The Primacy of Doubt

by Judith Curry

Tim Palmer’s new book has just been published: “The Primacy of Doubt: From Quantum Physics to Climate Change, How the Science of Uncertainty Can Help Us Understand Our Chaotic World”

This book is a physics-intellectual feast.  Must read.

The book can be purchased at

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Blurbs from the publisher:

“A bold, visionary, and mind-bending exploration of how the geometry of chaos can explain our uncertain world – from weather and pandemics to quantum physics and free will. Covering a breathtaking range of topics – from climate change to the foundations of quantum physics, from economic modelling to conflict prediction, from free will to consciousness and spirituality – The Primacy of Doubt takes us on a unique journey through the science of uncertainty. A key theme that unifies these seemingly unconnected topics is the geometry of chaos: the beautiful and profound fractal structures that lie at the heart of much of modern mathematics. Royal Society Research Professor Tim Palmer shows us how the geometry of chaos not only provides the means to predict the world around us, it suggests new insights into some of the most astonishing aspects of our universe and ourselves. This important and timely book helps the reader makes sense of uncertainty in a rapidly changing world.”

“In The Primacy of Doubt, Palmer argues that embracing the mathematics of uncertainty is vital to understanding ourselves and the universe around us. Whether we want to predict climate change or market crashes, understand how the brain is able to outpace supercomputers, or find a theory that links quantum and cosmological physics, Palmer shows how his vision of mathematical uncertainty provides new insights into some of the deepest problems in science. The result is a revolution—one that shows that power begins by embracing what we don’t know.”

“The Primacy of Doubt explains how the geometry of chaos allows us to understand why systems can be predictable most of the time, but spectacularly unpredictable on occasion”

Comments from leading physicists:

“The Primacy of Doubt provides a remarkably broad-ranging account of uncertainty in physics, in all its various aspects. I strongly recommend this highly thought-provoking book.” – Roger Penrose, OM, FRS, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics

“Tim Palmer is a scientific polymath. It’s hard to think of anyone else who could have written so authoritatively-and so accessibly-on themes extending from quantum gravity to climate modelling. This fascinating and important book offers some profoundly original speculations on conceptual linkages across different sciences. – Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom

“The Primacy of Doubt is an important book by one of the pioneers of dynamical weather prediction, indispensable for daily life.” – Suki Manabe, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics

“In a whirlwind of a book that’s partly scientific autobiography and partly the manifest of a visionary, Tim Palmer masterfully weaves together climate change and quantum mechanics into one coherent whole. Using uncertainty as a unifying principle, Palmer puts forward new perspectives on old problems. A revolutionary thinker way ahead of his time.” – Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math

From the PopScience review: “This is quite possibly the best popular science book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read hundreds).”  “What is astounding is the the way that Palmer rattles through a series of topics that are quite difficult to get our head around and, in several diverse cases, give the most approachable explanations I’ve ever seen.”

Palmer’s biosketch:  Tim Palmer, FRS, CBE is a Royal Society Research Professor in the department of physics at the University of Oxford. He pioneered the development of operational ensemble weather and climate forecasting. Palmer is a Commander of the British Empire, a fellow of the Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Institute of Physics’ Dirac Gold Medal.

The Author’s note is a fascinating read on Palmer’s scientific background and intellectual journey.  In the 1970’s at Oxford, Palmer studied general relativity and black holes under Dennis Sciama.  In considering what to do as a postgraduate, Palmer turned down a postdoc with Stephen Hawking(!).  Palmer became interested in meteorology in a chance meeting with Raymond Hide, who had interests in both meteorology and astronomy.  On a whim, he applied for a position at the UK Met Office, and was offered a job.  His wrenching decision that resulted in turning down the opportunity to work with Hawking is fascinating reading.  His growing interest in chaos theory was the source of many of his seminal contributions to meteorology, but also rekindled his interest in quantum physics.  There is no question that this is the journey of a unique and profound intellect, that the fields of meteorology and climate have been extremely fortunate to encounter.

Table of Contents

Author’s note



  1. Chaos, Chaos Everywhere
  2. The Geometry of Chaos
  3. Noisy, Million-Dollar Butterflies
  4. Quantum Uncertainty: Reality Lost?


  1. The Two Roads to Monte Carlo
  2. Climate Change—Catastrophe or Just Lukewarm?
  3. Pandemics
  4. Financial Crashes
  5. Deadly Conflict and the Digital Ensemble of Spaceship Earth
  6. Decisions! Decisions!


  1. Quantum Uncertainty: Reality Regained?
  2. Our Noisy Brains
  3. Free Will, Consciousness, and God

JC’s overview and review

This is a beautifully written book: eloquent while at the same time approachable, spiked with anecdotes and occasional self-deprecating humor.  Some quotes from the Introduction, that give a flavor of the book, including the style of writing.

“I will be elevating the notion of uncertainty, or doubt, to a status it is not usually given: not as an “Oh, I suppose we’d better do a risk analysis” afterthought, but as a matter of primal importance and focus. There are two reasons for doing this. First, there is the practical reason that we are liable to make lousy decisions if we base them on predictions with unreliable estimates of uncertainty. But just as important, at least for me as a scientist, we may be able to understand better the way systems work by focusing on the ways in which they are or can become uncertain.”

“In short, the scope of this book is quite unique. On the one hand we cover the loftiest questions that philosophy has ever addressed and attempt to answer them in novel ways. On the other we’ll describe practical techniques that have transformed the way we go about predicting how our world will evolve over the coming days, years and decades ahead. Some readers, I hope, will be exhilarated by the discussion of long-standing conceptual problems like free will, consciousness and the puzzling nature of quantum physics. Others may be thrilled to see the science of chaos applied for the benefit of society (and some of the poorest parts of society in particular). For yet others, reading this book may help them understand themselves better. Not least they may come to realize that some of our apparent shortcomings are not signs of irrationality or failure, but manifestations of our unique ability to cope with the enormous uncertainties of life. There is, I hope, something for everyone.”

Part I:  “Three important ideas are discussed in Part I. The first is that a type of geometry—what I call the geometry of chaos—explains why some systems can be stable and predictable for much of the time, and yet their future behaviour becomes completely uncertain on occasion. The second idea applies to systems that are so complex, we will never be able to model them exactly. In such situations, adding noise to a model can be a good way to represent some of the missing complexity. In this way, noise is often a positive constructive resource, and not the nuisance we typically think it to be.”

Part I deals with topics that I last encountered in my undergraduate Modern Physics course (in the 1970’s), so I don’t have much of a framework for interpreting this. Historical and philosophical perspectives are combined with the scientific exposition. It is a very interesting read and for the most part understandable with my limited background (my interest flagged a bit in Chapter 4). Part I sets the stage for Parts II and III.

Part I is PopSci’s favorite:  “In terms of this broad enlightening nature, the first of the three sections in the book stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Palmer starts by exploring chaos and gives the best explanation of the behaviour of chaotic systems, state space and attractors I’ve come across. Then he throws in Cantor sets, then shows the relationship of weather forecasts to all this, and introduces p-adic numbers (arguably the only bit that could have been better explained). He then shows graphically (literally, not metaphorically) how the introduction of noise can make models of chaotic systems work better. Finally in this section, he takes on quantum uncertainty, with one of the only explanations of the use of Bell’s inequality I’ve ever seen that is at least vaguely comprehensible.”

Part II: “We apply the ideas discussed in Part I to develop practical tools for predicting complex, inherently uncertain systems. The key idea here is ensemble prediction: running our models multiple times while varying uncertain initial conditions and model equations. When the spread of a reliable ensemble system is small, we can make fairly precise forecasts with confidence. By contrast, when the spread is large, we can make forecasts only using the language of probability. In this way, the geometry of chaos is manifest in the variable spread of the ensemble. Ensemble prediction methods are applied to weather and climate (where the techniques are reasonably mature and well validated), and to disease, economics and conflict (where techniques are still in development).”

Part II is to me the liveliest part of the book, with real world applications of the ideas of ensemble prediction.  Chapter 5 provides a fascinating account of the history of weather forecasts, including numerical weather prediction.  The focus of the chapter is Monte Carlo methods that provide the basis for ensemble weather prediction, providing the basis for assessing forecast uncertainty, including Palmer’s central contributions.  (Chapter 6 on Climate Change is discussed in the final section of this review).  In the other chapters of Part II, Palmer speculates on how ensemble forecast approaches could benefit epidemiological models that forecast pandemics, economic models and their failure to predict financial crashes, and models of wars/conflicts.

From PopSci:  “things really liven up when we get onto economics, and how economists are stuck in the fairly useless state meteorologists were before the great storm of 1987, when they used single-run forecasts, rather than ensembles. He also shows fairly bluntly that economists have failed in the development of the kind of models that can handle a chaotic system like the economy.”

Chapter 10 on decisions illustrates real world examples for using ensemble weather forecasts to support decision making – including Peter Webster’s work on probabilistic flood forecasts for Bangladesh.

Part III: “Two key ideas from Part I are applied to try to understand two of the most puzzling aspects of the universe: the world of quantum physics and ourselves. We start by assuming that the geometry of chaos applies to the universe as a whole. This leads to the crucial idea that certain counterfactual worlds, where we might have done something but didn’t, could actually be inconsistent with the laws of physics. This helps make comprehensible certain long-standing quantum mysteries. Following this we discuss the idea that the human brain makes constructive use of noise to model the world around us, and that this has enabled us to become the creative species we are. I then speculate that the geometry of chaos can help explain two of our most visceral but puzzling experiences: having free will and being conscious.”

Part III is more speculative.  Chapter  11 describes Palmer’s new thinking on quantum uncertainty, incorporating the geometry of chaos.   Pretty interesting.

Chapter 12 “Our Noisy Brains” is one of my favorite chapters of the book.   Palmer hypothesizes that the human brain makes constructive use of noise in trying to create a low-order model of the high-order world around us. He argues that such noise is a key element in making us creative, innovative beings.  Palmer extends Daniel Kahnemann’s thinking fast and slow by considering the brain’s energetics in describing these modal operation of the brain.  In the low power mode (thinking fast), when the brain is multi-tasking and is more susceptible to noise, random new ideas can be generated – eureka moments. In this framing, creativity involves a synergy between the low-power (stochasticity, noise) and the power-intensive (deterministic) modes of thinking.

Chapter 13 extends these ideas to include a role for quantum physics in counterfactual reasoning in the brain in relation to what human’s regard as free will.

Climate Change

Two reasons to highlight Chapter 6 on Climate Change: this is a climate blog; and the first major review of this book focuses on the climate change issue (see the Scientific American review  below).  The chapter provides a good overview of the greenhouse effect, feedbacks, etc.  and also the history of climate modelling.  Palmer describes his concerns about global climate models, and his plan for the next generation of climate models at much higher resolution.

In line with the major themes of the book in terms of uncertainty and ensemble prediction:

“Indeed, it’s simply not possible to describe climate change in an objective, scientific way without explaining the three roles of ensembles: for estimating the uncertain feedback effects in climate science; for estimating the impact of climate policy on climate change; and for separating the effects of natural chaotic variability from human-induced effects. From the first way of using ensembles, we can address how big an impact our emissions of greenhouse gases are having on global temperatures. With the second set of ensembles, we can assess whether mitigating actions can be effective or not. And from the third set of ensembles, we can not only assess the extent to which observed changes in weather and climate are natural (“climate is always changing”), we can try to attribute specific weather events to climate change, at least in a probabilistic way.”

The more interesting part of the Chapter addresses the question in the chapter subtitle:  “Catastrophe or Just Lukewarm?” Palmer addresses how we should view climate change from a perspective that is consistent with the “primacy of doubt,” treading carefully around the “merchants of doubt” meme. Both sides of the argument are reviewed, which are referred to as the “maximalist” and “minimalist” positions.  In Chapter 6 he concludes:

“Let’s summarise. Taking a specific position—minimalist, maximalist or indeed any specific point in between—is simply inconsistent with the science. The key message of this chapter is that one’s attitude to climate change, like to weather prediction, should be framed in terms of risk: Is the risk of undesirable changes to climate high enough to warrant taking precautionary action now?”

Palmer takes on this question more directly in Chapter 10 Decisions! Decisions!  Palmer introduces the concept of a Statistical Life (which, when expressed in terms of GDP per capita) can be applied to both developed and developing country inhabitants.  His conclusion is that it is overwhelmingly worthwhile to take action now to reduce the risk of a 4 degree “hell on earth” warmer world at an assumed 30% probability.

Hard to disagree with that conclusion related to 4C warming, but the devil is in the assumption of 30% probability of 4 C warming.  With RCP8.5 increasingly being regarded as implausible, and with the IPCC AR6 putting the the upper likely bound of equilibrium climate sensitivity at 4C, the chances of 4C warming are now generally regarded as quite small.

Something here for both the maximalists and minimalists to find unsatisfactory.

Scientific American review

As an example of how this is unsatisfactory to the maximalists, the first major review of the book in the Scientific American is entitled Uncertainty can speed up climate action.

The title speaks for itself.  Any book that mentions climate change, particularly one by a renowned scientist, is expected by the climatariat to urge action for reducing fossil fuels.  From the review:

“But Palmer struggles to frame both the uncertainties of climate change and the severity of its effects. He tees up the chapter (subtitled “Catastrophe or Just Lukewarm?”) by defaulting to a both-sides approach: Are the “maximalists” right to suggest we’re in an emergency and should decarbonize as much and as quickly as possible, or are the “minimalists” right in suggesting that uncertainty is grounds for delaying action? The truth, he writes, is somewhere in the middle. Palmer notes that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide alone would warm the planet by one degree Celsius. (That’s without factoring in feedback loops it might cause, such as the loss of ice cover or more water vapor in the atmosphere, which would further turn up the heat.) This is, he says, “perhaps not something to make a big deal of.”  (JC note:  this statement about 1 C is taken out out of context of Palmer’s overall argument).

Then the reviewer (Brian Kahn, a journalist), clearly with Merchants of Doubt in his brain, seeks to educate Palmer about climate change:

“But look at a planet that is already one degree warmer today than in preindustrial times, and the view is quite alarming. That incremental shift has fueled unprecedented heat waves on every continent, set the American West ablaze with ferocious intensity, and led to deadly deluges in areas that have never experienced such extreme back-to-back rainfall. Further, the most recent IPCC report, which Palmer urges his readers to reference, paints an increasingly dire picture that would seem to support a more maximalist view. Camille Parmesan, an ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the lead authors on that report, said in February 2022 that “we’re seeing adverse impacts are being much more widespread and being much more negative than expected in prior reports.” The Primacy of Doubt makes a compelling case for either reducing uncertainty or operating with confidence in the “reliability” of the uncertainty that remains. But it can obscure the much bigger picture of climate action. It’s impossible not to ponder how overlooking such nuances might sit with readers prowling for reasons to brush off the urgency of new climate policies.”

JC recommendation to readers:  Don’t waste your time reading this book if all you are looking for is confirmation of your predilection for (or against) urgent reductions of fossil fuel emissions.   Read this book if you have an intellectual curiosity about physics, chaos, uncertainty and their applications across the sciences.  This remarkable book will surely satisfy and stimulate your curiosity.  Further, such understanding will lead to better understanding of how we think and make decisions.  Most refreshingly for a book that is at least partly in the climate space, this book does NOT attempt to tell us what to think or which decisions to make.

90 responses to “The Primacy of Doubt

  1. I arrive at a similar place from an examination of self and the other, imposed on the national conversation on race. The key is in the subtitle: A Wicked Inquiry. The investigation is bounded by uncertainty, imperfect metrics, and the frailties of the human mind.

  2. Pingback: The Primacy of Doubt - Climate-

  3. Without trying to make very simple something that is really very complex, it is clear to me that climate is chaotic at the small scale and non-chaotic at the large scale. There is nothing chaotic about the glacial cycle. Interglacials take place according to orbital variations and their interaction with the state of the planet. Nearly all interglacials can be hindcasted by simple rules.
    Tzedakis, P.C., Crucifix, M., Mitsui, T. and Wolff, E.W., 2017. A simple rule to determine which insolation cycles lead to interglacials. Nature, 542(7642), pp.427-432.
    I did the same in my first “Nature Unbound” article here in 2016:

    Chaotic phenomena cannot be hindcasted by simple rules, nor can it be forecasted. The point at which climate stops being chaotic might be difficult to determine, but thinking that climate is a chaotic phenomenon only is a clear mistake.

    • To me it is clear that climate is chaotic at large scales, possibly as large as ice ages (or even much larger) but we do not know because no one in AGW dominated science is doing that research.

      • Having polar oceans being free of polar sea ice in the winter require a warmer average temperature of the ocean.
        The warmest times in our Ice Age have both polar oceans being free of sea ice in the winter. Less warmer times have ice free sea ice in the arctic ocean during the winter. And a more less warmer world is ice free in the summer in arctic ocean.
        And less warmer ocean is ice free in summer in the southern polar ocean, as we have, now.

      • This is contradicted by the know facts since the famous article:
        Hays, J.D., Imbrie, J. and Shackleton, N.J., 1976. Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages: For 500,000 years, major climatic changes have followed variations in obliquity and precession. science, 194(4270), pp.1121-1132.

        Chaotic and narrowly following the orbital frequencies are incompatible situations.

      • Javier: That article and its ilk are speculations, not facts. This includes your speculations.

        Correlation is not causation and while the cycles are ever present the ice ages are extremely rare. The evidence is weak at best.

      • “That article and its ilk are speculations, not facts. This includes your speculations.”

        You just don’t have a clue. But that’s OK, most people don’t.

        Milankovitch theory cannot say how the climate effect is achieved, and there is debate about that. But the evidence that the glacial cycle is paced by orbital changes is incontrovertible. If you don’t think so is because you don’t know enough.

    • You wrote: “Nearly all interglacials can be hindcasted by simple rules.”
      If only “Nearly all” then you do not yet understand.

      Sometimes it took more or less orbital variations to cause an ice age to start or end. That means something different, something more important, has not been considered.
      That something is the ice. Ice ages are always times with more ice, the warmer times in between the cold ice ages are always times with less ice.
      Warm times are when polar oceans are ice machines and ice ages start when enough sequestered ice advances, more area of ice reflecting and cooling by thawing causes ice ages.
      Cold times are when sequestered ice spread far from Arctic causes cold and the ice is thawing and depleting because sea level is low and polar oceans are frozen and the ice on land cannot be maintained. Warming occurs when the ice is depleted and starts to retreat.

      Ice extent has always properly correlated with warmer and colder time periods.

    • as to: “Nature Unbound” article here in 2016:

      I answered some of your issues, not necessarily in order.

      Another unsolved issue is why temperatures rise rapidly from a deep glaciation to inter-glacial levels.

      Ice core records answer these questions.

      It snows more on land in and around the north polar region in the warmest times, it snows hugely more and ice accumulations in ice core records document this. It then cools rapidly because the piled up ice is thawing and spreading and rapidly increasing the areas of reflection and thawing.

      The spread ice sheets cool by thawing and reflecting for a long time because it takes a long time to thaw that much ice. After the ice is mostly depleted, ice sheets retreat rapidly because the thawing thinned the ice sheets are already almost gone.

      A third issue is that glacial cycles are symmetric between the hemispheres, as both are warming or cooling simultaneously, whereas the seasonal precession forcing (and 65°N summer insolation) is anti-symmetric. That is when one hemisphere warms, the other cools.

      The symmetry between the hemispheres for major ice ages is because the sea level in both hemispheres rise and fall at the same time and the sea level is the most important factor in warming and cooling the climate systems. getting warm thawed water in both polar regions at the same time.

      The modern ten thousand year warm and cold times do not have the same symmetry because the sea levels do not vary very much, ice in each polar region is now self-regulated based on the ratios of ocean and land in each polar region.

      • Another factor in the most recent ten thousand years:
        Ten thousand years ago the sun warmed the NH more and more ice was produced by more sun energy promoting evaporation and snowfall and ice sequestering in the NH.

        There is less ice in the NH now, glaciers and ice sheets have retreated because the sun is not powering evaporation and snowfall more in the SH.

        The ocean – ice cycles in both hemisphere are self correcting because the polar sea ice freezes and thaws at the same temperature, turning the polar ice machines off and on with the same thermostat setting.

        Consensus Climate does not properly account for ice.

      • Correction: “not” should have been “now” , in this sentence.
        There is less ice in the NH now, glaciers and ice sheets have retreated because the sun is “”now”” powering evaporation and snowfall more in the SH.

    • “it is clear to me that climate is chaotic at the small scale”

      It appears that way to you, it is clear to me that weekly NAO/AO anomalies are discretely solar forced, that is not chaos.

    • Javier,

      You say it’s clear to you that climate is non-chaotic if you zoom out enough. Are you zooming out on the time axis as well? It seems probable to me that the swings of day to day local weather would be matched by swings of millennium to millennium global weather (whatever that is).

      A similar thought applies to your view of orbital variations. They seem stable in the short term, but how predictable are they really? Aspects of orbital physics remind me of the basic physics of a double pendulum.

      In any case, even if the chaos does go away when you zoom out, is it not the human scale that really matters. On average that flood didn’t happen isn’t much comfort to the people who were washed away.

      • Not sure why that double pendulum link didn’t work. There may have been a space in my HTML:

  4. Interestingly, the Nobel in physics this year went to the entanglement of Cooper pairs sharing the same wave function. When the function is collapsed by the observation of one of the pairs, you have absolute certainty of the other. Downright classical

  5. Never trust everything.

    • “As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions.” (Google’s Koningstein & Fork)

  6. There are some things which are certain- and weather is not one of them. But what is certain is that we living in an Ice Age.
    And why we in an Ice Age is due to having a cold ocean.
    And the average temperature of the ocean is about 3.5 C.
    And that 3.5 C is actually quite cold.

    • It’s been said [by NASA and NOAA], that more than 90% of global warming is warming our cold ocean.
      A question is, how much more than 90%?
      But if just 90% of global warming is warming the ocean, that is pretty important part of global warming.
      Or to keep it simple, you might ignore the 10% or less.
      Maybe, weather is part of that 10% or less.

  7. Having worked a bit on chaos in climate I find the passages quoted above to sound seriously wrong. Ensembles only help if you have the chaos right and today’s models certainly do not. Nor can chaos be approached probabilistically. So ironically he seems to be grossly underestimating the present uncertainty.

  8. You can hear Palmer interviewed on Michael Shermer’s podcast (The MIchael Shermer Show, #302). He seems to disbelieve the Uncertainty Principle, but I have a hard time following his arguments on that. He does believe that quantum effects are likely involved in human congition, which supports free will, but at the same time he says everything is ‘deterministic.’

    Definitely a more pleasant way to learn about his views than poring through an impenetrable tome.

  9. Clyde Spencer

    “His conclusion is that it is overwhelmingly worthwhile to take action now to reduce the risk of a 4 degree “hell on earth” warmer world at an assumed 30% probability.”

    That sounds like a subjective decision, which might be different for everyone. Has he developed a new ‘Calculus of Uncertainty’ where everyone would come to the same conclusion such as a derivative locating an inflection point?

    Chauncey Starr long ago made the case that people are willing to take risk in proportion (on a log-log scale) to their perceived benefit. However, that is also subjective, and can be influenced by how the Media portrays the risk and benefit.

    • Perceived risk and perceived benefit. The media distort our perceptions by their choice of viewpoint and information. That’s why it is more important now than ever before to review info from many side of an issue.

  10. Nature is not chaotic, everything happens for reasons. Chaos is the term that is used to describe natural processes that are not correctly understood. A huge number of factors were attributed to consensus causes and a huge number of ideas were declared facts by consensus long before enough was known to do that.
    Once consensus was peer reviewed by various unqualified, self appointed and peer reviewed consensus experts, the die was cast. Whatever is called “climate science” is political peer reviewed “just stuff”. In almost every field, other than “climate science” new discoveries are made frequently that disprove some past accepted fact.

    Not in climate science consensus prevents any new discoveries and consensus prevents even discussions with any who disagree.

    Consensus is that sea level is rising, yet, the atomic clock has measured shorter days since being put into service in 1972, less leap seconds were added every decade, last one in 2016. Consensus is that sea level rise is rapidly accelerating, yet, no additional leap seconds due to the increased inertia slowing the earth crust spin rate.

    • Chaos here refers to a specific body of math called nonlinear dynamics, as well as to those systems that are described by that math. Chaotic systems are deterministic but intrinsically unpredictable because differences too small to observe quickly lead to very different behavior.

      This unpredictability is because in the math an infinite number of possible futures are packed into a finite state space called the strange attractor. So at the time of observation the differences between very different futures are literally infinitesimal, hence unobservable.

      Weather is thought to be chaotic by many, including me. Given that climate is average weather is also follows that climate will constantly change, because chaotic systems have oscillating averages.

      • Climate changed in 41 thousand year repeating cycles, then climate changed in 100 year repeating cycles, now, climate is changing in 1000 year repeating cycles. That was not chaos. Look at what changed that could matter, look at what was different during the 41 thousand vs the 100 thousand vs the modern 1000 year cycles. By the way the Greenland and Antarctic ice core records have some important similarities and important differences.

        I have studied the changes occurring in the most recent 50 million years. The last major change to external forcing killed the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. There has been little change to external forcing during the most recent 50 million years, the changes in climate were internal responses to external forcing, with dynamic cycles that resonated differently as internal factors changed. The internal dynamic cycles resonated differently with all the external forcing, sometime resonating in phase with some forcing and sometimes out of phase with the same forcing.

        Climate science has focused on finding correlations but have not focused on internal response.

        Every major system has internal responses that depend on mass and spring rates and damping and inductance.

        These are the factors I have studied, what has changed in the internal factors. These are the things I can explain, and there is no chaos,

        Ice core records in Greenland go back into the last major ice age cold period, ice core records from Antarctica go back through the major warm and cold, 100 thousand year cycles and both cover the warming into this modern ten thousand year, most wonderful climate in which man has lived very well, better every generation with some setbacks during some colder times.

        Think about all this. With a discussion on Zoom or some other means, I could explain what I have learned.

      • Our Climate systems are deterministic and intrinsically predictable because differences are huge and easy to observe and it slowly leads to very different behavior. The key is slowly, everyone searches for immediate correlations. In warmer times, there is more polar evaporation and snowfall and ice sequestering, but it take hundreds of years for a Medieval Warm Period to be cooled by advancing ice, as the Vikings experienced in Greenland. The generation of Vikings that got pushed out as the little ice age started was multiple generations after the generation that first settled Greenland. Major ice ages required 30 or 40 thousand years of more snowfall to initiate the hundred thousand year cold periods. Every major warm period sequestered more and more ice on land in cold places, the last major cold period was the last because the accumulation on Antarctica, Greenland and other cold places prevented the sea level rise that would be necessary to for adequate evaporation and snowfall for another major ice age.

        The modern warm period is the “NEW NORMAL CLIMATE” and as long as the gulf stream can periodically replenish north polar ice and the southern warm currents can periodically replenish the south polar ice, this new normal will persist.

      • I find your strong claims amusing, Alex.

      • On the other hand, Alex, if climate is predictable what are your predictions? Anything near term? How about the next ice age onset?

      • David asked: “What are Alex Pope’s predictions?”

        I will go with history and ice core records.

        We are in a warm period that is cooler than any warm period in the most recent ten thousand years “in Greenland Records”.

        We are in inside the temperature range of the most recent ten thousand years “in Antarctic Records”.

        This warm period will persist, not much warmer or colder for two or three hundred years and then it will get colder, as it has after every warmer time in ten thousand years. This prediction is for the northern hemisphere.

        The southern hemisphere will continue to cycle inside the same bounds as the Antarctic ice core records, sometimes synchronized with the Greenland and sometimes not.

        Enough ice has been sequestered on Antarctica and other cold places, such that the volumes of sequestered ice will be maintained and it will not thaw and raise sea levels significantly.

        The recent the thousand year climate, unprecedented in all previous records, is the new normal and will last until ocean circulations are changed. There are enough warm tropical ocean currents circulated in polar regions to power the ice machines in each hemisphere to maintain these alternating warmer and colder cycles in more narrow bounds than during any time in history before ten thousand years ago.

        The temperature that sea ice freezes and thaws is the thermostat set point. The sea ice is the means of control. When polar ice is low, less ice is pushed into the tropical currents and they thaw the sea ice and increase snowfall to replenish the sequestered ice. When the sequestered ice is replenished it is pushed into the tropical currents, which it chills to form sea ice and shut off the ice machines until more ice is needed.

        The energy that powers these ice machines comes from the sun, the sun heats the waters in tropical and temperate climates and the energy is carried into polar regions where evaporation and forming of ice removes the energy from the climate systems in warmest times.

        The cooling by thawing ice comes in causing and maintaining the cold times while the ice is being depleted.

        A little ice age keeps the climate cold a few hundred years, a major ice age kept the climate cold for a hundred thousand years. Before that in the 41 thousand year cycles, a different amount of ice kept the climate cold for the cold part of the 41 thousand year cycle.

        The climate systems cooled over fifty million years because warm ocean currents were diverted into polar regions where increased evaporation and snowfall and IR out increased the polar sequestered ice as more energy was diverted into the polar regions.

      • What is “amusing to me” is people ignoring abundant water, in all its changing states while controlling the climate with a change of adding one molecule of a trace gas to ten thousand molecules of CO2 and choosing sides and spending billions and trillions while discussing almost literally nothing.

        This and every other climate blog is full of alarmist and luke-warm arguments and natural causes of past climate change have not even been discussed. That would be funny if not so pathetic.

        The way the climate system self-corrects over long time frames is brilliant, but people only study immediate correlations.

        Major systems have energy storage and the incoming and outgoing energy is not balanced, other than the really long term averages.

      • Pope
        Make a forecast of warming over the next 50-100 years.

      • Rob Starkey wrote: Make a forecast of warming over the next 50-100 years.

        I already wrote:
        This warm period will persist, not much warmer or colder for two or three hundred years and then it will get colder, as it has after every warmer time in ten thousand years. This prediction is for the northern hemisphere.

        The rest of this year, the next 50 years, the next 100 years will stay warm, some warmer and some cooler, but not much, in that this is the natural warm period that followed the little ice age. In my lifetime, I recall some years with much more snow and freezing and some years with much more drought and heat, but all the same kinds of differences that have always occurred.

        The not much warmer and colder must depend on honest data and evaluation of it, the alarmists will take every extreme event to say different.

  11. I’ve begun reading the book on Kindle.

    I couldn’t pass up commenting on the Scientific American book review where they take an obligatory shot at the fossil fuel industry. Any nitwit who spends a few hundred hours of research on the issue should conclude there are major holes in the CAGW narrative. No one needs to be paid under the table to realize that we are not facing a crisis.

    Unless they are targeting the bottom quintile of critical thinkers, this is a loser strategy to shape public opinion.

    I’m looking forward to finishing the book.

  12. The Schrodinger equation is deterministic. It is a linear partial differential equation. However, the Schrodinger equations plots a probability. The outcome of any given experiment is unknown until the measurement is made. Generally speaking, the probability function changes deterministically over time, but it is still a probability function. It isn’t predictive other than to restrict the outcomes to a specific probability distribution.

    • The outcome of any given experiment is unknown until the measurement is made.

      Climate models are experiments and,so far, the measurements have mostly not supported the theory.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      In the 1960s, we undergrads in Science Physics were taught to derive the main Schrodinger equation from first principles. Is it taught now? Geoff S

    • I made that comment in reference to “free will.” Some have said the deterministic nature of the S.E. precludes free will. But since it casts a probability distribution or function, there is still room for chance. I personally don’t see even with chance at work how free will could emerge, but at least the outcome of physical processes are not per-determined.

    • The Schrodinger equation has no physical basis and led to the modern nonsense of quantum mechanics. Read Randell Mills to understand valid physics.

    • Randell Mills has been around for decades hyping the fantasy of hydrinos. How many people have a hydrino water heater in the basement or how many electrical generation stations are there in the US run from hydrinos? If hydrinos worked like Mills said they do, he would already be ultra-rich and there would be no energy crisis. It doesn’t take a genius to see this. Or … maybe … it does.

    • Schrödinger’s cat is out of the box. Given that global warming has been going down over the last 10,000 years and purportedly going up over the last 30 years, the most that can be said is that global warming can be going up as it is going down.

  13. Thanks for the heads up Judith.

    Tim Palmer’s book looks exceedingly interesting. Please note that it can also be ordered from!

  14. I wonder if Palmer refers to the late Per Ham’s concept of self-organized criticality, which generates power-law distributions of “avalanches” in simple models of sandpiles, earthquakes, supply chains, etc. as strain is gradually added to these systems.

  15. Typo there: It’s Per Bak.

  16. In Greenland and Antarctic ice core records, there is depth and temperature. Using changes in depth and using the temperature and an area, volumes can be calculated. The Ice core records show most of the volume of ice on Greenland and Antarctica was accumulated in warmest times with very little accumulation in coldest times.
    In Climate Models, they never accumulate ice on Greenland or Antarctica, they only take ice away in warmest times. In Energy Balance Diagrams, published by NASA, NOAA and Climate Scientists, ice is not included in energy balance, assuming the energy balance they present is what they program in their models, there would never be ice on Greenland or Antarctica, that would make sea level much higher and that would require having all the ice gone.

  17. It is unremarkable that the rave reviews, starting with Penrose, come from scientists who use Monte Carlo methods as nonchalantly as arithmetic, and that the expressions of betrayal and indignation stem from echo chamber denizens ignorant of the former, and indisposed to leaven their opinions with the latter.

  18. UK-Weather Lass

    Tim Palmer’s lecture about the uncertainty of chaos in 2016 made for a really interesting one hour lecture and although he believes that fossil fuel emissions are warming the planet he stated he was still agnostic about whether reducing emissions would lead the world to a better place for humans to reside.

    He also talked about super computers and their likely replacements in the early 2020 something that hasn’t happened because of the power (and therefore heat) issues concerned to run these beasts. By comparison he mentions the human brain which does a whole lot more than even a superduper futuristic computer on much, much, much less energy – 20 watts – and begs the question as to why we cannot see ways around obtaining the resolutions we need to understand chaos better.

    My personal belief is that we have to do better at understanding randomness and how it makes our forecasting techniques look really poor in the light of forecast versus reality at any really meaningful resolution. I wonder how computer models deal with the UHI effect which had Gatwick Airport early morning real time temperature at some 9C hotter than a thermometer sited three to four kilometres away at a completely rural site when the UK was going through its notorious heatwave last summer..

    • Geoffrey Williams

      Yes your comment on UHI effects is very telling and this effect is not given enough credance in my view.
      eg just walk along a concrete strip on a hot summer’s day and feel the difference . .

    • Nice post, Lass.

      Our economic future hinges on contemporary decadal climate analysis, yet only recent history offers granular decadal climate data. Resolution is used as a cudgel to beat the living life out of culture, granularity of climate data falls off a cliff the further one goes back in time much beyond 50 years.

    • Yes, I’ve found Palmer’s paper with Slingo to be quite good. My one reservation is his ideas about very high resolution in fluid dynamics. It’s just not clear that will help and could make uncertainty higher. We really need better theory, a massive investment in experimental data, and better turbulence models. The “more resolution” meme has been around for 50 years and in a lot of cases it hasn’t really panned out.

  19. Regarding this: “The more interesting part of the Chapter addresses the question in the chapter subtitle: “Catastrophe or Just Lukewarm?” Palmer addresses how we should view climate change from a perspective that is consistent with the “primacy of doubt,” treading carefully around the “merchants of doubt” meme. Both sides of the argument are reviewed, which are referred to as the “maximalist” and “minimalist” positions.”

    Catastrophe versus lukewarm, and minimalist versus maximalist, are not both sides of the argument. They are two versions of AGW. That humans are not causing warming (which is my view) is the other side.

    AGW proponents think uncertainty means how bad will it be? Skeptics mean is there even a problem? This semantic confusion is pervasive.

    • David wrote:
      Catastrophe versus lukewarm, and minimalist versus maximalist, are not both sides of the argument. They are two versions of AGW. That humans are not causing warming (which is my view) is the other side.

      Billions, now Trillions are spent to promote and fix the climate, the “masimalist side”, luke-warmers are spending a fraction of the alarmist money promoting the “minimalist side”, literately almost nothing is being spent studying the “other side” that humans are not causing warming, literately “nothing is being spent studying natural causes of climate change.

      The luke-warmers are reinforcing the alarmists, keeping all the financing and attention on Just CO2, which has increased from nearly 300 PPM to a little over 400 PPM, all the attention is on One Molecule of CO2 added to Ten Thousand Molecules of Atmosphere, all the attention is concentrated on almost nothing!

  20. “The key message of this chapter is that one’s attitude to climate change, like to weather prediction, should be framed in terms of risk: Is the risk of undesirable changes to climate high enough to warrant taking precautionary action now?”

    While I didn’t read his book, I can hardly imagine him seriously doubting 1) the need for a call for action or 2) that humanity could do anything effective to stop climate change in the first place.

    So the never-ending brainwashing apparently worked on him.

    One’s attitude towards climate change should not be framed by frightful fairy tales of more warming from man-made emissions.

    The underlying assumption in taking action is that it would work.

    If he didn’t, he should’ve covered the risk of wasting societal resources on disruptive, unnecessary, & wasteful climate action.

    Did he cover the risk of action not working or was he one-sided?

    What is the opportunity cost of 100% failure to change climate?

    If there’s no practical way for us to change the climate, we should stop thinking we can, and humanity should stop trying to do it.

    It’s time to challenge our ability to do the impossible like change the climate, and accept our limits within natural climate change.

  21. Matthew R Marler

    Judith Curry, thank you for the recommendation.

  22. Christopher Milford

    I see commenters using ice core data to make arguments about cause and effect and future predictions. But in a truly chaotic system, previous events cannot be used to predict future events. That is one of the ironic things about chaotic systems. They are deterministic but still unpredictable over the long term.

    I agree with some of the commenters that the role of water is being hugely underestimated in the discussion of climate. Water has a very large heat capacity, and because of this it will tend to buffer any short-term changes in temperature. Also with higher temperatures there will be higher humidity. This will result in more clouds, which are white and reflect sunlight. So there are control mechanisms built into our climate.

    Scientists are publishing data about changes in fractions of a degree over a period of decades. But nobody mentions the fact that you can’t make temperature estimates to fractions of a degree unless you were actually measuring temperatures to fractions of a degree (which I don’t believe they were doing with mercury thermometers a hundred years ago). It’s an issue of significant figures. Otherwise the estimates are within the margin of error of the measurements.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      Chris M,
      Link to our study of many problems with the official Australian daily land temperatures from the Bureau of Meteorology, which form a large part of the Southern hemisphere input to ‘global average’ temperature, whatever that is.
      We authors have a problem because there are few people with both the ability and interest to understand what is going on, even with purely data-driven work. The BOM has not commented.
      The same problem showed after van Wijngaarden and Happer publicized their work on the effects of GHG on global temperatures, noting near saturation of the ability to warm. This could have ended the debate. Idealists favoring man-made warming mostly did the trendy “ignorance is bliss” non-response and kept quiet, while those against were too few and also unspecialized. The balance was then open to the advertising industry paid by vested interests and it has happened.
      Geoff S

      • Christopher Milford

        Thanks for this information. Climatology is a very interesting and important subject, but it has become politicized because governments are using AGW arguments to justify redistribution of wealth. Scientists who don’t play along with the AGW narrative risk losing their research funding, almost all of which comes from the government. Finding the truth in climate science is important, because any pathway that is pursued comes with consequences. I admire Judith Curry and others who want to protect the scientific method. We live in a very Orwellian Age, and discussions like this are not allowed on mainstream media, unfortunately. May truth prevail.

  23. Palmer writes with amazing arrogance in claiming to be able to solve the puzzle of predicting the outcome of chaotic systems. : “The second idea applies to systems that are so complex, we will never be able to model them exactly. In such situations, adding noise to a model can be a good way to represent some of the missing complexity. In this way, noise is often a positive constructive resource, and not the nuisance we typically think it to be.”
    “Adding noise” is a euphemism for faking a cure for the impossibility of building models of chaotic systems with valid initial assumptions. Palmer apparently wants to be included in the club of those “experts” who pretend to be able to predict the outcome of what are, effectively, infinitely complex systems. Infinite complexity must be accepted with humility. It cannot be overcome with added noise or ensemble prediction or any other tool of rationalization. Humility is not what Palmer displays: “We cover the loftiest questions that philosophy has ever addressed and attempt to answer them in novel ways.”

  24. I was going to comment only after I finished the book but I was afraid I would forget some of my random thoughts as I went along.

    It’s been a delightful read so far, and for this non science blockhead, with a few exceptions, surprisingly easy to understand.

    I just finished the sections on COVID19 and markets and a reference to Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns.

    I’ve followed the stock market for 65 years, first as a 13 year old reading the quotations in the evening newspaper and now, deliciously listening to dozens of experts demonstrate daily how they can be wrong 50% of the time.

    I’m not sure I am ready to lump climate and the markets in quite the same way as the author has done. Compared to climate I think markets are a piece of cake. There certainly are known unknowns in markets but I’m not sure there are unknown knowns. We know the components. We have had 48 depressions/recessions since 1790 and we generally know their genesis. We don’t know when or where or how but a financial calamity is in our future. We don’t know the probability within a given time even though there are many who bet we do. Given the inherent dynamics in capitalism we can say with 100% certainty the stuff is going to hit the fan.

    Something about climate is different. It’s been nagging at me for years. I believe there are unknown knowns. Some of it might be not knowing ourselves and how our minds work which is preventing some insights into what is reality versus how we want to construct reality given our way of thinking in a logical, linear way. I thought of this reading about Einstein and his early thoughts on quantum physics. It didn’t fit into his approach of thinking which is different than his thinking about an idea.

    Our reality is a human construct which may or may reflect what is reality. We still have enormous limitations on our ability to grasp all the interrelationships involved with climate. A recent paper was featured at WUWT about different researchers finding different results with the same data. It suggested humility. That is very good advice. There is much, much more to learn about climate before we can say we have aced the exam.

    Back to the book.

    • CKid, again thank you for reading the book and commenting after reading. This is in great contrast to many of the commenters who comment from ignorance.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        JaC – ouch that hurts – Okay , maybe a little guilty. I will now read the book before making any comments.

      • Dr. Curry, I’d be happy to read the book for you and comment on it for you if you buy it for me. I long ago quit pursuing philosophical ramblings, no matter the intelligence, learning or awards of their proponent. Your review, which I value, reveals little applicability of Tim Palmer’s opinions to the current problems in climate science.

        His assertion that model ensemble forecasts can be made to predict pandemics, financial crises and war is worrying. I classify that statement as being as valid as Hari Seldon’s Psychohistory as related in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. I take it as axiomatic that one cannot reliably predict future states beyond the short term. The BS about model ensembles’ ability to reliability predict future probabilities suffers the same fate. Ultimately, where are the predictive ensembles of his models of climate, economics, pandemics and war?

        The gorilla in the room is Palmer’s apparent belief in the validity of current UN IPCC CliSciFi models. He talks about the next generation of climate models running at higher resolutions replacing the current ones. He must be aware that the current models do not reflect the real world and that supercomputers that could resolve, for example, cloud formation are not reasonably on the horizon. Yet he seems to accept their general prediction of future temperatures and is willing to apply the Precautionary Principle in avoiding uncertain futures.

        I’m sure you remember using my suggested wording in your preparation for a presentation to a group of lawyers awhile ago: Climate models are not sufficient to fundamentally alter our society, economy, or energy systems. If that fact is not kept firmly in mind when dealing with any aspect of AGW, we lose the future.

  25. Far be it from me to comment from ignorance, since my hardback copy of “The Primacy of Doubt” only arrived today, but here’s the very first quotation, from Richard Feynman:

    “Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle. Permit us to question — to doubt, that’s all — not to be sure.”

    Of course given Judith’s review above I then had to skip to chapter 10. Here’s the conclusion:

    “Based on the way we value our own existence in other areas of life, there does indeed seem to be a strong argument that we should act now, uncertainties about future climate change notwithstanding.

    But this is ultimately a decision which each of us must make, e.g. in deciding which politicians to vote for.”

    Of course being a citizen of the once Great British banana republic I don’t get to vote on our next Prime Minister!

    • Jim, I love Palmers: ““Based on the way we value our own existence in other areas of life, …” I’ll start the list, others can add to it:
      Riding in automobiles (especially speeding and drunk driving)
      Riding bicycles
      Base Jumping
      Sky Diving
      Scuba Diving
      River Rafting
      Walking in certain parts of town
      Riding on the NY City subway
      Having something on the Clintons
      Eating at any fast food joint

      Aw, hell. The list of dangerous things we do every day is endless. The remote chances of adverse weather and rising sea levels over the next 100 to 300 years seriously affecting the biosphere and Man’s existence is unmeasurable.

      • Evenin’ Dave (UTC).

        “The remote chances of adverse weather and rising sea levels over the next 100 to 300 years seriously affecting the biosphere and Man’s existence is unmeasurable.”

        Sez who?

        Palmer says (p 127):

        “The minimalist position (as stated earlier) is scientifically incorrect in a number of ways”

  26. The quadrupole geometries ordering the discrete solar forcing of the greatest heat and cold waves are not chaotic.

    • Curious George

      Is this your best data?

    • Was storm Ian given a boost by the conjunction Sun, new moon on 25th and Jupiter on 26th Sept ?

      • If you believe so.

      • The devil is in the details.
        From Wiki: “Atmospheric tides are global-scale periodic oscillations of the atmosphere. In many ways they are analogous to ocean tides. Atmospheric tides can be excited by: (numbers added)

        1. The regular day–night cycle in the Sun’s heating of the atmosphere (insolation)
        2 The gravitational field pull of the Moon
        3 Non-linear interactions between tides and planetary waves.
        4 Large-scale latent heat release due to deep convection in the tropics.”

        No 4 is important re the energy release, but not only convection, but also pressure drop. The below twitter feed is important in that it occurred as the storm came under the pull of Jupiter.

        Twitter feed: “Hurricane Ian intensified by 30kt in 12 hours last night, while already a cat-3/4.
        At its location, there’s no record of a storm this strong, strengthening *even at all* any further.”

        The effect of planetary alignment particularly with Jupiter and the time the new moon moves into and out of alignment, have in the remote past been very destructive.

      • The solar wind speed doubled between the 26th and 27th September, that may have helped ramp up the storm wind speeds.

  27. In a discussion in the book of flooding in Bangladesh someone suggested people don’t understand probabilities. I disagree. The concept of probability is quite simple. But as Kahneman and Taleb have found, emotions can dominate rationality.

    I’ve observed for decades people who decided of their own free will to sit a hurricane out in their homes despite repeated pleas by authorities to evacuate. In some cases movement out of the projected path would have involved a short trip by auto. While in Florida a few years ago I noticed that a single bridge separated the area receiving significant damage from that of almost no damage.

    A friend of mine decided to “house sit” his second home during an impending major hurricane in Florida rather than fly north. The next time I saw him I asked him how it went. His reply? “I’ll never do that again.”

    I believe if you told 1,000 people that if they remained in their home for the next 24 hours they had a 90 percent chance of death, some would remain.

    We are not always rational and we don’t always demonstrate good judgment. Some of us just can’t help ourselves.

  28. I’ve recently begun texting each morning to my high schooler grandson quotes of famous people. He has inexplicably developed an interest in and bought a book about quantum physics. (Quite a jump from a few years ago when he was putting worms on the hook with needle nose pliers).

    Some of those famous people have been scientists. Some of those scientists are named in this book.

    One of the quotes I sent to my grandson was this

    “ If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”

    Niels Bohr

    He has that right.

    If anyone has read Bell’s inequality proof in the back of the book I would be interested in hearing from them. The number of visual cues is a bit overwhelming and I am struggling with the why question. I see that it is, but not sure why it is.

  29. “But this does not imply that some counterfactual worlds might be inconsistent with the laws of physics in an as-yet-to-be-discovered theory of quantum physics.”

    As yet to be discovered…(fill in the blanks.)

    That sums up my intuition about climate, that there are some elements, some pieces of this grand, elaborate, infinitely complex puzzle that are missing. Until we have them all lined up and able to develop some coherence, we will be struggling with the future.

    I’ve finished the book. It’s a great read. But I need another whack at a few pages to make sure I understand what I think I understand.

    It’s certainly stretched my mind and my thoughts about uncertainty and the challenges ahead of grasping what is confronting the scientific community.

    Thank you.

  30. 288 – 255 = 33

  31. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #524on October 24, 2022 at 2:00 pm - Always Bet On Black

  32. There is a gross error in the book in Chapter 10 “Decisions! Decisions!” where it claims “there were just short of 25,000 people killed on the UK roads in 2020”
    The actual figure is 1,460 as can be found on the official statistics page here:

  33. Michael Cunningham aka Faustino aka Genghis Cunn

    He has used the “killed or seriously injured figure,” 23,529, made up of 1460 deaths and 22069 injuries. A pretty gross error.

  34. I understand that I am very late to the party, but I didn’t see any point in commenting until after I’d had chance to read the book. For me it was always going to be a question as to whether the author understood the essential difference between incertitude and variability as a source of uncertainty, and how this important distinction bears upon the applicability of methods such as Monte Carlo simulation. The limitations of MCS are well-documented and so one would have hoped to have seen them being acknowledged in Palmer’s book. Regrettably, at no stage does he do so. In fact, the reader is left with the distinct impression that the mathematics of stochastic physics are all that matters. Consequently, he sees nothing wrong in treating multi-model ensembles as if they were a random sampling of a fully representative state space. In fact, he likens it to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. I just wonder whether it is Palmer’s excellent understanding of the stochastic and physical basis for the variability and predictability of weather that blinds him to the full implications of the presence of epistemic uncertainty; a presence, for example, that prevents the range of climate projections provided by MMEs from being interpreted as a probability density function. The bottom line is that the technique used in ensemble statistics (MCS) is unable to distinguish the uncertainty caused by inherent variability from the uncertainty regarding the basis for such variability, and it would have been better had Palmer shown the reader that he understands that problem and how it could be addressed.

    I’m sorry to say this, but no matter how enjoyable and fascinating I found Professor Palmer’s book, and no matter how much I appreciated his attempts at even-handedness, he still pushed some pretty suspect ideas regarding the philosophical framework underpinning uncertainty analysis. If anybody is in the least bit interested, my extended account of these issues can be found here:

  35. In a discussion in the book of flooding in Bangladesh someone suggested people don’t understand probabilities. I disagree. The concept of probability is quite simple. But as Kahneman and Taleb have found, emotions can dominate rationality. Tokyo Revengers Valhalla Jacket

  36. This sounds like yet more of the same: massive amounts of no doubt correct mathematics and a framing of a risk-reward calculation to determine action vs inaction where climate change is concerned.

    The only problem is that the author is ludicrously ill-equipped to judge what probability certain scenarios should be assigned and the devil in all climate change pollicy is taking far too much heed of postulated probabilities without any mechanisms to carry out skeptical due diligence as to their veracity or otherwise.

    My skeptical view is that this brilliant mathematician is unfortunately lacking in real-world expertise in estimating actual probabilities moving forward.

    I would also say to him that if he does not die when migrating from Oxford to work with John Christy in the Southern USA, due to experiencing a far greater than 4C increase in climate in under 24 hrs, then he should be defrocked from all policy positions he holds due to incurable lack of common sense, basic due diligence and attention to obvious mechanisms of refuting hypotheses.

    Humans won’t die with a 4C increase in temperature as we can already survive an 80C variation in temperature without problems. Plenty of US citizens could experience -40C in Wisconsin in winter and +40C in California or Texas in summer. We don’t die.

    A 4C increase in temperature would see enormous increases in photosynthetic capacity in temperate/polar latitudes in summer, not to mention a likelihood of far greater rainfall due to increased evaporation of warmer oceans. Our genetic heritage derives from times when climate WAS far warmer than nowadays and it’s simply impossible to argue that we all died out back then.

    The action we need to take has little to do with climate change and far more to do with energy security over a timescale of 2-3 centuries.

    You don’t need a Fields Medal in mathematics to calculate how long oil, gas and coal supplies will last at economic prices, within reasonable ranges of uncertainty. You can simply be certain that we will run out of all of them sooner or later, even if later is 250 – 500 years hence.

    You don’t need a Nobel Prize to realise as a result that technological innovations will be needed to gradually replace the dwindling levels of those currently popular energy sources.

    And you don’t need an IQ of 200 to know that if you shut down oil, gas and coal-based energy without an adequately affordable replacement technology, then you are going to kill a lot of people through ignorance, hatred, dogma, lunacy and middle-class self-righteous monstrosity.