Ugh. I’m going to stop you right there.

Please tell me you’re not about to use the climate movement’s favorite argumentum ad emotionem. (You weren’t, were you?) Because if that’s what passes for reasoning in your universe, then listen… very… carefully. I’m about to save you some time and embarrassment.

You see, unlike you, I’m a skeptic.

Supposing—as you were about to wish, before I interrupted you—that ‘97% of doctors thought [I] had cancer,’ the first thing I’d ask is why: why did they think that way? (I’m sure you’d jump straight to “How long do we have left? What if we’re right, and we don’t act? What if we’re wrong, and we do?” But then, you couldn’t ratiocinate your way out of a wet paper bag, could you?)

If they replied, “because 97% of doctors think so,” and I asked why, and they said “because 97% of doctors agree,” “because 97% of papers written by doctors who expressed an opinion either way didn’t disagree,” and so on and so forth to the point of nausea, cachexia and hair loss, do you know what I’d conclude? I’d conclude—with some confidence, I might add—that it was Western medicine that was terminally ill, not me.

Meanwhile, in the actual universe, the one the rest of us cohabit, good news: the diseased misosophy preached by Naomi Turtles-All-The-Way-Down Oreskes and her idiot epigones has yet to metastasize to any field that matters. Climatology might be riddled with putrid cysts of consensualist psephomancy by now—anything resembling honest inquiry may have been displaced by tumors for all I know—but that’s OK: it’s not as if anybody needed a science of 30-year running average temperature anomalies (or whatever the definition is this week), did they? Happily, all the useful sciences are safe. It’s three hundred years and counting since anyone in physics, chemistry or biology tried to pass off majority opinion as an argument. And thanks to something called the scientific method —google it; it’s a sort of epistemological immune system—they probably never will.

Then again, never say never, as they say. If I were ever in the business of saying never, I would have bet real money against a bimbonic waste of carbon like Oreskes ever managing to claw her way out of the abortion bucket (as we used to call it on the playground), let alone insinuating herself into a chair at Harvard. My point is, anything’s possible if it gets Satan hard.

So by all means, do let us know when diagnostic oncology descends to the level of climate consensuology. Just so that we can, you know, start making funeral arrangements for the Western mind.

Until then, spare us your anencephalic “thoughts.”

UPDATE Below the line, Richard Drake eloquently gouges a whole nother hole in the cancer-diagnosis thought experiment, or lack-of-thought experiment, so beloved by the more vulgar type of climate dysangelist. So here’s my challenge to our little community: can you name the other 47 problems with the onco-analogy? Post your solutions below! ◼︎

This message was brought to you by CliScep’s exciting new ‘Don’t Blog Angry’ category, a kind of confused homage to the epistolary genius of Rich “Hatred Is My Muse” Matarese, M.D.


  1. The onco- or medical analogy has long been crying out for examination. With the earth we only have one planet and really have no idea if our emissions are deadly or benign until afterwards, when we realise it was the latter! The oncologist told my Dad he had three months (lung cancer with secondaries in the brain) and he checked out three days later, on his first morning in hospital. I rather respected the old man for that! But from such experience, myriads of times over, we get the best science there is, imperfections always showing. With climate there’s no such track record, not even clear failures. Nothing. Goodbye.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I got to 10 before the narcolepsy (perhaps triggered by very recent and excessive page turning of a big dictionary) struck:

    Would you take advice from a cabal of doctors whose core prognoses have been refuted time and again?

    Would you be happy with doctors who say observational data are less important than computer models when it comes to deciding your fate?

    Would you like to have extremely mild, or indeed nothing out of the ordinary, symptoms and be put on to a life-threatening expensive, and extremely unpleasant course of treatment just because your doctor feared things yet to be seen?

    Would you be happy with doctors who prescribe the same drastic interventions regardless of your symptoms?

    Would you like to deal with medical practitioners who value impact on journalists and politicians as more important than honesty and truthfulness?

    Would you be likely to go along with dangerous and damaging treatments promoted by dogmatic doctors from a branch of medicine known to attract few highly talented people?

    Would you like to be treated by doctors who, when in the same position as you, decline to apply the recommended treatment to themselves?

    Would you be happy to rely on a medical practice where loathing and contempt for humanity is a key feature of some leading supporters?

    Would you hold in high esteem a bunch of medical practitioners unashamedly feeding off, and encouraging, a frenzy of scaremongering in the wider world?

    Would you incline to be wary of doctors known to resort to underhand methods when faced with criticisms of their methods by other, often more highly qualified, experts?

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Masterful.

    For that, you deserve a free hint regarding the remainder.

    You (and Richard) appear to have been overly generous in accepting certain premises that aren’t stated, let alone defended, let alone proven by the person purveying the fallacy. This seems to have resulted in missing the opportunity to raise more primitive/fundamental objections.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Catatonial stupor disturbed by fast response. Might manage a few more words. Are you hinting that scientists who qualify their professional role with the prefix ‘climate’ are like doctors who do the same with ‘witch’? Zzzzzzzzzz

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I got schooled on this once by proxy. Some strine-talker was laying into a climate bogan elsewhere about the epistemic difference between medical diagnosis and science.

    As I now tell my friends as if I came up with it: the onco-analogy fails because it’s not describing Science. Rather it’s describing the *application* of knowledge in the manner of an art, skill or techné. Rather like chick-sexing (*cough* my own example *cough*)

    Other examples of such kraftwerk I’ve seen include the opinions of the expert-bridge-designer-person, the aircraft mechanic, also I think I saw a climate scientist somewhere chatting about getting an opinion on whether it was safe for his 5 year old child to cross the road.

    If I understood correctly, this is fundamentally different to Science. Science being the process of adding to the body of human knowledge about the natural world.

    So cancer research is scientific. Cancer diagnosis is not.

    Therefore when someone says 97% of medics / bridge-persons / mechanics / lollipop ladies are telling you one thing, they’re not offering a scientific argument and the analogy with climate science fails for basic epistemic reasons.

    Someone school me on this further if I’m wrong or wrong-in-part. For a non-scientist the whole idea takes some serious getting used to. It’s all so superficially plausible and fudge-y.

    Part of my confusion I think is that presumably there still remains *social* value to the analogy. Which presumably then brings us to the point that the whole consensus study was flawed nonsense in any case (a la Duarte).

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I cannot sleep. I cannot rest amidst all this brightness and light. I see the great Jo Nova was on to the witchcraft thing back in 2010: .

    And here is an example of further deployment by someone else I just came across thanks to Mr Google:

    Obama also tried the logical analogy tactic. He spoke about the need to defer to expert consensus, as we do in so many other domains:

    “I’m not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me tobacco can cause lung cancer, then I’ll say, ‘OK.’ It’s not that hard,” he said.

    Sounds okay, but here’s where the problem lies I think. We hear often that 97% of climate scientists agree on anthropomorphic climate change, and that it’s absurd to discount such expert consensus. But I’m pretty convinced that when deniers hear “climate scientist”, they don’t think “high-status expert”. They think “witch doctor”. It doesn’t register as “reputable elite” in the same way as do experts in other academic fields, and certainly not like the president’s hypothetical team of pulmonary oncologists above. In short, climate scientists have a major branding problem.

    Which kinda ties in with the ‘achingly dumb’ averral in Richard’s post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In 2008: two pictures of witch doctors, one of whom looks quite like Al Gore.

    Fast forward a couple of hundred years and today we no longer use the term Witchdoctors, but rather Spindoctors ie. James Hansen, Stephen Schneider etc. The “throwing of the bones” has been replaced by fancy computer models. But like the throwing of the bones, computer models are a very inaccurate way of predicting climate. So instead of running up the mountain to look at the cloud cover, the modern climate scientist looks at climate trends in the charts. If the trend is down we’re heading for a catastrophic ice-age. If the trend is up we’re heading for catastrophic global warming. Dr Stephen Schneider is well known for using this method of climate prediction. And just as was the case in tribal times where the tribe was blamed for annoying the weather gods, so today we are also blamed for climate change.

    ‘My point is, anything’s possible if it gets Satan hard.’ – See above, almost max scroll.

    See this thaumaturgical stuff. It gets to you in the end. I need some darkness ….

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This is one of the many false analogies that climate activists like Nursey use to mislead the public. On the one hand you have zillions of recorded medical cases from the past. On the other, you have one planet and some circular reasoning built into computer models leading to speculation about what might happen many years in the future. It’s mind-boggling that any scientist would attempt to make such an analogy.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Impressed I am.

    good point. That’s why HMO plans always cover 100 doctors. So patients can get a nice round percentage.

    I really envy your mind, for being capable of bogglement even after all the atrocities we’ve witnessed against Reason.

    I’ve been called facile, and suspected of blogging in my PJs, but that’s a first. Thanks dude.

    I’m afraid you’re right-in-full. The argument from consensus is, in fact, legal in all sorts of domains, from sexing chicks to adjudicating Miss Universe…. but not in science. Never in science.

    If the fanaticism of this distinction is still a bit counterintuitive to you, let me try to explain why science is special, and must never behave like a non-science. Let’s conduct a thought experiment of our own:

    Suppose scientists (real ones, not climate scientists) relaxed their policy of utter disregard for consensus one day. Suppose they conceded that an expert opinion survey was a kindasorta form of evidence after all—i.e. that you could tell something about how nature works by knowing the percentage of your colleagues who vote for or against a given hypothesis.

    It might not be proof positive (you say to yourself), but surely it’s a reasonable indicator. Right? I mean, my colleagues are SCIENTISTS, so they’d never believe something just because everyone else did. They have to form their views on the basis of evidence, and evidence alone—that’s how we were trained, back in Science School—so if they’re overwhelmingly convinced of hypothesis X, that’s evidence enough for me. I’ve got no choice but to jump on board the X-train myself.

    “Count me in,” you say. “Make that 98 percent!”

    See what I did there? Taken to its logical extension, we quickly arrive at the coma of reason, which produces monsters as Goya put it. Switch off the respirator; science has now fallen to the level of climatology. It’s a vegetable. Put it out of its misery.

    Make sense?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The primary dictum in medicine evolved from the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” Oftentimes it cannot be applied literally, because treatment decisions must be balanced by weighing benefits versus risks or consequences. But how can a doctor make treatment decisions without the proper diagnosis? In modern day medicine, scientific expertise has progressed to the point wherein an incorrect diagnosis (plus its corresponding inappropriate treatment) that leads to unnecessary morbidity can be punishable in civil court under malpractice; i.e., a doctor who screws up can be sued.
    It is obvious to most skeptics that the medical-oncologic analogy to CAGW diagnosis and treatment decisions puts the latter to shame. The AGW diagnosis is ‘uncertain’, morbidity associated with AGW disease is ‘uncertain’, and the proposed treatment options are dubious and may be associated with significant morbidity. Furthermore, there are no standards to hold responsible for ‘unintended’ consequences those in authority who dictate the AGW diagnosis and prescribe the treatments. Since no standards of malpractice in this realm have been established, herein lies the importance of the AGW consensus: To provide cover for any subsequent claims of malpractice against AGW proponents; i.e., if the alarmists screw up, they don’t want to be held responsible.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. When looking at the 97% consensus arguments – or the perceived expertise of doctors could I suggest that there are two quite different perspectives that can be taken?

    First there is the perspective of an individual who has little or no knowledge of the subject area, and has little interest in learning more.
    Second is the totality of all current knowledge, understanding and opinion in that subject area.

    Climate alarmists appear to assume that the current totality of knowledge on climatology is tantamount to being a priori true, so it is merely a case of getting the message across. This mostly consists of shutting down opponents, along with reassuring the believers with bogus opinion polls.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks Maester Keyes.

    *I* of course understand, due to my immense brainpower which is not in question.

    But let’s say for the sake of thought-feud that a hypothetical humanities graduate reads your comment and thinks: “OK, je comprends! It’s an intellectual one-shot-kill! Real scientists must steer clear of consensus-science and focus on evidence alone.”

    But then (our hypothetical and good-looking hero thinks): what of non-scientists? Isn’t there value in a *scientific consensus*, properly researched and communicated as a social proof?

    Here’s where I – sorry, the hypothetic…oh forget it…here’s where I struggle: I get that consensus has no place in science, but does a ‘scientific consensus’ have a place outside science?

    And do we end up where warmists argue strongly for the latter, and sceptics counter with the former?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. tbtaaim,

    Very insightful. (Your ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t get my point is a rare and precious gift. Never lose that.)

    “And do we end up where warmists argue strongly for the latter, and sceptics counter with the former?”

    That may be precisely the impasse that so often constipates us.

    But of course our studly young B.A.(Youth Stud.) is wrong.

    There is only one way to understand the mind of nature. The intrascientific way.

    If the extrascientific way worked, scientists themselves (whose job it is to understand nature) would take it.

    They don’t, because the shortcut doesn’t get you anywhere but Delusionsville.

    If the shortcut doesn’t work for scientists, why on earth do non-scientists expect it to work for them?

    You CAN’T figure out the workings of nature by consensuology. We tried that for 400,000 years. It got us nowhere. Any “knowledge” we gained thereby was self-fooling, Rumsfeld-category-3 pseudoknowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Incidentally, with one word deleted, the answer to your question would have been ‘yes’:

    does a ‘scientific consensus’ have a place outside science?

    Yes. I believe I said so upthread.

    However—and this is a big ‘however’—when you’re operating ‘outside science’ you can’t answer scientific questions. (Strictly, I should call them natural questions.) The questions scientists answer are off-limits to you. You can’t discover anything about *nature* ‘outside science.’

    You can be a perfectly good lexicographer (for instance) ‘outside science.’ In fact the question “what does such and such a word mean?” is the archetypal case of a non-scientific question. It’s not about nature, it’s about human convention; majority opinion; consensus.

    If the overwhelming majority of people think a given word means a given thing, then they’re correct ipso facto (because of what the word ‘mean‘ means).

    But nature, on the other hand, doesn’t give an anus about what people think.

    Which is why questions about (say) the future state of the Earth’s atmosphere can ONLY be solved inside science, scientifically, by scientists, using the scientific method.

    The conceit that the median muggle can somehow gain insight into the planet’s atmosphere by reading a John Cook opinion survey, when even The World’s Top Scientists can’t do so, is magical thinking. It’s vertiginously confused. Even if Cook were a competent, honest scholar his consensus research wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on. It couldn’t possibly tell you anything about nature.

    What I want to know is, am I doing a good job of explaining why?

    Can you think of a better approach to disabusing our hypothetical hero/dupe of his misconception?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. tbtaaim,

    Might I suggest that you read Michael Crichton’s Caltech Michelin Lecture from 2003. It gives one of the most lucid arguments for why consensus has no place in science, and it includes a host of historical examples. Here is a tidbit quote:
    “I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”

    Don’t be misled by the title of the article: ‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’, but if he had written it today, perhaps he might have said ‘Artificial Intelligence Causes Global Warming’.

    Click to access Crichton2003.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

  16. In two sentences:

    Rule Zero of Science Club is, never use opinion as a form of evidence.

    Rule One of Science Club is, anyone who breaks Rule Zero has to be fired from her chair as Professor of the History of Science before Harvard students wise up and initiate a class action to recover their hefty tuition fees.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Brad – I’m indebted to you for taking the time with this. DaveL – appreciated.

    I feel undeserving – can I kick off with an “urgh” too?

    What chafes me most is how much thinking I have to do to follow the reasoning. Why doesn’t my intellect grasp it naturally? The line is obviously clearly drawn but it weirdly feels like it isn’t.

    Anyway I think I’m mostly there: consensus argument when you’re talking about *questions of the natural world* is a fundamental fail. Consensus can’t answer questions about the natural world, which can only be done inside science, scientifically, and with science-aforethought.

    Armed with this, then, you wouldn’t even need the multiple take-downs of the onco-analogy listed by John above, however boner-inducing it would be to hurl them. You destroy the source, cut the consensus-house off in its infancy and prevent it from ever ascending to the science throne, following the precedent of Clegane v Rhaenys & Aegon.

    *dons punching-bag suit.*

    Let’s say though that there’s a group of specialists working to answer a question about the natural world.

    Consensus can’t answer that question. But would a properly conducted survey of those specialists’ opinions on that question assist in helping plebs understand where the *balance of current thinking* on that question falls?

    Can we give them that?

    *braces self*

    Anyway what cheers me most is how much thinking I need to do to follow the reasoning.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. ‘But would a properly conducted survey of those specialists’ opinions on that question assist in helping plebs understand where the *balance of current thinking* on that question falls?’

    Of course.

    But why would anyone want to understand that?

    It’s meaningless. It’s not information. It’s not evidence. You can’t do squat with it. It tells you nothing about nature.

    As a consequence of how and where science happens (on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance), everybody in every field is always going to have working or “pet” hypotheses at any given time. The direction in which these happen to point, however, is not a better-than-chance function of the truth. So a snapshot of current opinion is worthless data.

    (Let me qualify that. It might be a good proxy for funding, as Jo Nova wittily observes—but it’s not a proxy for nature. At all.)

    Only evidence matters. Which is why frauds like Oreskes, Lewandowsky and their son John would dearly like you to believe *current thinking* is a form thereof, or a substitute therefor, or interchangeable therewith.

    It’s not.

    It’s just a bunch of electrical activity inside a bunch of skulls.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Let me put it another way.

    Have you ever wondered: if information about “scientific consensus” (majority opinion among scientists) really does have utility as a guide to natural truth, as The Consensus Project tacitly suggests, then how come nobody in the history of science ever thought to measure the distribution of opinions in a field until Oreskes reared her distractingly-sexy head in 2004?

    Weren’t they missing a trick? Wouldn’t such an approach have simplified countless scientific riddles over the last 300 years?

    So why the heck is climate science the first and only field ever to make use of such an ingenious time-saver?

    Are climate scientists just smarter than everyone else? [Pause for laughter]

    Or—on the other hand—do you think there might be a good reason why nobody else in their right mind ever does things this way?

    [Tell me how I’m doing here, KBO. If I can’t make this clear to you, I’ve got Buckley’s of getting it across to the masses.]

    Liked by 1 person

  20. “But why would anyone want to understand that?

    Eureka, Hmm That’s Interesting, and other scientipiphany phrases. I think I get it now. I just didn’t follow my example to its conclusion, which you’ve done for me.

    In non-science-related areas there’s value in knowing what experts think.

    On questions of the natural world there just isn’t. Even if I might feel like there is, based on everyday non-sciency deference to expert opinion.

    Disabuse, purify, serially-exonerate myself of this feeling when thinking about questions to do with the natural world.

    That’s a terribly difficult argument to get across, presentationally speaking. I think I’m there [am I there?] but you can see the difficulties for people like me who have no background understanding of what science is. You’re asking said benighted degenerates to accept that the ‘informed interpretation of experts’ is fundamentally worthless.

    Not just that the Cook study was poorly prepared and imbecilicly implemented. The whole thing was fundamentally .

    Feels risky – but must be right.

    Are you then saying that if you don’t have time or inclination to look at the evidence on the topic of this foul and pestilent congregation of vapours, take *no position*?

    I’ve got to say thanks again though, it’s all such a bleedin’ h’education.

    [I’m not sure I am who you think I am – I KBO with the best of them, in the Churchillian sense, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am the embodiment of KBO]

    Liked by 1 person

  21. TBTAIM,

    you’re doing great. And your responses are invaluably useful to me. You have, indeed, got there, but you don’t seem quite as satisfied with being ‘there’ as I’d like you to be.

    In other words, I think you get it, but you find it more bizarre than it really is.

    Which means I still have a bit of work to do, ‘presentationally’ as you put it.

    You ask pointedly,

    ‘Are you then saying that if you don’t have time or inclination to look at the evidence on the topic of this foul and pestilent congregation of vapours, take *no position*?’

    Bingo, and that’s the rule to live by in rē any active scientific controversy at all. It’s not climate-debate-specific.

    Though of course the climate debate is *unique* in a number of ways, including the fact that people have been taught that they *have* to take a position on a debate they’re hopelessly unequipped to adjudicate.

    It follows that, in the population, *most* believers and *most* deniers have arrived at their position invalidly, for all intents and purposes by guessing. Even those who are right, in *most* cases, couldn’t give a valid account of why they’re right.

    You seem to have omitted a word:

    “The whole thing was fundamentally .”

    I would have accepted dishonest, malicious, cryptodemagogic pseudoscience, scientifically abortive, scientifically meaningless, academically unjustifiable, unscience, etc.

    It tells us nothing about nature (hence ‘scientifically meaningless’), yet the mere fact that somebody carried it out in the first place, and even got it published in a science journal, and that they keep on excreting this genre of papers on an annual basis, can’t help but lead any reasonable non-scientist to assume there *must* be some scientific value to it, right? Otherwise how would it even get past the grant-application stage?

    (Isn’t this what you assumed, and isn’t this one of the reasons you assumed it?)

    That’s the wickedly fraudulent bit: the implicature that it’s the most normal thing in the world for scientists/science historians to triage papers for and against a hypothesis and then count up the piles and express the ratio of their heights as a consensus percentage.

    And yet it’s nothing of the sort. NOBODY DOES THIS. Oreskes was the FIRST CONPERSON IN THE WORLD with the audacity to disinter the putrid cadaver of Consensus and prop it up like Weekend At Bernie’s and pretend it has a place in Science.

    It doesn’t.

    Oreskes is a psychopathic charlatan and a saboteuse of the very engine of human knowledge. She’s inimica humani generis. She’s the reason we need a Climate Nuremberg Hague.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Sorry for misnaming you, by the way—you’re doing such a first-rate impression of a good friend of mine called KBO, aka RO, that I honestly forgot I wasn’t talking to him.


  23. Who would agree to receive medical treatment from any Doctor that was a member of The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change?

    I would personally be alarmed at the prospect of being treated by a “global warming” doctor. Such doctors need to spend more time in the surgery and less time chatting with their mates on the golf course.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Damn straight Michael. There are a (very) few genuinely stupid MDs running around, somehow slipping through the cracks of the multiple oversight bodies that are meant to protect the public from them. Any doctor who believes climate change is a health-care priority presumably graduated from one of the last universities to get the memo about Evidence Based Medicine [EBM]—which is now a core component of the curriculum everywhere, thank God.

    On the other hand they could simply be feigning that level of stupidity to make a quick buck. Even the best med schools can’t screen for sociopathy, and I doubt they would if they could 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Anyway, @Brad @TBTAIM (? enlighten me)

    “You’re asking said benighted degenerates to accept that the ‘informed interpretation of experts’ is fundamentally worthless.”

    No. Opinion is not “fundamentally worthless”. It is however not “Evidence” in any scientific sense.

    Hopefully not digressing too much, and at the risk of making it more complicated, Newton did not “discover” gravity, there were “opinions”, “speculations”, of body attractions, inverse R2 relationships (Hook I think?). Newton’s contribution was to elevate these “speculations” to something measurable, reproducable and therefore “Known”.

    So, having established the difference between “opinion” and science. You can not make things “Known” by a mere show of hands at the IPCC, Royal Society, or even more egregious by counting paper abstracts, one way or the other.

    Example. Get all the NASA scientists in a room, by show of hands, get them to vote on “life on mars” yes/no. “Life solar system” yes/no. They will all have an opinion, they are all very qualified, in the sciences, even the most qualified- but I think everyone will accept, THAT IS NOT THE SAME AS “KNOWING”.

    That’s my rant, opinion is not “worthless”, opinion can be interesting, just don’t confuse it as anything to do with science. Science is about doing the work to actually “Know” things. It’s hard to “Know” things, you can’t get round it by getting your mates to vote.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Rant well taken.

    ‘Opinion cannot act as information about the natural world,’ ‘opinion tells us nothing about the natural world,’ ‘opinion is not a form of evidence about the natural world,’ or words to that effect, were abbreviated to ‘opinion is worthless’ in my comments to TBTAAIM. I hope the abbreviation didn’t cause undue confusion.

    Be careful not to confuse “know that” with “be certain that,” by the way. Knowledge is simply justified true belief; it doesn’t require adamancy, and it’s allowed to be probabilistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. “your responses are invaluably useful to me”

    Well that’s at least reassuring to know! I am of course trying to understand a concept explained by someone to whom it’s obviously bleedin’ obvious. Publicly.

    “I think you get it, but you find it more bizarre than it really is.”

    I was struggling with the point about opinions being wholly ‘worthless data’. KBO spotted the issue and the clarification-rant was immeasurably helpful i.e. a positive acknowledgement that scientific opinions can be interesting and can prompt investigation. OK it’s obvious – once said. My thanks to KBO for the delivery.

    I’m hoping I’m at least asking what some other people are thinking. I seem to recall Jose Duarte thought that scientific consensus was a convenient heuristic by which n00bz could comprehend complex scientific questions.

    Speaking of which, isn’t it the case that in an area of complex / near-chaotic mechanisms, myriads of measurements, calculations and convoluted statistics there quite simply *isn’t* a way of putting forward ‘the evidence’ succinctly and understandably without channelling it through some mouthpiece or other, the output of which is necessarily an *interpretation*? How often do we ever get to the actual evidence?

    “(Isn’t this what you assumed, and isn’t this one of the reasons you assumed it?)”

    Yes absolutely. It’s a bit of an awakening – it’s not just that the journal/reviewers failed to check the methodology and reporting of results and let loose on the world a badly constructed and invalid study. Even if the study had been properly conducted, the failure was in thinking that it could possibly add anything of value in the first place.

    Here’s a question then: why aren’t more people, particularly scientists, yelling this from the rooftops?

    Why are people instead setting about serengeti-ing the methodology, the reporting, the fact that ‘the consensus is really 66/11,000’ or ‘scientific consensii have previously been wrong’. Why does the NASA climate site go large on consensus? ( Why am I in a small corner of the internet getting schooled on this?

    “people have been taught that they *have* to take a position on a debate they’re hopelessly unequipped to adjudicate.”

    Thank you for putting this so clearly. There’s a bewildering level of social pressure to get on board with one side or the other and it’s a topic you can lose friends over (so I’ve heard from people who have friends). It’s deeply concerning, not only for people whose concern is the scientific method but also for people whose concern is people.

    As for the evidence, the quality of information is so bad that there’s simply no way of knowing what’s actually going on. One group of firmamentologists pops up to say that with this set of adjustments to that set of butterfly wing-flap measurements you can say with absolute certainty within this or that confidence range…Another group insta-counters that that’s nonsense – etc.

    Thanks again, I’m massively appreciative of this exchange.

    Have we hit peak agreement? I’ll tidy up a final couple of points:


    It’s ‘Tbtaaim’ – it stands for the second-half of a wonderful rhyming couplet from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that begins “If we shadows have offended…” It sprung to mind so I typed it into the box, then I got bored of typing and shortened it to first letters. It’s not that good.

    “I would have accepted dishonest, malicious, cryptodemagogic pseudoscience, scientifically abortive, scientifically meaningless, academically unjustifiable, unscience, etc.”

    None of those were the alliterative mot-juste that my internal moderator censored!

    Seriously though?…” unscience“? Now you’re just making words up.


    “yif that any wight wene a thing to ben other weyes thanne it is, it is nat only unscience, but it is deceivable opinioun ful diverse and fer fro the sothe of science.” – Chaucer.

    *fist pumps*

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Shakespeare and Chaucer in one comment – that must be a first for a climate blog!
    Anyway, I’m glad that the TBTAAIM mystery has been solved. It was bugging me.


  29. Thinkmeister! Butman! This-Dog!

    I remember you. How long has it been bro?

    “I was struggling with the point about opinions being wholly ‘worthless data’.”

    Well, at the risk of reversing your hard-won gains in epistemological literacy, they *are* worthless data, notwithstanding the excellent points KBO has made.

    (Please note that, by his own acknowledgement, KBO was in something of a rant-ish mood—so he quite understandably used a couple of terms imprecisely, including “know” and “[that’s not] science.” He wasn’t being imprecise enough to pose much of a danger of confusing anyone, I don’t think. And relative to climate-debate standards, KBO’s fevered ravings are a model of rigorous and meticulous technical prose. But you know what I’m saying, I trust.)

    Opinions prompt investigations, of course; that’s obvious. Why would a scientist direct her research in a direction that wasn’t promising, in her personal opinion?

    *However,* an investigation is a *quest* for data, isn’t it? Needless to say, whatever opinions prompted it in the first place don’t count thereas!

    There wouldn’t be much point *doing the research* if scientific papers were allowed to be opinion papers. If you were allowed to pass off opinion as information/data/evidence (and you’re not; only Naomi Oreskes is allowed to do that) then you could skip the Methods and Observations section altogether and jump straight to Conclusions. Which, if nothing else, would be a heck of a lot more eco-friendly than the bloated, arboricidal reporting conventions of today’s scientific profession—rules that haven’t been meaningfully updated for three centuries! Reform is overdue!

    “I seem to recall Jose Duarte thought that scientific consensus was a convenient heuristic by which n00bz could comprehend complex scientific questions.”

    Yep, you remember correctly. I’ve always assumed Joe’s misconception was a side-effect of his “soft” science background. It’s out of character for him to get something 180 degrees wrong, but even a ticking clock runs out of batteries every couple of years.

    “How often do we ever get to the actual evidence?”

    Even if this were a real concern w.r.t. public science in general (and I can explain why it’s not), climate science is the LAST field where it ought to be a problem. They’ve had 25 years of uncontested airtime to bore us with the evidence. We’d all be experts in it by now. The average schoolchild would have an honorary doctorate in Legitimate Climate Reputability by now. But instead, for some odd reason on which I leave it as an exercise to the reader to speculate, they chose to bore us with pseudoevidentiary factoids about the percentage of cats that prefer Whiskas.

    “Even if the study had been properly conducted, the failure was in thinking that it could possibly add anything of value in the first place.”

    I’m morally sure they knew better. No working scientist could possibly fall into such an error innocently. (By the way, you’ve phrased the error in question perfectly.)

    Let’s acknowledge the 900lb gorilla: these pieces of pseudoscholarly shit exist for their demagogic utility.

    “Here’s a question then: why aren’t more people, particularly scientists, yelling this from the rooftops?”

    You’ve put your finger on the painful question, but I fear it will take a sort of Climate Nuremberg Hague to get answers once and for all.

    The explanations I’ve come up with are:

    1. There are only 3 or 4 people in the world with a science degree AND a philosophy degree majoring in epistemology. I’m one of them, and I’m increasingly aware that it’s lonely work to have the confidence and the passion to call the Oreskeists out for vandalising the rules of knowledge itself. (In my experience, philosophers with no science background either don’t understand what’s at stake here, or don’t know how to explain why we’re on the side of science and Oreskes isn’t.)

    2. People are largely selfish cowards, and standing up for science doesn’t pay well (to put it mildly).

    3. The Sokal divide works both ways. Muggles can’t think like scientists, but scientists can’t think like muggles either. What’s worse, they think they can. Everyone thinks everyone else thinks the way they think. It’s a pandemic of false, i.e. self-deluding, empathy.

    The end result is that scientists simply assume that someone like you would view Oreskes’ “research” with the same disinterest and contempt they do. And it’s hardly the only worthless-yet-harmless scholarship on the market, is it? If they were to get upset about every wasted research dollar they’d be miserable.

    It simply doesn’t occur to scientists that anyone, let alone the vast majority of the population, could be unscientific enough to fall for the consensus/evidence switcheroo.

    I’d like to think that if they grasped the disinformative sway consensus “research” holds over the general public, all decent scientists would be as pissed off about the whole diseased genre as I am.

    4. Oreskes is no slouch. She’s good at doing evil. She had the rat cunning to publish her first “paper” as an Essay, whatever that means—an unreviewed, unreviewable one-page narrative in the general-interest section of Science. She knew that any attempt to publish it as a work of academic research would’ve been futile, because it didn’t even come close to the standards of any known field of scholarship. Futile… and unnecessary. The benighted masses can’t distinguish between her 2004 piece of creative writing and a peer-reviewed paper, can they? (Gore knew exactly what he was doing when he gave it prominent mention in AIT. And he knew exactly how to phrase it for maximum confusion. “A Professor at UCSD reported… in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Science… science science science… not one disagreed!… peer-reviewed!”)

    And that was the thin edge of the wedge. Since 2004 it’s become a cottage industry, with every consensus paper including some confected excuse for its existence. (“We wish we didn’t have to write this, but since unspecified deniers keep denying it somewhere or other, we have an obligation to fight public confusion on this issue” seems to be a favorite justification.) And every time a “skeptic” like Tol makes the mistake of responding in kind, their rebuttals play right into the consensualists’ leprous claws. They legitimize the existence of papers that should never have been funded at all, let alone written, let alone published, let alone read.

    And, to be clear, the publishers can’t be ignorant of any of this. They should be ashamed of themselves. But I doubt they are.

    I’m going to add the same disclaimer as KBO—this has been a rant, or rather a stream-of-consciousness attempt to clear up some of your (excellent!) questions while various demands on my attention make it impossible to do so with as much care as I’d like. I’ll probably edit this answer—one of the perqs of being a moderator—once I’ve had a chance to reread it and come face to face with my own bad [word] choices, unless you think that would be confusing. (I’d be equally happy to put the inevitable self-corrections in a separate comment if you prefer.)

    I can’t thank or congratulate you enough for persisting with this, TBT. Please don’t let me off the hook until you’re satisfied.


  30. To expand on this:
    “How often do we ever get to the actual evidence?”

    My policy is not to believe ANY important hypothesis without evidence.

    And the evidence for science’s Big Ideas isn’t hard to come by, or shouldn’t be.

    You’ve taken antibiotics, and they presumably helped. That’s evidence for germ theory. You’re reading this on a modern computer, which uses transistors instead of glass tubes. That’s evidence for quantum mechanics. You’ve used sat nav. That’s evidence for relativity.

    I suspect it might be harder to complete this sentence:

    You’ve _________________________________. That’s evidence that global warming is real, man-made and dangerous.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Paul, despite the bad name they’ve earned for themselves in the climate context, I don’t think the results of computer model runs are worthless necessarily. (Not that I’m saying you’re saying they are! Just saying… Noam saying?)

    If empirical, natural-world data is fed in as the initial state, and the software operates on that data to derive a predicted state at t=1, and assuming the operations are realistic (an assumption that abjectly fails in the case of climate models, of course), then hasn’t the computer done useful work? If we grant that the original data already had epistemic value, couldn’t it be said that the running of the model had added further value, and that it’d be reasonable to use the final product as evidence for or against some idea about the natural world?


  32. Hey, I run computer models for a living! Yes they are useful and you learn stuff. But they can’t be used to prove GW is going to be “dangerous” in 50-100 years time.

    The latest Curry post is very relevant here:
    “When it comes to climate change, however, the procedure by which experts assess the accuracy of models projecting potentially ruinous outcomes for the planet and society is surprisingly informal.”
    (that’s Oppenheimer, not Curry).

    Liked by 2 people

  33. ‘I run computer models for a living!’

    I forgot that. But I know what you mean. Thanks, will check Judy’s post out


  34. Why hasn’t someone said “…got a Tweet from President Obama” by now?


  35. The debate about what constitutes ‘evidence’ in science is an interesting and far-ranging one, as is the usefulness and limitations of computer models which attempt to simulate the real world but can only ever really hope to generate a probabilistic quantitative outcome. If that’s all you have (barring a set of initial conditions – which are themselves often only a pale reflection of the real world) I don’t think you can water down the meaning of ‘evidence’ (more especially ‘key evidence’) to incorporate model output. Computers – and their attendant army of programmers and modelers – have a place in modern science, but there is a worrying tendency to presume that place is pre-eminent. Nowhere is that tendency more evident than in climate science.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. TBTAAIM,

    How did I miss this groundball?:

    ‘Why does the NASA climate site go large on consensus? (’

    That’s easy. NASA gets more federal money for climate research than space research. The once-noble agency has sold out. Hocked its box. Negotiated its virtue. Prostituted itself. Whored its vagina to the single wealthiest john on the planet, the US government. Turned a trick.

    (‘Trick’ is a perfectly innocent word scientists and prostitutes use when they mean ‘a clever way of solving a problem, like how to hide a decline.’)


  37. Haha thanks Brad (B-Rad! Keyester!) – cheers for the warm recognition.

    And thanks for the detail of your responses. Really interesting and deserving of much more consideration time than I have available to me just for the next day or so.

    In order to maintain my mad gainz and avoid going intellectually catabolic, I’ll send a fuller response as soon as I’m able. A couple of things did occur to me.

    For now though, cheers again!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. “I’ll send a fuller response as soon as I’m able”

    Please do. Don’t leave us hanging. I intend to do a post on the question of consensus: what is it good for (and the answer), but not until we reach peak mutual comprehension. Because if you and I can’t, then the rest of the species has zero hope.


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