When Scientists Advise Politicians

by Judith Curry

Bishop Hill spotted an essay with the title of this post that was published in Science and Public Affairs (UK).  The essay is written by Lord William Waldegrave, who is an investment banker and former Cabinet Minister. He is Chairman of the trustees of the Science Museum and President of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. This article is based on a talk he gave  at the Royal Institution in 2003.

I reproduce the entire essay below:

Here, I set out a few pointers for more effective interchanges. They apply equally to other decision-takers as to politicians: the issues are no different whether the advice is for the management of a big company or an investor looking at a biotech flotation – or indeed a funder of research and development.

Provisional conclusions

The most vital thing is that politicians should understand the provisional nature of scientific conclusions, and should probe the consequences of a scientific U-turn. My hero in this connection is Donald Thompson, who was a Minister in the then Department of Agriculture in 1989. He understood that scientific conclusions are not set in stone, and asked, ‘What if science changes its mind about the transmissibility of BSE?’ This, as it turned out, was a crucial question to ask. As a result, the Government put in place controls which caused the parts of animals most likely to carry the infection to be removed from the food chain, although scientists were then saying this was unnecessary.

To appreciate the provisional nature of science, politicians must be a little educated in the history and methodology of science. Being aware that scientists change their minds helps them to do sensitivity analyses on the consequences of the current orthodoxy being abandoned. This is not as easy as it sounds. The politician can be left with excuses to avoid decisions, or with no help towards a decision that has to be made.

Politicians also need education in the incompleteness of science. Its very great achievements in particular areas – e.g. against some forms of cancer – make it difficult for lay people to conceive how little is actually known about other things, e.g. prion diseases.

Rounded picture

Given the ignorance in some areas, politicians must have access to plural advice. But here is a real difficulty. Should Ministers give equal access to flat- earthers? Alternative medicines? Creationists? How do you set the bounds for what is rational dissent? There were dissident scientists on BSE. They were normally rubbished, and not just for their science, by the insiders. And sometimes the dissidents are bad scientists who happen to have got something undeservedly right. So Ministers need to understand the weakness as well as the strength of peer group review. They need to be helped to assess who, according to the current orthodoxy, is wrong but rational, and who is dealing in magic.

In practice

These are some practical proposals for scientists advising the government:

(1) Never present to a Minister on a scientific issue without a potted history of the development of the subject first (e.g. shifts back and forth in consensus on air pollution and forest damage)

(2) always include an analysis of dissident views and how much it would matter if they were right

(3) never try to confine advice to what you think the Minister wants to hear (this is the sin against the Holy Ghost)

(4) never confine advice to that derived from the Departmental Research programme, the UK Government-funded research programme, or even UK research

(5) never use scare tactics to try to increase your funding: the Treasury is cynical enough as it is

(6) Treat popular journalists with deep suspicion – even if they offer to make you famous.

And some practical proposals for politicians:

(1) always ask for a seminar and insist that dissidents are present

(2) if you are told there are no dissidents, check with the Royal Society; ask around

(3) if a serious journalist says you are being badly advised, ask him or her to come and see you

(4) never say something is ‘totally safe’or ‘absolutely certain’ even if you are goaded by the press

(5) if you ask your Chief Scientist or whoeverto speak for you, make sure he or she doesn’t start fancying themselves as a politician and forget the rules you have set yourself

(6) Give yourself time to think.

These should help – but there will inevitably be cock-ups.

JC comments:  I find this essay to be quite striking.  I suspect that Waldegrave’s perspective is probably quite representative of politicians and industrial decision makers.   It seems they want to see both sides of an issue.  It is small wonder that they don’t respond too well to scientists providing polemics about deniers.

125 responses to “When Scientists Advise Politicians

  1. Thanks, Professor Curry, for the essay by Lord William Waldegrave.

    I suspect politicians do not realize how tempting it is for researchers to endorse almost any idea that will get gain favor with the politicians who control the purse strings to more research funds.

    • Did Science and World Politics Merge in 1972?

      A new opera on PBS stations, “Nixon in China” – describes the historic visit of Nixon and Kissinger in China to meet Chairman Mao in 1972.

      The opera implies that world leaders realized during the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) that their youth had already been killed and they might also be killed in a full-scale nuclear exchange.

      To lessen this danger, Henry Kissinger convinced Richard Nixon – a “right-wing hawk” – to fly to China to meet with Chairman Mao in 1972.

      Later in December of 1972, Maurice Strong became head of the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP) .

      Along the way to the current global climate scandal, the UN adopted Agenda 21 in 1992:

      http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/

      I recommend the “Nixon in China” opera to anyone wanting to understanding the merger of world politics with science.

      Synopsis:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixon_in_China_(opera)

      NY Times Review:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/04/arts/music/04nixon.html

      • Nixon in china is not a new opera. It was written in the late 80s by John Adams (ironic name eh?). I can also highly recommend it although I do not see how it has any bearing on this discussion. The Peter sellars production is generally considered the best. It is an incredible work, rich, interesting and accessible. Trying to get tickets to see it at the collesium is akin to trying to get tickets to a rock concert.

      • Thanks, Agnostic.

        You are right. The “Nixon in China” opera was released in 19987, as I recall.

        It received little attention then.

        Why are PBS and BBC – public news media supporters of AGW – making the “Nixon in China” opera available worldwide now?

        I don’t know the answer, but this is an intriguing new development in the Climategate drama.

    • Meanwhile inside the old Communist USSR,

      Czech astronomer Dr. Ivanka Charvátová confirms other studies [1-3]: Climate change is caused by changes in solar inertial motion (SIM):

      http://www.klimaskeptik.cz/news/interview-with-dr-ivanka-charvatova-csc-from-gfu/

      Gravitational interaction of orbiting planets with the Sun’s central neutron star apparently jerk it around inside the glowing ball of waste products (H/He-rich photosphere) like a yo-yo on a string.

      1. Jose, P.D., “Sun’s motion and sunspots”, Astron. J., 1965, 70, 193-20

      2. Fairbridge, R.W. and Shirley, J.H., “Prolonged minima and the 179-yr cycle of the solar inertial motion,” Solar Physics, 1987, 110, 191-220

      3. “Superfluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate,” Journal of Fusion Energy, 2002, 21, 193-198

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel

      • Oliver K Manuel,
        Just on a point of information: Czechoslovakia has never been part of the USSR.
        But more seriously, if the Soviets or the Czechs had ever published on the effects of AGW would you have given it any credence at all?

      • Thanks, tonto, for the information.

        The “guy on the white horse” did not exactly define the exact boundary of the “evil Communist empire,” but Czechoslovakia seemed to be part of it.

        Seriously if the Soviets or the Czechs had published or endorsed AGW propaganda devoid of experimental evidence as science – as the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, the UN’s IPCC, and scientific organizations like ACS, APS and AGU did – I would have given them the same credence I gave the politicians and scientific organization that did: None

        I may renew membership in APS – now that the American Physical Society has belatedly admitted the need for “a better understanding of the mechanisms, magnitudes, and timescales by which anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic processes affect climate, including for example, greenhouse gases, solar variability, and unforced influences such as internal modes of variability.”

        http://www.aps.org/units/gpc/index.cfm

      • Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Red Army at the end of WW2 and remained part the Warsaw Pact until about 1990. It has since separated into the Czech republic and Slovakia as separate countries and both are part of the EU.

        So, you are saying that if anyone, no matter who they are or what evidence they might present, reports AGW to be serious issue, you just aren’t going to believe them! OK I see.

      • Latimer Alder

        He said he would ignore any who

        ‘published or endorsed AGW propaganda devoid of experimental evidence as science’.

        The statement is clear, direct and unequivocal.

        Which part of it did you have trouble understanding?

      • I must admit having trouble understanding anyone with the mindset of our friend Oliver. Id just make a few points:
        We have been conducting one big experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere in recent decades as CO2 and other GH gases have risen.
        It would be nice to do another one in the future and see what happens if we lower them again.
        Not all science is based on experimental evidence. Its hard, but not impossible, with the Earth’s climate but even harder with the climate of any other planet! But, valid science is still possible.

      • Latimer Alder

        In your opinion, which science is not based on some form of experimental evidence?

        Because in my book, if it isn’t based in experimental evidence by definition it isn’t science.

        You can call it faith or belief or religion or argument form authority or wishful thinking or whatever you like. But Science it is not.

      • Thanks, tonto52, but I do not need assistance in communicating my opinion of AGW:

        “if the Soviets or the Czechs had published or endorsed AGW propaganda devoid of experimental evidence as science – as the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, the UN’s IPCC, and scientific organizations like ACS, APS and AGU did – I would have given them the same credence I gave the politicians and scientific organization that did: None

  2. Excellent advice for both advisers and decision makers. I’m not sure I’m optimistic enough to say that the perspective is “quite representative” of politicians and business executives. I’ve met plenty of the latter that will press for a too-confident technical assessment to use as cover should something go wrong.

    • Jeff Norris

      Four Quadrant Model Merrill-Reid
      I agree but if we put the qualifiers of established or successful leaders then “quite representative” is more than a fair description. IMHO leaders who have hit a lot of home runs realize that striking out is a reality so still go to batting practice.

  3. Indeed, it is also important to understand that the most successful politicians are just as smart as the most successful scientists.

  4. Perhaps at least some politicians really want to meet honest brokers.

    • The truth is expressed in fuzzy logic. The cartoon that the politicians want is expressed in Boolean logic. Boolean logic is easier. It takes a streak of masochism to want the honest truth, because it’s so much harder to deal in than the Boolean cartoon. And most of the constituents want a version of the cartoon, too.

  5. SOME PRACTICAL PROPOSALS TO POLITICIANS FROM AN ENGINEER

    What you are being advised is that the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is causing global warming.

    You the politician, please verify the above statement yourself. To do this, please look at the data for the CO2 concentration in the air from NOAA’s Earth System Laboratory: http://bit.ly/kWHmcq

    Please also look at the data for the global mean temperature anomaly from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia: http://bit.ly/dSA3Ly

    From the above data, what you find is that the increase in CO2 concentration from 1998 of 366 ppm to 2010 of 388 ppm, by 22ppm, has not caused any global warming.

    You the politician, as you want to be objective, tell your AGW advisers, as the previous increase in CO2 by 22ppm has not caused any global warming, ask them to see whether the next CO2 increase by 22ppm would increase global mean temperature. Tell them you will address the AGW issue based on this objective observation.

    Based on the last 20 years pattern of CO2 concentration [=369.4e^(0.005*(Year-2000))], it will increase by 22ppm to 410 ppm by about 2021. Tell your AGW advisers you will make the decision then. Tell them to leave you alone until then.

  6. This is very sound advice. Pity the Australian Government has not heeded it!
    When did Australian government politicians invite climate skeptics to present the case against AGW? (The US has done so and wisely backed off)
    The marked difference between US and Australia is that the minority Australian Government remains captive to irrational green ideology. Here it’s a case of hanging onto power no matter what. The end justifies the means.
    Also, I have yet to see any serious analysis, warts and all, of the economic consequences of the threatened carbon tax vis a vis inflation, cost of living, unemployment, GDP, foreign currency reserves, etc.

  7. Politicians are probably more like the general public and will read op-ed and blog pieces on scientific issues more often than they will look at original scientific papers.

    Therefore, it is important that when writing blogs, on the net, and op-ed pieces, in newspapers and magazines that scientists should be saying essentially the same thing albeit in a more popular style. Tailoring the message according to the target audience is of questionable ethics.

    Take a look at this paper:

    Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice.
    Jiping Liu and Judith A. Curry
    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/08/09/1003336107.abstract

    “With increased loading of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through the 21st century, the models show an accelerated warming in the Southern Ocean, and indicate that anthropogenic forcing exceeds natural internal variability.”

    This paper was submitted in March 2010.

    Readers of Climate etc don’t see these kind of phrases used by too often in the postings of Dr Curry . She presents one line in her scientific publications and another one on Climate etc and Wattsupwiththat.

    So why the difference, Dr Curry?

    • Latimer Alder

      Yawn……..

      One trick ponies aren’t very interesting the second time around.

      And by the twentieth they get to join Joe, Oliver and Bart on my ‘don’t even bother to read’ list.

    • Uh, I haven’t posted anything on the blog about the southern ocean yet.

      • I’m sure we’d all look forward to it!
        When climate skeptics /deniers are challenged about shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic, they often respond with “ah but its increasing in the Antarctic”.
        Your paper appears to suggest that, perhaps counter-intuitively, a warming in the Southern Ocean is causing that increase.

      • When climate skeptics /deniers are challenged about shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic, they often respond with “ah but its increasing in the Antarctic”.

        Naah, I don’t do that. I point to the “shrinking ice coverage” in the Arctic 60 years ago.

        And then, myabe – I get to the Antarctic. But not often. :-)

  8. Tonto, you don’t even know which models that paper is talking about. You will have to explain much better than that. By using just one sentence from that abstract your aren’t really saying anything.

  9. Teddy,

    OK I’ll give you another two sentences: “The observed sea surface temperature in the Southern Ocean shows a substantial warming trend for the second half of the 20th century. Associated with the warming, there has been an enhanced atmospheric hydrological cycle in the Southern Ocean that results in an increase of the Antarctic sea ice for the past three decades through the reduced upward ocean heat transport and increased snowfall. ”

    I’ll also give you this link:
    http://curry.eas.gatech.edu/onlinepapers.html

    Take a look for yourself and then tell me she isn’t saying one thing in these papers and another in this blog. OK, she may changed her mind, sorry, revised her opinion in the light of newly available data, a couple of years ago, but, if so, why is she still proudly accepting authorship in her publication list?

    And, certainly the 2010 paper could have been written by the old Judith Curry. When was the change over date BTW?

    • Latimer Alder

      Yawn……..

      One trick ponies aren’t very interesting the second time around.

      And by the twenty first they get to join Joe, Oliver and Bart on my ‘don’t even bother to read’ list.

    • I really don’t get what it is you’re trying to do here. Are you trying to tell us that Dr Curry is really a warmist sheep in big, bad, sceptic wolf’s clothing? You think we don’t know that? All I see Dr Curry trying to do here, is provide a forum for civilised discussion. I think she is genuinely interested to hear what we sceptics think. In order to get us all to lower the barriers a little and engage in honest discussion, I think she feels she, sometimes, has to slightly misrepresent her own views in order to put us a bit more at ease. Don’t run away with the idea though, that we all think her real views have changed that much, it’s only the warmists that believe she has suddenly become a sceptic overnight. Dr Curry has my respect simply for proving herself at least open to discussion and the fact that she probably remains part of the “concensus” doesn’t bother me in the least.

      • Nice one LC. I couldn’t agree more with your remarks. Notice also how tonto has deliberately steered the conversation away from the main topic. Perhaps it was a little too uncomfortable for him/her.

      • Yes Rob, I had noticed. However, I’m happy to give him (I think Tonto is a ‘him’ – my apologies if not) the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has some genuine confusion over Dr Curry’s position on all this and that it’s critically important, for some reason, that he ascertain exactly what that position is. Hence his bringing it up several times on various threads. ;)

      • Latimer Alder

        ‘I’m happy to give him (I think Tonto is a ‘him’ – my apologies if not)’

        He is misnamed.

        He is in fact the Lone Ranger. Nobody goes along with him. He hasn’t even got a Tonto.

        OCD is a very sad condition.

      • “Dr Curry is really a warmist sheep in big, bad, sceptic wolf’s clothing?” Yes, the thought had crossed my mind but I have to admit I’m just not sure.
        She seems like a Dr Jekyll by day writing sensible climate science papers, and probably teaching the consensus position to her students, but turns into Ms Hyde by night and dabbles with the dark side!
        I suspect the most likely explanation is she’s torn between what she knows to be the true from her scientific studies, but which may clash with some other philosophical position which she may have held for some considerable time.

      • Latimer Alder

        And the point of your multiweek, multitedious and megaboring repetitive remarks about Dr Curry is what exactly?

      • I thought I was on your “don’t bother to read list” so I guess you won’t see this reply ;-)

        But I would make the point that the posting
        https://judithcurry.com/2011/01/06/libertarianism-and-the-environment

        probably goes as far as anything I’ve read towards explaining why Judith Curry is torn between her science and her philosophy.

        As a scientist, it is probably better not to have rigid beliefs of any sort. Religious or political. That way, there can never be any conflict.

  10. “I suspect that Waldegrave’s perspective is probably quite representative of politicians and industrial decision makers. It seems they want to see both sides of an issue. It is small wonder that they don’t respond too well to scientists providing polemics about deniers.”

    The prescriptions in the quoted article are excellent, but I disagree that they are descriptive of most (or even many) of the politicians involved in the climate debate to date. If politicians wanted to see both sides of an issue, we wouldn’t have seen the one sided polemic that was the AR4, particularly the highly politicized summary for policy makers that was drafted by…policy makers.

    I usually write comments dissenting when someone claims that the scientists aren’t the problem, it is the politicians to whom they answer, and who supposedly who distort their work. So I guess it should be a pleasure to object to this post and say – politicians are not pristine, objective decision makers who have been badly served by the failure of scientists to present both sides of the arguments on climate, they are an equal part of the problem.

    Progressive scientists and progressive politicians share the same goals, share the same tendency to demonize their opponents, and share the same biases in that they both gain substantially from ignoring skeptical/lukewarm arguments.

    The political leaders in Europe and the U.S. got exactly what they wanted from the IPCC, and they have worked even harder than the scientists to claim there is a consensus, and no need for further debate. Al Gore, Rajendra Pachauri, David Cameron, Barack Obama, and all the rest, have demagogued the issues even more than James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann et al.

  11. “I find this essay to be quite striking. I suspect that Waldegrave’s perspective is probably quite representative of politicians and industrial decision makers. It seems they want to see both sides of an issue. It is small wonder that they don’t respond too well to scientists providing polemics about deniers. ”

    It seems you don’t know who William Waldegrave is, or what he is talking about. He does not consider there to be ‘two sides’ to this issue, at this point. He voted for carbon budgets, stating in the House of Lords debates on climate change that he accepts the science and that legislating emissions is an important action along with public education and planning for adaptation.

    He has continued to support climate science and both domestic and international decision-making to reduce emissions. As you highlight, he is able to engage in a critical way with the place of uncertainty in inquiry. Overall, like others who study reasoning, he observes that the strength of current climate science is based in the sort of rational critique that makes for good science, good critical inquiry and good public policy — not the errors in reasoning that were part of the BSE crisis.

    He is also chairman of the trustees of the Science Museum and guided the museum’s educational program leading up to Copenhagen in an attempt to encourage the public to engage with current science and recognize the need to support an international agreement on emissions reductions.

    • Stirling English

      And you are sure that the views he expressed in 2008 remain his views post-Climategate?

      You can provide documented proof thereof? A recent interview (last year or so) covering this area?

      He most certainly can’t have voted on the recent climate budget announcements since they have not yet been debated in the HoL.

      His work with the Science Museum that you cite was pre-Climategate.

      Please provide recent proof of your understanding of his views.

    • Martha: Lord Waldegrave has also been a Conservative MP and later served in the Thatcher and Major cabinets. The current Conservative PM also supports climate change policies, so it’s not entirely surprising that Waldegrave supported carbon emission policies — though I can’t as yet find cites for that on the web.

      In any event, policymakers are always voting yea or nay. That’s their job to make such decisions. That doesn’t mean that they are unable to see two sides on an issue, as you argue.

      And even if Waldgrave doesn’t see two sides in the case of climate change — I would definitely want to see quotes from him on that matter rather than take your word for it — it still doesn’t make the approach he outlines less commendable or less applicable to climate change.

  12. tonto52: full text is paywalled, and is probably more nuanced. Moreover it is really Liu’s paper, JAC is the editor. And PNAS only publishes warmist papers.

    • PNAS only publishes peer reviewed papers – more like. Look, either JC agrees with its contents or she doesn’t.
      If the latter, then she shouldn’t and needn’t have put her name to it.
      If the former, she has some explaining to do regarding the scientific integrity of her comments on this blog.

      • T R C – take another look. I was surprised and it wasn’t paywalled for some unknown reason.

        tonto – Find me a skeptic paper published by PNAS in the last 5 years. Maybe I missed the one and only. :-)

      • Jim Owen,

        It doesn’t matter what PNAS do and don’t publish. If Judith Curry disagrees with their editorial decisons, she can always publish on somewhere like “Energy and Environment” or even on Climate etc.

        I’m hesistant to say anything complimentary about Richard Lindzen but at least he does maintain consistency!

      • tonto –
        Not trying to start a fist fight but – three statements –

        T RC – And PNAS only publishes warmist papers.

        tonto – PNAS only publishes peer reviewed papers – more like.

        me – Find me a skeptic paper published by PNAS in the last 5 years.

        I’ve seen evidence that T R C is correct, no evidence to supprt the second statement – but htem maybe I missed something.

        OTOH, I didn’t really think it was worth pursuing and was not likely to mention it again. But I was curious as to what you had seen that I had missed. Still am – curious, that is. :-)

  13. @JC,

    “I suspect that Waldegrave’s perspective is probably quite representative of politicians and industrial decision makers. It seems they want to see both sides of an issue”
    I’m sure we can all think of many examples of when they don’t!
    AGW, or rather the political implications of the measures needed to counter it, make for rather uncomfortable reading by both these groups of people who are motivated by the desire to win elections and increase the profitability of their businesses. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but at the same time we shouldn’t wonder why they may start to look for an easy way out.

  14. A bit OT, but it isn’t every day you see an article like this on Salon:
    “Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong”
    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/05/31/linbd_fossil_fuels

    To get a flavor of his political bent, his last article was titled “Niall Ferguson and the brain-dead American right”

    • Hee hee. Read that. I think some of the regulars over there are now having a quiet lie down in a darkened room after nearly giving themselves a stroke :)

      • Stirling English

        I am so glad that I don’t spot double entendres. Because if I did, I’d likely be creased up at that one.

      • Ha ha. I wish I’d spotted it as I typed it Stirling, I might have been able to improve on it. :)

      • Stirling English

        Nothing to say that you can’t have a second go…after a decent interval has elapsed. Depending on age and mileage of course.

        Oops…. :-)

  15. The Lone Ranger blogs
    Amidst mass of confusion.
    Tonto missed the turn.
    ==========

  16. Jim Owen – Thanks for your comments. At 2nd attempt I did get to the text of Liu and Curry, and as I surmised it does not in fact have any evidence for the large claims in its Abstract, nor did it need to, as big claims in Abstracts that the end of the world is nigh are all that is needed to get published by PNAS. In this case the authors admit upfront that “Although the Southern Ocean is critical to the Earth’s climate system, detailed analyses of sea surface temperature (SST) variability have been hampered by limited observations (2–4)”. Lacking observational time series, apart from disconnected data in the 30s and 90s which suggest the SO warmed “substantially (sic)”, i.,e. by 0.2 oC, so well inside the error range, “Modeling studies also indicate that the Southern Ocean might (sic)
    be undergoing rapid climate change” – or it might not, depending on the assumptions fed into the models.

    The Abstract ends “The increased heating from below (ocean) and above
    (atmosphere) and increased liquid precipitation associated with
    the enhanced hydrological cycle results in a projected decline of
    the Antarctic sea ice” – but luckily not until after all of us have moved on , i.e. after 2060, so there is no need for anybody at NAS to worry about falsifiability.

    Thus the paper’s Discussion begins: “With increased loading of greenhouse gases through the 21st century, the models suggest that there is an accelerated warming in the Southern Ocean”. But nowhere does the paper offer regression analysis demonstrating the temperature changes associated with the GHG “loading” and variations in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Typical of all climate papers in PNAS, no data are provided, and what guarantees acceptance is the many maps in gorgeous technicolor.

    So far as I can see the only non-model data in the paper are in Fig.53 in the SI which shows the Antarctic sea ice anomaly increasing since 1957 – proof of warming of course!

    And by now Liu & Curry should be making use of the Argo float data on sea heat content:

    (H/TBob Tisdale) – Optimally Interpolated Sea Surface Temperature Data (OISST) available through the NOAA National Operational Model Archive & Distribution System (NOMADS).http://nomad3.ncep.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/pdisp_sst.sh

    I am sorry if the above seems harsh especially as I admire Judith Curry very much, but I am sick and tired of the climate papers in PNAS, none of which deploy basic econometric techniques to separate anthropogenic and natural effects, for the very good reason that regressions of temperature change on GHG “loading” never show any statistically significant effect at any location on earth, and that is why PNAS authors eschew regressions.

    • “I surmised it does not in fact have any evidence for the large claims in its Abstract, nor did it need to, as big claims in Abstracts that the end of the world is nigh are all that is needed to get published by PNAS.”

      Let’s test this theory. Why don’t you write up a paper claiming the world is nigh and submit it to PNAS. We’ll see if it gets published.

      • Because we’re leaving that for you to do. After all, you DO need something useful to do with your life.

  17. As a lukewarming/sceptic who enjoys this site, I rise to Dr Curry’s defence.

    The abstract in full:

    The observed sea surface temperature in the Southern Ocean shows a substantial warming trend for the second half of the 20th century. Associated with the warming, there has been an enhanced atmospheric hydrological cycle in the Southern Ocean that results in an increase of the Antarctic sea ice for the past three decades through the reduced upward ocean heat transport and increased snowfall. The simulated sea surface temperature variability from two global coupled climate models for the second half of the 20th century is dominated by natural internal variability associated with the Antarctic Oscillation, suggesting that the models’ internal variability is too strong, leading to a response to anthropogenic forcing that is too weak. With increased loading of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through the 21st century, the models show an accelerated warming in the Southern Ocean, and indicate that anthropogenic forcing exceeds natural internal variability. The increased heating from below (ocean) and above (atmosphere) and increased liquid precipitation associated with the enhanced hydrological cycle results in a projected decline of the Antarctic sea ice.

    Dr Curry seems to be merely generating testable hypotheses based on models. If the 21st century warming does indeed exceed natural variations as predicted by the models (by contrast with 20th century warming), we will see less Antarctic sea ice. If her model is flawed, we won’t see the projected decline of Antarctic sea ice. However, she needs to publish in order to ensure that others can look for flaws in the model or do on the spot observations to test its veracity. She also needs to publish should she herself be in a position to do the testing – otherwise, her subsequent findings exist in a theoretical vacuum.

    She also needs to publish because this happens to be a metric of scientific productivity. While sometimes this leads to publication of material best relegated to the recycling bin, I see no evidence that this is the case in this instance. Of course, I’m not a climate scientist so don’t take my word for it.

  18. Jack Hughes

    @chris1958

    I lost the thread at the 31st word in:

    enhanced atmospheric hydrological cycle

    What does “enhanced” mean in a science context ?

    It doesn’t get any better – it’s just hocus pocus. If someone can’t explain what they have done in simple everyday language then it doesn’t look good.

  19. Christopher Game

    It is very horrible to read the Liu and Curry 2010 PNAS article using the word “experiment” when it means “computer simulation”. This is a kind of theft of terminology or a corrupt abuse of language. Galileo would turn in his grave to see it. I am surprised and disappointed that Dr Curry seems responsible for this instance; it is no excuse that the offence occurs widely.

    More interesting to me is that the article seems to say that warming is hypothesized to speed up the hydrological cycle, as well as to increase atmospheric water vapour in the lower troposphere (no statement on the column amount), at least in the locale considered by the article. Christopher Game

    • Christopher, I seem to remember that there were computers back in Galileo’s day. Read philosopher of science Wendy Parker on the subject of numerical experimentation:
      http://www.romanfrigg.org/Links/MS1/Synthese_MS1_ParkerW.pdf

      • What they called “computers” were analytic geometry analog calculus devices. Not at all similar to digital computers. They could solve differential equations, but they couldn’t add a column of numbers. In fact, we had electronic analog computers into the 1960s, before digital computers finally rendered them obsolete. The capability that distinguished a digital computer is the ability to follow a program, and that wasn’t conceived until Babbage (1812). There were a few Babbage mechanical computers built, but they were too slow to do anything that we would call modeling.

        Galileo had some mechanical help, but it bore no resemblance to what we would call a computer now.

      • ChE –
        There are still places where analog computers are used. Not many but they’re not extinct.

      • All that you calling “modeling” is just simple calculations that are boringly repetitive and hence delegated to machines.

        You may as well demand that all scientists do all their calculations in longhand.

      • When someone briefly summarizes the history of the analog and digital computers, I don’t see the point of going off on a tangent about longhand calculations.

      • Not only do you not understand what I am talking about; you do not understand what you yourself are saying.

        Why not cut and paste a history of Middle Eastern ceramics next time; it’d be just as relevant.

        Does the use of computers to perform large numbers of simple mathematical problems make the scientists who are telling the computers what to do untrustworthy? That is the issue. The history of Babbage mechanical computers or computer mice or Turning machines shreds precisely zero light on the issue. Talk about a tangent.

      • That’s well over the line. That’s trolling. Apologize.

      • Rkobert –
        All that you calling “modeling” is just simple calculations that are boringly repetitive and hence delegated to machines.

        Are you really that illiterate wrt computers – and models?

        Does the use of computers to perform large numbers of simple mathematical problems make the scientists who are telling the computers what to do untrustworthy?

        That’s probably the most simple-minded, ignorant comment I’ve seen on the subject in years.

      • Latimer Alder

        For once I am in agreement with Robert. He’s right. Computers are just fast calculators. There is no point in blaming the messenger.

        The problem with computer modelling (or any modelling) is not the physical method of calculation, but the unthinking acceptance of results, and the false belief that models are somehow better than experiment.

        We have seen in earlier threads on this blog that ‘climate modellers’ have almost zero interest in checking the output of their models against what actually happens in the real world.

        Whether they are frightened that their work will be proved wrong, don’t know how to do it, or are just intellectually incapable of understanding this crucial point I cannot judge. But it is endemic to them.

        And it corrupts the whole field. When running a model is called an ‘experiment’ and the output called ‘observations’, it is clear that the climatologists tenuous grasp on reality has finally been severed.

        Feynman again

        ‘“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”

        This should be written in VERY BIG LETTERS in every institution that claims public money for climatology. With regular testing on it for the drones.

      • Latimer Alder

        FWIW I must be the only guy in history who has actually scrapped a model I had developed with blood, sweat and tears because it didn’t reflect reality…i.e. the experiment showed something completely different from my theory.

        Perhaps it is the need to avoid reproducing that unhappy outcome that makes modellers so reality-averse.

      • Jack Hughes

        Nice deflection 8-)

        It doesn’t address the point that calling a computer simulation “an experiment” looks dishonest to some people.

      • Latimer Alder

        Wrong

        It *IS* dishonest.

        It is misrepresentation. Or lying. Or ‘adheres to the ethical standards expected in climatology’. The three are interchangeable.

        Take your pick.

      • When models are developed, it’s often essential that they are studied making experiments on, what happens, when some detail is changed. I think experiment is a valid word for that.

        When we are searching for understanding on some intermediate level phenomenon of the Earth system that cannot be directly measured or would take too long to collect sufficient data, and when we have a model available that describes internally that phenomenon, it makes perfect sense to perform a set of model calculations varying some parameters related to that phenomenon, and check, what happens in the model. The answers provide often useful information, while it’s certainly not equivalent to collecting extensive empirical data from real world.

        Laboratory experiments are mostly artificial in their settings. They are set up to determine some specific values assuming that the results can be extended to other situations as well. Computer experiments may serve the same purpose similarly well, but both laboratory experiments and computer experiments may also by badly set up and irrelevant or misleading, when generalized to wider range of applications.

        Computer experiment is not synonymous with computer simulation, because their goals are different. One simulation run can seldom serve as an experiment, while computer experiments are often done as a set of several slightly different simulation runs.

        There may be confusion from the use of the word experiment for the computer experiments, but are there better alternative words with the right connotation.

        One possibility is to use always an expression like “computer experiment”, “model experiment”, or “simulation experiment”.

      • Latimer Alder

        I’m happy with ‘model experiment’. Such an experiment explores the characteristics of the model. But it should also be made very clear that it does not, of itself, say anything useful about the real world until confirmed by observations/experiment.

        Honest climatologists, anxious that their work should be widely understood for what it does tell us – and also for what it doesn’t – would have been using this term and making the distinction for many years.

        But they haven’t. They have allowed (encouraged??) the distinction to become blurred. They have not stood up and said ‘hey this is just a model, not reality’. They have kept their heads down and let the misrepresentation of their work continue.

        On this, as so many other matters, they have used the ‘Trust us, we’re climate scientists’ story to be complicit in deceiving the public.

      • I both agree and disagree on the following

        But it should also be made very clear that it does not, of itself, say anything useful about the real world until confirmed by observations/experiment.

        I agree that good justification is required for accepting results of model experiments as description of real world phenomena, but I disagree on the requirement that direct confirmation by observation/experiment is always required. I added the world direct as I interpreted your sentence to imply that and I wanted to make it explicit.

        My previous message was referring to intermediate level phenomenon specifically for the reason that those phenomena are often among the best justified results of models, certainly not in all cases, but often. The accuracy of the model in describing such phenomena can also often be ascertained fairly well by combining several indirect tests, which include comparisons with empirical data.

        It’s important that model results are used as a tool for learning about real world only, when great care is taken in verifying that the model is indeed likely to give meaningful additional knowledge on the issues considered. All too often such model results are used that are determined directly by external inputs, or that result from such features of the model that are actually known to be false at the level of detail relevant for the results. Such stupid errors are sometimes presented by the developers of the models, but they are most likely, when models are used by others, who don’t know, what the model is really supposed to describe correctly.

      • Latimer Alder

        Please see my later post.

        Modellers can use their intermediate results in any way they see fit. If they deign to try to do some tests against reality, then that is a point in their favour. But others posting here have been strongly resistant to such tests because it would ‘waste their time’.

        But once their modelling results get into the wider domain by publication then the modellers have a responsibility to ensure that these results are not misrepresented by themselves or by others.

        It is not really much of an argument to say that the misrepresentation is done by others ‘who don’t really understand their paper’. The modellers should be capable of writing their paper in such a way that makes it very hard to be misrepresented. And should publicly correct the journalist or activist who makes such misrepresentation.

      • Latimer Alder

        Sorry – I missed an important point in your argument there.

        Of course a lab based experiment can be setup badly. In my own erstwhile field (chemistry) bad setups can have ‘interesting’ consequences involving visits to A&E. Good scientists quickly learn not to do bad setups.

        But the wider point is really about observations. It doesn’t matter how many runs you make or how many simulations you do..if your magic model says that measurable variable x will have value y at time z at position a.

        If somebody then goes away and measures variable x and discovers that it isn’t y at all but some other value, then the model is wrong. It is as simple as that. And all other predictions of that model are suspect until verified or not.

        It is unscientific and dishonest to represent (or knowingly to allow such representation to be made) unverified modelling output as experiment. That is why sceptics get so irate about it.

      • Pekka

        We appear to be discussing semantics once more when you write:

        When models are developed, it’s often essential that they are studied making experiments on, what happens, when some detail is changed. I think experiment is a valid word for that.

        ex·per·i·ment n.

        1. A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, examine the validity of a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy of something previously untried.
        2. The process of conducting such a test; experimentation.
        3. An innovative act or procedure.
        4. The result of experimentation.

        Wiki elaborates:

        More formally, an experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the accuracy of a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in their goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results.

        A computer run (or model simulation) is a “calculation” (which can be based largely on theoretical deliberations and assumptions) and not an ”experiment” (which is based on physical observations in order to validate or falsify a hypothesis).

        IMO the climate model, in effect, is nothing more than a very expensive, very fast version of the old slide rule of bygone days (with a memory function). It performs “calculations” as opposed to “experiments”.

        Max

      • Max,

        Semantics is one of the most common sources for disagreement.

        I have an old dictionary “The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English” published by Oxford University Press in 1963. Its definition is close to my understanding of the word:

        test or trial carried out carefully in order to study what happens and gain new knowledge

      • Pekka Pirilä

        Semantics is one of the most common sources for disagreement.

        Agree completely, Pekka.

        In this case the problem may be exacerbated by the fact that here we have a Finn and a Swiss debating the fine points of the English language (sounds like the lead-in to a joke…)

        Cheers

        Max

      • Latimer Alder

        How about ‘observations’. We could agree that observations constitute people doing actual things with thermometers and anenometers and stuff.

        While ‘model experiments’ is reserved for those involving modelling work only.

      • Why not just call “model runs” what they are: “model runs”?

        And call “physical observations” as well as “observed results from experiments” what they are, rather than muddying the waters by calling “model runs” “experiments”, which they are not.

        Max

      • Christopher Game

        Thank you Dr Curry for your reply. It was silly of me to appeal to Galileo’s authority, as I realised shortly after posting.

        My mode of thought is to distinguish speculative hypothesis from empirical experiment.

        For me, speculative hypothesis is a mind-game of abstraction, while empirical experiment is practical hands on adventure with actual nature. We need both and we seek to line up our mind-games with our adventures with nature, but we shouldn’t confound them. It seems to me that Wendy S. Parker is intent on confounding them, to the detriment of scientific understanding. She makes out that computer simulation is a different animal from what I have above called speculative hypothesis. For me, a computer simulation is a mind-game. For me, Wendy Parker’s piece is an instrument of the offence of which I complain. I would say that she is supporting a fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Christopher Game

      • Jack Hughes

        Chris,

        It was a debating error – it allowed a deflection into discussing Galileo instead of answering the point.

    • That is a complete over-reaction. I am surprised you prefer the word “simulation” which admits to similarity.

  20. Jack Hughes:

    Check it out on line at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/enhanced

    1. To make greater, as in value, beauty, or effectiveness; augment.
    2. To provide with improved, advanced, or sophisticated features: computer software enhanced with cutting-edge functionalities.

    I presume Dr Curry means a more intense hydrological cycle in which larger amounts of water circulate between solid, liquid, or gas phases.

    It’s not an unusual word – it’s been in the English language since at least the fourteenth century or longer.

    It’s not a word unique to climate science or even science in general.

    • Jack Hughes

      Hi Chris,

      I know the everyday meaning of the word – it usually means to make something better in some way. If they meant “increased” then why not use that word?

      Increases can be measured in units. Increased volume, increased energy, increased mass. Enhancements cannot be measured.

      • Or “intensified”?

        The problem with “enhanced” is that it recently had a hey-day as an Orwellian embellishment of an otherwise unimpressive argument. That heyday is just about passed.

      • Hi Jack and Tom

        Actually, on reflection, I agree that “enhanced” is a bit of a cliche. However, if only all our speech and writing were free of cliches – mine certainly is not.

        Unfortunately, the more we write, the more we resort to stock expressions. Scientists who seek to maintain an active publication profile seem particularly vulnerable in this regard.

        I think we can forgive Dr Curry her enhancements as I hope Jack will forgive my initially combative response which may have sounded patronising.

      • Chris, Jack and Tom

        “enhanced” is a great new buzz-word

        another is “constrained”

        Both find use in “politically correct” jargon.

        A volumetrically “enhanced” individual used to be a fat person.

        A vertically “constrained” individual used to be a short person.

        While “enhanced” has been around for years, it curiously got a first big boost in the oil production business back in the early 1960s, when various “enhanced recovery” techniques were being developed, applied, “sold” to potential investors as potential profit-generators and written off on corporate tax returns when they failed.

        Max

  21. Re: the posted essay –

    “(2) if you are told there are no dissidents, check with the Royal Society; ask around”

    I think this suggestion undermines the essay. The RS have had an uncritical party line on AGW. I think that “ask around” makes up to some extent but would be better if it were extended to “do your own research – put aside half a day to actively search the internet for contrary views”

    I also think the advice for politicians/decision makers should include:

    (7) properly consider the negative impacts of policy/investment decisions based on incorrect data and/or theories.

    • curious

      step 1 – check with the Royal Society
      step 2 – ask around, i.e. check on the Royal Society

      Sounds like step 2 is good advice, after hearing Sir Paul Nurse on climate change.

      Max

  22. Jack Hughes:

    Enhancements can be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively as befits the occasion. For example, a mathematical model can be “enhanced” by yielding results that are considered more valid (usually a qualitative measure) or reliable (usually a quantitative measure).

    “Increased” in this instance might be too specific a term.

    Christopher Game:

    I’m not sure why you’re railing against computer simulations.

    Einstein’s theory of relativity was only a mathematical simulation of reality until experimental evidence emerged to support the hypothesis. A computer simulation in turn is nothing more than a highly complex mathematical simulation embracing calculations too numerous for any individual or even large group of individuals to work through in a reasonable time frame.

    Computer simulations are great for generating hypotheses, which the scientist in the field tests against reality. As such, they enable more sophisticated data collection. Sometimes, like all hypotheses, they lead us up the garden path, but hey, you win some, you lose some.

    A great deal of your life depends on computer simulations including your insurance premiums, the value at which your local currency trades, and your superannuation investment portfolio where again, you win some or lose some.

    • Christopher Game

      Thank you, chris1958.

      You write: “I’m not sure why you’re railing against computer simulations.”

      I am not railing against computer simulations. I am seeking to identify them for what are they, valuable and necessary and coordinate with, but distinct from, and not to be confounded with, empirical experiments, by which I mean practical hands-on adventures with actual nature. Christopher Game

      • Hi Christopher

        Thank you for your clarification – I confess I misunderstood you – my apologies. However, I’d point out that any computer model or mathematical simulation has to begin with some broadly acceptable parameters with reasonable assumptions about real world behaviour.

        One of the the difficulties that bedevilled the Copernican revolution was its failure to predict planetary motion as well as the Ptolemaic model. Copernicus was labouring under the assumption that planetary motion had to be circular because the circle was viewed as the epitome of perfection. Kepler realised that planetary motion was elliptical thus creating a model that has retained reliability and validity over the centuries. Deviations from Kepler’s model allowed for the discovery of the remaining planets invisible to the naked eye.

        In short, a computer simulation must engage with the real world from the outset to have any predictive power. Consequently, using the word “experiment” is valid.

        Mind you, if you want to be a stickler for accuracy, much of climatology like economics or population studies comprises so-called “quasi-experiments” or “natural experiments.”

        See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiment

      • Chris1958 –
        I’d point out that any computer model or mathematical simulation has to begin with some broadly acceptable parameters with reasonable assumptions about real world behaviour.

        Actually, I take exception to that statement. One can do computer simulations with parameters that bear no relation to reality. Or with programs that are either faulty or incomplete. (Failing to account for cloud properties/behavior, for example).

        None of that – or entire ranges of other anomalous conditions – are precluded from the world of computer simulations.

        Which is why your statement –
        a computer simulation must engage with the real world from the outset to have any predictive power. Consequently, using the word “experiment” is valid.

        is not correct. As least in the sense that a simulation is equivalent to real world measurements.

        Note that the faults with the simulation may be inadvertent – or not. Sometimes deliberate faults have their place in simulations. And then there’s the Hockey Stick – which is also a simulation. But I won’t go there right now.

      • Hi Jim

        All this has turned into a fascinating discussion.

        Now that I think about it, the initial parameters in a computer simulation need not engage in reality as we know it. You can use a computer simulation to create a “counter-factual.” This can be very useful sometimes to help you understand why systems might work in specific ways.

        Actually, all mathematics is a simulation. There are no perfect geometrical structures such as points, lines, or let alone circles, save as Platonic idealisations. Some mathematical concepts are deliberately irrational – eg, the square root of -1 – with seemingly no counterpart in the world as we experience it.. However, they still turn out to very useful in the world of electrical engineering. You would certainly conduct experiments in electrical engineering relying on what were initially called imaginary numbers precisely because they were considered a useless concept (see the Wikipedia article for a quick reference – I do not pretend to any great knowledge of this subject).

        So perhaps our discussion of the role of computer simulations is taking on a somewhat Hegelian character: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Computer simulations with any data may be valid experiments so long as we do not invest them with a God-like authority (any more than we should do an experiment using “real” physical data). The validity and reliability of any experiment depend then on its design and its coherence and consistency rather than on its existence in a “real” or virtual universe. Consistency and coherence, however, imply some engagement with reality at some level (eg, logical principles such as non-contradiction and the like).

      • PS to Christopher:

        I also draw your attention to the notion of the “Thought Experiment” of which Schrödinger’s Cat is the best known example. However, it turns out that Galileo’s “demonstration” of the behaviour of falling objects also falls under this category.

        See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_experiment

        These seem to have been very productive “mind games.”

        It seems to me that we have created an artificial dichotomy between the deductive and empirical spheres of science whereas science to be truly “scientia” needs to incorporate both.

    • Doesn’t this

      “Einstein’s theory of relativity was only a mathematical simulation of reality until experimental evidence emerged to support the hypothesis.”

      rather concede the point?

  23. My hero in this connection is Donald Thompson, who was a Minister in the then Department of Agriculture in 1989. He understood that scientific conclusions are not set in stone, and asked, ‘What if science changes its mind about the transmissibility of BSE?’ This, as it turned out, was a crucial question to ask. As a result, the Government put in place controls which caused the parts of animals most likely to carry the infection to be removed from the food chain, although scientists were then saying this was unnecessary.

    I don’t much use the term “precautionary principle” because I think the concept, once explained, is familiar to everyone and goes by the name “common sense.” That said, this seems like an excellent example of the correct application of the precautionary principle.

    Imagine if, instead, his scientific advisers had been telling him BSE was likely transmissible, and we need to remove these product from the food chain right away. Imagine if he said “What if they are not? It costs a lot to remove products. It requires government regulation — “The Fountainhead” tells me that’s a bad thing! There is still uncertainty. Some scientists think BSE is not transmissible. Few people have died of BSE so far. We need more data!”

    Imagine what a fool we would think that man, if he decided to be less cautious, rather than more cautious, then most scientists wanted him to be.

    (I wish this were a theoretical case, but something very much like this happened in post-apartheid South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki, sympathizing with AIDS denialists (or, if you prefer, “HIV skeptics”) implemented policies that killed about a third of a million people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS_denialism#Impact_in_South_Africa).

    • Robert,
      The strength of your argument is overwhelming :
      – the AIDS scare was well-founded
      – the BSE scare was well-founded
      – the smoking-cancer scare was well founded
      Therefore ALL scares are well founded, and we should aways act on them.

    • I prefer HIV/AIDS sceptics or dissidents. Again, it is consensus “scientists” who deny inconvenient observations and results.

      But we probably shouldn’t go there on this blog.

  24. Speaking of science communication, as of June 2, the National Academy of Sciences is giving away PDFs of 4,000 NAS reports for free.

    Here’s the 2010 climate change report: https://download.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12781

    • Claim: “US average air temperature has increased by more than 2F in the last 50 years.”

      Pick 1920 to 2010
      Use 1970 to 2000 as base period

      .9F in 90 years.

      http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/na.html

      And thats with UHI contamination. Well within the margin of error for essentially zero.

      They cherry picked a nice cold starting point.

      • “UHI contamination” does not inflate the warming trend; it may reduce it, although the effect has not been found to be statistically significant.

        If you want your claim of cherry-picking evaluated, you need to specifically cite the claim in the report you are disagreeing with and explain why. In the absence of that, nobody cares what the Magical Sun Brightening Crank thinks of the methods of the National Academy of Sciences.

      • At .9F over 90 years (instead of the cherry picked dishonest 2F over 50 years) I don’t have to prove much do I?

        UHI does inflate the warming trend because it smears the warming in cities over the countryside.

        But again, with a miniscule amount of “warming” over such a long long period … there is no real “warming” to worry about.

        Its all within the margin of error. The USA is not really warming at all.

      • Still no citation.

        Hence no facts.

        Hence all you’ve proved is that you have no argument.

        Ignorant of Menne 2010 and all the other refutations of Watt’s UHI delusions.

        But you’ve wasted five minutes of my time, so you can be proud of that.

      • Page 19 from the reference you posted.

        NCDC data from my reference.

  25. Chris Savage

    As a member of the British Labour party, I found Waldegrave’s advice very sound – and not just because it coincides with my sceptical views on AGW.

    Contrast Waldegrave’s approach with that of the current Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband, when he became Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (this is a story he tells himself). He called in the Department’s Chief Scientific Adviser and asked him “Is the science of climate change really settled?” to which he replied “yes”. And that was that.

    • Stirling English

      While the current secretary of state, LibDem Huhne called in his Chief Science Adviser and said

      ‘ The Science is Settled. I Have Spoken. Let It Be Known Throughout The Land’

    • It doesn’t coincide with your views, Chris. The essay is soundly against, not for, the distortions and misinformation of pseudo-science and climate change contrarians.

      Earth to Chris: Waldegrave accepts the strength of the scientific consensus and supported a carbon budget during the 2007 climate change debate in the House of Lords and continues to openly support legislation – both domestic and international – to cut emissions, as well as participating in public education on climate change.

      Summarizing his support for legislating to cut emissions during the 2007 debate, he said: “If we act successfully, I suspect that the Minister and all of us will in due course be teased by people who will say, “It was all a scare”. That will arise because we have taken the necessary action in time. That is where I end. This is an historic day on which this country is beginning to rearm itself for the defence of the planet. It will be a very long process but nothing could be more important than the Bill which the Minister put before us today.”

      See http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2007-11-27c.1123.4

      By following his own advice, he concludes that the science says that climate change is real and that emissions cuts are necessary for long-term responsibility-taking in addition to planning to help citizens adapt; and that climate change denial is not the same as rational skepticism in science.

      While I can understand why you might wish to pretend that Waldegrave is a climate change denier, maybe one just like yourself who prefers to call himself a ‘skeptic’ – he isn’t, and doesn’t.

      • Yes, Waldegave does seem to be allied with the politically-motivated and politically-funded junkscience of the IPCC.

      • Perhaps Martha is correct about her assertion but change is possible, even considered natural to some.

        Given that added information, Waldegrave’s essay reminds me of the Neils Bohr quote:

        Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.

      • Martha

        You write:

        The essay is soundly against, not for, the distortions and misinformation of pseudo-science and climate change contrarians.

        Let’s filter out your personal polemic in this sentence and reword it more factually:

        The essay is against distortions, misinformation and pseudo-scientific declarations of “settled science” in the flow of information from scientists to policymakers.

        That is a more accurate one-sentence description of the essay.

        Max

  26. If you are a UK politician, then you need to invest some money in an Arctic magnetometer.
    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/dBz.htm
    Only problem is that loop takes about 40 years to complete, so results are somewhat out of date. It won’t do much for the climate change prediction, but a true scientists should not be bothered by such minor irritation.

  27. Doug Proctor

    I cannot speak for politicians, but I can speak from experience with business leaders of large corporations that they do NOT want to be well informed about both sides (or multi-sides)of an important issue. They, along with and more especially their board of directors, want unity at the top. Dissident views are to be resolved to a unity prior to the Board being advised as to the Plan and the President/CEO announcing the Plan. An understanding that different views HAVE BEEN reviewed is important, but equally important is that the final view is the best and, baring unforseen circumstances, the “right” or correct Plan.

    There are several reasons for this. The most important is that the financial markets, the shareholders and those being both serviced and providing services want certainty. Uncertainty lowers value and causes everyone to look for a more certain place to put their trust, money and personal futures. Another is plausible deniability – when things “cock up” you are not responsible if you had settled on the “truth” after rigourous investigation of other possibilities. This is important for the egos of those at top as well as for vague legal or ethical reasons; those at the top do not handle thoughts of personal error well at all. They also believe that uncertainty detracts from the energy and focus needed to achieve. Looking over your shoulder slows you down. Even knowing that others around you are looking over their shoulders slows you down.

    Laziness is the final reason. Those At Top are rarely well educated in the technical details. They are also not prone to personal investigation and self-discovery – they have assistants to provide 1-page summaries of that. Bullet points are even better. Having two or more conflicting but plausible scenarios simply means that those under them have not thought things through well enough to dismiss all but one.

    All this desire for the one-true-way comes from what I call “The Unique Solution Syndrome”. It is a characteristic of the engineering or accountant style of thinking that everything has one, unique, best solution. That being the case, every other solution is, by definition, not the best or, in a practical sense, the “wrong” solution. Dispute is the result of unresolved conflicts.

    The Unique Solution Syndrome describes the problem that Bush had going into Iraq as well as the drive to halt fossil fuel use. When Bush went into Iraq he believed that he could, by imposing an American way of governing and market forces, all conflict would end. He wasn’t prepared for the difficulties because he had become convinced personally that the American Way was the Right way. All else would lead to failure. And the one, right way would apply everywhere, as it was, by definition, the best and the right-est. The One Unique Solution to a warming world (once that had been defined as a problem, that is) was to stop human-created, fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. No other way was or is worth considering, because the problem had been both defined and its solution determined. God does not waver; He knows, and a well-thinking man or woman should emulate His God in this.

    Back in the late 1800’s it was well understood by the stodgy Christian that God had given man the reasoning ability to solve any problem that came his way – otherwise God-given challenges would not be tests of man’s moral character but would be cheap shots by a malignant, if all-powerful, Being. The philosphy drove the explorers of the time to the planet’s poles and their leaders to defeat their enemies on the battlefield and in the marketplace. In each case the challenge was to find THE way through, and then repeat as necessary. A nuanced, flexible, changing approach demonstrated not an appreciation of the complexity of the world but an incomplete understanding of the world and its people. Plus a moral ambiguity that allowed for gray to exist. Assertiveness is not a gray colour, and assertiveness builds a new world.

    So I say that, despite your well-intentioned belief that those at the top of corporations – and without doubt the tops of nations – wish to appreciate both sides of any situation, they in fact do not so wish. They truly want a single, clear view that leads to a single, precise Plan that can totally harness their energy and talents. A multi-pronged approach is difficult to both manage and evaluate afterwards, and indeed shows that the “problem” hasn’t been studied well enough to find its critical, single and unique point of origin.

    A character in some film said that a family member wanted everything in the world to be nailed to the floor. He was right about certainly the western way of thinking. The ancients and perhaps eastern philosophers saw and see life as a cyclical thing. What was, will be. We in the West see life as a series of obstacles to be identified and eliminated. Progress is a progressive removal of obstacles and attainments (and retention) of goals. Places like Afganistan reveal that not everyone believes that problems can be solved (or even that they are “problems”), and that applying a solution “here” simply causes the problem to be re-established “there”. The King is killed, long live the King!

    Global warming has been defined as a single solution situation. The Greens don’t worry about abandoning nuclear energy in Germany because the need for energy is not the problem, but the use of carbon-based energy sources is the problem – and that will be solved with a ban on coal, oil and gas and a lot of wind mills somewhere else. The thinking at the top is not dual or multi-sided; it is one-sided. And that is the desired way; all else leads to less efficiency and effectiveness, i.e. “wrong” behaviour.

    How to deal with this desire if not command to find the one, perfect way to look at something, to find the one, perfect way to solve the dilemna being faced? It is to keep immediately below the decision-makers the knowledge that certainty is not possible. The ones who implement must have serious power of mediation, moderation. They are the ones who must keep the discussion and the other options alive. I think this is really what Lord Waldegrave is saying. It is the advisors’ responsibility not to give the Cabinet (or the President or the Board) a fixed view or support for a fixed view, despite that that is wanted. A truly united consensus is a dangerous thing in that it does not reflect our more limited position in the world and our ability to make what we want to happen, happen.

    • Doug,
      I can’t speak for accountants but this is definitely not true for engineers:
      All this desire for the one-true-way comes from what I call “The Unique Solution Syndrome”. It is a characteristic of the engineering or accountant style of thinking that everything has one, unique, best solution. That being the case, every other solution is, by definition, not the best or, in a practical sense, the “wrong” solution. Dispute is the result of unresolved conflicts.
      True, engineers must eventually define a single design, otherwise the project could not start. The goal, of course, will be to provide the best design given the constraints imposed. If fact, an engineer realizes there are essentially an infinite number of ways to solve a design problem. There is almost always no single best design. In spite of that, one design must be chosen.

      However, I do understand your reference to “The Unique Solution Syndrome”. I see that as a fundamental problem in discussions about global warming. It seems to be a natural desire to find the single ‘root’ cause of a perceived problem. Once that is found, then a single response must defined and employed. Once global warming was accepted as a problem, it’s cause single ‘root’ cause was decided to be CO2 buildup in the atmosphere and the single response was to stop CO2 production. It was certainly a satisfying problem/cause/response set to many people. Of course, it is probably a poor match with the real world.

      Now, back to the engineering theme. An engineering solution would be to figure out what is going to be damaged and enumerate the choices for dealing with problems that might be defined. Reducing CO2 production would not likely ever make it past the smirking stage. Doing so would have (and has had) immediate and damaging consequences.

      Most of the potential damage imagined happens slowly over the course of the next century of two. Few existing buildings or parts of infrastructure would not have been replaced do to normal aging and wear in that time frame. In fact, most of the cost of adaptation needed for projected problems such as sea level rise are essentially cost free in the sense that it would have been incurred even without global warming. Those are the things that would be considered by an engineer.

  28. Related, from Althouse:

    Those who pollute science with politics, emotion, and other things that are not science deserve our contempt. Expose them. Criticize them. They are great malefactors.

    http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/06/fluoridated-water-artificial-sweeteners.html

  29. If the politicians are really that dead set to get as much of the truth as can be had, then where are the transparency laws for government funded scientists? Give us all your code and data, including all you didn’t use – EVERYTHING!

  30. Robert | June 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm | quoted me “I surmised it does not in fact have any evidence for the large claims in its Abstract, nor did it need to, as big claims in Abstracts that the end of the world is nigh are all that is needed to get published by PNAS.” and then challenged me: “Let’s test this theory. Why don’t you write up a paper claiming the world is nigh and submit it to PNAS. We’ll see if it gets published.”
    But I do not believe in CAGW, whereas all PNAS climate papers promote it. Solomon et al (2009) is the classic, stating that CAGW is not only inevitable but also “irreversible” for 1000 years. Solomon claims to have trained as a chemist but there is no evidence she knows the formulae for combustion of hydrocarbons (a word that does not appear in her 996 pages (AR4, WG1, 2007) and for photosynthesis. Nor is there any evidence in WG1 that she knows how to perform or report regression analysis.
    As climate scientists do not do equations – or do know but suppress them for convenience – yet feel free to advise politicians that the science of CAGW is settled, here they are:
    C3H8 + 5O2 → Heat + 3CO2 + 4H2O …(1)
    It is not surprising that just as climate science never divulges equation (1) because it shows how both CO2 and H2O enter the atmosphere when there is combustion of hydrocarbons, it also never mentions (2), the formula whereby a large proportion (over 55%) of the emissions of CO2 and H2O is absorbed by photosynthesis both on land and in the oceans:

    2CO2 + 2 H2O + photons → 2CH2O + 2O2 …(2)
    For all of us other than politicians and their climate scientists, CH2O is carbohydrate, the basis for 80% of the world’s food consumption, a very inconvenient truth that has to be suppressed to secure prevention of hydrocarbon combustion by means of “carbon taxes”.
    Climate scientists by suppressing these equations and demonising hydrocarbon combustion have misled economists like Stern and Garnaut into providing false advice to politicians that hydrocarbon combustion yields no benefits from the CO2 and H2O in these formulae, only CAGW.
    A classic example of this is last week’s Report by H-J Schellnhuber (climate editor at PNAS) and his Potsdam gang “World in Transition” (WGBU, 2011)which proposes a super parliament of unelected scientists representing the “knowledge society” to forge a new social contract between us and the environment in which there will be “social renewal by comprehension” and where the “science is decisive” against the ‘hoi polloi’ of the Bundestag, and parliaments everywhere to ensure that “The ‘fossil-nuclear metabolism’ of the industrialised society has no future. The longer we cling to it, the higher the price will be for future generations. Howe¬ver, there are alternatives which would at least give all people access to the chance of a good life within the boundaries of the natural environment.” That is Schellnhuber’s manifesto, and PNAS seeks only to advance it (by suppressing my equations).

  31. Judith Curry

    The essay by Lord Waldegrave is short and sweet (and brilliant).

    Early on he points out that politicians must realize that “the science is never settled”.

    The most vital thing is that politicians should understand the provisional nature of scientific conclusions, and should probe the
    consequences of a scientific U-turn.

    Many politicians painted themselves into this corner early on. Quite a few of these had a hidden agenda, which was being served by the fallacious assumption that “the science is settled”. The whole setup of the IPCC was based on this agenda, and was thus doomed to eventual failure.

    He then discusses the boundaries for what is rational dissent, using the BSE example.

    But best of all are his six practical proposals for scientists advising the government and the other six for politicians.

    Had the mainstream “insider” group of climate scientists followed these rules (plus the basic precepts of the scientific method) there would have been no Climategate, etc., and no resulting dramatic loss of public confidence in climate science, in general.

    And had the politicians been a little less eager to finance and embrace the most alarming predictions from the scientists in order to further their own agendas, the whole story would never have gotten as far out of control as it did.

    Thanks for posting this, Judith.

    Max

  32. Chris Savage

    Martha – I didn’t suggest that Waldegrave shares my views. I said his argument was sound. I for one do not judge people’s arguments on whether they have come to the same conclusion as me.

  33. maksimovich

    One of the side effects of the AGW problem is the use of scientists to influence government policy, by political parties.In NZ Hansen was sponsored by the green party in his recent Sojurn to the south pacific .

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110601_DearPMKey.pdf