Scientists & identity-protective cognition

by Judith Curry

Dan Kahan has an interesting blog post on scientists and motivated reasoning.

The link to Kahan’s blog post is [here], most of it is reproduced below:

6. Professional judgment

Ordinary members of the public predictably fail to get the benefit of the best available scientific evidence when their collective deliberations are pervaded by politically motivated reasoning. But even more disturbingly, politically motivated reasoning might be thought to diminish the quality of the best scientific evidence available to citizens in a democratic society (Curry 2013).

Not only do scientists—like everyone else—have cultural identities. They are also highly proficient in the forms of System 2 reasoning known to magnify politically motivated reasoning. Logically, then, it might seem to follow that scientists’ factual beliefs about contested social risks are likely skewed by the stake they have in conforming information to the positions associated with their cultural groups.

But a contrary inference would be just as “logical.” The studies linking politically motivated reasoning with the disposition to use System 2 information processing have been conducted on general public samples, none of which would have had enough scientists in them to detect whether being one matters. Unlike nonscientists with high CRT or Numeracy scores, scientists use professional judgment when they evaluate evidence relevant to disputed policy-relevant facts. Professional judgment consists in habits of mind, acquired through training and experience and distinctively suited to specialized forms of decisionmaking. For risk experts, those habits of mind confer resistance to many cognitive biases that can distort the public’s perceptions(Margolis 1996). It is perfectly plausible to believe that one of the biases that professional judgments can protect risk experts from is “politically motivated reasoning.”

Here, too, neither values nor positions on disputed policies can help decide between these competing empirical claims. Only evidence can. To date, however, there are few studies of how scientists might be affected by politically motivated reasoning, and the inferences they support are equivocal.

Some observational studies find correlations between the positions of scientists on contested risk issues and their cultural or political orientations (Bolsen, Druckman, & Cook 2015; Carlton, Perry-Hill, Huber & Prokopy 2015). The correlations, however, are much less dramatic than ones observed in general-population samples. In addition, with one exception (Slovic, Malmfors et al. 1995), these studies have not examined scientists’ perceptions of facts in their own domains of expertise.

This is an important point. Professional judgment inevitably comprises not just conscious analytical reasoning proficiencies but perceptive sensibilities that activate those proficiencies when they are needed (Bedard & Biggs 1991; Marcum 2012). Necessarily preconscious (Margolis 1996), these sensibilities reflect the assimilation of the problem at hand to an amply stocked inventory of prototypes. But because these prototypes reflect the salient features of problems distinctive of the expert’s field, the immunity from bias that professional judgment confers can’t be expected to operate reliably outside the domain of her expertise (Dane & Pratt 2007).

A study that illustrates this point examined legal professionals. In it, lawyers and judges, as well as a sample of law students and members of the public, were instructed to perform a set of statutory interpretation problems. Consistent with the PMRP design, the facts of the problems—involving behavior that benefited either illegal aliens or “border fence” construction workers; either a pro-choice or pro-life family counseling clinic—were manipulated in a manner designed to provoke responses consistent with identity protective cognition in competing cultural groups. The manipulation had exactly that effect on members of the public and on law students. But it didn’t on judges and lawyers: despite the ambiguity of the statutes and the differences in their own cultural values, those study subjects converged in their responses, just as one would predict if one expected their judgments to be synchronized by the common influence of professional judgment. Nevertheless, this relative degree of resistance to identity-protective reasoning was confined to legal-reasoning tasks: the judges and lawyers’ respective perceptions of disputed societal risks—from climate change to marijuana legalization—reflected the same identity-protective patterns observed in the general public and student samples (Kahan, Hoffman, Evans, Lucci, Devins & Cheng in press). Extrapolating, then, we might expect to see the same effect in risk experts: politically motivated divisions on policy-relevant facts outside the boundaries of their specific field of expertise; but convergence guided by professional judgment inside of them.

Or alternatively we might expect convergence not on positions that are true necessarily but that are so intimately bound up with a field’s own sense of identity that acceptance of them has become a marker of basic competence (and hence a precondition of recognition and status) within it. In Koehler (1993), scientists active in either defending or discrediting scientific proof of “parapsyology” were instructed to review the methods of a fictional ESP study. The result of the study was experimentally manipulated: Half the scientists got one that purported to find evidence supporting ESP, the other half one that purported to find evidence not supporting it. The scientists’ assessments of the quality of the study’s methods turned out to be strongly correlated with the fit between the represented result and the position associated with the scientists’ existing positions on the scientific validity of parapsychology—although Koehler found that this effect was in fact substantially more dramatic among the “skeptic” than the “non-skeptic” scientists.

Koehler’s study reflects the core element of the PMRP design: the outcome measure was the weight that members of opposing groups gave to one and the same piece of evidence conditional on the significance of crediting it. Because the significance was varied in relation to the subjects’ prior beliefs and not their stake in some goal independent of forming an accurate assessment, the study can and normally is understood to be a demonstration of confirmation bias. But obviously, the “prior beliefs” in this case were ones integral to membership in opposing groups, the identity-defining significance of which for the subjects was attested to by how much time and energy they had devoted to promoting public acceptance of their respective groups’ core tenets. Extrapolating, then, one might infer that professional judgment might indeed fail to insulate from the biasing effects of identity-protective cognition scientists whose professional identity has become identified strongly with particular factual claims.

So we are left with only competing plausible conjectures. There’s nothing at all unusual about that. Indeed, it is the occasion for empirical inquiry—which here would take the form of the use of the PMRP design or one of equivalent validity to assess the vulnerability of scientists to politically motivated reasoning—both in and outside of the domains of their expertise, and with and without the pressure to affirm “professional-identity-defining” beliefs.


Several papers from Kahan’s reference list are particularly relevant for climate science:

Curry, J. Scientists and Motivated Reasoning. Climate Etc. (Aug. 20, 2013) [link]

Koehler, J.J. The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality. Org. Behavior & Human Decision Processes 56, 28-55 (1993). [link]

Abstract. This paper is concerned with the influence of scientists′ prior beliefs on their judgments of evidence quality. A laboratory experiment using advanced graduate students in the sciences (study 1) and an experimental survey of practicing scientists on opposite sides of a controversial issue (study 2) revealed agreement effects. Research reports that agreed with scientists′ prior beliefs were judged to be of higher quality than those that disagreed. In study 1, a prior belief strength × agreement interaction was found, indicating that the agreement effect was larger among scientists who held strong prior beliefs. In both studies, the agreement effect was larger for general, evaluative judgments (e.g., relevance, methodological quality, results clarity) than for more specific, analytical judgments (e.g., adequacy of randomization procedures). A Bayesian analysis indicates that the pattern of agreement effects found in these studies may be normatively defensible, although arguments against implementing a Bayesian approach to scientific judgment are also advanced.

JC reflections 

I regard this as an extremely important line of research.  Laboratory experiments assessing this are invaluable here.  It would be WONDERFUL  to see some experiments assessing all this from a spectrum of climate scientists.  Too much of the social psychology surrounding climate change is the pernicious twaddle coming from Lewandowsky et al.

Regarding our recent discussion of how to debunk the 97% consensus meme.  Not only do we need better surveys of climate scientists (good questions plus stratification across areas of expertise and ‘motivations’), but we also need to understand the social psychology of the consensus supporters versus dissenters.  Further, we need to understand the allegiance to the climate consensus of scientists (and professional societies) that are well outside the domain of climate science.  Experiments conducted by social scientists who do not themselves have ‘motivations’ in the climate debate are needed.  Given the lack of diversity in the field of social psychology, as the writings by Jonathan Haidt and others at are pointing out, this will not be easy to accomplish.

Here’s to hoping that we will see some thoughtful studies on this in the near future.


132 responses to “Scientists & identity-protective cognition

  1. Pingback: Scientists & identity-protective cognition | Enjeux énergies et environnement

  2. “With 2015 on track to be the warmest year ever, scientists say the world already has warmed about 1 degree since the industrial revolution, the quickest shift in the climate since the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago.”

    Yet here we are playing some sort of game.

    • With 2015 on track to be the warmest year ever

      Appears so, but to what ill effect?
      I was alive fifty years ago when ostensibly temperatures were lower.
      Life was not better because temperatures were lower.

      the quickest shift in the climate since the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago.
      That’s not something that can be verified, so it’s an appeal to emotion, but not science. It’s also misleading even if temperature change were measured and indicated recent change to be the largest because: climate is not global average temperature.

      Rates of radiative forcing increase peaked around 1989 and have fallen by a third since then:

      During that time, the rates of temperature increase have also fallen to less that 1C per century ( in spite of the AR4 promise of 2C per century rates ):

      Trying to tie this back to the topic at hand, those who are identifying as concerned or environmentalist are not looking at the data.

      The cultural meme, fostered by the emotional or unscrupulous, is that global warming is both ‘worse-than-expected’ and ‘accelerating’.

      The data indicate ‘less-than-expected’ and ‘decelerating’.

  3. Test–comments not posting

  4. The fact that the weight of evidence is relative to everything one believes is not motivated reasoning. It is just reasoning. How could it be otherwise?

    • What do you think is the difference between motivated reasoning and “just reasoning?” Do you really understand the term?

      It refers to reasoning that is biased by identity-related biases.

      Do you doubt that such reasoning (identity-biased) exists?

      Do you think that all reasoning (say, in non-polarized contexts w/o strong identity affiliation) is equally likely to be so influenced by identity-related biases?

      • What I have yet to see is a diagnostic difference between reasoning and so-called motivated reasoning. Can you supply one? You are using science-sounding terms like “identity-related biases.” What is that and how do we identify them? How do they differ from beliefs?

        If reasoning depends on belief then people with different beliefs will come to different conclusions. This is not a difference in reasoning. It is a difference in beliefs. In logic it is the difference between validity and soundness.

        A valid argument is one in which the conclusion follows from the premises. This is reasoning. A sound argument is one in which the argument is valid and the premises are true. The point is that if the beliefs are false and thus the conclusion is false, that does not make the reasoning invalid. You folks are attacking the reasoning when you should be attacking the beliefs.

      • It sounds like Joshua is using terminology taken from sociology papers, and David is using “common language”. You seem to be saying the same thing.

      • David –

        I don’t know that there is a “diagnostic” difference. Obviously, there is crossover between “beliefs” and reasoning that is influenced by how people identify ideologically. Beliefs and motivated reasoning aren’t mutually exclusive.

        My guess is that all reasoning is influenced by beliefs, but that some reasoning is more heavily influenced by ideological identification, and reflective of identity-protective cognition. If you ask me about my opinion as to whether you should eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, my ideological identification is not likely to be a heavy influence on how I reason my answer, but if you ask me about whether you should carry a gun or support ACO2 mitigation, my ideological orientation is likely to have a heavier influence on my reasoning.

        ==> “If reasoning depends on belief then people with different beliefs will come to different conclusions. “

        I’m not sure why you’re saying “if reasoning depends on beliefs…” Are you saying that because your understanding is that motivated reasoning or identity-protective cognition indicates that reasoning “depends” on beliefs? If so, that isn’t how I understand those concepts. As I understand them, they indicate that reasoning is influence by beliefs, to varying degree depending on context.

        ==> “This is not a difference in reasoning.”

        The difference isn’t in reasoning per se. The difference is in the factors that influence (bias) the reasoning.

        The basic example is in how people filter evidence to fit with their pre-existing beliefs. Loo at his paper of Kahan’s

        The point is that people’s ideological orientation influences how they filter information and evidence. It’s basically as simple and fundamental as the concept of confirmation bias.

        ==>” The point is that if the beliefs are false and thus the conclusion is false, that does not make the reasoning invalid.”

        IMO, this is a fundamental misunderstanding that I’ve seen you get caught up in before. The theory is not that motivated reasoning makes reasoning invalid. I think that you are confusing the work on motivated reasoning with the ideas of someone like Andy West. They aren’t the same. Not only does the theory of motivated reasoning not indicate that reasoning that is influenced by identity is invalid, it also doesn’t indicate that reasoning that is influenced by identity-orientation is irrational.

      • Joshua, reasoning is not influenced by beliefs, it is based entirely on beliefs. This is basic logic. In deductive logic there are premises and a conclusion. The premises are beliefs, as in I believe that I see a horse out my window. In inductive logic there is evidence that is weighted and a conclusion. The evidence is the premises and the weighting is also based on beliefs. Different people can accept the same evidence but weight it differently because of their beliefs.

        This is all ordinary reasoning. There is nothing “motivated” about it. You can group people by their beliefs, which groups you call ideology (or culture, etc.) but the grouping is not affecting their reasoning. It merely describes their beliefs. We have been down this road before and clearly you either do not understand what I am saying or you disagree but cannot say how.

      • David,

        It is my belief that it is not reasonable to discuss any subject with a putz in love with the sound of his own voice.

  5. Amen on better sampling of scientists. The 97% is wearing very thin because of the flawed sampling. How that paper even got published is a mystery. A social scientist with any statistical background would have thrown it out.

  6. => ” It would be WONDERFUL to see some experiments assessing all this from a spectrum of climate scientists. .”

    Indeed. But the question is whether you and the “denizens” would continue to ignore and/or selectively (and fallaciously) exploit the implications of that research, just as y’all have with Kahan’s previous work on the subject.

    • Hello Joshua. How are you?

      I must say I am unware of Kahan . Is there anŷ article of his you would like to highlight?


      • His website is pretty searchable, Tony, with useful categorization – including of publications by topic an date.

        I would say that probably the most impactful paper was this one:

        Which lays the basic groundwork in making the argument for the influence of identity-cognition on perspectives on science – climate change, in particular.

        Much of the other work grounds the dynamics and mechanisms as seen with climate change into larger context – by showing similar patterns of association between identity and views on science (and notably not levels of understanding of science) in areas such as gun control, nuclear energy, and the theory of evolution.

        Part of what’s interesting is how much of a hard time folks on both sides have in digesting the evidence-based theories related to the influence of cultural cognition and motivated reasoning, as they apply to folks on their own sides, respectively. They, of course, routinely make arguments that assume the validity of the theories as they apply to folks on the other side – which is exactly what the theory predicts.

        For example, “skeptics” loved the paper that I linked because it shows a very minor association between greater scientific sophistication and less concern about climate change – even as they basically ignored the more significant finding of the paper: that concern and lack thereof associated with climate change is strongly associated with ideology.

      • Dan Kahan is someone whose work I follow closely.

      • Dan Kahan is someone whose work I follow closely.

        More important than whether you follow it, IMO, is whether you apply the empirical evidence that he provides.

        From what I can tell, you routinely don’t, and instead go with anecdotal and non-empirically based seat-of-the-pants speculation about the sociological aspects of the climate wars.

      • Josh# a

        As I start reading it what do you believe my ”ideology’ ‘ to be?


      • Tony –

        ==> “As I start reading it what do you believe my ”ideology’ ‘ to be?”

        Although I find the evidence supporting the theories pretty compelling, it would be fallacious to assume that they apply for any particular individual.That is a very important caveat, IMO, for understanding the implications of his work, although most people, from what I’ve seen, fail to apply that caveat and instead personalize the evidence by trying to generalize from unrepresentative sampling (such as trying to apply it to themselves).

      • Where do we find out about gun control science, unmensch? I call you that for multiple reasons. One being that it rhymes with unmentionable. where do we go for gun control science? Huffpo?

      • Tonyb, Kahan’s a bit of a sly messager and push-poller, if you ask me. Doesn’t mind building “findings” on lax terms like “global warming” and “climate change”, allowing conditioning to confer meaning on such all-but-meaningless expressions.

        He also has that social science tendency to state the obvious at extreme length. You get revelations like: “…even more disturbingly, politically motivated reasoning might be thought to diminish the quality of the best scientific evidence available to citizens in a democratic society.” (He left out disturbing danger to mom’s apple pie, not wanting to overstate, perhaps.)

        Anyway, not for me that faux-precision stuff.

      • ” Don Monfort | December 12, 2015 at 2:20 pm |

        Where do we find out about gun control science”

        Start here:

      • Johua: “Much of the other work grounds the dynamics and mechanisms as seen with climate change into larger context – by showing similar patterns of association between identity and views on science (and notably not levels of understanding of science) in areas such as gun control, nuclear energy, and the theory of evolution.”

        Positions are based on conclusions,
        conclusions are based on reasoning,
        reasoning is influenced by emotions, especially reasoning that is based on extremely complex mesh of assumptions, or whose results affect invested beliefs. When you have both logic becomes a self-directed outcome.

        The stronger the reasoned conclusion impacts an individual’s paradigm investment, the higher the emotional resistance (bias).
        If a desired outcome cannot be directed by skewed logic then the assumptions will be attacked. Assumptions presented by one with a different belief paradigm will tend to be given impossible-to-pass vetting tests. This is how debate can go on seemingly endlessly even if it looks to be productive. In order not to submit to losing an emotional investment an individuals defenses may even resort to challenging what the definition of “is” is.

        Although gun control, nuclear energy, and the theory of evolution are completely separate issues they tend to be divided by political party identity. This would likely come about by the party’s messengers being inherently trusted its affiliates and, conversely, whose facts or assumptions would be rejected by the other party affiliates simply on suspicion. Even accepting food of knowledge from the wrong hand open’s one up to the logical requirement to consider that there may be other valid knowledge held on other issues, related otherwise only by party stance.

        Gun control is a constitutional (in USA) issue as well as one of cultural heritage. Those who are rural NRA members likely have no inherent emotional bias for or against nuclear power except to be trusting of those affiliated with support for it and the opposite feeling for those against.

        Evolution is a totally different animal that IMO is only a debate to those emotionally invested in traditional Biblical doctrine, a shrinking demographic. The interest in the topic by its opponents is based on the attempt to discredit the topic of choice being debated by those perceived as being on the “other party.” This tactic is not exclusively used by one side; its just quasi-logical way to dismiss the opponent without addressing the logic or validity of the argument at hand.

        If ones logical conclusions on their top twelve issues of interest conform 100% with one party one must think of the statistical chances of all those views being held without influence of bias.

      • I found out recently that US federal money is now legally banned from being used for research on gun violence. This came into effect a decade or so ago just after a study that found that the most likely use of guns in the home was for suicide, among other interesting but possibly inconvenient things.

      • jimd

        I am deliberately not doing any research on this in order to tell you off the top of my head what is being reported here regarding guns. I therefore make no claim as to whether its true ore not, so would be interested in peoples responses.

        * There have been some 355 mass shootings to date in the US this year. A mass shooting is defined as more than 3 people that may result in injury rather than death.

        * There are some 90,000 people injured each year in the US by guns with some 30000 of them killed.

        * The greatest proportion of injuries and deaths relate to suicides/attempts.

        *The majority of shootings and deaths are amongst the relatively young (under 40-with a significant proportion under 20)


      • Ron –

        ==>“Evolution is a totally different animal that IMO is only a debate to those emotionally invested in traditional Biblical doctrine, a shrinking demographic.”

        I don’t know why you think that evolution is a different animal. Kahan’s evidence suggests that views on evolution are not differentially associated with technical understanding of the theory, or scientific competence. Not surprisingly, beliefs about evolution track in the same pattern as beliefs on a large number of other polarized, ideologically aligned issues.

        ==> “Positions are based on conclusions,
        conclusions are based on reasoning,
        reasoning is influenced by emotions, especially reasoning that is based on extremely complex mesh of assumptions, or whose results affect invested beliefs. When you have both logic becomes a self-directed outcome.”

        Your use of “positions” there is key. People become wedded to “positions” and then connect those positions to their identity. Those who have different positions become the “enemy.” Identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors (identity-protective cognition) ensue. Those with a different position are the “other.” This is why discussions about climate change are so completely inextricable from labeling such as “alarmist” and “denier.” Talking about climate change does not reflect what people know, but who they are and how they identify with ideological “positions.”

      • mosomoso –

        It’s good to see your aversion to faux-precision, as you conclude that there must be problems with Kahan’s data due to his biases, w/o actually having any data with which to support your position.

        Sometimes ya’ just can’t make it up.

      • Tony, the USA has an urban youth gang problem. Although one can’t argue that guns exacerbate the problem, the more productive solution would be growth of education (both vocationally and culturally) and career opportunity. The growth in free enterprise is in preference to workfare but the later is better than welfare, crime and gang warfare.

      • That’s about right, Tony. People do find guns convenient for committing suicide. There are plenty of alternatives. The Japanese are very successful suiciders with very few guns. Maybe they share.

        Off the top of my head, in the last two decades gun homicides and other gun crimes in the U.S have declined dramatically as the citizenry has armed up with an additional 200 million firearms. Go figure.

        Every time the gun control geniuses scream for stricter gun laws people line up to buy another million. Since Obama became king, 100 million more guns sold.

        Most of the gun violence is committed by gangbangers in cities with the strictest gun control laws. We need gang control.

      • Tony, Don makes the best point about gun control in the USA, which is that every time our politicians talk about it people stock up on them. Also, the mass shootings seem to have a statistical correlation to happening in gun free “safe zones” like schools, public buildings, campuses, theaters. Cities with the strictest gun control have the highest gun homicide rates.

      • The Democrats running Chicago don’t do anything about the gang violence because they are partners in crime.

      • Josh-ua: Your use of “positions” there is key. People become wedded to “positions” and then connect those positions to their identity. Those who have different positions become the “enemy.” Identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors (identity-protective cognition) ensue. Those with a different position are the “other.” This is why discussions about climate change are so completely inextricable from labeling such as “alarmist” and “denier.”

        I agree and your point meshes with my point. It is more a matter of who’s team jersey one wears on issues that are otherwise not central to core beliefs. Thus the reason that people that believe in creationism correlate as skeptical to CAGW has IMO to do with approaching the question from the conservative party point of view. I would argue that those who have CAGW as more integrated with their core religious belief are of the liberal party. This is why CAGW is much more important issue them and why conservatives pay less attention to it. There is a significant constituency in the liberal camp that has replaced traditional religion, not with science, but with a surrogate religion. This was precisely a foundational aim of both the fascist and communist movements; they understood that humans are naturally religious. The state having a monopoly on this resource is an ideal. The true power of science is to break through the biases regardless of how foundational. That’s the definition of good science.

        Scientists can hold religious beliefs and still be good scientists as long as they follow the protocols. This is much easier to do when one is studying an issue that does not directly compete with those religious doctrines. Thus I am dubious that there are a lot of creation scientists that are disciplined enough to follow the strict protocols. I would feel that they may have gotten into the field with too large an investment in one particular outcome. If they were good scientist they would recuse themselves from the field.

        Similarly, I would be suspicious of a climate scientist that was first an environmental activist looking for a vocation to further his/her causes.

    • Saying the “denizens” are in a minority position compared with their “peers” the obvious question ultimately seems to be:
      How is it possible that “we” are right and the majority is wrong?

      I believe you ultimately have to tackle this question by turning to the actual scientific arguments.
      When you do this it all comes down to some data and how to evaluate them. The more you look into it the more complicated things get and there seems to be always at most a few scientists who know some individual data point related issues very intimately and may come to different conclusions. And their position is probably conditional on some complimentary knowledge where other people can claim to be the better expert.
      So anyone has to turn to some “proxy” knowledge he doesn’t know very intimately. They must decide who is the best expert to choose as “proxy” for the complementary knowledge without being in a position to evaluate this question with certainty because to do so they actually have to be the best expert.
      No way not to introduce some bias somewhere. No way to have certainty.

      There’s no way to do away with this uncertainty ad hoc or in a timely manner to be helpful in political decision making which prefers certainty today.

      This leaves on with the question how to deal with this uncertainty and whether it is morally justifiable to suggest to the public that there isn’t any.

      Social psychology studies here discussed are dealing with the question how people who claim to know more than they can do choose their biases.

      This may be interesting but either way doesn’t clarify anything beside the point that they may choose criteria external to their knowledge about the science at issue and use “proxies”.
      But can there be any doubt about it?

      Getting some idea how people do this doesn’t help deciding the questions that were at issue in the first place. But they provide some entertaining distraction for sure, especially when spiced with some polarizing interpretations and name calling.

  7. The Myth of the Rational Voter details how irrational voters are because even well reasoned policy has benefits and detriments to some groups and these predicted results evoke emotion.

    Ultimately our curiosity about physics, climatology, oceanography, economics or the multitude of other disciplines get’s undercut by addressing one dichotomous question:

    Is global warming so significant ( and so significantly harmful ) that we must do something about it?

    This is a political question, not scientific, regardless of how rational we may believe ourselves. Politics, by its nature involves groups. And groups involve GroupThink.

    Dr. Curry appears very disciplined and careful with her written testimony.
    At the same time, being summoned by one party or another must involve some amount of group identity, especially when being badgered by other parties.

    There are such uncertainties that emotion creeps in to fill the voids. We can only aspire to remain disciplined, dispassionately objective, and adhere to reproduceable result to testable hypotheses.

    Now, who wants to argue?

    • I will not argue, but concur. In my first visit to Climate Etc I immediately recognized the discipline associated with devotion to scientific ethics by Dr. Curry. It was the subject of my first comment; the dichotomy of behavior and egos of Mann vs. Curry. A scientist must assume themselves not to be immune to bias and thus must constantly and cautiously test assumptions.

  8. People claim that the scientific method provides safeguards against bias and motivated reasoning. To some degree this is true. However, even when scientists follow careful protocols, and don’t manipulate their data (by, for example, doing tests until they get what they like), there are two big areas where problems can impinge. The biggest is in not asking certain questions. It would be taboo to ask if a high fat diet was good for you, and no one asked it until the Atkins diet came along. A recent commentary on the lack of conservatives in social science faculty mentioned this issue. A second is in how results are put in context in the discussion section. Lots of speculation at the end of papers talks about “might” and “maybe” based on wild extrapolation of the paper’s results. Most of this is completely unsupportable. Often the obligatory “but of course climate change is happening” even when the paper seems to contradict it.

    • Yes, there’s selectivity.

      “There’s warming since 1979” and “2015 may be the warmest on record”
      as well as
      “Warming is less than expected” and “warming is decelerating”

      are all true statements.

      Which ones do I gravitate toward?

    • Well, the problem is a lot of the global warming are zohnerism.

      1. Projections of harm from unreasonable extrapolation.

      CAGW is basically like taking the increase in drowning deaths – and projecting it will go exponential. There is much evidence that people go in the water, there is no evidence that most of mankind is going to head toward it like lemmings.

      2. Failures of analysis that support false conjectures:
      3. You can’t trust scientific studies. 95% of science papers should be reproducible. Only 10-20% are. There is an 80-90% group of scientists that just aren’t up to the job and produce an unreliable work product for a variety of reasons. One could observe that being an average student (and the average scientist is a C student) might make for a lousy scientist. And 80-90% of the studies supporting global warming are likely to be garbage.

      The case for significant harm from high levels of global warming caused by CO2 is the scientific equivalent of vaporware. It is possible in theory. But theory is all the further it has gotten. Many of the links what is claimed to be an iron-clad chain of evidence are broken or plastic or missing. The chain of evidence can’t even pull its own weight.

      • But if it leads to more environmental awareness and better resource management then its justified anyway. Right? (says my wife).

      • Environmental awareness, eh?

        Reminds me of PETA. The “kind to the animals” people? The “don’t wear fur” people?

        They euthanize virtual all animals they “rescue” since they view petdom as slavery and believe that having pets is wrong.

        The outlook of environmentalists reminds me of PETA. Only sane rational people should be allowed to rescue animals or the environment.

      • Better environmental awareness may be good, but can also be misleading. Alarmists feel (I use that word purposely) that the use of fossil fuels has a net negative impact on our environment, especially coal. In reality, fossil fuels, even coal, have been used to make the environment better for humans. Simple things like clean drinking water, food production, providing abundant, affordable, and reliable power to the electrical grid to support services like hospital emergency and operating rooms. For a more in depth understanding, buy your wife a copy of “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” by Alex Epstein.

        Alarmists also feel that “green” energy solutions are nonpolluting and more environmentally friendly when there is a lot of evidence that they are not particularly friendly at all.

        And, as to being green, if we all want a greener world, we want more co2, not less. This is irrefutable, yet there are (possibly many) alarmists who apparently are not aware of that an increased level of co2 is good for plant life, as evidenced a couple of threads back by Trip Funderbunk, or whatever his name was.

      • “And, as to being green, if we all want a greener world, we want more co2, not less.”

        Yes, but even given all that you say one side would argue that the moral is being established toward resource sustainability for the innumerable generations forth.

        My thought would be that recycling and space colonization go hand-in-hand. If technological evolution trends toward control of environment then it seems at some point (100-200 years?) we can economically create artificial environments that are more hospitable (and mobile) than sitting on a planet surface.

        The Gaia worshipers like this vision as much as nuclear fusion power, not much. But if mankind’s fate is tied to a planet Earth’s fate can one guarantee protection against all existential threats, self-inflicted or not?

      • Barnes | December 13, 2015 at 5:30 am |
        Better environmental awareness may be good, but can also be misleading. Alarmists feel (I use that word purposely) that the use of fossil fuels has a net negative impact on our environment, especially coal.

        Let’s back up a bit. Let’s look at their actual quotes:
        Quote by Paul Ehrlich, professor, Stanford University: “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

        Quote by Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation: “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”

        They are against cheap abundant energy. That is why they invariably back jack*ss stupid expensive intermittent energy sources. They don’t want us to have energy, period, but will settle for making it inconvenient and expensive. Their solutions are dirty to build and consume more valuable resources (iron and other minerals) and land than more sane approaches.

        Fossil fuels provide cheap available energy. It isn’t exactly abundant but it is close enough.

        Let’s follow the logic chain of the eco-warmer:
        a. cheap abundant energy is bad,
        b. fossil fuel produces cheap available energy so fossil fuel is bad,
        c. burning fossil fuel (which is bad) produces CO2, so CO2 is bad.

        Shows what happens when you start from a false premise. Cheap abundant energy is good, treating energy like a scarce resource is stupid. We have the technology we can always build more energy.

        If cheap abundant energy is good, then fossil fuel is good, and CO2 is good, but sensible people already knew that.

        CO2 and more warmth has provided a roughly 60% increase in plant growth since 1900. A global warmer either has deny this is happening (a reality denier), or claim that more life giving warmth and CO2 is bad. Effectively global warmers are claiming that more warmth and more CO2 will harm the animals by overfeeding them.

  9. Kahan’s cite of the lawyer judge study makes sense; years of training followed by practice. Nobody likes being revered on appeal. But even with them not on other matters outside their legal expertise.
    I think one would find the exact opposite in a credible study of climate scientists, because all the training and practice incentives has been to reinforce AGW, not seek out ‘truth’. There are so many examples. Mann’s hockey stick. Schmidt’s hottest year ever, with a 2/3 chance of not being true. Karl’s paper. Dessler’s positive cloud feedback with r^2 of 0.02. Oleary’s sudden SLR boge (guest post By Land or by Sea). PML oyster boge (guest essay Shell Games). A good dozen other clear examples in the ebook. Corals, extinctions, SLR, attribution, pests, plant communities, …

    • Rud, this is true of consensus supporters too. As I described in an earlier post today: If the Democratic Senators were interested in what may happen with future climate change then they should have probably been more interested in what the skeptics had to say in the hearing rather than to seek a reaffirmation of what they think they already know by asking Titley all the questions. And worse, droning on about their own understandings; a truth seeker doesn’t need their predisposition buttressed. I believe this is a result of motivated reasoning, they’re motivated towards protecting their leverage of power gained through AGW that provides all the expensive things they want to do to the economy.

  10. Ristvan–

    Are you sure no one likes being revered on appeal? I think I would!

  11. So the global elites got together in Paris and apparently decided to gut the Western economies in the foolish idea that we can limit temperature rises or falls.

    • Calm. Its all pretend. No GCF funding mechanism, only ideals and goals. No transparency. Pretty please completely gamed INDC’s. Most important, Kerry said Wednesday that unless differentiation was removed (India and China get free passes), COP21 fails to halt CO2 growth. Well, differentiation is very much alive and well. So Kerry is predicting failure, which Obummer will now have as his legacy.

  12. Prior judgment bias is very strong and pervasive in most fields. Very few people I have known or seen/heard of willingly step up and admit that they made wrong statements or worse misled or lied in the past… because it casts strong doubts on their professional judgment and conduct. On the other hand, if JC says she was formerly a believer and shifted based on very extensive and deep study of the field and actual data and evidence I am strongly inclined to believe her sincerity. It Mr. Titley says he was a denier and switched to believer based on “a preponderance of evidence” I am less certain because I would question, “what evidence” … and was it other reasons. The actual evidence is: growing awareness of the inadequate performance of the IPCC models; increasing (and new) understanding / evidence that climate sensitivity likely is considerably lower than thought in the official / IPCC reports; growing awareness that very important uncertainties are not being acknowledged; etc.

  13. Willis Eschenbach

    Thanks as always for interesting posts, Dr. Judith. You say:

    Regarding our recent discussion of how to debunk the 97% consensus meme. Not only do we need better surveys of climate scientists (good questions plus stratification across areas of expertise and ‘motivations’), but we also need to understand the social psychology of the consensus supporters versus dissenters.

    I don’t understand this. Why do we need an accurate “scientists vote”? Has science suddenly become a democracy?

    Seriously, what benefit would there possibly be in saying “Exactly 63.2% of those climate scientists who care about consensus believe proposition X?” How is that anything but a naked attempt to impose some kind of bogus “majority rule” on these questions?

    As Feynmann remarked and far too many people ignored, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” … do we really care if 9i7% of all scientists believe that ulcers are from stress?

    I’m sorry, but I see this as a naked attempt to impose science by fiat. These days, with both models and predictions failing at a rate of knots and people basically uninterested, alarmists have little in the way of ammunition but a meaningless claim of a “consensus”.

    And of course, with the “97% consensus” being totally debunked, this idea of an “better survey” of the purported consensus is just more garbage about consensus.

    Let me close by quoting Michael Crichton:

    Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

    There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    Given that, I fail to see the relevance of knowing whether the consensus is 56.4 ± 2.1% or 62.2 ± 1.7% on scientific question X … so what? That’s just a pseudo-scientific club that any scientific majority can use to pummel any scientific minority. I say again, science is not a democracy.

    My own point of view is that time spent wanking about a meaningless climate science consensus is time not spent doing actual climate science … but hey, if you’d rather spend your time uselessly counting votes in an imaginary scientific “democracy”, be my guest.


    • That is Judith’s opinion. We don’t think that Judith is attempting to impose science by fiat. What has caused you to make such a silly and insulting pronouncement? Dr. Curry probably thinks that the misinformation of the bogus 97% consensus should be revealed as pure BS. You would rather work on WUWT DIY pop-science to garner the fawning accolades of your fanboys. Different strokes.

      • You get it, jim. Judith never said anything about getting naked and attempting to impose science by fiat. Where did little Willis get that perverted crap?

        Is he going to apologize for another one of his drive-by gratuitous insults of real climate scientists?

        At least he didn’t say “I love you Judith, but…” this time.

        Where is that little rascal? I think he has gone back to Tony and his fanboys, where he feels safe.

      • @Don Monfort
        Your arguments seems to systematically fall into an emotional kind of argument. I don´t regard your arguments to be civilized.

        Why don´t you use proper arguments when you comment?

      • Are you another one of those pesky little busy-body school marms, sof? I suggest that when you see my name on a comment you clutch your pearls and avert your eyes.

    • I think, as SHE said, she would like to debunk the 97% meme – that would be the meme loose in public. There is a great reason to do that. Because it is a lie and lies need to be debunked, generally speaking. It would portray a more realistic image to the public if that lie is debunked.

      • We need to adopt a critical response to the sacrosanct
        myths we humans keep creating to explain our world
        and place within it otherwise we’re stuck in a niche
        like old-time tribes obedient to shamen who controlled
        the weather; or philosopher kings’ necessary ‘noble’
        lies regarding the metals in men, or political systems
        upholding the divine right of kings to recent master race
        mythologies, another call to dominance, to, well, 21st
        century shamen on CO2 theory climate prediction
        requiring action now!.

        While science involves tests, not consensus, acts of
        political-mythical number-crunching should be shown
        for what they are.

      • + Great post, Beththeserf.

        A critical response is a challenge once a tribal myth has reached critical mass. The only way to conquer it or change its trajectory is by grass roots means through truth. It’s virtually impossible to change from the top down because it requires leadership who’s actively driving the myth to simply give away their power, when has that ever worked? I however believe the 97% meme can be turned around by simply quantifying it and getting it out as much as possible.

      • Say jt, this bumble
        by the bureaux
        spending lots ‘n
        lots of euros
        needs a rumble
        in the jungle
        from imposed-upon,
        long-suffering plebbos.

      • “…a rumble
        in the jungle
        from imposed-upon,
        long-suffering plebbos.”

        I like your style:)

    • “As Feynmann remarked and far too many people ignored, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” … do we really care if 9i7% of all scientists believe that ulcers are from stress?”

      I believe in the ignorance of feynman on this matter.

      This is one of the funniest self defeating proclamations Feynman ever made

      • Can I get a witness?

      • @Steven Mosher
        This is not very difficult. It has been spelled out to us by Feynman, Popper and Einstein. (If you regard this as argument from authority please disregard that sentence, it is just a hint, not an argument.)

        Inductive reasoning is flawed. Deductive reasoning is not. What are the implication for the quest for knowledge?

      • 97% of ulcers “are” from stress. Not directly as a direct cause, but the models show it is due to the feedbacks. As of now, those are not well understood. The uncertainty in the short term are really unknown, but in the long term, we know our models are correct and that stress over man-made climate change will cause ulcers. .

      • Mosher. The 97% meme isn’t science, it’s politics. I don’t know what Feynman’s views on science have to do with it.

      • Mosh, engage the logic function before commenting.

    • Why do we need an accurate “scientists vote”? Has science suddenly become a democracy?

      No, we don’t need a scientists vote. They would most likely only count the 75 who are in the consensus.

      We do need to know what people believe. We do need to hear the consensus theories and know what data they have to support their theories. Actually we know what the people in the Consensus believe, the media tells us that every day. They are weak on real data, they present flawed model output.

      We do need to hear the theories from those who disagree and know what data they have to support their theories.

      We need to discuss and debate and try to pick a best theory. We need to repeat this process, forever.

      Consensus is a halt in this process of always trying to prove accepted theories wrong and considering that new or different theories might be right.
      This must be fixed.

      • @popesclimatetheory
        “This must be fixed.”
        I agree with you – and intended to reply. However, my reply ended up at the wrong address – as reply to Ron Graf below.

      • Science or Fiction I did read a lot on your site, thanks.

        We need to promote the study of natural climate variability.

        All of the alarmists and many skeptics only study CO2 sensitivity.

        Earth has thermostats and powerful cooling that is turned on and off as needed.

        The ice core data for Antarctic and Greenland do display the signature of a regulated system, just like a house with Air Conditioning.

        Consensus Theory and most Skeptic Theories do not have thermostats and powerful cooling that is turned on and off as needed.

        Some say my theory is wrong. I invite any and all to prove my theory wrong using real data. Many things influence Temperature and Sea Level. None of those things have pushed temperature out of the same bounds for ten thousand years.

        Snowfall always increases when polar oceans thaw and the upper bound is limited. Snowfall always decreases when polar oceans freeze and the lower bound is limited. Moving a lot of solar input from the North to the South, over the ten thousand years caused no change to the temperature bounds in the north or the south.

        That is because each hemisphere has a polar ocean that freezes and thaws at the same temperature. There is less ice in the northern hemisphere than there used to be. There is more ice in the southern hemisphere than there used to be.

    • While I mostly agree with your argument as it applies to the progress of science, I would point out that somehow it has to be decided what to write in the current textbooks. I like Dr. Christy’s and Michael Crichton’s call for “red team” funding on any climate related investigations. As it is now results are discarded or trusted (without scrutiny) based on affiliations of the investigators. This is not good for science advancement.

      • Many kinds of evil has it´s origin in inductive reasoning. Biased research, logical flaws and the departure from an acceptable scientific method can be regarded as an international problem of a cultural character:
        “A culture is a way of perceiving, thinking and acting – which has been learned, developed or discovered by an organization – while learning to deal with its internal and external challenges – and which is being taught to it´s members as the right way of perceiving, thinking and acting.”

        A good place to start working with a international problem of a cultural character would be an international organization having in it´s charter:
        “– To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character,”

        Fortunately such organization exists – United Nations!

        Unfortunately however! – United Nations is at the epicenter where unscientific methods are endorsed.

        Such an irony!

        The detailed arguments behind my position can be found here:
        IPCC is governed by unscientific principles!

        United Nations was supposed to solve problems of an international cultural character – not to become one!

    • “I fail to see the relevance of knowing whether the consensus is 56.4 ± 2.1% or 62.2 ± 1.7% on scientific question X … so what?”
      At a minimum, deflating the 97% claim deprives warmists’ of their major talking point. At a maximum, it exposes them as shameless liars–monstrous, loud, and continuous. It follows that the public will conclude that 1) They are untrustworthy, so their prescriptions carry less weight, and 2) that they may have employed similar “stretchers” in their other widely accepted claims.

  14. It would REALLY be interesting to carry our a study of journalists and motivated reasoning. Of all the parties involved in the memeplex, they have a lot of power; and not just on the topic of global warming.

    • Funny that you mention that Jim2, because our local paper here in Southern Maryland just published the MSM talking point that there have been over 990 “Mass Shootings” since 2012. They prefaced this with the claim that the FBI defines a mass shooting as one where at least 4 people died.

      Just one problem – they completely botched their whole claim. The FBI doesn’t define a “mass shooting” at all – only a “mass killing” and that is when at least 3 people are killed. Of course there have not been over 900 such cases, but more like 100. They were off by over 900%.

      The mistake was a common and very convenient one – they used numbers from a website “,” which does define a “mass shooting” but only as an incident where 4 or more people are shot – not necessarily killed. This error on their part is pretty hard to excuse, since they are publishing extremely inflammatory statistics and are supposed to be professionals who check facts before publishing.

      But hey, never let a good meme go to waste.

  15. “Nevertheless, this relative degree of resistance to identity-protective reasoning was confined to legal-reasoning tasks: the judges and lawyers’ respective perceptions of disputed societal risks—from climate change to marijuana legalization—reflected the same identity-protective patterns observed in the general public and student samples ”

    Upon reading this, my unibrow furrowed, and I actually raised myself up on two legs…finally, something I can understand!

    I keep trying to explain to people that we live in a highly specialized world, and that someone can be an expert in one area, but completely stupid in another area. Sometimes the stupid from the areas they are no good at leaks into the area of their specialty, and spoils their professional judgment and therefore their work product.

    This is why having generalists and laymen around is and always will be so important. They can come into a field – if they’re smart enough – and catch the mistakes and biases of the experts. Steve McIntyre is a good example, but we all know there are many others.

  16. Brian G Valentine

    AGW stands right now as a fact-free “science” along with homeopathy, chiropracty, “complexity” and several others

    There will always be some of these

  17. I know much better, from scientists themselves the problems of bias around Cold Fusion fiasco.
    I was initially shocked by the clearly anti-scientific, if not purely incompetent, critics on Cold Fusion evidences…
    The theory of Groupthink by Roland Benabou caught my eyes because it was explaining seemingly absurd observations.

    Finally to confirm what is said there, maybe with less innocence I will cite Edmund Storms who was working at LANL, producing among the best LENR experimental results, with tritium, and excess heat.

    We both have the same problem even if you say CO2 is not the problem, and we say CO2 is no more a problem, we both propose solution to people who are locked into malthusian ideology of deep ecology, and a herd of parasits who are funded by it.

    Edmund Storms : “I watched how the attitude toward LENR changed at LANL. I watched as tolerance changed to hostility. The change was not based on lack of reproducibility. I and many other people were able to cause the effect. Besides, many phenomenon are initially difficult to control and are not rejected for this reason. The rejectors only used this claim as a fig leaf to hide another reason. I believe the rejection had a more sinister reason. The real reason was simply protection of self interest, initially by people funded by the hot fusion program.

    In 1989, hot fusion was in trouble because Congress was getting increasingly impatient with the slow progress. I believe certain very powerful people realized that LENR would siphon funds away from hot fusion and eventually kill it. They could not make this fear public so they set about convincing the public that LENR was bad science, which was easy to do. This was power politics at its worst. This worked because Fleischmann and the rest of us were playing the honest game of understanding nature for everyone’s benefit. In contrast, a few powerful people were only protecting themselves using any dishonest tool they could find. We and they were not playing by the same rules and we still aren’t.

    We see this process unfolding every day in Congress and being applied to a range of issues. Facts and what is real do not count in government these days. Self-interest rules. We in LENR have not created a self-interest for anyone of importance outside of a few groups having special needs, such as NASA. Even these groups have to hide their work to avoid being tarred by the bad science claim. ” …

    I’m sure most of you are fooled and believe it os debunked, like I was until climategate did NOT spread in France.

    • Brian G Valentine

      Junk science like AGW and “cold fusion” share the same characteristics, insofar as junk science always leads to a preposterous consequence. In the case of cold fusion, there is no possibility of an “ocean”

    • Steven Mosher,

      I must have missed where the authors (presumably experts) explained the role of tectonic plate movements, and consequent vertical and horizontal displacement of the crust affecting the shape and volume of ocean basins. This of course, affects the perceived sea levels, whether assessed against a continuously moving continent, or obtained from satellite measurements.

      Additionally, I must have missed the authors discussing the conservation of mass, and its inevitable impact on the elevation difference between the physical crust and the geoid at any given location. Any mass elevated above the geoid, must be compensated by an exactly equivalent mass depressed below it.

      But if you are a denialist, convinced that the continents are immovable, and that the Earth has decided to heat up after four and a half billion years of cooling, then inconvenient facts can be easily dismissed. Once again, the toy correlation model triumphs!

      Thanks for the link. If your intent was to reinforce my confidence in Feynman’s view of science, you have succeeded admirably!


    • Hmm. GMSL rise of 1.2 ± 0.2 mm/year in 1900–1990

      The rate of sea level rise as I read the above chart, should the lowest it has been in a long time. Much lower than the pre-1990 period.

      Why does the CU Sea Level Research Group and other satellite computed GMSL sources show a rate of sea level rise of over 1.2 mm/year???

  18. There’s something called the Law of Genre in lit crit.

    It says that the means by which something announces what genre it is is itself outside the genre.

    The way somebody shows that they’re a climate scientist is outside climate science.

    The only pure form would not announce that it’s climate science at all. Say tinkering out of curiosity on this or that.

  19. Extrapolating, then, one might infer that professional judgment might indeed fail to insulate from the biasing effects of identity-protective cognition scientists whose professional identity has become identified strongly with particular factual claims.

    The basic problem is much of the “strong warming” community has adopted positions that look extreme given the last 15 years. They have climbed so far out on on a limb that it will be very difficult to recover.

    There are two ways to embrace reality: an objective reanalysis of the data with a neutral or low warming viewpoint.

    Or the way people in the strong warming community traditionally embrace non-conforming information:

  20. The value of the “consensus” and the science that is proclaimed: consensus, is that it gives me pause and consider the consensus point of view. I usually consider myself to be wrong before preceding. That is my makeup.

    It is later, after looking deeper into the subject, considering the statements of people whom I have grown to trust, that I emerge, slightly better informed.

    The studies I have done myself are primarily observational; hence, I trust observational information than that obtained by models who at their foundation are conjecture; reported to be helpful, but conjectures none the same.

    For observational information, my focus is on the integrity and limits of those observations, which in my experience, those limitations are great.

    When observational data is revealed to be “adjusted”, I must rely upon those, like Steve McIntyre who delve into the data more closely than I, and produce
    “cautions” which need to be respected.

    I’ve never really been a fan of Al Gore and his “the science is settled” meme. I have listened to him, yet I am actually made ill, by his position.

    • The “science is settled” is a bad metaphor.

      If you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the precipitate. And global warmers are claiming to be part of the precipitate.

  21. Many good comments here, but PA pointed out that a high percentage of papers these days belong in the “Journal of Irreproducable Results”, and, of course, the OP is about bias influence. Why am I pointing this out? Because the difference in the standard of proof in the hard vs. soft sciences is a yawning chasm.

    Thus far, for example, General relativity just IS. It predicts, people verify, and it delivers at many sigma. You can’t argue it seriously. There is one open prediction, gravitational waves. Who is betting money that GR fails at this point? Quantum mechanics also delivers, to many sigma, results you can’t argue with. Anyone can do the experiments, and they get the same results. Materials science (cutting edge chemistry meets physics) delivers your interwebs every day, petabytes per day. Petabytes. Per day. Soon will be Exabytes. 10^18 bytes.

    Physicists & chemists still test these theories & results, because, like Newtonian Mechanics, we will find where they end, and then the next theory will incorporate and expand them.

    Medical science, climate science, psychological science, economics and others are “soft” science because they address hugely non-linear fields where the current levels or standards of proof are very low. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be worked upon, but it is to say that one must evaluate their predictive power with their uncertainties. Uncertainties levels in these fields are those which would not be taken seriously in Chemistry or Physics, except, possibly, at the bleeding edge – think “Dark matter”, “Dark Energy”, “Vacuum Catastrophy” etc. – basically where we know nothing except that there is a problem…

    How many climate science papers come with solid disclosure of their uncertainties? Go look. Occasionally I see some error bars, rarely, a treatment of instrumental uncertainties. Many appear disingenuous. Some are obviously misleading. The reality is that if you understand the uncertainties involved, you would not even contemplate making decisions based upon them, other than which study to undertake next. Certainly, not something with public policy implications. “Gun Science”? Give me a break! And I’m from Texas! I like guns! It isn’t science! Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

    When the surface temp record, the satellite temp record, and model predictions are completely contradictory, the honest “scientific” analysis is “we don’t know”. We don’t know warming, cooling or stasis. Variations are within total uncertainty. We don’t know what really causes warming or cooling, except in the broadest, most trivial senses. No one likes that answer. It’s not career building, consensus building, or tribe building to say “we don’t know”. But that’s reality today. We don’t know. Forget your bias, look at the errors, and admit we don’t know. Wait another century… Solar variation is interesting, looks like a grand minimum might happen… PDO, AMO, cooling possibly, interesting… Not science wrt climate yet, but interesting…

    • When you have four independent databases for one metric and only two of them agree, in most sciences that calls for close scrutiny of the outlier. In climate science the outlier is the only one used by the consensus, the station record. I would wonder why NASA could not find more resources to get a new third satellite that was they could fully rely on for accurate global temp to be used as well as radiosonde and Argo data. Station data was designed for weather and local climates, not global coverage.

      • Sure Ron Graf, you can argue about which version is best, which direction is the best for moving forward. The surface readings, to my mind, are fraught with error. Thermometers to a hundredth of a degree? Riiiight… Satellites are a better bet. It’s still all within error of the measurements, and absent a large trend, will continue to be so. Should we make decisions on bad cloud models, and assumptions about aerosols? No. We just don’t know. Looks like 20yrs of inconclusiveness. Possibly 20kyrs of inconclusiveness! We don’t understand all the factors that caused the younger/elder Dryas periods. We just don’t. Little Ice Age? Dunno. To the OP point, if we are honest, not beholden to bias, we just don’t know. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking, but it does mean that the honest answer is that we won’t know for decades, or centuries hence. Bummer, right?

      • We don’t understand all the factors that caused the younger/elder Dryas periods. We just don’t. Little Ice Age? Dunno. To the OP point, if we are honest, not beholden to bias, we just don’t know. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking, but it does mean that the honest answer is that we won’t know for decades, or centuries hence. Bummer, right?

        We may not understand all the factors, but we can look at the data and we can see that for ten thousand years, climate has been bounded in a new normal. We must study and understand this new normal. If we compare modern warming to past warming, we are well inside the bounds. If we compare sea level to sea level two thousand years ago, we are well inside the bounds. People are entering the Blue Grotto on Isle of Capri at sea level in rowboats, just as they did in Roman Times. Sea level has cycled down and up twice in that time and is at about the same levels. These records are in history.

      • That being said, I understand that it snows more in warm times when polar oceans are thawed and that always stops warming and brings on cooling.

        It does take a few hundred years of more snowfall before the ice builds up enough to bring on the next little ice age, but it always happens.

        This is in the actual data. Just look at the actual data.

      • In climate science the outlier is the only one used by the consensus, the station record.

        They really do not use the station record, they adjust the station record and use that instead.

      • Of all the unscientific aspects of the climate consensus I would say the temperature data handling is the most obvious red flag. Argo was a step forward but there needed to be a satellite at the same time that could be equipped however mandated to be accepted as the primary metric for ongoing measure of global mean. The Argo, RSS, UAH, GHCN and Radiosondes could just be the confirmatory indicators providing validation. Such a satellite would also put to rest the GHCN divergence issue from the other data sources. Imagine a NASA that might be forced to retract previous proclamations about a warming. I hope that’s not the reason such a program is not being launched. We know it’s not money.

  22. I hesitate to call any of Senator Markey’s remarks “reasoning” so I don’t know if this inconsistency is “politically motivated reasoning” but he seems to absolutely accept the accuracy of the satellite-based sea level measurement and seems to believe they can accurately measure global sea level to tenths of a mm, while rejecting satellite-based temperature measurements that show warming a fraction of surface measurements.

  23. It is likely that 97% of the people attending the republican convention will vote to nominate a republican for president. It is likely that 97% of the democrats will vote to nominate a democrat. Where you sample your data determines your results.

  24. Dear Judith and Willis,

    Judith – how to debunk the 97% consensus meme.

    May I offer a reconciliation between your question and Willis’ comment?

    Willis is 100% right that science is not a democracy. On the other hand, in terms of persuasion, it is reasonable to have both short and long answers to the 97% meme.

    The short version – it isn’t true and anyone who says it is is either ignorant or a lying propagandist (or insert your similar phrase here). There is no third alternative.

    Then depending on the time available, the perceived attention span of your audience and whether you’re commenting in writing or orally, you can quickly bring up the salient points:
    1) the 97% meme is clearly refuted in the “peer-reviewed literature”
    2) to the extent the claims are agreed they are weak (i.e., believed by almost everyone including most attendees at last year’s Heartland climate conference) (e.g., it’s gotten warmer over the past two centuries)
    3) credible survey’s report significantly lower numbers
    4) no social belief surveys affect actual physics and measurements

    It should be an embarrassment for anyone to use that propaganda line, so if they are using it in ignorance you can enlighten them, and if they are using it as lying propaganda, they should be shamed.

    • Testing.

    • I posted this just before by hitting the Reply button on Willis’s comment, but it’s vanished. It looks as though a comment from Jim has vanished from that stream too, so I’m re-posting down here.
      Willis: “I fail to see the relevance of knowing whether the consensus is 56.4 ± 2.1% or 62.2 ± 1.7% on scientific question X … so what?”

      At a minimum, deflating the 97% claim deprives warmists’ of their major talking point. At a maximum, it exposes them as shameless exaggerators. It follows that the public will conclude that 1) They are untrustworthy, so their prescriptions carry less weight, and 2) that they may well have employed similar “stretchers” elsewhere.

    • Debunking the 97% meme deprives the other side of a talking point and undermines their overall credibility.

      • The problem is that the climate debate is nothing but a group of unsupportable memes. Outside of blogs like this one the debate is pitifully uniformed on all aspects of the issue. One can wonder whether those with media access even want to a better job. That goes for both sides, with the exception of a few lone efforts like that of our humble host .

  25. “Regarding our recent discussion of how to debunk the 97% consensus meme.”

    This will come in time if the consensus is wrong.
    Arctic sea ice will recover.
    The planet will cool for a period, even 5 years would be enough, to show a rapidly extending pause.
    Antarctic Sea ice will have to maintain it’s growth.
    Zeke and Nick will have to admit you cannot make up the data for 20,000 of their 30,000 worldwide surface measuring stations.
    The 10,000 real stations will eventually have to admit the real data showing a fall to the 20,000 made up and out of action stations when the data can no longer be tortured and squeezed.
    As their algorithms cannot make it 5 degrees cooler compared to real data 100 years ago [maxed out at 2.3 degrees] real lower readings will show a catastrophic fall in real time temperature while warming the past.
    La Nina about to hit. I can just hear all the excuses starting now.

    Cool heads and rational argument cannot win the day unless accompanied by unequivocal signs that the planet merely has hot and cold phases in the lifetime of human beings.
    20 years old when I was told the world will freeze,
    50 when I was told it will warm, now 65 so I guess less than 15 years will see it come to fruition. In most of our lifetimes I expect.

    • Thought fer Today:

      ‘ Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
      The season’s difference, as the icy fang
      And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
      Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
      Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
      ‘This is no flattery: these are counsellers
      That feelingly tell me what I am.’

      The Bard. ‘As You Like It.’ Act 2 Scene 1.

      from the Bard.

    • A La Nina will just further prove AGW. Let it be a humdinger, because it will be a humdinger plus when it comes back to haunt us.

    • Will it, though?

      Suppose someone revealed to you in 1998 that temperatures would be flat for the next 20 years. Could you have imagined that proponents’ response would be to dishonestly claim “97% of scientists agree global warming is dangerous” (BHO) and suggest criticizing AGW should be made illegal (Sheldon Whitehouse)?

      The idea these folks are going to fold up their tents just because the data doesn’t go their way has already been amply disproved.

  26. Geoff Sherrington

    Apart from the many words used above to convey complexity of topic, one thing will stand out for the experienced scientist.That is, belief has no place in science. Data dominates.
    In a perfect world, scientists would not need to think about topics like confirmation bias and other talking points from the soft social science areas. This is because they would deal in absolutes. Alas, the world is not perfect.
    I am a scientist who has worked in the past on the fringes of climate science, but more often with concepts that overlap, like measurement, errors, statistical interpretation. This was in the context of decision making, as in proceed if the data were healthy, reproducible and showed encouragement.
    When I do get involved in climate science, the only approach I use seriously has to do with said measurement and errors. (For fun I sometimes get into the convoluted word games, but that is simple fun).
    What do I see in climate science?
    I see estimates of radiation balance obtained by the subtraction of two large, nearly identical numbers, at least one of which has has several corrections over the years when publications arose from the work.
    I see estimates of sea level rise, when the deeper 50% of the ocean system has measurements so sparse that nobody knows the conditions down deep to an adequate sampling density. One can guess that (for example) plate tectonics does not change ocean basin geometry significantly for present purposes, but one does not know this.
    I see estimates of oceanic pH change that are very small in relation to the errors of measurement, often with written definitions of pH that are wrong.
    I see land surface temperatures under constant change, as if no prior meteorologist has adequate skill. I see sea temperatures alleged to be on trends that are tiny in relation to errors.
    I see general climate models that simply have guesses for parameters like cloud cover and its effects.
    Everywhere, I see error estimation departing from standards set by specialist metrologists.
    I see correlation used as causation, I see guesswork promoted as insight, I see a great deal of belief overpowering objective inspection.

    You do not have to be a climate scientist to understand these assertions. Any good scientist will agree with them (unless I have expressed them poorly). Many guilty scientists are preferring to keep quiet about such obvious problems.

    The main reason why I go public on matters like this is to let poor or deceptive scientists know that one day, the truth will out. We have spent a large amount of money on poor climate science (some of it on good science) when the global budget has competing priorities. The pity is compounded because much past climate expenditure has a tiny return on investment and perhaps should have been stopped by the researchers before it began.

    I think that honesty in science is a dominating principle. Don’t worry about the emotion-related buzz words on the noisy fringe.

    • Very nicely put. Whenever I get a little wobbly about my skepticism, reading something like this reassures me I am on the right track.

    • Great points Geoff. I wish I were as optimistic that the truth will out, but that seems less and less likely. Even though virtually no one who understands the data could interpret those uncertainties away, the intra-climate-science policy debate is still largely framed as though these models had very high reliability.

      Look at (for instance) the SkS page on Hansen’s 1988 temperature prediction. They actually claim he was right, even though anyone can look at the temperatures and see he was way off. But the three card monte game of redoing the prediction based on current atmospheric data, while epistemologically reprehensible and scientifically indefensible, gives enough cover to those whose desire to believe is far stronger than their integrity.

      Fortunately, the US has a smart enough set of voters to rank global warming dead last among their concerns.

  27. I’m an admirer of Kahan’s efforts too, he is designing some good tools and extracting some excellent data. But regarding the climate change domain, unfortunately his own major bias leads to flawed analysis of said data. In fact Kahan’s data helps tremendously to show that there is indeed identity protective bias in the domain, and that this emerges from a stand-alone culture that is invested in the certainty of calamity, and which culture in the US has a strong alliance with Lib / Dem culture. The previous post here at Climate Etc linked below, shows how Kahan’s data plus some public surveys leads to this conclusion, and *not* to Kahan’s own conclusion that millions of Rep / Cons are suffering from ‘knowing belief’, and that Rep / Con culture is the primary source of bias:

    In countries where there is not the same tribal political split on climate change, it is also intuitively that primary bias is not from pre-existing political culture.

    The following post is also assisted by Kahan’s data. It is a basic 3 step social analysis demonstrating that creationism is a cultural position, which then uses *the same* 3 steps to demonstrate that the climate consensus is also a cultural position.

  28. Discussion of the study steps relating to legal professionals can be found at Kahan’s blog here:

    The steps ‘littering’ and ‘disclosure’ are the ones that are specifically used for the finding on judges, and I think great care should be taken regarding any extrapolation to other topics and expertise domains. These examples are minor in terms of likely bias relative to a large body of accepted law. Yet where seismic cultural changes meet the law head-on, there is evidence from history that judges and other professionals involved in ethics, e.g. doctors, can easily be swept along with those changes. For instance from the rise of National Socialism in 1930s Germany. In such cases the whole landscape of the law is heavily tilted, and the pressures working against objective decision-making are much higher.

    Also, the law is a system intended for the defense of culture and morals, which attempts to slow and resist changes in order that only the positive ones stand the long test and so make it through. Hence part of the training and expertise of Judges is to resist cultural biases (which come in various forms). This is not so within many other expertise domains, for instance the physical sciences from which I presume most climate science expertise is drawn.

    The rise of the Climate Change phenomenon, on which the world’s leaders engaged just now at COP21, *is* a seismic shift in morals and pressure upon the law, and in generational terms a swift one too, whether or not new morality and new laws being implemented are wholly justified, wholly unjustified, or somewhere in-between. And as noted here at Climate Etc previously, the law is far from immune to the cultural bias resulting from this seismic shift:

    Kahan is doing a great job digging out the raw data that we need to understand the complex workings of bias, but great care is needed to interpret this data in the appropriate context to the particular problem at hand.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      Yes, it is credible that bias tests of judges and other professionals might not be so clear following major seismic shifts.
      I would go so far as to say that evidence abounds for climate change. Jo Nova has a current essay about the Australian Academy of Science spreading terrible propaganda to teachers here.

  29. Dr. Curry, you say “we also need to understand the social psychology of the consensus supporters versus dissenters.” While this might be academically interesting, it is not clear to me that this understanding will be of any value. Do we also need to understand the social psychology of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians? Of liberals and conservatives, scientists and engineers, young and old, etc.? These are all demographically important distinctions, but merely descriptive.

    I like to think that my new science of Issue Analysis would be more useful, because it can actually reduce the confusion and talking past that presently plagues the debate.
    See my crude little textbook on this:

    In short, I fail to see how social psychology can help.

    • Social psychology has little to do with understanding climate, it is helpful to those who want to get others to agree with them or to shut up those who disagree. There are many climate skeptics who just don’t talk about it, especially if they may lose their job.

  30. Social psychology can, and I believe does, demonstrate that the climate consensus is a cultural phenomenon based around the narrative of the certainty of calamity, which narrative does not spring primarily from current data we’ve accumulated on the physical climate system, but from *well-known* social mechanisms. I think this is not just useful to know, but critical to know.

    The discipline of social psychology and related disciplines however, do not make this determination because instead of looking at what the social data tells them independently of assumptions, they *start* with a position that is typically: ‘the science says imminent calamity is certain’, and attempt to work backwards from there. Kahan does exactly this in his forays into the climate domain, and hence comes up with ‘knowing disbelief’ as the only explanation he can fit. While this effect exists, there is no evidence that it can be a mass effect, it requires very specific starting conditions and maintenance. Plus it is an explanation that would only work in the US, or other countries that have severe political polarization on the issue (which for instance the UK does not).

    On the up-side, Kahan is very far from the ‘twaddle’ of Lew, as Judith puts it, and his attempts to probe the social side of the climate change domain have turned up extremely useful data. Extremely useful to the conclusion in paragraph 1 above, for instance.

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  32. The problem is climate science is that there are no real experiments. Only computer-generated experiments hiding in their own little computer world disconnected from reality.

    The ultimate protection is the impossibilty of falsification.

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