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The Unextricable Incompleteness Of Nature

Unless and until the “Nature” editors will find the courage the publish correspondence such as the below, outside of the usual echo-chambers of close-minded, mantra-repeating, conformist half-thinkers, the most we can expect from the somewhat prestigious journal is incomplete columns: because in order to complete them, they need to involve the world they don’t want to listen to…

Dear Sir or Madam

I was somewhat surprised at the abrupt ending of Colin Macilwain’s latest Nature column (“World view: Disaster, unmitigated”, published online 19 May 2010 | Nature 465, 287 (2010) | doi:10.1038/465287a).

As a way for the environmental movement to re-engage the public, Mr. Macilwain suggests “those researchers who do feel comfortable with advocacy need to spend more time on the ground, talking to real people about why their work matters”. Scientists doubling up as street preachers? Unlikely. And yet, there could be a hint of a way out of the “disaster”.

How to talk “to real people”? Scientists that build for themselves a name as scientists, often misunderstand it as a free pass to provide the world with the “Given Truth”. But very few manage to be an Einstein or a Feynman: with no reputation in a social and/or political context, the most solid scientific ideas become only somebody’s opinion in an ocean of opinions. With a long history of misguided scientific claims in the media (as recently highlighted in The Guardian), emission trading and the plight of Mexican lizards achieve the same status of dieting fads and miracle cancer cures, just a notch above Nostradamus.

The result is the wholescale political hijacking of the climate debate (mainly in the USA), very little progress, noise all over the place: the “disaster” mentioned by Mr. Macilwain.

The obvious first step out of such a situation involves building social and political reputation, by reducing the cacophony: acquiring allies instead of enemies; making do without grandstanding claims about impending dooms; relying less on a change in human nature and the reinvention of civilisation; opening up to the society-wide consequences of each particular solution. And telling “climate change” like it is, a matter of risk management instead of hubris, projections not predictions, stewardship not dictatorship.

There are many out there like me, politically active, environmentally conscious, scientifically trained, ferociously on the side of Reason in the tradition of Carl Sagan and James Randi and on this basis aware of the potential dangers of climate change, unconvinced about the reality of upcoming catastrophes and worried about the future of society and of civil liberties. But as long as the prevailing attitude among climate scientists and especially activists-researchers will involve lèse majesté and ad-hominems against “deniers”, really, there will be nobody, least of all “real people”, for them to talk to.

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  1. 2010/06/12 at 02:31

    …because if you dress up the science as much stronger than it really is…

    Whoaa! And if they are wrong, then the BACKLASH!

    • 2010/06/12 at 14:58

      Indeed. And if you were a fish, you’d have scales.

  2. 2010/06/11 at 18:30

    @Omnologos:
    …best way out of this mess…
    I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    @Erasmussimo:
    We’re contemplating a policy decision here…
    This is true. And it is very true that policy decisions must proceed in a realm of uncertainty and with standards of verification that might not satisfy scientists. Of course, a good scientist will not use the same standards when he is Prime Minister as when he is in the lab…

    Problem with the controversy is that people slip easily, and without warning, from the realm of science – “Hmmm…just what effect DOES CO2 have in a REAL system? – to the policy (often abetted by hysteria) – “It seems the earth may be warming, and there’s a chance it could be a disaster: We must do something to save our grandchildren NOW!!”

    The discussion here was focused on the science. Now you say that it is urgent to act because the level of certainty justifies it. Perhaps you are right, but the actual level of certainty was what the discussion was all about in the first place. You wouldn’t want to radically alter the world economy by legislation for just a small chance of some change, would you? I don’t think so, and that’s not what you are arguing. But then we are back at assessing how good the science is.

    The point of the unconvinced – I prefer that to skeptic, although skeptic is a perfectly fine word, or used to be… – is that the case is very weak. I’m perfectly willing to be convinced otherwise. I used to feel otherwise. The main reason I slipped to the other side was that I listened closely to what GISS and IPCC people said, ESPECIALLY when they rebutted challenges to their views. To me, it seemed they always ducked the question.

    • 2010/06/11 at 19:38

      Shouldn’t be too difficult even for a model-fixed climatologist to understand: if risk is high and science is weak, be honest and open about both: because if you dress up the science as much stronger than it really is, people will spend time trying to figure out the truth behind your statements, instead of trying to address the risk

    • 2010/06/11 at 21:26

      ““It seems the earth may be warming, and there’s a chance it could be a disaster: We must do something to save our grandchildren NOW!!””

      If astronomers reported that a small asteroid was heading toward earth and would impact in 2100, and that the sooner we take action, the easier it will be to change the asteroid’s orbit, would you start arguing orbital mechanics and the laws of gravity? Would you say “We need to be more certain before we take action?” If the campaign to divert the asteroid were going to cost ten trillion dollars, would you shrug your shoulders and say, “Too expensive. Let the kids handle it.” Would you decide that the astronomers are all part of some grand conspiracy to get more research funding, and were not telling the truth about the asteroid? If there were bloggers who posted analyses questioning the validity of the astronomers’ calculations, who would you believe: the bloggers or the astronomers?

      “The point of the unconvinced – I prefer that to skeptic, although skeptic is a perfectly fine word, or used to be… – is that the case is very weak.”

      Here’s the problem: how do you evaluate the case? Have you actually read the case as presented in IPCC AR4 WG1? If you haven’t read the case, then how can you decided how strong or weak it is? And if you *have* read IPCC AR4 WG1, then do you have the scientific expertise to evaluate the arguments presented therein? For example, what is your opinion of the ocean alkalinity hypothesis to explain the low values of CO2 in the atmosphere during the Ice Ages? You don’t have an opinion? If you don’t have an opinion on that, how can you draw your own conclusions regarding the end result if you are not going to accept what the scientists say?

      Ultimately, the real question is, why do you think that you know more about climatology than the professionals?

      • 2010/06/11 at 22:00

        “If astronomers reported that a small asteroid was heading toward earth and would impact in 2100…”

        …and then (a) wouldn’t be able to actually show the asteroid to anybody outside their restricted circle and (b) replied to queries with sentences such as “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”, well, then, I would definitely say “We need to be more certain before we take radical action”, and “Let’s start from the steps that would be good to do whatever the case”.

        “how do you evaluate the case?”

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Unprecedented claims require unprecedented evidence. And so on and so forth. Or at the very least, they require humility rather than grandstanding and shooting offensive statements around.

        “why do you think that you know more about climatology than the professionals?”

        That’s not the question. The question is, given the stated level of uncertainties and understanding in WG1, why did the IPCC feel it right to take such an activist attitude in WG1, WG2 and WG3?

      • 2010/06/11 at 22:35

        “(a) wouldn’t be able to actually show the asteroid to anybody outside their restricted circle and (b) replied to queries with sentences such as “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?””

        Yep, they couldn’t show the asteroid to people because it’s detected by very large telescopes that aren’t open to everybody. The astronomers see and and photographs of a tiny little dot that looks just like any other star. That’s all.

        For the second part, you are hypothesizing something called a “contrafactual scenario” — a scenario that in some way violates the situation under consideration. You seem to think that climatologists have refused to release their data. They have not. They have released gigantic amounts of information; at least 99.99% of all the data is publicly available in datasets on the Internet. But Steve McIntyre floods the CRU with something like 120 FOIA requests for everything and anything, even after they have already released huge amounts of data, you seem to think they’re hiding something. I double-dog dare you to present your receipts for grocery expenses from 20 years ago. Can’t produce them? What are you hiding?

        “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Unprecedented claims require unprecedented evidence. And so on and so forth. Or at the very least, they require humility rather than grandstanding and shooting offensive statements around.”

        You claim that the IPCC AR4 WG1 is grandstanding at shooting offensive statements around? Show me one single statement in IPCC AR4 WG1 that you consider to be grandstanding or offensive.

        ““why do you think that you know more about climatology than the professionals?”

        That’s not the question.”

        Oh yes it is. The professionals have declared that there’s a serious problem. You reject their declaration. Do you believe that you know more about climatology than the experts?

        “The question is, given the stated level of uncertainties and understanding in WG1, why did the IPCC feel it right to take such an activist attitude in WG1, WG2 and WG3?”

        WG4 is the current version. Do you want to argue about whether Nixon was hounded out of office, or whether the Battle of the Somme was wisely executed? That’s a waste of time. AR4 WG1 is the current working document. Make any case you have around that.

      • 2010/06/11 at 23:23

        “You seem to think that climatologists have refused to release their data.”

        There is little to “think” about that. I have used the widely known response by Phil Jones to Warwick Hughes.

        “But Steve McIntyre floods the CRU with something like 120 FOIA”

        The problem is, the very attitude of UEA to FOI requests was to avoid them as much as possible, before any “flooding” had happened.

        “Can’t produce them? What are you hiding?”

        If my grocery store receipts were important to save the world and humanity with it, I’d level down all the houses I have lived in in the past 20 years in order to retrieve them. Wouldn’t you?

        “You claim that the IPCC AR4 WG1 is grandstanding at shooting offensive statements around?”

        No. But climate science doesn’t start, and doesn’t end with IPCC AR4 WG1.

        “The professionals have declared that there’s a serious problem. You reject their declaration”

        I do not. I reject the idea that it is wrong to verify which claims are less solid than they should be in order to justify radical and immediate action. And I reject the idea that to think even slightly differently than the IPCC, means to be a “denier” of facts and science.

      • 2010/06/12 at 04:01

        “There is little to “think” about that. I have used the widely known response by Phil Jones to Warwick Hughes.”

        I see. So one climate scientist among thousands loses his temper and says something rude — but doesn’t actually act on it — and you conclude that the entire scientific community is hiding information.

        Right.

        “The problem is, the very attitude of UEA to FOI requests was to avoid them as much as possible, before any “flooding” had happened.”

        You think that it’s wrong for scientists to resent being taken away from their work to satisfy some crank? The UEA released enormous amounts of data on a regular basis. But it takes a lot of work getting this stuff ready for publication, and it’s best to do so in a planned fashion. Doing it on a one-off, rush job basis is a pain in the neck.

        “If my grocery store receipts were important to save the world and humanity with it, I’d level down all the houses I have lived in in the past 20 years in order to retrieve them. Wouldn’t you?”

        You actually believe that the data under issue was important to save humanity? The reason it was so difficult to dig up was the fact that it really wasn’t very important. They lost it for the same reasons that you lose your grocery receipts — it’s just not that important. They were concentrating their efforts on the important data, and you blame them for resenting being diverted.

        And by the way, did you notice that the parliamentary investigation exonerated Mr. Jones?

        “climate science doesn’t start, and doesn’t end with IPCC AR4 WG1.”

        Well then, if you prefer to concentrate your efforts on comic books and blog stories, be my guest. But anybody who is serious about climate change science relies on IPCC AR4 WG1 as the foundation. You are skeptical about climate science because people who aren’t part of the climate science community say bad things. Is that reasonable?

        “I reject the idea that it is wrong to verify which claims are less solid than they should be in order to justify radical and immediate action.”

        Verify? And how do you propose to verify the reliability of different claims? By going to Siberia and measuring some tree rings yourself? By digging up ancient lakebed sediments and measuring their layers? By studying coral? Digging up ice cores in Greenland?

        You’re not “verifying” anything. Nothing you have written here in the last few days constitutes an attempt at verification of anything.

        “I reject the idea that to think even slightly differently than the IPCC, means to be a “denier” of facts and science.”

        Well, if you want to differ with IPCC on some slight matter, then by all means do so — I have repeatedly asked you to do so, and the single example you provided was easy for me to clarify for you.

        But let me bring a new element into this. You and lichanos have repeatedly characterized any response to climate change as a radical and economically devastating program. There are no proposals on the table, yet you have already decided what they will constitute. Allow me to propose a program that I think will be a constructive step towards addressing climate change. I propose that the USA impose a carbon tax on gasoline that starts at $1.00 per gallon and then climbs by an addition $0.20 per gallon each year. After ten years, the price of gasoline in the USA will double. Will this bring the American economy crashing to its knees? Will it cause millions to lose their jobs? I don’t think so, because at that price, gasoline in the USA will *still* be cheaper than in Europe — whose economy seems to be alive and ticking.

        So let’s put aside all this crazy talk about world economic destruction and consider something *real*, OK?

  3. 2010/06/11 at 15:59

    Erasmussimo – “could be more misleading”

    Definitely not more misleading than writing ” the best estimate is” when there’s no way to have a good estimate.

    Anyway, a 10% chance of missing the actual value in full is usually not good enough for publication. Why would it be good for the IPCC?

    • 2010/06/11 at 17:04

      “Definitely not more misleading than writing ” the best estimate is” when there’s no way to have a good estimate.”

      The problem here is that you are applying boolean thinking rather than arithmetic thinking. When you say that “there’s no way to have a good estimate”, you’re claiming that it’s black and white: either there *is* a way to have a good estimate, or there *is not*. The truth is more complicated than that. You can make any estimate you please, and so long as you’re honest about its uncertainty, the statement of the estimate + uncertainty is reliable. For example, without having ever seen you, I will estimate that your weight is 77 kg with a 90% confidence interval of 54 kg to 113 kg. I actually don’t know anything at all about you specifically, but I can make this estimate of your weight, and I am confident that there’s a 90% chance that my estimate is correct within its confidence interval. How can I say this? I *do* have information about adult males. I’ve seen a lot of them and I have a pretty good estimate of the range of weights of adult males. Since you’re an adult male, I can apply that general estimate to you specifically and end up with a pretty good result.

      Remember, it’s not just the 77 kg number that’s important here: it’s the confidence interval as well. You need to think in terms of statistical distributions (bell curves, loosely speaking), not black and white.

      “Anyway, a 10% chance of missing the actual value in full is usually not good enough for publication. Why would it be good for the IPCC?”

      Because the IPCC was not charged with publishing a scholarly paper. It was charged with figuring out the best assessment of the state of our knowledge, and it has done so. If your friend asks your advice on whether a particular movie that you have seen will be entertaining for your friend, you can’t give a black and white answer. You have to guess. Do you say “I refuse to give you an estimate because I cannot be certain”? No. You give your best estimate and you state your degree of certainty. You might say:

      “I am sure that you’ll love this movie.”

      or maybe

      “No, don’t rent it; you’ll probably hate it.”

      or maybe

      “I’m not sure; I think you’ll like it but it does have some pretty ugly scenes.”

      We ALL do this kind of thing all the time; it’s how we make decisions. We’re contemplating a policy decision here; a *political* decision. What standards of certainty do you apply to ANY political decision? Is it time for the government to stop stimulating the economy and start worrying about fiscal deficits? That’s a really important decision, and how much certainty do you have about your opinion in that matter? Can you marshall mountains of evidence to support your opinion? Should you just shrug your shoulders and say “We don’t know, so we shouldn’t do anything.”?

      Decisions must be made in the presence of uncertainty. The basic decision that we must do something to reduce CO2 emissions has much less uncertainty associated with it than most of the political decisions we make. So why are we applying standards of certainty to this issue that are so much higher than the standards we apply to other issues?

  4. 2010/06/10 at 15:51

    @Erasmussimo:

    Your characterization of the objections that have arisen in the denialist community as “legitimate” is without merit.

    I refer you once again to the excellent document available at the link below. It contains extensive footnotes to peer-reviewed scientific papers which question specific elements of the evidentiary case for AGW.

    http://www.probeinternational.org/UPennCross.pdf

    • 2010/06/10 at 15:56

      Very well, I shall read this document and report later with my findings.

    • 2010/06/10 at 18:41

      OK, I have read the first 20 pages of the essay and my comments are extensive enough that I had better get them down now; I’ll continue to post more comments as I read more of the essay.

      First off, the author pulls a sneaky: he doesn’t say that he will refer to “peer reviewed” papers; he writes “peer edited” instead. Now, a peer-reviewed paper can be given some credence because it has been vetted by experts in the field and found to be devoid of any obvious goofs. But a “peer-edited” paper — what’s that? The difference between “peer reviewed” and “peer edited” is that the peer-edited paper is NOT reviewed by professionals; it is published in a journal that is edited by professionals in the field. Inasmuch as many journals are quite liberal about publishing dissenting opinions, the label “peer edited” does not confer any credence upon the paper. Thus, the author of the essay is explicitly saying that he will be referring to material that has not undergone rigorous checks. Perhaps he thinks that most people will not know the difference between “peer edited” and “peer reviewed”.

      He takes some time making lots of opinionated and unsubstantiated claims before he gets down to business and starts attacking specifics. His first entry is the claim that urban heat island (UHI) effects call into question the reliability of the temperature record. He references three peer-reviewed papers by the same author demonstrating specific cases in which instrumental temperature records were flawed.

      These papers are solid work, and the author is undeniably qualified. The problem with the attack is that it only establishes an unknown degree of uncertainty in the instrumental record. Of course the data has uncertainties — that’s the case with all data! Those uncertainties can be addressed with a variety of corrections — and the author of this essay says nothing to challenge the utility of those corrections. So his complaint boils down to the statement that the raw data has flaws. NOBODY USES RAW DATA! In just about every field of physical science, the raw data is never taken at face value; there are plenty of biasing factors that must be addressed before you can start using the data.

      Moreover, the instrumental data has for the last 30 years been checked against much more reliable satellite data, and it turns out the, after the corrections are made, the match between the two datasets is excellent. There are lots of other cross-checks for the data that are used to hone the data. And in fact, we could throw away ALL the instrumental data and still have a solid case that temperatures are rising rapidly. But you never throw away data; it always has some value. The overall conclusion regarding the instrumental record — which the author of this essay never challenges — is that it provides useful information that, while imperfect, nevertheless supports the overall AGW hypothesis.

      The second main point made by the author concerns flaws in the Hockey Stick graph. Here the author makes several mistakes. First, his main point is only that the Hockey Stick graph has some uncertainties in its values for a thousand years ago. He doesn’t say that it’s wrong, he says only that its uncertainties were initially underestimated. The conclusion he comes to — but never enunciates — is that the Hockey Stick graph is all in all fairly reliable, but not perfect.

      But he makes an even greater mistake: he concentrates entirely on the 1998 version of the Hockey Stick. He rightly points out that there were some methodological errors in that paper, but he does NOT mention that those methodological errors were acknowledged by the authors and corrected in new paper published in 2005, IIRC. None of the objections he raises apply to the current version of the Hockey Stick graph.

      Here’s another sneaky-dirty in his essay: he quotes some letters by McIntyre and McKitrick as if they were scientific papers. They are not. The letters he referenced are letters appearing in peer-reviewed journals. The actual papers in those journals are peer-reviewed; the letters are not subjected to much editorial scrutiny at all.

      That’s my quick review of the first 20 pages of the essay. I’ll be back with more later on.

      • 2010/06/10 at 18:42

        Oops: “credibility”, not “credence”.

      • 2010/06/10 at 20:14

        E- that’s heavy for a comment. Shall we make it a guest blog instead?

      • 2010/06/11 at 01:48

        We are down to science made out of “confidence” statements, aren’t we…well, how to disagree, it’s their informed opinion and they are entitled to it.

        Excellent point by Omnologos. In the end, human judgment plays a role. I understand Feynman wrote about that, but I haven’t found the essay.

        AGW people like to claim “certainty” though of course, there is always un-certainty. How much is too much is a question of judgment.

        The way out of this mess is to ask if one’s standards of judgment are consistent? For example, a creationist looks at the fossil record and sees nothing but gaps. Totally bogus! A scientist sees gaps, but is convinced by the evidence. But the creationist is demanding a degree of evidence that they would never require in other situations where the facts told such a coherent story. In the case of AGW, if I applied the same standards to my money that you do to the statistics you cite, I’d probably have invested in a lot of bad Internet stocks, which I did not do.

      • 2010/06/11 at 03:50

        ” Shall we make it a guest blog instead?”

        Sure, whatever you think best. Here’s the next installment:

        Third Point: the discrepancy between tropospheric lapse rates in the tropics and observational data.

        The author points out that observed lapse rates in the tropics do not always match the predictions of many of the climate models. That is, if CO2 were changing the climate, we would expect to see a change in the rate at which temperature falls as you rise through the atmosphere in the tropics. This was initially a serious problem with early global climate models (GCMs), but the magnitude of the problem has been steadily reduced with better models and better data.

        Here’s an example of how the author subtly misleads the reader; he writes:

        “what the IPCC is saying rather obliquely here is that a crucial empirically testable proposition generated by climate models – that there should be more warming in the tropical troposphere than at the surface — has not been confirmed by the existing data.”

        The sneaky-dirty trick that the author is using here is the use of the word “crucial”. The author implies that this is a make-or-break proposition. In fact, the role of the tropospheric lapse rate at low latitudes is not a fundamental issue, and it does not affect the overall conclusions of the IPCC AR4 WG1. Indeed, that report freely acknowledges the disagreements over these details:

        “There has been extensive testing of GCM tropospheric temperature response against observational trends for climate change detection purposes (see Section 9.4.4). Although some recent studies have suggested consistency between modelled and observed changes (e.g., Fu et al., 2004; Santer et al., 2005), debate continues as to the level of agreement, particularly in the tropics (Section 9.4.4). Regardless, if RH remains close to unchanged, the combined lapse rate and water vapour feedback is relatively insensitive to differences in lapse rate response (Cess, 1975; Allan et al., 2002; Colman, 2003a).”

        and elsewhere:

        “There remains substantial disagreement between different observational estimates of lapse rate changes over recent decades, but some of these are consistent with GCM simulations”

        Section 9.4.4.4 of the report discusses this matter in more detail and makes it quite clear that the IPCC authors are fully aware of the discrepancies and do not consider them to be “crucial” to their conclusions.

        Our author seems to think that this discrepancy constitutes a fatal flaw in the entire AGW hypothesis. He notes that there remains dispute among scientists regarding its resolution, as if this were some secret his research had revealed. But in fact the IPCC is completely candid about the uncertainties in this issue, and the author provides no substantiation for his claim that this is a “crucial” problem. It isn’t.

        More later.

      • 2010/06/11 at 14:47

        ” In the end, human judgment plays a role.”

        Absolutely! Indeed, in the end, human judgement is the *only* factor at work. Nobody ever proves anything in science. Hypotheses can sometimes be rejected outright if falsifying information is discovered — although that’s not a common development, because the characterization of information as “falsifying” is itself rather subjective.

        But the acceptance of a hypothesis is NEVER accomplished in a single stroke. Instead, the evidence slowly accumulates, and each scientist exercises highly subjective judgement on the mass of evidence. Some of that evidence supports the hypothesis; some undermines it. Each scientist weighs those factors and sets their own degree of confidence in the hypothesis. Nobody ever declares a hypothesis to be proven or unassailable — you can get to 99% confidence, or 99.99% confidence, but there’s always that tiny chance that something truly weird will pop up.

        “The way out of this mess is to ask if one’s standards of judgment are consistent?”

        No — the determination of consistency is itself fraught with subjectivity. There’s a much better way to deal with the uncertainties arising from the intrinsic subjectivity of the matter. You put together an institution consisting of only eminent scientists, people who have proven their merit through decades of solid scientific work. You make membership in this institution by invitation only, and you make it a great honor to be invited to join. You then charge this commission with the task of providing absolutely reliable judgements regarding scientific issues. You given them as much time as they need to render a decision, plenty of money to facilitate their deliberations, and the freedom to declare “We can’t decide” if they so choose. The only absolute requirement you place upon them is that they never give you bad advice.

        Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? In fact, it was implemented 140 years ago. An act of Congress created the National Academy of Sciences to perform this function. In 140 years of providing official advice to Congress, the NAS has issued hundreds of reports and not one report has ever been shown to have been incorrect. Not one. They have a perfect track record.

        And what do they say about climate change? This:

        http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Advancing-Science-Climate-Change/12782

      • 2010/06/11 at 15:05

        Erasmussimo – you have described the buildup of what somebody before me has called a “scientific paradigm”. This has its positive (eg efficiency of discovery) and its negative (eg closed-mindedness) sides.

        I do not actually mind that at the moment a specific “climate paradigm” is winning on the scientific front. What I am very unimpressed about, is when “defending the paradigm” is interpreted as “defending the paradigm at all costs, even if science becomes the victim of such a behavior”.

        Personally, I have the impression that mainstream climate science would look much more robust if its proponents would openly and sincerely talk about its limitations, rather than permanently live with the wagons fully circled.

      • 2010/06/11 at 15:11

        BTW…the “way out of this mess” is to cautiously move forward where the mainstream is pointing, while keeping an open, 360-degree visual on the situation. Mainstream may be very right, right, mostly right, just right, a tad wrong, mostly wrong, wrong or very wrong. Given what is at stake, all people with a scientific mindset should be prepared to accept each one of those possibilities happening tomorrow. And to isolate the “Defenders of the Faith”.

      • 2010/06/11 at 15:21

        Erm, the term “paradigm” as applied to scientific thought was introduced by Thomas Kuhn in the early 1960s in his work, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. He wasn’t concerned with the normal type of scientific progress (the slow, steady accumulation of evidence). He was concerned with the big revolutions that completely upended everything, such as quantum mechanics. He used “paradigm” to mean “an entire scientific world-view”. We have three levels of generality in describing scientific explanations. At the lowest level is the hypothesis: a single idea explaining some observations. One level up from that is a theory, which is a larger collection of ideas that, taken as a whole, explain a broad range of observations. At the highest level is the paradigm, which constitutes an entire way of thinking about an area of science. Examples: The greenhouse effect is a hypothesis; climate change science is now broad enough to be called a theory; and classical mechanics is a paradigm.

        ” What I am very unimpressed about, is when “defending the paradigm” is interpreted as “defending the paradigm at all costs, even if science becomes the victim of such a behavior”.”

        That may be a problem with activists, but it’s important to clearly separate the activists from the scientists. They are most certainly NOT defending the theory at all costs. Yes, there may be individuals who push the edges — that’s why you have to look at the results of the whole community. The community has expressed itself in the IPCC reports. Read those reports — they’re full of disagreements and uncertainties about the details. But they show strong agreement on the basics, and they clearly identify those ideas that they are confident about. Or read the literature — the scientific papers bristle with disagreements. But again, the disagreements are about details. The fundamentals have been established so firmly that we don’t see any serious arguments about them in the scientific literature. Read what the NAS has to say about it — they clearly identify the controversies as well as the noncontroversial conclusions. Read RealClimate — their discussions are full of disagreements.

        The suggestion that the scientific community has circled the wagons and is distorting the science is just plain wrong. A few individuals have gotten upset on occasion, but if you look to the community as a whole, you just don’t see any broad failure of scientific integrity.

      • 2010/06/11 at 16:48

        “BTW…the “way out of this mess” is to cautiously move forward where the mainstream is pointing”

        I agree completely. Skepticism is necessary. But skepticism is a two-sided sword: we need to apply just as much skepticism to the claims of deniers as we do to the claims of the supporters. And when we apply such skepticism… well, the deniers come out looking pretty sorry.

        And yes, we should ignore the “defenders of the faith” — but we should also ignore the “attackers of the faith”. Unless you’re a climatologist, you just have to accept the best scientific judgement — which is well stated in the NAS reports.

  5. 2010/06/10 at 15:09

    @Erasmussimo:

    Hold on, Lichanos!

    You said that rejecting the IPCC report was a rejection of science and rationality. I responded that claims by the IPCC are disputed by scientists, decent prima facie evidence to the contary. After all, how much time do we have..? I don’t see how this constitutes an “appeal to authority,” and if you do, I have to conclude our exchange. There’s no point – you’re just trying to score debating points.

    My simple point is that contrary to the claims of the IPCC and its backers, the science is not “settled,” the supporting evidence is subject to much legitimate contention, the conclusions based on it are, therefore, not settled and so on…

    Definitive refutation of the IPCC claims is not possible, primarily because it is so hard to tell what they are claiming. Examining statements in support of the “consensus” issued by various professional bodies shows that I would support many of them! Why? Because what they claim is so vague. The refuation that goes on is at the level of the nitty-gritty detail of the evidence, but that is often ignored, in favor of the over-arching “convergence” of “multiple lines of evidence.”

    • 2010/06/10 at 15:40

      “contrary to the claims of the IPCC and its backers, the science is not “settled,” the supporting evidence is subject to much legitimate contention.”

      This is not true. The major conclusions of the IPCC are firmly established. Your characterization of the objections that have arisen in the denialist community as “legitimate” is without merit. If you think that there are legitimate objections to the major conclusions of IPCC AR4 WG1, then present them.

      You can quibble about what “settled” means, but the IPCC is quite clear in declaring that their major conclusions are reliable enough to justify policy action. If you disagree with that, then present the reason for your disagreement. I have repeatedly asked you to do so and you have failed to provide any logical basis for your rejection of the major conclusions of IPCC AR4 WG1. I believe this is because you don’t have any logical basis for your rejection. But if I’m wrong, please present that logical basis.

      “Definitive refutation of the IPCC claims is not possible, primarily because it is so hard to tell what they are claiming.”

      Then perhaps you should read IPCC AR4 WG1 to learn what it is they are claiming. It’s a free download; you can find the whole thing here:

      http://www.ipcc-wg1.unibe.ch/publications/wg1-ar4/wg1-ar4.html

      Here are some of their major conclusions:

      “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years (see Figure SPM.1). The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR, leading to very high confidence7 that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “At continental, regional and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Palaeoclimatic information supports the inter- pretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 m of sea level rise.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.12 This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Analysis of climate models together with constraints from observations enables an assessed likely range to be given for climate sensitivity for the first time and provides increased confidence in the understanding of the climate system response to radiative forcing. ”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “There is now higher confidence in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation and some aspects of extremes and of ice.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      “Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the time scales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilised.”

      Is this in any way unclear? Do you have any objection to this conclusion?If so, please present it.

      These are the major conclusions presented in the Executive Summary. What is so difficult to understand about them? What is objectionable about them?

      • 2010/06/10 at 23:01

        We are down to science made out of “confidence” statements, aren’t we…well, how to disagree, it’s their informed opinion and they are entitled to it. Why, if I presented a scientific paper with a 10% chance of being wrong, it won’t get published…

        You were asking for a criticism of AR4-WGI. Here’s an example: the magic of extracting, for a topic about which there is “low” to “very low to understanding”, a remarkable sentence: “The best estimate is +0.12 W m-2 (90% confidence interval: +0.06 to +0.30 W m-2)

        (look! It’s leaving 10% out, again!)

      • 2010/06/11 at 04:39

        I think you misunderstand what is meant by “confidence” in this context. The various statements you refer to are all completely consistent.

        IPCC says “we think that the best estimate is +0.12 W m-2”. How confident are they in that estimate? They decide that they have little confidence in the proxy data that contributed to it. So they attach error bars to the estimate by saying that “the confidence interval is +0.06 to +0.30 W m-2”

        In other words, the statement:

        “We have low confidence in our estimated value of 0.12 W m-2”

        is saying much the same thing as the statement:

        “The confidence interval for our estimate is +0.06 to +0.30 W m-2”

        The two statements are not at all contradictory; they are two different ways of saying the same thing.

        Now, there’s one more point to keep in mind: they can then attach a confidence to the entire statement (estimate plus confidence range). In effect, they’re declaring their confidence in the confidence range itself. That is, they can say:

        “We are very confident that the best estimate is +0.12 W m-2 with a 90% confidence interval of: +0.06 to +0.30 W m-2”

        and that makes perfect sense.

      • 2010/06/11 at 13:40

        Too bad it’s all about stuff we have little understanding of..

        Anyway…care to explain why a 90% confidence interval would be scientifically valid +and+ useful? What was wrong with the 95% interval 😎

      • 2010/06/11 at 15:08

        “care to explain why a 90% confidence interval would be scientifically valid +and+ useful? What was wrong with the 95% interval ”

        There’s nothing magic about a 95% confidence interval; you can use any confidence interval you want: 50%, 99%, whatever. In general, a larger confidence interval is preferable, but, depending upon the kurtosis of the distribution, a 95% confidence interval could be more misleading than a 90% confidence interval — and the numbers they give certainly suggest a high kurtosis.

  6. 2010/06/09 at 23:28

    Ergo, your rejection of that document’s conclusions constitutes a rejection of logic…

    It would be nice if science proceeded along the lines of purely deductive syllogisms, but it does not. It is inductive and deductive. This is especially true of ‘climate science,’ which is not a discipline sui generis but an applied science that draws on many scientific realms.

    What would you regard as a refutation of a claim in the IPCC report? How would you recognize it?

    I don’t feel the need or desire to “refute” the IPCC. I simply feel that their case is weak. I recognize the plausibility of their view, but I feel it’s not well supported. For better or worse, human judgment of evidence is a factor in science as well as in courtrooms. I am not alone in being underwhelmed by the evidence. Practically every claim the IPCC makes is under dispute by other scientists. Take a look at this research paper by a professor of law, who brings a ‘layman’s’ eye to it, not to assess the truth or falsity of scientific hypotheses, but simply to assess whether they are contested or not:

    http://www.probeinternational.org/UPennCross.pdf

    The plain fact is that every claim the IPCC makes is disputed by many scientists, so, the jury is not in.

    • 2010/06/10 at 00:40

      I heartily agree with you that “proof” is a concept alien to science, and that ultimately the determination of the viability of any hypothesis involves a great deal of judgement.

      But falsification is the acid test of any hypothesis, and if you cannot offer any means of falsification, then you are not offering a scientific argument against it. In effect, you are folding your arms and saying “I don’t know why it’s wrong, but I know it’s wrong.”

      And if you want to maintain that you have every right to your own opinion, I will support you in that claim. But if you also claim that your opinion is based on a rational analysis, then you would not be telling the truth.

      “Practically every claim the IPCC makes is under dispute by other scientists.”

      That is not true if by “scientists” you mean “active researchers in the field of climatology”. It *is* true if by “scientists” you mean “housewives, insurance salesmen, dentists, and others”.

      • 2010/06/10 at 13:46

        It *is* true if by “scientists” you mean “housewives, insurance salesmen, dentists, and others”.

        This is typical. By your logic, …if by “scientists” you mean “active researchers in the field of climatology”… a physicist has no standing in this debate, despite misgivings about modeling of the global fluid dynamics; an expert in statistics and numerical computation has no standing despite qualms about data ‘massaging’; a glaciologist’s critiques are irrelevant despite misgivings about IPCC data on recession of icesheets; a scholar of medieval agricultural history is not germane despite insights about the Medieval Warming. Quite possibly, the work of such critics would be in fields unrelated to ‘climatology’ and you would dismiss their contributions to the debate. This happens quite a lot.

        Credentials are the last thing to examine – first attend to arguments. I went to a talk by Alan Robock, a ‘climatologist’ from Rutgers. He responded to a question about scientific challenges to his view by attacking the credentials of the scientists noted. This one is a meterologist, that one is a hurricane expert, “Lindzen lies to you.” Hardly convincing. Laymen are not to be regarded with contempt – a thinking person can detect bad logic as well as a Ph.D. in climatology, perhaps better.

      • 2010/06/10 at 14:31

        Hold on, Lichanos: *YOU’RE* the one who started up the appeal to authority with this statement:

        “Practically every claim the IPCC makes is under dispute by other scientists.”

        Now you’ve reversed course and said that:

        “Credentials are the last thing to examine – first attend to arguments.”

        OK, I’m happy to attend to arguments. I have asked you to present arguments refuting any of the major conclusions of IPCC AR4 WG1. You haven’t presented any such arguments. You’re just running around in circles. Make up your mind. What is the foundation of your case: authority or reasoning? Once you’ve answered that question, then follow through with either a defense of the authorities you cite or an argument that refutes any of the major conclusions of IPCC AR4 WG1.

  7. 2010/06/09 at 01:48

    @Erasmussimo:

    The About page does not present any statement of your position; it states only what you do NOT believe…

    Over and over I hear this from proponents of AGW. The list of scientific propositions I accept as proven – theory of relativity, natural selection, Krebs cycle, plate tectonics… – is long. Stating what one does not believe regarding a specific controversy IS a statement of position. It means, “I don’t think this hyptothesis proven; the proposition doesn’t belong in the pile with the ones I accept. Period.” Science doesn’t require one to make professions of belief as if we are taking a loyalty test!

    The amazing thing about the climate debate is that if all the “deniers” turn out to be right, the world will not end! The planets will still move around the sun. Science will move forward. AGW is in NO way a critical hypothesis. Refusing to accept it because it seems unfounded has NO consequences for one’s scientific work in other fields. There should be no intellectual pressure to accept it, other than that exerted by the evidence.

    The key is to realize that all of the problems that Al Gore is so shrill about are here now with us today – floods, heat waves, famine, rising sea levels, droughts, cold spells, and all of the apocalyptic catalog are occurring as I write this.

    As a civil engineer who is sometimes engaged in discussions of mitigation of climate change effects on infrastructure, I must whole-heartedly applaud this sentence! People are all worried about rising sea levels destroying cities, and meanwhile, they are doing zip to upgrade, maintain, or build the infrastructure they need NOW to withstand the predictable extreme weather events that we suffer now and then! Not to mention malaria, sanitation, TB, etc. etc…

    • 2010/06/09 at 14:08

      “Stating what one does not believe regarding a specific controversy IS a statement of position.”

      Actually, the About page does not present anywhere near a clearcut statement regarding AGW. It states only that the author does not believe in various parties. As to AGW itself, it says little other than to quote a statement from another party.

      “Science doesn’t require one to make professions of belief as if we are taking a loyalty test!”

      Of course. But an “About” page that is pointed to as a statement of position should present a position, don’t you think?

      “The amazing thing about the climate debate is that if all the “deniers” turn out to be right, the world will not end!”

      Of course not. Even humanity will continue. But our civilization will face extremely high costs. A nuclear exchange in the Middle East will not cause the world to end, nor will it bring an end to humanity, but that doesn’t mean that we should give it little regard.

      • 2010/06/09 at 15:12

        Actually, the About page does not present anywhere near a clearcut statement regarding AGW…

        Why is this important or necessary? Clearly, the author of the blog does not accept the AGW view as proven, or even very strongly supported. What more need be said?

        Of course not. Even humanity will continue.

        You’ve missed or ignored my point completely.

      • 2010/06/09 at 15:41

        “Why is this important or necessary? Clearly, the author of the blog does not accept the AGW view as proven, or even very strongly supported. What more need be said?”

        The author has been, shall we say, extremely coy in this matter. While you and I both recognize the same general gist, my attempts to clarify matters have been met with the suggestion that I consult the “about” page.

        “You’ve missed or ignored my point completely.”

        Then perhaps you might clarify it for me?

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:26

        The “about” page starts with a declaration about my intention to steer clear of “beliefs”. It would be rather illogical for me to state any “belief” thereafter.

        Climate science is not a sporting event, or a war where one is “forced” to choose a side.

      • 2010/06/09 at 16:04

        Even humanity will continue…

        My point was that rejection of the AGW view, or simply remaining very dubious, does not in any way entail rejection of logic, rationality, the scientific method, or the basis of modern scientific knowledge. Often, the argument is made that “deniers” are doing just that. Saying that the pro-AGW argument is “just basic physics,” is one example of this.

      • 2010/06/09 at 22:35

        “…rejection of the AGW view… does not in any way entail rejection of logic, rationality, the scientific method…”

        Actually, it does. The science is all laid out quite clearly in great technical detail in IPCC AR4 WG1. If you can rationally refute any of the major claims in that document, then you have a case. But you can’t. Ergo, your rejection of that document’s conclusions constitutes a rejection of logic, rationality, and the scientific method.

      • 2010/06/09 at 22:51

        Erasmussimo – are you sure about the logic of your argument? What would you call a book that cannot be refuted in any way or shape? I’d call it a miracle, or a collection of inanities.

      • 2010/06/09 at 22:59

        If you’ve got a refutation, let’s hear it! If you don’t have a refutation, then why speculate about whether it’s refutable?

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:24

        If it is irrefutable, it is not science. If it is science, it will eventually be refuted.

        Anyway, the authors of the AR4 were not idiots, and as shown here and here a wise choice of words will guarantee the text as arguably “correct” whatever science will discover in the future….a bit like the meteorologist declaring it will be sunny, with some possibility of rain tomorrow.

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:42

        “If it is irrefutable, it is not science. If it is science, it will eventually be refuted.”

        There’s a huge difference between something that is irrefutable and something that has not been refuted. You have made it clear that you can offer no refutation of the basic conclusions of the IPCC AR4 WG1. If you can’t offer any refutation, then why do you reject it?

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:52

        “Reject the IPCC AR4 WG1”? It’s next to impossible since it contains everything apart from projections of fast-falling temperatures 😎

        What one might argue about is why some things are emphasized and others are “hidden” between the lines (that is, they are there but you need to know where they are to appreciate their presence fully). For example there’s lots about having tens of thousands of observations “compatible” with a warming world, but only the most sharp-eyed readers will be aware that the overwhelming majority of those come from Europe and Europe alone, leaving huge question marks about the “global” in “global warming”.

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:44

        “The “about” page starts with a declaration about my intention to steer clear of “beliefs””

        OK, so the “about” page doesn’t say anything “about” climatology. Fair enough.

      • 2010/06/10 at 00:48

        Now it’s you playing with words. The “About” page lists plenty of questions I have about climate science (and policy). I am just very curious about how things will evolve.

        It’s just too bad I do not have the firm certitudes of yours…feel free to call me a “questionalist” 😎

      • 2010/06/10 at 04:01

        “For example there’s lots about having tens of thousands of observations “compatible” with a warming world, but only the most sharp-eyed readers will be aware that the overwhelming majority of those come from Europe and Europe alone, leaving huge question marks about the “global” in “global warming”.”

        I believe your statement to be incorrect. Could you please supply me with the chapter, page, and paragraph where “tens of thousands” of observations from “Europe and Europe alone” are referenced?

      • 2010/06/10 at 06:13

        here and here (where one can also see how much the style of this blog has changed over the years…)

      • 2010/06/10 at 13:45

        Your first link is to a post pointing out a problem in IPCC AR4 WG2. That document is not the definitive document on the science behind climate change. IPCC AR4 WG1 is the definitive document on the science behind climate change. WG2 concerns itself with the likely environmental impacts of climate change, while WG1 presents the scientific reasoning behind climate change. I have never place much confidence in WG2 because it is necessarily more speculative than WG1. Moreover, WG1 and WG2 were produced by completely different groups of scientists — there was only a very small overlap. Thus, you can trash WG2 as much as you want without in any way accomplishing what I asked of you:

        “You have made it clear that you can offer no refutation of the basic conclusions of the IPCC AR4 WG1.”

        My statement remains unchallenged.

    • 2010/06/10 at 13:46

      Oh, and your second link points back to here; looks like a typo.

      • 2010/06/10 at 13:50

        Oops

        Will fix it tonight

      • 2010/06/14 at 22:15

        Second link fixed!

  8. 2010/06/07 at 22:47

    Erasmussimo – you have posted a lengthy comment on the About page. Could you please summarize how your new text supports the above statement about me “seem[ing] to take a completely denialist stance”?

    • 2010/06/07 at 23:38

      In that post of mine, I was responding to the original post, not attempting to substantiate the earlier claim. However, I can readily provide evidence from that post in support of my claim that you take a denialist stance:

      1. The post states that “The real question is, how much it will warm the earth.” That question has already been answered — with uncertainty — by IPCC AR4 WG1. Yes, there remain plenty of issues to discuss, but the fact that anthropogenic CO2 emissions will lead to damaging changes in climate is no longer in doubt among informed people. Only denialists treat the matter as questionable. You treat the matter as questionable.

      2. The post states that “To date, I have not seen any “useful quantitative results” regarding that question […] …” There have been many useful quantitative analyses of issues relating to climate change. Only denialists claim not to have seen such results. You claim not to have seen such results.

      3. The post states, “is a warmer earth better or worse on balance?” The analyses that have been done indicate that, while there will be some improvements in some situations, the overall effect will definitely be injurious to humanity. Only denialists question these results. You question these results.

      That’s just from a single post of yours. It wouldn’t be difficult to come up with more. But these should be sufficient to support my claim.

      • 2010/06/07 at 23:48

        Amazingly, “denialism” has now become synonimous with “pointing out the uncertainty already declared by the IPCC” and “not taking as Final Truth the analyses that have been published about future events that haven’t possibly happened as yet”.

        The pharmaceutical companies behind the Swine Flu scare would be proud of you.

      • 2010/06/08 at 00:09

        Ah, then, since you embrace the IPCC conclusions regarding the range of likely temperatures, then we have no disagreement on that matter.

  9. 2010/06/07 at 14:40

    Just wondering…is the “hijacking” of the debate to which you refer really mainly in the USA? This dosn’t go on elswhere? Is the USA, once again, exceptional?

    • 2010/06/08 at 22:03

      lichanos – for quite some time I wondered why would the climate debate be so apparently nasty and a magnet for all sorts of loud-mouthed self-promoters hell-bent on demonizing the opposition (and yes, there’s plenty of them among believers and non-believers).

      Then I remembered about Whitewater, mccarthyism, William Jennings Bryan and Grover Cleveland’s son. And I wondered no more.

      Simply, that’s been the mechanism of American politics for quite some time, and has now spilled to the whole world thanks to climate change.

      • 2010/06/09 at 01:31

        Simply, that’s been the mechanism of American politics for quite some time…

        Only in America?

  10. 2010/06/07 at 00:45

    I *did* read Mr. Macilwan’s column prior to commenting on your post. It seems to me that you’re placing too much emphasis on that column. I do not share its belief that scientists have in some way failed to communicate to the public. It would seem that all of this is a meaningless dispute, hinging on unsupported assumptions regarding the state of the body politic. Yes, there’s a determined group of denialists, some of them financially supported by various energy industries, that is promulgating a great many lies. Yes, there are some people who actually believe their nonsense. But the governments of the world are slowly coming around to addressing the issue of climate change. The obstacles to change have little to do with any genuine doubts about climate change, at least not in the developed world.

  11. 2010/06/06 at 16:04

    Some observations”

    “Unless and until the “Nature” editors will find the courage the publish correspondence such as the below… the most we can expect from the somewhat prestigious journal is incomplete columns”

    Why will a lack of courage lead to incomplete columns?

    “Scientists that build for themselves a name as scientists, often misunderstand it as a free pass to provide the world with the “Given Truth”.”

    As opposed, say, to bloggers?

    “…making do without grandstanding claims about impending dooms;”

    Whatever in the world are you talking about? Certainly none of the serious talk in the climate change community comes remotely close to such nonsense. Perhaps you are referring to wild-eyed blogs instead of the actual political proposals that are being worked on in the US Congress and discussed in Copenhagen.

    “There are many out there like me, politically active, environmentally conscious, scientifically trained, ferociously on the side of Reason in the tradition of Carl Sagan and James Randi and on this basis aware of the potential dangers of climate change, unconvinced about the reality of upcoming catastrophes and worried about the future of society and of civil liberties.”

    This very much surprises me, as you seem to take a completely denialist stance. Perhaps I have misread you. Is your actual position close to that of the IPCC and the NAS?

    “…outside of the usual echo-chambers of close-minded, mantra-repeating, conformist half-thinkers… But as long as the prevailing attitude among climate scientists and especially activists-researchers will involve lèse majesté and ad-hominems against “deniers” ”

    ad-hominems against those you disagree with followed by complaints about ad-hominems against yourself?

    ” there will be nobody, least of all “real people”, for them to talk to.”

    I don’t know how you define “real people”, but most of the reasonable people I talk to are listening to what the climatologists are saying. The people who reject the climatologists appear to be a vociferous minority.

    • 2010/06/06 at 23:09

      Erasmussimo

      > Why will a lack of courage lead to incomplete columns?

      “will” is an understatement. It has already. Read Macilwain’s column as an example of plenty of lamentation but little proposition.

      > As opposed, say, to bloggers?

      Read Macilwain’s column. It is addressed to scientists, as a column in “Nature” should be expected.

      > remotely close to such nonsense

      Glad to see that we agree claims of impending dooms are nonsense…

      > you seem to take a completely denialist stance

      Rather than counterpoint such a statement with shots in the dark, I’d find it nice to hear from you where, exactly, I “take a completely denialist stance”. Feel free to make use of anything I have ever written this side of 2003 (the year I have started blogging)

      (likewise for my “ad-hominems”)

      > I don’t know how you define “real people”

      Read Macilwain’s column to get the context of that. Would you find it helpful if I put a disclaimer asking people to read what I link to in the text of my blog posts, before commenting?

      • 2010/06/07 at 03:36

        To answer your challenge that:

        “I’d find it nice to hear from you where, exactly, I “take a completely denialist stance”. Feel free to make use of anything I have ever written this side of 2003 (the year I have started blogging)”

        First, I want to make sure that you’re not going to play any games with the word “completely” in the phrase “completely denialist”. If you merely wish to declare that your arguments are not COMPLETELY denialist — but instead are only PARTIALLY denialist — then I’m happy to accept that as a statement of your position on the matter. If, however, you wish to claim that your position is NOT AT ALL denialist, then I can readily provide lots of quotes to demonstrate the falsehood of that claim.

        Would it be asking too much to get a clear statement as to whether your position here is a) completely denialist; b) partially denialist; or c) not at all denialist? Past history gives me cause to doubt that you will provide a clear statement on even so simple a question.

      • 2010/06/07 at 06:34

        A clearer statement than the About page? Let me guess…you haven’t read that one either…

      • 2010/06/07 at 14:52

        You write:

        “A clearer statement than the About page?”

        The About page does not present any statement of your position; it states only what you do NOT believe. It presents a long quote but neither endorses nor rejects that quote. Past history leads me to believe that, should I address that quote directly, you will merely disavow it as not actually reflecting your own position.

        “Let me guess…you haven’t read that one either…”

        I suggest that you hone your reading skills. Please note this statement of mine from 00:45:57 on 7/06/10:

        “I *did* read Mr. Macilwan’s column prior to commenting on your post. “

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