Expertise: breadth vs depth

by Judith Curry

Richard Feynman has famously stated: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

At Next Gent, Thomas Doyle has written an article entitled “Depth and Breadth – the Challenge of Integration.”  Some excerpts:

The popular image of the Renaissance Man is one that is curious, well-read, multi-talented, and imbued with a certain ambition to expand the frontiers of knowledge and experience. The Renaissance Man is one part scholar, one part public servant and good neighbor, one part scientist and inventor, and one part entrepreneur (either of ideas or technology). He is a philosopher in the classical sense, for he loves wisdom and knowledge both for its own sake and for the sake of what they can produce. He is not confined by specializations or disciplinary boundaries, and hence he enjoys a breadth of vision and practice.

It has become difficult to identify clear examples of Renaissance Men since the 19th century, and for very good reasons. Knowledge has exploded at exponential rates in all fields. Men’s minds, experience, and ambitions have been disciplined by increasing degrees of specialization. The university reflects explicitly this disciplinarity . . .

The contemporary world, in short, defines expertise primarily by depth, not breadth.

In short, in a world of increasing specialization, “interdisciplinarity” can often involve an unacceptable trade-off of depth for breadth. That said, the urgent problems of our nation and our world are trans-disciplinary. Global warming, resource scarcities, cyber-security, ethnic rivalry and civil war, immigration, economic globalization, arms control and disarmament: these . . . urgently require solutions that integrate breadth and depth. In dealing with nuclear disarmament, for instance, breadth without depth is superficiality. Depth without breadth is myopia. Neither trade-off is acceptable, for both lead to abortive attempts at solutions. Since we understand expertise as a function of depth, we must now figure out the expertise of breadth and begin to cultivate the skill of integration. 
One task I see for the Next Gent generation is to resolve the breadth/depth dilemma and to cultivate the skill of integration in study and policy. It will likely involve, to use a musical metaphor, a series of contrapuntal moves in which individuals collaborate to alternately deepen, broaden, and integrate their approaches. The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for? 
Anderegg et al. PNAS paper
The  PNAS paper entitled “Expert credibility in climate change” has this to say about expertise:
An extensive literature examines what constitutes expertise or credibility in technical and policy-relevant scientific research. Though our aim is not to expand upon that literature here, we wish to draw upon several important observations from this literature in examining expert credibility in climate change. First, though the degree of contextual, political, epistemological, and cultural influences in determining who counts as an expert and who is credible remains debated, many scholars acknowledge the need to identify credible experts and account for expert opinion in technical (e.g., science-based) decision-making. Furthermore, delineating expertise and the relative credibility of claims is critical, especially in areas where it may be difficult for the majority of decision-makers and the lay public to evaluate the full complexities of a technical issue. 

The litmus test for credibility was agreement with this statement:

anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature over the second half of the 20th century.”  Given the list of over 1000 scientists whose publications were examined, I wonder how many of these scientists actually understand in detail the IPCC’s attribution arguments and have the expertise to personally evaluate this?  Especially since a substantial number of the climate experts were ecologists, economists, atmospheric chemists, and other scientists without any obvious expertise related to climate change detection and attribution.

Collide-a-scape thread

I continue to return to the collide-a-scape thread on disinformation, which I find to have many insightful comments.    Here are excerpts from a comment by Jeremy Harvey, that provides some interesting insights:

When all is going smoothly in science, the argument from authority is a good one, strangely enough. There are so many papers, so many ideas, so many players that it really helps to have loads of filters in place that allow you to focus on things that are likely to be interesting. So you mostly only read the major journals, and mostly only attend to papers from recognized high-quality groups, or to ones that have been pointed out to you by such authority figures. If you want to use Kuhn’s language, this is a way of working that is effective within “normal science” – when everyone agrees on the paradigm for the field (here, the Earth is warming, anthropogenic CO2 is to blame, there’s a significant risk that the warming will be dangerous), and set out to work out the details within that paradigm.

What Gavin hints at is that Judy Curry thinks that climate science is not normal science. He disagrees. I do not. What that means is that all these filters do not work so well. Papers that are described by the mass of people working within the consensus as “bad” or “uninteresting” may not be either (though I sense that the Ludecke paper is probably not so interesting). That makes things a lot harder for everyone: open-minded scientists need to attend to a much broader range of papers, as publication in a “crappy” journal is no longer a quasi-automatic sign of low quality. Likewise, papers in major journals can be partly wrong, especially in terms of their unspoken assumptions. And for outsiders, relying on the views of the opinion-leaders can be very misleading.
In such a context, wielding authority is a much less innocent exercise, hence all the arguments about who is allowed to say this, who should exercise judgement before talking about that, etc. Science becomes a power game.

The “climate expertise” problem

The challenge regarding “climate expertise” is the extreme complexity of the problem (physical basis, impacts, solution strategies).  It is very difficult for one person to wrap his/her head around the entire thing.  Nevertheless, when one self classifies or is otherwise regarded as a “climate scientist,” there is an expectation that the individual has expertise across the entire domain.

When I first started posting at Climate Audit on the topic of hurricanes, I was expected to answer questions on the “hockey stick.”  I told people that I had no expertise on that topic, and (at the time) no particular interest in that topic.  The ClimateAuditers were incensed at me for this attitude, they seemed to think it was a cop out and an implicit defense of Mann.

The fact that I, along with arguably most of the broader climate community, had no expertise on paleo reconstructions, tree rings, etc., allowed that segment of the community to push forward the hockey stick, with little apparent controversy until M&M.

Once Climategate broke, I began to perceive that individual depth of expertise, when integrated across a range of subdisciplines, does not add up to genuine breadth or integration.  Since then I have taken it upon myself to try to broaden my personal understanding to encompass the subject matter covered by the IPCC WGI and WGII reports, along with relevant  social science and philosophy of science literature.    The challenge is to not be tempted into thinking that once you have expanded your breadth by reading a couple of review articles, that you have an actual expert opinion on the topic.  Developing depth and expertise takes time, effort, and struggle.

At the same time, establishing breadth can enable vision in seeing beyond the purview of a narrow expertise, and change and deepen the way you think about the subject (both areas of deep expertise and shallower familiarity).

Returning to the closing paragraph in the Next Gent article:

The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for? 

323 responses to “Expertise: breadth vs depth

  1. > how is the expertise of breadth cultivated?

    The question needs to be reframed as: How was the expertise of breadth lost?

    All the great scientists of yesteryear were polymaths, because they had a bedrock common sense which told them if their ideas — in any field — were reasonable, and a deep humility in the face of the everlasting conundrum that is our universe.

    • Apply common sense to quantum behavior. Go ahead, have a try:)

      • Common sense suggests that:

        1. The entire universe – including you and me – are anonymously controlled through cause and effect, and

        2. Our actions as observers affect that part of the universe that we observe.

        Hence there is an inherent uncertainty in all observations and conclusions, even those of world leaders and the UN.

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

      • Analysis of the quantum state requires a different perspective for common sense to easily apply. Our current limited perspective does not mean common sense doesn’t apply, it just means we don’t yet understand the big picture.

      • “Hbr 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”

        Translated, is a word that raises very similar questions of ‘state’ & ‘perspective’ when considering the ‘big picture’. From what I have read we will be changed in a moment. So you are not alone…

      • But quantum behaviour can be proved with repeatable experimentation, climate science cannot. Climate science only has models.

      • good one eli

      • Brer Rabbit,

        the fact we cannot apply common sense to Quantum Theory is based on one of two possible issues.

        We do not know enough to really understand the theory.

        The theory is wrong.

        Sorry you have such a poor sense of common sense.

      • Quantum behavior is common sense to a physicist, simply by considering the act of observing on very small scales, just as special relativity results from a common sense interpretation of the experimental results at the time.

        As one of my professors famously said after everyone missed a particular problem in his classical mechanics class “And now I’ll show you why this is completely trivial.”

      • One need not go to quantum behavior. If the concept of 0 were common sense, why didn’t the Romans and Greeks have an understanding of 1-1=0. I’ve tutored people in high school (my daughter) and university physics and calculus. My first lesson is: In science, common sense is your enemy.

  2. ‘science advances through reasoning of an individual’ not a concensus.

    • Why not squander 2 min of your time and look at this:
      Bold blue curve (October 2011) is derived directly from the CET data (the faint blue)
      Red line (August 2010) based on good written records and is nothing to do with any of the others, according to the current understanding, but a visual inspection would suggests that it has some correlation to the sunspot number (orange line) and the CET derivative (bold blue line).
      Is there common factor:
      Common sense: it looks as it is.
      Consensus science: no.
      Anyone interested in the details to publish? No.

      Two minutes are up, thanks for the attention.
      Back to politics, there everyone has an expert opinion.

    • I looked ”the through reasoning” on your tread. You have record of sunspots since 17 century. First good filter to look at the sun was made 2009. Before that for few years was: blocking the sun with cardboard – to see the sun-flares on the ”crown of the sun” but not to see sunspots. Those sun-flares from the crown don’t even come towards the earth = they were irrelevant.

      Having sunspots / sun-flares activity records for 17-18-19 century… If somebody was staring at the sun to monitor sunspots / sun-flares; would have being COMPLETELY blind after 3 minutes… are you informed how was he recording it on paper after he /she was completely blind?! My ”reasoning” is saying: if anybody was dumb enough to stare at the sun at that time; to keep record = you are using data from the dumbest person that existed at that time. Bottom line: climatologist use bullying instead of reasoning – that’s why they will not just lose – but some should end up in jail for soliciting money on false pretence.

      On my website is proven ”beyond any reasonable doubt” that: medieval ages was warmer Europe, NOT THE PLANET. Therefore, sunspots are needlessly / wrongly used for justification. Not just sunspots, but most of the antique theories are wrong / back to front and destructive:

      • Sunspots and flares are not observed directly. They are projected by a telescope and then accurate drawings are made, technique started with Galileo.

      • vukcevic, because of the the glare from the sun, sunspots / sun-flares that are on the sun surface facing earth were invisible without that new, sophisticated filter. Same as the stars are not visible during the day in the sky. Stronger light overrules things as sunspots..As I originally said: they were looking the sun-flares on the crown of the sun – that are not even coming towards the earth.

        2] because oxygen + nitrogen CONTROL / REGULATE the temperature, that control is too powerful for: solar eclipse, mercury / Venus in-between, sunspots / sun-flares. I have proven the lot, If you know the power of O+N in shrinking / expending in change of temperature, TO CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TROPOSPHERE – you will agree with me that: sunspots are kept under the sleeve as ”back-door exit” to be justified why is no GLOBAL warming. P.s. Galileo had similar problems in presenting the truth / real proofs as I have now… I hope I will find few people, to help me. You know anybody to have stomach for the real truth?

  3. You must be willing to read stuff you believe to be wrong, and actually think about the possibility that you might be the one who is wrong. You must be a skeptic of your own views and you must be a skeptic that the views you believe to be wrong are really wrong. You must consider views that are outside of the Consensus Approved Views. Paradigm changes come from outside Consensus.

  4. If complexity is the challenge, the problem is lack of humility leading to pretending all the monsters have been tamed.

    Re-renaissance Man will have to start by getting rid of hubris, therefore striving to become the connector, not the (false) master.

    Google “omnology” or see the short description at

  5. And in what way was Anderegg et al infamous? Please defend.

  6. We should apply this same depth vs width concept to decision making. Scientific expertise does not equate to decision making expertise. Applying knowledge provided by scientific study to real world applications is a skill taught to engineers and technicians. We are asked to trust the pronouncements of scientists who study the climate because that subject is too complex for the layman to understand. They then present us with a grossly oversimplified and naive solution to the very complex problem they believe they have identified.

    • And to bring that back to the IPCC trichotomy, let’s also note that science is not the same thing as technology! The popular media treat science and technology as synonyms, when in reality, they’re Siamese twins.The science in WG1 may or may not be solid, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the technology and economics questions in WG3. And neither has anything to do with the science of WG2.

  7. I do read and consider much of what I read in Climate Etc. and many of the links to other opinions. Very few of you have commented on my “Pope’s Climate Theory”
    Be a true skeptic and read it and think about it and comment on it.
    I do read your Theories and l try to consider that I might be wrong.
    Some of you do post your own, but give little consideration to others.
    You don’t get any Breadth by only considering yourself to be always correct.

    • “Very few of you have commented on my “Pope’s Climate Theory””

      I think it’s very good. I am not so calm, you seem to be about having cooling in the future. But relative to ideas about magical runaway effects, it is more stable.
      So you seem to think if arctic sea ice melts we will get a lot of snow- no doubt wonderful for the skiers.
      It seems little bit of this kind of could be ok [and I like skiing] but I wouldn’t want too much of a good thing. I wonder if humans could control the snow effect from a ice free arctic. Like do something to reduce the evaporation of ocean water.

      • Yes, the snow effect from an ice free arctic could be controlled.
        The warm water that flows into the arctic is through a path that is not very wide and not very deep. A dam could be built and we could allow or not allow warm water to flow into the arctic and turn the snow on and off. The world has conflicting requirements for snow. Who decides when to turn the snow on and off?

    • OK, so where can I find the raw data for Greenland from up to 10,000 years ago versus that data from up to 100,000 years ago?

      I have looked at reconstructed temperature series from between 30,000 and 80,000 so far but don’t have access to the more recent data sets.

      This is the sticky point I assume, when you take a look at this plot:

      Note that the temperature shows what appear to be a constant variance noise profile over the last 10,000 years, but clearly had a different noise profile prior to that.

      I know there is a recent Japanese paper that was covered in the Santa Fe thread that has high resolution from the last several thousand years, but I don’t see the links to the raw data.

      • The temperature during the past ten thousand years was regulated in a narrow stable range. The temperature during the hundred thousand years before that was regulated in a colder, much larger range.

      • The temperature during the past ten thousand years was regulated in a narrow stable range. The temperature during the hundred thousand years before that was regulated in a colder, much larger range.

        The multiscaled variance of the temperature fluctuations at recent durations of less than 10,000 years shows white noise behavior, with much less long-term correlation than with data up to 100,000 years.

        But your assertion is still simply an assertion, as this doesn’t prove that a man-made introduced forcing function, such as CO2, won’t punch through the regime we are currently in.

      • CO2 is a trace gas and it might have a trace amount of forcing that will tweak the regime we are in but it will be really difficult to identify the tweak.

  8. The climate scientists I’ve met over the years tend to be well into the “depth not breadth” category. They know their one field very well, and have a lot of… faith… in the rest of the assumed science. They tend to be very, very shallow in some aspects of science, like solar astronomy.

    One fellow I spoke to (after his presentation on global warming) was going on about how the models were all set in stone, and everything was well-proven. I asked him about variability in insolation. He gave me a poisonous look. “Insolation is a CONSTANT!”

  9. “The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for?”
    Share your expertise and limitations with others and learn from others expertise and limitations. In the process there will be developed a few “Jack of all Trades”.

  10. “environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion” –Dr. Freeman Dyson

    Michael Crichton on the age of disinformation in which we now live:

    “I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.”

    • Source links would be appreciated

      • re Dyson see:

        re Michael Crichton, refer to the speech that he gave to Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, CA on September 15, 2003, where for example he said, as follows:

        “…I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

        “Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

        “There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

        “Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

        “And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them…”

      • Thanks a bundle. One reason for asking is that Freeman Dyson is someone important to consider as a possible counter-example to the thesis that the scientific polymath could not exist in the second part of the twentieth century. OK, not to the same degree as in the first decades of the 19th. But Dyson is the first person I’d look to as a counterexample. I’m not sure how far he’ll take us but hey, that’s the fun of trying to falsify anything.

      • Fyi–

        “…In other words, if you disagree with the majority opinion about global warming, you are an enemy of science. The authors of the pamphlet appear to have forgotten the ancient motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in Verba, which means, “Nobody’s word is final.”

        “All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

        “Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

        “Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard…”

        ~Freeman Dyson, The Question of Global Warming, The New York Review of Books, June 12, 2008

      • Freeman Dyson is 87 years old. Unfortunately, intelligence is not a birthday gift, and the brain is not immune to the adverse consequences of advancing age.

      • And, your word is final, right?

      • Lovely! Because Dyson is critical of CAGW, he just simply MUST be senile!
        I hope that you’re still possessed of all your mental faculties at that age so you can cringe when you remember what you said here.

      • What we see with the fearmongers of global warming alarmism and the obvious disengagement between the historic principles of honesty and expertise, the government-funded scientists no no longer have any moral authority nor even a shred of credibilty. Some historical perspective is what they need and with it we ourselves can see how badly they need it.

        “Historical perspectives occasionally have the capacity to encourage a more disengaged look at present predicaments…” ~Steven Shapin.

      • “The New Ecological Order” by Luc Ferry is an interesting read. Published in 1995:

        “In The New Ecological Order, Luc Ferry offers a penetrating critique of the ideological roots of the “Deep Ecology” movement spreading throughout Germany, France, and the United States.

        Traditional ecological movements, or “democratic ecology,” seek to protect the environment of human societies; they are pragmatic and reformist. But another movement has become the refuge both of nostalgic counterrevolutionaries and of leftist illusions. This is “deep ecology.” Its followers go beyond practical critiques of human greed and waste: they call into question the very possibility of human coexistence with nature.”

  11. “The fact that I, along with arguably most of the broader climate community, had no expertise on paleo reconstructions, tree rings, etc., allowed that segment of the community to push forward the hockey stick, with little apparent controversy until M&M.”

    As a result of that controversy, how has our understanding of paleoclimate changed?

    • We’ve learned that saying that Mann should be in the State Pen is an actionable offence.

      • James Evans beats his wife and tortures his neighbour’s cat.

        I’ve no evidence for any of this but it’s OK to say so – it’s ‘freedom of speech’ just like accusing Mann of a criminal act that would warrant a jail sentence.

      • If a dead cat was ever found in James Evans’ neighborhood, that could be evidence of his guilt.

      • Or evidence some former Libertarian was back at work with his .22.

      • The presumption that mann may have done something illegal was put into play by Muir russell himself. If you dont understand how, you dont know how to read.

      • So enlighten us. After all, Mann’s actions were somewhat out of scope for Muir Russell, as were any potential breaches of US law.

    • Understanding that a science is more uncertain than we thought is an increase in knowledge.

    • We learned that we don’t understand it nearly as well as we thought we did.

  12. You can’t really by an “expert” using unverified/unverifiable numbers. They don’t mean anything. That would make you a “poser”, not an “expert.”


  13. The entire climate science establishment, regardless of position on AGW, could gain a lot of credibility with the public by simply showing some humility and admitting there is still a lot they do not know. Admitting one’s mistakes and showing humility goes a long way in the public discourse

    • I think you’d get your wish if you simply read an IPCC report.

      • I will do that but based on how the media and everyone else is interpreting the findings, one would not think that is the case. I would say it is a “slam dunk” and the “science is settled”. I find no evidence of the level of uncertainty that may be in the IPCC report translated in others’ interpretation of it.

      • Does your concept of humility include the IPCC’s recent claim that it is “virtually certain” that it will be warmer 100 years from now? Mine does not, and the same for many IPCC claims. These reports are a study in hubris. They consistently dismiss, minimize, or even ignore, the major uncertainties.

  14. “That ancient cultural appreciation of the philosopher’s identity and its guarantee of his honesty persisted for many centuries, modified and reinforced by patterns of Christian intellectuality. In 1690 John Locke merely echoed Greek philosophical sentiments in announcing: ‘He that would seriously set upon the search for truth, ought in the first place to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not, will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it.'” ~Steven Shapin, Ph.D., Trust, Honesty, and the Authority of Science

  15. I dunno.

    Much as I can tell inexpert work in math from expert, I know I’m no expert.

    To get to the level of doing the math presented, for example, at tamino I’d need 3-4 years intensive study from an advanced school with excellent resources.

    To get to Vaughn Pratt’s level demonstrated here in discussion, I’d need to spend a career immersed in academia and research, plus some radical IQ increasing procedure.

    And I’m not certain then that I’d be at the forefront of expertise in climate, and both these comparators have admitted plentiful gaps in knowledge, which I imagine greater experts would claim were larger areas of ignorance for themselves still.

    I don’t think our experts are especially our problem.

    I believe it’s our dabblers and quacks, who use known invalid techniques, irrational arguments, and absurd merchandising ricks to obfuscate for themselves and each other and the wider public.

    What I’d give to see some basic lessons in valid technique posted by experts.

    • Here you go Bart R, ponder this man…
      One has to wonder just what these Renaissance Men, must have all been reading to form their personal & professional ethics? Well versed in the Bible? Food for thought. For free too.

      • Ethics?


        Too cynical a discussion to have when discussing expertise.

        Technical expertise has given us integrated circuits and telecommunications, computer networks and modern medicine.

        What have ethicists ever done for us that ordinary people haven’t done better for themselves sitting down face-to-face?

  16. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that one significant problem with climate science is misuse of statistics. Hansen’s latest is just another in a very long line of screwups in the field. How do you fix the problem?

    You start with replication and audit. If important work has really been turned inside out by people who are experts in each part of the study (especially if they are not prone to confirmation bias on the results), everyone can begin to take the findings seriously. A lot of the arguments today are due to one group claiming as established ‘facts’ many findings which have never been replicated and which are disputed by others.

    It’s ten times harder for someone to have expert breadth if they have to be able to evaluate the quality of every study from scratch.

    • Misuse of statistics….

      It seems to me that scientific arguments often centre on the validity of a particular statistical technique being employed in a piece of work (recent Ludecke papers and Hockey stick controversy are cases in point). I suppose this is an inherent problem when trying to analyse extremely noisy data. Having said that, it seems to me (as a non expert) that opinions quickly become indisputable matters of fact depending on entrenched views, egos and which side of the argument you lie. The complexity makes it impossible for the layman to judge the validity of the arguments (although we sometimes like to try!).

    • There has never been a science based on recorded observations and statistics alone and there never will be. Climate science should come to this realization. Computer models add nothing to the statistics.

      Strangely enough, the one “statistical” area of research in climate science that has something going for it is paleoclimatology, Mikey’s field. When you are recording changes in tree rings you are not just recording observations and using statistics. In addition, you have the science of that kind of tree ring to back you up. That is, you have the science to back you up if you do it. But the Climategaters did not do it. I hear that Briffa is finally coming out with an article on the science of the famous tree rings that explains the decline observed in them. How about that, only fifteen years late.

    • stan

      Care to start out with the usually effective solution?

      Set out clearly and distinctly in detail exactly the method you feel was wrong, what was wrong about it, what the correct method is, and why exactly it is more correct?

      Hasn’t worked on Girma, I know, but then I don’t expect miracles.

  17. The challenge regarding “climate expertise” is the extreme complexity of the problem (physical basis, impacts, solution strategies). It is very difficult for one person to wrap his/her head around the entire thing. Nevertheless, when one self classifies or is otherwise regarded as a “climate scientist,” there is an expectation that the individual has expertise across the entire domain.

    A big part of the problem is that climate science can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s a first-principles physical science or an empirical science. We don’t expect psychologists to be experts in neurology, although dabbling in neurology might provide some insight to a psychologist. A really top-notch psychologist should be conversant in basic neurology.

    The problem we have in climate science is that we have people making the leap from radiative physics right over a whole long list of both phenomonological and support disciplines, and straight to OMG!!! I see a lot of evidence that the people in the climate field know their radiative physics well, but it goes downhill from there.

    There’s another problem though, and it’s the biggest problem of all. Most climate scientists don’t want help from the outside. They want to be renaissance (wo)men, but don’t want to be critiqued by narrow experts in allied fields. IOW, there’s a cultural dysfunction.

    • Very well said though a tad brief.

    • “We don’t expect psychologists to be experts in neurology, although dabbling in neurology might provide some insight to a psychologist. A really top-notch psychologist should be conversant in basic neurology.”

      I don’t agree with this. David Marr’s notion of “levels of understanding” militates against it. More generally, while there are many examples (in history of science) of one theoretical view displacing another at the same level of analysis, or the same level of reduction, there are no examples of interlevel destruction of one science by another. Even in the hardest fields this is so. In Chemistry there are well-developed models of bonding that still have no explanation at the Physical level. Protesting that they WILL someday is beside the point. There will always be sciences that operate at different levels of reduction, successfully, safe from the next level down. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

  18. Although a discipline rather than a science, the practice of medicine has been forced to confront a similar dilemma as the growth of science and technology has made it impossible for any individual to become fully competent in anything other than a restricted area of specialization.

    However, what the resulting overspecialization has done, paradoxically, is to demonstrate an increasing need for generalists (e.g., practitioners of family medicine) who can identify the relationship between a problem and the sources of a solution. In some cases, the solution can lie within their own purview, while in others, it requires referral to a specialist (or specialty group). In essence, the generalist is a specialist in knowing how to get the problem solved.

    I sense that there is an increasing need for climate science generalists to complement the growth of specialization. They can’t know the answers to every answerable question, but they should have a general idea of what the answers will look like and where they can be found. I expect that this will require familiarity with a broad range of the climate science literature, accompanied by frequent informal exchanges of information with specialist colleagues at meetings, through personal dialog, and perhaps through the Internet as well. It may require the equivalent of training family practice doctors at the graduate level of climate science education.

    It may also require mechanisms synthesizing the main elements of current knowledge in a set of documents that are updated every few years on an international basis. Oh wait!

    (Facetiousness aside, something like the IPCC is likely to remain important in the future, and the challenge is to make it more reliable rather than non-existent).

    • However, what the resulting overspecialization has done, paradoxically, is to demonstrate an increasing need for generalists (e.g., practitioners of family medicine) who can identify the relationship between a problem and the sources of a solution… In essence, the generalist is a specialist in knowing how to get the problem solved.

      Well said. IT has developed in exactly the same manner.

    • To carry your analogy forward, a medical generalist is considered to be a lower species than the specialists. And in that pecking order, everybody understands where they are, and the generalist will always know when to hand the issue over to a specialist.

      Climate science doesn’t work that way, because the prevailing culture is that the climate scientist is at the top of the heap, and doesn’t need to defer to anyone. I can’t see this changing, either.

      • To carry your analogy forward, a medical generalist is considered to be a lower species than the specialists.

        That may be changing. Efforts are afoot to give family practice more prominence in medical education as well as better remuneration from health insurance formulas. I agree though that the analogy with climate science shouldn’t be strained. If someone is planning a career in a climate science field, he or she must have specific tasks to perform. How would a “generalist” meet that expectation? Among the possibilities would be specialization in climate science education and/or communication, including research in these areas, but there are probably others as well. It would be interesting to hear the ideas of climate science professionals on this topic.

      • I agree though that the analogy with climate science shouldn’t be strained. If someone is planning a career in a climate science field, he or she must have specific tasks to perform. How would a “generalist” meet that expectation?

        I didn’t say it at once but the analogy at once brought to mind the film “Dave”, when a reluctant Kevin Kline, an ordinary Joe who is a lookalike for the US President, is being persuaded by two “baddies” in the White House to take on the role more permanently because the real President is in a coma. The dialogue goes something like this

        “Is this legal?”

        “Well Dave, have you ever run a red light?”

        “Er, not sure.”

        “Well let’s say your mother was in the car and you have to get her to the hospital. Then you’d break the law, wouldn’t you?”

        “Yes, I guess I would.”

        “The country’s sick Dave. And you need to get her to the hospital.”

        The point being that there’s many more than one mother and general practitioner to treat her – and hospital to take her to in an emergency, come to that. But there’s only United States of America – and only one globe that has a ‘problem’ (or not) with global warming caused by man’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

        That’s why I find the analogy hilarious – as well as respect your instincts in the GP case, Fred.

      • Maybe generalist/specialist isn’t the right analogy. You don’t have to be a generalist to be a collaborator with others. You just need to keep your ego under control. I think this has less to do with your knowledge base than your personality and working style.

        You do need some specific skills though; you need a working knowledge of the jargon of the specialist, and some sense of field. Statistics is a perfect example of a support field that all scientists to use correctly, and it’s better to not attempt to use is at all than to misapply it. So you need to be able to communicate with the experts, and let them judge how to apply the methods.You don’t need to be an expert yourself, but you need to know when the statistician is missing a subtle point about what you’re attempting.

        A tow truck driver once said some words of wisdom from his mother: “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.

      • Maybe generalist/specialist isn’t the right analogy. You don’t have to be a generalist to be a collaborator with others. You just need to keep your ego under control.

        I think there’s a lot in this. I got into trouble on Climate Audit for mentioning Michael Polanyi’s philosophy of science, because he’s a favourite of John Polkinghorne, who, no doubt deeply discouraged by trying to teach me Quantum Mechanics at Cambridge in the late 70s, went off to become an Anglican vicar shortly afterwards. But I find I strongly resonate with Polanyi’s approach, shaped as it was by some of the worst history of science, as described by Wikipedia:

        In 1936, while on a visit to the USSR to give lectures for the Ministry of Heavy Industry, Polanyi was told by Bukharin that the distinction between pure and applied science was mistaken, and that in a socialist society all scientific research would be in accordance with the needs of the latest Five Year Plan. Polanyi observed what happened to the study of genetics in the Soviet Union once the doctrines of Trofim Lysenko gained the backing of the State. Demands in Britain, amongst people such as the Marxist John Desmond Bernal, for centrally planned scientific research, led Polanyi to argue that truth seeking generates communities of specialists whose conclusions ought to be the outcome of free debate not central direction. Together with John Baker, he founded the influential Society for Freedom in Science to defend this view.

        In a series of articles, re-published in The Contempt of Freedom (1940) and The Logic of Liberty (1951), Polanyi argued that co-operation amongst scientists is analogous to the way in which agents co-ordinate themselves within a free market. Just as consumers in a free market determine the value of products, so, without central direction, scientists validate theories by endorsing them as true. The spontaneous order that arises within the scientific community, arises within the context of a commitment to truth.

        Polanyi found himself in the thick of one terrible abuse of science in visiting the Soviet Union in 1936. But in 1926, in being appointed professorial head of department in Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dahlem, near Berlin, he was just about to run into another even worse one, I alluded to in that thread on Climate Audit last month.

        We should listen to Polanyi on science and freedom – and ruthlessly apply the lessons to rogue operators like the IPCC in the 21st century. Your responses triggered these thoughts – but I don’t assume that you agree with them!

      • Sorry – some blockquote closing problems there. Hope a generous moderator can fix for me. Please!

      • “However, what the resulting overspecialization has done, paradoxically, is to demonstrate an increasing need for generalists (e.g., practitioners of family medicine) who can identify the relationship between a problem and the sources of a solution… In essence, the generalist is a specialist in knowing how to get the problem solved.”

        I will respectfully disagree here. What has happened is that medicine is moving toward evidence-based, process-driven medicine.

        For the entire 20th century, medicine was practiced as a craft, by individuals (physicians), each of whom believed he/she knew how best to treat a patient. By late century, a few key practices (Intermountain Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Geissinger, Cleveland Clinic among others) realized the looking at outcomes data would yield better methods of treating diseases. So medicine has started to turn from a craft into a process-driven discipline. This approach, letting the *data* guide the right treatment protocol has led to amazing performance improvements, both in the clinical outcomes and in lowering costs. These protocols are typically developed by cross-functional teams of experts, and the built into the IT infrastructure of the organizations. By doing this, every physician in the practice is now treating the same disease the same way about 95% of the time, with the other cases typically involving complications from multiple diseases.

        The answer in medicine is: interrogate the data to ding the right process for driving the ideal outcome. Little to do with generalists versus specialists.

      • “However, what the resulting overspecialization has done, paradoxically, is to demonstrate an increasing need for generalists (e.g., practitioners of family medicine) who can identify the relationship between a problem and the sources of a solution… In essence, the generalist is a specialist in knowing how to get the problem solved.”

        Medicine is a poor analogy to science. It is best understood as a trade which makes use of science (like engineering, or forensic investigations) in which there is a strong traditional of physicians also doing some science on the side to advance the field.

        While we do need more primary care physicians, the reasons behind that shortage are very different than the reasons behind the shortage (if there is one) in generalist scientists.

      • @Robert I agree. The advances in medicine come from the conversion from being a craft to being a data and protocol-driven process. By measuring what works, and implementing processes to always use what’s works, the field is advancing well. Much more akin to engineering.

        I would argue, though, that there are lessons to be learned from medicine as to use of cross-functional thinking and dogged learning from the data.

      • Ken – Thanks for your comment. This is an area you appear to know in more detail than I, but it’s not clear to me why what appears to be a renewed interest in promoting primary care is antithetical to evidence-based medicine. Isn’t there still a need for individuals who know how to do certain things themselves but also where to send patients for more specialized attention? I don’t think you’re saying that all physicians in a group are going to do cardiac catheterizations. The analogy with climate science is certainly inexact, except to the extent that there is value in having individuals familiar enough with all climate science areas to know what kind of information is available, and perhaps how efficiently to guide members of the public as well as fellow scientists to reliable sources of information.

        Because the thread topic is climate science rather than medicine, I’ll comment below in greater detail on how I see the breadth/depth concept best applied to the former.

      • From the prospective of the patient – the generalist stands far higher in pecking order. At least that’s the case if you have a good one, as I do.

        On a similar note, I remember hearing that while most people are very concerned at the qualifications and reputation of the specialists they see, particularly when it comes to surgery, they rarely give any consideration to who their anetheologist (sp?) is. Yet the most important person in the operating room is the gas passer.

      • Especially after a colonoscopy.

      • They don’t put you out for that.

        The passer of gas is the recepient of the colonoscopy. And should we give the EPA free rein, you can bet they’ll add a tax to the procedure to cover the point source contribution to human production of GHG’s.

    • Good suggestion, but watch your comparison of medicine to science. Medicine is first and foremost dedicated to giving care and only later to finding the truth. I think one reason CAGW propagandists get away with so much hokum is that they apply the medical model of practice to science and scream very loudly that we must do something for the masses of Bangladesh and similar places. Science pursues the truth only. Science does not exist to make us feel good regardless of the interpretation of “feel good.”

    • Fred, in my field, economics, there are many specialities. By inclination, I’m more of a generalist, interested in many topics and links between them. My “broad speciality” was what drives economic growth, ranging from the high-end theory of New Growth Theory following Paul Romer’s seminal 1986 paper to the nuts and bolts of whether innovation requires government support because of positive externalities or whether (as firm-level empirical studies suggest) the gains are largely captured by the innovating firm and its clients, with wider transmission through informal mechanisms, e.g. social meetings between engineers from different firms in a cluster. I needed to be expert enough to follow e.g the NGT debate, to be able to commission, manage and interpret economic modelling, to understand linkages between many parts of the economy, legislation, regulation etc, without being a specialist in any of those fields. IMHO, this enabled me to make a valuable contribution which narrow specialists whose work I drew on could not. I recall, for example, my first meeting with a group of economists pursuing the question of drivers of economic growth, including heads of university departments and government divisions, all with advanced modelling skills, where I immediately saw serious flaws in their work of which they were unaware. I had far less grasp of mathematical, statistical and modelling techniques than anyone else, but I have a grasp of whether numbers presented make sense or not; many didn’t. I later castigated papers from this specialist group, one author responding that he fully accepted my criticism.

      I’ve suggested before that the CAGW/climate change field needs more people in this role, who can look across the board and test the reality of what’s presented from a wider perspective. It does seem, however, that most of the people in or associated with the IPCC are not open to such overview, and that that body would need to be disbanded before a more open approach could be adopted. Steve McIntyre is a good example of what someone other than a highly specialised climate scientist can contribute, Dr Curry is making a contribution by stepping beyond her Arctic and tropical cyclone expertise to look at the CAGW issue more broadly.

    • This problem is also faced in the auto repair industry. The solution there is to use the best diagnosticians they have to perform the initial diagnosis.

  19. One develops breadth by working with and respecting the opinions of those with depth. The ones with depth develop breadth by listening carefully to others with depth and the few who provide an overarching paradigm. The keys to developing breadth: carefully listening to; and, respecting the opinions of. Without those keys, everything else is egomania and loud shouting. The few who have breadth already, achieved breadth from depth on their own. They may have the breadth for that particular topic and be ordinary people in the many other reaches of man’s mind.

    • “One develops breadth by working with and respecting the opinions of those with depth.”

      In the end, if you don’t “test” the opinions, then you’re taking them on faith. I’m not sure that’s very scientific.

  20. Should you chance to Google on the expressions “convective adjustment” or “convective equilibrium”, you’ll get 5-digit hit counts. These related terms refer to a computer algorithm for handling convective flux transport. It is this algorithm alone which is responsible for predictions such as an equatorial “hot spot” and a singularity leading to catastrophic GHG warming. It has been established since the dawn of thermodynamics that a system in thermodynamic equilibrium must be isothermal, yet the notion that the adiabatic lapse rate characterizes an equilibrium configuration is critical for predictions which have received the unequivocal endorsement of all major academies and institutions of higher learning.
    Feynman 1, academia 0.

    • Absolutely wonderful point. When the Grand Unified Theory is finally programmed into the ultimate supercomputer it will not contain all the truth about the universe. It will lack the following information:

      “The following one million lines of code were added to make the model solve.”

  21. Dr Curry –

    I think the appropriate place to start with this is at the end. You quote Thomas Doyle as finishing his article with –

    “The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for?”

    This to me has the painful sound of someone new to socio-anthropic-pychologese who has been shown by example that the more mysterious and vague your writing, the cleverer you will sound.


    The first question is posed as if it one of the central imponderables of existential mysticism – “How is the expertise of breadth cultivated?”

    Well to keep it reasonably short, how about ‘reading’? And if you want the full complete and comprehensive answer try ‘reading, talking, and thinking’ ……Just to confirm – Dr Curry, how did you extend the breadth of your understanding of the Philosophy of Science? Possibly a little bit of reading? One or two conversations? Some thinking as you processed the information? Thought so!

    The second question – “What are the processes and technologies of integration?” is essentially asking “how do we learn new stuff?” For most people I would guess the process is fairly similar to the way they went about learning the first round of stuff. It’s not complicated even if is harder work the older we become,

    The final flourish of pompous rhetoric – “What new competencies does this synthesis call for” is, if anything, more shallow than the nonsense which preceded it. I don’t actually think any new competencies are called for at all, certainly not due to there being a new synthesis. New information, and new perspectives can always provide fresh understanding, but the most important variable involved – the personality and psyche of the person involved – is completely ignored. Some people are natural polymaths – Richard Tol comes to mind – some people gain a great deal with alternative perspectives and yet another group would fail to see the point if it poked them in the eye.

    I suppose I really didn’t get the gist of the article! Dr Curry’s circumstances encouraged and facilitated a widening of perspective – many people’s don’t, ever. To make it a crusade of rejuvenated renaissance thinking strikes me as, well, a little bit daft.

  22. Judith –

    You present an odd juxtaposition of arguments.

    From this post we have excerpt #1:

    Since then I have taken it upon myself to try to broaden my personal understanding to encompass the subject matter covered by the IPCC WGI and WGII reports, along with relevant social science and philosophy of science literature.

    and we have excerpt #2:

    The challenge is to not be tempted into thinking that once you have expanded your breadth by reading a couple of review articles, that you have an actual expert opinion on the topic.

    Yet with Dyson, you were arguing that we treasure the expertise of someone who has most likely not done what you recommend in excerpt #1, and that we trust the expert viewpoint of someone who has probably only done a limited review that you caution against in excerpt #2.

    Sure looks like you have argued in favor valuing Dyson’s perspective even though he likely represents a contradiction to the message of both of those paragraphs I excerpted.

    Funny thing is, I actually agree with you on all respects (informed opinion requires extensive research, it’s easy to over-evaluate one’s own “expertise,” and insight from outside the loop can sometimes be valuable). What I disagree with is what seems to me to be a selective application of your principles depending on where people fall out in their conclusions WRT the climate debate. For some, the principles you use are used as inclusionary criteria, and at other times those same principles are used as exclusionary criteria.

  23. The problem isn’t too much “depth” vs lack of breadth.

    The problem is that many of the “deep”, specialized, experts aren’t experts at all but just ideologues, they push their ideology (whether consciously or unconsciously) on us under dusguise of “depth”.

    There is way too much confirmation bias, and way too little rigorous adherence to scientific principles, which include, among others: openness, due dilligence, collaboration, replication.
    They are too much in a hurry to implement their pet policies, and too impatient with the correct scientific procedures, which sometimes take their time.
    They are too eager to produce “scientific” (pseudo-scientific) justification for their deeply held beliefs.

  24. And they produce atrocious policy results like windmills, solar panels or ethanol, which are totally useless, from every conceivable point of view. These things don’t work, and don’t reduce emissions, and only waste money.
    You don’t need to be a “deep” or a “broad” scientist to understand this. You just need to have eyes and not be totally blinded by ideology. This is not “deep” science, just plain engineering common sense.

  25. Michael Larkin

    The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for?

    This is a truly fascinating topic, Judith.

    At the inception of modern science as we know it, it was still possible for one man to know pretty much everything there was to be known – in its full depth and breadth.

    Currently, the breadth and depth are much more extensive, but at least in principle, one should be able to have a few people from each specialism in the whole of science to represent, in total, its full depth.

    Of course, that isn’t enough, because there is the not inconsiderable problem of any of them knowing what experts in other specialisms might know that could actually be useful for them. I feel quite sure that there’s piles of things ready to be discovered or understood in a new light quite quickly, which aren’t being, simply because specialists aren’t aware of what other specialists know.

    So what we need, I suspect, are expert generalists. These people would know nothing in great depth, but would have an eye for spotting potential “horizontal” connections. I’m not sure this is something that could be trained into someone. Typically, people who can do this aren’t scientists (who, almost as a matter of policy, have initiative and creativity squeezed out of them like water out of a blanket going through a mangle).

    Those with the ability to make connections are often artistically trained or gifted. Poets, novelists, even comedians often have a great genius for making startling connections; for making us see things in new ways that, after the fact, may seem obvious.

    I suppose inventors ought to be considered. Or entrepreneurs who are great at pinching and marrying up ideas – people like Steve Jobs, for instance. But not scientists. Not academics in general, I would say, because the PhD sausage machine packages up what in nature is a vast, interconnected continuum into discrete, thick-skinned parcels.

    The problem would be getting people with PhDs to imagine that anyone without one could see further than they could. I’ll let them into a secret. Sometimes, even a child can see what they can’t see. But true enough, we can’t do without them, even though I think there are far too many of them and most of them are a waste of space.

    • The problem would be getting people with PhDs to imagine that anyone without one could see further than they could. I’ll let them into a secret. Sometimes, even a child can see what they can’t see.

      It’s not just PhDs. It’s anybody in an expert role. To question an “expert” is to challenge his standing in the organization, and his power. It’s a mortal threat, and they react accordingly, even if the expertise is over something as mundane as HVAC. I learned the hard way that you never challenge the company expert on anything. War ensues.

      I see some of that mentality in the CRUtape letters.

    • And another thing; in most companies challenging the company expert will get you accused of not being a team player. That’s the corporate equivalent of a Glock to the head.

      • I think in my case they used a Uzi or an AK-47, but I’ve suffered worse and (eventually) bounced back.

    • “So what we need, I suspect, are expert generalists. These people would know nothing in great depth, but would have an eye for spotting potential “horizontal” connections.”

      I don’t think so. In the end, the “expert” in question needs to know enough about each area to ask the right questions and evaluate the answers, as inputs to the “big picture” answer. Not many people (sometimes even experts in the area) are very good at determining the right questions at any level. keep in mind that whether they are the right questions and ALL the right questions is only known in retrospect. I’d consider this to need an experts in multiple areas, but not necessarily a deep expert – depth has to be sufficient to support formulating the questions and evaluating the answers, while breadth is determined by the big picture.

  26. The challenge is to not be tempted into thinking that once you have expanded your breadth by reading a couple of review articles, that you have an actual expert opinion on the topic. Developing depth and expertise takes time, effort, and struggle.

    This seems to me a key point. And a necessary corollary of that point, one which is also often ignored, is that having your uninformed opinions echoed by other people who have also not done the work does not add to your knowledge, affirm your opinions, or advance the general understanding.

    Many of the articles of faith among “skeptics” are based on misunderstandings of this kind. Someone will (ignorantly) inveigh against the hockey stick, and someone else will (ignorantly) affirm and expand upon that (uninformed) opinion, and both parties walk away strengthened in their folly.

    A second necessary corollary, which also contributes to the problem: those that have not developed depth and expertise on a subject, and whose interest in the matter is primarily political and ideological in nature, are not likely to correctly identify those that have depth and expertise in a given subject. They tend to take as their “lessons” bad science and ignorant commentators who have some skill at faking scientific expertise: Monckton, Eschenbach, Goddard, McIntyre. Hence the time they do devote to the subject in spent not reading articles (even review articles!), perusing textbooks, sweating the math, etc., but rather in consuming the awful shlock other deniers produce.

    • So how can we get beyond this and have a better conversation about climate change?

      Perhaps is we could agree to honor the kind of separation you see in legal trials, where matters of fact are for the jury, and matters of law are for the judge.

      We could agree that the facts of climate change are best disputed in the peer-reviewed literature. If you think those are wrong, you provide a citation to your own paper or comment, and describe where it is in the process: submitted, reviewed, published.

      What to do about those facts could be the substance of the discussion in the blogosphere. What we do, after all — preventing any collective political action to slow the release of greenhouse gases — is the primary interest of most “skeptics.” What to do with the facts we have is obviously an important topic. How we interpret the facts we have is an important topic. Attacking scientific findings without being literate in science or having collected any data yourself is boring, played out, and tends to contribute to the problem of fake experts.

      • Sounds like a plan, a jury of peers.

        Lets’ see, Antarctic ice cores to predict northern hemisphere CO and temperature. Greenland ice cores that show too much change in temperature for the change in CO2. Alpine ice cores locked away in a freezer in Ohio. A formula contrived by a scientist discredited by his peers. Mysterious aerosol adjustments to correct output of models based on the formula of the scientist discredited by his peers. Novel statistical methods used to tease significance from regional data to determine global impact. Regional climate change that is contrary to the predictions of the novel statistics. More novel statistics to mold observations to match predictions. Satellite measures too course for accurate determination of impact replace with modeled results with accuracy of +/-0.1 Wm-2 based on the formula of a scientist discredited by his peers.

        Naw! It would all be circumstantial.

    • I dunno the expert steig challenged jeffid and odonnell and mcintrye to publish their own damn science. And they did. And steig said their work was an improvement.

      So: who do I believe. Your judgement of Mcintryre or Steigs?

      And that you get this wrong means I can disregard most of what you say about statistics. You are innumerate

    • It is typical of AGW believers to frame the problem and then claim to have the only answer.
      That is failing, as much as you >ahem< deny it.

    • Robert

      “They tend to take as their “lessons” bad science and ignorant commentators who have some skill at faking scientific expertise: Monckton, Eschenbach, Goddard, McIntyre.”

      Of course, McIntyre doesn’t claim to be a scientist, he claims to be a PhD Statistician with deep expertise in PCA, which he is. Eactly the sort of person I would have had analyzing the data in the first place in any of my research programs. I think the last time I hired an external Statistician it cost me about $3500. A small sum for getting it right – I’m flabbergasted that some “scientists” value getting the right answer so little. Maybe it’s a leftover from school days, where you could still get partial credit and pass a course if you had the wrong answer, but the right general approach?

  27. For myself I would like a precise philosophical definitive of what the result of a run of a climate model actually is.
    Does the output of one run constitute a single experiment, so that when run a number of times, one can get the distribution and mean of an output parameter?
    Or is each run a mathematical solution of a complex precess?
    Or, do they constitute something else outside classical scientific exploration and analysis.

    I ask this because on one hand we are told that the ‘models show’ that CO2 drives temperature increases, but the means of particular models and the distribution around the mean does not follow reality. On the other hand, individual results which do appear to match a particular measured data series are presented as ‘proof’ that the models capture the complexity of reality.

    It is clear that a ‘statistical analytical’ approach to what a models output actually is is quite different from the information a single run actually provides.

    So what exactly is a model. Is it an experimental system, in silico, that can be disprove by being unable to match reality, or is it something else?

  28. Many of the articles of faith among Warmers are based on misunderstandings of this kind. Someone will (ignorantly) inveigh the hockey stick, and someone else will (ignorantly) affirm and expand upon that (uninformed) opinion, and both parties walk away strengthened in their folly.


    • Ignorant is claiming the hockey stick is wrong. Statisticians don’t make that mistake.

      • Well I guess technically you could say it’s “meaningless” rather than “wrong.”


      • Statisticians say it’s meaningless? I’m skeptical. Can you give links to quotes?

      • “The criticism by the Canadians is mostly technical in
        nature: they claim that Mann and his colleagues have misused
        an established statistical method – principal component analysis
        (PCA) – so that their calculations simply mined data for
        hockey stick shaped series and that Mann’s results are statistically
        meaningless.They have traced the problem to a simple
        error in a few lines of computer code.”

      • Statistically meaningless but true. HA HA !

        Try that one on Joe SIxpack.

      • The term you’re all looking for is not even wrong.

      • No, “ignorant” is claiming the Hockey Stick is based on science. It isn’t, and numerous other records and actual science show it’s false.

        Your problem is your belief that “climate scientists” are actual scientists. They are not.

        A scientist is someone who follows the Scientific Method. That requires allowing independent verification of one’s work by making the raw data, computer codes, algorithms, etc., available to anyone who wants to know if the claims made are accurate. “Climate scientists” keep their data and methods secret as POLICY – they are not scientists.

        Steve McIntyre at ClimateAudit for years – even before Climategate – exposed this policy by the leading lights of the CAGW movement: Michael Mann and the Hockey Team, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, Lonnie Thompson, and all the core IPCC “lead authors”.

        The reason for the policy of secret data and methods has become clear when they are discovered (like Mann’s “CENSORED” ftp directory) or forced out (like Briffa’s Yamal data by a Royal Society publication) – the raw data is cherry picked, then massaged with phony statistical methods, or just literally turned upside down. Phrases like ‘short-centered PCA’, ‘Yamal’, and ‘Upside Down Tijlander’ are infamous among those who have dared take an honest look behind the “climate science” curtain.

        Until the Lysenkoist frauds who currently define Climate Science are very publicly read out of the scientific community, the claim that we are facing Global Catastrophe is just unscientific drivel by corrupt political actors.

        Back in July, Willis Eschenback asked here: “When members of your scientific community lie, cheat, and steal to further their own ends, should other members refuse to say anything bad about the wrong-doers?”. So far, the answer from the “Climate Science” community has been crickets.

      • AndrewR, can you quote a statistician claiming the hockey stick is false?

      • See McShane and Wyner in Annals of Statistics and the commentaries and rejoinders. Schmidt, Mann, et al took it on the chin in my opinion.

      • David, that’s your opinion. Opinion isn’t fact.

  29. Hence the time they (Warmers On The Street) do devote to the subject in spent not reading articles (even review articles!), perusing textbooks, sweating the math, etc., but rather in consuming the awful shlock other Warmers produce.

    • Exactly, Andrew: the scientifically ignorant (like yourself) don’t see any difference between the activity of science, and people who take the science seriously, and their own ideologically-driven faith.

      Yours is classic “cargo cult” behavior — you have so little understanding of what scientific inquiry is that you think by aping the superficial appearances you can duplicate the result.

      Hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no equivalence between denialism and science. ;)

      • Robert
        You need to take a lesson from Joshua on selective bias. Just listen to yourself!

      • John Carpenter

        Robert, what you say would ring true, except when it comes from someone who chooses to remain anonymous.

        “…you have so little understanding of what scientific inquiry is that you think by aping the superficial appearances you can duplicate the result.”

        I can’t think of a single credible and anonymous contemporary scientist… can you? If you want to be taken seriously about such topics, you should consider removing the mask, then no one can accuse you of ‘aping’ the role of a scientist.

      • Robert,
        You have no idea of what you are talking about.
        It is clear that you are the main person your blog tracks.

  30. The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated?

    That’s never going to change until the organizational motivations change. Right now, too much breadth is associated with dilettantism, which is associated with being second or third rate. You’re never going to get more breadth in professionals until the institutions stop punishing people for it.

  31. I’ve already advertised this thread on Bishop Hill here and said why I think it’s so important. I talk about Dr Curry’s “honesty about the journey she’s taken” – the crucial ingredient left out being what the community here at Climate Etc has added to the fiesty lady from Georgia Tech. But hang on, here is what RECENT COMMENTS looks like as I come to write: six contributions on Expertise: breadth vs depth are balanced by three on Slaying the Greenhouse Dragon. Part IV and one by Willis Eschenbach plugging away at IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events. We’re still in narrowness of trying to slay the greenhouse dragon while the IPCC’s latest on extreme events is seeking to march forward to Durban, with the mainstream media mostly woeful in their headlines and editorials.

    It’s hard to achieve balance in climate science and policy, that’s the point. The IPCC didn’t make it easier from 1988, with its implicit command to “master all this” – science, impacts, technologies and all. What say that wasn’t within the power not only of any individual but of any committee devisable by man? Also not helping in 1988 was the attitude of those like Al Gore, as told by Richard Lindzen to the Boston Globe in May 2010:

    In 1988, he began questioning an emerging environmental issue: Man-made climate change. An economist had written him, saying he had been interrupted by then-Senator Al Gore at a Washington lunch for daring to suggest that there was uncertainty about the case for global warming. “That’s when I thought, wow, things have gotten really out of hand,’’ Lindzen said recently.

    You don’t have to agree with every position taken by Lindzen on science and policy since to realise how harmful such pressure was, right from the start of the IPCC and Washington lobbyist process. We’re still I think trying desperately to row back from the initial imbalances in the face of almost unimaginable complexity. Kudos as always to Dr Curry not for what she has achieved but the honest manner in which she’s failed to achieve it!

  32. You don’t have to agree with every position taken by Lindzen on science and policy since to realise how harmful such pressure was, right from the start of the IPCC and Washington lobbyist process.

    The pressure of reality on delusion is painful — to the deluded.

    We don’t have to be talking about climate science. Look at how biologists all over the country cruelly suppress Creationism. How doctor flatly refute anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. How state-funded history teachers slam the door in the face of Holocaust deniers.

    The “Washington lobbyist process,” well-represented by Lindzen and his backers, has worked tirelessly to promote discredited anti-scientific nonsense. The consequence of that — not being taken seriously by serious people — in not “pressure” by others on them, but rather the natural consequence of promoting ignorance and ignoring the facts.

    • Robert,

      Totally OT, but, a couple of posts ago, you advertised a forthcoming “Idiot Tracker” post that would reveal the real skinny on Naomi Klein. Any chance you could take a break from flogging your blabber-mouth, tiresome obsessions on this blog and make good on your prior spam?

      • Since you asked, Klein wrote this long article recently:


        The right, meanwhile, has had a free hand to exploit the global economic crisis to cast climate action as a recipe for economic Armageddon, a surefire way to spike household costs and to block new, much-needed jobs drilling for oil and laying new pipelines. With virtually no loud voices offering a competing vision of how a new economic paradigm could provide a way out of both the economic and ecological crises, this fearmongering has had a ready audience.

      • WebHub,

        Thanks for the link, but it’s not what I was seeking. This blog’s previous “Capitalism vs. the Climate” post discussed the Naomi Klein article you linked and within the thread that followed Robert’s November 16, 2011 3:52 pm comment stated “…she [Naomi Klein] is an ideologue, radical, polarizing opinions are how she makes her money.” Robert also described her as part of a “fringe” element and further spoke of a blog post he planned on the matter.

        Robert’s comment, above, was provocative and tantalizing and it truly piqued my interest. I very much hope Robert follows through with the contemplated post.

  33. The pressure of reality on delusion is painful — to the deluded.

    Are you really arguing that Al Gore was right to interrupt an economist at a Washington lunch in 1988 for daring to suggest that there was uncertainty about the case for global warming? “That’s when I thought, wow, things have gotten really out of hand,’’ remembered Lindzen. Are you really disagreeing with him about his reaction to that, in 1988? If so, your case is worse than I thought.

    • Are you really arguing that Al Gore was right to interrupt an economist at a Washington lunch in 1988 for daring to suggest that there was uncertainty about the case for global warming?

      If that happened (and I’d love to see the evidence) my response would be: absolutely yes.

      I’m sure we can imagine what an “economist” friend of Lindzen’s may have said. So we suppose the Senator interrupted him (an occupational hazard when lunching with senators, I’m sure) and said that increasing levels of greenhouse gases were warming the planet. Who was right?

      Gore was right. Who was wrong?

      Lindzen’s “economist” was wrong.

      So Gore interrupted him at lunch in the process of making a mistake, one that no doubt would have been embarrassing for him to recall later. He should be grateful, and perhaps he is — we have only Lindzen’s reaction to the secondhand report of the exchange, not that of any of the parties.

      • Great. We’ve established that you think that Gore and the economist were arguing whether “increasing levels of greenhouse gases were warming the planet”. But we know Richard Lindzen accepts that point, at least in the theoretical ‘no-feedback’ situation, going right back to the work of Tyndall in the early 19th century. Don’t you think that the economist, being an economist, might have been doubting the necessity of controls on man’s emissions, as Al Gore was already pursuing in 1988? How come you missed this elementary point? Because it would make this statement far less reasonable perhaps?

        Lindzen’s “economist” was wrong.

        I have to say that I find your reconstruction a fantasy. The good thing is that Lindzen is still alive to ask. Do you want to or shall I?

      • Great. We’ve established that you think that Gore and the economist were arguing whether “increasing levels of greenhouse gases were warming the planet”.

        Feel free to prove me wrong by providing a transcript.

        Don’t you think that the economist, being an economist, might have been doubting the necessity of controls on man’s emissions

        Not if he were a competent economist, to be sure. Anyhow, that’s not how the anecdote went. The “economist” questioned whether human activities were warming the planet — so he either questioned whether greenhouse gases caused warming or whether humans were responsible for the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Since the latter point is disputed only by morons, I gave the “economist” the benefit of the doubt and attributed the first, slightly-less-stupid delusion to him.

        Inevitably this conversational exchange, which happened a quarter of a century ago, and we know about only third-hand, is going to be subject to different interpretations.

        The good thing is that Lindzen is still alive to ask.

        It’d be better if we could ask someone with a record of basic integrity, but go ahead and ask. But rather than a secondhand account, why not ask the “economist”? Why not ask Gore? Last time I checked, Gore was alive too. Why prefer a second-hand account to a firsthand one?

      • The “economist” questioned whether human activities were warming the planet — so he either questioned whether greenhouse gases caused warming or whether humans were responsible for the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.

        What we know for sure was that he was questioning the certainty with which others were speaking about the issue. I’m willing to bet that the certainty he was most opposed to was that the ‘settled science’, as it was in 1988, demanded immediate action to control man’s greenhouse gas emissions.

        I assume that you think he would have been wrong about this (though you haven’t actually made this explicit so far, I think). But this raises the interesting question of what point in history, before or after 1988, you consider the evidence became so strong about the dangerous nature of warming caused by man’s emissions that such an economist should have been publicly slapped down by Al Gore (or anyone else) for expressing doubt of any kind? 1888? 1938? 1958? 1978? When? And how had science changed to make this true then?

      • Why not ask Gore? Last time I checked, Gore was alive too. Why prefer a second-hand account to a firsthand one?

        I was hoping you were going to say that. Shall we do a deal on this? I will follow up Lindzen on the subject if you agree to follow up Gore on the same. It’s possible of course that Gore will have forgotten the incident but I think it’s highly unlikely that Lindzen will have, as he dates his “wow, things have gotten really out of hand” moment about man-made global warming to this incident. But let’s try both routes. Agreed?

      • Since you are citing the conversation as evidence, I’ll let you follow up with the principal actors.

        BTW, have you done any checking to see if Lindzen’s behavior changed in response to the shocking information that a senator interrupted his lunch partner?

        My sense of Lindzen is that he was always pretty consistently anti-science, with no notable shift. Not so?

      • You know what, brain fart, I’m confusing Lindzen with someone else. He’s done some serious research in the field, and I while I think he’s a terrible scientist, it’s not fair to call him anti-science; it’d like to withdraw that.

      • Ignorance and arrogance … go together in perfect harmony. Didn’t Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder release that as a hit single in the 80s, as Al Gore was just starting to strut his stuff? Or was it something else entirely?

      • “Ignorance and arrogance … go together in perfect harmony.”


        “Ignorance and arrogance … go together in perfect harmony: . . .”

      • The economist should have known it all along. If she was a good economist. On the basis of knowledge circa 1988.

      • Richard, in reply to your post 21 Nov 11.55 (which doesn’t have a “Reply” option), you wrote: “I’m willing to bet that the certainty he was most opposed to was that the ‘settled science’, as it was in 1988, demanded immediate action to control man’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

        I was briefed by the IPCC’s Chief Scientist Sir Frederick Houghton in 1989 or 1990, and he certainly didn’t believe then that the CAGW science was “settled,” he thought that it was a question deserving pursuit. Though no doubt many less qualified than Houghton had already made up their minds without sufficient evidence.

      • Interesting testimony – though Sir John Houghton is normally addressed without the use of the Frederick!

        I’m inclined to believe you, not least because Margaret Thatcher, trained as a scientist herself, was so fanatical about evidence-based policy and promoted Houghton (see for example this lecture from just a week ago by John Whittingdale, who worked as her political secretary at exactly this time).

        How Houghton later developed is a different matter, however. And I don’t for a moment doubt that Al Gore was pushing the science as settled – or settled enough to demand global controls on emissions – by the time of the meal in Washington in 1988 that triggered such a reaction from Lindzen.

  34. I think academic institutions incentivize scholars to be deep specialists. By “instutitions” I don’t mean particular universities. Rather I’m using “institutions” in the social-science way: Systems of implicit and explicit rules, incentives, disicentives and so on. The general truth (there are exceptions) is that tenure and promotion–and more importantly, mobility (that is, the scholar’s value on academic job markets)–have much more to do with counts of lines on the vita (pee-reviewed publications) than with some quantitative measure of innovation or influence (e.g. how often the scholar is cited and by whom). A large part of this has to do with the fact that college and university P&T committees, and frankly the deans and provosts who must evaluate senior hires, are not renaissance scholars either, and counting lines on vitas is what they do, quickly, to decide whether they think it is worth going after someone.

    I think this gives young scholars (especially) a strong incentive to specialize and stay specialized. Learning new things requires one to climb new learning curves, and that takes time away from what you could accomplish (in terms of peer-reviewed publication counts) by staying high up on the learning curve you’ve already climbed–that is, stay specialized and expoit that acquired skill to publish still more normal science in that particular area.

    The institutions powerfully shape what young scholars choose to do. I don’t know what the solution is, except that the evaluation of research output would need to change in a significant way if we wanted to encourage more breadth in scholarship. This is also a collective action problem, because a single university cannot deviate successfully from the current equilibrium: Ambitious scholars are not thinking about P&T at their current university but rather their general value on the academic market. The latter is what leads to higher salary, better research support and so on. So there would need to be a general (across most universities) change in valuation of scholarly output. Hence the collective action problem.

  35. The solution is to employ matrix organisations to solve scientific problems where ‘depth’ individuals from different specialisations come together to arrive at optimum solutions. By this, I don’t mean the summarising role carried out by the IPCC, I am referring to individual scientific papers adressing raw scientific questions. This is the kind of working common in hi tech industries like biotech.

    Part of the problem in academia is that historically the peer review process has encouraged individual work and the emergence of the ‘great genius’. The science today is too complex for one individual to get his/her head around, particularly in climate science. Ego plays a big part too of course. What we don’t need is all the modellers working together or all the paleo guys or all the radiative physicists etc.

    • The science today is too complex for one individual to get his/her head around, particularly in climate science.

      And the evidence for that is?

      This critique seems to be predicated on the assumption that conventional scientific methods are not succeeding in climate science. Really, though, the only major problem critics have with climate science is that reality is not shaping up the way they want it. Not liking what the data has to say is not a cause to radically recast the entire process.

    • Actually, I tend to agree with Robert on this. It doesn’t require great genius as much as common sense in selecting the work of which great genius you wish to expand upon.

      Einstein had to expand the work of his era’s great geniuses because some of them got the right answers for the wrong reasons. Most of the old masters corrected peer reviewed work, none appeared to accept published results, they verified and expanded where they could.

      Criticism of the Climate Science norm, constructive or otherwise, would not have been met as it is back in the day. Now, it is Skepticism or Denial, not science.

      • I can’t prove this so it is merely my humble opinion, but for example, I do not believe that the level of statistical knowledge amongst the majority of climate scientists is up to the task, particlularly when they are trying to tease out signals in such a noisy environment. It would be a straightforward matter to bring a statastician onto the team (small ‘t’) to address the shortfall. Other improvements could be made in a similar way. This should not be controversial or denialist.

      • I don’t disagree with you RobB. Most climates scientists would not qualify as being loaded with common sense in my opinion. Even a genius can be a dumba$$ from time to time.

      • RobB, I believe that was the message in the linked ASA newsletter.

        But don’t expect too much from statisticians.

        Consider what Smith’s piece in the Newsletter says about Wegman allowing that Mann’s Hockey Stick may be correct:

        “method wrong + answer correct = bad science

        Statistician Wegman knows that a answer (the Hockey Stick) based on a flawed statistical method isn’t necessarily an incorrect answer, and he knows other evidence can indicate the answer may be correct. But that’s as far as he goes. How has the statistician been helpful if that’s all he has to offer?

      • Without wanting to open an old wound, Wegman offered a critique after the event. In my model, the statistician would be integrated on the research team from the outset. There would then be some ownership of the finished paper. An integrated project team.

      • Yes, that might be good. I don’t know whether any climate scientists and statisticians are actually doing it.

      • RobB, I agree bigtime. I’m the go-to stats guy in my department of experimental scientists. I’m sorry to say that too many of my colleagues view statistical expertise ass-backwards: You go to the statistician with data in hand, hoping for some ex post fix-up for your less-than-thoughtful experimental design. My own opinion is 95% of the statistical thought and work should have been done before data collection started.

      • RobB,

        Isn’t that what BEST has done? I recall reading somewhere they made sure to have a top statistician included as part of the core team.

        Personally, whenever the stats guys start arguing, I try to follow along until my eyes start to cross.

      • The trouble is that all of this is pre-existing data, and all the statistician can do at that point is suggest fancy-pants estimators to fix up problems under various (and frequently, uncheckable) assumptions about the nature of the problems.

        I know the recent Nick Stern paper wasn’t very popular amongst many here, but I noticed one suggestion I thought was very smart. It was really a suggestion to think about “research design” now, rather than later: Figure out what data we’d most like to have down the road, and take steps now to make sure we start measuring it. In principle this is very wise. Statisticians and scientists can usefully collaborate at this stage…figuring out what needs to be measured, and how often, to tease apart puzzles that defy clean analysis now. To me the statistician is more valuable before the fact than after the fact.

  36. “No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world-increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs. This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands. Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?”

    ~Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming,” a lecture–California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA January 17, 2003

  37. P&T? Do you mean Penn & Teller? :)

  38. I will argue that the solution is teams. Diverse, cross-functional, work teams who are given data to start and asked to answer a question. This is how the biggest challenges in medicine are being attacked today: gathering loads of outcomes data; analyzing the data to look for what drives positive outcomes; developing and refining a treatment protocol; then monitoring and updating the protocol as new data is collected. All by a cross-functional team. If you want more details, Google “Brent James Intermountain” and start reading. It is all about attacking clinical problems with data and process in a multidisciplinary approach.

    • A word of caution. Australia implemented a cross-disciplinary unit to deal with environmental issues in the 1980s. The economists found that the ecologists and environmentalists refused to give any credence or weight to their framework, there was no meeting of minds, the econs packed up and went back to where they could make a contribution.

      • Why am I not surprised? :)

        I have seen these shotgun marriage approaches to interdisciplinary research come and go.

  39. > how is the expertise of breadth cultivated?

    First, you have to want to have a broad view. That seems rarer than most assume it to be because the trend for a long time in science has been toward deep specialization. And who is rewarded these days for being a generalist, at least without first being a highly-regarded specialist? Furthermore, the available time, energy, and intellectual capacity need to develop breadth leaves most with Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” dilemma (… “sorry I could not travel both”). The challenge to developing a breadth of expertise is larger than most are willing to sacrifice for.

  40. Jeremy Harvey writes:

    “What Gavin hints at is that Judy Curry thinks that climate science is not normal science. He disagrees. I do not. What that means is that all these filters do not work so well.”

    Why is it not “normal science,” to use Kuhn’s phrase. The answer is very simple. Climate science is nascent science, science fresh from the womb. The proof is even simpler. Climate science has no physical hypotheses that go beyond Arrhenius’ hypotheses. In addition, Arrhenius’ hypotheses have not been rigorously formulated for the real world and tested there.

    All the talk of “forcings” and “feedbacks” and all the confusion that follows from that talk would not exist if climate science had developed and tested physical hypotheses which have become well confirmed and can be used to explain and predict the behavior of cloud cover and its impact on climate.

    Kuhn’s language is a wondrous source of paradox because within each conundrum there is at least one more. The conundrum that I just revealed is that “revolutionary science,” in Kuhn’s phrase, has the same structure as nascent science. The beginning is the end, as regards scientific methodology. The way past or over this conundrum is simply to recognize that a science can be judged only by its well confirmed physical hypotheses and nothing else.

    In all of creation, there is no more fertile ground for a Renaissance Woman than climate science. But you must be guided by scientific method.

  41. Theo,

    It might be better to be guided by imagination.

    Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    Imagination + the scientific method …. that’s the ticket.

    • Human imagination is what creates physical hypotheses, among other things, and human reason is what submits those physical hypotheses to rigorous scrutiny. The sum is science.

      Do not believe the Postmoderns when they trot out a little bit of Kuhn and a whole lot of Marxism in support of their thesis that human thought is caused by something like a “world view” or “paradigm.”

  42. Willis Eschenbach

    My CV clearly marks me as a Renaissance man. How did I do it? With a restless, inquisitive, curious, easily bored monkey mind with a short attention span, and a refusal to take jobs without a fixed ending date, i.e., I only take jobs that last until the house is built or until the end of the season or until the audit is completed or until the end of the year or until the boat is launched or until some other clear ending date.

    Among many other things I have made my living as a commercial fisherman, as a musician, as a boatbuilder, as the Chief Financial Officer for a company with $40 million in sales per year, as a well driller, as a psychotherapist, as a computer programmer, as an automobile mechanic, as a trainer of Peace Corps Volunteers, as a builder and construction manager of high-end homes and million dollar resorts, and as a jeweler.

    In all of those trades and professions I am a competent journeyman, and in a number of them I am an expert. I bring all this up to show that I am certainly qualified to answer the question at hand, vis:

    The largely unanswered questions at this point seem to be: how is the expertise of breadth cultivated? What are the processes and technologies of integration? What new competencies does this synthesis call for?

    How do you gain expertise in one field? Two crucial elements—study, and mistakes. Do enough of the first and make (or hopefully learn about others making) enough of the second and you will be an expert.

    How do you gain expertise in a second field? Two crucial elements—study, and mistakes. Do enough of the first and make (or hopefully learn about others making) enough of the second and you will be an expert.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. What’s the mystery?

    Let me add that it gets easier the more different things you do, even in totally unrelated fields. My experience as a psychotherapist made me a better commercial fisherman … you go spend a month or two busting your hump in a small boat in the Bering Sea with a few other exhausted, crabby fishermen, an understanding of what drives human interactions is definitely valuable. Likewise, work as a jeweler made it easier to learn to be a refrigeration technician, I could already silver solder so putting a torch to copper tubing was no mystery.

    Finally, my experience in so many fields has given me a highly tuned Bad Number Detector. It has also honed my ability to apply both the Laugh Test and the Smell Test. Having to produce in so many different fields, and to produce reliably and on time and within budget, will give anyone a good nose for both excrement and ectoplasm.

    The same is true in science. All of the sciences relate to each other. For example, an understanding of the thermodynamics of heat engines is invaluable for understanding both the climate system as a whole as well as individual parts like thunderstorms. And my experience night diving helped me understand the 3D structure of the nocturnal overturning of the upper ocean. In fact, that’s one reason why I study climate science, because it is so all encompassing and it requires competence in so many fields at once.

    The climate is a planet-sized entropy-maximizing heat engine. It is comprised of at least five major subsystems—ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Each of these affects and is affected by all of the others. It contains relevant, no, crucial phenomena at all spatial scales from the molecular to the size of the solar system, and at all temporal scales from nano-seconds to billions of years. It contains known, unknown, and “unknown unknown” forcings, feedbacks, thresholds, resonances, emergent phenomena, bifurcations, phase changes, long-range connections and correlations, and interactions of all types. These interactions occur both within and between all of the five subsystems, at all temporal and spatial scales.

    As a result, climate science involves a staggering array of scientific disciplines—biology and atmospheric physics and computer modeling and oceanic chemistry and geology and thunderstorm science and statistics and ice science and carbon cycle analysis and coral reef ecology, the list is endless.

    Obviously, no one person can ever hope to truly master all, a majority, or even a small number of those fields. Fortunately, that’s not necessary, for a couple of reasons. You can buy expertise, and you can build on the expertise of others, without being an expert yourself. To do so, though, you need to understand enough of the field to recognize the experts. This is aided by a curious thing about climate science.

    One of the advantages of the field is that, since no one can possibly understand the whole of climate science, if you are writing for the field in general you have to make it understandable to non-experts in your specialty. If you write about programming the computer models, it has to be accessible to some atmospheric physicist who might have trouble programming a VCR. Oddly, this makes it easier to recognize the experts, because they are the ones who can explain their work to educated scientists from totally unrelated fields. Oh, and they are the ones who post up their data and their code for examination.

    In response to the question, though, a basic knowledge of as many varied and unrelated scientific fields as possible is an advantage, particularly in climate science. And to get that knowledge? It’s like the old saw about the New York City native who is stopped by a tourist who asks “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

    “Practice, my son … endless practice.”


    • You have spread yourself too thin. You are like a pat of butter spread over all the slices in a loaf of bread.

      Anyone consuming a slice, might ask …

      Where’s the butter?

      • Willis Eschenbach

        I love how, having never met me in your life, you find yourself qualified to make a judgement as to the substantiality of my life and my knowledge. Somehow, you’ve become an expert on whether I have “spread myself too thin”.

        It must be wonderful to view yourself as omniscient, M. carey. I wish you the joy of it. In the meantime, I just published another peer-reviewed paper. Kind of amazing for a man spread too thin, wouldn’t you say?


      • It is the Fishing that make a renaissance person. :)

      • M. carey should stick to brandishing invectives and calling skeptics deniers or senile because as his analogies butter no parsnips.

      • Actually, I envy you Willis. I wish I could be as proud of myself as you are of yourself, as long as I tempered my pride with some modesty and humility.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        M. carey | November 22, 2011 at 1:07 am

        Actually, I envy you Willis. I wish I could be as proud of myself as you are of yourself, as long as I tempered my pride with some modesty and humility.

        Thanks, M. Regarding your desire to temper your pride with some modesty, let me repeat the comment first made about Clement Attlee by saying that indeed you are a modest man, but then you have so much to be modest about.

        OK, enough battle of wits. My question is, what is it that drives you to attack me over and over, M? No matter what I might say, for you it’s always wrong. Why is that? Did I step on your blue suede shoes, or what?

        I brought up the breadth of my knowledge and experience to show that I am as qualified as anyone to speak to the question of how to acquire a breadth of knowledge and experience. Perhaps by analogy to the reasons for your own actions, you have ascribed this to pride or boasting. It’s not. It was an attempt to shortcut the inevitable “what do you know about breadth” questioning. I was establishing my bona fides as someone very knowledgeable about acquiring breadth of knowledge.

        Regarding pride, I’ve done what I’ve done, M., it’s in my CV. I have nothing to prove. I am indeed proud of what I have accomplished, and I am overjoyed to have had the great fortune to have lived the life I have and am still living.

        But that doesn’t make me right, and it doesn’t make me better than the next man, or you, or anyone. I went for breadth in my life rather than depth. But I don’t hold that others should do that, and I don’t hold that breadth is more valuable than depth. Both are crucial for solving most problems, and every person needs to decide that balance for themselves.

        Regarding modesty and humility, I leave those to the more qualified and concentrate on honesty. My honest opinion is that I was born yesterday, and that phrase means that there is much more that I don’t know than things I do know. I honestly believe that there is something that I can learn from every person I meet. I truly think I am a good man but that in my case it is learned behavior rather than innate. I actually hold that I could do more, no matter how much I have done.

        You see, at my age, I don’t have a lot of illusions left about my own shortcomings and limitations, which are assuredly as numerous and as colorfully variegated as the next man’s. This is neither modesty nor humility.

        It is honesty.

        All the best,


    • Right answer, wrong question. Learning diverse things even after your hair turns grey is the easy part. The hard part is being taken seriously when after 35 years in the left-handed widget industry, you’re not an expert in left-handed retro-encabulators, and only an expert in left-handed retro-encabulators.

      • Those retro-encabulators are great. I have two at home – a left-handed one and a right-handed one. They are so user friendly that even my cat knows how to work them.

        Incidentally, the latest evidence suggests that the opposite of “left-handed” is “right-handed”, but that evidence is already being disputed on another well known blog.

      • Shouldn’t the opposite be “right-footed”?

      • Not having to worry about primordial diractance is a real plus, especially when you have as many spurving bearings as we do on the Enterprise.

      • Achtung! Das machine kontrol ist nicht fur gefinkerpoken und mittengrabben…

      • I am glad I got the ambidextrous non-polarized retro-multiplex encabulator v 3.75, instead of that old v 1.0 dinosaur.

    • My CV clearly marks me as a Renaissance man. How did I do it?

      Wow. Just wow.

      Friendly advice: an eleven page CV is an automatic fail, doubly so when the upshot is:

      * A BA is psychology.
      * Various odd jobs: fishing, accounts, working construction.

      Not only does that resume not support the claim to be a Renaissance man, it also will not help you get any job more demanding than clerk at a 7-11. Besides coming across as not knowing how to compose a concise CV, your CV presents you as someone who has never held down a job for very long, has drifted from place to place and job to job without direction, and is so far from anything resembling professional accomplishment that you think experience cleaning and buffing jewelery needs to be specifically detailed.

      Unless you are specifically attempting to elicit pity, I suggest you radically revamp your CV.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        Robert | November 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply

        … Unless you are specifically attempting to elicit pity, I suggest you radically revamp your CV.

        Gosh, Robert, you had me worried there, so I checked to make sure the link was right. Yes, that is the CV that has been submitted for dozens and dozens of jobs that I have gotten. And yes, that is the same CV that has been specifically mentioned by a number of people as the reason that I got the job I was applying for. So your claim about my CV is a … what is the term … oh, yeah, its an unsubstantiated fantasy that has been repeatedly shown by experience to be total bull. In other words, 100% wrong.

        Unless you are specifically attempting to make people think you are foolish, I suggest you radically cut back on your assumptions. Not everything in the world follows some asinine rule of yours, sometimes 11 page CVs get people lots and lots of further work … who knew?

        Well, I knew …


      • Willis,

        I think Robert’s problem is that he is personally offended by your work history. Way too many jobs listed on your CV involving honest labor that provide real goods and services to society. And, of course, most offensive of all is that your employments are typically of the sort where one must get results or be fired or go out of business. Your way, Willis, is not the way of the tenure-track parasite.

        And I also suspect Robert’s comment on your CV does double-duty as a cleverly packaged hint to his handlers that he’s just the kind of look-good, lackluster, reliable hack they want for the lucrative grunt work of their various greenshirt scams. A smart move by a wannabe careerist jockeying for a favored place at the trough in the cut-throat world of academia.

        And we can be sure that when Robert makes a purchase at a 7-11, he feels vastly superior to the clerk behind the counter–the one hustling to produce the national wealth on which Robert’s academic, blood-sucker class feasts.

      • John Carpenter


        Just try to get a CV out of Robert. Try as you might, he will give no information about his experience or expertise in anything… never mind climate science. This of course leads one to think he is nothing more than a 1st class BS artist.

        How amusing would it be to see him try to get a job handing over a CV where he remains ‘anonymous’?

      • Maybe he can look at the part of where all the postings for “idiot trackers” are listed. Of course, he could always claim to be an expert in “self-tracking”.

      • Robert gave away his occupation at lucia’s several years ago, in a weak moment. Sometimes I think there are two Robert’s; there is Jekyll & Hyde there.

      • Willis sounds more qualified to be considered for a job than our current President.
        You, Robert, sound like a popmpous jerk.
        But you have had years on that assignement and do have it down really well.

      • Just because Willis has held jobs in a large number of occupations doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t hold a job very long. It may just mean he can’t find a profession or trade he loves.

        You have to be impressed with Willis’ resume. He says he is a competent journeyman in all of the occupations listed below, and an expert in a number of them.

        Commercial fisherman
        Refrigeration technician
        Boat builder
        Well driller
        Computer programmer
        Home builder
        Peace Corps instructor
        Automobile mechanic
        Chief financial officer

        Willis probably doesn’t consider “bullsh*ter” an occupation.

      • My interpretation is that ‘breadth’ is part of being in love with a knowledge quest. Further, project oriented people do NOT leave before the job is done. On the other hand it is quite common for ‘depth’ people to flit about various groups in order to avoid those destined for possible failure and to ingratiate themselves with those projects more likely destined for success. And yes, there are those people who cannot hold a job. Perhaps you have mistaken about Willis.

      • Did not want to denigrate ‘depth’ which is certainly also about a knowledge quest, though more about following a trail of deep insight to the point of ceaselessly confronting cynical opposition while yet maintaining hope for future vindication. Giving up the opportunity to learn more about everything in exchange for expertise in one or two areas can be especially difficult for those who are relatively ‘quick reads’ in numerous unrelated fields.

    • I find the use of misuse of terms, which have definite meanings in other sciences, by climate scientists most aggravating.
      They use the term ‘equilibrium’, when discussing a steady state. In thermodynamic descriptions this is about as large a mistake as is possible. An equilibrium has a very definite meaning, it is the thermodynamic equivalent of the zero to a mathematician.
      Averaging a dynamic steady state, which exhibits 24hourly and yearly cycles, and then treating the average as an equilibrium is quite inappropriate.
      They use the term ‘forcing’ to mean either a flux or the overall sum of an influx and efflux, often in the same publication.
      They use the term ‘sink’ to describe a reservoir; in real life, the former the efflux is generally nil and in the latter influx/efflux rates can be any ratio. In climate science a sink is any reservoir where influx is greater than efflux, during a measured time. For instance, a snake pit in your children’s play room would be classified as a child ‘sink’, as once they go in they don’t come out, whereas their beds are reservoirs.
      I cannot but notice that the propensity to steal words from other fields, without quite understanding their meaning. What I do not know is if this is a matter of lack of understanding or sympathetic magic.
      I do know that people on here who work with complex systems, scientists, engineers and electronics experts all notice the same thing.

    • Wonderful little essay. But you left out “remarkably high metabolism” and “nerves of steel.”

      On another topic, you write:

      “Oddly, this makes it easier to recognize the experts, because they are the ones who can explain their work to educated scientists from totally unrelated fields. Oh, and they are the ones who post up their data and their code for examination.”

      As good a criticism of mainstream climate science as I have seen.

    • Outstanding comment Willis.

      As someone who has made a lot of mistakes, I can substantiate the role doing so can add to one’s understanding. (Fortunately for me, I am at least slightly better at solving problems and fixing mistakes than I am at creating them.)

      One of my favorite comments – related to me by a friend – was when my name came up in a meeting, asking what exactly did I do. The response was to consider me as the “grease” that was essential to getting things done. I am certainly no expert on any topic – unless one wants to consider getting communications facilities installed on electric utility infrastructure a noteworthy topic – but being “good enough” at whatever I turn my hand to has served me reasonably well.

    • The first rule of Renaissance man club is…you never talk about being a Renaissance man.

    • It’s more of a jack-of-all-trades CV rather than Renaissance Man.

      • Willis Eschenbach

        Big Oyl | November 21, 2011 at 11:09 pm

        It’s more of a jack-of-all-trades CV rather than Renaissance Man.

        No, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. Me, I’m the master of several, and in the rest, a journeyman rather than a jack.

        I don’t understand, however, what a Renaissance Man has that I lack. I’ve made my living with with my music, with my mathematics, with my art, and with my hands. I have patented an invention, published peer reviewed science, and sailed halfway around the world. You don’t think that’s Renaissance enough? What more should I do, heck, I’m always up for another adventure, what am I missing?


    • Willis, great post, some parallels in my own life where in addition to economics I’ve been a print and radio journalist, tree-feller, builder, teacher, dancer, clerk etc as well as doing voluntary work in Vipassana meditation since 1973. My first job in Australia was house demolition and removal – great fun. And I’ve travelled extensively, generally in dirt-cheap mode, not as a molly-coddled tourist. Being open to what each and every experience can show you is essential, my wife and children also have a breadth of interests and knowledge which surely contributes to their specialist work. You can’t see connections if you have no knowledge outside your speciality. “Only connect!”

  43. Being able to maintain a balance between getting into the weeds to understand things in depth and maintaining a 30,000 ft view of the bigger picture (wood from the trees) is indeed a extreme challenge (and definitely a cause of many headaches!).

    • Just do what Willis does: keep calm, keep your head down, and buff that jewelery until you can see your face in it!

      • Robert,

        Keeping calm is a trait that is good to have no matter what field of endeavor one chooses.

        Buffing one’s jewelery until they can see their face is evidence of willingness to work hard.

        As for keeping one’s head down, I can think of several instances where that might be good advice. Unfortunately it isn’t a trait that I believe applies to Willis.

  44. Depth, the splitting of disciplines into ever narrower sub disciplines, with practitioners becoming more and more expert in less and less, has served science well for, what, a couple of hundred years. The game changer has been computerisation, and its offspring, digitisation, which have enormously increased research possibilities and at the same time made cross disciplinary cooperation necessary – an aerospace engineer may suspect wing design can be improved, but he’ll probably need a computer scientist to design and run the simulations, input from an expert in fluid motion won’t hurt, lets chuck in an aeroacoustician too….etc etc. The possibilities have got bigger, the tools have got more complex, the way to get rounded answers is to bring together a number of specialists from different fields. And this is the trend clearly identifiable now in most universities, that under the umbrella of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, for example, are no end of research groups and institutes, beavering away at diverse problems, and many of the staff are not Mech Eng people at all. Depth is still good, to be sought after for itself, and the breadth must come from cooperation.

    • which does of course mean that anyone hazarding an opinion outside of his narrow speciality may be said to be ‘out of his depth’.

  45. I forgot to say that this post is first rate, Dr. Curry. The topic is very important, as are the way that you posed the question and the sources that you used for an introduction.

  46. My knowledge and understanding of the laws of evidence provides me with a different take on this post and thread.

    Expert witness opinion testimony is not allowed when the subject is one that is commonly understood or easily discernible. Expert testimony is limited to complex issues that are not readily understandable and which can become comprehensible with the aid of expert opinions.

    Experts must have the academic or professional training and actual experience on a subject. An expert’s opinion testimony must be well grounded in facts that come from collected information and data and experimentation.

    For example, a qualified expert can give an opinion about the speed a car that caused a accident was traveling from analysis of the length and nature of skid marks. Data gathered from learned text books, crash ratings, from experiments designed to produce the crash dynamics and similar sources are needed to provide the foundation for the expert’s opinion on speed.

    Trial lawyers, whether presenting or opposing an expert,
    will evaluate the qualifications, training and experience of the witness. Experts may be disqualified before testifying substantively by demonstrating that a lack the qualifications or by showing that the opinions lack a factual foundation. Underlying opinions or assumptions are not considered to be foundational facts.

    In the case of climate models, if a modeler admits that model outputs are scenarios or hypothetical, it is unlikely that expert opinion testimony based upon model output is admissible. When it can be demonstrated that climate models are programed using assumptions when there is no data or when an some aspect or phenomenon of climate being modeled is not well understood such as a known unknowns, testimony based upon model output will be excluded for lack of factual foundation. If a modeler admits that there are unknown unknown aspects of climate that are likely to exist, the testimony based upon models will not be allowed. Also, lack of validation or verification will render model outputs inadmissible.

    As I understand scientific method, when a scientist proposes a theory he will conduct research and experiments and analyze relevant data to investigate various hypotheses that can prove or disprove the theory. Modeling is one of the tools used to analyze and project scenarios based upon relevant data and assumptions. The burden of proof for the validity of the theory is upon the scientist proposing it. Other scientists will then try to replicate the work of the theorist, thereby either tending to prove or falsify it.

    My point is that the term expert as applied to science and law are not always the same. Science is realm of theory and hypothesis. Expert opinions are frequently educated guesses. or hypothetical projections. Skepticism is a scientific virtue.

    In law expert opinions must be well founded upon facts. Educated guesses and hypothetical projections are forms of speculation. Testimony in trials, including expert opinion testimony that is speculative in nature, is inadmissible.

    I agree that depth and breadth of expertise are aspects of qualifications for experts in science. Both elements are less essential when examining the qualifications of an expert witness. A PhD is just that regardless of its source. Breadth and depth of qualifications are considered by judges and juries, but the extent or lack of it goes to the weight accorded testimony rather than as a basis for excluding it.

    I submit that these distinctions in meaning of expert explain why environmentalists and scientists advocating the validity of CO2 induced anthropogenic global warming have avoided all litigation that has the potential to put the theory on trial. They lack the admissible evidence necessary to prove their theory.

    • WF,
      I suggest that you would find Donna Laframboise’s book
      dissecting how the IPCC and hyping climate hysteria got so out of control a very good read. It is extremely well documented.
      A first cousin of the climate hype is is ocean acidification.
      Here is a the latest bogus claim regarindg ocean acidification that fails under even the most rudiemntary critical review:
      This is sort of a negative corallary of breadth vs. depth- a broad based faux claim that proves to be mile wide and and not even a millimeter deep.

      • Thanks for the suggestion. However, I read her book two weeks ago.

      • WF Lenihan,
        Her book pretty much seals the deal, especially since those who dismiss it do so on merit-less grounds.
        Did you notice the part where the Yale360 article specifically misled and deceived about acidification?

      • It might if your idea of a good scientist, like hers, is one who claims he can find gold with a forked stick.

    • “Science is realm of theory and hypothesis”

      With dew respect W F., Science is realm of TESTABLE theory and TESTABLE hypothesis. The intelligent design movement is a pseudo-science in that the proposed theory is not testable.
      in the same way, you W F, could be sitting in a fluid filled tank like the denizens of ‘The Matrix’, being feed stimuli designed to make one believe that you exist in the ‘real’ world. We cannot test this supposition as it is not testable.

      We have simple statistical tools to test the output of any model. We establish the statistical range of measured reality vs the proposed range of the particular model. If the populations are not statistically part of the same population, the model must be rejected.

      I have yet to see this process occurring, indeed, recently Dr. Grant Foster, Tamino, showed a few runs of a model in an attempt to demonstrate that the ‘model’ captured the observed natural variability

      “Let’s compare the observed HadISST1 data to some actual model runs (rather than a multi-model average). Here’s the result of 30-year trends for 9 runs of the GISS-ER model, together with the AR4 multi-model mean:

      Note that the individual model runs show much more variability than the multi-model mean. In fact they show variability comparable to that shown by the observed data.”

      Imagine a drug company showing the charts of individual 10 patients who had responded favorably to a new drug, and stating the drug would work for all patients.

      As was shown here over the last 10 days or so. The ‘climate scientists’ can not quantify the the ‘wobblyness’ of the temperature record, cannot state if the current change in temperature is a matter of chance, nor can they state what the underlying tend, if any, actually is.

      In any other field this would be scandalous, in this one where the outputs of the models are supposed to provide a stimulus to persuade the worlds population to completely reshape their economies and transfer huge amounts of wealth from the 1st to 3rd worlds, it is worse.

      • The alternative to climate science is climate ignorance. AGW deniers and pseudo skeptics, most of whom are motivated by ideology rather than science, prefer climate ignorance because it doesn’t threaten ideology.

        The notion science restricts itself to statistically testable theories is a silly notion.

      • “most of whom are motivated by ideology rather than science”

        Spare us the folk psychology. It’s predictable and boring.

      • “With dew respect W F., Science is realm of TESTABLE theory and TESTABLE hypothesis. The intelligent design movement is a pseudo-science in that the proposed theory is not testable.”

        I agree with your first sentence. I said as much in the paragraph preceding the one you quoted.

        As for the 2d sentence above, it is irrelevant. It concerns philosophy and religious doctrine rather than science.

  47. Robert,

    Shouldn’t you be spending some time on your own blog. Your last idiotic ‘comment of the day’ was on Nov 11. But it does get lonely over there. Don’t it, bobby.

  48. This topic has piqued my interest as a scientist who is not a climate scientist but has a broad understanding of climate science and would like it to be considerably deeper than it is. How is depth defined? In assessing this, I’ve reviewed the history of my own understanding, and concluded that my efforts have entailed an attempt to progress through the following stages in regard to important climate topics:

    1. Knowing what was concluded.
    2. Knowing where information on this is available (e.g., in particular work by particular individuals, perhaps using an Internet search as an auxiliary but not as a substitute).
    3. Knowing the type of evidence used to derive the conclusions.
    4. Knowing the data in more detail, and understanding the logic by which the evidence was judged to support the conclusions.
    5. Knowing the challenges to the conclusions and the evidence behind them.
    6. Having sufficient understanding of the methodological details and pitfalls to evaluate the evidence myself in ways that go beyond the question as to whether it makes sense, but also include a knowledge of the subtle potential weaknesses that must be addressed.

    The cited order is not invariable, but I think describes a possible outline of how one might proceed. Most of my climate “depth” is at the level of 3 to 5. In a few specific cases, I believe I’m tentatively at level 6, although always with the feeling that I still might be missing something.

    The above is self-centered in that it addresses personal concerns about depth of understanding. How useful is someone’s depth to anyone else? For communicating with the public, a depth level 2 will probably have value, with increasing value as one progresses further along the depth ladder. Within the science itself, the answer is less clear. Within individual domains, experts are presumably already sharing their individual skills cooperatively as necessitated by the demands of their area. How much does it matter if they know almost nothing about domains remote from theirs? How much paleoclimatology is needed, for example, to understand how radiative transfer is enhanced by pressure broadening? We can only surmise that in general, insights often come from surprising sources, and so it’s useful to have breadth as well as depth, and probably more useful for everyone to have some breadth than for the responsibility for depth and breadth to be undertaken by completely different individuals. It might therefore be worthwhile for educators in this field to ensure that students reach and maintain level 2 capability over the broad range of climate science topics by keeping current with the literature, before helping them make a career of reaching 6 in some narrow area, and ultimately taking the science to the next level – a gain in understanding beyond what we already know.

    In addition to opinions in general, I’d certainly welcome a perspective on this from individuals already working as climate science professionals.

    • In my government economic policy advice field, I encouraged my staff to read economic journals broadly and attend a wide range of economic seminars etc, I’m sure this broad exposure helped in their particular tasks and led to insights or options which they would not have developed with a narrower perspective. It was revealing that at university functions often all or almost all serious questions came from my group.

  49. i have suggested under my Denizen’s entry that a series of wiki’s could be developed using volunteers to provide the expertise (depth) from various fields combined with the lateral thinking capability (breadth) of an allrounder to work toward the advancement of climate science, in small steps at a time, using an agreed praxis. IMO Judith would be an ideal facilitator.

    • And I nominate Willis to take on the role of a lateral thinker based on his CV upthread. :)

    • Max is another nomination for the role of a lateral thinker. I can see a few more around as well, they all stand out by what they contribute to this blog.

  50. Judith Curry

    Your essay on the dichotomy between specialized expertise and overall understanding of the whole picture and the desire to have both in the “expertise of breadth” is interesting, as are the comments it has drawn.

    Your starter quotation by Richard Feynman “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” is very appropriate. It tells it all.

    With regard to climate science, you make the point:

    The challenge is to not be tempted into thinking … that you have an actual expert opinion on the topic.

    Rick Bradford throws in the concept of “common sense” while Rob Starkey states

    Our current limited perspective does not mean common sense doesn’t apply, it just means we don’t yet understand the big picture.

    Vukcevic concludes:

    ‘science advances through reasoning of an individual’ not a concensus.

    Herman Alexander Pope suggests:

    You must consider views that are outside of the Consensus Approved Views. Paradigm changes come from outside Consensus.

    Bart R believes the problem is “dabblers and quacks” rather than the “experts” themselves.

    Fred Moolten cites the example of the medical profession, where overspecialization has resulted in an acute shortage of “family medicine” generalists, who have a more holistic view.

    So let me add my two cents worth.

    I think you are onto a very pertinent topic, as it relates to climate science today.

    IMO the first prerequisite for attaining the ”expertise of breadth” is humility.

    By humility I mean the recognition that no matter how much we think we know about our planet’s climate, there is always much more, which we do not know.

    If the total sum of climate knowledge represented one kilometer in length, our present level would be around ten centimeters (my guess), and each climate ”expert” would have maybe one centimeter of knowledge.

    Gaining ”expertise of breadth” might get a climate scientist to five centimeters.

    As Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan: it is not so important what experts know, it is more important what they do not know (and the problem is that they do not know what they do not know).

    And this gets us to one of your favorite topics. Admitting what we do not know is conceding ”uncertainty”.

    IMO climate science today suffers most from the “consensus process”, which was instigated by IPCC, and its ”litmus test for credibility” (as you called it), which ensued. Its origin was the political need for agenda driven science as propaganda to sell a policy concept. Sadly, it has corrupted the scientific process as practiced in climate science. Even more sadly, many “insiders” are not even aware of this problem (or deny its existence).

    This brought with it an over-reliance on computer models, rather than concentrating more on empirical data based on real-time physical observations.

    Coupled with this was the myopic IPCC fixation on anthropogenic climate forcing to the exclusion of everything else. By concentrating only on a small piece of a small piece of the puzzle, climate science largely ignored everything else. Not only was there specialization within the various related scientific disciplines, but everyone was also forced to specialize his/her efforts to anthropogenic climate change rather than looking at the whole picture.

    Finally, there is the problem of ”paradigms”, as you note:

    If you want to use Kuhn’s language, this is a way of working that is effective within “normal science” – when everyone agrees on the paradigm for the field (here, the Earth is warming, anthropogenic CO2 is to blame, there’s a significant risk that the warming will be dangerous), and set out to work out the details within that paradigm.

    This approach is obviously a major part of the problem. Working within a narrow paradigm, which is itself backed by very dicey science to start off with, makes it impossible to think outside the box. And thinking outside the box is the prime requisite for a scientist hoping to gain ”expertise of breadth”.

    This does not mean that we should divert from “normal science” to something more loosey-goosey, as has been suggested by some as a “precautionary principle”. It simply means applying the scientific method.

    In summary I would have these bits of advice for those, who would like to move toward the ”expertise of breadth”, especially as it would apply to climate science today:

    – be humble: admit what you do not know
    – admit where you are uncertain about what you think you do know
    – avoid a myopic fixation on only one small piece of the puzzle
    – think outside the prevailing paradigm
    – use your common sense


  51. As well as breadth and depth should we not consider inertia?
    At the moment a pair of proposals are destroying the foundations of physics; firstly we have neutrinos (which have positive rest mass) going faster than like and secondly we have the proposal that wave functions are a discrete, rather than statistical, manifestation of matter/energy.
    The reaction of the physicists has not to be to damn the proponents of ‘deniers’ of Einsteinian physics. The reaction has been, very interesting, who do we test it?
    In evolutionary biology, horizontal gene transfer raised hardly an eyebrow, even though Mendelian genetics took a hit. When epi-genetic transmission of gene function, coupled with in utero inheritable gene modulation, the work was embraced. again with the finding that out of Africa’s mated with Neanderthals when from being a highly implausible piece of speculation to being a robustly tested part of the mainstream in less than 5 years.
    Physics and biology have very little inertia, one blow will shatter a pillar of knowledge, and it will gain near universal acceptance in next to know time.
    Beta blockers were once contraindicated in congestive heart failure, based on models, Large studies, based on one 1998 trial, between 2000 and 2003 showed they were very good at reducing both morbidity and mortality in congestive heart failure.
    The whole thing change in less than 5 years, not they are the drug of choice. The medics didn’t fight back. They accepted data from hypothesis testing and rejected the models which suggested that the drugs would cause harm.

    • DocM, you may be right in some cases, but I can’t help but think of this, attributed to Max Planck, who was a physicist:

      “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

      Planck might have been joking of course. Sometimes I wonder how much dramatic hyperbole in primary sources gets mistaken for seriousness by scholars.

      • Well, at the time, Planck was correct about physics. Lord Kelvins views that basically everything had been solved was an example of hubris.
        They didn’t make that mistake again, now they know that much is unknowable.

      • Doc I hope you are right. But I keep thinking about the old Bic Banana commercial: “But today, we are modern and lucky!”

  52. In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell shows how 10,000 hours of practice is a common metric for industry/culture leaders.
    In terms of “depth” vs “breadth”, depth would be 10,000 hours in a narrow specialty. Breadth would be across numerous scientific disciplines.

    To further climate science, it appears that more than the common amount of breadth is needed to grasp and identify the missing pieces.

  53. This is a great topic. And like any “senior” scientist, I have some perhaps biased views on it.

    1. Climate science is not normal science. McShane and Wyner finally got a journal discussion of the value of paleoclimate reconstructions. Why did it take 11 years? It’s a shameful thing for climate science. Gatekeeping, appeals to authority, and trying to define skeptics as “not authoratative” is just so much nonsense.

    2. Normal science is not as common as it once was as there is a growing influence of money in science. The decline of truly tenured “research” positions and the dramatic increase of soft money funding has been bad for science because it skews results and increases the temptation to cheat and/or to lick the boots of the “elite.”

    3. Multidisciplinary work is becoming more important. The problem is being able to lead such a team. It takes a commitment to a culture of openness and real competence. It takes courage to bring on board real experts in other fields who might contradict your ideas. It also takes hard work to evaluate what they might say. Most leaders are not that conscientious.

    4. Both 1 and 2 above are making true dissent the provence of those with tenure or people who are very senior. And even then, it takes exceptional courage to buck the establishment. It’s much easier to republish over and over again small increments to accepted ideas that mean little. This incidently is my view of the literature on climate sensitivity. The data is so bad and the methods so questionable that what is needed is new approaches.

    5. There is one common denominator to many effective challenges to existing science and that is rigor. A lot of them originate with statisticians. Statistics is a branch of mathematics in which things are often actually proven from axioms accepted by everyone. Similarly, rigorous mathematics is very powerful in applied science. It’s amazing that sometimes just pointing out well known theoretical results is so threatening. Mathematicians are generally poorer than applied scientists and so they have little to lose by being honest.

    Mathematicians are loved and hated. They are loved because they can sometimes come up with breakthroughs that revolutionize a field. They are hated because they can prove elite scientists wrong. My nephew is a Ph. D. candidate in physics. I showed him Muller’s video on climategate. His first comment was that this video shows why physicists are not liked by scientists in other fields. A liberal friend of mine who is an acolyte of establishment science refused to watch it. Fred, have you seen it? If one has the choice of being feared or loved, being feared offers more to the future of science, even though it entails personal sacrifices.

    Finally rigor is no guarantee of importance. I remember when Tarski gave a seminar when I was in graduate school on cylindrical algebras. The idea was that cylindrical algebra was supposed to do for quantified logic (where you can say things like “for all epsilon, there exists a delta”) that Boolean algebra did for simple logic. Tarski had written a really big book on this. So, he lectures for an hour on extremely technical details
    and then concluded. Someone (unfortunately not me) then asked, “Professor Tarski, did you succeed in proving anything about quantified logic?” Tarski thought for a moment and then replied “No.” At that moment, I decided that mathematical logic was not a vocation I wanted to pursue. Mathematical logic has had some tremendous insights however, such as Godel’s incompleteness theorem which proves some fundamental limitations of the axiomatic method.

  54. Funny. Can’t help remembering the old dichotomy between GPs and specialists. A GP learns less and less about more and more until they know nothing about everything. A specialist learns more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

  55. In Chinese, the word corresponding to “breadth vs depth” is 渊博. 渊 (depth) and 博 (breadth).

  56. The reason I come to sites like here and WUWT and even used to go to CA who were OK before they went all-tree-rings-all-the-time, is to get the side that the mainstream journals and media don’t show. I find it quite informative because you see the best of the opposing arguments here, but also why they were flawed becomes obvious in the discussions. Similarly if people get all their info from Fox News, they should occasionally go over to Huff Post, where today they would have seen a study that shows Fox News viewers have less knowledge of world affairs than people who watch no news. The moral is, visit both the extremes to get a balanced view.

    • Jim D,
      While your point is worthy, the HufPo study is used cow food.

      • Is Fox News a website?
        I think for left view, would be better
        than Huff Post. But that is wild guess. I usually look at drudge for
        general news.

      • I use Fox News TV to see how this side views the same items as mainstream news like CNN with an alternative perspective. This is analogous to using WUWT versus mainstream science.
        Once on travel my hotel only had Fox News and not CNN (during the debt ceiling debate), and it was not a good diet to be on, informationally speaking.

      • Jim D,
        Not having cable I see little of either CNN or FOX.
        What I do see when I see them shows generally the same stories shown about the same way, often in the same order.
        The opinion shows are different on the two, but neither Fox or CNN has the drooling quality of MSNBC. Again, I would suggest that any study claiming that viewers of FOX are less informed than people who do not watch the news at all is to be polite, dubious.

      • hunter, it comes down to how one-sided the hosts are, and Fox (and MSNBC) have a majority of hosts that are one-sided, while CNN leaves partisanship on both sides to the guests.

      • Jim D,
        You see a different CNN than most people see.

      • The one opinionated host on CNN was Lou Dobbs, and he was to the right, but they removed him. The current ones do not have opinion pieces regarding politics, which is definitely different from Fox and MSNBC hosts. However, the Super Committee failure did bring out some opinions by hosts on CNN, but you could argue that those are the same opinions a poll of the US public would have.

    • I watch the Newshour every night to keep up with the Upper West Side view of the world.

  57. My impression of climate science is that much of the research is working as well as could be expected, at this stage. The main problem with the research is that it has been biased towards examining the anthropogenic warming angle, rather than climate science being the broader church it could be, mainly as a result of funding biases.

    The main real problem is that climate science has been asked to provide answers to questions it cannot, at this stage, honestly provide definitive answers to. This has resulted in a lot of dishonesty, a lot of exaggeration from many combined with excessive minimisation by a few, a lot of publicity to unfounded speculation and a lot of unqualified people misinterpreting evidence, both in favour of and against a significant role for anthropogenic warming.

    Perhaps if there had been more honesty around 20 years ago, and a few more scientists had said “we don’t know, and we won’t know for some time”, a lot of this could have been avoided. Still, it is all water under the bridge now.

    There are some encouraging signs around, however, of a newfound humility. The recent IPCC release of the summary of the Special Report on Extreme Events may be a significant development.

    • Alex,
      Your thesis is conflicted by your second para, or is it at least not clear.
      It does not seem reasonable to say ‘working as well it can’ for your thesis and then to point out the significant failures of cliamte science in para 2 and 3.
      Sadly, your hope in para 4 is, it seems more and more clear, just the manipulative result the authors want: appear reasonable and honest when in fact BAU has won out.

      • Yes, I did not make myself as clear as I could have. Perhaps I could have another try: climate science is a very diverse field. In many areas, good work is being done. In others, advocacy has overtaken science as the dominant aim. Given the immaturity of the field, human frailty and the malign influence of political agendas, climate science overall is working about as well as we could reasonably expect at this stage. This does not, however, forgive the failings of those who have succumbed to advocacy.

  58. Climate Science should be supervised like most large technical projects…

    By CEO’s, CFO’s and CTO’s who themselves are overseen by a Board of Directors. I’m talking about the type of people who run real companies who make real products, like Ford, Exxon, Siemens, etc. These people are true generalists.

    Scientific generalists are too emotional and ego driven. What is needed is leadership focused on problem solving with some detachment, objectivity and economy.

  59. “When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” – Jonathan Swift

    Modern human remains have been found in North America, dating back as much as 200 thousand years. You will never hear about it because it goes against the “politically correct” world view of how humans settled North America from Africa then Asia.

    The same is going on with climate science. Political correctness is taken to be true, while facts that would overturn the politically correct view are suppressed.

    This formula led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. The idea that one view of the world is “fact” and all others are “false”. There is no such thing in science.

    New facts continually overturn old as discoveries are made. It is the suppression of new discoveries and ideas that do not conform to the old that is the real threat of CAGW.

    • Fred,

      As much as 200,000 years for human remains in North America. Really? You have evidence for this? You aren’t right in saying that “you will never hear about it ” either. Haven’t you just told us?

      So how have you heard about it?

    • Ferd,

      I’ve been seeing reports about findings of artifacts and remains that predate Clovis man and the previous estimates for human habitation in NA by 5,000 years or more. The most recent being the mastodon remains with a bone spear point embedded in its ribs. I haven’t seen anything about humans being in NA 200,000 years ago.

  60. Feymann isn’t around to give us his opinion on the state of climate science any more.

    So would he have called all experts on climate science ignorant? Well no. He wouldn’t any more than he did when he was alive. He was an expert , so he was ignorant too? He’s probably say he was ignorant, in the sense of always wanting to know more, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong in what he did know.

    You can only challenge the consensus when you are smart enough, like he was, to say with some certainty that it is wrong. It is usually right and you have to be either a real expert, or a complete idiot, to suggest otherwise.

    • I doubt Stephen Hawking would call all experts on climate science ignorant. He said

      “As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility, once again, to inform the public and to advise leaders about the perils that humanity faces…As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth…”

      • It is great that Hawking is now not only a theoretical physicist, but is also a climate expert and political expert as well.

    • “you have to be either a real expert, or a complete idiot, to suggest otherwise”

      No you don’t.

      This is an appeal to “expertism.” Not scientific or logical.


      • Fallacy of the excluded middle too. I could be really expert complete idiot, for instance.

      • Bad Andrew and NW,

        If either of you were able to change the scientific consensus on anything at all then you’d be entitled to claim the title of “expert”.

        The consensus isn’t written in stone for all time. Its mainly correct but there will be a tiny number of mistakes. You guys are fond of claiming that it was wrong on the question of stomach ulcers until Barry Marshall came along to correct it. Yes it was. It may have been questioned by others but that would have been just idle speculation.

        It took an real expert to fix up the mistake.

    • Extract (though not the most interesting):


      I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she think’s she’s
      doing, but its not helping the cause

    • Is this climategate the sequel?

    • The last date I can find for an email (using regex search) is 13 Nov 09, on which there are two:

      date: Fri Nov 13 08:32:28 2009
      from: Phil Jones
      subject: Re: Land/Ocean
      to: Tom Wigley

      date: Fri Nov 13 08:22:13 2009
      from: Phil Jones
      subject: Re: [Fwd: Your Submission]
      to: Tom Wigley

      Initial hand search, so prone to error. But it looks from this to be a further selection from the same archive taken from CRU, the first selection being release on another .ru server on 17 Nov 09.

    • All I know is I’m moving my chair as far away from the fan as possible.

    • Another miracle just happened. Praise the whistleblower/hacker! Good for science.

    • tallbloke,
      Yes, it is very important.
      Thanks for making sure this is seen by as many as possible.
      It will be fascinating to see how the true believers and media dismiss this one.

  61. Judith,

    I keep hitting the brick wall of arrogance!
    What “expert” will sacrifice his career that he was wrong?

    “The parameters are well known”.
    Then why were they not published for the world to know and where are they???

  62. Joe Lalonde,

    “What “expert” will sacrifice his career that he was wrong?”

    Being wrong in science is not sacrificing a career, it is called learning. Not learning is sacrificing a career. Climate scientists are not learning in many cases, they are just adjusting, which is pseudoscience.

    • Captain,

      You are so right!
      And they call every other area they do not understand as pseudo science.

      I believe science will be getting a MAJOR adjusting in 2012 or collapse under too much physical evidence.
      The weakness is velocity was considered in science as a mechanical process of our movements and never though to map it or include the huge impact it has on circulation. Hence the strict focus on just temperature data and trends.

  63. Totally off-topic: a new release of ClimateGate emails?


  64. Good post. Modern science values depth of knowledge much more than breadth of knowledge, whereas the utility in terms of informing the societal debate, policy relevance, decision support etc breadth of knowledge seem much more relevant.

    During my grad school years there was always some healthy competition/animosity between the experimentalists and the modellers. One of the experimentalist profs (who was always very critical of modelling) did say once though, that the global modellers (CTM’s, chemical transport modeling) had a better overview of the whole subject matter (atmospheric chemistry). I think he’s right.

    Something to keep in mind when denigrating global climate modellers.

    • Bart V,
      How does your definition reconcile with what are now two climategate dumps showing that cliamte scientists value staying on message and suppressing competing views more than anything else?

    • There are good reasons why science is deep. If the argument in this post is that science should not be deep then it is nuts. 400 years of discovery adds up. There are now several million working scientists. Of course they are specialists; how could they be otherwise?

      • David, there are some interesting changes in perspective on this going on in science. Here is what I have gleaned from what I’ve read and discussions at the Georgia Tech College of Sciences Chairs meetings. Over the past decade, much of biology has gone to a more “systems biology” approach. In physics, there is trend away from reductionism and towards “complex systems.” Of course there will always be a role for reductionist drill deep science. However, as fields mature, much of this reductionism becomes dotting i’s and crossing t’s and the real scientific and intellectual challenge is associated with complex systems. Which requires more breadth.

      • Sorry but I don’t know what “breadth” means here, unless just larger goupings. I can study rabbit nests, or rabbit nesting, or rabbit behavior, or mammal nestng, or vertabrate nesting, or vertabrate behavior. Nieir is braoader

      • More specifically, the move toward systematics or interdisclipinary research is just a fad. The important questions depend on the case (BTW science is less well understood than climate.)

  65. The AGW community in general seems to be led by people who do not do science as science, and whose ethics are non-existent.
    Climategate 2.0 has arrived.
    How strong is the faith in the AGW community at large?
    We shall see.

  66. Another glossy, mitigating, disinformation article that minimizes the levels and fraud involved over the past 30 years or more of the eco-left science activist community focused on climate. Of which she is a member regardless of scaling.

    How does it work? Try this;

    • It would seem that the corruption we see in the AGW community is not jsut in a small group of scientists, but spreads to all parts of the community.
      I wonder what Revkin or other big media cheerleaders have received in side deals and special access over the years- or maybe just flat-out payola like the BBC?
      The media has been incredibly derivative and sycophantic on cliamte for years now.
      As a skeptic, I have always been puzzled by the believer accusations that skeptics are bought and paid for. Perhaps it was just projection?

  67. I don’t understand this post. There are plenty of people who are experts in scientific breadth. They are not scientists, of not doing science in any case, because science is about some narrow specialty or other, some specific thing that is being studied. It cannot be otherwise. But there are plenty of people who specialize in scientific breadth. Journalists for example, and policy analysts, including me.

    • The focus was on scientific breadth among the practitioners of science.

      • Hello Judith, in terms of ‘breadth’, would it be possible for you to write some opinions on energy policy. At the end of the day, this is somewhere at the top of the ‘pyramid’.

        If everyone (including greens) could agree on shale gas and nuclear/thorium as suitable means going forwards to achieve ‘energy security’ (with reduced CO2 emissions as a convenient by-product), then IMO, an energy policy could be pieced together that the vast majority of us would be happy with, a lot of the arguments wrt. MMGW would be reduced to ‘noise’, and ‘climate science’ could hopefully have more breathing room to be more of a ‘normal’ science. [I am not anti-renewables, but via. shale gas & nuclear/thorium, renewables could be left to mature fully within the private sector and free market; as opposed to via. taxpayer subsidies and crony-capitalism]

        Just to reinforce the point of your post (and speaking from experience): back in the 1970’s a lot of pharmaceutical product development was conducted by pharmacists, but nowadays pharmaceutical product development is highly skilled and inter-disciplinary with material scientists, analytical scientists, biochemists, process chemists, mechanical engineers, etc., etc.. Pharmacists or biochemists may still lead R&D, but it is increasingly difficult for them to get into the weeds of everything.

        Tools such as quality by design (QbD), failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), and six sigma, can be useful in pulling everything together in managing product development within an industry setting. It’s difficult to see how any of these tools can be applied in ‘climate science’ though, as ‘models’ are only as good as understanding (otherwise GIGO), and the ‘uncertainty monster’ is too large right now.

        I am optimistic regarding ‘climate science’, as the (unwarranted) high profile nature of this field over the last few years has attracted more physics and engineering specialists into this field (to help shift ‘climate science’ away from being more of a ‘social science’ in the past).

      • That optimism I share. The problem is obviously complex and the results are not ready for prime time.

      • commonsensemajority

        Your approach of addressing future energy needs first makes good sense. I like the combination of fast breeder/thorium and shale gas as potential medium-term solutions while possible cost-competitive “renewable” technologies can be developed. I also agree that this development should driven by market economics, rather than massive taxpayer funded subsidies and “crony capitalism” plus the myopic fixation on CO2 emissions.

        Like you, I am optimistic that we will be able to maintain our level of prosperity and improve that of the less industrially developed nations by the continued access to low-cost energy, and that some day, in the far distant future, when fossil fuel reserves really do begin to run out, we will have developed totally new sources of low-cost energy.

        I also think that (thanks to people like our host here) climate science will return to being a true science, free of politics, power and big money. There is still so much to be learned about our planet’s climate and why it behaves the way it does, and this will require a lot of bright young scientists.

        It is a fascinating field of study – if I were starting all over again today with my studies, I think I might have gone in that direction.



      • and that some day, in the far distant future, when fossil fuel reserves really do begin to run out, we will have developed totally new sources of low-cost energy.

        Get your facts straight. Fossil fuel reserves began to decline the moment the first well was drilled and the first mine excavated.

      • WebHubTelescope

        You are apparently poorly informed regarding fossil fuel usage to date and remaining fossil fuel resources, so let me help you out.

        To date humans have consumed enough fossil coal, oil and natural gas to generate an estimated 1,885 GtCO2. A bit less than half of this “remained” in the atmosphere and CO2 increased from an estimated pre-industrial 280 ppmv to a measured 390 ppmv today.

        The World Energy Council made a 2010 survey of “proven fossil fuel reserves” as well as “inferred possible total fossil fuel resources in place” on our planet. The latter (much larger) figure represents enough carbon to generate 10,530 GtCO2. [In other words, to date we have “used up” around 15% of the total fossil fuels optimistically estimated to have ever existed on our planet.]

        If the same percentage “remains” in the atmosphere, CO2 levels would increase by 675 ppmv to a “maximum ever possible CO2 level” of 1,065 ppmv. That’s it, WHT.

        At current usage rates, these fossil fuels would last well over 300 years. How long they will last in actual fact is anyone’s guess, but it is probably well into the 23rd century.

        Hope this helps.


      • WebHubTelescope

        You are apparently poorly informed regarding fossil fuel usage to date and remaining fossil fuel resources, so let me help you out.

        So you are a fossil fuel depletion realist; well it so happens that I am one as well. Go to the link above on my handle and then navigate to page 582 of the PDF. There you will find a complete accounting of the carbon emitted to the atmosphere from the start of serious fossil fuel usage until now. That is interesting work that I have done and I don’t see your name anywhere on it, so I think you have jumped the gun concerning my knowledge about the subject.

        The global economic effects of oil depletion have already hit us and will get worse before we start doing something about it.

      • WHT

        Looks like your figures on fossil fuels used up so far and mine are pretty close. Mine came from various published sources.

        If the WEC estimates on “inferred possible total fossil fuel resources in place” are correct, we have used up about 15% of all the resources that ever existed on our planet. (BTW this estimate is over 3 times as high as the “proven fossil fuel reserves”.)

        At the rate we are now using fossil fuels, we would have used them all up in 300+ years.

        Of course, the resources have to be explored, developed and exploited at the same rate that we use them up, and that may prove to be the limiting factor.

        At any rate, the main point here is that all the optimistically estimated fossil fuels left on our planet will not get us above a “maximum ever” level of around 1,065 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere, and this will most likely not occur for several hundred years (if at all).

        Long before that time we will probably be using totally new sources of energy that neither you nor I have even thought of.


      • I rather think that fossil fuel reserves will never be completely exhausted because the pricing mechanism will ensure that economically viable alternative energy sources will be utilised instead. It may be that the use of oil reserves will focus on the extraction of lubricants rather than on refining to produce engine fuels.

      • Some common sense in energy policy would make the CO2 science less of an emergency. With subsidies and tax credits for renewable energy that could otherwise not compete in a fair market, what should be done is not being done. With the EPA trying to get rid of CO2, a huge cost will likely be placed on our economy with no good coming from it. We need to get energy right and that will buy us time to get CO2 science right.

      • If you think that people who study, say, general properties of bacteria, are less specialized than people who study, say, the antennae of green bacteria, then you are mistaken. The topics are more or less narrow, not the study. Nature comes on many scales, each worthy of study. But the broader scales are not more worthy just because they are broader.

      • Just to finish the thought, the green bacteria reference is to what are called chlorosomes, which are currently the subject of intense interest, as they are the most efficient light to energy converters in nature.

        This topic seems to me to reflect a misconception regarding the nature of science. It is important to remember that we understand science far less well than we undertand climate, which is not much. Yet people who cheerfully admit that they know little about climate, act like experts on the nature of science, without ever having done any research on it at all. Being a scientist no more makes one an expert on the nature of science than being sick makes one a doctor.

  68. Blackwash? The BBC’s Richard Black’s article on the new Climategate releases includes the following:

    Prof Mann – cleared of misconduct last year by a panel convened by Penn State – described the new release as “truly pathetic”.

    Three inquiries in the UK in 2010 found that the CRU team had not acted fraudulently or tried to manipulate data, as they were accused of doing.

    CRU has also released all of the data it held from weather stations around the world – even some that the original owners of such data wanted kept private.

    Black takes the inquiries’ outcomes to be pukka, and presents CRU in a good light when it was dragged to do so kicking and screaming by a highly-critical FOI regulator.

    Read Black’s article in conjunction with cwon14’s link above.

    • I think Black’s point is you have all the data. So where’s the massively different result?

      Instead we get BEST vindicating GISTEMP and HadCRUT, etc.

      • lolwot

        BEST has given us a recheck of the land surface record.

        It has in no way “vindicated GISTEMP and HadCRUT”, as you write.

        Get your facts straight.


      • manacker,
        lolwot is not after facts. He is supporting his faith.
        To paraphrase, AGW believers need no stinkin’ facts.

  69. See comment on Public engagement on climate change, November 13, 2011
    November 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    This blog is hosted by one acting as a facilitator. In return, Dr. Curry receives critiques of the subject, references to alternative viewpoints and explanations, and abuse. Please consider this re “abuse”: if this were an academic seminar, and one’s contribution was to abuse the moderator, would one invited back?

    Now, Climate Etc. is an open forum. In exchange, let’s mind our manners. :-)

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly. Judith governs with high tolerance of incivility. Those who do not govern themselves invite a stronger hand to govern them. It has gotten a little incivil on this thread.

    • Two thumbs up. Especially as regards Dr. Curry herself… I can give and take a little ribbing amongst us posters, but it bugs me when folks give Dr. Curry the business.

      Have things become less civil in general since the 2nd set of emails appeared?

  70. Personally I think philosophers, particularly of science, should be more directly involved in climate science and other important areas. Logic can be applied across all rational disciplines even if the detail is not well understood. So in a sense there could be an academic group who already have some of the breath skills that are needed but who are not yet very involved for some reason. A potential reason is that they throw too much cold water on the hot fire of CAGW fanaticism.

    • Giga2: “Personally I think philosophers, particularly of science, should be more directly involved in climate science and other important areas.”
      Good Grief! “Philosophers” came up with “Post Normal Science”, including what they called “Democracy”, leading to “Policy” and the political and scientific mess we’re in. When the electorate decided otherwise, we were snowed under with “education” (indoctrination), denigration, abuse, slippery wording and melting glaciers.
      I am sure there is science somewhere within “climate science”. :-) Let’s get on with the real thing.

      • Yes, philosophers, poets and used car salesmen should take charge of the climate science – can’t get any worse than what the ”Frank Spencers” we have now are doing. Used car salesmen can be more honest, more entertaining than the clowns in IPCC.

      • I wouldn’t go that far but they should be more involved as should statisticians : )

      • Of course philosophers are responsible for their own confusions and messes but they might well be able to help sort some of this one out or have prevented it getting a head of steam in the first place.