or just go hike /climb the high country where those glaciers live – and pay attention. Air temp has little effect on ice pack. Yes, air temp and sunlight WILL melt snow. The snow in my backyard melted off a week ago, but the ice is still over an inch thick.

        And you under-estimate the number of glaciers melting.

        No, I don’t. And if you actually did any research, you’d know better.

        If you want to continue to have a discussion, fine

        There is no discussion. You already have all the answers you need or want. One cannot “discuss” anything with a parrot.

      • Little satori moment: you’re a denier. Not even a PointFiver like Lindzen. No CO2 effect at all.

        We’ve been wasting each other’s time. Sorry.

      • No CO2 effect at all.

        No, Jeffrey – I said nothing of the sort. That’s something you,/b> made up.

        As I said before – There is no discussion. You already have all the answers you need or want. One cannot “discuss” anything with a parrot.

      • @Jim Owen: Yup – if you use a blowtorch [to melt glaciers]

        Global warming adds approximately one watt per square meter to the Sun’s heating influence. Using that number one can estimate the rate at which the surface of a glacier will melt as follows.

        There are about 30 million seconds in a year, so a year of global warming contributes about 30 megajoules to each square meter of a glacier, or 300 megajoules per decade.

        Latent heat of fusion (melting) of ice is around 300 megajoules per cubic meter (333.5 MJ/tonne to be precise). Hence in the course of a decade global warming will melt roughly a meter-thick layer at the top of the glacier, about waist-height.

        While that’s not the whole glacier, it represents a substantial amount.

      • Vaughn—same question to you, since you are also someone who is reasonable , and believe t hat added CO2 is bad; I hope you will take the opportunity to point out evidence that a warmer planet is really worse for humanity. I for one would be willing to change my position with better evidence. I suggest that you will find it very difficult to find evidence that is outside the range of natural variability or is not based upon a computer model that has not been demonstrated to be even reasonably accurate.

        I keep asking this most basic of questions and do not get even reasonable answers from people here. These same people propose raising taxes to lower current CO2. Please tell me why?

      • Only happens that way if it stops snowing, Vaughn. Which is the way glaciers stop growing. Witness Kilimanjaro.

        Faster way to melt a glacier is with a fine layer of black soot – or dust. Hansen et al published a paper on that – probably in 2004.

        Wind and rain also work – better than blowtorches. Happens every year to the snowpack in the Sierras, Bob Marshall, Colorado high country, Canadian Rockies, etc.

        The following is a photo of a glacier near Lake Louise in 2003 (the year BC was on fire) – image/can03 glacier.jpg

        Does that look like a heathy glacier?

      • Vaughaan- and to be picky–do you claim that your estimation of the melting allows for all other factors that would impact the transfer of heat.

      • @JO: Only happens that way if it stops snowing

        Surely you’re not suggesting that it will snow nonstop for a decade, Jim. In any event the amount of heat needed to melt a meter of ice is sufficient to melt 12 meters of new snow. That heat has to go somewhere, it doesn’t just conveniently disappear. And snow does melt, even if not overnight: you have to give it time, and I’m not suggesting otherwise, but you don’t have to give it any more heat than I said.

        @RS: I hope you will take the opportunity to point out evidence that a warmer planet is really worse for humanity

        I don’t have any evidence for it, Rob. Furthermore I have no recollection of claiming it on this blog so if I did you’ll have to remind me where. However if you google the words storm insurance climate (without quotes) you will turn up a plethora of articles by people who are claiming it. I doubt however that they’ll persuade those school children who regard snow days as a boon. It may be more of a mixed blessing for ski slope operators. But there can be no doubt that those in the business of repairing storm damage are grateful for global warming, assuming they can staff up to meet the increased demand.

        But whereas I don’t have a strong position on warming, I do on the action of CO2 on the calcium carbonate in the top few km of ocean (though perhaps I’m biased by being married to a marine biologist). Each of the two species homo sapiens and euphausia superba (Antarctic krill) collectively weigh about half a gigatonne. Unlike the former, the latter, along with other crustaceans such as copepods, are a key species in the marine food chain. They form their exoskeletons from the ocean’s insoluble calcium carbonate, which CO2 converts into soluble calcium bicarbonate, rendering it useless for housing starts in krill world. This process is popularly referred to as ocean acidification, although the buffering action of carbonate is so strong as to make the pH change more than an order of magnitude less than it would be in the absence of carbonate: whereas atmospheric CO2 can drive the pH of fresh water from 7 down to 5.6, it has barely budged the preindustrial ocean pH of around 8.2 down to about 8.07 globally averaged. A much larger shift would signal near-total depletion of the buffering carbonate, with fatal consequences for many crustacean species. According to Wikipedia, “Some scientists have speculated [the krill population decline] being as high as 80% in the last 30 years.”

        @RS: do you claim that your estimation of the melting allows for all other factors that would impact the transfer of heat.

        No. One factor I neglected is that only the ice remains at 0 °C. Ground to either side of the glacier will warm more with that much heat, and since heat flows from hot to cold, that additional heat may flow towards the colder glacier, causing additional melting.

        Also the one meter should be viewed as relative to what would have happened without global warming. So if the glacier would have gained a meter in thickness without global warming, then global warming will merely cancel that, with no net change in thickness. Or if it would have lost a meter then global warming will double that loss.

        And no doubt there are other factors.

      • Dengue fevor is in FL due to higher GHG’s???? That is really your position???? When did Dengue fevor become a problem in FL?

      • Last year. If you don’t think it’s a problem, contract it.

      • Jeffery—the point being that there is ZERO reason to tie the fever to the increased CO2 levels. The change in temperatures over the last couple of years has not statisitically risen beyond beyond that attributed to natural variation, therefore there is no vaild reason to claim it is due to human caused warming.

      • “Jeffery—the point being that there is ZERO reason to tie the fever to the increased CO2 levels. ”

        CO2 concentration goes up.
        Temps go up.
        Habitat expands.
        Mosquito enters habitat.
        Mosquito survives change in habitat.
        Mosquito multiplies.

        Replace “mosquito” with “pine bark beetle” and probably a blue million others pests and diseases.

        BTW, are you a complete denier (CO2 has no effect) or a PointFiver (Climate change is real but climate sensitivity is low.)

      • @JO: Faster way to melt a glacier is with a fine layer of black soot – or dust. Wind and rain also work – better than blowtorches.

        No disagreement there. All I’m claiming is that, however much the thickness of ice changes in a decade in the absence of global warming, one should subtract a meter from that to take global warming into account. This is true regardless of whether the soot melts 10 cm or 10 m of ice in a decade.

      • Yeah – sorta. But that’s a variable because it snows on glaciers. And after it snows, that same energy has to melt the snow before it ever gets to the ice. So unless it doesn’t snow, less ice will melt. But if it doesn’t snow, the glacier won’t “grow” in any case. And if it snows enough, then that energy won’t ever see the ice to melt it. So the glacier will have gotten it’s spinach and will “grow” up big and strong. :-)

        And then there’s the “wind” factor wrt snow. Drifts? Bare spots? Unpredictable?

        Not arguing, just sayin’

      • Just a small question for Vauhgan Pratt regarding the 1W/sq m as being relevant for glaciers after all. Sorry, The thread is too deep to reply into correct position.

        So, is the 1 watt/sq.m you presented relevant for latitudes actually having glaciers – is it a global year-round average taking night/daytime and seasonal differences – huge in arctic/antarctica – into account?

        As you probably know, the winter (usually defined as below freezing temperatues) in places where most glacial ice (high latitudes and/or high altitudes) resides is most of the year. Even in the upper part of Scandinavia it is from late October to Early April, and on the latitudes with bulk of the glacial ice even longer than that.

        What the above means is that there is practically no sunlight to speak of for 3-4 months of the year, and perhaps same number of months where sunlight and occacional above-freezing temperatures might melt something. So a year-around calculation is plainly useless; only the months where actual melting might ever occur matter. If you just take an average excess energy per year per area and assume that all of it is going to melt something you are likely to introduce a big error.

      • Arguments of the type Vaughan presented are useful in telling orders of magnitudes of various effects. The actual melting of a particular glacier may be compensated by additional snowfall, but it may also be accelerated by a multitude of effects.

        The local radiation balance does not change equally with the global average, but the result is influenced strongly also by other mechanisms of heat transfer.

        Still the observation that the simplistic calculation gives the result of 1m/decade is a nice piece of knowledge and helps against conclusions that are totally out of reality.

      • Jeffrey—No you are incorrect.

        The idea that GHG’s will warm the planet is one issue. I am not stating that additional GHG’s will not warm the planet. I accept that they will, although I do n’t think we understand the rate of that warming due to several issues.

        The idea that a warmer planet is bad for humanity is another issue all together and that is the isse I am raising. If/when the world gets warmer, it would be bad for humans if it rained significantly less, but there is no evidence to support that assumption. Warmer is NOT necessarily worse for humans. The reliable evidence showing warmer is worse for humans (long term) seems very weak.

        Please show me how I am wrong…ANYONE

      • The last time the globe warmed 2C there were mass extinctions. We fatuously think we’re immune to such things.

        And we’d risk this so that oil plutocrats can enjoy their super-abundance without a break? Sorry.

      • The last time the globe warmed 2C there were mass extinctions.


        You said it – now prove it.

      • I don’t know about 2C but the PETM rise was 6C which saw a mass extinction of 35-50% of the susceptible marine life.

      • Thank you. Maybe someday he’ll learn to get his facts straight? :-)

      • Rob,

        The problem is that when we point to the huge amount of research which supports our case you dismiss it out of hand.

      • Andrew– Not true– I read the IPCC report outlining potential future problems and it appears that either those predictions are based upon climate models predicting future rainfall amounts that have been shown to be unreliable, or upon conditions that would be easially managed by proper infrastructure planning and construction.

      • Jim
        I find it simply amazing that this is not the issue that is discussed 1st regarding this topic. It seems that the entire agrument for taking drastic actions to curb GHG emissions is based upon “climate models” that thus far have been show to have almost no ability to predict future rainfall amounts.

        What am I missing on this topic??

        Fred , Chris, all you others who think GHG’s are a problem????

      • Rob – It’s impossible to summarize the enormity of literature on this topic within a single thread. Rather, I would suggest that you read the text of AR4, WG2, and then visit the references there that seem particularly informative. If you are aware of evidence omitted from WG2, you should evaluate that as well. The balance between harm and benefit will vary from region to region, and also as a function of time. If climate deviates progressively from the current one, which is the climate on which our civilization is based, the consequences may become increasingly difficult to manage, but that may not be true everywhere.

        I’ll refrain from quantitative predictions, or specific examples, because this is an area where almost any conclusion can be supported through cherry-picked evidence.

      • Fred–I have read them…this you know. You also know that those reports are based on models…..models that have now been demonstrated to have……less than reliable accuracy.

        We agree that there will be changes. We even agree that the changes will occur over decades not immediately. I think we even agree that there are absolutely Zero models that can even reasonably forecast the future rainfall in any specific area a a function of GHG levels.

        Given all those thigs, PLEASE point to even a couple of things that you think support the contention that a warmer world is definately worse for humanity…in the long term. If you are not able to do that….why does it make sense to implement policies today that would require additional expenses?

  57. Thank you Professor Brown,
    I really enjoyed reading your article this morning. As I was reading, I remembered this incident which I think you’ll enjoy.

    “From 1934 to 1979, the museum displayed one of its prize dinosaur specimens with the wrong head, an incident as potentially shocking as if a horse skeleton were to be topped with a giraffe’s skull. During those 45 years the museum’s great Apatosaurus louisae was displayed with a head that is now regarded as belonging to Camarasaurus—a very different sort of dinosaur. This error supports the constructivist view. For 45 years Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the world, believed in a creature that never existed. Of course, we now know that the Apatosaurus that was accepted for 45 years was a construct, a figment of scientific imagination. But if this could happen at one of the world’s great natural history museums, and, even worse, be accepted by the whole paleontological community, who is to say that the world’s museums are not still full of such chimeras?”


  58. A decent read on the role of trust, charisma and human virtues in modern science in Steven Shapin’s (2008) The Scientific Life (focusing largely on industrialized science). Anthony Giddens (1990, p. 83) also had some thoughts on how “the nature of modern institutions is deeply bound up with the mechanisms of trust in abstract systems, especially trust in expert systems” – the world is just too vast and complex for us to keep up with, so we rely on a measure of trust (which is rarely absolute, and often ambivalent) fostered or shaken by our interaction with various individual representatives of these systems.
    Trust is a tricky thing; always questionable, but ultimately indispensable, even in science.

  59. LoL…… nice try Bart

    try reading the articles. The article noting the bows and such they are finding under the retreating ice also talks of what had been growing vegetation being uncovered by the same ice.

    You can point to the “team” and their proxies, and I will point to hard evidence on the state of historic world temp changes swinging back and forth over time.

    Computer models and “Hide the Decline” or hard evidence…I wonder which one of us the public will come to see as the “denier”? Wait…I guess they already are, aren’t they.

    • Ed Forbes

      I did read the articles. Word for word.

      Believe me, I’m a huge fan of words.

      I could see how it’s beginning could excite an indifferently critical reader to excesses of fancy.

      The article about Greenland talks about windblown sand, which would be pretty much as opposite to GLACIER cover as you could get. But maybe an incautious reader gets carried away.

      Here, see, from your own source (emphases mine):

      ‘Called “The Farm Beneath the Sand,” this site lay buried under glacial sands for six centuries.’

      “At Nipaatsoq, blowing glacial sands covered the farm in the early 1400’s, sealing it until 1990, when two hunters reported seeing ancient wood protruding from an eroded stream bank.”

      Then, if even a little cautious, the reader realizes glacial sands are the debris left after the passage of a glacier and its associated processes have ground the very rocks to grit and washed them out with the meltwater.

      Glacial sands are not the glaciers themselves.

      The wind doesn’t blow them around while the glacier is atop them.

      You cannot readily infer from glacial sands themselves the advance or retreat of glaciers from so little information as the article contains.

      How could any but an incautious reader see glacier for ‘glacial sands’ and think a glacier swept down at such thundering speed in a mere six centuries as to bury an entire (at one time) supposedly viable farmstead, and then sweep back out again six miles like the Floods of the Deluge receding, leaving intact all that was found?

      How could your sloppy reader think so much would survive the encroachment of and burial by a glacier?

      How much does a glacier weigh?

      What could possibly lead your careless reader to suppose something under it would survive so nearly intact?

      Then, he article goes on to speculate on this slim evidence (de-emphasis mine): “..caused a glacier several miles up a valley to expand. As this glacier grew, it also released more water every summer into the valley, causing turbidity in drinking water and raging floods that blanketed meadows with sand and gravel. Today the edge of Greenland’s ice cap is only six miles from the old farm site. But in the mid-14th century, it probably was far closer.”







      But we’re not saying we have proof.

      It’s an interesting story.

      It’s a colorful straw, grasped at with no real evidence.

      Here’s a better hypothesis from the same article: “..between 1347 and 1350, the Black Death wiped out about one- third of Europe’s population.”

      I’ll take Black Death over LIA any day for evidentiary support and reason to abandon a settlement.

      The article about arrows is even more explicit:

      “..warming temperatures melt patches of ice that have been in place for thousands of years.”

      “For millennia, caribou seeking relief from summer heat and insects have made their way to ice patches where they bed down until cooler temperatures prevail. Hunters noticed caribou were, in effect, marooned on these ice islands and took advantage.”

      Two of eight millennia-old patches are completely gone.

      That is not a tale of recurring episodes of advance and retreat this millennium.

      It is flat out the opposite of your irrational and worse-than-speculative claim.

  60. I find it interesting that those who most strongly assert that they “believe” the IPCC don’t seem to have read it very well, and make statements about sea level rise or impact on human society that are nowhere to be found in the latest IPCC report, as well as not having noticed that it said the Himalayan glaciers would be mostly gone by 2035—did they “believe” that too?

  61. I’ve noticed the same thing, but on both sides of the debate. Strong opinions often rise from ignorance, and this climate debate is a prime example of that. The others refer to “Thousands of IPCC scientists” or “Science is settled” or “Multiple lines of evidence” but are unable to name even one scientist let alone what was his or hers most important finding or even the field of research.

    At the same time the others say nothing is known, there was no science to speak of, or all of it is just propaganda written by massive conspiracy which aims to ruin the Western Way of Life (but get personally rich at the same time).

    Both have one thing in common, they never bothered to look.

    One thing I’ve enjoyed about this blog is that both of the groups I refer to above seem to a minority here.

    • John Q. Lurker

      Strong opinions often rise from ignorance, and this climate debate is a prime example of that. The others refer to “Thousands of IPCC scientists” or “Science is settled” or “Multiple lines of evidence” but are unable to name even one scientist let alone what was his or hers most important finding or even the field of research.

      I never thought of challenging them that way! Seriously, that’s very good.

  62. an interesting post that once more asks about the nature of knowledge, the conduct of science and the central role of public trust. In all of this is conflated the role, process and practice of education.
    I recently came across this excellent video that stimulates thought along several lines that seem particularly pertinent:


    • What a great illustration of the value of one of David Wojick’s issue trees in action.

      Well, with refinements.

      Also, an impressive demonstration of the progression of an agenda as managed in an argument.

      Plus, the thing speaks for itself.

    • David L. Hagen

      Is IPCC and AGW thus a consequence of standardized science education?
      Where the benefits of Divergent Thinking are systemically squelched?

      Shouldn’t true science thrive on “divergent thinking” – exploring ALL options to discover and quantify them to better understand how nature actually works?

      Three cheers for Svensmark and others exploring planetary influences, solar processes, magnetic modulation etc.

  63. This has been a fun drill and a few good comments interspersed with the usual trolls, but that’s life on the web. Reminds me of the “flame wars” in the bulletin board days before email.

  64. Thanks, L Graham Smith , for the excellent video.

  65. Re: Chief Hydrologist (undefined NaN NaN:NaN),
    I have a Gedanken experiment that perhaps could be made real:
    Construct a very robust razor-sharp diffraction grating. Make a bunch cloned cats. Use a hi-power cannon to fire them through the grating, and see if the parts come together in cat-size bands on the target wall.
    Or perhaps cloned mice would be easier …


    • John Q. Lurker

      I have a Gedanken experiment that perhaps could be made real:
      Construct a very robust razor-sharp diffraction grating. Make a bunch cloned cats. Use a hi-power cannon to fire them through the grating, and see if the parts come together in cat-size bands on the target wall.

      So the question is whether you’d get different results than with a relativistic meat grinder? :-)

  66. I may be a “troll” – but oh lordy lordy – please don’t ever equate science with religion – they are diametrically opposed and this is a silly straw-man argument. The thought that science and religion share a faith or dogmatism is sickening. Wherefore has science progressed so much in the last 100 years if it is sticking to dogma and not learning new things and throwing off outdated theories. There may be dogmatic scientists in some limited sense of the word, but science itself can never be dogmatic – by definition.

  67. Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host?

    I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol