Education and the Art of Uncertainty

by Judith Curry

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. Erich Fromm

This post continues the themes raised in the previous post on Ignorance.

An article entitled Education and the Art of Uncertainty has been published in the journal Radiology (h/t Matthew Hincman).  Its a short article, I encourage you to read it.  Some excerpts:

Medical textbooks typically present information couched in terms of knowledge rather than opinion. Lecturers in medical school, residency, and continuing medical education programs often present material as though it were a simple fact, thereby implicitly squelching any skepticism.

Yet applying medical research, textbooks, journal articles, and lecture materials to patient care inevitably represents an uncertain art. Radiologists find themselves reporting imaging findings by offering differential diagnoses and stating that the examination is “consistent with” or “highly suggestive of” a particular diagnosis. [U]ncertainty is an intrinsic and ineradicable feature of the practice of medicine.

The best radiologist is not the one who is always the most certain but the one who most accurately conveys the degree of uncertainty inherent to each case and, where appropriate, acts to reduce this uncertainty.

Despite the ubiquity of uncertainty in radiologic practice, the training of medical students, residents, and fellows in diagnostic imaging frequently fails to take uncertainty adequately into account. When learners attempt to discuss cases of unknowns, faculty members are likely to focus on telling the learners whether they got the case “right” or “wrong.” This creates a false expectation on the part of the learner that every case has a correct answer, in light of which all other answers are more or less wrong.

[G]ood radiologists must be adept at managing uncertainty. In order to foster a greater aptitude for coping with and managing uncertainty, educators should consider lowering their shield of infallibility. If our goal is to maintain a facade of incontrovertibility, then admitting uncertainty is a mistake. If our goal is to educate excellent radiologists, then helping learners develop the ability to make the most of uncertainty is crucial.

It is only by asking questions and expressing doubts that any of us can fully develop our abilities to recognize and explore the limits of our knowledge.

One way of helping learners manage uncertainty more effectively is to foster a genuine dialogue at the viewing station. Dialogue is not the same as debate, and it is important to distinguish between the two. Debate is characterized by a compe- tition between individuals for some extrinsic good, such as wealth, power, and prestige. Those engaged in a debate want to prove themselves right and zealously seek out weaknesses in their opponent’s position in an effort to win the contest.

Once an individual has staked out a territory, he or she is bound to protect it, even when it becomes apparent that there is a better point of view. In extreme cases, individuals may completely lose sight of the pursuit of truth and focus all of their energies on merely defeating the other side. A frequent outcome of debate is alienation because at least one individual generally emerges as the loser and is therefore less inclined to engage in such discussions in the future.

Educators that are accustomed to the debater’s frame of mind may be threatened when their dicta are questioned by a learner. Educators may find themselves immediately adopting a defensive posture or launching an attack on the questioner because they do not want to be shown to be wrong. Not coincidentally, some of the most aggressive interrogators are also the most insecure practitioners. The aggressive questioning serves as a means to deflect potential scrutiny of the interrogator’s knowledge. Yet in addition to discouraging trainees from asking questions, such interrogation ultimately proves counterproductive because it undermines the development of effective learning habits.

Dialogue, on the other hand, creates an entirely different atmosphere. Dialogue is driven not by a desire to win a contest but by a desire to get closer to the truth. When a resident poses a question, it is usually sparked not by a suspicion that the educator is wrong but by a desire to discern and better understand an important idea or principle.

If learners are not easily convinced, educators can encourage them to explore the underlying assumptions and implications of their positions. In the best cases, learners will identify some of the weaknesses or contradictions on their own. The goal is not to tell the learners what they should know but to help them to become more self-reflective practitioners. Becoming more self-reflective includes recognizing and acknowledging uncertainty and learning to express opinions with a degree of confidence that is faithful to the uncertainty inherent in the case itself.

In this situation, educators do more than merely avoid perpetuating incorrect ideas by suggesting to learners that they are wrong; educators are placing the responsibility of identifying and exploring error squarely on learners’ shoulders. This is a wise education strategy because learners will bear that responsibility for the rest of their lives. The goal is not merely to avoid mistakes but to learn how to be a more reflective and capable learner.

Uncertainty is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for discovery. Certainty gets in the way of discovery because we are not inclined to investigate further the things we think we know for certain. By contrast, it is in the first moments of uncertainty that the opportunity for discovery is greatest. By training learners to be intolerant of uncertainty, we are rendering them unfit to learn and discover. By encouraging them to tolerate and manage uncertainty more adeptly, we develop better physicians.

JC comment:  I was very much struck by the discussion of debate versus dialogue, which resonates with some of the issues raised in The Righteous Mind.  The educational issues raised by this article are profound, and I remain very concerned with how the topic of climate change is being taught in our universities.

156 responses to “Education and the Art of Uncertainty

  1. Thanks, Professor Curry, for continuing to move toward the root of the problem: False pride, arrogance, selfishness and certainty.

    • Like this guy?

      Another punk wonk doing a job. Says he’s a Roman too.
      How’s the bread & circus coming?

      • No, Tom, like my research mentor – the late Professor Paul Kazuo Kuroda – who practiced the:

        a.) Scientific method in arriving at conclusions from observations

        b.) Teaching methods similar to those of by late J. Krishnamutri in the classroom (teach to the natural creativity of each student), and

        c.) Judo skills of a master, skating through powerful opposing political forces of WWII and the Cold War and managing to publish information about “natural nuclear fires” on Earth anyway;

        P. K. Kuroda, ”The Oklo phenomenon,” Naturwissenschaften 70, 536-539 (1983).

        Like those that power the Sun, sustain life, control Earth’s ever changing climate, and can consume cities and life on Earth if misused.

        The rest of the story is here:

        With kind regards,
        Oliver K. Manuel
        Emeritus Professor of
        Nuclear & Space Science
        Former NASA Principal
        Investigator for Apollo

    • The scientific method is a rigorous, disciplined method of explaining observations while restraining the ego by using only theories or hypotheses that are falsifiable so the results are unprejudiced, and repeatable.

      1. A good example of successful use of the scientific method is the study of humans that the zoologist, Desmond Morris, reported in his 1967 book, “The Naked Ape.”

      2. The survival instinct (self-preservation) overruled the scientific method when scientists first observed the “nuclear fires” caused by the rest mass (m) released as energy (E) in the destruction of Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945. World leaders became rulers to save the world from “nuclear fires”, and major fields of science (astronomy, astrophysics, etc) were compromised after 1945.

      3. Attractive hypotheses die slowly: Fission of superheavy elements was proposed in 1969 to explain excess Xe-136 in meteorites. The hypothesis was falsified by observations reported in 1972, 1975, publicly debated in Science before being finally discredited by new data reported in 1983. Here’s the debate in Science 195, 208-210 (1977).

      4. Retraction of popular misconceptions can be divisive and embarrassing.

      “The naked ape is essentially an exploratory species . . .” (p/10) The scientific method is a tool that allows naked apes to use observations to obtain reliable explanations and conclusions, if not overruled by instincts.

  2. I have a feeling that the nature of the subject (the possibility, consequences and meaning of humanity’s effect upon the climate) preclude many people from being open to dialogue. We bring so much baggage in terms of world view, ideology and politics that genuine open-mindedness about climate related topics is almost impossible.

    If that is the case, then the ways in which climate change can be taught are necessarily circumscribed – at least in terms of the science. Perhaps there’s more room in Philosophy, Psychology and the Philosophy of Science for dialogue about the meanings we bring to the subject and also why it is such a contentious and polarised issue.

    • David Wojick

      Actually, fierce debate is the method of philosophy and philosophy of science. And I suspect that your “genuine open-mindedness” is an incoherent concept.

      • Steven Mosher

        makes perfect sense to me. You should be more open minded

      • I think genuine open-mindedness is far from being incoherent. It is what you yourself would have if you were available for dialogue about a subject. Another way of saying that you have ‘taken a position’ is to say you are ‘closed-minded’.

        I think a great deal of the confusion around ‘positions’ in climate talk comes from the fact that the disagreements (or the foundation of them) have precious little to do with science. They are bound up with our emotional prejudices, the meaning and significance we give to human agency and our feelings about the nature of change (which resonates with our conceptions of death)

        To an extent of course, these things impinge on many scientific topics. But climate and its suposed ‘change’ (at our own hands!) is just much bigger – in many people’s eyes and fears.

        As you mention elsewhere here, what is contentious is the catastrophe which as Richard Betts points out is completely outside the realm of science. It’s in the baggage-realm, hence the confusion.

      • Brandon Shollenberger


        Another way of saying that you have ‘taken a position’ is to say you are ‘closed-minded’.

        This is rubbish. A person who has taken a position may be close-minded, but it is not inherently so. Moreover, a person who hasn’t taken a position can be just as close-minded as someone who has.

      • Brandon –

        I think you’re right. Particularly, because I had ‘taken the position’ that taking a position was tantamount to being closed-minded, but I see that I was in error. They are not necessarily the same (though they may overlap)

        Perhaps it’s my frustration at seeing bright, insightful people becoming blinkered by becoming entrenched in a ‘position’ and mistaking that for being the same as closed-mindedness.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Anteros, I understand that. It’s similar to how people say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That’s absolutely untrue. You can usually tell a lot about something by its appearance. Problems only arise when you refuse to change your mind when presented with more information.

        That can happen for a lot of reasons, but generally, it comes down to personal investment. The more a person wants their position to be true, the more close-minded they tend to become.

      • Plato’s Socrates identified the chief characteristic of a good philosopher, and, perhaps surprisingly, it was not native intelligence (logos or logisimos), but, rather, eros. The idea was that some people derive value from what is “their own,” while others derive value from external ideals. The patriot is an example of the former–he loves his country because its his, not because his country is objectively better than other countries. But the great philosopher has very little of this. He tends to neglect his family, because he is more strongly motivated by objective truth and beauty. (Odds are his children are not, in fact, the best children.) The reason, of course, is that thymos–the counterpart to eros–attaches itself to ideas, making it hard to abandon them, once adopted. Most people are motivated by both, to greater or lesser extents, but only someone who is strongly drawn to the truth, and weakly drawn to “one’s own,” easily exchanges past beliefs for newer, better ones. When you consider what someone who has this trait is really like in his personal life, it’s obvious this is a rare individual.

        So it’s not merely taking a position that causes the closed mind. It’s the combination of taking a position with the thymotic response. But having lost sight of this fact of human psychology, having accepted the false premise that anyone who becomes a professional scientist is motivated only by the facts, we are surprised when they act as most humans do.

      • Closed parashoot minds is characteristic for both gangs. Reason schoolyard bullying technics are used is, because of truth phobia. Creating uncertainty = delays the inevitable truth, doesn’t change it.

        Who is uncertain if oxygen + nitrogen expand INSTANTLY, when they warm up extra?! Who is uncertain that is much colder where troposphere expands upwards when warmed extra, than on the ground? Who is uncertain that O+N shrink instantly when cooled? Creation unnecessary uncertainty is for honesty deficient people, with dubious motifs.

      • Steven Mosher

        You see David, you think philosophy is debate. Ant and I understand philosophy as a dialogue that of course includes debate as one form of dialogue. Debate, of course, presupposes a whole host of things. Dialogue only presupposes that we are here now exchanging views.
        Debate brings with it the notion that there is some closure. Some winner. Some truth, final and absolute, to be decide. Dialogue is open ended. It goes on. And on. Philosophy is a dialogue.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Steven Mosher:

        Debate brings with it the notion that there is some closure.

        I don’t know where you get this idea. Debates rarely wind up with any closure between the participants. The only closure they generally produce is that spectators may make a decision on which side is right.

      • The internet is a wonderful place, because debates don’t have to end in fisticuffs, or, worse yet, agreement.

      • Steven Mosher

        Please Note my exact locution.
        I did not say that debate ends with closure. factually, it sometimes does end with closure, sometime not. The idealization of debate is that two sides reason against each other and somebody wins.

        So, Im pretty careful to describe the situation as debate bringing with it the notion that there is some closure.

        Lets use ordinary language to show the difference. Whatever theory your have about what debate is and is not if it cannot explain the evidence of ordinary language then I’d call that theory suspect.

        Which sentence sounds stupid.

        1. he won the debate
        2. he won the dialogue

        However you want to elucidate the structure of the “debate” idea versus the “dialogue” idea, that elucidation will have to account for and make sense of the the ordinary way we speak about about these things.

        In short. sentence 1 makes sense and sentence 2 seems odd. Why?
        because debate brings with it some notion of closure.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Steven Mosher:

        Please Note my exact locution.

        I am perfectly aware of your locution. It has no bearing on what I said.

        Lets use ordinary language to show the difference….

        Which sentence sounds stupid.

        1. he won the debate
        2. he won the dialogue…

        In short. sentence 1 makes sense and sentence 2 seems odd. Why?
        because debate brings with it some notion of closure.

        This is a stupid example, and it does nothing to support your conclusion. You’re claiming to demonstrate which form gives closure, yet your example does nothing of the sort. Closure is a sense of finality, not a sense of victory.

        By discussing winning, you’re distorting the discussion, and thus you’re falsely claiming support for your position.

      • Steven Mosher

        Sorry Brandon.

        In order to differentiate between debate and dialogue I ask a simple question.

        Does it make sense to say that he lost the dialogue in the same way it makes sense to say he lost the debate?

        No, it does not. It doesn’t because the concept of debate carries with it the notion of closure. The notion that the debate somehow could settle things. Not that it always will settle things. Not that it always does. A dialogue, on the other hand, carries with it no such notion. You would not say that I “won” the dialogue. We have a dialogue. It can be productive of unproductive. It can end or keep going.

        As you note debate rarely ends up with any factual closure. That is besides the point. The point is we engage in debate for different reasons that we engage in dialogue. Debates can be won. The fact that people rarely agree to this is besides the point. Dialogues cannot be “won”

        This is why it is silly for people on the AGW side to talk about winning the conversation. This is why you saw that campaign falter.

        put another way is dialogue different from debate? Yes. however, you are free to debate the point with yourself

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Steven Mosher:

        Does it make sense to say that he lost the dialogue in the same way it makes sense to say he lost the debate?

        No, it does not. It doesn’t because the concept of debate carries with it the notion of closure.

        This is the exact the point you made in your response to me. It is the exact point I responded to. Despite the fact I explained a contradictory position, you’ve done nothing but repeat yourself and ignore what I’ve said. You then go on and say:

        put another way is dialogue different from debate? Yes. however, you are free to debate the point with yourself

        Nobody has argued there is no difference between debates and dialogues. The fact I’ve said the two are not different in one particular way in no way means I’m saying they are exactly the same. You’re just creating a straw man here.

        Debates and dialogues are different, but not for the reason you’ve said. Whether or not something can be “won” is a different issue than whether or not it carries the notion of closure. It’s only by conflating the two issues your position can be held. And that can only be done by ignoring what people who disagree with you say.

        If you have an argument to say I’m wrong, I’m happy to hear it, but please don’t waste either of our times by posting comments which ignore everything I say.

        Ignoring the points of your critics while mindlessly repeating yourself is all sorts of lame.

      • In science, observation brings closure to the debate. Think relativity and plate techtonics.

      • Steven Mosher

        technically no. observation can always be questioned.

      • Theory can also be questioned. Models can also be questioned. That’s the nature of the beast. But observation trumps them both in the final analysis.

      • In fact, the debate over climate is probably still fierce because AWG climate scientists can produce observations that CO2 will bring about catastrophe.

      • Yes, one wonders what it would mean in practice. Assigning all possibilities an equal likelihood of being right and wrong, and never permitting those weights to change?

        Perhaps recognizing that certainty is like infinity: it’s always out there calling, but you never really arrive!

  3. Uncertainty is all over the IPCC reports and every time someone claims to know what climate sensitivity is, they put a range on it. Remember what the IPCC summary for policy makers said about the warming trend for the 21st century of about 0.2 C per decade.


    • David Wojick

      But there is not nearly enough uncertainty, Bob. It is merely uncertainty about the magnitude of CAGW, not about its existence, which is where the true uncertainty lies. For example, the warming trend for the 21st century seems to be about 0 degrees per decade, which is not about 0.2 degrees. Not even close.

      • Uncertainty doesn’t cover CO2 causing no warming. You might want it to but it just doesn’t. CO2 is almost certain to cause significant warming. The IPCC’s presented uncertainty on this is fine.

      • lolwot writes “CO2 is almost certain to cause significant warming. ”

        WRONG. CO2 causes some warming, but the observed data shows that there is no CO2 signal in any modern temperature/time graph. So we know from observed data, that added CO2 to the atmosphere from current levels, has a climate sensitivity which is indistinguishable from zero.

      • “the observed data shows that there is no CO2 signal in any modern temperature/time graph”

        No it doesn’t. The observed data shows warming, which is exactly what we’d expect from rising CO2 and a high climate sensitivity. I am not saying that’s the only explanation, but your claim that there is no CO2 signal is not compatible with observations.

      • Three times in the last century and a half the rate of warming has been the same, and in only the last of these was CO2 also rising. Phil Jones, heself, told me so.

        lolwot, a lot of money has been spent seeking a definitive anthroCO2 signal, so far in vain. Hardly any money at all has been spent elucidating the natural signal, and it is there for all to see.

      • Jim Cripwell said:

        “So we know from observed data, that added CO2 to the atmosphere from current levels, has a climate sensitivity which is indistinguishable from zero.”
        Exactly what observed data are you talking about? Are you equating “climate” with tropospheric temperatures, and of course, even if you are, you are wrong in your statement, but then, you are doubly wrong.

      • kim writes:
        “Three times in the last century and a half the rate of warming has been the same, and in only the last of these was CO2 also rising. Phil Jones, heself, told me so.”

        Which is compatible with the CO2 rise causing that last piece of warming, unlike what Jim Cripwell claimed.

        “lolwot, a lot of money has been spent seeking a definitive anthroCO2 signal, so far in vain. Hardly any money at all has been spent elucidating the natural signal, and it is there for all to see.”

        If it’s there for all to see, why do you need money to “elucidate” it?

        Don’t try so hard. Stick to one smear, that way you won’t contradict yourself.

      • It’s just as compatible with CO2 not causing the warming. And then you descend into incoherence.

      • “It’s just as compatible with CO2 not causing the warming.”

        which is not what Jim Cripwell claimed.

        You don’t really grasp this concept of challenging of other people’s claims do you?

      • I’m claiming that the AnthroCO2 signal has not been detected. I’m claiming that a lot of money has been spent looking for it, without success.

        Your claiming that the warming of the last quarter of the last century is from anthroCO2 may well be a huge ‘Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc’ logical fallacy, particularly since similar warming has been seen two previous times without CO2 rising.

      • @Jim Cripwell said: CO2 causes some warming. WRONG!

        Volcano eruption causes some warming / atom bomb explosion causes some warming / solar hot water system causes extra warming when you have ”hot” shower / your oven in the kitchen also produces extra heat – but the ”self adjusting mechanism” wastes that extra heat in few minutes.

        Q: do you know that the self adjusting mechanism / oxygen + nitrogen are 998999ppm in the troposphere? Q: do you know that they expand INSTANTLY, when they get warmer? Q: do you know: what is the temperature, where they expand upwards? Do they expand when warmed, because they have nothing better to do; or they are the ”self adjusting mechanism for regulating heat?” Jim, does your adrenalin goes up, when you are creating unnecessary uncertainty?!

      • lolwot writes “No it doesn’t. The observed data shows warming, which is exactly what we’d expect from rising CO2 and a high climate sensitivity. I am not saying that’s the only explanation, but your claim that there is no CO2 signal is not compatible with observations.”

        Saying so doesn’t make it so.

        The world has been warming since the end of the LIA at the beginning of the 18th century. Proper records which started around 1850, show a clear signal, from unknown causes, of about 0.06 C per decade, clearly visible above the noise of +/- 0.25 C.


        Provide me a reference to a modern temperature/time graph which clearly shows a CO2 signal, and the value of the climate sesnitivity of CO2 calculated from that signal. It is impossible for me to prove a negative, but you can prove me wrong by providing the positive.

        Where is there a CO2 signal in ANY modern temperature/time graph?

      • Cripwell says: “The world has been warming since the end of the LIA at the beginning of the 18th century. Proper records which started around 1850, show a clear signal, from unknown causes, of about 0.06 C per decade, clearly visible above the noise of +/- 0.25 C.”

        So that’s your problem. You are using circular reasoning. You assume up front that all the warming over the 20th century is due to the same natural cause. Then you shrug and wonder what’s left for CO2.

        And you think that’s science?

      • Lolwot, given that it is entirely possible that the CO2 increase has caused no discernible warming, that is certainly part of the uncertainty. This is precisely what uncertainty means, that the science is not settled. Many lines of argument and evidence support this possibility. (I personally think that it is not only possible, but that it is true, and AGW has been falsified. But that is a different issue.)

      • If you want to consider the absurd regions of uncertainty then you should also consider that the CO2 rise might cause 10C warming. Uncertainty cuts both ways, it isn’t something to pick and choose.

      • lolwot, the CO2GW hypothesis is the absurd region itself.

      • That’s where you are wrong, about 0 degrees is about 0.2, it’s even close.

      • Clearly you have a different concept of science than I do, Bob, one in which 2 degrees of warming in a century, supposedly the dangerous level, is the same as no warming at all. No wonder we disagree.

      • Exactly the point Judy seems to me to be making, is that you think you know more than you actually do about the last decade trend in temperature. Find someone who can tell you what the uncertainty is in the 0 C trend you seem to think is different from the 0.2 C per decade trend that is supposedly dangerous.

        Perhaps Lucia’s The Blackboard may suite your style.

        I would suggest Tamino’s Open Mind.

        But here is the real deal.

        0.028 plus or minus 0.23 C per decade for the first decade of the 21st century by Hadcrut3.

        See, 0 is the same as 0.2

        But remember what Mark Twain said.

  4. David Wojick

    One can in principle teach the climate debate without participating in it, by presenting the various sides, without taking sides. Except one side insists that there is no debate, so simply pointing out the debate is to take a side. It is rather existential, not to say strange.

    As for the nice sounding distinction between dialog and debate, to the extent there is one the terms apply to two different situations. Dialog is part of the problem solving that occurs when no one has decided what the answer is. Once people decide, and decide differently, then we have a debate. The climate case is clearly a case of debate, not dialog, and nothing can change that. People have positions. This is not unusual in science, where people often argue for their views. Climate change is one of the great debates.

    • There’s no *scientific* debate on a number of subjects.

      Eg the cause of the CO2 rise. It’s man. That is settled science. The existence of the greenhouse effect. That is settled science.

      Settled science can change – it can become unsettled again, but that’s too unlikely to take seriously. There’s no-one anymore in the literature arguing that CO2 rise is natural, or that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist, because the evidence for these things is overwhelming.

      AGW is also settled science. Man is having a warming impact on the planet. Even if we take a wide view of uncertainty a doubling of CO2 produces anything from about 0.5C to 5C warming. Usually that wouldn’t matter so much as CO2 rarely doubles, but that’s what’s happening now so it’s a very important area of study.

      • You really have no clue how you sound, do you? None of you guys do. I’m beginning to think it’s some sort of illness.

      • which part do you have a problem with? I am genuinely interested to know what part you think is so wrong.

      • Steven Mosher

        like many others here you reify science. There is no such thing as science.
        Science does not exist. There is no settled science because there is no such thing as “science.”

        There are humans. Humans engage in various forms of behavior.
        “science behavior” is one of them. When we say that the “science” is settled on a matter, what we really mean is this: ‘I dont waste my time questioning this matter.”

        If somebody wants to waste their time questioning that C02 will warm the planet, that is, of course, their epistemic right. Since it is not certain that it does. Our best understanding is that C02 does warm the planet. People in the field choose to not question it because it is a waste of time. We don’t owe a proof of this to those who question it. They are free to question.
        We dont owe them a proof in order to take action. If that were the case, we could never act, since proof in science behavior is not possible.

      • Pooh, Dixie

        Thank you, Steve, for using the word “reify”. It is not a word I use much, so I looked it up (Wikipedia & Merriam-Webster via Google). I got two main points:
        1) to make something real, or less abstract;
        2) a fallacy; as in fallacy of ambiguity.

        Number 2 is used a lot: The planet warms (GW); CO2 warms the planet; humans produce CO2; therefore humans warm the planet (AGW); the warming will be be catastrophic; therefore humans are warming the planet catastrophically (CAGW).

        Having conceded that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and the humans produce CO2, “GW” morphs into “CAGW” and we must therefore concede control of our energy supply to governments.

        However, the issue is “how much” at each step. “How much” appears to be set by consensus once we are beyond Arrhenius’ lab.

      • Brandon Shollenberger


        Eg the cause of the CO2 rise. It’s man. That is settled science.

        It is certainly “settled” that man is causing CO2 levels to rise, but how does one attribute the entire rise in CO2 to anthropogenic emissions?

      • lolwot, you write “AGW is also settled science.”

        I agree 100%. But how many times do we need to say that CAGW is NOT settled science. As I have pointed out above, the climate sensitivity for CO2 added to the atmosphere form current levels, has been proven to be indistinguishable from zero, by observed data.

      • Steven Mosher

        I think that the more people remind the lolwots of the world that most skeptics dont deny that C02 will warm the planet, the better.

      • Mosher, both Jim Cripwell and Herman Alexander Pope have just denied CO2 will warm the planet. Ie they’ve both denied AGW. This is clear as crystal yet both of them in the same sentence claim they accept AGW as settled science.

        This is probably because they are just copying the behavior of other climate skeptics without understanding it. Namely the use of the phony “CAGW” construct.

        I see it all the time – AGW deniers hiding behind this strawman “CAGW” when challenged.

      • Steven Mosher

        perhaps I should be clearer. Skeptics with more publishing to their names than a blog comment ( say, spencer, christy, lindzen, ) don’t deny that C02 will warm the planet. Of course on the web you can find all sorts of nuts

      • The paradigm is always protected at any price. One have to admit that “CO2 will warm the planet” to publish. That will change quickly.

        CO2 will not warm the planet! The warmth, on the other hand, will increase the atmospheric CO2. CO2GW is pseudo-science.

      • Imo- a VERY low percentage of those those who have studied the issue think that CO2 does not warm the planet. The issue is the rate of warming, and what the impact of any warming-positive or negative- and to whom.

      • I should have added- and what actions individual nations should take in response to what they believe will happen as a result of any warming

      • Yet Spencer will write a blog post supporting the idea that mankind has nothing to do with the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration in the last 100 years.
        Global Warming Causing Carbon Dioxide Increases: A Simple Model

        What is up with that?

        Why does Spencer suggest such foolish things?

        Does he not want to maintain his credibility?

        Is he just trying to gain attention?

        Is it bad blood between him and NASA?

        Does he believe in weird things because it is an outgrowth of his other belief systems?

        Is Spencer the best that the skeptics have?

        That’s not saying much.

      • AGW is settled science. CO2 is a trace gas and it has a trace influence. That is settled. It does do a trace amount of warming. A trace is a trace. If you double a trace or triple a trace or multiply by ten, it is still a trace. It may try to push earth temperature up, but but a trace of temperature rise due to a trace of CO2 cannot really be separated from the noise.

      • But Hansen predicted that the temperature rise would come out of the noise.
        And the trace gas argument is bogus, in that the percentage of radiatively active gases in the atmosphere means nothing, the absolute amount is what counts.

      • Just to be clear: I know you claim there is some “trace” warming, but essentially what you are saying there is indistinguishable from zero. So yes this is why I interpret what you have said as denying AGW.

      • ozzieostrich


        Maximum radiative transfer of energy between two non contiguous bodies occurs in a vacuum.

        Interposing any matter at all between the bodies reduces the amount of energy received by both. If one body is warmer than the other, then interposition of any matter between them will result in the cooler of the two bodies becoming even cooler, rather than warming.

        Radiative transfer of energy includes the transmission and absorption not just of infrared, but of all wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

        The so-called “greenhouse effect” is absolute nonsense. If you wish to claim that the minor insulating effect of the atmosphere is the “real” greenhouse effect, I would point out that insulators merely slow the rate of transfer of energy between bodies. The finest insulator in the universe warms a corpse not one whit.

        However, I am unschooled, so I obviously have much to learn.

        With respect to your comment than man is having a warming impact on the planet, this is a self evident fact. I am surprised that anyone would bother to mention it. Oxygen based life oxidises carbon to form carbon dioxide. This is an exothermic reaction leading to warming.

        Carbon dioxide is created by oxidising carbon. Hence, heat production.
        Little mystery there!

        Atomic energy is utilised to produce heat. Energy conversion from say, potential energy to kinetic energy, is imperfect. The conversion loss is manifested as heat. A tree branch, in falling, creates heat. Burning the tree branch creates heat. Belting a denier with the branch creates heat, and so on. Friction creates heat. I could go on.

        Unfortunately, heat cannot be stored. It’s tricky stuff, and all bodies above absolute zero radiate electromagnetic energy. As they radiate, their store of energy is depleted, not increased.

        So yes, man a a warming impact on the Earth. The impact is ephemeral, and the Earth continues its remorseless cooling. From its creation as a a molten blob, (or so I am told,) the Earth has cooled to its present state. Luckily for us, the crust is nicely solid, rather than molten.

        The Earth must continue to cool, as the interior is hotter than the surface, and the surface is exposed to the near absolute zero of outer space, insulated only by a tenuous atmosphere. In the absence of sunlight, the surface temperature in the desert can drop by more than 40C in less than 12 hours. The insulating effect of the atmosphere can barely cope with 12 hours of night. Warming, none at all!

        The Earth is cooling – slowly but surely.

        Sorry to be so long winded, but it is obvious that people that should know better, don’t. Either that, or I am wrong.

        Live well and prosper.

        Mike Flynn AKA ozzieostrich.

      • @ lolwot AGW is also settled science The existence of the greenhouse effect. That is settled science. WRONG!!! Correct version:

        In ”normal” greenhouse; when air gets warmer – air expands = 25% out the door. Result: volume stays the same / QUANTITY of air decreases.
        In shonks’ greenhouse / in nature, when air warms up volume INCREASES, quantity stays the same. Completely all 4 different factors; all overlooked; laws of physics guillotined.

        CO2 +H2O are a shade-cloth effect gases, not greenhouse molecules. They intercept part of the sunlight on higher altitude / where cooling is much more efficient – then at night slow down cooling; those two factors cancel each other

        oxygen + nitrogen are transparent; SAME as the roof of a ”normal” greenhouse – they let the sunlight trough, same as the glass roof. Then O+N as perfect insulators, they slow down cooling = same as the glass roof of a normal greenhouse. On the moon, the unlimited coldness is touching the ground – on the earth, between the unlimited coldness and the ground is 50km of thick layer of O+N, as the best insulators.

        Start getting used to the truth guys! Everything your brains-trusts have predicted in the past is wrong and back to front; with their ”science on the run” because they abolished the laws of physics + created common sense deficient ”physicists” . The sooner you accept my proofs, facts and formulas – the less sleepless nights you will have… plus when the time for ”truth and reconciliation” arrives, the judge and jury will be more lenient.

      • Lolrot, you are merely proving my point, that one side claims there is no debate. You can rant all you want but you cannot make the debate go away. It is funny in its way, denying the obvious. Not a winning strategy though.

      • I was very clear about there being no *scientific* debate.

        The load of utter pseudo-scientific BS spouted by commenters above denying the greenhouse effect and claiming CO2 is proven to cause zero warming doesn’t constitute scientific debate. It’s constitutes fools being fools.

        I have no idea why you want to encourage that. Do we also need to debate whether the Earth is really 6000 years old is “debate”? At some point you either become obviously foolish with this “debate everything” attitude, or you avoid that by becoming a hypocrite. Which is it?

      • Warmists are denying the greenhouse effect. It’s a convective effect and it has nothing to do with the radiative heat exchange.

      • ozzieostrich


        Oh well, I must take baby steps. Do you agree that maximum radiative energy transfer between two non contiguous bodies occurs in a vacuum?

        I can add all the usual caveats – at least one above 0K etc, if you wish me to define the question more narrowly.

        An easy question to answer, particularly if you can produce a fact or two in support, if you answer “no”.

        Live well and prosper.

        Mike Flynn.

  5. Thanks also Dr.Curry. The big problem was always the “Science is Settled” by politicians with agendas other than investigating climate science. Then some scientists got dragged or jumped into the settled camp. Name calling for looking at the papers, data and investigating further is far from the ideals of science. It was aimed at chilling free discussion. Your leads to various articles has really helped a lot. Now the debate has to be opened again with studies into natural variation as well as impacts from greenhouse gases. I couldn’t believe the images of disaster from people aware of the long history of earth with ice ages, warm periods and plate tectonics changing ocean circulation. People got reputations and funds by hoping on a political bandwagon. Hansen, Mann and others have a lot to answer for if they can be brought to account. It really is hard to use proxy data to develop one global temperature from a thousand to two thousand years ago. It is difficult even today to come up with one representative temperature of the earth, not counting the oceans 2,000 meters deep and the water content of clouds. This is difficult science and projections need to be made cautiosly.

    • “It was aimed at chilling free discussion.”

      A lot of the free discussions were anti-science and daft and deserved to be chilled. For example the years of discussion about whether adjustments to stations had biased the surface records when it was simple enough just to plot the raw data. Actually that waste of time discussion is still happening.

      • Steven Mosher

        The discussion is a waste of time to you, but important active research still continues on this. If you followed the literature you would see that interesting dialogues about various methods is still advancing.

        These discussion do not have anything to do with the central claims of AGW. So, they are a ‘waste’ of time in that regard, however, there are more things of interest in this world than the question of AGW.

        UHI is another example. Imagine that we found that 50% of the land record was UHI infected. That fact says nothing whatsoever about the issues of AGW. the discovery of UHI bias will NOT over turn radiative physics. C02 will still warm the planet. The discovery of UHI bias will not change our estimates of climate sensitivity in any appreciable way.
        The fact that UHI is uninteresting WRT the central questions of AGW does not logically imply that it is uninteresting or a waste of time.

      • I agree. I only focused on discussions that were anti-science. What does that mean? It’s the smearing and undermining of other people’s confidence in the science unjustly. Tactics like attacking the details and ignoring the bigger picture. Undermining it by finding “problems” that are actually irrelevant but make sinister sounding headlines to those who don’t know enough to realize it is irrelevant. All the rubbish about site biases and high elevation stations being removed and “NASA have faked the temperature data” claims.

        It might be a waste of time all round, but then so is debating creationists. Why are there so many people doing that though? It’s because some people don’t like science being attacked by ideologues.

      • And now we get the anti-science line and the creationist analog. What no tobacco conspiracy analog? Skeptics must be nuts, stupid or evil? Not really. Look around.

        The only anti-science is denying debatability, denying inquiry, denying that arguments exist when they clearly do.

      • blueice2hotsea

        It’s because some people don’t like science being attacked by ideologues.

        Neither CAGW ideologues nor anti-CAGW ideologues like science being ‘attacked’ by the opposing ideologues.

        To naive bystanders, it looks like a battle of half-wits. But, there is more going on than appears.

      • David, this comment thread speaks volumes about the unreasonable and stupid arguments of climate skeptics. When people deny the greenhouse effect and even claim that rising CO2 having no warming effect is “settled science” they are clearly no different than creationists in terms of their anti-science bent.

        If anything the creationism-climate skeptic link is woefully underused. While creationists are irrational due to their religious ideology, a great number of climate skeptics (not all of them) are irrational due to their political ideology. It leads to the same behaviour.

        Same tricks: lists of famous dissenters produced as propaganda by hyping up their credentials, attacks on “consensus” both trying to pretend it’s irrelevant and that it doesn’t exist, claims that scientists only accept the theory because they’d lose funding otherwise, etc.

      • “Neither CAGW ideologues nor anti-CAGW ideologues like science being ‘attacked’ by the opposing ideologues.”

        It’s the anti-CAGW side which are predominantly attacking science. While science can be criticized (who doesn’t critisize peer review?) the anti-CAGW side, like creationists, do it to a gross unjustified degree. Almost every scientific institution is derided.

      • blueice2hotsea

        Psst lolwot –

        This post is “Education and the art of uncertainty”. Your demonstration of derailment trolling and the art of uncertainty bombing is right on topic. kudos.

      • Of course lolwot is right. The government should clamp down on climate skeptics immediately. These people shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. And lolwot is just the one to tell the government who to throw in jail – he is all wise, all seeing, and all knowing. He should rule the world, that one.

      • Skeptics not only shouldn’t be free, they shouldn’t be allowed to breed either. Isn’t that right lolwot?

      • Maybe you could help the government build some nice showers for those stinky skeptics, lolwot. I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you?

      • CO2 will still warm the planet, but it seems a slower rate of rise, sans UHI effect, would make the sensitivity lower.

    • stefanthedenier

      @ Scott | April 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Scott, the biggest evil is that: prof Plimer’s & Monckton’s science is NOT SETTLED, also!!! The Fake Skeptics are using Plimer’s collection of Fairy-tales, all as factual. The fairy-tales, presented as factual science in climatology before 1990; when there was no scrutiny whatsoever. The only difference is: Plimer has bigger mountain of crap than Hansen’s crap. The ”glaciers made of crap” are constantly expanding; get your shovel and wheelbarrow, be on standby.

  6. A common trap is to spend time discussing the degree of certainty, without questioning the validity of the main assumption.

    – is gold undervalued or really really undervaluded?
    – will conquering Russia take one year or two?
    – will CO2 lead us to catastrophe or a major culling of life on earth?
    – will solar/wind supply all our energy in 5 years or 10
    – are angels made of matter, or are they pure soul

    Nothing expresses certainty like pure logic and decimal places, nothing suggests honesty like error bars. Together they close down discussion of assumptions for everyone other than a few wild eyed heretics.

  7. Anteros writes (quite reaosnably): “We bring so much baggage in terms of world view, ideology and politics that genuine open-mindedness about climate related topics is almost impossible”

    I’m a lifelong liberal Democrat, and a very typical specimen in many respects. I totally bought into the whole AGW thing. If the NYT’s and Greenpeace and the WWF were telling me it was all true, then that seemed good and sufficient reason unto itself for me to believe. The only ones arguing as far as I could tell were Tea Partiers, creationists, and oil company execs.

    I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh assure his listeners that AGw couldn’t be a problem because God would not have created an atmosphere man could destroy. What a hoot.

    Thus, I was essentially trapped. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to me to question AGW. Besides, you have to realize that we liberals are always right: Vietnam, abortion rights, civil rights (gay, blacks, women). You name the issue, and we’re right (and smart) and you conservatives are wrong (and dumb).

    And yet something eventually did get me to start asking questions. It it can happen to me, it can and will happen with others. Don’t fret Anteros. This will work itself out. Nothing will out as certainly as truth.

    • I have a reasonably similar background and experience of the climate scene. I had no reason to doubt any of the mainstream info I’d received (off and on for nearly 20 years) until I idly got out Al Gore’s film to basically confirm my mild prejudices – to see a video I already agreed with….

      About a third of the way through I began to feel deeply unneasy – why was this guy having to (clearly) distort his information? Why the obviously dishonest graphs? Why the ridiculous theatrics about Manhattan 20 feet under water? I suppose I got a bit embarrasssed that I’d trundled along behind something I hadn’t really stopped to question. So, like many people I started to ask questions including of myself and why I believed what I believed….

      It ended up changing quite a large number of things about my world view…

      • Brandon Shollenberger


        Why the obviously dishonest graphs?

        I still think the most amazing thing about that movie is Al Gore dismisses the criticisms of the original hockey stick by telling the viewers to look at how similar the temperature record from Lonnie Thompson’s ice core data is to the hockey stick. The reason this is amazing? The graph he presented was actually Mann’s hockey stick. To make it all the more amazing, Lonnie Thompson was Al Gore’s scientific adviser for the movie.

        That dishonesty wasn’t obvious, but it’s mind-boggling that it could happen, and apparently nobody would care.

    • It was very difficult, even for the very open minded liberals, to be skeptical about AGW (I never met one in real life – very lonely). All the feedbacks were positive. It was a simple matter to drag the people along. I’m reminded of the quote:

      “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”

      –Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

      Just replace some words.

  8. Ever since Carl Sagan science is more about marketing and the truth doesn’t matter.

    • John Carpenter

      I really loved the Cosmos series as a kid. It helped push me more into the study of science. Are you saying that was a bad thing?

      • “How many people remember the peril of nuclear winter? Crichton shows how the entire concept was ‘from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign’ conducted for political ends. A Washington DC public-relations firm was paid $80,000 to publicize the research. The first appearance of the work in the peer-reviewed, scientific literature was in the December 23, 1983, issue of Science (Turco et al., 1983). But the dangers of nuclear winter had been heralded nearly two months earlier by Carl Sagan in the October 30, 1983, issue of Parade magazine, a supplement to Sunday newspapers (Seitz, 1986). By 1986, it was apparent that the conclusions of Turco et al. (1983) were suspect, and that the entire field of research was highly politicized. Writing in the January 23, 1986, issue of Nature, K. A. Emanuel (1986, p. 259) noted that ‘nuclear winter research…has become notorious for its lack of scientific integrity.'” (David Deming. Global warming, the politicization of science, and michael crichton’s “state of fear,” JSE. 2005 Jun;19(2).

      • John Carpenter

        I don’t remember the peril of a nuclear winter being used as a very effective marketing ploy. What I remember was nuclear winter could be an outcome of a nuclear war, but it was really the idea of the nuclear war itself that worried me as a child, not the potential aftermath. There was no doubt in my mind that a full out nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR would be the end of civilization as we would know it, it really didn’t matter to me what the climate would be like afterwards, no?

      • Sagan sort of morphed into the end of times if Saddam lit the oil wells in Kuwait on fire. When you think abouit it Sagan practically goaded Saddam into to torching the wells.

      • John Carpenter

        Yeah, I remember that. I was in graduate school at the time. A quantum theoretician professor of mine who I used to BS a lot with thought the whole idea was total bunk. We worked out a back of the envelope solution to the problem to see if there was anything to it and it didn’t seem to work out as advertised. In fact I don’t remember that idea really getting any traction within the whole chemistry department I was in at the time. People were kinda laughing at Sagan about the idea, certainly not agreeing with it. It’s a pity, ’cause I truely admire Sagan for other work he was good at. I still don’t see Sagan as being a spark to some new paradigm of science advocacy, it’s been there all along as far as I can tell.

  9. “Nothing will out as certainly as the truth” For the long term. Problem is if actions are taken now because of the stampede. As Kensyan (sp) the economist said, The truth will come out in the long term, unfortunately in the very long term we will all be dead. But it is good to have a polite forum with free discussion. This is interesting and the experiment with the planet will show results in the next two or three decades. Has the temperature increase stalled since 2002 or 1998 for a ten or 15 year stable response in the face of increasing CO2? Then what is offsetting the increase? In a hundred years the petroleum era will be done; either thru new technology of fusion, renewables or economic collapse of the first world.

  10. “Danger, Will Robinson!” Things are not as they appear.

    The shoolteachers of Western civilization no longer exhibit the slightest impulse of uplifting. The academics in the dropout factories are teaching that ‘Nothing has Meaning’ and `Power is the Only Absolute.’

    Should we be concerned about this? Should we be concerned about those in academia who are parading climate porn by Kings with no clothes before the children?

    We now see public education in its current state of development as compulsory and for the purposes of state propaganda, and a compliant disarmed public that is kept in a perpetual state of fear and dependent on government in times of both war and peace. Tenured and unaccountable academia is sticking a knife in the back of America, just as in the day of Schopenhauer, wedded to bureaucracy and the pursuit of personal aims while “before its eyes the fear of the Lord, the will of the publisher, the encouragement of students, the goodwill of colleagues, the course of current politics, the momentary tendency of the public, and Heaven knows what else?”

  11. Dr. Curry, you wrote:
    “I remain very concerned with how the topic of climate change is being taught in our universities.”

    I do agree, but I am much more concerned with how climate change is presented in our schools for much younger students and how climate change is presented in the media for all of us and presented to lawmakers and government officials who can make bad choices based on bad information.

  12. Tennessee Votes To Teach Uncertainty In Science. Result?

    In short, Tennessee has forbidden politicians from interfering with teachers who point out that all is not certain in matters scientific. Regular readers of this blog will know that scientism and over-certainty is rampant, such that any program which encourages people to understand (let us call it) scientific cockiness is to be welcomed. This bill forbids Lysenkoism, which is the deciding of scientific “truth” by vote or popular acclaim.
    It rewards teachers who imbue in students how to best “review in an objective manner” evidence, which is the stated purpose of science. So what are folks saying about this legislative breath-of-fresh-air?
    At Think Progress, there is apoplexy, but as this is a permanent state of being for progressives it tells us nothing.

  13. “Dr. Curry, you wrote:
    “I remain very concerned with how the topic of climate change is being taught in our universities.”

    I do agree, but I am much more concerned with how climate change is presented in our schools for much younger students…”

    Last week my nine-year-old stepdaughter announced, apropos of nothing, “Greenhouse gases are evil!” I was shocked. Most disturbingly was the way she said it – from her tone and body language, I knew that this was something she had received positive reinforcement for saying before and was clearly expecting a “Yes – that is very smart of you!” kind of a pat on the back. I remain creeped out and disturbed, and unsure of what to do. (She attends Atlanta Public Schools.)

    I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but I am also a research scientist. This is the sort of thing they’re teaching in school? That a gas is evil???

    Can somebody recommend a non-ideological book about atmospheric sciences for a bright fourth-grader?

    • Cassie

      In the Uk I had the opportunity to present a sceptics view point to a class of bright 10 year olds. I was astonished that their notion of the composition of the atmosphere was so vague, hence their apocalyptic view of the future.

      They had somehow come to believe that some 70% of the atmosphere was comprised of ‘evil’ carbon dioxide and that man was responsible for all of it. It would be interesting to know what your stepdaighters perception would be.

      • Maybe I will try doing that, and discuss with my stepdaughter what her idea of the atmosphere is and what are its component parts. Although I am still worried that I will blow a gasket if she brings up that ‘evil’ stuff. :)

        I can’t believe this is what they’re teaching her. How can a gas be evil? Ideology in place of the scientific process….not good.

      • Cassie,

        If you are allowed/permitted to offer a more complete view of CO2’s role in things- at your daughters class- I suggest trying to help students improve their knowledge of the Carbon Cycle. Something is amiss if only 8% of college students understand that the mass of a tree comes from CO2 (see question 6 in the attached file).
        “College Students’ Understanding of the Carbon Cycle: Contrasting Principle-based and Informal Reasoning”

        In my 5th grade science class we ran the famous mouse in a jar experiment. It’s hard to call a trace gas evil if plant life uses it………

      • andrew adams

        Have you actually made any attempt to discuss with her teacher exactly what they are teaching her? Have you asked to look at the teaching materials being used? That would seem to be the sensible thing to do rather than jump to conclusions based on one remark made by your stepdaughter.
        I would be extremely surprised, shocked even, if she was being taught that gases were “evil”. Maybe that is the case, in which case you would have justified cause for complaint. Or maybe your stepdaughter just made an inappropriate choice of word.

    • Worse, they are teaching that a trace gas is evil.

      • It gets me so mad to think about that.

      • John Carpenter

        I used to get upset also, but found it doesn’t work to your advantage. The role of CO2 in the environment should be a discussion, not a debate as it can become. Present it to your daughter in these terms. We need CO2 for life on earth to exist, but maybe too much CO2 is a problem, we don’t know yet. Some scientists think it will be problematic, others not so much. Introduce her to the idea of a dialogue by discussing instead of reacting. You know this already, just thought i’d say it

  14. “The shoolteachers of Western civilization no longer exhibit the slightest impulse of uplifting. The academics in the dropout factories are teaching that ‘Nothing has Meaning’ and `Power is the Only Absolute.’”

    That’s one heckuva generalization, and I don’t believe it’s true. But I’m open. Explain if you care to. I’m probably one of the few lefties who’ll do his best to see things from your point of view.

    “We now see public education in its current state of development as compulsory and for the purposes of state propaganda, and a compliant disarmed public that is kept in a perpetual state of fear and dependent on government in times of both war and peace.”

    I can see your reasoning re climate change. But what else?

    • A Leftist EPA wants to replace the teachings of ‘religion’ with a conformist population that worships fact based on consensus not science.

      • Yes, that evil and awful EPA who brought us the Clean Air and Clean Water act that has helped to remove millions of tons of pollutants and carcinogens from our environment. Those bad and nasty people.

      • Is that something soldiers said in the guardtowers of the old Warsaw Ghetto?

      • See ‘Armendarez’ & ‘EPA’.

      • Science authoritarians of the EPA nailing the productive to the cross and a Department of Labor that considers workers in the free enterprise system as providing no more value to society than putting shoes in a box. How does the saying go… “we are from the government and we want to help.”

      • Pooh, Dixie

        Actually, the weep of the CAA was the fault of Congress. CAA appeared reasonable in light of and roughly contemporary with The Great London Smog and Donora, PA. Unfortunately, it was “Broad”, “Sweeping”, “Capacious” and “embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe”.

        As Scalia put it (Dissenting, Pg 10 footnote 2), “It follows that everything airborne, from Frisbees to flatulence, qualifies as an ‘air pollutant.’”


      • Pooh, Dixie

        “sweep”, not “weep”, although both are appropriate.

  15. On this issue of Education and how we should and shouldn’t teach our children, of course the issue alway really comes back to our core values and being honest with ourselves about our desire to mold our children to be just like us. Many parent will deny they want to do this, yet, from a very early age we begin to impress upon them our world view and our values. It is this world view and set of accompanying values that will mold their mind as they grow and give them a reference and perspective for the rest of their lives.

    If a parent really values open-minded, skeptical, and critical thinking, do they encourage their children to question the very world-view and value system they grew up with? For example, if they were raised in a religious household and encourage to question whether or not humans activity can really affect the climate through greenhouse gas emissions, were they also taught and encouraged to questions the very world-view that the parents indocrinated them with from an early age?

    The best tool we can give a child is the ability to really think critically and deeply about all issues, looking at all the angles, questioning all assumptions, finding out why something is now accepted as “fact”, etc. This ability to really think deeply and critically is like knife, and the more they use it and deveope it, the sharper it becomes ,and the quicker they can spot nonsense, fakery, puffery, political rhetoric, and general BS. But in giving children this tool (if it is done honestly and without boundaries) then the parent or teacher must openly encourage the child to use it on the very world view they were given since their birth and risk them using that tool to cut themselves away from their childhood paradigms.

  16. A quote from Dr. Erich Fromm. Good for you, Dr. Curry.

  17. Although I didn’t become an economic historian, Bob Fogel was one of my mentors and I cherish the conversations I had with him during grad school.

    Fogel had an interesting idea about two styles of argument in history, that resembles the “debate versus dialogue” distinction but is different in emphasis.

    Fogel thought that some historians treated sources of evidence like witnesses in a legal trial: Such historians viewed their job as lawyerly, to build up or discredit each witness. This kind of historian views herself as an advocate for a position in an adversarial interaction.

    Other historians view themselves as weighing evidence: They may view sources as more or less reliable, but even a less reliable source of evidence gets some weight. That is a quasi-Bayesian view of evidence and sources. Even less reliable evidence can be helpful in forming an overall judgment.

    The legalistic view of evidence classifies some kinds of evidence as admissible and inadmissible. It is a binary judgment. It admits of no nuances of weight. This goes hand-in-hand with the view that witnesses are to be classified as credible or worthless. It also goes hand-in-hand with the idea that judges (in legal proceedings) will instruct jurors to disregard certain statements and/or potential evidence.

    Frankly, this kind of thinking seems medieval to me, relative to 20th century canons of rational decision making and judgment. It also seems cognitively impossible. Haven’t you ever wondered whether a juror can actually follow a judge’s instructions to ignore some piece of argument or evidence?

    I suppose that hot cognition and motivated reasoning push us toward the legalistic way of argument, but I also think we all intuitively know this is not the road to reasonable (much less rational) judgment.

    • You have explained why the Left abandoned the scientific method and why liberal utopianism amounts to nothing more than blaming humanity for living.

  18. Context matters.

    Dr, Gunderman speaking to MDs in a radiology journal about education and uncertainty has a specific context.

    He’s clearly speaking to and about reading results of very difficult — to the untrained eye even moreso — to interpret images for experts in the field in matters that pertain to health and even life and death. Careers, money, reputations and all things that might matter else to physicians come into play in this specific message to this specific audience.

    We may audaciously move from the specific to the general, to take some wider message from Dr. Gunderman for our own purposes.

    However, if we project too much from the specific and unspoken conditions of the article to our own specific interests, we may err.

    Are we to apply analogies from the professional training of radiologists to, for example, educating schoolchildren, or educating ourselves? If so, howso without the careful guidance of experts who work with the specifics of uncertainty daily: accuracy and precision in measurement, statistical and graphical analyses, probability, Game Theory, Chaos Theory.. in short exactly the people who aren’t David Wojick?

  19. Steven M had a comment here – – positing one idea of scientific knowledge contrasting maths and physics.

    I responded here reversing the argument.

    I was of course merely playing with ideas and would have added this there responded there but – frankly – there was too much happening on that thread that was too noxiously repellent to continue. I have asked Judith to intervene again – and must continue to review my involvement here if such behaviour from Bart and Webby is allowed to continue.

    Be that as it may – the question of scientific knowledge is important. It would seem to me that a distinction should be made between knowledge that has stood the test of time and usage and that which is more speculative – more at the frontiers of knowledge. Thus both simple arithmetic and Einstein’s famous formula – E = MC^2 – falls into that category of reliable knowledge. I would include for instance evolution and quantum mechanics in that category but not the non-existence of God, the nature of time or the existence of alternate universes.

    So the question arises – and it is one that Judith at one stage attempted to answer – of just what comes under the category of reliable knowledge in climate science. I would include simple radiative physics of gases and that people are releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – and little else.

    Robert I Ellison

    • Robert I Ellison | April 26, 2012 at 1:08 am |

      Not to nitpick, but it’s a small c. Capital ‘C’ represents elementary charge, or (obviously) carbon if you’re not talking about Physics.

      Speed of light is ‘c’, not ‘C’.

      Typically, the M is also lowercase.

      Carry on.

      • Very good Bart – you will find that C is for Coulomb or Carbon.

        You will also find that I reproduced this from Steven’s comment without thinking about it too much – I knew what he was talking about in this famous form and saw little reason to quibble. Conventions are merely conventions – be a rebel and challenge it. For instance – the m for mass should be italicised under SI rules – but no one ever bothers. Then of course there is the Asomov article in 1959 – C for Celerity and not c for celerity.

        More importantly – have you worked through inertial frames or the derivation of this famous formula from the 2nd law of motion I linked to? Do you feel it brings you closer to understanding by nit picking rather than by 30 years of reading special relativity? Yes – sad to say I am not beyond a most elementary understanding yet.

      • Robert I Ellison | April 26, 2012 at 2:13 am |

        Only 30 years for you? But you’re so much older than I, and I started educating myself in special relativity almost ten years earlier than you. However, I can’t say we’re both moving certainly toward understanding at the speed of light.

        ‘C for Celerity’ was entertaining, but still a work of imagination. It’s fine to teach children some forms of fiction. Fiction can be a great source of education. Still, representing fiction as fact, or folk etymology (or manufactured debate) as science is obviously abusive to some.

        Whereas ‘c’ for ‘constant’ is more pedestrian, and likelier true, given the documentary evidence and conventions of the day.Still, as it’s likelier true, we can present our evidence to schoolchildren and let them judge for themselves, without framing it as a controversy.

        But to the point. No offense intended to Mr. Mosher, but he’s a marketer of some sort, not a physicist or engineer. (Or maybe he is, but that’s not the point. He’s pretty accomplished at marketing, and has been credited rightly with good service in climate science.) The point is with great educational and professional credentials come great expectation of responsibilities. I claim no credentials, which may account for my irresponsibility, but should’t fall below expectations on that account for that reason. You claim virtually all credentials, and so never cease to disappoint in that regard, where you fall below the threshold of, say, even spelling Asimov’s name right. I was simply pointing out how disappointing it is to see (especially with the ‘Blame Mosher’ excuse) so much inaccuracy under the title of ‘education and the art of uncertainty’.

  20. The nesting is becoming difficult. Let me start afresh,

    lolwot | April 26, 2012 at 4:55 am |

    Cripwell says: “The world has been warming since the end of the LIA at the beginning of the 18th century. Proper records which started around 1850, show a clear signal, from unknown causes, of about 0.06 C per decade, clearly visible above the noise of +/- 0.25 C.”

    So that’s your problem. You are using circular reasoning. You assume up front that all the warming over the 20th century is due to the same natural cause. Then you shrug and wonder what’s left for CO2.

    And you think that’s science?


    Utter and complete garbage. I assume NOTHING. I OBSERVE that there has been a steady increase in temperature ever since proper records became available, of ~0.06 C per decade, with a noise level of +/- 0.25 C. This is an OBSERVATION from measured data. We do not know what is causing this signal of 0.06 C per decade, but is clearly visible above the noise.

    According to the proponents of CAGW, starting some 30 years ago, there ought to be an additonal signal of 0.2 C per decade, over and above the 0.06 C per decade which has been present since the record started. No such signal is OBSERVED. If we can detect a signal of 0.06 C per decade, then we must be able to detect a signal of 0.2 C per decade IF IT WAS.THERE.

    We can detect NO signal from the adding of CO2 to the atmopshere, as hypothesised by the proponents of CAGW, Following the scientific method, we must conclude that the signal does not exist, and the climate sensitivity of CO2 added to the atmopshere from current levels is indistinguishable from zero.

    Now where is this line of reasoning wrong?

    • andrew adams


      It’s wrong because it logically assumes a single cause for the warming which has occurred since the late 19th century.

      • andrew, you write “It’s wrong because it logically assumes a single cause for the warming which has occurred since the late 19th century”

        Where in my statement do I assume a single cause for the warming? I stated specificly that the cause of the warming is unknown. There could be dozens of reasons why it is occurring. All the data actually shows, is that nothing seems to have changed in the years since records began., Whatever was causing the warming, single causes or multiuple causes, has not changed.

      • andrew adams


        Fair enough, so you accept that there could be multiple factors in play during this time. But why assume that “whatever was causing the warming, single causes or multiuple causes, has not changed”? After all, the temperatures haven’t been increasing at a constant 0.06C per decade, sometimes it has been more pronounced sometimes it has been flat or even cooling, so clearly during that time the balance of the various factors affecting global temperature has changed. And you do seem to be assuming that the warming effect of increased GHG levels in the atmosphere is not part of that trend, which seems illogical because by definition any such warming trend would be part of the observed trend.

      • andrew you write “But why assume that “whatever was causing the warming, single causes or multiuple causes, has not changed”?”

        I assume no such thing. The data SHOWS that nothing has changed. The slope of the graph, and the noise are unchanged in the 150 years or so that we have the data.

        Your other comments refer to the noise. In addition to the signal, there is noise from who knows what multiple effects, which causes variations in temperature all the time. That is what usually happens with these types of observations. And the whole point of signal to noise ratio problems is, can we detect the signal above the noise? The graph and data clearly show that we can.

        So my question remains. If we can detect a signal of 0.06 C per decade above the noise, then what is the explanatioin for the lack of the 0.2 C epr decade signal from CAGW, unless the explanation is that it simply does not exist? And the climate sensitivity of CO2 added to the atmosphere from curren levels is indistinguishable from zero.

      • andrew adams


        It’s simply not true that the slope is unchanged during the 150 or so years of data. The trend from 1850 through to 1910 is negative (you can actually go right through to about 1930 and still get a negative trend), there is a strong positive trend from 1910 to 1940, a negative trend from 1940 to 1975 and a strong positive trend from 1975 to the current day.

        Obviously these start and end dates are arbitrary to an extent but even from a quick eyeball at the long term temperature record it is clear that the rise in temperatures has not been constant over the whole period.

      • andrew, you write “It’s simply not true that the slope is unchanged during the 150 or so years of data.”

        You are looking at the noise, not the signal. Of course the slope within the noise varies all over the place. That is the nature of noise, which I am beginning to think you simply dont understand. The slope of the 0.06 C per decade signal is the same in 1850 as it is in 2012. That is the issue. And the amount of noise in 1850 is the same as the amount of noise in 2012. The nature of the noise varies all the time. That is why you are observing differences within the noise.

        I am afraid that until you understand the difference between a signal and noise in signal to noise problems, our discussion is going absolutely nowhere.

      • Jim, I see no evidence that the underlying rate has changed, and then I contemplate Livingston and Penn’s sunspots.

      • kim, I do not follow. What has L&P to do with Girma’s graph? According to L&P sunspots should disappear after 2020. If we are heading for a Maunder type solar magnetic minimum, then 2020+ would correspond to around 1645. The coldest temperatures of the Maunder minimum occurred around 1685. Why do you expect to see anything to do with L&P in Girma’s graph?

      • andrew adams


        I admit my stats skill are pretty basic but of course I understand the difference between signal and noise. But these are thirty, forty, even sixty year statistically significant trends we are talking about here. You are going to have to produce some better arguments as to why you can dismiss them as “noise” and why you think there has been single constant 0.6C/decade trend over the whole period. Simply plotting a linear trend over the whole period isn’t going to cut it. And it’s not as if you have any physical basis for that assumption, given that you claim we have no idea what caused it.

      • Andrew, My analytical skills are limited as well. I have given everything I understand. If I have not convinced you, then either I am wrong, or my explanation is inadequate. The only thing I can say, is that I have convinced myself; though that is fairly easy to do. Sorry, I cannot do any better.

      • Well, I attribute the rise since the end of the LIA to solar forcing, and I think it may have reversed.

  21. Judith,

    Scientists turned into statistical analysis and computer programmer.

    This neglected all the wonders of the mechanical processes that are produced.
    Why is it the weight of water vapor defies gravity?
    Convection answer can only go so far as the water vapor cools and gravity should take over by consensus science.
    The answer is pressure deferences and our lack of measuring it properly.
    Atmospheric pressure is layered like the ocean pressure and when water vapor is released, it travels to a different layer of atmospheric pressure.

  22. Judith and others, you might be interested in my latest post about model uncertainty in climate sensitivity:

    • Hi Tamsin, thanks for the link, i will also post it in my week in review. Looks like a very interesting post, i will dig in and comment on your thread this eve.

    • There is one Model that is always right.
      Earth’s actual measured data, if correctly measured and reported is output from the one Model that is always right. Look at the Data.

      I am not the least bit concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will get outside the range of the past ten thousand years. 

      I am very concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will stay inside the range of the past ten thousand years.

      In this warm part of the very stable, well bounded cycles, we have it really good right now.  Life thrives in the warm cycles and Life is really rough in the cool cycles. The Little Ice Age was between the Medieval Warm Period and the Current Warm Period and we will head back toward those conditions.

  23. For those concerned about the teaching of middle school physical science, your first stop should be Prof. John L. Hubisz’s site:

    A quote to pique your interest:

    “The books have a very large number of errors, many irrelevant photographs, complicated illustrations, experiments that could not possibly work, and diagrams and drawings that represented impossible situations. It is no wonder that teachers and students alike find difficulty with physical science in the Middle Schools.

    “Some might suggest that corrections can come later, but evidence shows that many students are turned off by their Middle School experience and most never choose to take another physical science course.”

    Prof. Hubisz has noted elsewhere that many middle school science teachers never took a single course in science or mathematics at the education schools they attended.

    Given this, in my opinion it is mostly irrelevant whether or not climate science is taught in public middle schools or whether there is any discussion of controversy or uncertainty because there are clearly bigger fish to fry. It seems that science is taught only to the extent it serves the larger purpose of indoctrinating students to a leftist-environmentalist point of view.

    Though it is sad to hear of the little girl who thinks CO2 is an “evil gas,” it is much worse to think that she may be so baffled by poor science teaching that she will look elsewhere for a career.

    • Oops! I intended to mention that I’ve been lurking here for a while–and enjoying it–so here is my first comment.

  24. @ RobertG, got to admit, I also watched silently for a long time. My middle school kids were punished for writing papers in science classes trying to understand atmospheric/ocean heating and catastrophic vs uncertain changes. Turned my boy off to science although he went on to become a Navy officer. He learned more about the weather and variables from being at sea. Also now to check evidence instead of blindly following lclaims. As I learned 40 years ago, also from the Navy. But this is a lot of fun.

  25. Yesterday I posted he following

    Jim Cripwell | April 26, 2012 at 7:03 am | Reply

    The nesting is becoming difficult. Let me start afresh,

    lolwot | April 26, 2012 at 4:55 am |

    Cripwell says: “The world has been warming since the end of the LIA at the beginning of the 18th century. Proper records which started around 1850, show a clear signal, from unknown causes, of about 0.06 C per decade, clearly visible above the noise of +/- 0.25 C.”

    So that’s your problem. You are using circular reasoning. You assume up front that all the warming over the 20th century is due to the same natural cause. Then you shrug and wonder what’s left for CO2.

    And you think that’s science?


    Utter and complete garbage.


    I notice lolwot has not responded. He also failed to respond to David Wojick recently. This seems to be the trouble with the proponents of CAGW. In any discussion on a level playing field, such as our hostess has provided for us, they always seem to lose ony scientific debate. But then they do not seem have the integrity to acknowledge that they are wrong.

    Using Girma’s graph, it would seem that I have established, from observed data, that the climate sensitivity of CO2 added to the amosphere from current levels, is indistinguishable from zero. lolwot does not seemed to be prepared to challenge this. Andrew Adams brought up a red herring, but did not refute my claim

    Anyone else prepared to show me where I am wrong?

  26. Michael Hart

    A subject which purports to be based on scientific principles has what I would term an “internal discipline.”
    This is peculiar to each subject and is primarily related to the frequency with which reality shows the practitioner to be wrong. Medicine has this “internal discipline” in spades. It’s worth recalling the old joke about doctors [physicians] being the only profession with a 100% failure rate. They can expect to see a lot of dead people over the course of a career, many of them their own patients that they could not cure. I think this probably teaches a certain amount of humility along with regular reminders about their own lack of knowledge. Engineering students I knew told me tales of having to build model bridges and then test them to destruction. Very sensible, I think.

    My own experience of organic chemistry laboratories is that chemists get reminded of their “feet of clay” even more often. Fortunately the consequences of failure are not as traumatic as in medicine, engineering, or rocket science. Even so, as a graduate teaching assistant I saw first hand just how many undergraduate science students were sorely in need of this particular type of educational lesson. “But I did exactly what it said I should”, or, in other words: ”I am right. The experiment hasn’t worked and it’s not my fault.”
    How often has that been heard from students who found it difficult to accept that they didn’t understand as much as they thought they did? They were sometimes very able students.

    Now. Can anyone think of a scientific subject that conducts research that is difficult to falsify over short time periods?
    A subject where long term data collection is necessary over many decades, or even over periods longer than one person’s career? A subject where the expense and difficulty of experimental research results in computer models being given a primacy unrivalled in any other scientific discipline? A subject which is not yet a mature discipline? A subject where serious consequences of being seriously wrong may not have been countenanced by many of the practitioners? [If indeed there ever will be any consequences for them if they are proved seriously wrong after they have retired]. A subject where external scrutiny is made harder by all of the above. Yet a subject which is being used to justify sweeping changes to the economies of the industrialized world?

    I can think of one such subject. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s practitioners displayed quite different attitudes to uncertainty and error when compared to those of Radiologists.

  27. Teachers Endure Balancing Act Over Climate Change Curriculum
    For the first time, new national educational standards for grades K-12 will link global warming trends to manmade emissions. Part of our Coping With Climate Change series, Hari Sreenivasan looks at the challenges teachers face when covering the topic of climate science in their classrooms.