Agnotology, Agnoiology and Cognitronics

by Judith Curry

I’ve just come across three really interesting words, that I have somehow missed up to this point in my studies on uncertainty and ignorance:  agnotologyagnoiology and cognitronics.

While cruising my blogroll last nite, I spotted a post on Michael Smithson‘s blog Ignorance and Uncertainty entitled “Writing on Agnotology, Uncertainty, and Ignorance.”  Which led me to the Wikipedia page on agnotology, which introduced me to agnoiology and cognitronics.

Wikipedia definitions

From the Wikipedia:

Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology. Its name derives from the Neoclassical Greek word ἄγνωσις,agnōsis, “not knowing” (confer Attic Greek ἄγνωτος “unknown”[4]), and -λογία, -logia. More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.

A similar word from the same Greek roots, agnoiology, meaning “the science or study of ignorance, which determines its quality and conditions” or “the doctrine concerning those things of which we are necessarily ignorant” describes a branch of philosophy studied by James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century.

Cognitronics aims (a) at explicating the distortions in the perception of the world caused by the information society and globalization and (b) at coping with these distortions in different fields… Cognitronics is studying and looking for the ways of improving cognitive mechanisms of processing information and developing emotional sphere of the personality – the ways aiming at compensating three mentioned shifts in the systems of values and, as an indirect consequence, for the ways of developing symbolic information processing skills of the learners, linguistic mechanisms, associative and reasoning abilities, broad mental outlook being important preconditions of successful work practically in every sphere of professional activity in information society.

Proctor on agnotology

From an interesting interview with Robert Proctor, who coined the term “agnotology”:

“When it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases.

[Proctor] has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.”

As Proctor argues, when society doesn’t know something, it’s often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely spent millions insisting he’s a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.

“People always assume that if someone doesn’t know something, it’s because they haven’t paid attention or haven’t yet figured it out,” Proctor says. “But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what’s true and what’s not.”  

Maybe the Internet itself has inherently agnotological side effects. People graze all day on information tailored to their existing worldview. And when bloggers or talking heads actually engage in debate, it often consists of pelting one another with mutually contradictory studies they’ve Googled: “Greenland’s ice shield is melting 10 years ahead of schedule!” vs. “The sun is cooling down and Earth is getting colder!”

As Farhad Manjoo notes in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, if we argue about what a fact means, we’re having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it’s agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming.

Can we fight off these attempts to foster ignorance? Despite his fears about the Internet’s combative culture, Proctor is optimistic. During last year’s election, campaign-trail lies were quickly exposed via YouTube and transcripts. The Web makes secrets harder to keep.

We need to fashion information tools that are designed to combat agnotological rot. Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other’s guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.

Proctor also has a book “Agnotology: the making and unmaking of ignorance.”  From the blurb:

What don’t we know, and why don’t we know it? What keeps ignorance alive, or allows it to be used as a political instrument? Agnotology—the study of ignorance—provides a new theoretical perspective to broaden traditional questions about “how we know” to ask: Why don’t we know what we don’t know? The essays assembled in Agnotology show that ignorance is often more than just an absence of knowledge; it can also be the outcome of cultural and political struggles. Ignorance has a history and a political geography, but there are also things people don’t want you to know (“Doubt is our product” is the tobacco industry slogan). Individual chapters treat examples from the realms of global climate change, military secrecy, female orgasm, environmental denialism, Native American paleontology, theoretical archaeology, racial ignorance, and more. The goal of this volume is to better understand how and why various forms of knowing do not come to be, or have disappeared, or have become invisible. 

Michael Smithson on agnotology

From Smithson’s blog post:

“Agnotology” is the study of ignorance (from the Greek “agnosis”). “Ignorance,” “uncertainty,” and related terms refer variously to the absence of knowledge, doubt, and false belief. This topic has a long history in Western philosophy, rooted in the Socratic tradition. It has a considerably shorter and, until recently, sporadic treatment in the human sciences. This entry focuses on relatively recent developments within and exchanges between both domains.

A key starting-point is that anyone attributing ignorance cannot avoid making claims to know something about who is ignorant of what: A is ignorant from B’s viewpoint if A fails to agree with or show awareness of ideas which B defines as actually or potentially valid. A and B can be identical, so that A self-attributes ignorance. Numerous scholars thereby have noted the distinction between conscious ignorance (known unknowns, learned ignorance) and meta-ignorance (unknown unknowns, ignorance squared).

The topic has been beset with terminological difficulties, due to the scarcity and negative cast of terms referring to unknowns. Several scholars have constructed typologies of unknowns, in attempts to make explicit their most important properties. Smithson’s book, Ignorance and Uncertainty: Emerging Paradigms, pointed out the distinction between being ignorant of something and ignoring something, the latter being akin to treating something as irrelevant or taboo. Knorr-Cetina coined the term “negative knowledge” to describe knowledge about the limits of the knowable. Various authors have tried to distinguish reducible from irreducible unknowns.

Two fundamental concerns have been at the forefront of philosophical and social scientific approaches to unknowns. The first of these is judgment, learning and decision making in the absence of complete information. Prescriptive frameworks advise how this ought to be done, and descriptive frameworks describe how humans (or other species) do so. A dominant prescriptive framework since the second half of the 20thcentury is subjective expected utility theory (SEU), whose central tenet is that decisional outcomes are to be evaluated by their expected utility, i.e., the product of their probability and their utility (e.g., monetary value, although utility may be based on subjective appraisals). According to SEU, a rational decision maker chooses the option that maximizes her/his expected utility. Several descriptive theories in psychology and behavioral economics (e.g., Prospect Theory and Rank-Dependent Expected Utility Theory) have amended SEU to render it more descriptively accurate while retaining some of its “rational” properties.

The second concern is the nature and genesis of unknowns. While many scholars have treated unknowns as arising from limits to human experience and cognitive capacity, increasing attention has been paid recently to the thesis that unknowns are socially constructed, many of them intentionally so. 

In philosophy and mathematics the dominant formal framework for dealing with unknowns has been one or another theory of probability. However, Max Black’s ground-breaking 1937 paper proposed that vagueness and ambiguity are distinguishable from each other, from probability, and also from what he called “generality.” The 1960’s and 70’s saw a proliferation of mathematical and philosophical frameworks purporting to encompass non-probabilistic unknowns, such as fuzzy set theory, rough sets, fuzzy logic, belief functions, and imprecise probabilities. Debates continue to this day over whether any of these alternatives are necessary, whether all unknowns can be reduced to some form of probability, and whether there are rational accounts of how to deal with non-probabilistic unknowns. The chief contenders currently include generalized probability frameworks (including imprecise probabilities, credal sets, belief functions), robust Bayesian techniques, and hybrid fuzzy logic techniques.

In the social sciences, during the early 1920’s Keynes distinguished between evidentiary “strength” and “weight,” while Knight similarly separated “risk” (probabilities are known precisely) from “uncertainty” (probabilities are not known). Ellsberg’s classic 1961 experiments demonstrated that people’s choices can be influenced by how imprecisely probabilities are known (i.e., “ambiguity”), and his results have been replicated and extended by numerous studies. Smithson’s 1989 book proposed a taxonomy of unknowns and his 1999 experiments showed that choices also are influenced by uncertainty arising from conflict (disagreeing evidence from equally credible sources); those results also have been replicated.

More recent empirical research on how humans process unknowns has utilized brain imaging methods. Several studies have suggested that Knightian uncertainty (ambiguity) and risk differentially activate the ventral systems that evaluate potential rewards (the so-called “reward center”) and the prefrontal and parietal regions, with the latter two becoming more active under ambiguity. Other kinds of unknowns have yet to be widely studied in this fashion but research on them is emerging. Nevertheless, the evidence thus far suggests that the human brain treats unknowns as if there are different kinds.


There is an agnoiology blog, which gives the following definition.  agnoioligy: n.  the study of human stupidity.

From an article by Lehrer entitled “Social consensus and rational agnoiology“:

A person may reasonably accept some experimental report, hypothesis or theory because there is a consensus among an appropriate reference group of experts.  It may be unreasonable, moreover, for a person to accept such statements when there is a consensus against such acceptance.  A person may, however, conclude on the basis of careful study that the experts are in error.  Having concluded thus, he may reasonable dissent from the experts, refusing to accept what they do, or accpeting what the do not.  For such a man, dissensus is reasonable and conformity counterproductive.  When is it reasonable for a person to conform to a consensus and when is it reasonable for him to dissent?

We shall answer the question in terms of an intellectual concern of science and rational inquiry.  Succintly stated, the concern is to obtain truth and avoid error.  We shall argue that consensus among a reference group of experts thus concerned is relevant only if agreement is not sought.  If a consensus arises unsought in the search for truth and the avoidance of error, such consensus provides grounds which, though they may be overridden, suffice for concluding that conformity is reasonable and dissent is not.  If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern. (JC emphasis)

The full article is not available online, unfortunately, I would love to read the rest of this paper.


As for cognitronics, I have not been able to find any useful info online.  The wikipedia link goes nowhere, and the primary reference seems to be this paper which is unavailable.

Barlow, H.B., 1985. “Cognitronicsmethods for acquiring and holding cognitive knowledge,” Unpublished manuscript. Barlow.

I would certainly be interested in learning more about this interesting concept.

JC comments:  Agnotology is often used in a merchants of doubt context, but the broader definition of Smithson formalizes many of the concerns that I have had in the context of the climate debate.  I find the idea of cognitronics very intriguing if unfortunately vague.  The first page of Lehrer’s angiology paper provides a brilliant insight, IMO:

If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.

281 responses to “Agnotology, Agnoiology and Cognitronics

  1. I notice the mention of anti-Obama, church, oil, and auto groups; but no mention of deceptive climate scientists and the various distortions and exaggerations by the IPCC. Is this problem truly a one-way street?

    • And what about all the liberal NGOs and their spew? Doesn’t that count also?

      • I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but George Orwell’s book , “1984,” describes the fine art of using words to deceive.

        Get a FREE synopsis of the book on the web by searching for 1984.

        Propaganda includes the art of using words to deceive.

      • Today NASA scientists and NASA reporters bravely released a video that destroys any remaining credibility of the Standard Solar Model (SSM) of a Hydrogen-filled Sun and world leaders’ hopes of using the threat of CO2-induced global warming as the “common enemy” to unite the nations, end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation and establish a one-world tyrannical government:

        Here is part of a comment I posted there:

        “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Alex Young and Dr. Tony Phillips, for getting this information out!

        You may both lose your jobs for showing observations that violate Al Gore’s fable of CO2-induced global warming, but frankly I am very proud of you!”

        I urge Climate Etc readers to express their support for the release of this explosive video. Try to save a copy of it before politicians and world leaders discover that the falseness of their AGW fable has now been exposed.

    • Yes, this is obviously a one-way street. Which gives you all the information you need to judge the value of the concept.

      • So your bias allows you to reject any analysis of your bias as unfair?

        How nice that your prejudices protect you like that.

      • It’s difficult for me to suss it out, but I suspect that your irony meter needs adjusting.

  2. John Vetterling

    I think you may have just touched on one of the chief concerns of the skeptical position: that the “scientific consensus” appears contrived. As Lehrer said, “consensus…arrived at by intent…becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant.”

    But if that is true, then just what is the purpose of the IPCC?

    • Latimer Alder

      ‘What is the purpose of the IPCC?’

      I cannot give a comprehensive answer to that but two elements in an essay on the subject seem to be

      1. The whole aim….is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. (Mencken)

      2. To ensure full employment and plenty of job opportunities for fellow climatologists. The strategy is to solidify the need for climatological advice in the minds of the policy makers. In this endeavour we can think of the IPCC as the climatologist’s informal trade union.

      • Kent Draper

        I would venture to say that we as nations are in some serious trouble because of what we have allowed the UN ( IPCC included ) to become. It didn’t happen overnight, this was a creeper. Non the less, we let it happen. Maybe we just wanted to be nice to others, but it certainly didn’t turn out that way.
        What a total money rat hole.
        I think we should simply lock the doors. Because the UN has no power to force anything and hence is impotent in it’s causes, shut it down. Does anybody know the UN yearly budget? It’s probably a very scary number.

      • W F Lenihan

        IPCC is one of the tools of a cabal of oligarch statists who intend to gain control of extraction, production, distribution and consumption of energy globally. NGOs are part of the alliance. Too many scientists have sold their professional souls to the devil, so to speak. Maurice Strong and George Soros are two of the cabal members.

    • It’s just fascinating to me how people who call themselves “skeptics” will fall over themselves repeating an assertion; unquestioning of the source, without hesitation, without doubt.

      “consensus…arrived at by intent…becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant.”

      Four legs good, two legs bad!

      • John Vetterling

        Do you dispute that the IPCC reports were consensus arrived at by intent?
        Do you dispute that the skeptics view that consensus are conspiratorial and irrelevant? Not whether the consensus is that, but is that how it is viewed by the skeptics.

        If the answer to those two questions is yes, then the observation appears to be confirmed by the data.

        The point if the article is not a statement about the veracity of the consensus. It is a statement about the difference between a consensus developed by intention v. a consensus that developes naturally.

      • “Four legs good, two legs bad!”, is that from Animal Farm? You realize that’s not a book that looks favourably at the left or authority(like the IPCC).

      • Robert, you forgot the quotation marks around your “Four legs good, two legs bad!”

        And I will use quotation marks around this: “It’s just fascinating to me how people who call themselves “skeptics” will fall over themselves repeating an assertion; unquestioning of the source, without hesitation, without doubt.”

        I don’t think it is the skeptics who are telling people the science is settled and calling for people who don’t agree with them to be put on trial. Of course in looking at your postings, you somehow don’t seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance in this regard.

  3. An example of the use of symbolic information: the ‘hockey stick.’

    “… In conclusion, it is clear that the Mann et al. (1999) `hockey stick’ is nothing more than a mathematical construct vigorously promoted in the IPCC’s 2001 report to affirm the notion that temperature changes of the twentieth century were unprecedented. The validity of this has been soundly challenged and sufficient evidence exists to disprove it …”

    (from Michaels and Balling, 2000, p. 98).” – C. R. deFreitas, Are observed changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere really dangerous. BCPGAI. 2002 Jun;50(2):297-327)

  4. It is ironic indeed that he author, Dr. Proctor, seems to be demonstrating agnotology in the excerpt you quote.

    • Jack Hughes

      It’s a recursive Po-Mo thing: an example of itself…

      agnotology includes inventing bogus new phenomena such as agnotology, which includes inventing bogus new phenomena such as agnotology, which includes inventing bogus new phenomena such as agnotology, which includes inventing bogus new phenomena such as agnotology, which includes inventing bogus new phenomena such as agnotology

  5. I’ll take Agnotology for $100, Alex–

    Alex: “… If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.”

    What is, Liberal Fascism!

    • I don’t see anything liberal about your fanatical right-wing fascism, but perhaps you could explain.

      • Robert, fascism is a left wing ideology.

      • No. Maybe CORRUPTED left wing is fascism, but so is any other corrupted ideology/system.

        Left wing is anti-authoritarian. If it’s authoritarian it’s not left wing.

        But ultimately it does not matter. All false dichotomies and distractions. I would always choose an uncorrupted and transparent social system over a corrupted and hypocritical one, no matter what they are called.

      • The Nationalist Socialist Party of Germany during WWII was, well, socialistic in nature. It was also Fascist.

      • Edim –
        Read Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism”

        Are you sure you’re a leftist? :-)

        OTOH, my best friend is a leftist – and a sceptic.

      • “Left wing is anti-authoritarian.”

        So communism and socialism are right wing ideologies? Dang, Obama is more conservative than I am.

      • GaryM 7/12/11, 11:36 am, agnotology

        The political spectrum seems to be closed in a circle where +∞ meets -∞.

        I wonder if it could be a Möbius strip? Twisted at ∞?

      • Jeff Glassman,

        I used to think that too. Then I figured out that the misconception is caused by the incorrect labeling of various political ideologies. If you instead determine left v/ right by some discernable criteria, the circularity disappears.

        I see the left v. right spectrum as being based on the degree of centralization of control. In economics, Marxian socialism is the far left, since it envisions complete state ownership and control of the means of production. The far right would be anarchy, the complete absence of control over the economy.

        Politically, the far left would be communism, centralization of political control in one party, with the power of the party centralized in one person. The far right would again be anarchy.

        I see the economic spectrum as, from left to right:

        Marxism, Fasciosm, “third way” socialism, capitalism, laissez faire capitalsim, anarchy.

        In politics:

        Communism, fascism, EU style democracy, U.S. representative democracy, “pure” democracy, anarchy.

        The more control is centralized, the further to the left you are, the less central control, the further to the right.

        This ends up switching fascism and anarchy on the spectrum from where most popular conceptions of those terms place them. And fascism in this sense refers merely to the political and economic systems, not the racism and extreme nationalism most people associate with the term.

        The “circular” view of the political spectrum comes from the misperception that the political/economic systems of fascism and communism/Marxism are somehow polar opposites, rather than just variations on a theme.

      • GaryM 7/12/11, 10:53 pm, agnotology

        My little attempt at whimsy was a failure. Under the influence of WWII, the consensus (i.e., the conventional wisdom) was that Stalin was on the far left and Hitler on the far right. That model still persists here and there on the Internet. Yet the two seem indistinguishable on any axis of interest. I got a poor grade in PoliSci in the 60s for having the temerity to suggest the two were equally hideous, hence the spectrum was closed at infinity, and other such non-conforming views.

        There are a couple of underlying mathematical problems that doom this liberal arts notion of a political spectrum. When we said that so-and-so should be sitting on the left or right side of the chamber, we had a good enough, understandable context. When we try to map it on the real line we need something measurable, and that turns out not to exist.

        Secondly, a set of political tenets has a large number of axes, explicit and implicit (e.g., esp. unintended consequences): e.g., authoritarianism, a raft of personal rights and freedoms, standard of living, duty, ethics, life expectancy, infrastructure. These constitute a vector space, and no natural method exists by which vectors can be ordered so that political tenets can be arranged on the real line. We just don’t want to look too closely at liberal arts models. We can always weight the components and add them, but then the weights are subjective and we’re back to liberal arts.

        When you put communism on the left and anarchy on the right, I envision the Soviet Union (or China or Cuba) on the far left, and Somalia on the far right. Where would Western Democracies fit on this continuum? Hitler is a particularly poor example for the far right, but how about some (imaginary) benevolent humanist/dictator, or how about some modern monarchy?

        When you compare EU style democracy, you chose US representative democracy as an alternative. I thought instead of US federalism, with in theory a limited federal government and a variety of forms for states. How might one construct a scale to rank good old Liberté, egalité, fraternité vs. united states? The US federal government guarantees the citizen’s right to petition the government, but provides no method for federal petition, initiative, referendum, or any method of expression on isolated issues. In fact, that’s what the federal government so attractive a target for movements, e.g. AGW – it circumvents the people.

        We can sensibly measure one indivisible tenet, but the political spectrum is chaos. It’s agnotology. Might as well try to order the contents of Internet.

      • If you think left wing is anti-authoritarian, try buying a high flush toilet or next year a regular light bulb. Go to Canada and say something against Islam and see how anti-authoritarian it is there.

        Aren’t you paying any attention to left wing groups regarding global warming?

        “Obama is already setting a new historic course by reorienting the economy from private consumption to public investments…free-market pundits bemoan the evident intention of Obama and team to ‘tell us what kind of car to drive’. Yet that is exactly what they intend to do…and rightly so. Free-market ideology is an anachronism in an era of climate change.”
        – Quote by Jeffery Sachs, Columbia University, Director of The Earth Institute

        “A climate change response must have at its heart a redistribution of wealth and resources.”
        – Quote by Emma Brindal, a climate justice campaigner coordinator for Friends of the Earth

        “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.”
        – Quote by Sir John Houghton, first chairman of IPCC

        “A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation.”
        – Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies

        “We must make this an insecure and inhospitable place for capitalists and their projects. We must reclaim the roads and plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, free shackled rivers and return to wilderness millions of acres of presently settled land.”
        – David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!

        “If I were reincarnated I would wish to be returned to earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.”
        – Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, patron of the World Wildlife Fund

        Of course the left is authoritarian. It is the only way to get their policies into the body politic because as you look at the extreme statements above, a majority would never drink their kool aid freely.

      • Anti-authoritarian are tenants of libertarians and anarchists. Left wing usually means more state control, hence more authority.

        There are many left wing scientist and politicians who do not believe in AGW – Claude Allegre for example.

      • Edim 7/12/11, 10:06 am, agnotology

        Let me share three deduced tenets of Marxism for your consideration, a set from which the various definitions and forms can be understood. 1. Citizenship: obligations over rights. 2. Identity: collective over individual. 3. Governance: oligarchy over self-rule.

        I place Marxism on the extreme far left, and with it, by those tenets, uniquely extreme authoritarianism.

  6. I had a very strong gastritis for some ten years. I went to the doctors, three, and all of them told me the same story. Too much stress, and drinking, and smoking, and disorganized way of live. I thought I was back at kindergarten, all adults teaching me how to be good. But I looked around and saw other people had the same problem, and had changed their life to no avail. So, I didn’t trust the experts and survived on anti acids. I didn’t mind they had a consensus (and that was a consensus, forget about climate change science).

    And then I read something about two Australians saying gastritis had nothing to do with the way you live, but with a bacterium. Back to the doctors, and they insisted: that’s nonsense, we have a consensus. So I went to my dog’s veterinarian, and asked: Is there a way to check the Australian’s hypothesis? Certainly so! Try a generic antibiotic; it won’t probably cure you, but you should notice the difference. And if so, I’ll get someone at my university contacting the Australians, and asking them the proper one.

    So, I cured myself, apparently forever, almost ten years before the experts knew how to do it. How should we call it? Agnotology or Cognitronics?

    • Latimer Alder

      You are lying. You are not cured.You just deny that you still have gastritis. You have been funded by the evil battalions of Big Pharma manufacturers to spread your denial around the internet. You are a shill for Roche and Co.

      It is filthy contrarians like you that prevent people from living in fear of pain and suffering. You must be suppressed.

    • plazaeme, 7/11/11, 12:10 pm, agnotology

      Are you left with an irresistable urge to drag your bottom on the carpet?

    • My late father suffered from ulcers for 20 years, and the consensus treatment was milk, which actually aggravated the condition, before antibiotics cured the problem.

      In the area of political actions based on presumed scientific consensus, Julia Gillards’s carbon dioxide tax will be the “milk” which harms the Australian economy with no global temperature “gain.”

      • My father suffered much longer than that, and even had his vagus nerve to the stomach cut to stop it from getting overexcited and excreting excess acid. And went through all the dietary complications etc. that were required, but, of course, survived on antacids throughout all the useless interventions.

        He died in his 70s, before the helicobacterium hypothesis was much known. I brought it up in its early days in a family discussion, and was raked over the coals by a sister-in-law, a nurse with much contact with internists.

        She’s much less disrespectful these days.

      • “She’s much less disrespectful these days.”

        Probably she’s given up engaging with you. I doubt the change is down to any increase in respect for you.

        Medicine often changes its opinion about issues as the evidence shifts. It’s comically stupid to pick one example of experts changing their minds about something, and argue from that that medical expertise (or expertise in climate science) is worthless.

        Because the medical profession was wrong about the etiology of gastric ulcers (and corrected themselves after evaluating the evidence), are you planning on ignoring a diagnosis of cancer? Maybe they’re wrong about that too.

        Probably not, though. You could keep going from doctor to doctor until you find somebody that doesn’t think you have cancer . . . no big loss.

        The world’s climate is a different story — we share that. So the opinions that count there are the informed ones.

      • “medical expertise (or expertise in climate science)”

        Ah, Robert goes to the well and pulls up The Dreaded Doctor Analogy again. Appealing to the authority of people outside climate science is just tooooooo irresistible. It’s like free candy bars in the Land of Chocolate.


      • Ah, Robert goes to the well and pulls up The Dreaded Doctor Analogy again.

        If you were paying attention, Andy, you’d have seen that I didn’t bring it up: plazaeme, Latimer Alder, Don B, and Brian H were using it, and I continued it.

        Factual error in the first premise = epic argument fail.

        Better luck next time. Thanks for playing!

      • Bob,

        I didn’t say you brought it up. You did use it, though.


      • “I didn’t say you brought it up.”


        “Robert goes to the well and pulls up The Dreaded Doctor Analogy”

        So the four of them were repeatedly using the analogy from deep inside a well, and I somehow pulled it out of the well? But you didn’t mention to imply by that that I brought it up, because “goes to the well and pulls up” doesn’t imply introducing something new?

        Entertaining effort to talk your way clear of your mistake, but unconvincing — and way off topic.

      • Bob, you were using it to make climate science look authoritative. That’s the issue.


      • Robert,
        You missed the lesson of the ulcer story.
        You have done the equivalent of throwing yourself at the floor amd missing.

      • Pretty much every sentence in that is an error, so I’ll just take a shining example.

        Medicine, in respect to the “etiology of gastric ulcers”, wasn’t just wrong, it actively and adamantly suppressed every effort to bring the new hypothesis to the test. In the end, Dr. W. had to infect himself, develop ulcers (much sooner than he’d anticipated, actually) and then cure himself completely to even get access to the journals.

        The parallels with “redefining what peer-review means” etc. are precise and cogent.

    • A version of the ulcer story.

      Though, my dad being a cow Doc, I do love stories about human beings going to veterinarians.

    • Good example. I find preposterous Lehrer’s assertion that “If a consensus arises unsought in the search for truth and the avoidance of error, such consensus provides grounds which, though they may be overridden, suffice for concluding that conformity is reasonable and dissent is not.” Such a consensus does not render dissent unreasonable, the fact of consensus amongst the learned and well-meaning does not mean that there can be no viable grounds for alternative views.

      • Good point! Galileo, Copernicus, and Einstein to name a few, held minority dissenting views which ultimately overturned the prevailing ‘consensus’.

    • I am puzzled by Plazaeme treating his gastritis with anti-acids for 10 years, when far more effective acid inhibitors were available, and could have been prescribed by any of the three doctors he saw. Acid inhibitors would not have cured the H. pylori infection, which was the source of Plazaeme’s chronic gastritis, but would have eased the discomfort and and lessened the aggravating effects of tobacco, coffee, alcohol, and NSAID’s such as aspirin and bufferin, which can cause acute gastritis.

      IMO, doctors attribute a disease to stress when they can’t identify exactly what causes it. The use “stress” as a catch all. Similarly, AWG deniers may attribute global warming entirely to the catch all “natural causes” when they can’t identify an exact cause.

      AGW deniers hoping for the H. pylori of global warming should keep in mind modern medicine rarely finds new causes of diseases.

      • Did you read the link I provided? His veterinarian should have added bismuth. Would have made it a much better story.

      • I just read it. I never thought doctors resisted the evidence that H. pylori was a cause of ulcers. I can understand their reluctance to prescribe anti-biotics without testing patients for H. pylori, since ulcers and other stomach problems can have the same symptoms.

      • M.carey –
        IMO, doctors attribute a disease to stress when they can’t identify exactly what causes it. The use “stress” as a catch all.

        Hmm – if you’re over 60 they use “age” as a catch all. Quote – “What do you expect at your age?”

        Similarly, AWG deniers may attribute global warming entirely to the catch all “natural causes” when they can’t identify an exact cause.

        And AGW alarmists attribute GW entirely to CO2 when they can’t identify an exact cause.

      • I don’t know anyone who attributes GW entirely to CO2.

        Occasionally, I see posters hysterical in their opposition to CO2 abatement.

      • M. carey –
        What is the one, single, lonely chemical compound that is discussed in 99+% of GW postings – and is the main target of the Church of AGW almost to the exclusion of any other form of mitigation? I’m sure you’ve seen the demise of CCX, the tribulations of the EU ETS, the Australian flap over a Carbon tax, the call to shut down the coal plants and the death trains, etc, etc, sd nauseum. And yet you say –

        I don’t know anyone who attributes GW entirely to CO2.

        What, pray tell, were you thinking?

      • You need some evidence to support your aasertation. I suggest you make list of people who believe CO2 is the sole cause of global warming.

        To give you some encouragement, I’ll pretend I believe CO2 is the sole cause of global warming, and you will have at least one person on your list. When you find someone who REALLY believes it’s the sole cause, remove my name from the list.

        If you can’t add to the list, your reputation will go South.

      • M carey –
        You need some evidence to support your aasertation. I suggest you make list of people who believe CO2 is the sole cause of global warming.

        I don’t think so. Rather, what YOU need to do is to provide evidence of major mitigation schemes for anything other than CO2. If other factors are involved, then there must be mitigation planned for those factors. So what are they?

      • Right on, but who says we have to mitigate anything? Who is blessed with the divine authority to do so? Those who have created and propagated Mencken’s hobgoblins? There’s a reason the name “troll” came into broad use on the Internet.

      • MarkF –
        Right on, but who says we have to mitigate anything?

        Not me. But the thrust of alarmist rhetoric for at least the last 12 years has been “mitigation by CO2 reduction/elimination will STOP global warming”. Apparently no other action is necessary to satisfy them (I don’t believe that either). And now M carey is apparently trying to tell me that CO2 is not the main thrust of the whole CAGW movement. Really?? Pull the other one – it’s got bells.

      • I wasn’t the one who made the following statement:

        “And AGW alarmists attribute GW entirely to CO2 when they can’t identify an exact cause.”

        When asked to name people who attribute GW entirely to CO2, you chose to respond by changing the subject, rather than admitting you imagine there are people like that, but you don’t actually know any.

      • M carey –
        When asked to name people who attribute GW entirely to CO2, you chose to respond by changing the subject, rather than admitting you imagine there are people like that, but you don’t actually know any.

        And I answered you –

        I don’t think so. Rather, what YOU need to do is to provide evidence of major mitigation schemes for anything other than CO2. If other factors are involved, then there must be mitigation planned for those factors. So what are they?

        If you want the statement disproved, it should be easy – provide evidence of ANY major mitigation scheme for ANY cause other than CO2.

        OTOH, the statement is proved by every GW blog and forum conversation that touches in any way on CO2 or mitigation or GW politics. If you need further proof then it’s because YOU are either not paying attention or are just being either foolish or trollish. Your choice.

        BTW – you don’t get to dictate how I prove my points.

      • Similarly, AWG deniers may attribute global warming entirely to the catch all “natural causes” when they can’t identify an exact cause.

        Bad logic, M. carey. Nothing wrong with this catch all solution because it is not a catch all solution. It is just a no solution; or ignorance. But better ignorant than wrong. At least you are still trying to know.

        Stress as catch all solution is not a statement of ignorance. It is trying to conceal the ignorance. In the case of Helicobacter pylori, trying to shut up Warren and Marshal, which worked for almost twenty years.

      • Nobody tried to shut up the two Aussie researchers.

      • Oh, yes. By the time I learned about them, they were publishing only in very marginal places, and not able to go to any conference. But by then they had a very sensible and plausible theory, very easy to check, on one of the most frequent illnesses. My experience makes it very clear.

        I am not saying why it was so, but anyone can make a very good guess knowing where the money for publications and conferences come from. Any case, for whatever the reason they where silenced when they should have had a loudspeaker. Almost 20 years to get their obvious results acknowledged. It took me two months, and just a veterinarian.

      • Let’s say it is very difficult to convince someone when his money depends on not being convinced.

      • Oh boy, another conspiracy theory.

      • Latimer Alder

        I think you meed to study the difference between ‘conspiracy’ (few people, difficult) and ‘groupthink’ (many people, relatively easy).

        Groupthink is often called ‘consensus’ if in ‘science’ or ‘prevailing climate of opinion’ in other fields.

      • Latimer Alder

        Just to help your study here’s a link to a great discussion of Groupthink.

        But the 8 principles are worth recording for all to see as they are so relevant to many discussion here and elsewhere.

        ‘Symptoms of Groupthink

        The eight symptoms of groupthink defined by Janus are as follows:

        1. Illusions of Invulnerability

        The group begins to believe it’s own hype and starts to think it always makes the right decisions – they can do no wrong.

        2. Rationalization of Warnings

        The group convinces itself that despite evidence or warnings to the contrary it is making the right decision. The group creates rationalizations such as, “We know there is contrary opinion to this decision but we’ve been right before in the face of negativity and we’ll we right this time too”.

        3. Complacency

        After reaping the rewards of making many correct decisions the group begins to overlook the negatives. Think how derivative models were never run showing what would happen to a banks financial position if house prices began to fall in the years leading up to 2007.
        4. Stereotyping

        Those who are opposed to the group are pigeonholed as heretics, non-believers, or just plain stupid.

        5. Loyalty Pressure

        Direct pressure is place on any team member who raises a contrary opinion, with typically the entire group openly calling the team member disloyal or fickle.

        6. Self-Censorship

        Individuals refrain from airing any private concerns they may have for fear for ridicule, for example, if you are in a group with 10 clever people who all agree with each other, then you begin to question if you might look like a fool for raising your concern – perhaps you a just being stupid.

        7. Illusion of Unanimity

        If asked, “does everyone agree with this decision?”, and nobody speaks up, then the decision is understood to have been made unanimously. In essence, silence is regarded as compliance.

        8. Mind-guards

        The group contains self-appointed members who protect the group from conflicting opinions from both inside and outside of the group’

        I don;t think that I am alone in seeing many parallels with the actions and apparent mentality of many climatologists.

  7. It reads like another “lay people stupid, lettered people smart and wise, trust us, we know better than you mouth-breathing net surfers” screed. The very kind of work that drives wedges between the bill payers and the elitist social engineers.

    I’m not impressed, but cool word.

  8. Agnotology explains how the EPA can help fascilitate the anti-science of global warming alamism–as useful idiots of the Left–without actually participating in a conspiracy with the Democrat party, the unions, the climate porn pushers in Government Education Industrial Complex.

  9. Proctor: “Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other’s guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.” It needs to be repeated again and again science is not about consensus, it is about theories developed from properly articulated hypotheses tested again and and again. Consensus is merely common perception. It is knowing what we think we know, or thinking that we know what we know.

  10. I had no trouble obtaining the Lehrer paper at

    Since it predates the whole climate controversy it may be treated as a touchstone of neutrality. Unfortunately, it smacks a bit of academic puffery, using a lot of words (and even a few symbols) to say not very much. But what it does say seems reasonable enough.

    The quoted section is reprised at the end, where it is phrased as follows.

    “If, however, consensus results from individuals weighting the probability assignments of others and aggregating them with the aim of obtaining truth and avoiding error, then interpersonal reasonableness becomes significant for rational evaluation.”

    So Lehrer doesn’t resolve the question of whether we have a genuine or a forced consensus in IPCC. There certainly is no argument against consensus per se. The concluding paragraph essentially states that consensus is generally the best we can do.

    “Finally, it may be asked why consensus, even when it emerges under
    impeccable conditions, should be allowed to restrict what is reasonable for the individual. The answer is to be found in a basic confidence we have
    in the human intellect to reach true conclusions. It may be claimed that this confidence is based on the underlying conviction that the simplest explanation of why men agree, when their agreement is the result neither
    of conspiracy nor of common error, is that they agree because they have got hold of the truth. The question of whether the confidence is based on the conviction, or the conviction on the confidence, is moot. We assume that when people seek only the truth, make no attempt to reach agreement but agree nevertheless, then there is reason to believe that they have reached their objective. In matters where we are expert, or in situations where all men are experts, we assume that consensus offers some reason to suppose we are correct. We do not know that this is so. It is an assumption of agnoiology. If we are wrong in it, we shall enjoy the pleasure of distinguished company.”

    • When I click on the link you provide, it sends me back to the main springer link where the only option is to purchase the article. What browser are you using?

    • The core take-away is that agreement that is not motivated by the desire for agreement is scientifically valuable. Otherwise, not.

      Which makes climate science utterly worthless.

    • Theo Goodwin

      By the very nature of science, a consensus would be about the problems to be solved, the methods to be used, the data to be collected, and so on. A consensus would exist within a field when everyone in that field is buzzing like a bee solving a problem. That happens on occasion.

      In science, even within a particular field of study, there would never be a consensus about “the truth” as an abstract concept. Perceptive criticisms are always treated as valuable. It never happens that perceptive criticisms are rejected on the grounds that they threaten the truth. When people appeal to “the truth” or “the consensus” then they have stepped outside science and are pursuing other goals.

  11. As Farhad Manjoo notes in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, if we argue about what a fact means, we’re having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it’s agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming.

    Interesting thought, but one that presumes that all facts can be objectively measured without error. Once you introduce adjustments, however justifiable, then the argument over what the facts are becomes less unreasonable.

  12. Unfortunately, we cannot get hold of anything that will help us undestand how, even as EPA science authoritarians declare war on the productive, judgmental anti-energy academes remain equal parts emotion and delusion. We are left to but guess that there is this vague trait that once was prized, and somewhat understood by most to be good–i.e., a virtue that was ostensibly attributed to many in Western civilization who were recognized as embodying this quality: Honor.

    But, all we understand now that Honor has been lost and lost with it is our respect for truth for its own sake. “Yet, if scientists are seen as no more honest and selfless than anyone else, then it follows that they will not be accorded any more moral authority than anyone else. The result may be a strange and an unsatisfactory situation in which those most intimately familiar with the ‘facts of the matter at hand’ will neither be given, nor encouraged to take, any special role in the moral disposition of ‘the matter at hand.’ That we can contemplate this situation with equanimity is an expression of modern sentiment that holds the divorce between knowledgeability and virtue to be ‘natural,” to be accepted as a matter of course. If, however, history holds any lessons, it is that the relationship between the two is a contingent matter. And what is historically contingent is historically revisable.” ~Steven Shapin

    • “But, all we understand now that Honor has been lost and lost with it is our respect for truth for its own sake.”

      That is certainly the case for fascists like you, but don’t worry! The rest of us are fine! We just plan on ignoring you until/unless you rediscover a commitment to truth over power, and with it, rediscover honor.

      • Robert,
        Oh my, now you tripped over Godwin’s law.
        You should Mike Godwin a user fee.
        You seem to be finding yourself with the need to invert definitions and roles of people here. That is typically a product of the inverting party doing a lot of projection. Are you so far gone you cannot do a bit of self-reflection, or are you too self absorbed?

      • tempterrain

        “Are you so far gone you cannot do a bit of self-reflection, or are you too self absorbed?”
        Was it you who accused me of asking a loaded question recently? I think I might need to come to you for lessons on how to really load them :-)

      • We just plan on ignoring you .

        You’ve been doing that or 20 years. I don’t think it’s working out well for you.

        until/unless you rediscover a commitment to truth over power, and with it, rediscover honor.

        Sayeth the little boy who wouldn’t recognize “honor” if it bit him on the a__.

  13. This site is pathetic. I strongly recommend not engaging in false discussions, based upon pseudoscientific sociology and the mob psychology of rhetoric, otherwise known as empty rationalization.

    • Latimer Alder

      No actual point to make then? Just abuse.


      • Sure, this site’s commenters engage in false discussion and have no actual points being made. But its sure a good place to get some abuse (or give it).

    • Bruce Cunningham

      Like the saying goes, don’t let the door hit you in the butt going out!

  14. Brian G Valentine

    Well, next time somebody introduces themselves to me as an “agnotologist” I won’t feel so stupid.

    I will now be able to respond, confidently: “Yessiree, I know exactly what you ‘agonotologists’ are all about.”

  15. “If we are in fact serious about addressing problems of intellectual dishonesty and the erosion of moral authority, I doubt very much whether we can do better than try, over a long period, to revive and reinstall some such culture of virtue.” (Shapin)

  16. Steve McIntyre

    Many years ago, the famous scientist and philosopher Descartes (who also had a practical life) observed:

    That is why, as soon as my age permitted me to leave the supervision of my professors, I completely stopped the study of letters, and, resolving not to look any more in any other science except one which could be found inside myself or in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth travelling, looking into courts and armies, associating with people of various humours and conditions, collecting various experiences, testing myself in the encounters which fortune offered me, and everywhere reflecting on the things I came across in such a way that I could draw some profit from them. For it seemed to me that I could arrive at considerably more truth in the reasoning that each man makes concerning the matters which are important to him and in which events could punish him soon afterwards if he judged badly, than in the reasoning made by a man of letters in his study concerning speculations which produce no effect and which are of no consequence to him, except perhaps that from them he can augment his vanity—and all the more so, the further his speculations are from common sense, because he would have had to use that much more wit and artifice in the attempt to make them probable.

    The authors cited by Judy here appear to me to fall precisely into the type that Descartes despised.

    • Brian G Valentine

      If I didn’t know it was Descartes I would assume this was written about AGW professors

    • Descartes was not much in the business of despising people. For that and other reasons he’d of made a poor “skeptic” in the climate debate.

      It’s important to investigate how we think, why we believe what we believe, and how that can go wrong. Descartes thought so too. Remember, he is famous not for traveling the world or reading from the book of nature, but for things he did sitting in his study “concerning speculations which produce no effect and which are of no consequence to him”: epistemology, dualism, and the Cartesian method.

      We now fortunately have much better tools for subjecting psychological speculations to the test of experiment: clinical psychologists have done a lot of interesting work on this in the last fifty years. Apropos of this discussion would be:

      “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts”

      • Robert,
        Clever but built a bit too clever.
        Denigration is a tool skeptics learned to use after being denigrated by true believers and promoters.
        Descartes might indeed be a poor skeptic, but he would certainly not be a true believer. He power of discernment was too powerful.

      • Psychology is an even softer science than climate science.

    • What he said, except:

      “. . . build real knowledge through consensus”

      The ironies just keep piling on.

    • Descartes’ big error was that, having observed his thought processes, he started with the premise “I think therefore I am,” rather than “there is a process of thinking.” We are a bundle of physical and mental processes which arise and pass away with great rapidity, no solidity, no continuing essence. You don’t need to seek consensus on this, you can observe the process in your own mind and body. A failure to understand this, an attachment to an illusory solid, permanent self, is a major cause of ignorance and suffering.

      • simon abingdon

        “there is a process of thinking” Where?
        “you can observe the process in your own mind and body” Who can?

    • Steve McIntyre 7/11/11, 2:16 pm, agnotology

      As I’m sure you know, your quotation is from a translation of Descartes’ 1637 foundational tome for modern science, Discourse on the Method, as translated. Science as used in that passage didn’t have the meaning now accepted for the objective branch of knowledge. Before the 1830s, that branch was known as natural philosophy, as in Newton’s 1729Mathematical Principles of. When Descartes wrote that he was resolving not to look any more in any other science except one which could be found inside myself he was saying that he was turning away from contemporary knowledge to rely instead on reason. Reading that passage without background, Descartes might seem to be a minor burble in a continuum of developing objective, or scientific, thought.

      Descartes integrated reason, cause and effect, and mathematics, from algebra to geometry, into epistemology (which still enjoys two different definitions) and the new philosophy.

      He was a man alone, creating modern science. Those men of letters and their speculations which produce no effect constituted the consensus of his day with its quiver full of blunted models. Where he spoke of events which could punish, he was talking about failures to predict.

      A consensus has yet to create a model with predictive power. Rather a consensus is recognition for conformity, necessarily therefore a bulwark, an inertia against advancement. It is evangelism that compensates for personal inadequacy. The archetypical consensus today has been perfected as a bureaucracy headed by the IPCC and a cadre of government-funded academics wedded to their house organs, the conforming, peer-reviewed journals.

      Descartes broke free of the shackles of the consensus to produce a new model that predicted the course of science and the future.

      • Bruce Cunningham

        I am not sure how to take your post. Newton died in 1727, and the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy was first published (in Latin) in 1687.

      • simon abingdon

        Descartes 1596-1650

      • Can we go back to the 7th Century BC. Daniel 1:4. This is a facinating study in the Hebrew.

      • Tom 7/12/11, 9:50 am, agnotology

        young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. Daniel 1:4.

        And climatology. I’m flattered. By the way, I am young — in geological time.

      • Just look at the Czars that work with The King of the Clods, today. I am sure that BILL MAHER, would agree with me too. Reagan never understood AGW science, neither does the current president.

      • Jeff, After re-reading your comment at: 1:11pm… For scripture dealing with climatology & its science, we need to turn to the oldest book of the Bible (my understanding), writen in the 16th century BC. This is a very clear chapter dealing with the issues of ‘climatology’, in Job, 38.

      • Job 37:14-24, reads better… Sorry for any confusion. Tom

      • Tom 7/13/11, 9:48 am, 10:57 am, Agnotology

        Reading Job 38, I heard the voice of IPCC for the first time. It reminded me of the difference between God and a physician: God knows he’s not a doctor.

        But coincidence of coincidences, I just finished posting about Job 37:16 over at the Lindzen and Choi Part II thread:

        Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?

      • Jeff, If we consider that almost four-thousand years ago, men were informed enough to consider the effects of ‘Albedo’… rationalize and name the ‘Atom’.
        At the same time, ‘trillion’ was not a number; see how far have we come in four millennia.)

      • Bruce Cunningham 7/12/11, 1:16 am, agnotology

        And I don’t know how to take your post. If Newton had been BORN in 1727 and his Principia published in 1687, now THAT would have been a problem.

        Take my posts slowly.

      • Latimer Alder


        I took your post very slowly coz I know you can’t write fast.

        But you seem to have Newton writing his work two years after his death

        ‘as in Newton’s 1729Mathematical Principles of’

        an early proof of Spiritualism perhaps?

      • simon abingdon

        First English translation 1729.

      • Latimer Alder 7/12/11, 9:24 am, agnotology


        Do you remember the story about the biology professor who stuck a finger in a beaker of urine, put a finger in his mouth to taste it, and passed the sample around the class for them to do the same? After all the nasty faces, he said that his was a lesson in observation. The finger he stuck in the sample was not the finger he put in his mouth.

        1. I gave his work a date. I did not say when it was written.

        2. I wanted a late date, and a version in which the English phrase natural philosophy appeared in the title.

        3. Anyway, is posthumous publication a rarity in the UK? Like Victor Borge said, It’s your language. I’m just trying to use it.

        4. I write slowly to take in the scenery and to minimize sticking the wrong finger in my mouth. The process is not perfect.

        Thanks, simon.

      • Latimer Alder


        Fine. I have a great edition of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (2011) on order from Amazon.

        The Apothecary is just so cool. Like giving out all those drugs without a prescription…….

      • Latimer Alder 7/12/11, 1:34 pm, agnotology

        Get the Kindle edition. It’s only $0.99 US, and you won’t have to wait.

        You’re likely to be disappointed in the ending.

      • And now to suit, “Our Great Computer”, may I bring to you all; our past
        Noble Prince…

        Even NBC alluded to our current weather crisis today, on our evening news. I am sure Al Gore will speak to us for free.)

    • Hobbes had a similar point of view. He also disliked scholastic philosophy here is a great quote: “What is the meaning of these words: ‘The first cause does not necessarily inflow anything into the second, by force of the essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to work?’ They are the translation of the title of the sixth chapter of Suarez’s first book, Of the Concourse, Motion, and Help of God. When men write whole volumes of such stuff, are they not mad, or intend to make others so?’
      But Lehrer has a good point – a constructed consensus has no authority. There was a doctrine called “probabilism” which in theology said that where theologians and priests disagreed the laymen was free to make up his own mind. Which is another argument against paying too much attention to the climate consensus (if there is one).

      • Russell (Problems of Philosophy (?)) went one better, I think. Paraphrasing:
        If the the experts are agreed, it is not intellectually safe to be certain of a contrary opinion.
        If the experts are disagreed, it is not intellectually safe to be certain of any opinion.

  17. Cardinal Bellarmine

    Why didn’t I think of all this?

  18. In Feynman’s book The Meaning Of It All the first couple chapters/essays are about uncertainty.

    “The rate of the development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test. If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas. There would be nothing worth checking, because we would know what is true. So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, „How can you live without knowing?” I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know. This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. It was born of a struggle. It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure.

    And I do not want us to forget the importance of the struggle and, by default, to let the thing fall away. I feel a responsibility as a scientist who knows the great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, and the progress made possible by such a philosophy, progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought. I feel a responsibility to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings. If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation. I want to demand this freedom for future generations.

    Doubt is clearly a value in the sciences. Whether it is in other fields is an open question and an uncertain matter. (…) it is important to doubt and that doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value.”

    see text at

    I would like to thank Judith Curry for carrying on with this Feynman-like understanding.

    • “Doubt is clearly a value in the sciences. Whether it is in other fields is an open question and an uncertain matter. (…) it is important to doubt and that doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value.”

      Superb. You can’t overestimate the value of doubt in science. I also would like to thank Judith Curry for allowing and welcoming doubt, questioning and scepticism of the “paradigm”.

  19. And in addition to all of the problems resulting from a lack of virtue in science, superstition, ignorance, bias and hubris takes its toll on man’s search for knowledge, e.g.,

    Jaynes: “If we do not recognize the approximate nature of our starting equations, we delude ourselves into believing that we have proved things (such as the identity of probability and limiting frequency) that are just not true in real repetitive experiments.

    “The danger here is particularly great because mathematicians generally regard these limit theorems as the most important and sophisticated fruits of probability theory, and have a tendency to use language which implies that they are proving properties of the real world. Our point is that these theorems are valid properties of the abstract mathematical model that was defined and analyzed. The issue is: to what extent does that model resemble the real world? It is probably safe to say that no limit theorem is directly applicable in the real world, simply because no mathematical model captures every circumstance that is relevant in the real world. The person who believes that he is proving things about the real world, is a victim of the Mind Projection Fallacy.”

  20. The coiner of the term “agnotology” makes his agenda clear with every example he picks. It is obvious that he was just fashioning a club with which to belabor the “ignorant skeptics”.

    Propagandizing is mostly about controlling vocabulary.

    • Brian G Valentine

      Oh, please. There are the real red-blooded “skeptics” and there are the poseurs – better known as “denialists” in some circles.

      His methodology is fashioned to go after the latter

      • You appear to be quite immune to the realization that as soon as you arrogate to yourself the right to apply such labels. you abandon all hope of doing more than polishing up the handles on the big front door of your preferred consensus.

        It is, however, one proven route to being appointed Lord High Admiral. Carry on rubbing!

      • Brian,
        Bzzzzzt. You lose.

  21. Judy Curry 7/9/11, 9:14 am, Agnotology

    Seriously? These must be parallels to Alan Sokol’s hoax perpetrated on peer review, right? Because otherwise, what supreme arrogance!

    If real, Agnotology, Agnoiology and Cognitronics address a little audience who possess the ability to recognize inaccurate or misleading data, ignorance, or distorted perception. It is from the handbook of the illumati, chiseled on the wall of Mensa International.

    It is a substitute for science. It is a glorification of anti-science.

    He who Knows Not and knows not that he Knows Not is a Fool; avoid him.

    He who Knows Not and knows that he Knows Not is a Student; teach him.

    He who Knows and knows not that he Knows is Asleep; wake him.

    He who Knows and knows that he Knows is Wise; follow him.

    … Persian apothegm, Sanskrit Saying

    The situation is analogous to Gödel’s discovery that one cannot prove completeness and consistency from within a frame of discourse. We need a meta-frame of knowledge from which to look below and decide who there knows and who knows not. Peer review is doomed; superior review is required.

    We have apparently highly qualified posters here (we know who you are) who adopt H1: AGW exists to defend AGW. Whether defending H0: AGW does not exist or H1, one must first shed every tenet of AGW.

    Without a meta-frame, agnotology, agnoiology and cognitronics belong in a fool’s paradise. They are high-sounding tools to help organize a consensus among self-anointed intellectuals.

    Either that or they are purely facetious, and I have explained a joke.

    • Brian G Valentine

      Gödel’s discovery that one cannot prove completeness and consistency from within a frame of discourse.

      He showed that within any logical system strong enough to contain the axioms of arithmetic there would necessarily be statements neither true nor false within the system

      Undecidable within that system

      • Theo Goodwin

        Right. The proof is about the limitations of syntactic systems of deduction. Using syntax alone, it is not possible to axiomatize arithmetic without inconsistency.

    • Agree. Nice site by the way.

  22. Pooh, Dixie

    Au contraire, mon amis et amies.

    Skipping over the underlying CAGW theme and denigration of the ignorant customers (citizens), Proctor: “encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus”. PNS, again. Try thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It works better.

    On “agnoioligy: n. the study of human stupidity”, a parable:

    A professor and a student were walking together early one morning.

    The student, observing the sun rising, said “They must have really stupid to think that the sun went around the earth. Anyone can see that the earth orbits the sun.”

    “Yes”, said the professor, “they got it wrong.” Then he mused “I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun actually did go around the earth.”

    I once heard that the best thing to do with a dead horse is to stop beating it and bury it with as little fanfare as possible. Perhaps it also applies to Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    • Theo Goodwin

      “encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus”

      A consensus is a collective judgement about something. So, if you are going to build knowledge through consensus then you are building knowledge by building collective judgement. That is the Marxist program. Lysenko made great use of it, until he was no longer useful.

    • Using a sun rising analogy actually set back the use of Bayes Theorem by a number of years. Laplace used a form of Bayes rule in understanding the probability that the sun would rise each morning based on historical evidence and an initial uniform prior. He showed that after a certain number of days, he could get the probability up well beyond 99%. This was using what is now known as Laplace’s Rule of Succession.

      Unfortunately, many scientists ganged up on Laplace and said that it was proof that this method was useless on practical problems. Of course no one would ever believe that the probability of the sun rising was anything other than 100% !

      However, as the mathematical details below show, the basic assumption for using the rule of succession would be that we have no prior knowledge about the question whether the sun will or will not rise tomorrow, except that it can do either. This assumption is of course complete nonsense if we are talking about sunrises!

      Laplace knew this well, and himself wrote to conclude the sunrise example: “But this number is far greater for him who, seeing in the totality of phenomena the principle regulating the days and seasons, realises that nothing at the present moment can arrest the course of it.” Yet Laplace was ridiculed for this calculation; his opponents gave no heed to that sentence, or failed to understand its importance.

      Gelman sums it up best when he says:

      Everyone uses Bayesian inference when it is appropriate. A Bayesian is someone who uses Bayesian inference even when it is inappropriate.

      Worthwhile reading Gelman’s paper.

  23. Pooh;
    In answer to your professor’s question: “About like the moon, only much brighter!”


    • Pooh, Dixie

      Brian, that is very good indeed. I had not heard it before. A perfect answer. It is also a fine example of extending something that is correct beyond the limits in which it is correct. :-) Many thanks.

  24. Cardinal Bellarmine

    Is agnotology to agnosticism what Scientology is to science?

    • No, but knowledge is to ignorance as science is to nescience is to agnosticsim as religion is to science.

      • You got yourself turrble tankled up there. To start, there’s one more “is to” than comparison. Second, that’s “agnosticism”[sp]. Third, agnosticism is the philosophical position that one cannot know certainly whether God is real.

  25. JC: My long term observation is that there are one or two generations of Americans (my frame of reference) in which a high percentage of individuals choose to be ignorant– the intentionally ignorant. My adult children and their friends freely admit that there are broad swaths of knowledge that they have chosen to remain ignorant of–they just don’t want to know or don’t want to make the effort to know–happy to continue in ignorance. They tell me they feel they will be happier and less ‘hassled’ if they simply don’t know…….. IMHO, self-destructive, but who am I to judge.

    I do not approve of the mud slinging ‘merchants of doubt’ version by Proctor. Both sides of serious societal controversies claim to be shouting the truth while accusing the other side of spreading lies.

  26. Pooh, Dixie

    Consider whether there might be two flavors of “risk”: the risk of inaction if the threat is real, and the risk of action if the threat is not real.

    • Pooh, Dixie –
      There’s also the risk of “wrong action” – in either case.

    • There’s more. There’s the certainty that a class of actions (mitigation under the direction of the Greens) will cause far more damage than any warming scenario, with almost zero offsetting benefit. The “risk” in that case is the danger of being stupid enough to allow them the authority and resources to mitigate. Completely independent of whether the “warming threat” is real.

  27. Nasrudin was on ground sifting through the dirt in the dark with his fingers. A passerby asked Nasrudin what he was doing. Nasrudin said, “I am looking for my keys.” The man joined Nasrudin to help him search and after a while asked, “Mullah, are you sure you lost your keys here?” Nasrudin answered, “No, but the light is better here.”

  28. One of my my mentors gave me this as a way to cognitize a scientific paper;
    “about 70% of the data is correct and about 30% of the conclusions are correct.”

    A while ago we and a much more famous group, headed by a very distinguished researcher, were reporting a big difference in the effect of nitric oxide on astrocytes.
    We eventually got the full recipe of their growth media, almost no sulphur, so the cells had almost not glutathione, and so were predisposed to oxidative stress. When they switched to more traditional media, their results closely matched ours, they did not emphasize this point in their subsequent publications.
    So, Dr. Proctor must work in a field where identifying a ‘fact’ is relatively easy, rather than in a field where one is always surrounded by a fog of uncertainty.

    I ran an assay on Friday, failed completely, twice actually.
    I must have run the same assay more than 200 times in the last 3 years. I have absolutely no idea as to the reason this well used, robust, assay failed..

    • I have absolutely no idea as to the reason this well used, robust, assay failed..

      It’s called “buck fever”, Doc. :-)

  29. You are better off reading philosophy of science, history of science, and the philosophy of epistemology. Science always actively encourages active skepticism. The mystery is not why anyone doubts the theory of anthropogenic CO2-induced global warming, but why any people trained in science think there is enough evidence to believe it, and why they feel morally justified to call their critics liars and such (the words that inaugurated this thread, for example.)

    • MattStat –
      You are better off reading philosophy of science, history of science, and the philosophy of epistemology. Science always actively encourages active skepticism.

      Yup – and that’s why much (but not ALL) of “climate science” is a bad joke. And why even some scientists call it “fraud”.

  30. Government science authoritarianism is to bringing truth as a faceless woman in a burka is to bringing women’s liberation to Western civilization.

    • Ever wonder why the “liberated” Western women don’t give a damn about the ones still in burka? Maybe ’cause they’re all liberals?

  31. “It is written, therefore they exist!” Mighty hard to say something “Isn’t so!” once someone else has written it down and said “It tis so!”

    Of course they exist. If we can imagine something, we give birth to it.

    Honestly, however, isn’t the real question “Does it matter?” And, of course, it really does matter what the meaning if “Is” is, as well as what the meaning it “It” is, and how we define “Matter.”

    The Word IS Mightier Than The Sword! Ain’t IT?

  32. The Word IS Mightier Than The Sword! Ain’t IT?

    Not if the sword is at your throat – or through your heart.

  33. In an era where the Newspeak dictionary defines ‘revenue’ to mean fees, fines, penalties, licenses, taxes, levies and whatever else bureaucrats can extort from the free enterprise sector to keep the secular, socialist Government Education Industrial Machine floating over the cities like bloated pigs, there are fewer and fewer among us who are willing to stand up to the Left’s continuing abuse of the language for ideological purposes.

  34. JC, I note that this post is headed “Judy” rather than “Judith” Curry. Is this an image change or does your appellation vary with context? Will “Judy” blogs perhaps be less rigorous and/or climate science-focussed than “Judith” blogs?

  35. Ignorance is determined by perspective. Religious truth is different from scientific truth.

    Sticking to a scientific frame, all knowledge is falsifiable and consensus is never set in stone.

    The IPCC has wounded the science of climate. Only true scientific minds can save it. Observation is the first step in science. It’s long overdue for climate scientists to engage in serious hypothesis generation and experimental testing.

  36. Meanwhile, let’s not be so quick to forget what we have learned. We’ve certainly paid enough for the lesson. The liberal fascist agenda of the EPA would have the productive class in free enterprise society serving government as they dance like marionettes to the tune of a Leftist Pied Piper like Al Gore and his minion of secular, socialist sycophants, bureaucratic toadies, government witchdoctors in Western academia and the Lenin’s useful idiot purveyors of climate porn and pathological science to achieve by any means their Leftist Utopia.

  37. From the Urban Dictionary, Agnorant

    Agnorant 26 up, 7 down
    Someone who is both arrogant and ignorant.

    • How about, ‘appocalyptology,’ ‘ignorompous’ and ‘charlatician.’!

    • randomengineer

      From a popular spam mail:

      IGNORANUS — ignorant and an a$$hole

      As long as we get to coin new words, why…

  38. It forces believability to the limit to suggest groups of people reviewing the works of others will not detect the political signature of controversial subjects and follow their internal drummer along political lines. Climate papers exude political bias from every pore – this very article does so within a few words of beginning, for example. To think this effusion will not guide, subliminally or otherwise, individuals to other like-thinking individuals where, voila, a consensus awaits, is a pure form of denial.

    Even if all names were hidden, the political message will show the way.

  39. If it’s playing with the thesaurus time, how about these alternatives to doubt and uncertainty:

    “agnosticism, ambiguity, ambivalence, apprehension, bewilderment, confusion, difficulty, diffidence, dilemma, disbelief, discredit, disquiet, distrust, dubiety, dubiousness, faithlessness, faltering, hesitancy, hesitation, incertitude, incredulity, indecision, irresolution, lack of confidence, misgiving, mistrust, perplexity, problem, qualm, quandary, rejection, reluctance, skepticism, suspense, suspicion, vacillation, wavering”

    So is Judith’s purpose, in emphasising these issues, to sow confusion, suspicion and bewilderment, create disbelief, discredit conventional science, encourage a distrust of the IPCC and a rejection of consensus opinion, create vacillation etc.

    Yes there is always doubt but doubt, especially when its not a large doubt, isn’t an excuse for inaction.

    • No, it was Urban Dictionary time. Googleharder!

    • What do you do when the Bayesian approach Is used by feckless ideologues to find that it is very likely that conventional science is wrong to conclude that the null hypothesis of AGW theory has never been rejected?

  40. Everyone (other than Robert of course) is posting learned quotes. I am inspired (sounds of the sighs of long suffering denizens) to emulate.

    ‘Now, Diogenes, seeing the whole city in such a whirl of activity, and himself not having been assigned to any task at all, for a few days simply watched and said nothing. Then, as if impelled by the warlike spirit, he pulled back his cloak and, belting it tight, rolled his sleeves up to the elbows, tucked up his clothes like an apple picker, handed his beggar’s sack, his books, and his writing tablets to an old friend, then went outside the city toward the Cranium (a ridge of high land, with a hill, near Corinth), which was a fine parade ground. And he rolled out there the clay barrel in which he lived — his only shelter against the elements — and with singularly violent motions began to turn it this way and that, moving it wildly every which way, without apparent rhyme or reason — twisting, turning, spinning, beating on it, turning it over, turning it back again, caressing it, whipping it around, flogging it, bashing it, bumping it, shaking it, tumbling it, trampling it, banging it, sticking in the plug, pulling it out again, speeding it up, prancing it, dancing it, thumping it, dumping it, rolling it, tolling it, rocking it, socking it, lifting it, shifting it, veering it, steering it, whirling it, hurling it, clamping it, damping it, setting it, getting it, tying it, trying it, sticking it, pricking it, spreading it, heading it, squeezing it, wheezing it, clapping it, tapping it, cranking it, yanking it, whacking it, cracking it, clacking it, hacking it, tacking it, backing it, sacking it, racking it, packing it, crashing it, bashing it, rapping it, zapping it, running it down from the hill into the valley, then tossing it off the Cranium, then lugging it back up to the hilltop once more, like Sisyphus with his endlessly rolling stone, and all with such passion and violence that he very nearly smashed it to pieces.

    And seeing this, one of his friends asked what earthly reason he had, in mind or body, to so punish and torment his barrel. To which the philosopher answered that, since the republic had given him no other job to do, he raged about with his barrel because, with everyone else rushing around, totally occupied, dedicated, he could not be the only one standing empty-handed and still.’ François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel

    ‘Diogenes’ talent for undercutting social and religious conventions and subverting political power can tempt readers into viewing his position as merely negative. This would, however, be a mistake. Diogenes is clearly contentious, but he is so for the sake of promoting reason and virtue. In the end, for a human to be in accord with nature is to be rational, for it is in the nature of a human being to act in accord with reason. Diogenes has trouble finding such humans, and expresses his sentiments regarding his difficulty theatrically. Diogenes is reported to have “lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, ‘I am searching for a human being’” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, Chapter 41).

    For the Cynics, life in accord with reason is lived in accord with nature, and therefore life in accord with reason is greater than the bounds of convention and the polis. Furthermore, the Cynics claim that such a life is the life worth living. As a homeless and penniless exile, Diogenes experienced the greatest misfortunes of which the tragedians write, and yet he insisted that he lived the good life: “He claimed that to fortune he could oppose courage, to convention nature, to passion reason” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, Chapter 38).

    It seems always reasonable to study diligently, live largely and eschew an easy accommodation with convention – ‘dissensus’ is our cultural birthright. It may all end in tears – but ces’t la vie. Rebelais famously wrote a one-sentence will: “I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor,” and his last words were “I am off in search of a great perhaps.”

    • Your learnedness was looking fine, until you encountered French. It’s “c’est la vie”, and “Rabelais”. [not “ces’t la vie. Rebelais “]

  41. Michael Larkin

    “He who knows, knows not; He who knows not, knows” (sometimes attributed to Lao Tsu).

    Precise and specific knowledge of the things one is ignorant of seems to me to be very valuable.

    The older I get, the more I know I don’t know. That doesn’t stop me having opinions, but I know that’s all they are. Agnosticism doesn’t lead to paralysis so much as detachment. One opinion I hold is that academics are inordinately fond of imagining they know more than they do.

  42. tempterrain

    “The older I get, the more I know I don’t know” Are you sure that’s not just dementia setting in?

    • Michael Larkin

      Nah; in dementia (according to what my father’s doctor told him when he’d said he kept forgetting things) once it’s gone, it’s gone. My father always remembered after a certain amount of time. I haven’t forgotten anything I’m ignorant of. Not yet.

  43. Judith Curry,
    Instead of taking the opportunity to consider examining your blog activity and assumptions in the light of the concepts and analyses of Robert Proctor, or Michael Smithson – both of whom have sophisticated approaches to studying socially and economically significant issues and inequalities in science discussions– you have again done what you pretty much always do: you cite their work, and ignore what they have to say that doesn’t suit you.

    Well, not so fast. Both Smithson and Proctor show how the media has deployed the concept of scientific uncertainty, directly devaluing the risk impacts – both in relation to tobacco, and climate change.

    Specifically re. Proctor, you completely gloss over the fact that you have frequently denied what he shows, namely, that “The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before”. It doesn’t matter that they stopped doing it: the point is that they seeded it. Or try reading Discover Magazine’s interview Jan 2009, where he says “ in terms of sowing doubt, certainly global warming is a famous one. You know, the global warming denialists who for years have managed to say, “Well, the case is not proven. We need more research.” And what’s interesting is that a lot of the people working on that were also the people working for Big Tobacco.”

    He is a scholar of science, and specifically, the history of science. His analysis of the role of the tobacco lobby and industry in climate change denial is accurate. You pretend, Judith, that you are interested in a multi-disciplinary approach and influences; but your posts routinely show that you are not, you just wish to be perceived that way.

    It’s about time you seriously explored why someone like Robert Proctor would basically not agree with you on much, rather than doing what you always do – namely, pretending that it is possible that you share or could share a similar view, analysis, or conclusions, about anything important to your assumptions. You don’t.

    Specifically re. Michael Smithson, as a scholar of science communication, he is intrigued by how doubt can serve both sides of a scientific debate, and how the media often frames false debate and manufactures controversy where there is none; or on a different but related note, how it can contribute to false doubt when it thinks it is providing balanced coverage – for example, the case of the ridiculous Ian Plimer, whose opinions were embraced by climate change deniers even though he is a village fool.

    Apparently, you do not really read much at Smithson’s blog. See his ‘Addressing the Balanced Coverage’ post.

    On a topic you have linked previously, you have chosen to overlook the aspects of analysis that go against your beliefs about uncertainty. For example, he notes that “One of the ironic claims by the Budescu group is that the IPCC 2007 report’s verbal probability expressions may convey excessive levels of imprecision and that some probabilities may be interpreted as less extreme than intended by the report authors”. Etc., if you can follow it. See ‘Communicating About Uncertainty in Climate Change Part 2’.

    p.s. It’s Michael Smithson, not Robert Smithson. You call him Robert again in this post in your paragraph headline (on Agnotology) and you called him Robert Smithson in your June post (on Uncertainty).

    • I don’t know what it is but Martha reminds me of Lucy from Charlie Brown.

    • Martha, I am interested in arguments, not the person. If someone has an argument that I view as interesting, I discuss it. This does not obligate me to discuss other arguments made by that person that I don’t find interesting. If I were somehow claiming that the person was “on my side,” then I would be obligated to consider their entire corpus, but of course I am not claiming such things.

      • As part of your rhetorical strategies you routinely selectively misrepresent authors’ views. The result is that you are now viewed by most people as demonstratively short on professional ethics as well as seriously lacking in the analytic and critical skills usually associated with a postgraduate degree.

    • Martha 7/12/11, 1:21 am, agnotology

      Robert Proctor, featured authority for the subject thread, said in his 11/6/98 prepared remarks for his Congressional testimony

      The industry not only knew and denied that nicotine was addictive; … .

      Talk about culturally-induced ignorance! Let’s coin the word agnotologer just for Proctor.


      Likely some of the readers here are also agnotologers, suffering culturally-induced doubt that nicotine is NOT addictive. I offer two pieces of evidence, one definitive and the other circumstantial, for that fact.

      (1) Addiction has by definition two attributes: physical dependence and tolerance. Tolerance … requires the individual to use more and more of the drug in repeated efforts to achieve the same effect. Enc.Brit., v. 13, pp. 230–232. That does not happen with tobacco use. A user will reach a maximum usage and remain at that level for a live time. Nicotine is habit forming, not addictive.

      Congressman Henry Waxman (D) in his infamous inquisition would not allow tobacco CEOs to explain this simple fact to the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. Waxman seemed perfectly content to operate with no definition or an ex post facto or situational definition.

      (2) Labels on nicotine patches and gum do not warn that they contain an addictive substance. This conclusion is based on examining a few over the counter products and on reading the Mayo Clinic on-line brochure on these products.

      • Latimer Alder


        Clearly you have never tried to give up smoking. If you had you would know that nicotine is undoubtedly addictive. I haven’t smoked in 25 years, but can feel the craving for a fag just by writing about it.

      • Latimer Alder 7/12/11, 11:20 am, agnotology

        Bad guess, bad data. I gave up a three plus pack a day habit on September 3rd in my 25th year, more than twice as long ago as you. The flight surgeon said I had to quit for three days, and I said, “if I could do that, I could quit forever.” So far, so good.

        The bigger problem with your post is undoubtedly addictive. That’s an OK expression for the liberal arts, for historians like Proctor where revisionism rules, but not for science. Words have definitions to which science must be strictly obedient. There’s no undoubtedly in science.

        I had been at three to four packs a day for years. I did not have to smoke more and more for the same effect. Besides, I had run out of hours in the day. Therefore, by definition I did not have the experience of addiction. Was your case significantly different?

        Don’t ask me to post about my other habits. In fact, I didn’t want to post about that one.

      • Latimer Alder

        You choose to use a particular definition of ‘addiction’ that is not the definition in my dictionary, Mine does not require increasing amounts of the drug to be so addicted.(Oxford English Dictionary)

        But – given that I suffered unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when giving up, I claim that as evidence that smoking is addictive.

        If you want to argue semantics with a particular different definition, feel free. But that you were smoking between 60 and 80 a day tells me that you were doing it for a reason other than to give your hands something to do or to impress the ladies. I’d hazard that you were addicted.

      • Latimer Alder 7/13/11, 4:22 pm, agnotology

        Science, as in all objective matters, abides no ambiguity in words. To this end, one must rely on a proscriptive dictionary, like Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, and not a descriptive dictionary, like Webster’s New International Dictionary, Third Edition. As an example, the word irregardless is erroneous and humorous in the Second, but downgraded to nonstandard in the Third. If one must use a descriptive dictionary, he must distinguish rely exclusively on the proscriptive alternatives.

        In this post modern era, novel definitions crop up all the time, customized to support one thesis or another. This is especially true in the new state of victimhood where we now have the concept of sex addiction. To be cautious, one should select a dictionary that predates the current fad. Addiction was redefined by the World Health Organization in 1964 to eliminate tolerance and change the name from addiction to dependence.

        By the way for an example of the practical use of the standard or traditional definition of addiction, try

        In the ’30s, inflation was an expansion of the money supply that caused a general rise in the price of goods . By the ’50s, it was a general rise in the price of goods. Gone was the cause and effect relationship. Keynesian expansion of the money supply to stimulate the economy, the key to the treasury for the lefties, was no longer inflationary. How nice for him and them, never to be wrong.

        Drugs that caused addiction used to refer to certain substances that exhibited tolerance. Now alcohol is a drug, so almost everyone shared what used to be a stigma. How nice for those whose life expectancy had been reduced to 35 years.

        Homosexuality has been cured. APA, 1973. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

        It depends on what the meaning of is is. Bill Clinton, 1998.

        Before you know it, him and I will be standard English.

        IPCC has done its part, redefining the words equilibrium, feedback, and probability.

        If we can’t rely on sources or definitions, then we need to agree on definitions for the purpose of discussion. I’m sure you can come up with a definition of addiction by which you win your point.

        I would be interested in the date on your Oxford English Dictionary, in knowing whether it is proscriptive or descriptive, and what is its full set of alternative definitions for addiction. Still, OED is not an encyclopedia, which I would recommend over a dictionary to settle any important concept.

        This business of changing the vocabulary to tune the model is irrational.

      • Cogent commentary. But I’m still trying to guess what you intended when you wrote “he must distinguish rely exclusively”.

    • Martha,

      When someone seems to base their entire argument on “expert” opinion, I find a serious lack of credibility. You are basically using the tired argument that the science is settled and its only the evil oil industry that is sowing scientific doubt in the discussion.

      Balderdash. The concept that the science is settled is so unscientific as to be offensive to anyone with any experience in science. And your final comment about the person’s name is a cheap shot, but reading your posting it is not surprising.

    • randomengineer

      “The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before”.

      I do so love hearing this claim.

      So the claim is that oil companies scour the colleges and spend big $$ recruiting from the business world looking for the best and brightest business minds… only to have these minds come up with a diabolical plan to extract and misuse the earth’s resources as fast as possible, thus angering every human and government on the planet when they finally realise what’s happening. Governments of course will nationalise oil industries at that time, thus completely killing the long term viability of the companies involved.

      Great plan. Surely the result of 170 IQ harvard grads.

      People who invent this conspiratorial nonsense aren’t quite as pitiful however as you mindless lackeys who regurgitate it. They/you seem woefully unaware that such a conspiracy is no different than getting “42” as the answer.

  44. Tempterrain said:

    Yes there is always doubt but doubt, especially when its not a large doubt, isn’t an excuse for inaction.

    Do not characterize or trivialize my doubt. You have no idea the scale of it nor the worth of it.

  45. Because the consensus of modern science conflicts with right-wing ideology, AGW deniers believe the science is wrong, and will not be right until it supports the ideology.

    • Michael Larkin

      The right/left thing is a US phenomenon. In Europe and elsewhere, you’re as likely to find “deniers” (or consensualists for that matter) on the right as the left.

      That’s quite apart from the fact that there is a distinction between “deniers” and sceptics. Very few on the sceptical side deny that there might be some anthropogenic contribution to twentieth century warming.

      You think you know, but most likely just hold an opinion. At any rate, that’s my own opinion.

      • Michael, this is bang on. It irritates me to see the scientific debate polarized along the lines of US poltical sensibilities. I agree with M. carey, that in the US at least, peoples opinions regarding AGW are far too influenced by which ever political tribe they belong to, but it is not the case in Europe, and much less the case in Australia.

        I personally am a liberal/socialist in my political views, but I can not ignore the reasoned evidence that contradicts the hypotheses of CAGW. Until better evidence, and better, more reasonably presented evidence comes along I am of the view that there is no justification for taking the sort of action to mitigate it that is being proposed.

      • “The right/left thing is a US phenomenon.” That is because the U.S. has a right and a left. Europe has a left and a more left.

      • And is now having a wee discussion with Mr. Reality about the choices it’s permitted itself.

        Vaclav Klaus has been ignored (or perhaps deliberately disregarded.) Fools.

    • M. Carey,
      You are projecting, and rather obviously.

  46. ferd berple

    Many believe that the Oil Industry is working against AGW. Nothing could be further from the truth. Maurice Strong who headed the IPCC was an oilman. The big winner in cap and trade and carbon taxes will be the oil industry, as coal will be priced out of competition with oil for power generation. In addition, carbon capture will pay the oil industry to pump CO2 underground to extract more oil.

    Who seriously thinks that big oil is worried about solar and wind generation? It is coal that hurts oil prices, by providing an alternative for baseline power generation.

    BIg Oil wants you to think they are against AGW, so that you will defend AGW all the harder, to the benefit of Big Oil over coal. If you think oil is expensive now, wait until CO2 taxes price coal out of the market. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

    • Exactly. I wonder how the believers in CO2GW will react when they realise that they were in fact supporting one of their biggest “enemies”, the Big Oil.

  47. “The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.”

    As well as ‘merchants of doubt’, we have ‘merchants of false certainty’.

    “If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.”

    Exemplified in the climate debate by these frequently used quotes:

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    = Margaret Meade – quoted at a UNFCCC conference =

    “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”
    = Stephen Schneider – undergraduate seminar =

    Does Robert Proctor offer any concrete examples of the “carefully seeded doubts” he refers to? Or is it just a vague accusation. Is he in fact carefully seeding doubts about the sincerity of the views held by the unalarmed?

  48. Latimer Alder


    Please link to an accessible peer-reviewed paper that I can read which confirms that Proctor has indeed shown:

    ‘The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before’

    Because that is not even a direct quote from the man in question. It is a journalist’s (Clive Thompson’s) interpretation of his words in an interview in Wired magazine (19 Jan 2009)

    And I know, Martha, that you are a stickler of accuracy in all your essays.

    • Latimer, why do you pretend that you don’t understand what you read? Or is it that you truly don’t? I think you just don’t bother, or don’t take the time — but I believe you could if you wanted to.

      That quote is reposted by Judith to describe the argument, and I used the word “shows” to indicate agreement that it his his argument — not a quote from Proctor, but a quote from an interview which accurately states his argument, and reposted by Judith (which was obviously what I wanted to point out, since she rejects this argument in many prior posts).

      If you think someone will mistake it for Proctor’s own words, you can take that up with Judith and how she presented it. Regardless, it accurately reflects his work.

      I referred you to an interview with Proctor, and a quote which I attribute to him and in which he says “ in terms of sowing doubt, certainly global warming is a famous one. You know, the global warming denialists who for years have managed to say, “Well, the case is not proven. We need more research.” And what’s interesting is that a lot of the people working on that were also the people working for Big Tobacco.”
      Did you read it? It will get you started on his ideas, and from there, maybe you’ll read a book. There are many reviews of his arguments and analysis of ideology, on the internet. Please do your own work, I’m not a private tutor.

      • Latimer Alder


        You are the only one who has claimed that Proctor has ‘shown’ anything.
        I’d like to see some evidence from you that he has indeed done so.

        What any other party may or may not have said thought posted or ignored about his work is irrelevant. You made the claim…you show me where it can be backed up with evidence.

        I have worked occasionally as a private tutor. The conventional arrangement is that the client pays at the end, feeling that they have received good tuition.

        I am not surprised that you are not in that business. You would fail to make money for a number of reasons.

      • Martha, Thats the 2nd time you quote Proctor with,:

        “You know, the global warming denialists who for years have managed to say, “Well, the case is not proven. We need more research.” And what’s interesting is that a lot of the people working on that were also the people working for Big Tobacco.”

        You must really believe in it. So which “global warming denialist” was also a person working for Big Tobacco? can you name one?

  49. There are two aspects of the problem of climate:

    1. the scientific: and
    2. the political.

    The notion of climate science being right or wrong is too vague to have much meaning. We need to have some defined statement against which to assess truth or falsity – such as that human greenhouse gas emissions caused most of recent warming. This is an untrue statement. All of the recent warming occurred between 1976 and 1998. About half of the warming occurred in 1976/77 and 1998 – as a result of ENSO ‘dragon-kings’. Dragon-kings are extreme events that occur at periods of chaotic bifurcation. In these cases the “Great Pacific Climate Shift’ of 1976/77 and the large El Nino of 1997/98.

    Much of the rest occurred as a result of cloud cover changes. A 0.2, 0.5 and 0.7 W/m2 increase in longwave out (planetary cooling) according to HIRS, ISCCP and ERBE in the tropics respectively between the 1980’s and 1990’s and warming of 2.1 and 2.4 W/m2 occurred in the ERBE and ISCCP records respectively. This is supported by COADS surface clouds observations in the Pacific – a decrease in cloud cover in the mid 1970’s and an increase in the late 1990’s – and by Earthshine measurements of albedo post 1998. It is quite clear that ‘the science’ shows that the core finding of the IPCC is incorrect.

    Regardless, there remain 3 problems with CO2 concentrations that are at the highest levels in 10 to 15 million years. The plant terrestrial issue with stomata size and density. The potential issue with ocean pH. The problem of abrupt climate change that occurs because – as the Royal Society says – climate is an example of a chaotic system. Indeed – a spatio-temporal chaotic system as Tomas says.

    We have proposed solutions – the Hartwell 2010 Paper which proposes reductions in black carbon and tropospheric ozone and conservation and restoration of ecosystems , the Copenhagen Consensus which promotes technological investment as well as health and development objectives. Development, health, education, safe water and sanitation – the best means of humanely limiting population growth. There are clearly ways to address the problem in an immediate and effective fashion – black carbon and tropospheric ozone are 50% of the problem and wash out of the atmosphere within days. There are immense and multiple long term benefits to conserving ecologies and agricultural soils.

    I am yet to see anything but nonsense and vitriol from the likes of Martha. I suspect that it is because she shares Smithsons delusions about crises, imminent catastrophes and the limits to economic growth. These are core cultural values that are rarely acknowledged honestly in open forums – because it is a fringe view and cannot succeed in the real world. We need to clearly understand what is not being articulated in the climate war and ensure that Martha and Co. account for their ideology.

    I don’t care to argue about chessboards and grain – what is abundantly clear is that growth in food and energy of 3%/year is required over the rest of the century to ensure that all people have the resources and opportunities they need.

    • ‘and warming of 2.1 and 2.4 W/m2 occurred in the ERBE and ISCCP records’

      In the shortwave of course due to less reflected sunlight.

      • Chief says:
        Regardless, there remain 3 problems with CO2 concentrations that are at the highest levels in 10 to 15 million years. The plant terrestrial issue with stomata size and density.

        Tom van der Hoof’s studies show that leaf stomata increase in size and number when co2 is scarce, and reduce in size and number when co2 is more plentiful. SImilarly, humans increase the red corpuscle content of their blood at high altitude. I wouldn’t worry too much about the plants. They’ve had a couple of billion years to naturally select to the point where they know how to cope with changes in co2 content.

        The potential issue with ocean pH.

        Extrapolating hundreds of years ahead from 20 years of data which needs a model to help it along is just silly. The variation in pH between higher and lower latitudes is vastly greater than can be caused by burning fossil fuel from now until it runs out, and fish don’t stick to one latitude.

        The problem of abrupt climate change that occurs because – as the Royal Society says – climate is an example of a chaotic system. Indeed – a spatio-temporal chaotic system as Tomas says.

        The climate is a good deal less chaotic than they say. Once you have a handle on the hidden variables and how they drive climate, chaos is reduced to the level of
        “Oh, I didn’t think it was going to rain today”

      • 1. Stomata size and density changes the rate of transpiration – a change to a fundamental aspect of the hydrological cycle.

        2. The pH changes are not discernible against background variability – as I believe I said – and slab ocean are simplistic nonsense. But change must be there – as a matter of diffusion from the higher partial pressure. The oceans are a soup of microscopic biological life – and ecologies are most certainly chaotic in the sense of chaos theory. There are multiple control variables and multiple feedbacks – small changes can unpredictably drive nonlinear change in assemblages of organisms at the base of the ocean food chain.

        3. Widespread temperature change of 5 to 10 within a decade has happened decade in the Holocene. Climate is theoretically determinant but so complex and dynamic as to be practically incalculable. You can’t possibly argue that you understand climate to that level of fundamental detail.

        I am surprised at you Tallbloke – an argumentum ad ignorantum is an informal logical fallacy.

    • “ensure that Martha and Co. account for their ideology”

      As you might imagine, I can’t really account for what other people think.
      And I’m sure you know that ‘ ideology’ is a complex study that originated in the work of Marx, and basically, it refers to the connection between the economy and socio-political beliefs – especially unexamined political culture. So the study of ideology is the study of the gap between how things are in the economy, and people’s false beliefs about it. As such, I don’t really have an ‘ideology’.

      But I do study it, and I think you mean that you are wondering about my political values and beliefs. Is that correct? Fair enough. Since I object to inequality and laissez-faire economic views, and routinely express support for equitable distribution of resources and public control of climate legislation, I think it’s obvious that I am against elite rule, and for participatory democracy. I am open and honest and in this way accountable for these political beliefs. And contrary to your misperceptions, I’m hopeful about the positive role of change in economic growth.

      Does that help you?

      • Latimer Alder


        But what if people don’t want climate is happening all around the world?

        Does your belief in ‘participatory democracy’.trump your belief in climate legislation?

      • “‘ ideology’ is a complex study that originated in the work of Marx”

        I have no doubt that Martha’s ideology originated in the work of Marx, but to suggest that “ideology” itself did is, to put it mildly, more Freudian than factual.

        From Merriam Webster:


        1: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
        2: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture”

        Wikipedia, the progressive Bible, says:

        “The word was coined by Destutt de Tracy in 1796,[1][2] assembling the parts idea (near to the Lockean sense) and -logy.”

        While the word ‘ideology’ was only coined 70 years before Marx published Das Kapital (which was published 90 years after Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations by the way), I think it is fair to say that the concept had been around a couple years before that.

        Aside from the Greeks and Romans, I think one could also say that Judaism and Christianity are “ideologies.” Then from the east we could maybe mention Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism….

        But this comment:

        “Since I object to inequality and laissez-faire economic views, and routinely express support for equitable distribution of resources and public control of climate legislation, I think it’s obvious that I am against elite rule, and for participatory democracy”

        just contains more confusion than I have seen in one sentence in years. This is the reason progressives so seldom try to discuss their ideology publicly. When you look at what they really believe, the cognitive dissonance and incoherence become unmistakable.

        “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

      • Thanks, Gary for caging Martha’s “laissez-faire – elite rule” statement.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        Perhaps a sense of Noblesse oblige? :-)

      • Progressives believe only in elite rule. They favor a modern form of slavery (or serfdom). For example, Obamacare will in large part dictate to doctors and other health care professionals how much they will make, how they will choose treatments, what patients they will see, and perhaps even where they work. That is a long way towards slavery.

      • Pooh, Dixie


      • Martha, you are kidding yourself if you truly think you are against elite rule and for participatory democracy.

      • Laissez-faire economics is a didactic device that has no application in the real world. In reality, capitalism depends on the rule of law and a functioning civil society. The management of interest rates to prevent asset bubbles, good corporate governance, optimum size of government (about 25% of GDP) and balanced budgets over the business cycle.

        I am not wondering at all about your politics – you are firmly in the camp of the enemy dissimulate as you may. Such comment as ‘the role of change in economic growth’ is meaningless verbiage intended solely to deceive and mislead. You deliberately pervert the common meaning of ideology to suggest something else entirely. Your comments lack sense or sensibility.

        I did try to read Marx once – but could not get past the theory of surplus value. This idea is a corruption of the idea of profit based on false assumptions about the nature of capital. Very perversely – the idea of redistributing ‘surplus value’ resulted in the deaths of half a billion people.

        You are dangerously deluded but only moderately dangerous – because we simply don’t believe you.

      • Martha dangerous? No, but very funny nonetheless.

      • You have a warped sense of humour.

      • I seem to have posted twice – how did that happen? While I’m here.

        Q: How many Marxist’s does it take to change a light bulb?
        A: None: The light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution….

  50. Judith, can I recommend an excellent book along the lines of your post:

    I don’t know, maybe you have seen it.

  51. Michael Lowe

    Slightly off Topic, but could I also recommend some reading – Stephen Jay Gould “The mismeasure of man” -a devastating expose of a previous scientific cult that was as influential and destructive as the present one.

    • The book he co-wrote with Rose and Lewontin is worth a look too.
      “Not in our genes”

    • I recommend Gould’s comment on objectivity, something that often gets a run from the false skeptics, particulary the notion that scientists cannot be advocates;

      “ the stereotype, an ice cold impartiality acts as sine qua non of proper and dispassionate objectivity. I regard this argument as one of the most fallacious, even harmful, claims commonly made”

      • Latimer Alder

        ‘from the false skeptics’

        Are we sceptics now to be divided into ‘true sceptics’ and ‘false sceptics?’
        If so why? And how do you tell the difference?

        Do the equivalent ‘anti-sceptics’ exist?..True Believers and False Believers? How can I tell them apart?

      • Latimer, False believers buy Mansions, leave their limo engines running whilst at book signings, and fly by jet to conferences and meetings many times a year.

        True believers defend their actions.

      • Latimer Alder

        Gore blimey, I never knew that. You’re a diamond geezer, guvnor.

      • It’s pretty easy – real sceptics are sceptical of everything but are ultimately convinced by the evidence and reasoned arguement. False skeptics express profound doubt over certain issues (including rejecting basic physics) and then complete credulousness on claims, often with the flimiest of support, that they think further increases the doubt about the thing that they are pre-disposed to doubt.

      • Michael,
        Did Gould call for impassioned lying, or impassioned truth telling?
        He was willing to debate with civility and integrity over one of his most favorite lines of work, the Burgess shale.

      • Latimer Alder


        Great quote, Full of meaning and dripping with significance. Oozing with integrity and quite covered in sincerity no doubt,

        But did the Great Man deign to share his reasoning with us mortals? Or are we just to take it on trust that he was right? Like Mao or Marx or Aristotle…he has spoken, and so we need fret no more?

      • Michael 7/12/11, 8:22 am, agnotology

        Survival in the struggle for existence is not random, … . Those individuals whose inherited characteristics fit them best to their environment are likely to leave more offspring than less fit individuals. Campbell, Biology, 2d Ed., 1990, Natural Selection and Adaptation, p. 431.

        Point 1: likely but not random? Biologists have a psychological need for their favorite theory to be deliberate, so they imbue evolution with purpose or a plan.

        Point 2: The mechanics of an individual’s reproduction system not only know how well its phenotypes fit the environment but can compare their performance against other individual’s phenotypes, so to crank up the birth rate to achieve a greater reproduction rate.

        I’d bet this evolution with purpose and with external awareness from a classic university textbook is endorsed by the US National Academy of Science.

        This hyped version of evolution is an irrational reaction to intelligent design that competes with it, weakens science literacy, weakens the Theory of Evolution, and lends credence to the lament of the creationists. It comes from a lack of understanding of the principles of science, agnotology of the species formalized by none other than the late Stephen Jay Gould, co-inventor of punctuated equilibrium, in his impassioned justification for less than objective science, above.

      • I think you misunderstand, and I’ll do you the favour of not considering it to be deliberate.
        The “likely” simply refers to the odds of their surviving long enough to have (adequately fed and nurtured) offspring, or perhaps more clutches or litters thereof than less able and capable individuals. Over a few (very few) generations, this repeating pattern will result in having a multiple of the descendants of the less capable.

    • Thx, I am a fan of Stephen Jay Gould but haven’t read that one, i will check it out.

  52. I think at this point Dr. Curry isn’t trying very hard to post climate science-relevant material. French Philosophy and ‘Agnotology’ is weak tea. I wish she would present more important/meaningful stuff.


    • Pooh, Dixie

      Andrew, I disagree. What we have before us is “Post Normal Science” (PNS). Its tenets derive from one or more philosophies.

      When I began to look at this kerfuffle (late 2007), I found I had to examine aspects of the science, the economics and the politics. Of late, I need to consider marketing psychology and its semantics.

      What I (and others above) find is that PNS has a jargon that identifies it as such. That helps to distinguish between an explanation and a sales pitch.

      • Pooh,

        Well, I guess I’m at a point where I’m tired of reading disinformation that is barely distantly related to any “science.” I want the propaganda I ingest to be better than just “going through the motions” linguistic pap, you know? Dr. Curry needs to spice it up a little. ;)


      • for spice, hang out at the skydragon thread, which has revitalized. a very interesting post on sea level rise is almost ready, stay tuned

      • Oh boy. My favorite. I am literally inundated by anticipation, and hope not to be left high and dry.

      • Distressing that the term “Post-Normal Science” is gaining traction. I think “Post-Science Science” would have been more on the mark.

      • The genie is out of the bottle on this unfortunately. Most people have not the faintest clue of what the philosopher of science who coined the term was getting at, so it has become a meaningless insult instead.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        Tallbloke, with respect:
        I suggest we must take care to distinguish between the philosopher, who came up with the name, and the applications to which the name and philosophy were appropriated.

  53. I posted this quote from Dr Johnson on an earlier thread, but it belongs here.

    “The be ignorant is painful, but it is dangerous to quiet our uneasiness with the delusive opiate of hasty persuasion”

    Perhaps we have a new term for credulous, sanctimonious warmies – “gnotolologists”?

  54. Ok, I get it! Because I choose to study aspects of AGW, I am therefore more ignorant than if I hadn’t. Because I became concerned with and studied in more detail facts that conflict with AGW theory, I am willfully ignorant. Because I chose to mention details about the subject that conflict with consensus about AGW, I am a merchant of doubt.

    I see now, I will be more knowledgeable about scientific subjects if I avoid studying them. (???)

    Again we have folks with no background in the subject of climate science claiming that those who point out errors in the consensus are wrong.

  55. “…if we argue about what a fact means, we’re having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it’s agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming.”

    Funny, I thought “arguing about what the facts are” was a good description of what science is supposed to be. When did we reach the point that we know what all the facts are? I missed the memo.

    Post-fact, post-modern, post-science; we aren’t post anything. People have been arguing this way since they had to decide whether to stay in the cave of follow the food. Politics invades all policy debates because politics is how decisions are made in a democratic society. The only consensus that matters in the long run is the consensus of the voters on election day.

    Or am I being too agnotological?

    • Pooh, Dixie

      I am puzzled, as usual. Are UN, IPCC, UNFCCC, SBSTA and EPA all democratic societies? Were they predominately organized by popularly-elected societies? Was Mrs. Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, (chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention of the Cancun COP) appointed by the renowned democrat Mugabe of Zimbabwe?

      Interested people want to know. I, for one, will take some convincing.

  56. With the AGW hoax and for all of those who have respect for truth for its own sake–and, as bad as it got–is it is never so bad as when no one will listen. That is why America owes ‘denier’ William Grey and anti-Kyoto voting George Bush many kudos for standing tall against the self-defeating nihilism of the Left’s Doomsday Machine when it was the most hard for anyone to do that. There is a lot of despair and suffering in doing the right thing when others won’t.

    “But then I stopped once more. I must be unbelievably thin. My eyes would soon be all the way through my head. I wonder how I actually look? What in the hell is going on that a man has to turn himself into a living freak out of sheer hunger? I felt rage one more time, its final flaring up, a muscular spasm. “What’s wrong with your face, eh?” Here I was walking around with a better head than anyone else in the country, and a pair of fists that could, so help me God, grind a longshoreman into small bits, into powder, and I was becoming a freak from hunger in the middle of the city of Christiania! Was there any sense or reason in that? I had slept in the harness and worked day and night like a minister’s mare; I had read till my eyes fell out of their sockets, and starved my hairs out of my head—and in hell’s name, what for? Even whores on the street fled so as not to have to look at me. But now that was going to stop—do you hear me—stop, and hell take the whole thing! . . . With steadily increasing rage, I ground my teeth in despair, and with sobs and oaths I went on and roared wildly, paying no attention to the people going by. I started once more to punish my flesh, ran my forehead deliberately against lampposts, drove my fingernails deep into the backs of my hands, bit my tongue madly every time it failed to pronounce clearly and then laughed wildly whenever I caused a fairly good pain.” (Knut Hamsun, ‘Hunger’)

  57. If you read the science behind AGW, it’s actually pretty simple. It basically comes down to CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Doubling the amount of CO2 will warm the atmosphere by X. This warming will cause more water to evaporate and the this additional water in the atmosphere will provide feedback to the warming due to CO2 (which is relatively mild). This is where the science isn’t settled. All the warmist models have the feedback positive and large. Skeptics have it as either positive and small or even negative. As James Lovelock said last year: “The great climate science centres around the world are more than well aware HOW WEAK THEIR SCIENCE IS. If you talk to them privately THEY’RE SCARED STIFF of the fact that they don’t really know what the clouds and the aerosols are doing. They could be absolutely running the show. We haven’t got the physics worked out yet. “

    • Negative feedback implies climate stability, but we know the earth’s climate has been variable throughout history.

      • Latimer Alder

        How so? Before the Industrial Revolution there was nobody making CO2.

        How can the climate have been variable? What caused such variation? How do we know?

      • Well, there’s evidence of a Little Ice Age and an Medieval Warming Period, and if you go back further, a BIG ICE AGE and an Evil Warming Period.

        CO2 levels have at times been much greater than today, as evidenced by fossilized remains of watermelon seed the size of basketball courts. High levels of CO2 were caused by the earth getting warmer, and the warming was caused by changes in the sun. Changes in the sun were caused by magic.

        If there was such a thing as negative feedback, increases in total solar irradiance would not have caused the earth to get much warmer, and the Medieval Warming Period would be known as the Medieval Nothing Period.

        Some people think if the sun can cause climate change, man can’t. Scientists think these people are funny.

      • M. carey,
        You should be sure and keep a good supply of straw handy, because you are using up a large amount on your straw men.

      • Latimer Alder

        You mean that there are changes in the climate that are not caused by CO2??? That it is not the only driver??? That we have to worry ourselves stupid about other things too???

        Say it ain’t so, Mariah, say it ain’t so!!

        I only have room in my head for really worrying about six things at a time. And Carbon, Di and Oxide already take up three!! That doesn’t leave much space for more things

        /sarc off

        Anyway. I though there never was an MWP and all the contemporary writers who thought they were living through it were well-funded lying shills in the pay of Ye Yet To Be Discovered Big Oleum industry. Didn’t some hockey player prove it a while back? Or was that all just a puck up?

      • The Hockey Stick shows a MWP, but deniers think not enough W. They want a “U” shape.

        Deniers don’t cotton to the notion a “U” could could become a “J.”

      • M. carey,
        Mann claimed there was no MWP for many years.
        Should we believe your rewrite of history or what he said?

      • “If there was such a thing as negative feedback, increases in total solar irradiance would not have caused the earth to get much warmer, and the Medieval Warming Period would be known as the Medieval Nothing Period.

        Some people think if the sun can cause climate change, man can’t. Scientists think these people are funny.”

        You are all over the place with your logical fallacies.

        Simpleton science. Without positive feedback, no MWP!

        What’s next? No cooling with CO2?

      • After future generations burn all the fossil fuels, and as a result the level of atmospheric CO2 diminishes, the earth will get progressively cooler, and people will have to rely on wind- and nuke-generated electricity to keep warm and power their cars. That is, unless something else happens.

        But what do we care, we’ll be long gone.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        An ideal scenario for a free enterprise solution.

      • More simpleton thinking. I will continue your story in the same manner:

        And after we’re gone and Earth is cooled back, there will be no climate change anymore. Climate will stop changing and live happily ever after…

      • Actually we’ve had a great deal of stability throughtout history. If we were not stable we would have constant huge swings in temperature. There is a difference between variability and what you are implying.

      • We have pretty big swings in temperature daily, but I was referring to average temperature over a long period, and it has been variable enough to cause a lot of ice, melt a lot of ice, etc.

      • It’s variable because it’s stable. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be here.

  58. “…if we argue about what a fact means, we’re having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it’s agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming.”

    Of course we are arguing about what the facts are. We are arguing about it because we keep getting new facts to add to the old. The problem for the warmists is that these new facts don’t support their tired old hypothesis.

  59. The geophysical record of the Earth is pretty clear–i.e., periods where the Earth was mostly buried in ice punctuated by brief periods fo global warming. All during these times, global warming has never been caused by too much human CO2. Increases in atmospheric CO2 always followed global warming by 700-1300 years.

    Global warming has been caused by too little Ice Age. And, “If man made global warming is indeed real, and it helps to prevent another ice age, this would be the most fortunate thing that has happened to our species since we barely escaped extinction from an especially cold period during the last ice age some 75,000 years ago.

    “The ongoing political waffle over setting targets for differing percentages of emission reductions at various points decades in the future is about as useful as debating over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    “The biggest problem we face in the forseeable future is not some unquantifiable risk of climate change at some unknown future time. It is the real and immanent one of producing enough fossil fuel to maintain the healthy economy necessary for the long costly process of developing energy alternatives and implementing them on an adequate scale. At best this will take decades and will require abundant supplies of fossil fuels to achieve.” (Walter Starck)

    • Good news Wag, rather than living at the end of the era of Fossil Fuels, it appears we are more at the beginning of that age. Fracking is opening up huge amounts of not only natural gas, but oil that used to be out of our reach.

      • Economics 101: As hysterical politicans fry with the devil, the world may be headed for severe global cooling—perhaps for 30 to 70 years—and, perhaps anoher ice age by the end of the century. No one knows. However, we do know that free market capitalism provides for the most efficient use of scarce resources and results in the highest net present wealth whereas a Marxist approach leads only to greater misery, poverty and death.

      • We haven’t had free-market capitalism since the late 19th Century. Those were the good old days when employers could get cheap child labor to work in the mills and mines, and there were no pesky rules about polluting the water and air, or making work places safe for sissies.

        If we returned to free-market capitalism, we might have a chance of competing with China’s State-directed capitalism, but I’m not optimistic.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        I believe you just defined a straw man. Straw now litters the ground. Done and done. Back to reality.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        “State-directed capitalism” is also known as the Corporate State. Devised by Mussolini. Aka, fascism. A variant of Marxism for popular consumption. It ends badly when it runs out of other peoples’ assets.

      • China’s advantage is that it is becoming more a free market and it has low labor costs and free-market access to international markets. The state direction part is not an advantage over the US or Europe. They all have central banks etc. What specific Chinese State direction policy is it that you are talking about?

      • NGO’s are working very hard to see that frakking is stopped, like they did with nukes, before it can help very many people.

  60. Judith Curry

    Another new word to add to your list:

    Agnobabble (ag-no-bab-ul): to bloviate* about something one knows nothing about

    *bloviate: discourse at length in a pompous manner

    From (Greek) angosis: not knowing and (Middle English): babelen, to utter meaningless sounds, (probably taken from Genesis: tower of Babel).

    Does Proctor’s erudite analysis fall into the category of “agnobabble”?


    • Brilliant!

    • “Agnobabble” indeed:
      Gore is seeking to cling to his relevancy.
      He is claiming that he and his fellow AGW believers and promoters have failed to make “climate reality” accepted in the mainstream. And that the “complete truth” about climate has yet to be revealed.
      What does this admission say about a movement that has worked for well over 20 years with massive funding, domination of the public square, government backing, softball journalists, and UN support that one of its leaders now feels the need to get the “complete truth” out there?
      How ignorant is a group that claims, apparently seriously, that “These cataclysmic events are occurring all over the world with increasing frequency.” regarding extreme weather?
      This seems a great demonstration of Proctor’s thesis that ignorance increases by way of dysfunctional groups dynamics.
      Gore seems to have an answer for Proctor’s question,
      “What don’t we know, and why don’t we know it? What keeps ignorance alive, or allows it to be used as a political instrument?”
      In the case of the Gore wing of the AGW community, the answer seems to be the old one of money and power.

    • Good one. How about

      Ignobubble: Ig-no-bubbel
      The inflation of an inadequate and highly uncertain hypothesis to the status of a scientific theory backed by consensus.

    • Add them to the Urban dictionary

  61. Joe Lalonde

    By current science standards is that anyone thinking differently from the group should be ouster sized and stoned by ignorance.
    Even though 90% of science is unsettled and unexplored.

    Mechanical replications can be reproduced but then who is expert enough to be the “peer-reviewer”? Certainly not any current scientist that just follows statistics and bad formulas that need “adjusting” over time periods.