What We Expect From Climate Scientists

Consensus blogger (and frequent visitor to this site) And Then There’s Physics has consecutive posts discussing the proper role of climate scientists in the Climate Conversation.

I (along with many regulars here) have been banned at commenting at ATTP, but I think the subject is interesting enough to respond here.

In Scientists are not salespeople, ATTP leaves most of the heavy lifting to Michael Tobis (AKA Dr.Doom, for his gloomy prognosis for our planet).

The central theme is captured here: Tobis writes, “In fact, it is A job (NOT the core one) of climate scientists to EXPLAIN what the science says. CONVINCING you was never part of the brief.”

In his post and later in the comments, ATTP is approving of Tobis’ assertion. But in a follow-up post published March 11, ATTP seeks to revise and extend, as it were.

He writes that scientists “have a role in informing the public and policy makers about their research. However, they are not responsible for whether or not what they present is accepted; they’re not salespeople trying to sell a product.

However, this does not mean that they’re absolved of all responsibility. I do think that scientists/researchers should (mostly) be obliged to speak out when they’re aware that our best understanding is being misrepresented publicly. This, however, does not mean that they should be responsible if the public remains unconvinced.”

That’s three ‘howevers’ in a very short block of writing. ATTP sadly seems oblivious that much of the best understanding that is being misrepresented publicly is emanating from the Consensus side of the fence. (Oh, skeptics and even lukewarmers are not perfect on this account, of course. But we don’t claim to be speaking for the mainstream…)

I broadly agree with those portions I lifted to show here. However, much of the first post and associated comments target journalists as the ones who should be tasked with convincing the public, something I take issue with as a former journalist.

In fact, I think climate scientists could learn something from Journalism 101, where budding reporters are taught that their job pretty explicitly does not include convincing anybody of anything–that they are there to present facts so that people can make up their own minds.

But before we even ask whose job it is to convince the public, shouldn’t we look at what the public thinks? Majorities in almost all developed countries do accept what climate scientists have said–that the Earth is warming, that humans are contributing and that one of the principal contributions is the volume of greenhouse gases we are emitting.

I don’t think either Tobis or ATTP will view that as a cause for celebration. That’s because despite their solid agreement with the main points of climate science, the public has not moved perceptibly towards accepting policy proposals that are mainly put forward by activists, most (but not all) of whom are very clearly not scientists.

Phrased somewhat differently, if the public accepts the science but not activist policy proposals, it becomes clear who should shoulder the burden of changing the public’s minds–politicians.

Politicians have tried–mostly without long-term success. President Obama (who I voted for twice and wish I could vote for again) moved ahead of the public on climate change, and I believe it cost him much-needed political capital. Sadly (IMO–and I know the opinions of most here differ) much of what he rammed through using executive powers will be quickly undone, precisely because the silver tongued President did not convince the public that drastic action was indicated by the science.

For his pains, President Obama was labeled a ‘climate change denier’ by climate activists, which just shows that whatever God there be has a sense of humor.

Were I to enter the political arena, I would start more modestly, at the risk of being labeled a denier or worse (Okay, I have already been labeled a denier–and worse). But I believe a political consensus could be built around Fast Mitigation policies, orienting infrastructure investment around public transportation and continued support for renewable energy and research and development, etc.

The problem with climate scientists and advocacy is not that they try it. It’s that they do a bad job of it and don’t realize they are operating in the political theater. Worse, they have let the activist community grab the microphone out of their hands and babble a-scientific nonsense that alienates those that need to be convinced.

Climate scientists would be better served (and so would the rest of the world) if instead of looking for the right group of people to carry the message they sought instead to shut up those on their side who are talking nonsense. (Instead, they have wasted their time trying to shut up their opponents–a tactic as foolish as it has been unsuccessful. At one level ATTP seems to understand this, hence his frequent appearances here. As Churchill said, ‘Jaw jaw is better than war war. But he comes to preach, not to listen, which negates much of the benefit both we and he could receive during his visits)

However, since that latter group does include some climate scientists, scientists have instead chosen to practice a mistaken solidarity, a solidarity that cheapens the perception of science as impartial and as objective as journalists forlornly wish they could be.

More’s the pity.

So, to circle back to the title of this blog, what should we expect from climate scientists? I would submit that performing research and publishing the results captures 95% of it. If they also silenced their own activists with half the enthusiasm they display in confronting their opponents, that would be about 4%. I think the other 1% could be reserved for politically advocating their own position–I don’t want to silence anybody, not even the activist community and certainly not scientists. But academics who venture into the world of policy and politics–that usually ends badly. And if they’re going to do it, they should study a bit…. and not study frauds like Naomi Oreskes. (When are they going to wise up about her? She’s doing for the history of science what Paul Ehrlich did for demography.)


53 thoughts on “What We Expect From Climate Scientists

  1. Have climate scientists managed to silence sceptics? If not why should they be any more successful with activists?

    BTW what’s the beef with Oreskes?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi William, I assume that activists might be more disposed to listen to the scientists on their own side. That assumption has not been tested…

    As for Oreskes, her first foray into the Climate Conversation was Beyond The Ivory Tower, and it was Beyond Bad. It was Beyond Beyonce. Worse, she counseled many activists and their organizations and advised using the strategy employed against Big Tobacco. Never debate, never admit error, slime at will. The end result of that being that Big Tobacco is selling more cigarettes than before the controversy. But since it’s to third world people, the activists can pretend it’s not happening.

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  3. Thomas, thanks for this post. I too am banned after months of being told I was not banned but being unable to comment. Perhaps another symptom of ATTL as coined by Alan on another thread.

    Indeed, the problem here is political. Skeptics have nothing to do with it. People are not too concerned about something that doesn’t become a problem for them until 2100. That’s just human nature.

    Scientists and activists do a lot of naval gazing and spend a lot of their precious life energy discussing this issue when the answer is obvious. Perhaps instead of wasting time, they could improve the science so more specific consequences could be predicted.

    But, this huge waste of life energy offers an immediate Pavlovian reward to those who adopt the ATTP or Michael Tobis attitude. They get lost of attention even if some of it is negative and they feel important. Actually improving science is a vastly more long term thing with no assurance of success and those with weak personalities might feel unimportant or irrelevant to the “huge” issues threatening mankind. :_)

    It’s all very simple really. Real progress or real change is a long term thing and requires real innovation and real science.

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  4. People reject the policy proposals because they are horrible. And people reject many of the scientists because people smell untruth and deception even when the words used are sciencey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The word “science” is really meaningless. In common parlance it just means “an academic and/or researcher who does some kind of physical measurement and/or is interested in the theory of things that can be measured”. A physicist has a meaning and they work to known standards. A chemist has a meaning and they know how things are proven in chemistry. But a “climate scientist” includes people with degrees in microbiology and “95% confidence” can be stated when there is no understanding and no confidence at all.

    We can say what we expect from climate researchers is research, we can say what we expect from climate academics is the best teaching of the best research. We can say what a “climate sceptic” is, because they are someone who requires evidential proof of assertions regarding the climate before accepting them.

    But a “climate scientist” – is just a term used in the media to try to assert some credibility to pretty low standard academic thought.

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  6. The remit of UK universities includes an element devoted to the transmission of knowledge to the public. All academics are assessed on research, teaching, administration and this knowledge transfer component. At UEA each School appointed a member of staff to promote this element. I sat on many promotion committees and rarely was knowledge transfer considered important in deciding promotion or salary increases. Some academics avoid doing anything along these lines. My contributions involved giving talks on climate change and peak oil to local communities, occasional talks and discussions at local schools and more specialist talks on my research to the local geological society,and other universities. Not very high powered perhaps, but it forged links between the university and the local communities.
    I firmly believe universities (and other research centres) have a responsibility to explain what they are doing, if only to 1) redress the common misapprehension that universities are only there to teach, and 2) to justify why public money is being spent on them. My opinion is that, despite the efforts of some individuals, many universities only pay lip-service to their role of knowledge transfer.

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  7. Stanley Fish (‘Save the World on Your Own Time’, OUP 2008) may have the right response:

    ‘What is the distinctive task college and university professors are trained and paid to perform?  What can they legitimately (as opposed to presumptuously) claim to be able to do?  My answer is that college and university professors can introduce students to bodies of material new to them and equip those same students with the appropriate (to the discipline) analytical and research skills. From this professional competence follow both obligations and prohibitions. The obligations are the usual pedagogical ones – setting up a course, preparing a syllabus, devising exams, assigning papers or experiments, giving feedback, holding office hours, etc. The prohibitions are that an instructor should do neither less nor more. Doing less would mean not showing up to class or showing up unprepared, not being alert to the newest approaches and models in the field, failing to give back papers or to comment on them in helpful ways, etc.  Doing more would be to take on tasks that belong properly to other agents – to preachers, political leaders, therapists, and gurus.’

    Coming back to climate science, here is a’geographical scientist’, giddy with positional power over his young students, going unhinged about climate to win their attention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIk1ggfi9c0 He finds it all ‘incredibly’ this and ‘incredibly’ that. Listen to his high speed, hectoring, strident tones and be dismayed. Polemical and unhinged in my view, but judge for yourself if he is taking on tasks more suited to ‘preachers, political leaders, therapists, and gurus.’

    He is one of the anointed, and he is carried away with that. He is not alone. But Thomas Sowell has their number: ‘Ego trips by coteries of self-exalting people are treated in the media as idealism, rather than the petty tyranny it is.’

    Is Valdes’ performance that of a would-be petty tyrant, seeking to scare his students to eat out of his hand, or that of a scholar looking to share strengths and weaknesses of his field? Is ATTP a petty sadist with his sneers and sophistries, just looking to be a roving smart-alec on other people’s blogs, or is he genuinely interested in the climate debate?

    Or how about this observation from Sowell: ‘Not since the days of the Hitler Youth have young people been subjected to more propaganda on more politically correct issues. At one time, educators boasted that their role was not to teach students what to think but how to think. Today, their role is far too often to teach students what to think on everything from immigration to global warming to the new sacred trinity of ‘race, class and gender.’

    Which takes me nicely to this quote about a university statistician which gives me another dose of dismay:

    ‘When Thomas Easley interviews people who want to teach statistics at North Carolina State University (NCSU), he poses a question most applicants probably aren’t expecting: How would you integrate diversity into your curriculum?’


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  8. John Shade. Off topic, but the last part of your post caused me to remember this.
    At an interview to become an undergraduate a candidate was being interviewed by an arrogant and somewhat bored academic who was rudely reading a newspaper. The first comment came from behind the pages “get my interest”. The resourceful candidate promptly got his lighter and set fire to the newspaper.


  9. The interesting thing about Rice, Brandon and Laden’s celebration of Schmidt’s Twitter torrent is that they make almost no mention of what Schmidt seems to be responding to. Ditto, Schmidt’s response to Adam’s begins with a demonstration of his bad faith: “You scientists can’t make me look beyond tired talking points & cliches!”, he paraphrases, and “But since I’m in the mood for a totally futile exercise, here’s why his points are disingenuous at best”. Moreover, Twitter is hardly a medium for a complex debate. Indeed, Schmidt himself refuses to debate face to face, as this un-exchange demonstrated. Schmidt cannot hide his contempt for people he disagrees with, much less engage with them thoughtfully. Which is odd, because the spirit of the academy ought to be that researchers can defend their theses against criticism — even robust criticism. Rice can only hand wave, believing that the imperative on researchers to debate — never mind bullshit about public engagement — is not at the heart of the Enlightenment, but reduces them to mere ‘salesmen’. Hence, it’s merely enough to bathe in the light of Schmidt’s intolerant rant, rather to take at face value a thoughtful discussion about why their words have failed to penetrate the obstacle of widespread indifference. Here’s a thought: maybe if they weren’t such pricks, their message might have more currency. But here’s another thought: maybe if they weren’t such pricks, they wouldn’t have sought to elevate themselves with the message.

    The exception to that is Mark Brandon. I met him once, and subsequently had a long interview with him. A while before meeting him, I had written a post replying to his response to Nigel Lawson’s criticism of David Attenborough’s statements on the decline of the polar bear. Brandon had made his own errors, and on flimsy science, and had been hostile and incautious in response to the more measured language of Lawson. When Brandon and I later spoke, we didn’t disagree about much. He agreed that he had made mistakes in his reply, and noted the alarmism of some in his field — you won’t struggle to guess who. It is odd, then, that he should turn his back on debate and discussion.

    What makes a nice guy act in the same way as notable interminable pricks from the same milieu, at the expense of his understanding of the debate he hopes to influence? I suggest it is a political and institutional culture which transmits these ‘values’ to their members. Rather than interrogating that new political culture, many researchers seem to have embraced it, not merely because it flatters them; interrogating it is beyond the scope of the science. Schmidt, for instance, doesn’t recognise the shortcomings of what he advocates in history, and so seems doomed to repeat it in ignorance. Advocating ‘science’ as he claims turns out to be far more complex that anyone involved in elevating it had anticipated, and ends up with researchers stumbling over themselves gracelessly, putting ever more distance between themselves and what made science a virtue in the first place — nullius in verba.

    What is to Be Done? I suggest climate science is a lost cause. Without alarm, it is a lost political cause. As a science, it holds little promise for organising society around its findings, even if we forget its failed predictions. That’s not to say it should be abandoned, but it should be left to sort out its excesses by itself, as it fades back into the dusty and forgotten corridors of geography departments. The bigger question is why politics began to expect so much from science.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. The climate band wagon suffers from the nature of its members. It’s essentially a flat structure, with lots of leaders and almost no hierarchical control. Essentially there is no boss. Because there’s no boss, there’s no overall plan. It’s almost funny that it’s taken till 2017 to ask who’s job it is to convince the unconvinced.

    The risible idea is that journalists have the responsibility. Would you say ‘it’s the journalists’ job to sell government policy to the public’ or ‘it’s their job to sell the newest Volvo’. They might do those things if they want to or they might do the opposite. Their job is to sell news and their opinion of it.

    So is it the politicians job to sell AGW? It’s an appealing idea but by and large politicians are as ignorant of the science and the solutions as an ordinary member of the public. It’s why ‘the scientists say’ is so popular even when they’ve no idea what the scientists DO say. How can they, when journals like the New Scientist has an article claiming more than 100% of the warming in the last 100 years is man made and attribute that view to the 97% consensus. You wouldn’t expect the CEO of a car company to be largely ignorant of how cars are made or how they work. Obama, for all his ability as a speaker and his obvious intelligence, was a dumb climate change boss. More significantly, you could end up with a CEO who wants to reverse all the plans of the previous incumbent… oh hang on, that’s exactly what has happened.

    So then you slide back down the political ladder to organisations like the Met Office or the EPA, where the scientists predominate and activism is rife. They tried that already. They want the authority but don’t want the responsibility, especially if they fail.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tiny:– “They tried that already. They want the authority but don’t want the responsibility, especially if they fail.”

    Key point, I think. And this is where lukewarmers are somewhat naive. Scientists weren’t ever really engaged to convince the public; they were elevated to legitimise the transformation to a more technocratic form of politics — one that seems to be nearing something like its denouement — away from democratic control. This invariably necessitates the problematisation of the most basic functions, to the extent that global political institutions engage scientists to proclaim that there is some equivalence between consuming sugar and smoking crack, requiring global, supragovernmental intervention, with no semblance of democratic oversight. The notion that people might be better served by being left to make decisions about how many sweets to eat (and perhaps even how much crack to smoke) doesn’t figure in the calculations — it is anathema to the politics of those institutions. And the same reckoning happens in climate policy-making processes, in which estimates of “impact” don’t consider that “adaptation” to slightly more or less rain/sunshine/wind doesn’t require a global policymaking institution, nor even academic institutions to “transmit” knowledge.


  12. I left out Mtobis…

    He says, “In fact, it is A job (NOT the core one) of climate scientists to EXPLAIN what the science says. CONVINCING you was never part of the brief.” and “Nobody is tasked professionally with CONVINCING you about climate science. I don’t know of any such roles in science, except in medicine.”

    This creates a problem for anyone who has used the analogy of climate scientist as doctor. It also raises the question, of why scientists should bother writing up their research if it is only himself that needs convincing.

    However, MTobis is wrong. The point of the academy is not to satisfy itself of its own sense of unimpeachable rightness. It is to produce convincing arguments about the nature of the world. Rice tries to clarify the position: “the role of scientists/researchers is to try and understand whatever system it is that they are studying.”

    In which case, we can say, “do it on your own coin”. The point of demanding that researchers participate with their critical peers and even their lessers is that it, as we can see, ‘science’ as a solipsistic enterprise cannot make any claim to have excluded subjective artefacts, or to have understood the world… We can say to the polar researcher, “sorry, Dr B, you haven’t understood the science of polar bear populations”, even without a science degree(!).

    What Tobis and Rice advocate is to science what masturbation is to sex. No doubt they are satisfied by typing their tweets, posts and journal articles with just one hand, but they produce are merely simulations of science, involving only their own fantasy, not the world. Rather than informing debate, this reduces science to a circle jerk — a nauseating analogy, I agree, but one that fits accurately the bizarre and unfounded intransigence on show. Perhaps we should just leave them to it.


  13. You’re right Ben, there is a strong movement towards using experts to overide democracy. ‘We asked these very clever people who concluded that you’re wrong, so we’ll ignore your opinion’ type of thing. Experts are flattered by this and are quite happy to be used in this way. What makes them less happy is when the politician blames them because the evidence or authority of the expert was rejected by the public. The expert often chooses to blame the political delivery of the evidence rather than the quality of the work.

    What’s more the public are aware of it and now give the output of scientists with a pinch of political salt.


  14. ATTP and Tobis are right though, scientists have been allowed to putter around in their own fields, largely unaccountable other than the proviso they get published and get grants. The people issuing the grants don’t seem to expect any particular usefulness or achievement level. To a certain extent, that’s not a terible way for science to operate. There needs to be room for discovery to happen but I think it’s out of control.

    Certain fields need to demonstrate more practical success. Climate and psychology would be two that particularly need to improve.


  15. Tom, I’d never heard of Beyond The Ivory Tower but on reading it, it doesn’t seem so bad. Not particularly interesting either. I can understand why Merchants of Doubt could make people defensive, but it is untrue?


  16. BenPile. I find that I am not fully in agreement with your last post, but will think more about why. Meantime, I will argue that one of your comments needs a slightly more nuanced consideration. You wrote “…the spirit of the academy ought to be that researchers can defend their theses against criticism — even robust criticism”. Any good scientist will argue that you can never be 100% sure that your thesis is correct. This puts a researcher into a potentially perilous position. A young researcher is likely to hide inadequacies and pretend a prima facie case can be established. An older and wiser researcher may recognize and perhaps even relish the fact that not everything is known, and would wish to debate, perhaps in the hope of finding answers.

    Climate scientists I have worked with or met are largely very confident they are right, and will debate (if they can be bothered) with this stance. I have only met a very few old and wise climate scientists, on both sides of the fence. Young turks are the worst (again on both sides). My subject – geology – used to be the topic of major argument, but has largely settled its major debates, except when it gets entangled in the climate debate.


  17. Alan — Any good scientist will argue that you can never be 100% sure that your thesis is correct. This puts a researcher into a potentially perilous position.

    I do not suggest a requirement that researchers personally internalise, and stake their entire careers on being right. I intended instead to point out that science is a ‘social’ enterprise, the language of which needs to be convincing, if not unequivocal, about what those engaged in it propose their work reveals. A convincing argument doesn’t need its author to be convinced that it will never be overturned; it needs to persuade the reader that it has made some progress towards understanding. There used to be the caveat that ‘all science is provisional’. I don’t know if it still applies, but it seems to me that it could be usefully recalled.

    On the subject of expectations, Sadiq Khan (the Mayor of London, for readers from other places), has continued in his anti-pollution campaign last week, claiming that the “science” of London’s air pollution “crisis” is “unarguable” — it has been cited as the cause of 6,000 deaths per year in the city. That is a figure close to one in a thousand people per year. Yet, reading the “science”, reveals that the figures produced are extremely speculative, based on models of risk. 6,000 deaths might mean people dying months, or even only hours or days earlier than “expected” (according to the models), and that it will make very little difference to people born today, if automobiles were completely banned from within the M25. Moreover, it is contradicted by the fact that the areas of London most afflicted by air pollution happen to have the highest expected life expectancy. They also happen to be the most wealthy, which shows us the limitations of understanding ‘health’ from the perspective of the risk-modellers. We don’t need models to make the argument for more wealth. We do need models to make the argument for lower expectations. And the models need to illustrate a dire crisis. With certainty.

    I have seen only one report of the counterposition on the study’s consequences from the BBC. It was actually very good. However, the BBC then devoted hours of airtime instead to campaigning on the issue, entirely uncritically, with Shuckman almost stating that “there’s no evidence for it, but it’s a scientific fact”.

    Surely this could be sorted out by academic squabbling rather than by academic prostitution. You talk abut risks to researchers — especially those early in their careers — but what those who might be minded to puncture the current hysteria about London’s historically-clean air? Would they not get a tap on the shoulder (or worse) from some administrator, who pointed out that his work contradicted that of the University’s newly formed, multi-disciplinary environmental policy centre, with close links to govt and business?

    The guarantee of more closely approaching 100% certainty about any particular thesis comes from the debate between researchers, not from the researcher. The researcher who stumbles on the right answer takes the glory, but stands “on the shoulders of giants”. The wider public — and politics — should stop expecting consensus from the academy, and should demand more debate. What scientists disagree about is far more interesting that what “science says” — it doesn’t “say” anything.


  18. There are two other groups of academics who need to be considered when discussing advocacy or knowledge transfer about climate matters. The first group are those who attach climate change riders to their research proposals in order to get funded, thus pre-judging their results. The second group are not scientists at all but economists and politics specialists with an interest in climate matters. The responsibility of proselytizing action on climate action commonly falls into their hands. Much of what the public learns about climate comes from these two groups, rather than those studying climate change itself.


  19. Ben, perhaps you miss my point. Researchers, particularly dealing with controversial topics and at the “cutting edge” are likely to be challenged. One response, by those who are less confident (the younger, untenured or introspective) is to reject criticism and bolster up defences. Wiser academics welcome criticism and may even broadcast their failings or lack of understanding in order to get help or reach understanding. This more relaxed attitude is difficult to achieve. Commonly your research is your baby, and no one attacks “my baby”. There are too many stories of people becoming so enamoured with their theories that they reject all criticism, even that well meant. In many grant-laden fields (like medicine and I suppose climate change) most people are busy carving out their own niche and will repeal all criticism.


  20. Thanks for the clarification, Alan. I agree more or less with the tensions you outline: young vs old & grant-seeking, etc; the question is how to get academe to better “police itself”, as Thomas put it. I’m suggesting that, to the extent that expectations of science/academe from without have contributed to some of its reversion to Scholasticism, we might help to encourage a transformation of academic culture –broadly — by challenging those expectations and demanding debate. Those Young Turks haven’t developed their bad attitudes in a vacuum, just as the longer-in-the-tooth researchers haven’t become more established in their prickish tendency merely by being born pricks (not discounting the possibility, though), but by not being disciplined by the academy’s processes. Undue expectations from outside seem to have contributed to the problem. Getting academics to disagree with each other about the role of expertise, however, might be too big an ask… In the words of Lord Bob May, “I am the President of the Royal Society, and I am telling you the debate on climate change is over”. 12 years since, and very little has been learned by the RS, which has given gongs and cash to the likes of Ehrlich and Lewandowsky… This is political, top-down stuff, which gives licence to institutions and their members.


  21. Hi William, I just stumbled out of bed. Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago: https://thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/pseudoscience-in-the-service-of-policy/

    Basically, she did what John Cook et al did–a literature search for skeptic authors. She did it just as poorly, ignoring relevant results. But the consensus loved her results and she’s been a guru for the activists ever since.

    She comes from the Barbizon School of Science–‘Be a scientist–or just look like one.’


  22. At the least what should be expected from scientists is integrity, transparency and accountability. Integrity means among other things being honest with fellow scientists, the many stakeholders, and with those who may disagree. It also means not stifling competitive views either by pressuring media or by sabotaging funding or employment. Transparency means among other things disclosure of methods (including acceptance of 3rd party reviews), potential conflicts of interest, preservation of data, and distinguishing the science from personal opinion. Accountability means being willing to admit short comings and areas of doubt, accepting critiques showing the same from others, and a willingness to critique peers, no matter their position. Big science in general and climate science in particular have significant failings in all three areas.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I think most scientists, including those in climate science, would both endorse and meet your criteria, hunter. (Hiya Hunter–how are you?)

    Some of the consensus cheerleaders obviously do not, but is it really more than a dozen or two?


  24. “but is it really more than a dozen or two?”

    That could be more than enough, depending on how influentially positioned they are, and how loudly they shout.


  25. Tom that is a fair question. The answer as I see it is that very few meet those basics. No one at A&M stood up when Dessler pressured the Meteorology dept. to sign a manifesto of belief. No one stood up when Hansen went nuts with his runaway to Venus greenhouse. No one stood up for Curry when Mann was endorsing vile sexist attacks on her. Holdren was unchallenged when he manipulated Obama into ridiculous climate extremism. Climategate led to no institutional reform. Etc.

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  26. Of course scientists are not professionally obliged to convince the public of the legitimacy of their research. As scientists, they are only obliged to do that research, fairly, impartially, to the best of their ability and present their results in technical form to the science community. Of course, many go beyond this and attempt to present their findings in a form intelligible to the wider public, perhaps in the hope that they will be convinced. This is especially true in climate science, where many scientists are eager to present their research to the wider public, obviously, because of the far-reaching policy implications and because of the fact that climate science has become such a hot political potato.

    So, when climate scientists like Gavin take to social media, and attempt to summarize their research (and that of others) in a series of tweets, all we should expect is that those tweets fairly summarize the current state of scientific understanding. Alas, this, I think, is where Gavin failed. E.g.

    I took issue with one of the points made in this tweet:

    I also took issue with his attempting to ‘convince’ his audience that stratospheric cooling was evidence of CO2 global warming when, in fact, the recent strat cooling trend is far more likely attributable to CFCs.

    His responses were lacklustre and did not really address the points I was trying to make.

    I had even less luck with Peter Stott, acting director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, who took to Twitter to proclaim that the pattern of observed climate change was similar to GHG forced climate change and, therefore, could be distinguished from natural variability – hence an ‘anthropogenic fingerprint’ was discernible. No reply was the very loud reply:

    In my experience, what one should expect from climate scientists is rather different from what I have come to expect from climate scientists, i.e. an unwillingness to engage on actual science beyond that which confirms the consensus viewpoint (exceptions granted).


  27. Tom, did you perform the same search, namely one of the same ISI database with the keywords “climate change”? If you didn’t then your criticism is not worth much. And do you have reason to believe that the merchants of doubt she identifies in a recent work are not real or don’t play the role she suggests?


  28. Hi William, considering she has never published her methodology, it is impossible to replicate her search. However, I’m sure you’re familiar with the consensus website Skeptical Science. They have a list of publications by skeptical scientists and they list 117 papers published by skeptics ranging from Richard Lindzen to John Christy during the time frame she searched, including papers with titles including climate change, global climate change, global warming, etc.

    So, actually my criticism may not be worth much, but neither is her paper.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Jamie, to clarify… When you say “Of course scientists are not professionally obliged to convince the public of the legitimacy of their research”, do you mean that scientists shouldn’t be obliged to contrive ‘engagement’ with the ‘public’ to explain their work? In which case, I agree. However, I think ‘public’ is a difficult word. It was Lewandowsky who not long ago argued that the public had no right to challenge academics except through the ‘proper channels’ — i.e. getting an anointed academic to present the case on behalf of the lowly upstart to the ‘academic community’. Lew’s ‘ethics’ were seemingly intended to create Philosopher Kings.

    Or perhaps he was trying to justify something close to that, after the fact. Schmidt et al have some developed the understanding that their work should have farreaching influence without those who it might affect being free to make their case. I remember a few years back, academics and journalists getting flustered about being challenged. One researcher, complained that I had bullied her on Twitter. (I hadn’t, but that is another matter). Another — a psychologist — felt that I had always and unduly been on his case, though I had commented or tweeted to him on no more than a dozen occasions. The puzzling thing being that they clearly set out their intentions to change policies, or politics. They felt their status as researchers, rather than “campaigners” (though one turned out to be a campaigner, and the other left academia to take a job at a campaigning organisation) gave them some kind of immunity from challenging. I pointed out to them that people who want to change society in general have to be able to face critical, and sometimes hostile criticism from those who see the world — and their no doubt beneficent plans — differently.

    For instance, Schmidt once claimed:

    We have built a society — an agricultural system and cities and everything we do based on assumptions that basically the climate is not going to change. The fact that we have so much infrastructure right near the shore is because we didn’t expect sea level to rise. The damage that we had from Hurricane Sandy was increased because sea level has increased by 10-12 inches in this area…

    I don’t believe that society has been “built” on such an understanding of climate. Full stop. It is Gavin, it turns out, who is fragile, not society. And that fragility quickly turns to hostility. Yet the clear implication of his claim is that society should be ordered in a particular way, around his own understanding.

    I don’t often care to challenge Gavin on his ‘science’. It is his understanding of society — as a thing which is determined by the climate, not its population — that seems especially weak. That understanding includes ideas about society (which are weak), and the position of researchers above other people, including politicians and the public (which have been tried and failed throughout history).

    The expectations of researchers seems to mirror the expectations of politicians that have elevated them. Worse, the researchers have not sought to manage those expectations. If research is to be brought to bear over political decisions, and if the academy is not resistant, or punishes or excludes resistance to what is effectively a new political settlement — a “constitution” — then there surely is an imperative on researchers to explain themselves. Academia increasingly, and openly, seeks “policy-relevant” research, and proudly boasts about its influence in the political sphere. This is not blue-sky research for the sake of understanding as a good in itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. It is odd that someone might not be able to grasp that building infrastructure by the sea shore might be to facilitate maritime trade, or fishing, or to spend leisure time enjoying a sea view etc etc. It is not as if evidence of changes to sea-levels is unknown to us – the whole history of Holland at one extreme, or the stranding of the Cinque Ports or Aigues Mortes at the other. It is just a gamble on the long term. The folks at Southampton and Hong Kong don’t seem to have got the gamble wrong so far,amongst many many others

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Ben, based on that it might be 300 years before they start to get worried in Hong Kong. How selfish of us to leave this problem to people in 300 years’ time


  32. The arguments the scientists have about freedoms, lack of accountability and at the same time their right to influence are the same that business had years ago. Contrary to the belief of some, business is not full of shysters who are waiting for any opportunity to sell London Bridge. Many of the accidents and faulty products from the past were the result of ignorance or understandable mistakes. No major company develops a product with the intention it won’t work. They might and do convince themselves and others that a faulty product is actually ok. People in academe are not massively more ethical or conscientious than business people. When people fudge results it’s usually for fear of losing what they’ve got than gaining more success, just the way academic researchers have been tempted to stray. So if the people are much the same, why do we accept that businesses should be scrutinized by outside forces but academics should be largely autonomous? Since peer review doesn’t check the work properly, who does? The reproducibility crisis is evidence that scientists need monitoring.

    Scientists unaligned with business are given authority to speak for science, where their business counterparts are considered tainted if they’re not excluded altogether. Even scientists associated with charities are allowed to speak without being viewed as biased, despite a lot of evidence that some of them lie and exaggerate with impunity. The failure of climate science to convince can in part be blamed on its lack of official opposition. If it had been properly tested it wouldn’t keep getting tripped up. Having been seen to fall short of the high standards it claims, distrust sets in. The scientists weren’t bleating about not being sales persons until they were lumped in the same unreliable category.

    Scientists should be sales people for their work or appoint people * to do it for them but not before their work has been severely tested in house.

    * Another mistake that the scientists have made is not using some of their grant money to take care of non research based but essential activities eg the CRU losing its original raw data. Or not having someone who could deal with Steve McIntyre in a professional and helpful manner. Those things light seem a waste of money but they’re part of the trust process.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Tinyco2. UEA (and therefore CRU) did have someone whose job it was to deal with people like Steve McIntyre – a press officer. However he took advice and instruction from CRU, and eventually from the head of the Environmental Science School, from the Dean of Science and a ProVice Chancellor (ex CRU). Despite being given warnings to tread more carefully, CRU got its own way, the various inquiries were conducted without the benefit of sceptical contributions and everything was hushed up or buried. Monies were indeed spent, but either wasted or devoted to the wrong ends (my own opinions, naturally).

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Ben,

    What I mean is, I was agreeing with Tobis’ statement:

    “In fact, it is A job (NOT the core one) of climate scientists to EXPLAIN what the science says. CONVINCING you was never part of the brief.”

    Convincing anybody, beyond presenting them with clear, rational, intelligible, fact-based arguments is akin to converting them to a belief system. Unfortunately, many scientists and AGW advocates have adopted the latter strategy to try and convince a sceptical public of the ‘reality’ of man-made climate change and they take exception to anybody pointing out that their narrative has holes in it.


  35. Jaime, I wouldn’t get hung up on the semantics of the terms ‘convince’ and ‘belief’. The EXPLANATION is CONVINCING, or it is not. Or would you say either that an inadequate explanation can be convincing, or that an adequate explanation should not convince? Ultimately, you BELIEVE what you understand from the argument about the evidence. “Narratives” are not arbitrary, irrational, even if they do have holes.


  36. Alan, no, I don’t mean a press officer or even a FOI officer, although that role is closer. It’s more of a strategy role. Someone who asks ‘what will the public ask and what might go wrong?’ Not the archivist but the person who recognises the need for one. A job closer to Health and Safety for science credibility. It needs to have an executive branch that can argue at the top level and a grass roots level to act as a police force/facilitator.


  37. Jaime, this may be of interest: I go into more depth about the presuppositions I think may be driving Tobis’ ideas and why they may be wrong at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2011/05/trust-me-i-speak-for-science.html

    In this picture, ‘belief’ is depicted as an poor approximation of ‘truth’. That is to say that mental models of the material world are imprecise, and prone to error, reflecting Mooney’s comments that subjectivity is flawed, and that the scientific method — and scientific institutions — aims to ‘weed it out’. The implication of this and Mooney’s concerns about letting ‘ideologues’ near ‘scientific data’ is that ‘truth’ is something which only institutional science has access to, and it that becomes corrupted in the hands of the ‘partisan’. But truth is not a property of the material, ‘objective’ world; it is a judgement about statements, or beliefs. It does not exist ‘out there’.

    This metaphysical confusion runs throughout Mooney’s argument. For Mooney, ‘ideology’ is some insidious, toxic force, the antithesis to ‘truth’ itself. The thrust of his argument is that we need particular scientific institutions to ameliorate this intrinsic weakness of human nature. And as such, these institutions deserve elevated status above the reach of those prone to ideology. Otherwise, we would tend towards creationism, to MMR-scares, to climate-change denial. In other words, our flawed minds would create a catastrophe, and it is this possibility of catastrophe that seemingly legitimises the elevated position of scientific institutions. Mooney reinvents Plato’s city state administrated by Philosopher Kings, the main differences being that Mooney conceives of a global polity, and the wisdom of the Guardians only produces the possibility of mere survival, not even a better way of life. To bring this back the matter of trust, Mooney doesn’t trust humans. Their minds are flawed. Their ambitions and ideas are mere fictions. The institutions they create are accordingly founded on false premises, which, instituted and acted upon, will cause disaster. Even when humans are exposed to ‘the truth’, it is, on Mooney’s view, absorbed into the poisonous, ideological programmes of partisans: liars and cheats who distort it. But without a disaster looming, this instance of a politics of fear would collapse.


  38. Tiny CO2. Not sure the sort of person you are envisioning should be university or research institute based. I would suggest they should operate under the auspices of the granting bodies.
    But with most of the scientific infrastructure already part of and promoting the consensus, I very much doubt if enough support could be garnered for the establishment of a truly critical.voice. More likely is that whoever was appointed would support the status quo. Look at what happened following Climategate. Anywhere else heads would have rolled, yet the establishment merely shrugged off criticism and the status quo resumed.


  39. I don’t disagree with your view Alan and that’s the route business tried to take. Self policing. However it doesn’t work and eventually the roll becomes a mix of external policing and internal compliance. Who organises is another matter. Nobody wants to do it. They think they don’t need to. So, how’s that public confidence going?


  40. Thanks for that Ben. Interesting and very well written post. No idea who Mooney is tbh but his neural circuits possessed only by scientists is hilarious.

    You say:

    “Ultimately, you BELIEVE what you understand from the argument about the evidence. “Narratives” are not arbitrary, irrational, even if they do have holes.”

    Yes, it all comes down to believing in the end, as there is no ultimate, unassailable scientific truth ‘out there’. But people can be guided to believe in that which, if they were provided with more information, they might not believe so readily. This is what annoys me most about the way consensus climate science is communicated – conflicting scientific research is so often just conveniently not mentioned and the available ‘evidence’ for AGW is bigged up, sometimes absurdly. Most lay persons casually reading the ‘communication of climate science’ would probably not be aware of these inconsistencies and hence they are either more likely to believe the consensus narrative or, just as bad in my opinion, not believe the consensus opinion simply because they mistrust the messengers rather than because they have hard information to hand which tends to undermine the consensus.


  41. This is way above Ken’s pay grade, even though he is not on minimum wage or a zero hour contract. It always strikes me as ironic that whenever Greens intervene in the real world they end up making life more difficult for poor people


  42. Jaime “conflicting scientific research is so often just conveniently not mentioned and the available ‘evidence’ for AGW is bigged up,”.

    I think the public are more aware of it than anyone has surveyed. It’s the sort of thing that has eroded public trust in experts. They’re aware that there is manipulated and selective evidence. You only need to find a few holes in an issue and you start suspecting holes in the stuff you don’t understand. The biggest remnant of persuasion is Al Gore’s first movie. A lot of people saw it and have never heard the caveats/corrections, so they’re stuck in belief mode but even those people must be getting suspicious that there hasn’t been anything more up to date with the same impact.


  43. There’s another article on ATTP regarding Matt Ridley. I find it interesting that ATTP attempt to
    dismiss what Ridley says on the basis that he has no background in climate science. Oh the irony…

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Man in a Barrel – I think the left has an element of religion about it. I think it stems from the same part of our psyche. In that suffering is good for you. It is more important that you attain rightness than you attain happiness and satisfaction.


  45. Jaime, If you look at who is persuaded, I think the problem of how they are persuaded becomes less significant. It isn’t that climate alarmism has driven people out on to the streets, to demand ‘action’. Though the green position is that people have been brainwashed into consumer society, and into demanding more (stuff). I think this is what Tiny is suggesting in highlighting in pointing out the religiosity of the nominal ‘left’, which used to promise more, but now problematises the masses’ material aspirations. Climate change has only convinced and preoccupied an extremely narrow section of society, mostly at the top, and mostly those who struggle to identify a reason for their privilege: they can’t say they are about improving the world; they can only promise the absolute basics: survival and only just about ‘keeping the lights on’. Consensus messaging is so clumsy and desperate because the compact between the climateers is so fragile, not because it is a powerful argument. Don’t take it at face value, I would suggest.


  46. Ben, I see the religiosity of the climate warriors as an example of Chesterton’s observation that a person who doesn’t believe in God (something objective) is liable to believe in anything (in Chesterton’s case he was speaking about eugenics, the bigotry-dressed up-science of his day).


  47. Early in my research career at a very large company, I made an unthoughtful, derisory comment about salesmen. The answer back was “Everyone is a salesman at one time or another. Those who sell their ideas best, do best”. I came to appreciate my colleagues in Sales as strong allies in getting my research out of the lab into customers’ hands. But I did have to explain what I was doing and why. Peer review indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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