23 June 2010

Frustration with the "Climate Deniers"

If you want to know what is wrong with the most visible element of the climate science community, you need only read this quote from Steve Schneider, a co-author on the Anderagg et al. paper discussed here and at Kloor's:
Climate scientist Stephen Schneider of Stanford, who worked on the new analysis, admits that it is born of frustration with "climate deniers," such as physicist Freeman Dyson or geologist Ian Plimer, being presented as "equally credible" to his peers and granted "equal weight" as science assessments from the IPCC or U.S. National Academy of Sciences, both of which ascribe ongoing climate change to increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases due to human activities. "We wanted to ask by objective measures, 'Who publishes the bulk of the new science in the refereed literature and gets cited the most: those who accept anthropogenic global warming or those who deny it?'" Schneider says.
The paper, which marks the ignominious introduction of the term "climate denier" as a keyword in the PNAS, represents the triumph of blog war politics into mainstream academic publishing. The blog wars over climate change are notable for appeals to authority and efforts to delegitimize. For some in the scientific community the focus is, not just as Schneider states, on the "climate deniers" but also anyone who has a slightly different scientific or political perspective.

That these wars have influenced how academics behave was revealed in the stolen/leaked East Anglia emails. The PNAS paper takes the effort to an entirely new level by taking the work of a blogger seeking to delegitimize "climate deniers" and ginning up a-fancy-looking-but-deeply-flawed- impression of social science methodology and then getting it into PNAS. We see the IPCC being used not as a summary assessment of the community's views, but rather as a narrow litmus test of allegiance. In the bizzaro world of climate science one's credibility is judged by oaths of allegiance to the IPCC rather than having the IPCC reflect a distribution of individual views.

The bottom line here is that if you want to engage in public debates over climate change, you had better get ready to wrestle in the mud (note that the image above is not a real climate scientist, but for illustrative purposes only). Avoiding the blogosphere, including efforts to delegitimize for expressing certain views, is less and less of an option because the blog wars are moving into academic discourse.

PS. Late addendum ... Note that Schneider wants to use the analysis to discredit specific individuals (Dyson, Plimer). Creating a list and then using it to discredit individuals based on the characteristics of the list is of course what it means to create a blacklist. Should individuals be judged individually?


  1. One step nearer to a climate dogmatism. How did they manage to get it into the PNAS? I hope somebody will complain about this.

    I am convinced that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the 20th century warming but labelling skeptics (not that every scientist has to be a skeptic) as 'climate deniers' is a misleading tactic.

    At least we can be sure that it will be used by Al Gore in his next movie/book.

  2. "...image above is not a real climate scientist,"

    Looked like a geoduck from Evergreen State College.

  3. This paper, the e-mails, the CRU read-me file, the revelations about Briffa's single tree, the IPCC's peer-reviewed citations, the whitewash 'investigations', Copenhagen, Pachauri, and the reactions/excuses to all the above.

    It seems as if the alarmists are working hard to confirm everything the skeptics have always suspected about them.

  4. I have always found it interesting that Freeman Dyson has been subject to so much criticism for comments regarding climate models.

    As I understand it, a relatively small group of scientists are responsible for developing the climate models used in the IPCC. Because of the complexity of the climate models, those involved in developing them have spent a good deal of their professional life devoted to this task.

    If one wants an assessment of how useful climate models are in projecting future climates, and devising policies, one way to do that would be to ask the scientists who developed the models for their assessment. They obviously know much about the strengths and weaknesses of the models. However, they would have some conflicts of interests in providing an objective assessment. Since so much of their careers are tied to the models, their interests would be to emphasize the models strengths and gloss over their weaknesses. The climategate emails as they relate to the field of Paleo climatology certainly illustrate this concern.

    Another completely different approach would be to ask a person outside the field of climate modeling to provide the assessment. In choosing such a person, one would seek a person who has relevant expertise that would allow them to understand the science and mathematics incorporated in the models, but who does not have any vested interests in the outcome of the assessment. In addition, one would want to choose a person whose scientific credentials are impeccable. In my view Freeman Dyson fits this description.

    One can reasonable question whether Freeman Dyson has a sufficient understanding of climate models to render an opinion. However, he at least claims he does when he writes:

    "I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry, and the biology of fields and farms and forests."

    Is this a reasonable assessment of the climate models? Well, the IPCC itself acknowledges that the climate models are incapable of modeling clouds and do a poor job of modeling precipitation and that these failures account in part for the uncertainty in climate projections. I am not aware that climate models even attempt to incorporate "the biology of fields and farms and forests", but if they do I suspect that they don't do it well. Your father, Roger Pielke, Sr. has certainly raised a myriad of questions regarding their failure to account for land use changes.

    Do other credentialed and well-published climate scientists hold views similar to Dyson's. Well, I would say yes, and suggest that similar concerns have been expressed by Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., Dr. Roy Spencer, Dr. Richard Lindzen and Dr. John Christy, among others. All of these scientists rank high based on publications in peer-reviewed journals.

    In the end, I not sure whether Freeman Dyson's scientific opinions are all that controversial. The climate models have substantial shortcomings that are widely acknowledged. What is controversial is Dyson's viewpoint that the climate models are not an adequate foundations upon which to declare a climate crisis exists that requires drastic policy changes.

  5. If you don't know how to build credibility and trust, attack the credibility of others. Except that it seldom works, as is generally acknowledged among business people.

  6. No one wants to believe what this seems to imply - is this the "threatened" backlash - if so, it will do more damage than those emails - but hating negativity, and wanting to be positive, I'll copy what I put on Kieth's site:
    Re #215 I’ve told you I like you Kieth and you prove me right once again. This cross fertilization between blogs is starting to get really interesting – though, I must admit it’s hard to keep up. If a comment I make repeats or is a bit wayward, please feel free to delete. (OT which is best the USA topping the group or England squeezing through! Sorry!)

  7. I wonder if the motivation for this NAS article was not frustration with deniers per se but lack of success in public debates, particularly the Oxford debate a couple of months ago. The AGW camp sends zeolots who invariably manage to insult the very people they are trying to convince. The skeptics send people who connect with the audience better. Debate is the key ingredient needed to convince a public whose doubts are growing by the day. The AGW proponents need more effort in finding effective communicators (and debators) and much less time devising lists that absolve themselves from the debate. If they can't find good defenders of their message, they soon may be dealing with a much more conservative House and Senate.

    While the debate is critical, it is important to keep it between the technical folks, not the political ones. The closely thing I've seen to this recently is a discussion of the stability of the ocean heat content (on Pielke Sr's blog) that brought in Josh Willis (measuring the data), Kevin Trenbreth and Roy Spenser. They were actually arguing in the same forum on the total amount of low wave radiation emitted vs. the amount of short wave radiation reflected and how this affeccted the total heat in the oceans. They were getting at the heart of the key issues and had a way to measure overall balance. It only went a round or two (and I really would have like to see this continue) but it was a glimmer of hope for the type of interaction that will move climate understanding forward.

  8. That's a photo from the Glastonbury festival!

  9. In other news: 99% of ministers believe their ministries are crucial for proper functioning of the state. On the other hand, 99% of people having doubts about the necessity of existence of some of the ministries are not nor have never been, ministers!

  10. This is a little statement I made on Kloor's Blog (don't you think he's become something quite marvelous!?). If it's off-topic please ignore!

    And, unfortunately, the more I read, the more it seems like the “scientific socialism” of the soviets.
    It’s right for Lucia to red flag any ridiculous historical associations – by people who probably have never felt history – but there are formal comparisons that may be valid.
    We live in the most privileged and free society that has probably ever existed – the Greeks had there slaves – but there is nothing wrong with viligence
    And, so, when the pinnacle of our civilization ( not art, surely, or literature, anymore, or, philosophy! ) is rationality, a very narrow and hard to defend field and then science and then etc, it is right to be vigilant, even paranoid - how vast is the world, the barbaric world of irrationality – how tiny our defenses!
    This “study” a case in point – formerly, meeting all the jargon criterion of a paper – but waved in and flag waved by various parties.
    Isn’t that disgusting, shouldn’t we feel disgusted?

  11. Sean- I agree with you that science should be more an open discussion of evidence and opinions about that evidence. Have you thought about what a forum of climate fora would look like? How could participation in such fora be incentivized by academia, rather than the non-transparency (and downright silliness, in this PNAS case) of journal article submission and review?

    I think we need to think about new structures for transparent post-normal science; and changing our institutions to that future.

  12. To Sharon,

    When you asked what climate forums would look like the first thing that popped in my head was the quote by a Supreme Court justice when ask about his definition of obscenity. He could not define it but said he knew it when he saw it.

    What struck me about the exchange I referred to on the Climate Science web site was that there was a moderator (Pielke Sr.) who knew the science and the scientists well enough that he could call on competant and knowledgable individuals to argue a point. Second, so much of climate science has been about arguing statistics in extraodinarily noisy data so its quite possible to argue in circles forever. Dr. Pielke has been arguing total ocean heat content using Argo Bouy data as a measure of climate change for a while now specifically because there are enough data points and now about a 5 year history that you can begin to discern trends (or in this case, lack of trends). I should also point out that the guy in charge of that data, Josh Willis of JPL seems meticulous, honest and confident about his observations. So while he subscribes to the AGW theory, he knows how the measurements were made, he understands their accuracy and when he says the total heat's not changing, all parties have a reasonable level of confidence in the result. Then you have Trenbreth and Spencer who are both experts in their fields arguing about radiative balance as measured by satellites. When they argued in this forum, they both had passion for their positions and they argued about the data that was measured.

    So how would I summarize that forum? You had a moderator who had stature would could bring two prominent players into the same forum. He posed a question using a measure that had sufficient precision and accuracy it begged for some explanation. You had a scorekeeper who is percieved by both sides to be honest and accurate and you had scientists that were both passionate in their positions and made honest arguments about the data rather than arguing past one another or about one another.

    Personnally, I don't see a need for "post-normal" science at all. There is a need for people to get past all the noise to the heart of an issue and then debate it.

  13. "I an a climate scientist".


    What a grand farce climate science has become. More faith than a pursuit of knowledge.

  14. Leaving Dyson aside for the moment, can you regard Plimer as anything but a joke? Just about every page is filled with outrageous lies

    Go on, defend that silliness.

  15. -14-Joshua

    Indeed. I was scheduled to debate Plimer here in Boulder last fall, but he pulled out after we had agreed on a date and terms because I wanted to debate policy.

    Still doesn't justify the PNAS article, but keep trying! ;-)

  16. You, your father, Spencer, Christy, McIntyre and many others have been granting too much goodwill to CAGW promoters.
    They are not motivated by science and are not constrained by scientific courtesy or standards of ethics.
    If their social status remains strong enough, they will destroy you.

  17. @EliRabett (14)
    Thank you for demonstrating my point exactly.

  18. Sean- thanks for explaining further. My question is if such fora are good things (which I believe they are) how can we create more of them? Here is what you said- it sounds like science nirvana:

    "So how would I summarize that forum? You had a moderator who had stature would could bring two prominent players into the same forum. He posed a question using a measure that had sufficient precision and accuracy it begged for some explanation. You had a scorekeeper who is percieved by both sides to be honest and accurate and you had scientists that were both passionate in their positions and made honest arguments about the data rather than arguing past one another or about one another. "

    But whatever such processes would be, they would not be a current common practice of discerning the best science.

  19. Other than your comments on this "paper" the silence from the academic community is deafening. Sad.

  20. Definition: A blacklist is a list or register of persons who, for one reason or another, are being 'denied' a particular privilege, service, mobility, access or recognition.

    So who are the deniers?

    Defintion: Skepticism is an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on information that requires the information to be well supported by evidence.

    So who are the skeptics?

    So in compiling their Black List the PNAS have indentified scientists who are actually behaving as scientists.

  21. EliRabett (Joshua Halpern).

    Who am I going to believe ? On the one hand Freeman Dyson. On the other the collected 'intellects' of you, Sir John Houghton, James Hansen, Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, Stephen Schneider and Phil Jones.

    Hmmmmm. Let me think.

    I'll get back to you.

  22. Sean,
    As to the post normality or not, if we use the definition of post normal as "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent". It seems to me that in the example you describe, at least the facts were uncertain. You could arrive at an answer by a variety of methodologies. And you can't do a simple experiment and find one true answer in real time.

  23. If you look at Dyson's claim,

    "I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry, and the biology of fields and farms and forests."

    you find that one should not believe in Quantum Electrodynamics because it includes neither the color force, nor gravity. Interestingly he does not deal with carbon cycle models, nor how they interfaced with the global climate models.

    Eric, OTOH, might choose to weight Dyson against Paul Crutzen, Syukuro Manabe and 253 others who wrote a rather plain spoken letter which flatly contradicts Dyson

    there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

    (i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

    (ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

    (iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

    (iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

    (v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.


  24. Sharon,

    If you think about that debate I referenced it was very narrowly focused and bound by energy balance. Climate science is extraordinarily complex and it is in its infancy. It also has to pull out a very weak trend from very noisy data so you end up in a situation where with data reduction and judicious selection of time periods you can "prove" anything. Debates need to be much less broad and more focused on individual topics or issues. As these get resolved, move onto the broader ones.

    Given that it is early on the learning curve, it think it might be fair to look at what happened in the personal computer industry from the late '70s until today. You started with companies who tried to pull everything together under a single system and most of those companies quickly failed. Then you had some small companies take a more narrow focus and only dealt with a more narrow area of technology to get those right. You had processor companies, video display companies, modem companies, networking companies, hard drive companies, periferal companies and computer builders that really just assembled pieces from everyone else to make a system. As time marched on and the technology matured the large number of suppliers of each of the technologies consolidated into just a few leaders. Some of these technologies became obsolete and others got integrated with other parts of the system. But this took nearly 30 years to accomplish with technology that moved a break neck speed.
    I actually think most climate scientists realize that they are in the early stages of understanding the subsystems, let alone the whole system put together. So rather than force big picture debate, perhaps it would be more fruitful (and much less controversial) to focus on the pieces you can wrap your arms around. Get the little pieces right and before you move onto integrating the components. Debate about the subcomponents of climate science will look more like traditional science than post normal science. When the subcomponents are better understood, climate science will then follow the normal traditional scientific path.

  25. Sean- I agree with that your model is useful, but I would like to propose another model. I live in the natural resource/environment world. In our world we know we can never fully understand the systems or even, more than likely, the subsystems. We are like the old story of the blind man and the elephant. Each discipline studies one piece of the elephant and can totally understand the foot or the ear. We could all possibly agree on a foot, but we need a different kind of interdisciplinary discourse to describe and predict the behavior of the complete elephant. As we narrow our focus to a tusk or a tongue, we lose sight of the elephant.

    And in this case, even if we understood the elephant (climate) that still wouldn't tell us what policy option we should choose to meet our policy goals.

    I think sometimes we are not clear if we are talking about the science of understanding the elephant or whether we have drawn some line between specific understandings and policy- the linear model, which doesn't work.

    Perhaps physcial scientists have something to learn from biologists/ecologists ;)?

  26. If I can I'd like to repost a spot-on comment from the original blacklist post
    Gerard Harbison said... The four authors of the PNAS paper are a biologist, an electrical engineer, a self-described 'BA from Duke University, where he designed his own major in ethics and intellectual history, and earned an MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business', and Schneider, a climate scientist.

    The central premise of the paper is that to be credible in climate science, one must publish in climate science. Fair enough. But none of the authors of this paper, published under the category of 'social science', has any discernible credentials in social science at all!

    Is it possible for four apparently intelligent human beings to be so completely oblivious to irony?

  27. eli rabbet,
    Your list of alleged 'facts' are anything but, and you know it.

  28. EliRabett

    Thanks for the reply and the link.

    I don't know much about quantum electrodynamics, but I did study Maxwell's wave equations in the same physics department as Maxwell's friend Lord Kelvin. The comparison of gravity in that area and clouds in climate science borders on the preposterous as you know. Feedback is a crucial mechanism and clouds quite probably a significant factor.

    I don't have beliefs about the standard models of quantum electrodynamics, the existence of the Higgs Boson or dark matter, or even the climate science standard model*. I don't need them.

    The question at hand is whether there is evidence that a dramatic drop in Co2 (80% in the UK) is required now, to prevent serious damage to the ecosystem that couldn't be addressed later.

    That drop would come about through a multi trillion dollar carbon trading market and a massive transfer of wealth from private individuals to the members of the International Emissions Trading Association, namely BP, Shell, Conoco Philips, E.ON (coal) EDF (coal), Gazprom , Goldman Sachs, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley etc.

    It seems to me more than a coincidence that all major political global warming promoters are connected to the oil/gas industry, namely Margaret Thatcher (Burmah Oil), Kenny Boy Lay (Enron), Lord Browne (BP) Gore (Occidental Oil) , Pachauri (Indian Oil Corp. director). Now of course both Al Gore and Lord Blair of Baghdad (JP Morgan Chase, Zurich and more) are making huge fortunes promoting AGW for the finance industry

    I really don't think that a simple minded manifesto from only 255 of 2,1000 NAS members is going to convince me, having read several Dyson analyses. Especially now that the NAS has deeply stained the reputation of the science community with the paper under discussion.

    *See Petr Chylek on the AGW model


  29. Faith dear, you better talk with those 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences, but what do they know.

  30. Eli Rabett wrote that if you believe Dyson that the climate models are unable to accurately capture important components of the climate, then you must:

    " find that one should not believe in Quantum Electrodynamics because it includes neither the color force, nor gravity."

    I am not a physicist so I don't really understand the reference, but I assume you are making the point that incomplete models often provide useful insights.

    I can't imagine that Dyson would disagree with this general proposition. He just doesn't think that the climate models provide useful insights about how much global temperatures will rise if CO2 concentrations continue to increase.

    With respect to the letter you cite, I don't have any problem with the first two major points it makes:

    "(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

    (ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation."

    Having read the IPCC, however, I think the evidence to support the third proposition is very weak, i.e:

    "(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes."

    The primary evidence to support this proposition in the IPCC is that the climate models are unable to explain recent changes in global average temperatures without CO2. I am unwilling to rule out the alternative proposition that Petr Chylek suggests:

    "The fact that the Atmosphere Ocean General Circulation Models are not able to explain the post-1970 temperature increase by natural forcing was interpreted as proof that it was caused by humans. It is more logical to admit that the models are not yet good enough to capture natural climate variability (how much or how little do we understand aerosol and clouds,and ocean circulation?), even though we can all agree that part of theobserved post-1970 warming is due to the increase of atmospheric CO2 concentration."


    On this point, I think that Dyson and Chylek have more accurately summarized the state of climate science than the 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences. I am open to reading whatever evidence you may suggest, but I do not find simple assertions to be persuasive.

  31. Sharon,

    Sorry for taking so long to answer. I did not have either the time or an appropriate response. This morning I have a little time but we'll see if the response is appropriate or to the point.
    I struggled a bit with the elephant analogy to the climate in dealing with a lot of this debate but if bear with me, maybe I can throw out a perspective using this. If someone is looking at temperature data or sea ice extent, they are dealing with very noisy data that swings up and down in a predictable periodic way. It like trying to figure out the direction the elephant is moving by looking at how his trunk and tail swings. What Pielke Sr. is doing is with the total heat content of the oceans is saying, ignore for a second what the trunk and tail do and lets monitor the movement of the elephant's belly very accurately. And low and behold, the measurements show the elephant is stationary.

    So why is this important from a policy option? If the elephant is moving, particularly if its moving toward a clift it might fall off of, you need to change direction particularly if there is a slope that's drawing the elephant in that direction. The fact that it is stationary, gives you a bit of breathing room to take a closer look at the map and the path in front of you to make ascertain the pitfalls ahead. You also may want to take a moment to learn what commands really drive this elephant in one direction or another. The consensus says it one thing and one thing only while Pielke Sr. says there are many things.

    So lets loose the elephant for a minute and take a more philosophical look at how the hard sciences work a problem and the biologists work it. Physicists and chemists, will work very hard to set up experiments that look at one parameter at a time. By varying that parameter in isolation, they get a quantitative indication of its impact. Biologists, particularly those working in a natural environment have to sort out subtle effects in an enviroment where conditions change constantly. So in that respect, climate science is much more like the live sciences. Physicists who model climate focus on the pieces of the puzzle they can easily model like radiative forcings. They have a more difficult time with the chaotic event like clouds, changing albedos and what drives changes vs. reacts to them. They are also modeling on very large scales relative to the processes on the earth surface and then generalizing these to local effects sometimes with absurd results. Perhaps the most important thing physical scientists can learn from the biologist/ecologists is a little humility in the face of mother nature.

  32. Why don't the "denialists" start their own journal or something? Why, because it would be a demonstrable joke. There is no there there. Those diverging from the proven theme are in a tiny minority of researchers and the bulk of these are possessed of a raft of views either indicating certain anarchist dogmas or genuine psychological pathology.