An Illustrated Guide to Shonky Science


What Is “Science” by J C Carlton 

I just came across the above essay by J C Carlton on the corruption of science. It begins with a video clip of a media personality called Neil deGrasse Tyson in the States going on somewhat incoherently about a climate crisis he claims is upon us (‘we are exiting this … remarkably stable climate … all the coastal cities of the world will be underwater’). Carlton is not impressed:

‘Yet here we are with Tyson using his credentials on TV to give AGW the cloak of science that it hasn’t earned. The fact is that anybody who takes even the most tiny glimpse at the science starts to see the issues. If you approach AGW in a scientific manner, starting from what you know are strictly facts, the emissive spectrum of CO2, for instance, or the atmospheric constituents. Or the amount of ice in the Antarctic, you quickly find that what you see and what the AGW proponents say are at odds with each other. The facts on the ground don’t seem to follow the AGW hypothesis.

All of the so called “deniers” got themselves on deep crap for pointing this out one way or another. In all innocence, many people with specialties outside climatology would start asking questions. Aside from high level academics like Lindzen, Spencer and Curry, ordinary people with an interest in weather, physics or statistics started to ask questions. With Anthony Watts, it was weather station siting in the climate network. With Steve McIntyre it was looking at the statistics. Over and over people started looking at those facts on the ground and started to ask questions.

What was the response from the climate scientists at places like NASA GISS and Hadley CRU? Thanks to the Climategate email drop we know what it was. To circle the wagons, refuse to distribute the statistical data even under the force of law, label the people asking the questions “deniers,” as in science denier, a label that’s still being used and sic the media on the questioners, attempting to destroy their credibility. A close look at the climate gate emails shows that this was a pattern among the top climate scientists, such as Jones at Hadley CRU and Mann. A pattern that continues to this day.’

While I would not in a million years think of Jones and Mann as ‘top climate scientists’, and I take the position that some tendency to add warming is a trivial and banal thing to expect from our CO2 emissions. But I think the author may be using the term AGW as shorthand for the now less fashionable Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) – which is, after all, the conjecture that brought so much money, employment opportunities, and distortion into the once-tiny field of climatology.

Carlton goes on to write:

‘… the ever more strident screams and demands of the AGW crowd are getting noticed. When you make unfounded accusations and the repeat them over and over, slandering all and sundry, you lose what little credibility you have left.

That’s the problem with corrupting science by using it to drive an agenda. That’s especially true when you muddy the water with unfalsifiable claims and name calling. You don’t have a leg to stand on when you get caught out and so you don’t have any choice but to escalate the language. which is how you get the “death trains,” “working big oil” and “deniers should be prosecuted/oppressed/executed” language. The problem with the scientist as prophet scenario is that science is ultimately about discovery, not prediction. So when you treat science like a religion you are no longer dealing with discovery of what is, you are preaching what you want things to be. That’s not science, it’s using the appearance of science to legitimize your agenda.’

He, or she, looks at ‘agendas’ and ‘science’ , providing links and often video-clips on topics such as nuclear power, pesticides, golden rice, and lead paint and other health-related issues.  For example on neonicotinoid insecticides:

‘The recent debate over neonicotinoid insecticides is a perfect example of how the corrupt system works. “Scientists” from a NGO, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) decided to go on a pesticide hunt. Did the “scientists” at the IUCN conduct any studies or do any research before going on the hunt? Apparently not.  Instead they followed the tried and true method of making unfounded accusations and planted papers in the journals refereed by themselves while their associated activist NGO gins up a campaign against the “dangerous chemicals” which the media obligingly parrots and governments and industry caves under the pressure. Long term, the only people hurt are the people that have to deal with the bugs.’

I have not yet followed up all the links, nor watched all the videos. But I hope to do so with tomorrow morning’s coffee. It does look to be a very useful tour of shonky science.

Hat-tip: Sarah Hoyt

18 thoughts on “An Illustrated Guide to Shonky Science

  1. Well, I’ve got started. I watched the first two videos. Depressing thing to do. I commend this observation by Sowell to all who might follow my example and watch them, because they made me recall this quote from one his books:

    “By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way.”

    Thomas Sowell, ‘Intellectuals and Society’, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Intellectuals-Society-Sowell-Thomas/dp/0465025226

    I did take some notes, but doing so makes working through the essay so much harder and slower that I wonder if it is worthwhile. I feel a bit like a student in media studies having to do an essay on, say, the philosophical depths of Saul, from the tv drama ‘Breaking Bad’. Here are some highlights of his wisdom and style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH09RUA7b3Q . Watch it before watching the Nye clip and tell me if you see any similarities. Oh tempora, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John, on another thread you said:

    [Mills] thinks the same might happen in climate applications, with statistical methods displacing GCMs when it comes to prediction. Seems plausible to me!

    As far as I know, you have, as Sowell might say (from your quote) “neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine” climate and other statistical models. So what would Sowell think of your “expression of unsubstantiated opinions” and doing so “without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way”?

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  3. First-name chumminess again! I am beginning to suspect that you are actually a small group of trolls, given the variation in tone and style you present. But whatever, I guess I can now call you by your first-name, Riff.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. RAFF
    Mr Shade said something sounded plausible. That’s about as far from “the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and .. acting on those opinions and emotions” as it’s possible to get.
    By taking a quote by Mr Shade from some unidentified source and claiming that it is contradiction with something said by Dr Sowell and quoted with approval by Mr Shade, it seems to me that you are playing silly games. I can’t substantiate it, and call me uninformed if you like, but it sounds plausible.

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  5. RAFF: “In making the comment [1], Shade apparently had neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine climate and other statistical models.”

    And you think YOU do?

    Yeah, right.

    On yer bike, troll.

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  6. Weazle, of course not. But I don’t opine on the plausibility of academic papers about which I know nothing, unike Shade. Back to your burrow!

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  7. “Weazle, of course not”

    In other words, you don’t know one way or the other.

    So you’re just trolling.

    Thank you for admitting that.

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  8. Another day, another pot of coffee, and back to my task of working through the Carlton essay. I’m looking at all the videos first, to get them out of the way as I generally prefer the written word which I presume awaits me when I follow up most of the other links given in the essay. So, back to the videos. The first two were moderately dire, being just two media showmen plying their superficial trade. Not worth watching, but helping support the thrust of the essay if you do. I bring good news about the next two videos. The first is a bit of fun, with a solemn chap in a white coat explaining how the turbo-encabulator works, and looking for a few hundred millions of government money to take it further. Short enough and mildly am,using enough to be worth the detour, and it gives the author a chance to put in a dig about authority figures in lab coats. The second, though is a gem – well worth watching. It is the longest of the all the videos so far, because it stretches probably to 80 minutes or so, in 4 20-minute parts. I’m guessing a bit, because I haven’t had time to reach the 4th part yet, though I will tomorrow. It is an amateur video recording, with some erratic sound, of a talk by the ecologist Jim Steele to an IEEE local group in California. I am pleased to have his 2013 book ‘Landscapes & Cycles’ on my shelves, and so I was already familiar with his position on climate. The videos give you much insight into it very quickly – his basic position is that for the USA, landscape changes and natural climate cycles, most notably the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, appear to be far more important for climate variation in the 20th and 21st centuries than CO2. He notes with dismay the attempts by the CO2 obsessives such as Suzuki, Mann, and Trenberth to suppress scientific debate and quotes them all, to their distinct disgrace. Steele says he was originally a pusher of the global warming alarums, noting in what i think is a very important apercu ‘ I actually used to teach global warming. It was scary and made people stop and listen, and it was a way to teach how carbon cycles worked.’ . I suspect the attention-getting effect of scary stories has had an appreciable part to play in the astonishing spread of alarm over our CO2 emissions, and in the pursuit of associated political and financial gains. I am running out of time, and this comment is maybe too long already, so I will stop it here.

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  9. Neil DeGrasse Tyson says at around 20s

    “The evidence will show up. When they need more evidence more storms more ????, people beginning to lose their wealth. People if they begin to lose their wealth change their minds real fast.”

    Tyson seems to believe in the a priori truth of the climate models. During the El Nino warming of 1998 I remember the claims that this was a sign of human-caused warming. The heat wave of 2003 was held as a sign of more frequent heat waves to come. Hurricane Katrina was a sign of more violent and frequent hurricanes. The accelerating polar ice melt detected from 2003 to 2006 was the sign of accelerating sea level rises. Not one of these vague prophesies was right.
    Should we adopt a similar practice for new pharmaceuticals? If a consensus of leading scientists believes that there will be evidence found about the effectiveness of a new formulation, and do not believe it will harmful side effects, should it be approved for use?
    Should we adopt a similar practice in criminal law? If a consensus of leading police detectives believes that an accused is guilty should sentence be passed and wait for the evidence to emerge?

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  10. ManicBC, your analogies are very telling and to the point. Those who feel party to some received truth or other do seem to have no hesitation on imposing the consequences of their firm beliefs on others, even when it harms them. Given the CO2-is-a-crisis-a-speculation is but a mere speculation, and one which is implausible on historical grounds and implausible on modern observational grounds, we are clearly dealing with a situation of low moral and low intellectual integrity when we address the associated scaremongering.

    PS I like to imagine at least one person out there is sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for my promised reactions/reviews of the remaining videos in the essay linked to in the post. Be of good cheer, they will come, but I have been swamped by other tasks of late.

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  11. John, thanks for commenting on the videos, which is useful for those of us who can’t be bothered to watch them. I know of Jim Steele, though I haven’t read his book. I put him on my list of “converts“. He’s one of many (including myself) who are concerned about the environment and became sceptical about the climate change story.

    The next video is a classic of course, Feynman explaining the scientific method.

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  12. Going through the videos, JC Carlton shows that in climatolgy ordinary scientific method is turned on its head. From the Feynman video (40s in), with respect to a guess / hypothesis

    If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.

    He then makes the points about not mattering about how beautiful the guess, how smart the person making the guess, or what his name is, “if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

    After Bill Nye, the science guy, giving his opinions on nuclear energy you havethe Turbo Encabulator video. A “scientist” with a lot of impressive words, but spouting nonsense. Then Jim Steele’s presentation. He first uses Roy Spencer’s comparison of the model predictions against the temperature anomaly data from the weather balloons and the satellites. All models are over-predict the warming. Steele at 5mins has a cartoon from a lecture from Kevin Trenberth “COMMUNICATING CLIMATE SCIENCE AND THOUGHTS ON CLIMATEGATE“.
    The bubbles are

    “CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE PLANET”
    “HAH I KNEW IT”
    “CLIMATE CHANGE SCEPTICS LIKE YOU ARE”

    This same Kevin Trenberth has, what I consider to be the greatest quote of the Climategate email release in email to Michael Mann.

    The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. …… but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

    Feynman said if the hypothesis contradicts the experiment (or data) then the hypothesis is wrong. Trenberth says the opposite, hence my comment of yesterday about the a priori truth of the climate models. Steele then goes onto the implied threat in the cartoon. Conform to the scientific consensus, OR sacrifice your career and get your reputation trashed in understanding the real world.

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  13. Like Paul Matthews I recommend looking at the Feynman clip. For instance, he relates a conversation with a layman on UFOs. On the existence of UFOs, a phenomena which cannot be proven not to exist, Feynman eventually said to the layman

    I mean from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

    But at around 5.10 Feynman said something more relevent to the whole climate debate.

    You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you see that the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.

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  14. Good to see the reviews of Feynman’s video clip. I haven’t got there yet. Just sneaked away from something else I ought to have been doing to watch the last of Jim Steele’s 4 clips, each about 20 mins long. All worth watching. The last one is 19 minutes long, and is a beauty. He’s broadened out to look at ‘Penguins, Polar Bears, and Sea Ice’ and has lots to say on each. If you are also pushed for time, the first 5 minutes or so is good by itself as he demolishes a pseudo-science graph aimed at suggesting penguin numbers going down because temperature is going up. He looks at the penguins involved and finds the real reasons why their numbers declined during the span of this study. He looks at the temperature record for where the penguins lived, and finds that it show no increase in temperature. His style is relaxed, charming, and lively. He has lots of ideas, good visuals, and lots of data to discuss – typical of all 4 videos.

    At the end, he urges the audience that when they hear about climate change, then start by ‘thinking locally’. His 4 steps: 1. Think Locally! 2. Account for natural cycles 3. Account for landscape changes 4. Demand more debate.

    Later during the Q&A he remarks ‘If you try to debate on the internet, you just get called names and it really goes nowhere.’. He urges his audience, a local group of electronic and electrical engineers (members of the IEEE) to host more meetings, more debates.

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  15. Kevin, the latest exhibit of climate scientists doing science the wrong way round is the RSS satellite data. For years the data hasn’t agreed with theory. So of course what they are doing now, apparently, is adjusting the data to make it fit better with the theory.

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