What separates science from non-science?

by Judith Curry

This past week, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress to cut NSF funding of political “science” .  This amendment . . .  brings to light an important debate on the more fundamental nature and scope of science itself.

There are two interesting posts at Real Clear Science (h/t Kip Hanson).  The first article by Thomas Hartfield is entitled  ‘NSF Should Stop Funding Social ‘Science‘.  Some excerpts:

This past week, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress to cut NSF funding of political “science,” to the dismay of some. Politicians cherry-picking projects to be allowed and funded is certainly not a pleasant notion. That said, this amendment does not target any specific study or research; it actually brings to light an important debate on the more fundamental nature and scope of science itself.

“Urban food system alternatives,” “how power affects empathy” and “outlook on life and political ideology” are all recent projects to gain NSF funding. 

This is not to discount the value of work in this field or others like it. The study of life and society as well as art, literature, history and other things unquantifiable certainly has value and has a place in our consciousness. I simply contend that it does not fall under the jurisdiction of science. It does not and cannot follow the rigorous requirements of reproducibility, testability and objective truth required of science.

Why should the National SCIENCE Foundation fund non-science?

This was followed by an article by  Alex B. Berezow & Tom Hartsfield who ask the question “What Separates Science from Non-Science?”

The term “science” carries a centuries-long aura of legitimacy and respectability. But not every field of research can rightly call itself scientific.Traditionally, fields such as biology, chemistry, physics and their spinoffs constitute the “hard sciences” while social sciences are called the “soft sciences.” A very good reason exists for this distinction, and it has nothing to do with how difficult, useful or interesting the field is. Instead, it has to do with how scientifically rigorous its research methods are.

What do we mean by scientifically rigorous? Let’s start by discussing what we don’t mean.

Using statistics doesn’t make a field scientifically rigorous. Baseball players and gamblers use statistics everyday. They are not scientists. Even using extremely complicated math and statistics doesn’t make a field scientific.

The mathematically intensive field of economics is largely preoccupied with determining correlation and causation. In order to do so, economists employ a statistical technique, multiple regression analysis, which is every bit as complicated as it sounds. But, as the authors of Freakonomicswrite, “[R]egression analysis is more art than science.”

So, if mind-bending statistical analysis doesn’t make a field scientifically rigorous, what does? Five concepts characterize scientifically rigorous studies:

  • Clearly defined terminology.
  • Quantifiability. 
  • Highly controlled conditions. 
  • Reproducibility. 
  • Predictability and testability. 

Admittedly, this is a tough list. But, it’s supposed to be. The standard for rigorous science should be very high. Even some fields widely accepted as scientifically rigorous don’t always measure up. Particle physics – most notably, string theory – sometimes makes predictions that are not testable with modern technology. Epidemiology often cannot perform controlled experiments, both for reasons of ethics and practicality. Epidemiologists can’t lock 20,000 people in a room for 20 years to determine if force-feeding them hot dogs will cause cancer. Instead, they rely on observational studies.

But, clearly, some social science fields hardly meet any of the above criteria.

So, returning to the question posed in the title of this article, “What separates science from non-science?” It’s hard to say. There isn’t a crystal clear dividing line between the two. But, what can be definitively said is this: A scientifically rigorous study will meet all or most of the above requirements, and a less rigorous study will meet few if any of those requirements.

As useful and interesting as the social sciences are, they usually fall into the latter category.

JC comments:  If Berezow and Hartsfield are correct in their criteria for what is science vs what is not, it seems that all of the geosciences and environmental science is not really science, not to mention cosmology and string theory.  We’ve had this discussion before at Climate Etc., see especially Mike Zajko’s essay on Scientific Method (see also the comments).  Another implication is that the methods of science cannot be applied to complex systems.  IMO the issue of what separates science from non-science is a much more complex issue than Berezow and Hartsfield articulate.

So where does that leave the social sciences in terms of NSF funding?  Information on the NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences is found [here]. The mission of the SBE Directorate is:

There is consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society. Furthermore, the activities supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – fundamental research and education based at academic institutions – are generally viewed as among the most productive of all Federal investments.

The Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences at NSF (SBE) supports the research that underlies such findings, as well as other research that builds fundamental knowledge of human behavior, interaction, and social and economic systems, organizations and institutions. It does this through its Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS), Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES), and SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA).

To improve understanding of science and engineering, SBE provides tools for tracking the human and institutional resources vital to building the nation’s science and engineering infrastructure. It does this through its National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), which is the nation’s primary source of data on the science and engineering enterprise.

To get a sense of what is being funded, see this list of recent discoveries.
Soooo . . . . do you think that NSF should be funding the social sciences?

284 responses to “What separates science from non-science?

  1. Joe's World


    That would be mechanics and the lack of scientists understanding this area.
    This does not mean physics theories.

    • With global warming we are not dealing with the physical world at all. By first naming it the experts only then were able to create the crisis they wanted so badly. Put yourself in the moment: just imagine how silly it would have seemed to them at the time when global warming alarmism was being born to have named it ‘climate change’ instead. Just imagine how irresistible and compelling the analogy of a ‘greenhouse’ must have seemed to these experts back then and all of the smirks and special signs that come with carrying off any serious hoodwink.

      Scientists Name Baby ‘Global Warming’ http://wp.me/p27eOk-d6

      • Thanks for the link. I agree, AGW is a teetering house of cards on a slippery slope, created solely for ideological purposes.

        However a very useful purpose was served by the Climategate emails and documents that were released in November 2009.

        Attempts by world leaders and leaders of the scientific community and the news media to justify and excuse fraudulent government science exposed fear of the “nuclear fires” that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as the motivation for a far more serious threat to the integrity of science and cherished values that were established for our government in 1776:

        Globalization – beginning with the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, the big lie in 1946 about the internal composition of the Sun [ http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-98 ], and the march of people into a worldwide, fascist Orwellian society !


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

      • Mixing science with non-science begins when the US National Academy of Sciences, a private, self-sustaining group reviews budgets of NSA, DOE, NASA, EPA, DARPA, NOAA, etc. for Congress.

        “The Sacred Science” of the Church that that threatened Copernicus and Galileo in 1543 and 1633 differs only in name from the “The Sacred Science” of the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, and the UN’s IPCC, in ignoring the core ‘Sol’ (Sun) that Copernicus discovered and sketched: http://tinyurl.com/7qx7zxs

        My conclusions as a researcher in space and nuclear sciences since 1960 dovetail with those in the book on “Sacred Science”:


        and David Icke’s address at the Oxford Union Debating Society 3-4 years ago on the worldwide fascist Orwellian state:

        010 min: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jgebieGXPk
        112 min: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCwAcJ78a8A

        The instinct of survival and fear of “nuclear fires” that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 convinced world leaders to

        a.) Establish the United Nations in October 1945
        b.) Obscure information on nuclear energy and
        c.) Change the interior of stars in 1946** by
        d.) Compromising almost every field of science
        e.) Before surfacing as Climategate in 2009

        **Fred Hoyle, “The chemical composition of the stars,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 255-59 (1946); “The synthesis of the elements from hydrogen,” Monthly Notices Royal Astronomical Society 106, 343-83 (1946)

        Documentation of these events is available here:


        And in ten publications and five videos in my abbreviated profile


        Although racism, nationalism, the threat of nuclear war, and unequal access to medical care have been reduced as the result of these 1945-46 decisions, . . .

        Constitutional limits on political leaders and constitutional protections of the rights of citizens have been seriously damaged as science became a tool of propaganda that denied citizens access to reliable information needed to make informed decisions.

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

        PS – My research mentor, Professor Paul Kazuo Kuroda [then Dr. Kazuo Kuroda of the Imperial University of Tokyo] was the first scientist to examine the ashes of Hiroshima in August 1945.

  2. What is a “correct” set of criteria for determining what is science and what is not is a simple matter of definition. It’s arbitrary labeling unless it’s accompanied by arguments telling us why this particular usage is useful. And I see none in the Berezow & Hartsfield article. They tell us how to use the label in a particular way, but not why. And therefore there is no relevance to the issue of what should be funded.

  3. Ernst Mayr has made the argument that biology is, in fact, a science even though it does not adhere to the physics model.

    The real problem is not methodology, which varies legitimately and by need between sciences, but the politicization of science. All the social sciences, including economics and history, have been severely damaged by politicization and political correctness and are by and large useless for guiding public policy.

    All of the environmental sciences, except for geology, have also been partially politicized and have lost public confidence and utility. Over the last 45 years, my own discipline of environmental engineering has been degraded to the point that often I cannot discriminate between truth and falsity in topics that I do not personally work on. Climatology is an especially egregious example of politicization, and I personally would not care to advise a new graduate student to pursue it.

    • David Springer

      Ernst Mayr wasn’t talking about biology writ large but rather about evolutionary biology which is a tiny subset of biology. I prefer to call it historic biology and compare it to experimental biology. Virtually every major discovery in the field of biology which has practical application comes from experimental biology i.e. from the study of living tissue not imprints left in rocks. Evolutionary biology is a narrative science of “just-so” stories. The parallels between evolutinary biology and climate science are legion.

      • I am coming in rather late to this discussion so i may be repeating things said further down, but I think you have hit this on the head – and yet still may not be finding a solution!

        I am an experimental biologist and we always made fun of social scientists by saying that when they had three anecdotes they called this a data set. To be honest, I think it might have been a social scientist who said this first to criticize their own field.

        So far so good, but when we try to take our experimental results into the world outside our labs, we come up against the fact the the world is not a lab but a collection of anecdotes. The fact that we often can’t repeat lab findings in the field (to me the crux of the climate change issues) has allowed non-science (to use the terms in this post) to gain a foothold in what was previously a strongly scientific enterprise.

        Evolutionary biology was a case where the lack of experimental evidence left much room for individual philosophies to drive theories which were difficult to refute. Hence we are left in a situation as a society where people can claim “scientific” support for a number of viewpoints which are considered to be pretty whacky on the whole. This was not a case of “does evolution happen” or not, but that how it happened was not clear and the debate gave room for people to throw doubt on the whole edifice.

        This is not the same – in my mind – to the climate debate. The “climate sciences” are hard sciences – atmospheric physics, meteorology, geology etc., but because when they hit the complexity ( and hence anecdotal in terms of our experiences) of the worlds climate systems, there was too much room for people with an agenda. I am not trying to be conspiracy theorist here, but where you have anecdotal data sets, you will end up using some criteria to include or exclude examples and these will be based on what you want to “prove”. Climate scientists (as distinct from the sciences they were trained in) are now a self-defined group with pretty similar viewpoint on what they believe is going on and a pretty big political imperative has grown up around this. There is still a lot of debate within the various fields, but because of the political imperative, the group of climate scientists has been given a sort of carte blanche to ride roughshod over this and declare a consensus.

  4. It seems to me that when it comes to what we call “professionals”, there will always be a requirement for some form of self-regulation. This clearly applies to the medical, legal and engineering professionals. They are required to see that the people who practice these professions strictly adhere to what is required to do their jobs properly, outside of any political interference; e.g. the Hyppocratic oath taken by doctors.

    The question as to whether scientists are “professionlas” in this sense has never been clear. Certainly, there is no legislation in existence for scientists, as there is for doctors, lawyers and professional engineers. But, to some extent, there clearly is a requirement for some form of self regulation in the scientific “profession”. But I do not think it at all unreasonable, where politicians feel that science is not exercising enough self-regulation, that they should step in, and change funding.

    This is what I suspect is happening. The politicians in the USA feel that science funding is going in the wrong direction, because of a lack of self-regulation. So they are stepping in, to curb what these politicians see as a waste of funds. In which case, the scientists have only themselves to blame.

    • So I am scratching my head and wondering how self-regulation would handle an activist like Jim Hansen?

      • zentgraf2 Imagine that Jim Hansen was a heart surgeon, and he made similar statements on heart surgery techniques in the way he has talked about CAGW. I am not sure what the equivalent of the Canadian College of Physicians and Surgeons is in the USA, but whatever it is, how do you think they would have acted? Answer that question, and you dont need to scratch you head. The same reasoning would apply if he were a lawyer or professional engineer.

      • Hansen pioneered the field so I expect he would be left alone by the boards. Pioneers becoming extremists is fairly common, in all fields. It is hard to get off the sled that made you famous.

    • ceteris non paribus

      Do you really trust James Inhofe or Newt Gingrich or Al Gore or Barack Obama to know more about science than scientists?

      Do you really think that politicians are worried about “wasting funds” when the price of a single F-22 could support the work of a large scientific research group for years?

      Once you begin to depend on politicians for the upholding of professional ethics, you may as well throw your towel in.

      • Rob Starkey

        Perhaps you miss the point that it is those politicans that determine what gets funded. The F-22 is without value–until it is needed and then it is the best fighter in the world by a wide margin.

      • ceteris non paribus

        The F-22 is without value? The nice folks at Lockheed Martin & Boeing will be shocked to learn that…

        It is perhaps you who misses the point. Politicians are clearly not the best judges of the quality of either combat equipment or scientific research. Most of them train as lawyers, very few have experience in the military or in a research lab. The law of averages dictates that, occasionally, they do something smart, as well as expedient.

      • it is like any other tool. when it just sitting there it is useless. when it is constantly on training missions, it is a deterrance, and saves a lot of money and lives in the future. when it is on the battlefield, it is a terror, and suppresses any enemy’s will and activity.

        But is the politicians who represent you and I. they were put there by us. if you do not trust them, do you want to trust crooks like Hansen and schmidt and jones? what kind of koolaid are you drinking?

      • David Springer

        Jesus I friggin’ hate it when people just make crap up out of thin air.

        “Politicians are clearly not the best judges of the quality of either combat equipment or scientific research. Most of them train as lawyers, very few have experience in the military”

        Actually elected members of the federal government served in the military in far greater percentage than the general population. Over 60% of U.S. presidents, 33% of Supreme Court Justices, 26% of US senators, and 20% of US representatives.


        According to the latest census 24.6 million Americans are veterans which is just a hair less than 10% of the adult population. So there is no dearth of people in elected federal office with military experience.

        However, your point is very well taken about lawyers. More than 30% of federal elected office holders were lawyers while less than 1% of the general population are lawyers. This might not be so surprising though if you consider the U.S. as as nation that follows the rule of law and lawyers are those who study the law. Since the federal government makes, enforces, and reviews the law one might presume that those with the most knowledge of the law tend to become the makers, enforcers, and reviewers of same.

      • Certeri, you write “Do you really trust James Inhofe or Newt Gingrich or Al Gore or Barack Obama to know more about science than scientists?”

        No I dont, but you are missing the point. Doctors, lawyers and professionsal engineers, are by laws passed by politicians, self-regulating bodies. Scientists has no equivalent legal self-reguilatory authority. But this does not mean that dont have an obligation to practice some sort of self-regulatory function. And if they fail to carry out a reasonable amount of self-regulation, then the politicians will step in, and do it for them.

        That is the issue. The scientific authorities have been lax in self-regulation. The politicians dont like it. My suggestion is that the scientific authorities need to take notice of what the politicians are doing, and make a better job of self-regulation in the future.

      • ceteris non paribus


        Remember Physicists Pons and Fleischmann?

        How about Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser?

        Biologist Luk Van Parijs?

        Andrew Wakefield?

        Edward Wegman?

        Perhaps you see the pattern here?

      • Nice try at sleazing Wegman.

      • do you really think it is so hard to figure out a political funding under the guise of science? if we are at that level of inability to grasp the reality, i guess we are all screwed.

      • Steven Mosher

        well the f-22 and the YF23 ( the better plane) supported the work of scientific communities for many many years.

        You know of course why the air force studied the science of c02 in the stratosphere? You understand why HITRAN was built and who built it.

      • Rob Starkey

        Just a bit. Today we use nvtherm

      • David Springer

        “Do you really trust James Inhofe or Newt Gingrich or Al Gore or Barack Obama to know more about science than scientists?”

        I don’t trust them to give public opinions devoid of partisan political bias. But on a general note I believe an eagle knows more about forests than trees. Trite though it may be individual scientists can’t see the forest for the trees. It takes someone above it all to see the big picture. The problem is you named politicians who, while being above it, are still not objective observers.

      • ceteris

        Do you really trust James Inhofe or Newt Gingrich or Al Gore or Barack Obama to know more about science than scientists?

        Answer: Depends on the “scientists”. If these are simply advocates or activists trying to sell a bill of goods, then I don’t trust them any more than I do the politicians you listed.


        PS IPCC is not “scientists”, either. It is a political body set up under the UN to identify (deleterious) human impacts on our climate and to recommend solutions for any of these; its very reason for existence is the premise of deleterious human impacts on our climate.

  5. those recent decade, since Berlin wall fall about, there have been a movement to chase the mistakes, the bad decision, the bad science, the bad quality… in science, and other bog organization like corp and states.

    the result have been a dramatic loss in innovation with an international body of incestuous requirements, criteria, standards, removing most of judgment capability to deciders, and letting an bunch of conformist rules, and barman moral.

    The written rules will never allow good decision, stop bullshit, allow innovation.
    Global criteria, will neither.
    the result is that consensus become the rule, and consensus is a self-enforcing system, that prevent any dissenter to challenge it’s pretended truth.

    the only good solution is to have opposite school of thinking, with eventually/probably total lack of honesty to defend their own theory, a big incentive to stay different.
    Naturally the fan of each theory will invest so much that they get locked in their idea (See Roland Benabou theory at Princeton, about collective delusion and denial)
    after some time, decades to century, the truth will emerge are the only useful theory that give practical results… the old supporters of bad theories will have challenged all that could be, have adapted their own theory to fit the fact, until it is desperately evident it is broken, and will have died. (see: Wegener, QM, Ether/GR)
    there will only remain a group of NGO, religion, syndicate, corporations, using the dead theory as a way to make business, defend their thesis, protect their beliefs… (see: homeopathy, psychoanalysis, astrology, spinach/vitamin C sellers, Marxists, efficient market finance theorist, Wifi frighteners)…

    as says Benoit Rittaud in his book “le mythe climatique”, with time people will realize climatology is mixed with climato-mancy , and becoming mature, the real climatology will expulse it’s embedded pseudo-science… and nobody will see any scandal… the todays dissenters will be forgotten, and the past will look nice…

  6. doctorbunsenhoneydew

    Falsifiability is a good start to the definition of the distinction between science and non-science. It is ironic that the GCMs that are used to produce falsifiable predictions of future climate are regarded by many skeptics as not being science.

    • doctorbunsenhoneydew

      I should add that the distinction between science and non-science is not a distinction in value of research, just its type. There are plenty of reasons to pursue research that may not be strictly speaking scientific, but which fall broadly with the activities that we associate with science.

      • Latimer Alder


        ‘There are plenty of reasons to pursue research that may not be strictly speaking scientific, but which fall broadly with the activities that we associate with science.’

        Concrete examples, please, with reasons. Because at first hearing this is rhetorical nonsense.

      • Please explain how ‘climate change’ is falsifiable.

    • Hey, Maw! There’s a guy over here who says I can have my model and test it too.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        I also wonder why there are some that seek to disrupt discussions of interesting scientific matters with pointless one-liners. Have you nothing better to do?

      • Kim’s one liners often do more to illuminate the essential absurdity of CAGW…not to mention the folly of man….than anything I can think of. Keep ’em coming Kim.

      • I just transcribe; it writes itself.

      • Meep, meep-meep – Meeeeeep!

    • Latimer Alder

      @doctorbunsenhoneydew (hereafter DBH)

      ‘It is ironic that the GCMs that are used to produce falsifiable predictions of future climate are regarded by many skeptics as not being science’

      Did I blink? Have I missed something? Has somebody produced a GCM and dared to publish predictions (in advance) that can be easily and quantifiably tested within a reasonable timescale?

      Bring them on! Please lay out for all to see the quantified predictions – with timescales – that we can all use to assess whether the models are any f…g good at anything other than job creation.

      To make life easier you can lay it out like a racing tipster might. Simple yes/no tests that the general public can understand. All from one model, and all simply testable.


      Predictins from model XYZ. Produced on xx/yy/zzzz and published on aa/bb/zzzz.

      1. ‘Olympic Brit’ to win the St Leger in 2012
      2 ‘ Upside Down Aussie’ to win the Melbourne Cup in 2013
      3. ‘Jack Daniels’ to come in the first three in the Kentucky Derby this year.
      4. ‘The Team’ training stable to finish outside the top 100 of successful trainers in the 2010-2015 measurement.

      Over to you:

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        Latimer, the principle of falsifiablity, as set out by Popper, doesn’t require that the falsification can be performed over a particular timescale.

      • Latimer Alder

        So that’s a ‘no’ then. You cannot rise to the challenge I set.

        I’m forced to conclude that you do not have enough confidence in the models yourself to submit them to such simple and common sense tests.

        And I don’t think I’d be alone in finding your original statement that there were ‘falsifiable models’ a bit duplicitous if you are subsequently to claim the get out clause that falsifiability cannot be done within a useful timescale.

        I will not be buying any insurance policies from DBH Associates. I;d prefer my insurers to be honest brokers rather than mere logic choppers or big girls blouses.

        And you wonder why skeptics think that unverified models are useless?

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        Latimer, I am happy with Popper’s definition of falsifiability. If you have a hypothesis about what will transpire over the course of a century, then you have to wait a century for it to pan out. If the noise in the observations is such that you have to wait 30+ years for the statistics to be meaningful, then you have to wait 30+ years.

        Now the hyperbole and posturing in your post above does not encourage me to respond to you any further. If you want a rational discussion about falsification then that is fine, if you just want to be rude, then sorry, I’m not interested.

      • Latimer Alder


        I’d like to see some evidence that any of the 30+ climate models we have so expensively paid for are any good at all in predicting future climate(s) on timescales that are useful to us.

        A model that can only tell us what may happen in a century or so does not fall into that category. Especially if we are asked to believe that its predictions require us it take urgent, drastic action now. It may satisfy your academic desire to acquire Popperian truth ,but it is no f…g use to Joe Sixpack or anybody else in trying to understand what, if any, actions need to be taken right now.

        And, I’d submit, if the ‘climate modelling community’ can’t collectively realise that not having any such evidence in their kitbag puts at risk their fields and careers, then they are even less wordly-wise than I think them to be.

        The public purse is not infinite, nor the public patience inexhaustible. to have over 30 models and not one that has ever been shown to reliably predict anything at all is, I submit, a passport to pretty rapid financial extinction.

        And if you’d like to explain to Joe and his friends (and me) in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck exactly how Karl Popper’s musings mean that it is perfectly OK for our taxes to carry on paying you to produce such useless models, you’d be very welcome. They are a ‘robust’ but not violent set of debaters.

        So, I’ll ask again just to make sure that we all understand:

        Is there any evidence (predictions matched by subsequent observation) that climate models can helpfully predict anything at all about the climate?

        If so, please list the achievements with sources.
        If not, why do we have them at all?

      • I feel this quote is appropriate here:

        “Another most interesting change in the ideas and philosophy of science brought about by quantum mechanics is this: it is not possible to predict exactly what will happen in any circumstance. For example, it is possible to arrange an atom which is ready to emit light, and we can measure when it has emitted light by picking up a photon particle, which we shall describe shortly. We cannot, however, predict when it is going to emit the light or, with several atoms, which one is going to. You may say that this is because there are some internal “wheels” which we have not looked at closely enough. No, there are no internal wheels; nature, as we understand it today, behaves in such a way that it is fundamentally impossible to make a precise prediction of exactly what will happen in a given experiment.

        “This is a horrible thing; in fact, philosophers have said before that one of the fundamental requisites of science is that whenever you set up the same conditions, the same thing must happen. This is simply not true, it is not a fundamental condition of science. The fact is that the same thing does not happen, that we can find only an average, statistically, as to what happens. Nevertheless, science has not completely collapsed.

        “Philosophers, incidentally, say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong. For example, some philosopher or other said it is fundamental to the scientific effort that if an experiment is performed in, say, Stockholm, and then the same experiment is done in, say, Quito, the same results must occur. That is quite false. It is not necessary that science do that; it may be a fact of experience, but it is not necessary.”

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        I have children, centennial scale projections are interesting to me. Even if I didn’t I still care about future generations and care about the problems we might cause them by actions taken today.

        Climate models are just about reaching the point where they make decadal predictions worth looking at, which is why such projections will be icluded in AR5.

      • When have GCM’s demonstrated any forward predictability at all on regional scales?
        BTW, something being included in an IPCC report has little to do with it being correct, much less good science.

      • ….Oh and please no more appeals about how much AGW believers care for their children. That line of argument, whether part of a book title or a claim of caring more than others, is insultingly deceptive on multiple levels.

      • Latimer Alder


        ‘I have children. Centennial scale projections are interesting to me’

        Great. Good to hear it. I’m happy that you have found a harmless hobby that is pretty much totally useless. You can sit in your ivory tower musing and speculating and pondering to your heart’s content…at your own expense.

        But if you and your colleagues want to continue your paid employment at my expense, then I suggest that you turn your attention to something a bit more concrete and immediate than something which only be of use to your great great grandchildren…and then only as a historical curiosity.

        It’s also worth noting that as economic times get tougher, public concern about ‘climate’ falls to new lows and budgets come under more and nore scrutiny for value for money, a climate model that has no conceivabel way to show that it is even approaching ‘right’, let alone ‘useful’ is a very very vulnerable line item.

        And if you cannot here explain in simple terms any achievement at all of the models…to a relatively interested and knowledgeable audience…how the flying f..k are you going to do so to a politician with limited scientific background, little interest in climate and a zillion other things he’d rather spend the money on? I doubt that your reliance on Popperism will secure your continued funding.

        And I too, have children and grandchildren. I’m second to no-one in my desire that they should have a healthy happy and prosperous future. But it’s a sure fire sign that the protagonist has lost the argument – whatever that argument may be – when they trot out the bathos of

        ‘Will nobody think of the children’

        Please try to address the issues, not tug at our heartstrings. We are not on Oprah or some other vapid emotional TV chat show.

      • Dr. B,

        Hate to break the news, my slippery friend, but Latimer nailed you. If your models have not yet produced predictions that have been verified by observation then they aren’t freakin’ well-established in any “scientific” sense. And if it takes 30 to 100 years for a such an evaluation of your models to be performed, then they aren’t “scientifically” established to any credible degree, until then. Certainly, not the equivalent of settled science. And certainly not a reasonably “scientific” basis upon which to keep you and your pals enjoying the first-class comforts of your CO2 pig-out gravy-train while you do your eager-beaver best to kill off our jobs and close off the futures of our kids.

        And then, Dr. B, you dodge any further inquiry by Latimer by claiming he’s being rude. Thank you, Dr. B., with that you’ve treated us to the mind and mentality of a con-man. Not a pretty sight, but a pretty typical one for you greenshirt, sell-out hired-guns.

        And in another comment a bit down thread there you’ve joined a whole strutting, creep-out, freak-show, of carbon-glutton hypocrites and carbon-swilling self-righteous prigs who assure us it’s for “their kids” that “we” need to take urgent action to reduce carbon–“we” meaning us helots, peons, and serfs,and our kids–not you and your kids, we can be sure.

        But I could be wrong. Perhaps, Dr. B., your illuminated understanding of the carbon peril has prompted you to lead from the front and by personal example in matters of carbon reduction. If so, please don’t be bashful. Please, don’t hide your candle under a bushel.

        So, Dr. B, tell us “little people”–us useless-eaters, who, as you know, have that pesky, vulgar expectation that their smarty-pants betters should practice what they preach–the low carbon life-style you and your “kids” lead. Only local foods? Travel only by foot and bicycle? Layered clothing in winter and nothing more to keep out the cold? And in your professional life? Boycott of any professional confab that doesn’t allow you to attend via video-conference? Constant titanic fights with your employer to eliminate air-conditioning and heat from the work-spaces? Similar struggle with the boss, on behalf of your “kids, to ban fossil-fuel powered vehicles from the employer’s work-site? Anything else you might want to add that would help us understand your unique “Do as I say and as I do” philosophy.

        You got the picture, Dr. B?

        You know, Dr. B., I think I’m not the only one when I say I’m getting so very sick of you breezy, two-faced, carbon-hoggy, slicko advocates of carbon-reduction with your scam-science and your good-deal, trough-included, tax-payer rip-off, “climate science” gigs–you know, kinda like the “Tobacco-scientist” deal, but it’s “for the kids.”

        And, oh by the way, Dr. B., everything I know about you and your “good works” is based on a Dr. B. “model” I worked up. And while my “model” hasn’t yet been tested in any meaningful scientific sense, it’s still good to go. Sound familiar?

      • LA isn’t this a moot point? Isn’t it the case that the climatologits HAVE made falsifiable predictions, and they HAVE been falsified. It’s just that every time a climatologit is confronted with a falsification, he either disowns it (eg as a mere “scenario”, not a real prediction) or, accounts for the discrepancy by retrospectively amending his theory, the better to save it?

      • David Springer

        Already falsified. IPCC ensemble projections showed a minimum 2C sensitivity to CO2 doubling and maximum of 6C. Projections were made according to several anticipated CO2 emissions scenarios from much mitigation to business-as-usual exponential growth in emissions. The actual emissions followed the business as usual scenario while the actual sensitivity came in at 1C. The models are thus falsified but the climate science industry refuses to acknowledge the failure and trying to lay blame on various things from “missing heat” in the ocean depths to Chinese burning mass quantities of dirty coal and particulates thereof causing a cooling effect that negates the warming effect of CO2. Thereby the model-predicted CO2-sensitivity is protected while ancilliary confounding effects are investigated and the all-important gravy train of research funding continues unabated.

      • doctor

        If the time scale is infinite, there can be no falsification, ergo the “principle of falsifiability” is not met.


      • Steven Mosher


        You clearly do not understand the principle of “falsifiability”
        It was intended to separate “metaphysical” statements which have no empirical content from “scientific” statements. To be falsifiable means to be falsifiable in principle. The statement

        1 Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming

        is falsifiable.

        In the same way that

        2. Yellowstone caldera will erupt in the next 100K years

        is falsifiable

        That is, there exists a set of “observations” x, such that if we observed that set we would tend to discount the statement. In practice, people rarely falsify a theory, they refine it. Something even Popper knew.

        For contrast..

        “God is love” is not falsifiable
        “All is One” is not falsifiable
        “Monads Rock!” is not falsifiable

      • Latimer Alder

        @steven mosher


        Perhaps I confused ‘falsifiable’ with ‘testable’, ‘useful’ or ‘worth the money’.

        I really should know better.

      • Steven Mosher

        It really would help if people took the time to study the history of ‘falsification” especially religious people.

        is climate science testable? yes. we are testing it now in an uncontrolled fashion.

        is it useful? to whom?

        worth the money? who’s paying whom?

      • Rob Starkey

        A warmer world is worse for the USA? lol– depends upon the defination

      • Hi Steven
        You clearly do not understand the principle of “falsifiability”

        Count me in, I also don’t understand what is ‘falsifiable’, it is contrary to the logic, either is certainty, or a probable to a particular degree (0 to 1), estimated from the past records.

        Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming
        Is this ‘falsifiable’?
        Here I show how rise in the CO2 concentration has averted possible global cooling approaching 1C since 1940s, and at the same time calculate the climate sensitivity to around 3C for doubling of CO2, and all of it is contained in the data from NOAA.
        or if it is a nonsense, why not the IPCC’s ‘Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming’ too?

      • Steven Mosher


        simple cases for you.

        is 2+2=4 falsifiable?

        discuss. perhaps i can elucidate the concept via example

      • Lord Frijoles

        As someone who has done a bit of research on falsifiability in my field of research, I am intrigued by your following example:

        “1. Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming
        is falsifiable.
        In the same way that
        2. Yellowstone caldera will erupt in the next 100K years
        is falsifiable”

        I would dispute that 1 has the same degree of falsifiability that 2 does. Truly falsifiable theories/hypotheses ideally should be as universal and precise as possible. So, when you advance a statement such as “Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming”, when exactly is this going to happen? How can we collect the observations by which we will be able to corroborate/falsify the advanced statement? Etc, etc. On the other hand, the statement “Yellowstone caldera will erupt in the next 100K years”, in my view, is much more precise and specific. Perhaps you’d like to rephrase 1 and 2 in order to make 1 as precise and falsifiable as 2.

        You also mention this:

        “Is climate science testable? yes. we are testing it now in an uncontrolled fashion”

        I may be wrong, but in my understanding, the word “testing” has a very specific meaning within the context of Popper’s falsificationism. It means that you are setting up precise and specific theories/hypotheses/predictions, and that you are comparing them to the observations that might corroborate/falsify those theories/hypotheses/predictions. So if you are saying that climate science is being tested in an uncontrolled fashion, it tells me that you are really trying/beginning to understand how climate works. That is perfectly fine, but in no way can you say that you are “testing climate” in the form/fashion that the falsifiability concept would have it.

      • David Springer



      • Lord Frijoles

        I forgot to add that it all goes back to Latimer Alder’s question: where are the falsifiable theories/predictions/hypotheses by which climate science should live and die? If, as you said, you are just “testing it now in an uncontrolled fashion” , it really tells me that you haven’t the slightest idea of how climate works, its mechanisms, systems, etc; which is a sure sign that the science is light years from being settled. This also means, of course, that climate science at the moment is useless in terms of policy-advising.

      • Wait’ll he figures out that warming is good and that AnthroCO2 is a blessing. We don’t need no steenkin’ falsification, we need policy to follow Nature’s guide, as it will, as it meanders.

      • Thanks Steven, I don’t buy it. Certainty vs. probability, axiom, theory and hypothesis is sufficient enough.
        I am waiting to see your comments on the WUWT on your mate’s Willis new hypothesis, or may be not, Willis may not like it and that wouldn’t do; it seems to me there is a bit of confusion there about cause-consequence relationship.
        See you.

      • David Springer

        “Falsifiable in priniple” means there is some practical means of making the observation. We cannot isolate the variable quantity of CO2 from other variables which may effect global average temperature thus there is, to the best of my knowledge, no practical way to make the observation which would serve to falsify the hypothesis.

        If you know of a way to isolate the variable in question to make falsification possible in principle then please enlighten us. ;-)

      • steven mosher

        Doubling C02 will lead to 3C of warming

        is falsifiable.

        If we accept the logarithmic relation between CO2 and temperature, this premise has already been falsified by the CO2 and temperature record since 1850.

        It is being dramatically falsified by the past 14 years of slight cooling despite CO2 levels reaching record heights.


        PS Don’t side track with ECR and TCR discussions; they would only help to verify that the premise is not falsifiable.

      • Steve,

        You are of course correct that, in principle, climate models are falsifiable.

        However, it would be awfully nice if the modelers would devote more effort to actually subjecting their models to possible falsification. Judith of course has pursued that, and I assume you support her efforts in that direction.

        However, generally when I suggest doing this to proponents of CAGW, I am told, very angrily and even abusively, that I am being disingenuous, because of course I know that the models will fail any normal scientific tests! I don’t know whether that should be considered an admission that the models are already falsified or a refusal to subject the models to possible falsification.

        But, in any case, it is a problem and a serious denial of the normal scientific method.


        P.S. I would say that “God is love” *is* falsifiable and indeed seems to have been falsified: He seems not to have been loving during the Indian Ocean tsunami a few years ago, to take one obvious example.

      • Says Dave:
        ” I would say that “God is love” *is* falsifiable and indeed seems to have been falsified:…”
        You should study the Bible, before you give examples for the world.

      • Tom helpfully gives repeated examples of what is not science.

      • > He seems not to have been loving during the Indian Ocean tsunami a few years ago, to take one obvious example.


      • Fleet fled Hawai’i
        Hours after first alert.
        Navy chopper love.

      • Dave & his witness.

    • doctorbunsenhoneydew
      Its not the predictions, but lack of validation or refusing to acknowledge when predictions have failed. Or fudging to claim they have not failed.
      See <a href=Lucia showing the mean IPCC model trend is at 2 sigma warmer than the actual 32 year UAH satellite global temperature trend. i.e. the IPCC models are > 95% outside actual temperature trends. How will the IPCC reconcile evidence with its conclusion that global warming is “very likely (>90%).

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        The UAH data are not ground truth, so picking one dataset is statistical cherry picking. Likewise the statistical hypothesis testing procedure is based on the assumption that the observations are a random sample from an underlying population, which it isn’t if someone repeatedly performs statistical hypothesis tests until they get the result they want (there are adjustments to compensate for this, but nobody bothers with them). The simplest test is to get the IPCC model runs from the publicaly available archive, and see of the observations lie within the 95% spread when performing a like for like comparison, e.g. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/02/2011-updates-to-model-data-comparisons/

        I have done this comparsion for a paper I am writing and I get a result that is essentially the same as Schmidt’s.

        I think the URL must be wrong for lucia’s, I can see any mention of the IPCC models there, at least not in a form I recognise.

      • Might I suggest that, based on everything we know about their respective modi operandi, actions and underlying objectives, quoting RC and telling us that your results match those of one of the key members of the Team does not do much for your credibility.

        Meanwhile M. Latif, one of the doyens of modeling, a couple of years ago quite publicly stated that the predictive value of GCMs, for all practical intents and purposes, is nil. Some improvements will no doubt continue to be made, but to base multi billion dollar policies with far reaching social and economic consequences -as we do today- on pseudo scientific models of one of the most complex systems known to man, is both irresponsible and unacceptable.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        sorry tetris, ad-hominems carry no weight in science, only in rhetoric. The model runs are publically available, if you doubt what I say, or what RC says, then why not be a true skeptic and go and find out. Download the model runs and plot the results, it isn’t difficult.

      • Doctor B, what the hell are you talking about? First, are you claiming that the surface statistical models are as accurate as UAH? That all datasets are equal? Picking the best, the only actual instrument, is not cherry picking. It is called science.

        Second, what do you mean by the IPCC model runs? The IPCC does not run models. Many people run climate models, with many different results, from run away warming to snowball earth.

        I would think that the significant differences between models, and their runs, would be sufficient to falsify all of them. But somehow ensembles trump falsification. They must allmost all be wrong, since they all disagree, but their average must be right, right? This is not science, it is wishful thinking. The wish that the mean of the false models is true. What a wish!

      • It must be remembered that the satellite based data are much more prone to severe errors that averages on surface measurements. Their problems are obvious from the significant corrections that have been made over the years.

        The satellites don’t carry thermometers that reach the atmosphere, they measure radiation, whose properties are in a complex way affected by the detailed properties of the atmosphere. The calculation of related temperature requires full use of large part of the theories that many skeptics wish to dismiss in other connections. There are also many technical issues related to the satellites and the instruments used.

        I’m totally sure that there’s only one reason for the fact that skeptics prefer satellite measurements: the fact that they happen to show slightly less warming.

        In addition to the problems discussed above there’s one more problem with the satellite measurements: The only way of telling precisely what is the the temperature they tell is to say that it’s that temperature that they happen to measure. It’s a weighted average of temperatures at different altitudes. The weighting varies from latitude to latitude and the surface affects also the result in a variable way.

        To me the strongest reason to have some trust in the satellite measurements is that they don’t differ more from the surface measurements. The remaining disagreement doesn’t make the surface measurement based estimates any less questionable than they are based on a careful analysis of the surface data itself.

        The satellite measurements have certainly value as they tell something about the temperature profile of the atmosphere. Their analysis is also much faster than collecting and combining all the surface data. All this is fine, but using them as significant evidence against surface measurements is without merit.

      • “It must be remembered that the satellite based data are much more prone to severe errors that averages on surface measurements. Their problems are obvious from the significant corrections that have been made over the years.”

        “Just how accurate are space-based measurements of the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere? In a recent edition of Nature, scientists Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Dr. Roy Spencer of NASA/Marshall describe in detail just how reliable these measurements are.”
        “An incredible amount of work has been done to make sure that the satellite data are the best quality possible. Recent claims to the contrary by Hurrell and Trenberth have been shown to be false for a number of reasons, and are laid to rest in the September 25th edition of Nature (page 342). The temperature measurements from space are verified by two direct and independent methods. The first involves actual in-situ measurements of the lower atmosphere made by balloon-borne observations around the world. The second uses intercalibration and comparison among identical experiments on different orbiting platforms. The result is that the satellite temperature measurements are accurate to within three one-hundredths of a degree Centigrade (0.03 C) when compared to ground-launched balloons taking measurements of the same region of the atmosphere at the same time.”

        As I recall at one time the claim for ground based temperatures were claimed to be .2 +/- C.
        And I don’t actually think ground measurements were or are as good as .2 +/- C.

        So need a study that shows ground measurement is as good or better than .2 +/- C. And explanation why it wrong for it commonly given such a error bar to temperature [during the 90’s]. Since that time Watts has provided evidence that many ground station are at higher error rating [poor siting] than was probably assumed.

        And finally a study that shows that satellite measurement could be as poor as ground stations in terms possible error.

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        (i) I made no mention of any “surface statistical models”, I didn’t say that any other data set was more accurate than UAH. The fact that different datasets give slightly different results is because there is uncertainty, and what a scienist ought to do is to compare against all of the available datasets, rather than cherry pick one of them.

        (ii) If you think UAH is the best then you need to defend that assertion. It also isn’t the only actual instrument. The UAH dataset is a processing of satelite MSU measurements; it isn’t the only such analysis, there are others, for instance the RSS product, and the are arguments for and against both.

        (iii) The IPCC doesn’t run models; however an ensemble of model runs was collected for the IPCC AR4 (called CMIP3), which is the basis for the projections in the IPCC reports. So it is perfectly reasonable to talk of IPCC model runs, they are the model runs used in the IPCC report.

        (iv) The major differences between model runs is due to the stochastic variabiluty in climate (i.e. weather noise). It would still be there even if the model physics were perfect, so it doesn’t falsify them at all. The spread of the model runs shows what could plausibly occurr given our current understaing of climate physics, and the observations currently lie within the spread of the ensemble, so it is not falsified, yet.

        Having said which, all models are wong (GEP Box), but some are useful. Models are necessarily simplifications of reality, so they are always wrong in some respect. That doesn’t mean that they do not make useful projections.

        At the end of the day though, if you want to falsify the models, you do actually need to understand the nature of what they are actually intended to do, and what they are not intended to do (for instance give projections of decadal temperature trends).

      • Latimer Alder


        ‘At the end of the day though, if you want to falsify the models, you do actually need to understand the nature of what they are actually intended to do, and what they are not intended to do (for instance give projections of decadal temperature trends).’

        OK. Enlighten us. What do you think the models are intended to do?

        I -and many others – were under the impression that they are there to provide policy-quality predictions of future climate. This view has been reinforced many times by people declaiming that ‘model runs tell us that if we don’t do blah blah blah by three weeks come next Michaelmas fortnight, then the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be riding down Main Street.’ or other such tosh…which I have not seen climate modellers rushing to correct.

        But it seems that this idea is wrong. Yet again the cleverness of the climate modellers trumps the stupidity of Joe Public. You are doing something completely different. Please explain.

        You might also want to comment on how well they do whatever it is that you think they do….and how you can demonstrate this fitness for purpose. Close correspondence of predictions with observations will gain good marks. Agreement among themselves is unlikely to gain favour.

        For extra credit you could consider the headings of a paper justifying the continued funding. Some topics might include:

        Who cares?
        What are they useful for?
        Strategies for steps towards demonstrating ‘correctness’
        Why 20+ models are necessary
        Value for Money


        no doubt you will add your own as you think of them.

      • That’s why someone like Dr. Roy Spencer is walking a tightrope. He can’t deny the general GHG theory, as that would make his satellite measurements useless as he would have no way to interpret the scaling and attenuation of the infrared data emitted from the earth and atmosphere.

        Yet that’s also why Spencer, being a skeptic with an agenda, questions instead the rather settled science that excess atmospheric CO2 is of anthropogenic origin.

        Old Roy-boy is a very transparent fellow.

      • BatedBreath

        Spencer’s “transparency” being his failure to swallow whole the dominant political correctness motivation behind CAGW.

      • Pekka

        the satellite based data are much more prone to severe errors that averages on surface measurements


        Pekka, I’m sure you didn’t really mean that, when it comes to the ability of the gathered data to represent a true globally and annually average land and sea temperature.

        Did you?


      • Max

        I did mean that and i sure that my view is well justified.

        Both methods have their weaknesses. Those of the satellite measurements are not discussed so much in blogosphere because the skeptics love them.

      • @Latimer The model ensemble aims to provide a projection of the response of the climate to the change in forcings. Thus it is not a direct estimate of the evolution of the climate itself as the observed climate is the combination of the response to the forcings and a chaotic component corresponding to the unforced response (i.e. weather noise – stuff like ENSO). The latter is chaotic and hence is inherently unpredictable; all we can do is simulate it instead. Thus while the ensemble mean is the projection most likely to match the observations, there is no good reason to expect them to lie any closer than the spread of the model runs (which show the range of things considered plausible given the assumptions of the model). So if you see a model-observation comparison that doesn’t give an indication of the model spread, then there is a good chance it is bogus.

      • Dr. Roy Spencer is right on. CO2 does go up and down as a function of Ocean Temperatures. Human CO2 does add on top of that. CO2 does not drive temperature very much. A trace gas, it has a trace effect. Open a cold soft drink and the CO2 hardly fizzes. Open a hot soft drink and the CO2 fizzes like crazy. This simple physics. The Consensus Scientists say that CO2 has a small effect. They get most of their warming from feedbacks that they don’t understand, which explains why their predictions of temperature going up with CO2 increases keep failing.

      • Latimer Alder


        Thanks for your remarks.

        If I were to be even more than usually cynical I might come to the conclusion that you have invented the perfect scam.

        Here’s how it goes.

        You invent a ‘climate model black box’ which will do ‘predictions’. And persuade a bunch of gullible fools to pony up some cash for it. When it does the ‘predictions’ you let it be known that it doesn’t do actual predictions but gives an ‘ensemble’ of results that may or may not bear some resemblance to reality. But that if the occasional one happens to come close to what actually happens then that’s a victory for its predictive skill. Predictions that don’t match can be ignored/dismissed/never made public/thrown away.

        And if anybody ever tries to ask you to prove that the models are any f…g use at all, you can come up with the ‘ensemble of results’ palaver.

        But the actual practical value to anybody (bar the riders on this gravy train) is precisely zero. There is no reliable way of checking whether the black box is doing anything at all that bears any relationship to reality. Nor of demonstrating ‘value for money’. It is a scam.

        I can just about understand why we pay the Met Office vast quantities of spondulix to create weather forecasts five or six days out. But paying climate modellers to not forecast anything 100 years away is, to my mind, a complete waste to time and money.

      • David Springer

        doctorbunsenhoneydew | May 31, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply

        “The UAH data are not ground truth”

        Yeah but it’s the closest thing we have to global coverage by an obscenely wide margin. The instrument network on the ground is pitifully sparse and largely concentrated on northern hemisphere land masses mostly very near or within highly populated regions. Like it or not the satellite data is the only sensor network designed for and capable of determining global average temperature at various heights within the atmosphere.

      • There is no ad hom. Merely the observation that you are in questionable company with an outfit that dumps everything that questions its world view into a bore hole and whose close associates both sides of the big pond produce “science” that is on par with homeopathy and astrology. So if your paper shows results that reproduce that “science”, its probably in that league.

      • of course it is an ad-hom, you are dismissing an argument on the grounds of its source rather than its content. That is the very definition of an ad-hom.

      • Gavincawley

        That is nonsense. Because if you were right, then arguing that something is top drawer science because it was published in, say, Nature or Science -which happens more often than not by CAGW alarmists as an appeal to authority- would be “ad hom” as well given that its purported quality is linked to the source. You no doubt see the absurdity of your argument.

        Fact is, RC is a garbage dump complete with its own bore hole and the Team has a demonstrated record of producing “science” that ranges from the questionable to unadulterated junk [as in inverted -read Tiljander- data series spliced in upside down to fit the curve or an entire artifact -read the Hockey Stick- essentially based on an “ensemble” consisting of one [1] tree, Jones’ UHI studies based on fabricated data, etc., etc.].

        DBHD may not think so, but if he believes his results are on par with those of that crowd, he has a credibility issue. No ad hom.

      • A bore hole that’s rich…


        I might add.

      • IPCC Author on “Human Security” Belongs to Organization That Promotes “Panarchy”

        Sorry seems tribal.

      • David Springer



  7. Morley Sutter

    Science consists of making and recording observations, making an hypothesis based on those observation and testing the hypothesis. The testing methods vary: in the observational sciences, e.g., astronomy, sociology, epidemiology, climatology, ecology etc, the testing is quite different from that of an interventional science such as chemistry or experimental (as opposed to theoretical) physics. Therefore it is important to distinguish between observational and interventional sciences.
    It is in the observational sciences that most of the heated discussion occurs. In these, the testing often involves predictions and the making of models (mathematical or otherwise) that require the passage of time for their verification. An example would be predicting an eclipse.
    Any discussion of what constitutes a science must distinguish between observational and interventional sciences and what is done subsequent to the initial observations.

  8. It certainly takes the cake for irony – politcians lamenting, what they view in their opinions, to be the ‘politicisation’ (whatever that means) of science. They have a strangely low view of politics.

    Sadly, they seem to mostly conflate it with qualitative research.

  9. “[R]egression analysis is more art than science.”

    This is supposed to separate what is science from what is not?

    That’s total crap.

    All data interpretation and analysis is subject to artful choices. What method to use to analyse data? How to treat endpoints? What to do in cases of ambiguity? How to validate? What weight to give the analyses?

    Anyone who thinks multiple regression analysis is unique to Economics, or somehow (as implied) makes Economics using it _less_ valid compared to speculations floated without it rather than more.

    ■Clearly defined terminology.
    ■Highly controlled conditions.
    ■Predictability and testability.

    If there’s a cookbook, choreography, or SEC filing that doesn’t better match this list than 80% of the science I’ve seen in practice, I’d be amazed.

    Berezow and Hartsfield are blowing smoke.

    • I intended to make similar remarks. Also re Pekka’s post on the previous thread that “Essential attributes of science include:
      – working systematically to learn more
      – taking advantage of earlier knowledge and building on that (while being also critical on all earlier knowledge)
      – working openly presenting to public scrutiny the methods and the arguments,”
      which are not unique to science.

  10. Thomas Hartfield makes a striking claim – that something is excluded from being called science when –

    It does not and cannot follow the rigorous requirements of reproducibility, testability and objective truth required of science.

    This is both naive and uninformed. When did any part of science successfully lay claim to objective truth?

    It also tries to claim a demarcation between science and non-science that has never been shown to exist – however many attempts at ‘defining’ specifically what it is that scientists do that others do not.

    Fresh air could be allowed into the arena if the word science was itself surgically removed from the discussion. Sensible questions such as ‘Is the study useful? Well-thought out? Likely to be cost-effective? In the public interest?

    What possible benefit can accrue from asking whether a label (‘science’) is appropriate that no-one has ever managed to define? Why bother – unless one is afflicted with scientism?

    • doctorbunsenhoneydew

      By that definition, the theory of mans evolution from lower forms is not science as it is neither reproducible nor testable.

      • dbh-

        You appear not to have read my comment.

        I gave no definition of science. My comment opined that it was pointless to do so.

        How can you conclude “By that definition”?

        Incidentally, the theory of evolution is many things (powerful, elegant, explanatory, beautiful), but by what possible definition is it – or could it be – objective truth?

      • doctorbunsenhoneydew

        I was commenting on their definition quoted in your post, essentially in (partial) support of your position. While I do see some value in the distinction between science and non-science, I don’t see it as being that important in many practical settings. Science is truth seeking, but not all truth seeking is science, but at the end of the day it is the discovery of truths that is of value.

        Reproducibility and testability are much easier to discuss than objective truth – I was playing it safe by not mentioning that as well!

      • As my comments about evolution hinted, I am an ‘instrumentalist’ in my outlook.

        I don’t see much mileage in talking about ‘truth’ (objective or otherwise). I’m happy to ask if something is useful? Does it predict the future accurately? Does it have explanatory power i.e. is it satisfying? All these things are unaffected by questions of truth, just as they are about whether something is ‘science’.

        I would agree that reproducibility and testability are useful traits but in many circumstances they can’t be conjured out of thin air and we therefore have to do without them [as you note with evolution]

      • Steven Mosher


      • Kip Hansen

        Yes…..? And Richard Leaky promised this last week that ‘Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years…..scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that ‘even the skeptics can accept it.’.’ He explains further, that he means ‘…If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid….’ well, then it will have been proven scientifically. Leaky does not currently believe that there is sufficient scientific evidence to persuade people. Weird huh? He is one of the leading proponents of that theory and he says we don’t have sufficient evidence…but promises we will, ‘sometime in the next 15 to 30 years.’

        [ ref: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/story/2012-05-26/evolution-debate-richard-leakey/55219164/1 ]

        Now, that’s prediction!

      • +1

      • BatedBreath

        Paleontologist and environmentalist Richard Leakey says we don’t currently have enough scientific evidence to convince everyone of evolution, but in 15 or 20 we will have – the science will be settled, the debate will be over.

        How can he possibly know this now?

        Conversely, if he can in fact know this, doesn’t that mean there is already enough evidence? In which case, all the money spent on gaining further evidence is going to waste, and would be better spent on some other science questions.

        Note too his quoted comments from the abovementioned link (emphasis added:
        “Extinction is always driven by environmental change. Environmental change is always driven by climate change. Man accelerated, if not created, planet change phenomena; I think we have to recognize that the future is by no means a very rosy one…..We may be on the cusp of some very real disasters that have nothing to do with whether the elephant survives, or a cheetah survives, but if we survive.”

        One gets the impression his knowledge of future scientific evidence extends to climate as well. So in 15 or 20 years time, we will also have enough knowledge to win over all CAGW skeptics. But, again, since he already knows this, it must mean the science is already settled, the debate is already over.

      • David Springer


    • ++

    • “This is both naive and uninformed. When did any part of science successfully lay claim to objective truth?”

      All parts of science are making the claim to objective truth.

      Objective truth being, no one is excluded from being able
      to observe it [whatever the claim is].

      Objective truth being, for example there is tree at such and such location, description of tree being such and such. And any other person can find the tree at the location and fitting the given description.

      • Steven Mosher

        I was born in 1958 then cannot be objectively true.

        Typically, one says that “objectively true” means true independent of any human observer. You’ve substitute “independent” by another notion which is far weaker. That is “any observer”. You’ve made truth dependent on the observer. What this means is this:
        Today I say the tree is green.
        Tommorrow, you all go blind
        And a sentence that is objectively true by your standard ( any observer can see) becomes false if the observer changes.

        if defining what we mean by ‘objectively” true were simple, we wouldnt argue over it. It would be.. objectively obvious.

      • David Springer

        Steven Mosher | May 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply

        “I was born in 1958 then cannot be objectively true.”

        Correct. There is compelling evidence you were hatched.

  11. “JC comments: If Berezow and Hartsfield are correct in their criteria for what is science vs what is not, it seems that all of the geosciences and environmental science is not really science, not to mention cosmology and string theory. ”

    I am pretty certain that Berezow and Hartsfield are correct.

    But what isn’t science could be made into science- and for instance what scientists involved with string theory should be attempting.

    Science is created.
    Soft science suggests it still at a formative stage. If it could not or will never develop into hard science, it’s an art/religion or something other than science.

    A particular hard science could end- in theory. The journey could be finished at some point.
    It seems part of definition is a particular science or science is it’s a process that could end. Though It may require something as incomprehensible as a human singularity for this to happen.

    • Kip Hansen

      JC comments: If Berezow and Hartsfield are correct in their criteria for what is science vs what is not, it seems that all of the geosciences and environmental science is not really science, not to mention cosmology and string theory. …. IMO the issue of what separates science from non-science is a much more complex issue than Berezow and Hartsfield articulate.

      I agree with Dr. Curry…it is more complex but the five criteria proffered by B&H are not intended to be the end-all of ‘science vs. not science’ — but rather as ‘Five concepts [that] characterize scientifically rigorous studies’.

      Thus Dr. Curry is right, a lot of what are written up as papers representing ‘studies’ in climate science, environmental science, cosmology (and string theory), psychology and other softer sciences do not meet these criteria — thus should be recognized as ‘not scientifically rigorous’ and not confused with the types of studies and their results which are the result of rigorous studies.

      Included in the ‘not rigorous’ categories are the obviously silly ‘surveys of scientific consensus on climate change’ or public opinion polls on ‘global warming’.

      On close inspection, many climate change papers published in mainline journals fail on several of the B&H criteria. All those for which data is not made easily and immediately available for replication fail. All those for which the methods and procedures are not made easily and immediately available for replication fail. All those that use undefined or vague terms (or terms for which there is no agreed upon definition — such as ‘world climate change’ or ‘extreme weather events’) fail. In my less-than-humble opinion, all those that attempt to find ‘average global temperature’ to some decimal fraction of a degree must fail.

      Climate modeling studies that fail to successfully predict accurately the both the past and the near future fail the ‘rigorous’ test. They may be interesting, but they simply are not rigorous science and should not be confused with such. Thus down-the-tubes goes most the the IPCC reports as well.

  12. Poppers test of falsification must be included if the knowledge area claims to be scientific.
    Climate Science raises many conjectures but not all of them seem to be capable of being falsified.
    For instance the claimed relationship between increased atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and increasing atmospheric temperature.
    The fact that the geological temperature record and recent experience shows no direct causal link does not worry proponents of IPCC ‘science’.
    Its rather odd!

    • doctorbunsenhoneydew

      That relationship is falsifiable. Observing global cooling over the course of a century, whilst following a “business as usual” emission scenario, and without a *major* change in other forcings, would effectively falsify the theory, as the theory forbids such an event.

      • doc,
        We do not even have warming over a century. By your own standard your AGW is falsified.

      • It’s a century now, is it, to falsify the CAGW theory? But the 20 year uptick after 1977 was enough to provide “the science is settled” proof of same? That truly gives an entirely new dimension to the expression “moving the [verifiability] goal posts”..

      • What “other forcings” are there, and what would constitute a *major* change in each? Please leave out mass extinction level events, since those would alter “business as usual”.

      • David Springer

        The earth has been in an ice age for the past several million years and has gone between glacial and interglacial periods with some regularity with a cycle time of approximately 100,000 years of major glaciation and 12,000 years of respite. The current period of respite is 12,000 years old. Statistically we are nearing an end to the interglacial. How do you propose to separate whatever it is that determines the exact time that an interglacial ends from the effects of anthropogenic CO2? Without being able to isolate the two variables you cannot and thus your proposed means of falsifying the CO2 hypothesis is without merit. Try again.

    • “The fact that the geological temperature record and recent experience shows no direct causal link”

      Bryan what would you expect a direct casual link to look like in the geological temperature record?

  13. “What is science” raises the “Demarcation problem”
    In “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem”, Larry Laudan finds that “demarcation” is a philosophical exercise, and that all efforts to demarcate science vs non-science have failed.
    In appealing for demarcation, Robert Pennock appeals to “consensus” rather than reason.
    Now where have we heard that before?

  14. Rob Starkey

    In a world where there are unlimited funds available it would be great to research a large number of issues. In the real world the US is spending almost 40% more than it is generating in revenues and as a result spending must be cut deeply in many areas that will hurt. That is an uncomfortable fact.

    Now the process has begun for the various constituencies to build the case as to why their area should not be subject to a 40% cut. So where does that leave the social sciences in terms of NSF funding? Imo, correctly very vulnerable.

    I disagree with the statement in the post- “There is consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society. Furthermore, the activities supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – fundamental research and education based at academic institutions – are generally viewed as among the most productive of all Federal investments.”

    When was this survey conducted of economists and what were the precise questions asked and upon what data were the answers made? Imo, it is a push not to have funding cut and little more. There have been many projects funded that produced nothing of value for the public.

    People need to recognize the realities of the economy.

    • A well thought out point

    • BatedBreath

      “There is consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society. ”

      Stroking the hand that feeds them ? Were these consensus economists and policy researchers by any chance themselves the products of public investment ?

  15. It seems like what goes around comes around as the theme is this post (and yesterdays) had me heading back to my library yet again. My recollection (just verified by reviewing Checkland’s table of Contents) was that “Part 1- Systems Thinking- The Systems Movement in the Context of Science” of his Systems Thinking, Systems Practice text was a good summary of “Science as a Human Activity: Its History and its Method- chapter 2”.

    To quote a reviewer- “Checkland’s book was the first to introduce the differentiation between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ systems analysis. Soft analysis is much more akin to a general, somewhat philosophical approach to the methodology whereas hard analysis is the development of usable engineering models.” http://www.amazon.com/Systems-Thinking-Practice-Includes-Retrospective/product-reviews/0471279110/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

  16. Science as we conceive it is a method, not a specific field of study, though we can study the scientific method. The scientific method is fairly well defined above so I won’t bother covering that again.

    The scientific method is a specific way to perform research. Research may have many forms and goals but obviously not all forms of research use a scientific method. Again, it is how the research is performed that determines if it is scientific in nature.

    Now, it appears to me that Dr. Curry has suggested that anthropology and earth sciences, including climate science fails Hartfield’s definition of what is “science”. This is a rather sterile view of the scientific method, especially as Hartfield describes it. Part of the scientific process is always to assign a level of “certainty” to its conclusions. We can examine historic evidence for human evolution or geologic events and produce story lines that allow us to theorize new possibilities in those fields. That those possibilities allow us to create theories about what happened during poorly understood past eras, does not violate the concept of prediction and testing. We do not use those theories to produce definitive predictions of the future.

    That value of a specific research effort cannot be gauged simply by its use or non use of the scientific method. However, the application of that research to important human activities does require some effort to ensure its accuracy. That is where the scientific method comes it. Can we prove our assertions if challenged? Can we describe how we arrived them? What are limitations to their accuracy?

    So, I’d suggest that use of scientific method determines whether research is science or not. However, simply using the tools of science, such as statistical analysis or laboratory instruments, does not assure a scientific method is employed. The goal of the scientific method is the production of reliable tools for our use. The test then should be whether the research as proposed will produce reliable results. The scientific method is obviously our best method for producing that reliability.

  17. What separates science from non-science?

    Matters of opinion, faith and belief are clearly not science, unless opinion, faith and belief are the actual subject of scientific inquiry.

    These criteria:
    Clearly defined terminology.
    Highly controlled conditions.
    Predictability and testability.

    Are good ones to give a general guide for scientific inquiry, and certainly the social sciences can meet most of them at a high level when experiments are designed properly. Obviously the “highly controlled conditions” becomes an issue for some social sciences as well as of course the study of Earth’s climate, as we don’t have a ‘test Earth” to play with directly, and hence climate models become so essential.

    • R. Gates,
      You now realize that most of what is called climate science is not, in fact science. Welcome to the skeptical side.

  18. The NSF and other federal agencies that fund academic research are extensions of the political system. There’s no use complaining about it, that’s the way it is. If NSF’s overseers (i.e. Congress) decide to put science money into a program to investigate squishy, touchy-feely or intrinsically unscientific areas of investigation, that is their prerogative. Researchers should be happy that once a funding program has been established decisions on who gets funded are made by a peer-review system that, while not perfect, actually works reasonably well.

  19. “What separates science from non-science?”

    Three letters and a hyphen? :)

    • David Springer

      NW | May 31, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply

      >>“What separates science from non-science?”

      >Three letters and a hyphen?

      The word “from”.

  20. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Quantum physicist David Deutsch, in his book The Fabric of Reality, characterizes science as an evolutionary creative process that quests for knowledge:

    “Knowledge does not come into existence fully formed. It exists only as the result of creative processes, which are step-by-step, evolutionary processes, always starting with a problem and proceeding with tentative new theories, criticism and the elimination of errors to a new and preferable problem-situation. This is how Shakespeare wrote his plays. It is how Einstein discovered his field equations. It is how all of us succeed in solving any problem, large or small, in our lives, or in creating anything of value.”

    By Deutsch’s epistemological criterion, the familiar brand of climate-change skepticism that often is called “denialism” is *NOT* any kind scientific process, on the grounds that the quibbling, cherry-picking, isolationism, and slogan-shouting that characterize denialism are non-creative activities that (by often-unconscious intent) do not lead to new knowledge, but rather serve to protect a safe and unchallenging state of comforting, willful ignorance.

    • Your name would perhaps be more accurately descriptive if you called yourself, “A fan of deceiving people”. Unless you have a straw diet, one has to wonder what you do with the strawmen you use in such abundance.

    • Rob Starkey

      You write a rather silly comment.

      Is it unscientific to want to understand the actual rate of warming associated with additional CO2?

      Is it unscientific to want to really understand what will result if the world warms before deciding on a course of action?

      Is it unscientific to to desire cost effective responses to any identified problem?

      Imo- a very large percentage of those who want actions implemented in response to their fears about CO2 are the one being unscientific.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Rob, if we substitute:

           unscientific \to nonscientific

        then the answers to your three questions are “no”, “yes”, “yes”.

      • Rob Starkey

        Please explain your rationale as to why research to try to determine an understanding of warming as a function of CO2 is nonscientific

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Rob, here is an analysis of whether your questions are scientific, as contrasted with political / economic.

        “To really understand what will result if the world warms before deciding on a course of action”

        The decision to wait for certainty before taking action is strategic, not scientific … It is properly the domain of politics and governance.

        “To desire cost-effective responses to any identified problem”

        To desire responses is human … and deciding whether they are cost-effective is economics.

        The narrow point, Rob, is that two of your three objectives have nothing to do with science.

        The broader point is that the politics and economics of climate change are so difficult, and unpalatable to ideologues, that many people (and even politicians) greatly prefer to deny the science, rather than accept any obligation to make any difficult decisions.

        This is the *real* reason why climate-change denialism is increasing … it’s because ideology-first political propagandists are working hard to foster moral cowardice in the general population.

    • What separates sequitur from non sequitur? :)

    • David Springer

      Actually Deutsch (homonym with douche probably not pure coincidence) mentions criticism as part of the scientific process. Without so-called denialists the so-called science of climate would be that much more incomplete with regard to being hard science vs. just-so story.

      • The Tuath be known,
        Doccia like Mercy.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        David, your post’s utterly fact-free ad pointlessly abusive post regarding well-respected scientist David Deutsch:Deutsch (homonym with douche probably not pure coincidence)together with your other posts’ relentless. cherry-picked, utterly counterfactual denial of ongoing sea-level rise, both illustrate, for all readers of Climate Etc., the growing scientific bankruptcy of climate-change skepticism.

        Watt’s next? Hmmmm … no doubt we’ll see accelerating skeptical promotion of conspiracy theories, of course! :)

      • Mann of the hour?

      • ceteris non paribus

        the growing scientific bankruptcy of climate-change skepticism.

        Watt’s next?

        Perhaps you haven’t seen “former science advisor to Margaret Thatcher” and “Nobel Laureate”, “Lord” Monckton’s latest…



      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Dang! That conspiracy-theory rant of Monckton’s definitely is “a couple of cans short of a six-pack” (as us rural folks say).

        Is Monckton *really* a leader of climate-change skepticism????

      • When people work in concert to pull off a sting on the people I guess you could call if a conspiracy but most of us just think of it as the usual Chicago-style Democrat party politics.

      • ceteris non paribus

        Is Monckton *really* a leader of climate-change skepticism????


      • Is Al Gore the Left’s Jesus leading the AGW True Believers away from evil to liberal Utopia?

      • ceteris non paribus

        …I guess you could call if a conspiracy but most of us just think of it as the usual Chicago-style Democrat party politics.

        Yes – US Democrats are set to take over the whole world. Even France.

        I just have to admire the fact that some people are all worked up (again!) about Obama’s birth-placed possibly not being Hawaii. (While we know with 100% certainty that the Shrub was appointed to the presidency by his daddy’s friends on the US-SC. – Or was that God? – I always get them confused.)

        Is Al Gore the Left’s Jesus leading the AGW True Believers away from evil to liberal Utopia?

        Nope. Leftists don’t follow a Jesus.
        Christopher Hitchens or Noam Chomsky, maybe.
        Myself, I prefer the great philosopher George Carlin.

      • Al Gore is either a huge Eco-phony from the Left or the Sun is involved in a huge coverup and perpetrating a fraud on all of us.

      • ceteris non paribus

        Al Gore is either a huge Eco-phony from the Left or the Sun is involved in a huge coverup and perpetrating a fraud on all of us.

        Actually, I believe Al Gore is from Tennessee.
        But he hates your freedoms anyways. I’m sure.

        Never trust the Sun. It doesn’t care about you at all.
        Perpetrating is the least of its crimes.

      • Liberal Utopia is just a short time away.

        Never Worry About Ever Hitting Bottom Again

    • AGW is the Science of Cherry Picking…

      How Many Scientists Does It Take to Expose a Hoax

  21. John another

    How about defining ‘science’ as that which follows the scientific method as it was defined for hundreds of years?

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      John, for many skeptics there is exists an insurmountable cognitive obstruction to “defining ‘science’ as that which follows the scientific method as it was defined for hundreds of years?”

      Namely, per the American Institute of Physics (AIP) historical survey “The Discovery of Global Warming“, the traditional definition of science legitimizes the opinion of most climate scientists that AGW is real, serious, and accelerating.

      Which is a reality that committed denialists cannot accept … hence they seek to alter the very definition of science.

      • A fair definition, Perverters. Now what’s in a name?

      • Nice piece of totalitarian thinking [and appeal to authority]. “Cognitive obstruction”? The Soviet system had interesting ways of dealing with dissidents who had “cognitive obstructions” as did the Maoist system with its “re-education” programs. A couple of years ago CAGW alarmist -in the same totalitarian vein- started advocating having skeptics like me declared mentally ill and “treated”. What more convenient than to brand [that by the way was a suggestion made their Australian eco ilk] dissidents as having a “cognitive obstruction” and thus dismiss their questions and criticisms as a denial of “reality” and “scientific fact”.

      • I’ve asked Spencer Weart when he is going to write ‘The Discovery of Global Cooling’.

      • David Springer

        “Namely, per the American Institute of Physics (AIP) historical survey “The Discovery of Global Warming“, the traditional definition of science legitimizes the opinion of most climate scientists that AGW is real, serious, and accelerating.”

        Science is not about opinions. It’s about demonstration. And AGW isn’t accelerating according to actual observation but rather stalled about 15 years ago. When opinion becomes dogma science has truly left the building and evidence no longer matters. Thanks for the perfect demonstration of how climate science, which was legitimate at one time, has devolved into climate dogma. Yet again entropy wins.

      • I’ve asked Spencer Weart, repeatedly, when he is going to write ‘The Discovery of Global Cooling’.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        LOL … David Springer, in the immortal words of George C. Scott’s character General Turgidson, in Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove

        “Well, Mr. Skeptic, I would say that Mother Nature has already invalidated that hypothesis!

        And this is why prominent skeptics (like “Lord” Monckton) and prominent skeptical venues (like the Heartland Institute’s ICCC7) are increasingly embracing crazy-seeming conspiracy theories. Because either the science is correct that AGW is real, serious, and accelerating … or else, a vast shadowy conspiracy is seeking to control the world.

        And quite a few folks, the scientific reality of AGW is literally inconceivable … therefore the shadowy conspiracy must be real.

      • In a geological time frame we have a very low level of atmospheric CO2.
        By the same measure we have lower average surface temperatures.
        We are emerging from the little ice age (around 1600AD).
        So there is little to be alarmed about.
        The very mild increase in temperature around 0.6K in the last 100years and a sea level increase of around 3mm is entirely to be expected.
        If you feel a panic attack coming on log onto a site like WUWT, someone there will let you get things in proportion.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        LOL … the advice dispensed on Anthony Watts/WUWT is pretty much the same advice as the computer HAL in Kubrick’s 2001:

        Denialists (HAL): Look scientists (astronaut Dave), we (denialists) can see you’re really upset about [climate change]. We (denialists) honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

        Needless to say, HAL’s advice was driven by ideology, not by facts (that ideology being, protect mission security) … an ideology that, in the long run, was fatal to astronauts.

        Summary Ideology-driven climate-change denialism is low-stress in the short-term, fatal in the long-term.

      • Fan,

        2001 metaphor, is it? HAL vs. the astronauts. Not bad. Inspiring even. Indeed, inspired by you, Fan, ol’ sport, here’s my metaphoric best effort to capture the current state of the “climate science” debate:

        On the one hand, the “climate science” debate has its lickspittle enablers of the job-killer CAGW scam–a certain type of opportunist science-hack, ever-ready to provide the “right-answer” to his considerable “BIg-Green” betters in exchange for a nice, cozy, tenured sty and a trough, generously filled with high-carbon swill, courtesy of the obscenely abused tax-payer. These, I would compare, metaphorically, to “tape worms”.

        And then there is WUWT and a number of other superlative blogs that, on their blogmaster’s own dime, with the most modest of budgets, and informed by nothing more than a commitment to a “good citizenship” ethic, have exposed you greenshirt, rip-off artists big-time. These heroic figures, I would compare, metaphorically, to niclosamide.

        And the body-politic infested with you tape-worm, CAGW-hustler creep-outs? Well, that body-politic has taken its niclosamide and is now sitting on the “can” ready to put you parasites in your place.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Why, Karl Rove! Is that you? Your style is unmistakeable … welcome to the climate-science debate!  :)

    • One problem, specifically with social sciences, is that since no two humans are alike, they substitute statistical studies of large populations for highly repeatable experiments with identical objects. The hope is that the signal that’s common to all will emerge from all the “noise” stemming from each individual’s uniqueness.

      A study of the effects of a chemical on 1000 people aren’t as clear in their interpretation as a study of mechanics of 1000 subatomic particles, because the sources of noise in the signal have different properties.

      This is why social sciences will always be more questionable than physical sciences. Other “natural” sciences, such as biology and climate science have some properties of both.

      • Sort of a good point, sort of not. It wouldn’t matter much whether every human was a behavioral carbon copy of every other, or instead, every human population distribution was a carbon copy of every other. The really important thing here is whether there is invariance or not (whether we can count on the moments of the distribution as being constant across populations). I think we are far from uncovering that sort of invariance, but I keep trying because I think of it as central to useful and interesting knowledge.

        The other thing is that, in areas of inquiry about living things, we expect population variance for very good and deep theoretical reasons. For instance, many ESS (evolutionary stable states) are “mixed,” meaning that a degenerate population distribution (of phenotypes, whether physical or behavioral) isn’t an equilibrium. (But we still don’t completely understand the dynamic or physical mechanism that maintain such population variance.) At any rate it would be damn strange and theoretically shattering to discover that all humans were exactly the same in some respect that matters for adaptation. It would fundamentally lean very hard against many ideas in evolutionary biology.

        Part of my metaphysical view is: If my understanding of economic behavior conflicts strongly with population biology, or computational science, then that is a fundamental problem for me. (Because we are not only social and economic beings, but also biological ones who do a lot of computationally complex stuff.) So the variability of human behavior doesn’t disturb me. It is a nuisance, but if it didn’t appear to be true, that would call into question how carefully I had looked at my subject.

      • David Springer

        NW | June 1, 2012 at 2:03 am | Reply

        ” At any rate it would be damn strange and theoretically shattering to discover that all humans were exactly the same in some respect that matters for adaptation.”

        Prepare to be shattered. We are all here through sexual reproduction. In hard times many organisms have the ability to reproduce asexually. None of us can regenerate lost limbs like a lizard. That would be handy in adapting to certain situations. We are all warm blooded which has adaptational disadvantages. None of us have gills which makes it difficult to survive extreme floods. The list goes on and on. We humans are more exactly alike than not and except for sharing a common genetic code and some basic cellular structures such as ribosomes and ATP we can be quite different from other living things.

  22. wrong question. “soft” science is actually harder than “hard” science — much more complex problems, fewer tools and maths to support it, the difficulty of doing experiments. Have pity on our poor relations.
    The right question is how to deal with the excess of publications which are substandard. Don’t fund the people who publish junk. Strengthen peer review. Increase post-publication criticism.

    • i agree. soft sciences are harder… not for the reasons given. It is harder because there is deterministic ways of stating something is good or BS.

      as for substandard publications, Remember the journals and magazines are private, and as such there is some editor thinking this will be good for his journal/magazine/rag. I would not want to second guess that. if i don’t find something up my alley, i go on to the next article. if i find the magazine is not worth the price, i stop buying it.
      commenting something as ‘substandard’ just irks the people who do find that article their cup of tea.

  23. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    This amendment . . . brings to light an important debate on the more fundamental nature and scope of science itself.

    No. It is strictly about what the federal government should fund. In the Bush II administration there was the debate about whether the Federal Government should fund research on embryonic stem cells from new cell lines. That was not a debate about the nature of science itself. In the judgment of the proponents of this amendment, research on some social science has proved to be more costly and less useful than necessary to deserve funding. Wrong or right, that is a political judgment that is not about the nature of science itself.

    Another example was the decision not to fund the superconducting supercollider. Also, decisions not to fund certain space missions, fusion research, and so on.

  24. I always find much of the brain imaging work, where functionality is ascribed to changes in blood flow/metabolism to be pretty much nonsense. The thing is that the fMRI people are at the limits of the machine/software envelopes.
    The field might mature and become more ‘scientific’ as voxel size, in all four dimensions, drops. When temporal response times drop, then the practitioners may come up with some good stuff.
    At the moment they do make the patients who have had unusual brain injuries more interesting to look at. At some stage they might be a fusion of stroke damaged brain studies and fMRI analysis; but not just yet.
    In some immature fields we cannot expect quite the same rigor as in the mainstream.
    I am quite interested in the roles of estrogen and testosterone in masculinization/defeminization of the human brain in utero. We can only follow these things if we have a scoring system for ‘male’ and ‘female’ responses; which means the social sciences.
    Finger ratios and sexual or gender-type behavior studies are at the cross roads of tradition biology and the social sciences.
    Again, population studies can generate great science, if the right questions are asked. An examination of the parish records in Scandinavia showed testosterone could be transferred from a male his sister in utero. Examining the life histories of women who were twins and had either a brother or sister shows that those who cohabit with a brother are less likely to marry, marry later and have fewer children. That research backs up animal studies.
    So I’m a bit torn by this. There is obviously a ‘suck it and see’ component, you only know what science is when you see the final product, not when the sausage machine is operating.

    • “I always find much of the brain imaging work, where functionality is ascribed to changes in blood flow/metabolism to be pretty much nonsense.”

      I try not to say this in public too much, because given current fads and fashions amongst the intelligent laypersons, it is like pouring 50 gallons of oatmeal into the harpsichord at a baroque music recital. There is also a lot of Macgyver statistics going on in that area. Still let us hope they solve some of their problems.

  25. What is science she asks, and Eli is reminded of Justice Holmes, the Bunny knows it when he sees it. More seriously, the German Wissenschaft does not make the distinction between social sciences and physical science, which is perhaps a better way to go. OTOH, the real iron wall at nsf is human health. Strictly forbidden that goes to nih, which makes the bio science money at nsf hugely competititive because of the broad areas it has to cover.

    • So you spend your time on the job looking at science on the internet?

      • ‘So you spend your time on the job looking at science on the internet?’
        Professional scientists are supposed to spend part of their time reading about science on the internet. You never know what is at the center of the Venn Diagram of three or more fields. If you don’t have any understanding of physics you don’t know how the machine that goes ‘ping’ works. If you don’t know you chemistry you don’t know how your assays work. If you don’t understand thermodynamics and kinetics you can’t understand why things work. If you don’t know your control theory you can’t understand why things are the way they are.
        You also have to know what is being done in other areas to know who to apply it to yours. All the best cameras can from the development work for astronomers (and military spy satellites).
        If you follow the discussion in climate science you at least get an education in statistics and decide that it is time to learn how to use R.

    • Eli, What percentage of perverts have porn in their possession when arrested? You don’t have to be a judge bunny to understand the cost. I am not talking money. Too clever by half I say. How many millions of people don’t get a laugh out of it, since the judge made his joke years ago? Don’t make jokes about serious stuff. It costs far more than you give credit.

      • David Springer

        “What percentage of perverts have porn in their possession when arrested?”

        Probably a slightly smaller percentage than bank robbers who have shoes on their feet. What’s your point?

  26. “There is consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society.”

    Translation: There is a consensus among those feeding at the public trough that their checks should continue coming.

    • Rob Starkey


    • What precisely is a “public investment in science and engineering”?

      • Latimer Alder

        PE asks

        What precisely is a “public investment in science…..”?

        Judging on the utterly pointless debate here, it is a job creation scheme for bright kids with no social or practical skills. A talking shop to distract them by discussing irrelevancies among themselves. Possibly cheaper than hiring a bunch of warders to control them.

      • Every damn land and sea grant school in the United States.

  27. I agree. Wissenschaft ist Wissenschaft.

  28. A simple rule to live by is that if it does not pay for itself–i.e., if it doesn’t produce something that people wish to have and voluntarily pay for with their own money–then, the investments do NOT yield very high annual rates of return to society no matter what a government-funded study says about it. If it did we would not be going broke and the EU wouldn’t be circling the toilet drain about ready to go down. We don’t need more studies to study previous studies. Paying researchers to research others’ research to see if it provided value is not productive employment. Taxing the productive to create yet another government job is why the West is going belly-up. All we are saying is give individual liberty and economic freedom a chance.You have nothing to lose but your chains.

    • that is just nonsense wagathon. People cannot pay for sewage treatment themselves, or vaccination or an airforce/navy/army or a police force.
      The public are happy to pay for science as long as they get a pay back, the normal payback being advanced technology. They do have different views on what the money should be spent on compared with the funding bodies. You can bet if it came to a vote huge sums would be withdrawn from the soft sciences into medical research.
      As it is children’s/women’s disease and HIV/AIDS research are over funded compared to the demographic impact.

      • Your analysis is way short of reality. Who with a brain would not vote with others to spend their own money for sewage? And, that is exactly how the benefits of sewage treatment was brought to

        society and all benefited because of it. Take a minute to face the other side ofthe coin. The situation that exists in California — just for one example — is that those who will not be paying the bill are more than willing to dedicate the public purpose for everything from stem cell and cancer research to bullet trains to nowhere.

        We at the point now where it is not really an issue. The big flaw in your logic is that no matter how noble you consider the cause you need to ask if the Chinese consider it worthwhile — either that or just keep cinching the saddle tighter and tighter on future generations and wipe out the savings of anyone who bother to save for their retirement.

        How tough is it. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

        The Meaning of TINSTAAFL

      • You miss the point completely. Yes, there are people who would rather piss in the river than pay for sewage, enough of them that you would die of cholera pdq

      • Clapper was not a government bureaucrat and what makes America different from India is not just geography. Your moralizing is not substitute for a society grounded in respect for individual liberty, economic freedom and personal responsibility. A cash for clunkers philosophy makes you feel good about yourself and that is OK with me but don’t think it brings more relief from misery, poverty and death that those who actually provide something of value to society — like Mr. Crapper.

      • My clunker went in the crapper and the rising tide floated all bots.

      • Please close the lid before flushing Western civilization…

      • Latimer Alder


        You do not catch cholera from people pissing in the river.

        That is crap.

      • Why do Leftists continue to pretend that they have a lock on respect for a clean environment to begin with. Global warming alarmism is nothing but a distraction from serious truly are interested in the environment. The Medium is the Message: the EPA has did more to pollute the culture when it called CO2 than any Indian finding relief in the Ganges.

      • Because conservatives would piss in the water supply if they could save a buck by doing so.

      • Whaire’s Howlward Dean whean we nead heem?

      • David Springer

        DocMartyn | May 31, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
        “People cannot pay for sewage treatment themselves”

        Bad example. Ever heard of private septic systems? If not I can show you mine. I not only paid for it I designed it, built it, use it, and maintain it. The only thing I didn’t do was give final approval to the engineering plans and then later inspect and certify it for operation. Approvals and certification were the task of the regional public water authority. Given the amount of property taxes I pay I can make an excellent case that I paid for the inspections too.

      • “Bad example. Ever heard of private septic systems?”

        Ever heard of population density? I would really like to see a series of ‘private septic systems’ installed in a 16 floor building.
        You think any modern city could function in the absence of a managed sewerage system?

      • Do you really think Ayn Rand opposed sewage treatment? You seem to be stretching logic to find an excuse to dispose of individual liberty.

    • Wagathon, you are perhaps referencing John Lennon’s song “Don’t have beans for tea” (also known as “Give peas a chance”).

      • The path to whirled peas is more freedom. Capitalism works — literally — and socialism doesn’t — litterally.

  29. Rather than torture meaning from the word science, why not recognize it is the wrong overarching label for the need? Find another, move on. In the specific case of the NSF the label “science” is creating problems. The contexts are incompatible. Create a new term, NSF Fundable Projects (a subset of all projects now considered to be based in science), and populate it with things the funding and administrative managers can agree on.

    This exercise is as silly as demoting Pluto from the ranks of true planets.

  30. Nearly all field sciences are “difficult” sciences. The results of field studies are not necessarily readily reproducible or even, sometimes, approximately reproducible. Geology can be pretty thoroughly destructive of primary resources during in data extraction. Archaeology, which falls in a ghastly grey area between “hard” and “soft” sciences, even more so. Two weather balloons will never produce precisely the same data sequence because they cannot be measuring the same entity in the same state – ever.

    Looking at social sciences, many critical mathematical tools now commonly employed in so-called hard sciences including climatology were originally the result of efforts to quantify psychological results, sociological information, correlate anthropological data, estimate and establish quality control, and even be more successful in games of chance. Many forensic methods were originally developed as analytical tools in archaeology and archaeological field methods are consistently (badly) used in crime scenes today. The initial calibration of C-14 to measure the half-life was conducted on archaeological remains of know ages.

    So, while people may not like, may not trust social sciences, their contribution to the hard sciences is a matter of historical fact and the contribution is not all that small. Often the dislike of the social sciences is rooted in two facts – one, the influence of “post-normal” science has been widely discussed. Many modern “soft sciences” are so prone to political correctness that one wishes for dramamine on occasion. The other is that where conscientious social science work has been carefully conducted and verifiable and verfied predictions have been made by social scientists, we frequently do not want hear, or believe what we’re being told, anymore than the average Creationist really wants to understand the theory of evolution well enough to talk about it without contracting athlete’s foot of the lips and tongue. More critically, is economics a “social” science? Is the fractional reserve banking system the product of scientific economic reasoning? Is climate science involved with a subject of such complexity that it may never reach the point of reliably reproducible results? It was out of the cocoon of meteorology that Lorenz’s strangely attractive butterfly hatched.

  31. Economic growth does not arise from printing money to manufacture filing cabinets full of public-funded global warming junk science.

    The MYTH of ECONOMIC GROWTH in the Age of BIG Government

  32. Doug Badgero

    First, in the interest of truth in labeling, the NSF should not be funding the soft sciences. The public should understand what they are funding when they fund the NSF. I am not necessarily opposed to all public funding of the social sciences though.

    The question then rightly becomes what should a nation that is staring at a total credit market debt load of 340% of GDP, and a public debt load of about 100% of GDP, be funding? First and foremost in the decision should be what is the expected return on investment and what is the realistic timeline for the expected payback? I would eliminate much govt spending based on these criteria given our debt load.

  33. Peter Lang

    Soooo . . . . do you think that NSF should be funding the social sciences?

    My answer to this would be: “yes, but just a little and carefully alloacated”

    I’d suggest allocation of available funds for science should eb allocated in proportion to the expected return on the investment to society.

    If I extend the though to climate science, then I’d like to see the funding distributed in accordance wto what will provide the information needed for policy decisions. I believe that is not being done.

    I think the funding for climate science should be distributed to help reduce the uncertainties on the parameters that would have the greatest impact on helping to select the appropriate policy responses.
    According to Nordhaus (2008) A Question of Balance the most important parameters with the greatest uncertainty are, first, the damage estimates of warming and second, climate sensitivity to 2xCO2.

    That suggests to me what should be the priority areas for funding from the Climate Science bucket of money. The funding for climate research should be allocated in proportion to what information is most needed to make policy decisions.

  34. I caught this conversation on NPR yesterday. It was about prostate cancer and the value of PSA testing. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about climate science and if it would be possible for a “climate scientist” to come out and talk about the uncertianty and encourage skeptics to ask tough questions, without being villified. Read this and imagine that the conversation is about some aspect of climate science instead of prostate cancer.

    CONAN: What are some of the best questions you get from your patients?

    MCNAUGHTON-COLLINS: So, if you’re not sure if this is going to help me, you know, why would I want to get into this quagmire? So I do have some folks with some healthy skepticism. On the other hand, I would actually say a few years ago, it was a little bit more difficult to have this conversation. And now I think the press – and you folks included – are going a great job helping the American public to understand the uncertainty in medicine today.

    We have a lot of uncertainty, and I think the public deserves to ask questions and be tough on us when we offer a test or a treatment, no matter what it is. And so I would encourage that. I think it’s a change that’s been going on now. I think terms such as over-diagnosis and overtreatment, false positives, I find more and more of my patients in clinics seem to understand those terms and want to know more about it.

    CONAN: And you said most of your patients, once you’ve had the conversation, decide let’s skip it. These are healthy men you were talking about.

    MCNAUGHTON-COLLINS: Exactly. That’s where screening comes in. And I think as a primary care physician, the onus is on us, when we have a health man sitting in front of us who doesn’t have any symptoms – I mean, that’s what screening involves, a healthy person. The onus is on me to make sure that I have the evidence, the science to support a test that I’m going to recommend and then, you know, follow up on.

    So I really do think that the onus is on the physician to be certain that they have good evidence of what they’re doing is causing more good than harm, and in prostate cancer screening, we really just don’t have that evidence right now that we’re doing men more good than harm.


  35. Considerate thinker

    Every three to five years change the funding targetted parameters and five proposals will lob on your desk all stating they will solve or find the solution to the targetted problem. Then pull out all the failed applications/proposals from previous years. Remarkably the majority of your new set of proposals will be re-hashed (names changed to suck available funds and suit political requirements) especially so, in social programs and soft sciences.

    Such is the pulling power of political funding and wasting..sorry “securing” the public dollar for a gainful purpose – i.e. keeping ones team/jobs funded by the taxpayer.!!.

    Hopefully others may find this simple observation different in their experience…..

  36. To me it’s irrelevant whether you label the phrenology of social science as science or not. It is sheer idiocy for the government to waste billions of tax dollars on the nonsense that these “scientists” seek to “study.”

  37. Suppose there is a social practice or syle of human behavior or whatever that has these characteristics:

    Clearly defined terminology.
    Highly controlled conditions.
    Predictability and testability.

    Are these sufficient conditions for a human practice or style of behavior to be interesting and/or useful? The answer is “NO” written in big granite letters.

    Indeed, many of these conditions are useless, too easy or misleading. No one cares about “theories” that only predict successfully, or are only testable, under highly controlled conditions. No, to be useful, theories need to be portable and they need to travel. Put differently, they need to revolve around conceptual entities that are roughly invariant across explanatory and predictive contexts or, to be more precise, vary in relatively predictable ways across explanatory and predictive contexts.

    This is unfair to psychology, but one wit said that psychologists have theories like people have toothbrushes–they all have their own, for their own purposes. As I said, I think this isn’t quite fair; some psychological theories actually do travel. But the joke conveys an important point. The last three things on this list are beside the point. If I have a theory X that only applies to some tiny domain of human social behavior, but applies almost perfectly there, then it applies under highly controlled conditions, is reproducible, makes predictions and is testable…in that tiny domain. Who could possibly care about that, aside from the authors and their students and fans? By contrast, suppose I have a theory that works under relatively uncontrolled conditions, with modest predictive content, and it occasionally fails a test or two. I would say that this theory is relatively useful, interesting and robust, precisely because it has no need of relatively controlled conditions… it travels.

    Clearly defined terminology? Why? How about clearly defined measurement procedures instead. Given a choice between the former and the latter, I’ll take the latter. Curly, Larry and Moe can explain to me what they mean by “altruism” in their experiment until the cows come home: I will learn a lot more by looking at their procedure for measuring it, than I will from reading their definition. I suspect the same thing is true of almost any interesting and useful concept. Maybe the point is not that terminology is clear, but rather that a specific measurement procedure yield a useful and interesting construct that travels.

    Quantifiability? This is so weak as to rule out almost nothing. Only people who haven’t thought seriously about the foundations of measurement talk about quantifiability as if it was some kind of special and unique magic. The problem is that quantification is too easy–not that it is hard. Give me an empirical operation for making ordinal comparisons, tell me the observable properties of those ordinal comparisons (e.g. transitivity, concatenation, and a cast of thousands of other possible properties), and we can almost certainly derive a numerical scale to represent that operation and its properties. So what? What is gained, unless the concept being quantified travels inside some theory that travels?

    All five of these things are utterly and totally beside the point. Interesting and useful practices or styles of human behavior or whatever are a lot more complex than this list implies, and in fact, this list is totally misleading, useless, irrelevant.

    It is in that spirit that I declare: If that is all science is, I couldn’t care less whether economics or any other human practice is a science. All I care about is whether what I do is interesting and useful. I try to concentrate on that–not whether what I do fits some definition of something called… whatever.

    • “Suppose there is a social practice or syle of human behavior or whatever that has these characteristics:

      Clearly defined terminology.
      Highly controlled conditions.
      Predictability and testability.

      Are these sufficient conditions for a human practice or style of behavior to be interesting and/or useful? The answer is “NO” written in big granite letters.”

      If dealing with health- physical or mental. You have what called the placebo
      effect. Which means many things [lots ramifications], but if one punched someone, as therapy, it could have some success in *curing*.
      And point being [hopeful] is we don’t want therapy in which treatment is being punched in the face [or anywhere].

      Instead we should want something which has better results than simply the placebo effect. That would be the science involved with human health.

      The practice of heathcare is a art. Not a science.
      The knowledge used by doctors is based on science.

      A competent doctor will be part of developing knowledge [science] and performing the art of healthcare.
      As would any professional artist- dancer, singer, architect, etc.

    • +3.

      The joke I heard is that in psychology there’s a theory for each experiment.

      If you don’t like a piece of research, maybe it’s just bad science or weak science or useless science. There’s no need to call it “non-science” or “pseudo science.” And, on the other side, a precise, replicable, quantified finding may have little value or importance. Valid science may be poor science.

  38. I should declare an interest. The first large-scale research project I was involved in was funded in part by the Office of Naval Research. The second was funded in part by the NSF. Both were survey-research projects in political science. The second one won the Woodrow Wilson prize when its results were published.

    Both were excellent research endeavors, scrupulously rigorous in terms of their methodology, modest in their claims. The ONR was interested in all sorts of research, and the NSF had a specific interest in the social sciences.

    I came to the view, many years later, when I was responsible for national research funding in my country, that we should simply drop the use of the word ‘science’ as much as we were able, and always use ‘research’ in its place. Once I left that post the language reverted to the ‘science’ and ‘non-science’ dichotomy, which is endlessly unproductive.

    There have been some useful comments above, and I agree with those who want to argue that funders should be asking whether or not a given proposal is well argued, well based on existing knowledge, asks what seem to be important questions, proposes to use strong methodology, and involves people who have excellent track records not only in publication, but in being modest in their claims, helpful to others, keen in making their methods and data available, and generally behaving as good intellectual citizens. I think these criteria apply generally.

    The objects of human research are diverse indeed, and so they should be.

    • Peter Lang

      Don Aitkin,

      I came to the view, many years later, when I was responsible for national research funding in my country, that we should simply drop the use of the word ‘science’ as much as we were able, and always use ‘research’ in its place.

      Excellent. I agree.

      I want believable estimates of the damage cost per degree of global warming. I want to be able to see and understand the basis of such estimates. I want objective, unbiased, professional estimates by experts before I am prepared to trust Treasury’s estimates of the damages attributable to global warming. It appears, no such research has been done.

  39. As an economist, I take issue with the statement by the NSF Directorate for SBES that:

    “There is consensus among economists and policy researchers that public investments in science and engineering yield very high annual rates of return to society. Furthermore, the activities supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – fundamental research and education based at academic institutions – are generally viewed as among the most productive of all Federal investments.”

    I don’t know any economists who would support such a statement. It may be that particular public investments have high rates of return. The test would be that the investment should exceed its risk-adjusted rate of return – that is, there is no alternative use of funds, including tax reductions, that would provide a similar or higher RoR when adjusted for relative risk. This is an empirical question, which can be assessed only on a project-specific basis. Different projects in these fields will have different RoRs; and there is the issue of declining marginal returns.

    In addition, the projected RoR and the realised RoR might be very different. Many projects supported by Queensland governments 1991-2002 claimed high RoRs. In none of the cases I examined were these claims viable, but almost all went ahead in spite of my analysis, which was never in eleven years shown to be faulty. In practice, almost all of these projects were disasters, I can’t off-hand recall any which proved viable. Many submissions were supported by general statements such as that by the NSF; usually, they reflected a cargo cult mentality, latching on to a particular mis-understood idea, moving to another one when that failed. My attempts to put in place a rigorous post-hoc assessment process by which the actual outcomes of projects could be compared were always resisted.
    Now, it is unlikely that the NSF is even a tenth as bad as Queensland; but the fact that high returns have been demonstrated in certain fields does not mean that all projects in that field therefore deserve support – which is what the above statement tries to claim. Regarding NSF research and education, it is in general true that government-funded research in the US, made public in accordance with a very sensible government policy, underpins much valuable innovation. But this does not tell you what research, education or institution deserves support, nor what quantum of research funding is optimal.

    In addition, research does not take place in a vacuum. Whether or not wealth is generated from research will depend on many other factors and policies, e.g. regulation, availability of finance and skilled workers, access to and competition in domestic and overseas markets, et, etc, things which were never considered in Queensland.

    My next post will be something I wrote on this issue.

    • I suspect that centalized allocation of basic research money tends to concentrate too many resources in too few hands. Put in econ terms, I suspect the allocation of research funds has a Herfindahl Index that is too high. Since you have been involved in this, Faustino, what do you think? Do you know of any systematic attempts to look at that issue? If I were king of the forest, I would do a field experiment on this, partially randomizing research dollars to proposed projects to get a real exogenous look at this. Maybe some country has even tried that…

      • Sorry, NW, I was seriously ill 200-2009 and left work in 2002. I don’t have the capacity, skills or access to sources that I had ten years ago. But I’ll take this on notice in case I can answer later.

      • NW, in Australia it is somewhat the reverse – pretty well all universities, including those upgraded from Colleges of Advanced Technology some years ago, are expected to do research. There’s an argument that the funds are spread too thin, given the scale of our universities it would be better to focus research in a few larger unis and leave smaller regional ones as teaching unis – a bit more like the US system. However, much of the publicly-funded non-uni research is done by the CSIRO, which seems to have elements of group-think and political correctness which affect its research choices. Don Aitkin might be best-placed to answer your question, as he has been a major player in this field since the 1980s, and would have knowledge of several countries as well as Oz.

      • I’m not aware on any experiments to see what might happen if money were distributed differently. The Swedes carried out audits on funding decisions five years later to see what happened as a result of the decisions, including what happened to those who were not funded. I thought that was a good idea, and introduced it in Australia in the early 1990s, but I think it lapsed later.

        We are all affected by the culture we live in, and research funders are no different to the rest of us. What passes as ‘common knowledge’ affects funding decisions, and since AGW is common knowledge it is not surprising that funding decisions have been affected by it – and by the fact that governments have adopted it as a basis for public policy. That will change, and is changing, as other concerns weigh more heavily on decision-makers, and as the feared catastrophes fail to occur.

  40. Here’s a pertinent extract from my 2006 paper on “Achieving sustained economic growth,” which was in part a critique of Queensland government economic policy but which has a broader application. It addresses the NSF statement critiqued in my previous post:

    An holistic approach

    As indicated above, the success of growth-oriented policies in one area, such as competition policy, is often dependent on complementary and supporting policies in other areas, such as light-handed regulation of labour markets. A persistent failing in Queensland policy development is that policies in different areas tend to be developed in isolation from, and ignorance of, related or opposed policies in other areas. There is no unifying principle, no comprehensive strategic oversight of how policies interact. This has been referred to as the “silo” mentality.

    For example, there is evidence of a relationship between education levels and productivity and economic growth. But this is not a simplistic relationship. It does not mean, as the State Government seems to have assumed, that forcing those who prefer to leave school early to complete Year 12 will lead them to more skilled jobs and higher wages and will boost productivity and growth. The driving force here is the opportunities for profitable investment and business growth in Queensland, and extra schooling for students at the lower end of the spectrum will not significantly change this.

    Education and training was discussed earlier in the context of economic growth theory, as regards the impact of different levels of education in economies at differing technological levels. However, this is not to deny the importance of focusing on early education, including pre-primary education. US Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman strongly supports an holistic approach to policy. He argues that in evaluating a human capital investment strategy, it is crucial to consider the entire range of policy options together. Early investments in education are effective, while more expensive later interventions can not compensate for poor early learning. Learning is a dynamic process, and it is most effective when it begins at a young age and continues through adulthood.

    Heckman also provides evidence that private training programs are more effective than public ones and develop more marketable skills. His view is that it is better to promote private sector training, while using public resources to provide wages subsidies for older workers. Such workers would gain more from this than from training, and there are social benefits from moving low productivity workers from unemployment into work with such assistance. This is particularly relevant in Australia where, compared to other OECD countries, the minimum wage is a very high proportion of the average wage, making it harder for low-productivity workers to find employment.

    Heckman also finds evidence that additional spending on public school quality tends to be inefficient, and that reforms in the administrative structure of education and infusion of incentives and competition are far more likely to be effective. This accords with the emphasis in the main paper of government school funding being applied to support students in private schools, which face greater competition and incentives, as well as public schools.

    Outside of the education system, Heckman argues – in line with this paper – that policies which promote capital formation (that is, that encourage and reward entrepreneurial behaviour) are very effective in raising wages growth and economic efficiency. They also provide incentives for individuals to undergo relevant training. This illustrates how policies outside the field of education and training can affect outcomes in that field, reinforcing the need for an holistic approach.

    The DoEG project paper on human capital (Draca et al 2003, drawn on in the Government’s DOEG paper, pp 16-17) claimed that differences in human capital, as measured by education completion rates, explained 87 per cent of the difference in GSP per capita between Queensland and NSW. This claim is hard to believe. As Draca et al note – in line with the present paper – relationships between educational attainment, economic growth, increasing real wages and productivity are highly complex. While in earlier discussion the authors acknowledge that no clear links have been demonstrated (pp 155-159), they still proceed to use the growth accounting results to advocate “explicit policies for encouraging human capital formation” (p 170). But the material cannot support such policy conclusions.

    Equally, the authors’ estimate that Queensland would have been $15 billion better off in 1996 with similar completion rates to NSW is simplistic. It is a huge step to surmise that increased educational attainment alone would lead to the implied 16 per cent increase in Queensland’s per capita income. Indeed, Draca et al give the game away when they say that their results are “contingent upon the development of appropriate industries in which to employ human capital” (p 168). As argued throughout this paper, the development of particular industries in Queensland depends on many factors, primarily on the identification by commercial investors (not by government) of profitable opportunities. Increasing education levels alone will not generate such opportunities.

    While this section uses education as an example, the broader point is that –

     policies across many areas must be coordinated, complementary and well-founded to be successful.

    [CE note: Mirko Draca, whose work I dispute above, fully accepted my criticisms.]

    • Peter Lang


      Thank you for your interesting comment.

      policies across many areas must be coordinated, complementary and well-founded to be successful

      This would be sage advice for the Australian federal government too, if they wanted to hear it.

      I am not an economist and I would greatly appreciate a review of a comment I’ve written. I’ve posted it on the JC thread Copenhagen Consensus 2012 here: http://judithcurry.com/2012/05/20/copenhagen-consensus-2012/#comment-205013, and importantly, on SkepticalScience here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=1325#80611. I suspect the SkepticalScience team is working away to check it. Dana1981 has already made two comments. I’d appreciate if you could look at what I’ve said and advise if you find any major gross mistakes (before they do).

      • Do you calculate the cost of money.
        It seems to me, it’s never done regarding government policy.
        Other than custom, is there any justification for excluding
        this actual cost. And if talking about decades of spending,
        it’s very large cost.

      • gbaikie, there will always be opportunities whose rate of return exceeds the cost of borrowing: most investments are made on that basis. The opportunity cost therefore reflects the cost of borrowing. I’ve known many firms which had a rule of thumb to invest in capital equipment only where they could recover costs in three years, i.e. with a RoR of around 30 per cent. Australia’s Department of Finance once had (and probably still has) a discount rate for assessing expenditure based on something like the bank rate plus 6 per cent. I think I have a copy buried somewhere. So, in theory, the cost of money – i.e., of borrowing it – is always a factor. In practice, governments often promote projects, such as Australia’s National Broadband Network, which will be loss-making, often using very specious assessments to justify them. Worse at the State level.

        NW, on reflection, I’ve never seen the Herfindahl Index used except as a measure of market share, usually for competition policy considerations. I had some expertise in R&D and innovation, and never saw it used in those contexts.

      • I meant that metaphorically–to express the idea of concentration–but I’ve seen Herfindahls computed to express all sorts of concentrations of shares, not just market shares of firms (though to tell the truth I can’t think of an actual example I have seen at this moment). Any allocation of some homogenous total could be expressed as shares, and then a Herfindahl computed. If I were to do a comparative study of concentration of research dollars across countries, Herfindahls for each country’s allocation of research dollars would seem a natural. The unit of observation (the entity having a share) could vary of course–universities, PIs, and so on–so there would be decisions to make.

      • Peter, I can’t comment on the $3.5 tr figure. Your calculation assumes that this cost would be equally distributed on a per capita basis, which is most unlikely. In fact, Australia is likely to bear much higher costs per capita than other countries because we are high per capita carbon users: we have a small share of the world’s population, but provide a high proportion of its coal and minerals. In addition, our mining and processing are relatively efficient: reduced production here is likely to be met by increased production by less efficient producers, who will gain while we lose (and will raise CO2 emissions compared to continued Australian production). So our CBA would be even worse than you calculated, though I can’t put a figure on it.

        The various emissions-reduction schemes are extremely complicated and bureaucratic, and direct compliance costs are likely to be high. In addition, there is great uncertainty about exactly what the costs will be and where they will be borne, which increases business uncertainty and risk. Business and financiers will therefore build in a higher risk premium: I doubt that government calculations make any allowance for this. It would have been better to have had a CBA undertaken by the Productivity Commission, but the government obviously fears independent analysis by the PC (as with the NBN et al).

      • Peter Lang


        Thank you for you’re your reply. I agree with all the points you make, (but should just correct this misunderstanding of one of my assumptions):

        You said:

        Peter, I can’t comment on the $3.5 tr figure. Your calculation assumes that this cost would be equally distributed on a per capita basis, which is most unlikely.

        Actually, I assumed it would be equally distributed on a per GDP basis, not per capita. This would also be most unlikely, but would overestimate rather than underestimate Australia’s share because Australia’s share of world GDP will likely decrease as the century progresses and Asia’s share of world GDP increases. I was wanting to keep the analysis simple and overstate rather than underestimate the estimated benefits/costs.

        Regarding the compliance cost, you might be interested in this, if you didn’t already see it: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=13578&page=0

        I second your statement:

        It would have been better to have had a CBA undertaken by the Productivity Commission, but the government obviously fears independent analysis by the PC (as with the NBN et al).

  41. BatedBreath

    Whether or not climatology should be defunded as having been captured by politics, the odd $billions spent on it are piffling compared to the untold $trlllions its findings threaten to commit us to.

  42. By there requirements mathematics would be science (though it meets some of those requirements, like reproducibility, in odd ways).

    I think everyone would agree that math is not a science because if does not deal with the observable world (and is not uncertain – something your last post would argue is a condition of science).

  43. blueice2hotsea

    JC –

    Soooo . . . . do you think that NSF should be funding the social sciences?

    The NSF should only fund science which has been identified as having national strategic importance. Obviously, some social sciences will qualify for funding. Others, such as parapsychology, MAY NOT.

  44. I have been teaching many engineering students who have been interested in entering science typically to write a doctoral thesis. In that I have many times been confronted by the question: What’s the difference between good engineering and science.

    Research is often essential in solving engineering problems but that research is not always science. The required research may be very demanding and it may apply scientific methods but even then it’s not necessarily science.

    One of the basic differences between the way a problem is considered in engineering and in science is that in engineering a solution that’s good enough is searched for. When such a solution has been found and proven in practice, it may be of little interest to know, how it was found or to understand deeper reasons for it’s value. In science these additional questions are often as essential as the result itself and it’s also essential that all the essential arguments are reported in publications.

    In science it’s essential that the author is critical on all the arguments she has used and that she reports every caveat that may be important for the interpretation of the outcome. The additional checks needed in engineering to assure the value of the result are of a different nature. Both may involve quality controls but the goals are different and the required controls different.

    The most important feature of science is that it’s a process that leads to more and more knowledge. Research that participates in this process of science and presents it’s results and arguments in openly available (not necessarily free of charge) publications is science. If it has significant positive influence on the process it’s good science.

    When methods and results of climate science are used to support policy decisions the situation is in many ways closer to the engineering questions than to the science questions. This is one reason for the existing controversies as many people don’t realize that the answer to the same question must be formulated differently when it’s presented from decision makers to support decisions rather than from other scientists for the advancement of basic science.

    Pekka: thanks much for this analysis. JC

    • blueice2hotsea


      May add that in the continuum of theory to application, a common denominator is the formulaic determinism of mathematics.

      Theory is the conversion of philosophy/intuition/art into descriptive mathematics. Application/engineering is the conversion of the mathematics into pragmatic invention.

    • Pekka,

      I guess that English is not your native language. If you want any help in expressing your thoughts clearly in English, please ask. I am happy to assist if you wish.

      The other posters on this blog can be the arbiters of whether my English expression might be clearer and more expressive of your intent than yours.

      I, along with others, could hazard a guess at what you are trying to say.

      However, the exact meaning of your post is not clear (at least to me).

      Do you want some assistance?

      Live well and prosper,

      Mike Flynn.

      • Ozzie, Pekka’s post was very clear to me, and helpful. The last para is particularly pertinent.

      • I’m not really worried about Ozzie’s problems in understanding my writing. Actually I have written a couple of my messages, when I have noticed that he hasn’t understood at all what native English language writers have written in a very clear fashion.

        His problems are not my problems, and I don’t expect that he will be any more happy with my writing in the future.

    • Pekka wrote:
      > One of the basic differences between the way a problem is considered in engineering and in science is that in engineering a solution that’s good enough is searched for. When such a solution has been found and proven in practice, it may be of little interest to know, how it was found or to understand deeper reasons for it’s value.

      Pekka, having worked in both academic science as well as engineering in the real world, I’d like to elaborate on your point:

      In engineering, it is quite common to use approximations that we *know* to be wrong: we actively create our designs so that they perform within the regime where the approximations work well enough. We can do this because our designs are created by us and so we can see to it that they are simple enough that we understand them quite well (usually: sometimes we have unfortunate surprises!).

      In science, on the contrary, the game is to intentionally push experiments and observations into domains where we anticipate that our current theories might break down. We do that in order to improve our theories and gain more knowledge about nature. One reason for doing this is that natural phenomena are *not* designed by us, and so we need to stretch our theories as far as possible.

      This creates a radical difference in practice between what scientists and engineers actually do, even though, superficially, they seem to be engaged in similar pursuits – using math and the laws of science to deal with nature. That may explain why scientists and engineers in this forum seem often to be talking past each other.

      Incidentally, as a scientist who has often worked in engineering, I myself have often found this dichotomy a bit of a conundrum: I am always tempted to “play the scientist” and push a design beyond the known limits just to see what happens. Needless to say, my managers or customers want me to keep the design safely within the limits of known approximations to be sure the thing will work!

      All the best,


  45. Latimer Alder

    I wonder if we will soon have discussion about exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    This maundering on about what is and what isn’t ‘science’ or ‘falsifiability’ just confirms my belief that many academics are so far up their own ivory towers and so insulated in their own little cocoons as to be incapable of doing useful work on the public’s behalf.

    So my answer to the question about NSF funding is rapidly approaching ‘none of the above’.

    As an example they have funded ‘climate models’ for 30 years. ‘Invested’ billions of bucks and millions of pounds in a futile hope that such work will provide us with reliable, policy-quality information about future climates and hence guide any decisions that may or may not need to be made.

    And after all that work and all that money we have precisely no results. Absolutely nothing of any provable value. Not a dicky bird.

    Lots and lost of estimates and projections and intermodel-comparisons and discussions about first principles and conferences in holiday resorts. Academic papers coming out of the ears. Fame and fortune and platform to lecture us all for a few…cushy careers and a stress free life for many. The gravy train has been well-stocked and the goodies generously ladled out. No wonder many academics are in favour of it and praise models to the skies.

    But when one asks the simple basic question

    ‘*Prove* that these models are any use in doing what we want them to do’

    the silence is deafening. A lot of shuffling of feet. A brave soul witters on about interdecadal proxy reconstruction at the inter-regional isotopical interface. Another even more foolhardy soul suggest that even more public money should be spent on yet another even bigger supercomputer and that in ten or twenty or a hundred years (or never) it will all be done. The most valiant (or stupid) just says ‘Trust us, we’re climate scientists’, as if that decisively closes the discussion

    But for actual evidence that these models can tell us anything at all about future climates there is nothing at all. And, even worse, the climatologists don’t even seem to consider this to be a problem. Ivory tower bound, they just imagine that the gravy train that brings them such wealth and prosperity is unstoppable….and anyway Joe Public is just too thick/conservative/deluded/hypnotised by the Big Oil Denier Conspiracy
    to notice that their conjuring trick has no substance.

    As public finance gets tougher and tougher, harder and harder questions are going to be asked about academic funding. And – whether academics like it or not – the question of value for money (bang for buck if you will) is going to be more and more at the forefront.

    Seems to me that academic climate modelling has produced no bangs at all for very many bucks and is very very vulnerable to severe curtailment. That they have largely brought it upon themselves reminds me of the lovely German word ‘Schadenfreude’. Tough shit.

    • andrew adams


      It being the 1st of the month Real Climate has an new open thread.

      Why not pop over there and politely ask the question? It is, after all, run by people who actually do climate modelling so hopefully they will either directly answer your question or point you to somewhere which has the answer.

      • andrew adams

        Or you could click on the “Climate Modelling” category on the home page and find numerous articles on the subject.

      • andrew adams

        No point in Latimer asking the RC “gurus” the question.

        He’s already told us what the answer will be:

        ‘Trust us, we’re climate scientists’


      • yep, just stick your fingers in your ears…….

        Go Team!

      • Latimer Alder

        @andrew adams

        It was the 1st of June, not the 1st of April!

        But I found your slice of April Fool’s humour amusing nonetheless.

        I have absolutely no desire to be told t ‘f**k off asshole. We are Climate Scientists and don’t you forget it scumbag’ by Schmidt, Mann or or their minions once again.

        I gave up on RC as anywhere worth visiting during Climategate – as did just about everybody else who does not worship at the Shrine of the the Team. It is now nothing more than a mutual adoration society for that ever-dwindling bunch of True Believers. Like the Alamo, but without the bravery and Hollywood appeal.

        But if you’d like to do so on my behalf…feel free. You may be on the (very) short list of people they deign to give a civil answer to.

      • BatedBreath

        In truth, RC is a mixture of very interesting science detail, and an unshakable refusal to look at systemic bias and dishonesty in the institutions of climate science.

  46. David Springer


    ■Clearly defined terminology.
    ■Highly controlled conditions.
    ■Predictability and testability.

    Climate science fails (big time) in the last 3 criteria. It’s a soft science.

    • It fails in first 2 also. The first 2 are things which could be done fairly easily. And if done would make 3-5 easier.

  47. Joe's World


    Our current area of consensus science has rules and regulations that has to be followed if you want your research even looked at.
    To ignore new areas being explored is just plain rude.
    They will certainly jump quickly and tell when you are wrong but areas unexplored is ignored or just stated interesting and go no further.
    God willing that Einstein should be incorrect is blasphemy, even though he did NOT have the technology we currently have today.
    E=MC2 does not work with pressure and stored energy in a multi-velocity setting.

    • Latimer Alder


      I’m going to regret this but would you care to give an example of

      ‘E=MC2 does not work with pressure and stored energy in a multi-velocity setting’

      And did you finally get the ideas of Conservation of Angular Momentum sorted in your head? That was your stumbling block a while back.

    • Uh, Joe, I am a physicist (Ph.D. from Stanford, and a former student of Dick Feynman’s). One of the ways of showing the validity of E=mc^2 is to consider a system with multiple particles moving with different velocities and subject to pressure. You conclude that for such a system E= mc^2.

      To be sure, the local energy *density* is part of the stress-energy tensor and transforms as part of a second-order tensor. But, Einstein knew that too: it is indeed a central part of his 1915/1916 General Theory of Relativity.

      So, if you seriouosly want to claim Einstein missed any of this, well, you might try learning what Einstein actually did in detail first.

      Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • ceteris non paribus

        Dave, you are obviously part of The Team – with your fancy PhD and your stress-energy tensors. And don’t get people here started on Feynmann – that cartoon-drawing, bongo-playing hippie. You will hereafter be verbally spanked.

      • physicistdave,
        Joe is not really someone to converse with about anything to do with reason and rationality.

      • Ummmmm, no doubt.

        But one of the main things that intrigues me about the Web is the ubiquity of people like Joe who are so sure of things they know nothing at all about.

        I find it irresistible to try to explore their manner of thinking (or lack thereof).


      • Joe is no different than the other skeptics I battle with here, apart from their individual tastes in school paste.

  48. Every time climate scientists output a new temperature record, the warming increases. Really now, what are the odds of that?

    • ceteris non paribus

      Well – the odds are pretty low.

      One person’s evidence for believing in deceptive collusion on an international scale is another person’s evidence that the world is, in fact, warming.

      BTW – BEST showed warming.
      Are you suggesting that Dr Curry is in on the big hoax?

      • “Are you suggesting that Dr Curry is in on the big hoax?”



      • OK, the past temps get lower and the later, but still years back temps get higher. What are the odds of that, smart a$$?

    • Perhaps you ought to take that up with Roy Spencer? ;o)

  49. David Springer

    I can’t believe how much time and money is wasted on climate research when there are far more important things deserving of our attention. One of those things is how much pop can a pop glass hold if a pop glass could pop ass (we love you Mayor Bloomberg, you’d be a cheap clown at twice the salary).

  50. …the most amazing ignorance was among smart people in the physical sciences who failed to appreciate the non-science implications of the global warming hoax and who lacked the courage and intellectual integrity to step up.

    Detour to Secular Winter

  51. “Using some back-of-the-envelope-style calculations, Dr Smith, with help from physicist and Cambridge University colleague Dave Ansell, drew up a balance sheet of what’s coming in, and what’s going out. All figures are estimated.

    By far the biggest contributor to the world’s mass is the 40,000 tonnes of dust that is falling from space to Earth, says Dr Smith.

    Gains / tonnes per year Losses / tonnes per year

    Net gain/loss (rounded down) = 50,000 tonnes lost per year

    All figures approximate

    space dust 40,000
    hydrogen 95,000
    global warming 160
    helium 1,600
    lost energy 16 ”

    So these are guesses.
    I am wondering in what manner was most accurate measurement of earth’s atmosphere which has ever been done.
    And what anyone would think is best way to measure the atmosphere
    in the most precise manner- which would feasible [not cost a lot of money to do it].

  52. As dead and dying Old Europe continues to get ‘deader’ and as their comrades in the secular, socialist government bureaucracy continue to cram suicide pills down the throats of the productive in America we should all pause just for a moment to consider who the real beneficiaries of global warming alarmism are: insiders receiving solar power subsidies and manufacturers of solar panels in China. And, of course, public-funded academics.

  53. While I agree that “social science” is not really “science,” I think it is a mistake to argue that it’s because social scientists don’t follow the scientific method rigorously. To the contrary, review of social science journals will reveal a pianstaking adherence to scientific methodology–a thorough, meticulous, painstaking adherence. The obsessive observance of the scientific method among social scientists is the consequence of the fact that, despite their best efforts, the results of social science simply do not mimic the success of natural scientists.

    As we often discuss in these fora, the reason people invest science with such belief is not scientific–it’s the fact that science produces verifiable, real world proof of its usefulness. Note that I do not say “truth.” The ideal gas law might someday be proved wrong (or at least incomplete), but that won’t change the fact that internal combustion engines work. We can rely on them to propel our cars.

    Social science produces no such results. By which I don’t mean to say it produces no results. But there is nothing in the real world that is so reliable, and so useful, as the internal combustion engine, which is predicted by social science. And that’s just one of literally millions of examples of stuff the “hard sciences” have given us, each of which is comparably useful and reliable.

    The problem is that social issues simply are not suitable subject matter for scientific study. When Thomas Hobbes got excited about the idea of applying the method of “natural philosophy” to the study of the human condition, he was sure it would provide us with answers to moral questions that were as certain as a geometry proof. It took us a couple of centuries to figure out that wasn’t going to happen. Today no one even tries any more. But they’re still trying to apply the methodology to social issues. The theory is that there’s something wrong with moral questions. And that theory is correct, but the problem is it’s also true of social issues.

    The problem is that they can’t be reduced to simple enough propositions to be scientifically studied. Science requires operationalized definitions. But social concepts can’t be operationalized. Social scientists deny this, and try to operationalize the subjects of their study. But the process of doing so changes the subject. For example, we all understand what “power” means. But in the study Judith mentioned, the term doesn’t mean that, any more. It’s been given a new, operationalized definition, which is so pixelated that it doesn’t have much to do with what we mean when we use the word. Althernatively, the things that get studied are so simple that the scientific methodology is completely superfluous. For example, I recall one Ph.D. thesis which studied the relationship between the probability of winning an election and the ambiguity with which the candidate expressed his positions. It turns out, candidates with unpopular positions increase their chance of winning by stating those positions ambiguously. This is not a result that justifies the effort required to produce a scientific study–no combustion engines here.

    The idea is a bit tough for our civilization to deal with. Science holds such a special place that we basically think there is no other valid epistemology. The idea that entire classes of questions can’t be answered that way is unthinkable to huge swathes of us. As I mentioned, our devotion to the methodology is so powerful that we tend to conclude that there’s something wrong with those questions, rather than admit the limits of the methodology.

  54. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Why, Karl Rove! Is that you? Your literary style is unmistakeable … welcome to the climate-science debate!  :)

    • Q: How AGW True Believers does it take to screw a dim bulb?

      A: 10,000. One to predict the catastrophic consequences of global warming and the rest to forecast the job creation and savings of millions of barrels of oil by investing in solar candles.

  55. Q: What do you call those cheering at a anti-US, anti-drilling, anti-pipeline, anti-nuclear, anti-incandescentbulb convention of socialist college professors against AGW?





    A: OPEC.

  56. Is it true that federal money has been set aside to buy thermometers from the UN bookstore for US classrooms across America that will give you the average global temperature instead of the room temperature? Currently it is exactly 63 °F. Make a note of it.

  57. A very good guide as to what is non-science is the extent to which politics has an input.
    This thread is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
    If your a Democrat you must think that Global Warming is……….
    If your a Republican you must think that Global Warming is……….
    If your a Socialist you must think that Global Warming is……….
    If your a Conservative you must think that Global Warming is……….

    Can you think of the same views attributed to (say) the Photoelectric Effect?
    Al Gore gets a Nobel Prize, the IPCC policy is decided by Government Representatives and led by a Railway Engineer.
    Don’t you think that’s strange?

    You would think we would learn from history!
    Eugenics,Sir Cyril Burt, Lysenko are all examples of political ‘science’.

    Honest practitioners of Climate Science will have to work hard to convince the public that they don’t all;
    Cut and paste their graphs (Mann style).
    Refuse to release method and data to support conclusions.(CRU style).

  58. John from CA

    What’s the point of having the NEA and HEH if NSF is also funding Arts & Humanities?

  59. I think the social sciences in general are sciences:


    Sometimes they meet the label of “soft”sciences and sometimes not, depending upon the applications, methods and underlying constructs devised to be investigated. Climate science, physics and, yes biology are mostly part of the “hard” sciences.

    This does not mean there are not mistakes, exaggerations, omissions, and even outright fabrications made in each of the aforementioned divisions of science.

    Last year when I worked in a lab looking at the physiological basis of human behavior in a University psychology department within a psycho-biology lab the general methodology, questions asked and ways of arriving at answers were all scientific using principles/techniques of biology, psychology and biochemistry. Yet the results were embellished and written in the best possible light with an overkill of scientifically sounding verbiage. Also, the sample sizes were far too small and the sampling resembled too much a convenience sampling rather than a true random sampling, though it was not dishonest to state that the methods employed a simple random sampling technique. In other words the study was worthwhile to pursue and the questions asked were of interest along with the use of well operationally defined variables and SPSS analysis of the data.

    The study to be honest, however, was not looking for an answer in nearly as complex a subject as climate systems and the potential for AGW and so called “projections” or “predictions” and it already met with serious limitations in producing robust results. My research was NSF funded too,

    Side note:

    Dr. B you should re-read the posts in response to yours especially regarding falsification and so forth… they could benefit you on your quest to understand Popper and post Popperian falsifiability in a correct manner. I work extensively within this subject matter and these models have been falsified by real world data. The models have failed.

    I also want to to state that Rabbett Run is unfairly mischaracterizing Judith Curry as somehow encouraging violence against AGW proponents as well.This is a shame, I think, that many in and around the climate research/blog community is attacking Dr. Curry. Politics as usual.

    Climate science is at times very good and scientific but not when it bases already biased claims upon falsified Global Circulation Models.

    Now are air pollution, soot, benzene in water potential issues–sure, but even many of these issues in the developed world have improved.

  60. Interesting blog discussion of these issues by a wide variety of professionals both scientists and not can be found here:

  61. The English word “science” is rooted in the Latin word “scientia” meaning “demonstrable knowledge.” In modern terminology, the “scientia” is the information that one has about the unobserved but observable state of a statistical event given the observed state of the same event.

    The “scientia” is the measure of the relationship between a pair of state-spaces. One’s ability to nail down the magnitude of the “scientia” is conditional upon the definition of the complete set of events, the so-called “statistical population” of global warming “science.” There is no such statistical population and thus is no “scientia.”