The Scientist and the Bluebottle—A Cautionary Tale

Naomi Oreskes interview hilites A Series 60 000

The Secret Ingredient is Proxy Dust™! Naomi Oreskes [above] demonstrates the key step in any climate paper: the application of a liberal dose of ‘proxy dust.’

Imagine my excitement upon learning that in July, Ecopsychology UK will be holding their seventh ‘Edge of the Wild Gathering’ at the Green and Away campsite, Worcestershire. I’m hoping at least one of the workshops will explain how a man of logic could succumb to the wicked enchantment of climate science scepticism. I doubt that there are any CliScep fans in the ecopsychology fraternity but, just in case one of their highly-trained Integrated Body Psychotherapists is reading this, I offer my own story as a case study. In return I ask only for their considered diagnosis.

It all started when I decided that knowing the truth was better than having friends and a healthy sex-life. I believe this happened after society had already decided it didn’t want to be friends with me, and before I knew what sex was. Anyway, I’ll spare you the sordid details of my self-loathing and sublimation and move directly to the part where I arrive at Sussex University to study theoretical nuclear physics at postgraduate level. By immersing myself in quantum mechanics I was seeking the truth—but gradually, as my thoughts floundered on a sea of arcane symbolism, I realised the search for fame and fortune might be a better use of my youthful energy.

So, equipped with little more than promise and penury, I turned my back on academia and set off down the road to what would ultimately prove to be profitable anonymity. But after many years of futile industry (mostly spent in quality assurance, wafting the sword of truth in the faces of the indifferent) I gave up trying to establish the cult of John Ridgway, preferring to drift off into early retirement. I am now in my dotage, with only tinnitus to drown out the hollow laughter still echoing down the panelled corridors of the physics department.

By surrendering to the sirens’ call of financial stability, did I throw away the perfect opportunity to ennoble myself in the pursuit of knowledge? Perhaps. I’d certainly had the right attitude. For me the scientific method was a harsh mistress who must be obeyed. I was more than willing to lick her stiletto if it meant discovering a hidden truth. But attitude alone was never going to be enough. As I reconsider my scientific genesis, I see now that I was singing the song of science, but it was all a bit karaoke. I was never going to find my own voice, let alone write a scientific classic for the world to hum. This matters. At university I thought myself a pupal pupil, waiting to turn into a butterfly that others would chase. In reality, I was destined to become nothing more than a fact-sniffing bluebottle, seeking out the truth by joining the swarm of scientists buzzing above whichever epistemic turd had the most compelling aroma.

Speaking of bluebottles, have you seen ‘The Fly’? It’s a cinematic warning against the hubris of scientific ambition. However, the storyline only works because the average hominid and the average fly share a great deal of DNA. In particular, both are biologically programmed to employ an important heuristic: trust in the majority.

Although there may be no such thing as the herding gene, to deny any sociobiological foundation for such behaviour in humans (of which scientists are a putative subset) would be to ignore the obvious evolutionary advantages of latching onto the wisdom of the masses. Rather than waste effort on personal, original discovery, you’re better off taking on trust the path laid before you by your genetic brethren. Critically, however, your decision-making must be informed by insights into method and motivation. Knowing the fly’s penchant for faecal matter, you avoid its congregation. I, for one, do not share that insect’s interests and I have little respect for its methods of enquiry. Scientists, fortunately, are better equipped than the fly. Knowing that they follow a strict methodology based on the tenets of falsifiability, peer review and reproduction of experimental results, I’m much more likely to be impressed by a scientific headcount. But should I be?

The problem is that appeal to authority only works when the authority is appealing. As an acolyte of physics I had good reason to believe the scripture. Simply knowing that every stiletto-licking physicist on Earth was devoted to the idea of proving the others wrong was reason enough to trust any idea that survived such scrutiny—at least until it didn’t. In the meantime, the consensus view was always a pretty good surrogate for truth. Alas, I left my physics career behind me before I had time to discover that Nature didn’t share my naïve faith in scientific probity. It was only many years later that the veil was lifted, and two disciplines in particular were responsible for my disillusionment. The first blow was struck by string theory, the coup de grâce by climatology.

All you need to understand about string theory is that it is a description of the fabric of reality on the Planck Scale and that any experimental exploration on such a scale would require a particle accelerator of galactic stature and presence. As a consequence, string theory enjoys zero experimental corroboration; nor is there any prospect of such confirmation in the conceivable future. And yet it has attracted more attention within physics than any other theory of unification, by a sponsored mile.

The consensus view on the fabric of reality may be that it is held together by supersymmetric strings, but in this instance consensus stands for diddly. Without the possibility of experimental confirmation, string theory is a non-falsifiable speculation. As such, it isn’t even science. The bluebottle instinct is strong here, but it’s not a shortcut to wisdom—it just facilitates the quest for grant money. The scientific community’s infatuation with string theory merely shows how quickly human reasoning can slide back into the land of the faeries for want of a decent experiment.

So I came to ask myself: if talent, an absence of falsifiability and the instinct to herd are all it takes to encourage intellectual coagulation, what would we expect if moral panic were added to the mix? Well, I think we would expect climatology.

Riddle me this, my ecopsychological friends: If I were to point out to the string theorists that their ideas lack experimental confirmation, and their popularity cannot be taken as evidence of truth, I would expect a knowing nod followed by an invitation to discuss the importance of Anti de Sitter/Conformal Field Theory correspondence. I certainly wouldn’t expect the public to weigh in by clattering me over the head with a placard that pleads, ‘Leave our poor scientists alone!’  And yet, pointing out the identical problem with the Catastrophic, Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis would be cause for wailing, shirt-wrenching and fainting. It will be earnestly suggested that I be incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane. Australian psychologists of Polish extraction will take great pleasure (and several grants) explaining to the world the source of my cognitive dysfunction. With not a hint of irony, they will force me to tolerate the moniker of ‘denier’, in an obvious reference to Shoah denial.

The world is supposedly plagued by climate science deniers, yet there is no such thing as a ‘supersymmetric string denier.’ Pourquoi la différence?

Well, the main difference, I believe, is that no matter what theoretical physicists decide, no polar bears will die. This is worth repeating. Nothing that looks cuddly will suffer. Nor is there anything in string theory to suggest that the Earth’s coast-dwelling primates should run for the hills. The string theorists may be deliberating upon the very nature of reality but there is nothing really important at stake. As a consequence, the guardians of human morality feel no need to strike me down with thunderbolts of self-righteous invective. With no lofty ambitions to save the world, string theorists came to dominate their academic ecosystem, and it only took sociological natural selection. The climatologists, having God on their side, seek dominion far beyond their scientific niche.

I got my scientific training in a field that demanded only the most stringent evidence. For climatologists, morality and exigency are so influential, it doesn’t seem to matter that the only way they can make their theories fly is to liberally sprinkle them with proxy dust. I do not resent their freedom of expression, nor do I dismiss the body of evidence (such that it is) that they call upon to support their claims. But I draw the line at having my intelligence insulted. You can tell me that 97% of scientists say we are all going to fry in the fat of our oil-guzzling complacency, but I have read the Climategate emails for myself. So don’t talk to me about percentages.

Watching the fulminating mob on the evening news railing against what they see as right-wing political interference in ‘the science,’ I can’t help but feel that they are not protecting a beleaguered set of logic-loving Mr Spocks, but a boldly-going bunch of Captain Kirks. Let us not reprove such scientists for their postmodern approach; after all, a presumption of urgency is forcing their hand somewhat. Nevertheless, neither should they begrudge me my right to retain an open mind and the right to point out that scientific consensus only exists to trick the unwary bluebottle. The evidence for the CAGW hypothesis is what it is, and the fact that the IPCC was set up with the explicit purpose of establishing consensus is the main reason why I should question it.

Excuse me, I have to go now. It’s time for my treatment. Yes, Dr Lewandowsky. Anything you say, Dr Lewandowsky.

—John Ridgway

29 thoughts on “The Scientist and the Bluebottle—A Cautionary Tale

  1. A wonderfully written intellectual memoir, John, that suffers only from the flaw that there is not much to object to (hence the lack of controversy down here, below the line).

    But if anyone can find something to criticize [in any given text in any arbitrary language] it’s me, so here goes: you say,

    Simply knowing that every stiletto-licking physicist on Earth was devoted to the idea of proving the others wrong was reason enough to trust any idea that survived such scrutiny

    but is there not a paradox at the basis of this heuristic?

    After all, aren’t you a stiletto-licking physicist on Earth?

    And if you (a terrestrial stiletto-licking physicist) trust any idea that survives such scrutiny, rather than devoting yourself to proving it wrong, how do you know all the other stiletto-licking physicists on the planet haven’t been equally derelict in their proving-it-wrong duties, preferring simply to trust any idea that survives whatever scrutiny (they presume) it’s been subjected to?

    To plagiarize myself: how do you know it isn’t consensuses all the way down?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Second question, John:

    Are you sure the ‘guardians of morality’ are really acting out of a sense of eco-salvific duty when they strike down with furious vindictiveness anyone who disagrees with the narrative of evo-salvation?

    I know that’s the standard excuse for their behavior, but have you considered the possibility that their defensiveness is just a cover for their own awareness of how monofilament-thin the evidence of planetary crisis actually is?

    One argument in favor of the latter interpretation, I think, is their strange reluctance to debate skeptics in an open, fair contest of ideas. (Here, too, I’m aware of the standard excuse: that mud-wresting with a pig [us] would only result in defeat for the human [them], who would invariably wind up covered in manure [our product], but this, also, strikes me as unsatisfactory.)

    Wouldn’t you expect someone on a genuine mission to save the atmosphere to leap at the chance to publicly refute those who doubt—and by doubting, stymie—their very raison d’etre? If, that is, they really thought The Science was on their side?


  3. Excuse my ignorance, but why all the haste to find a unified theory? What’s wrong with having a couple of disunified ones? The’ve only been around for a matter of decades, after all. It’s not as if the Universe is waiting with bated breath for Mankind to sort it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Geoff, it’s really very simple. The wikipedia page on Grand Unified Theory explains the motivation in the clear, explanatory style that wikipedia maths and physics articles are famous for:

    The fact that the electric charges of electrons and protons seem to cancel each other exactly to extreme precision is essential for the existence of the macroscopic world as we know it, but this important property of elementary particles is not explained in the Standard Model of particle physics. While the description of strong and weak interactions within the Standard Model is based on gauge symmetries governed by the simple symmetry groups SU(3) and SU(2) which allow only discrete charges, the remaining component, the weak hypercharge interaction is described by an abelian symmetry U(1) which in principle allows for arbitrary charge assignments.[note 1]”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brad,

    “How do you know it isn’t consensuses all the way down?”

    Well, of course, you don’t! That’s one of the major weaknesses of the heuristic, and that’s why I draw attention to string theory. In the physicist’s back yard (which one would hope would be scrupulously clean) we find a situation in which it pretty much is consensus all the way down. And even where the tenets of falsifiability, peer review and reproducibility of results are ostensibly applied, science still has serious questions to answer; hence references to ‘Crisis in Science’, and the ‘Reproducibility Crisis’. It is said that science has been a victim of its own success, but what is really meant by this is that there is just too much science being conducted and not enough good old quality control. Peer review has always been something of a smokescreen, and reproducing other people’s results is no longer seen as a good career move. It’s a sad state of affairs, even before one introduces fraud, politics, noble cause, personal ambition and other human weaknesses.

    Most of my working life was spent in quality assurance, often relating to safety-related systems. When things went wrong, invariably at the root of the problem was a misplaced trust in the integrity of a system, particularly when the system concerned was under human management. Whenever faith in a consensus is used to shore up confidence, more often than not, things will get worse.

    At the end of the day, faith in consensus is just a cognitive bias. To be pragmatic, you may have to go along with it. Sometimes that works for you, sometimes it doesn’t.

    I’ll respond to your second comment, Brad, when I have had more time to consider it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great answer, John. But I’m outraged by this evasion:

    I’ll respond to your second comment, Brad, when I have had more time to consider it.

    Time to think?? Considered, intelligent response??

    Why I never.

    Where do you think you aren’t, friendo: the climate debate? Because if that’s where you think you’re not, I’ve got news for you, mon ami: au contraire, that’s the last place you’re not! 🙂


  7. There seem to be two ways of doing important (big) science.

    First, trust nothing and nobody. Suspect everything and everybody. Other people are stupid and cannot be trusted to light a bunsen burner. Industry sponsored science is biased and cannot be trusted. Government sponsored science is worse.

    Second, science is subject to checks and balances so that the majority view is most likely to be correct and should be accepted as probably true. Believe in the wisdom of crowds. Don’t waste effort and resources reinventing the wheel. Science is a joint enterprise, especially big science which realistically can only be conducted with massive industry or government support.

    Most scientists are schizophrenic.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. By the way, John, please read my link (Tips for Debating Anti-Climate People) before your considered response.

    I ask—nay, demand—this mainly because I recently had a surreal experience chez Collin Maessen, whose comically-named blog Real Skepticism is apparently a temple to the Assyrian deity of fanatical belief. You can see for yourself how successful were my overtures for engagement, dialectic, cross-fertilization of POVs, or whatever one wants to call it (in English, “a debate”).

    Or rather you can’t see, because Collin—in his divine diunity as both moderator of, and participant in, the abortive debate—deleted my side thereof,* possibly in his zealous urge to save the planet, possibly for some other reason.

    Nothing that hasn’t happened to a million real skeptics at a million believalist websites already, of course, but with a twist I hadn’t encountered before:

    According to the house rules, I was obliged to sit through a tediously-wrong 40-minute video simply because Collin pasted it in a comment to me! And if I didn’t accede to the numerous (mostly irrelevant) lies told by the presenter thereof I was obliged to rebutt them, one by one, before the “conversation” could continue. My patient attempt to do precisely that, by the way, forms the bulk of my final comment before being banned—which you can’t read, because Collin deleted it in toto without explanation. Who knows why? Perhaps it contained a typo.

    Collin Maessen may be the most transparently cowardly champion of the (argument from) consensus, but he’s not otherwise atypical. I struggle to think of a single believalist website where my email address is permitted to submit a comment.

    I’m sure these people are trying to protect something, but somehow I doubt it’s the planet.

    *He kindly left one of my comments in perpetual moderation: a Readers’ Digest version of my deconstruction of his mindless YouTube link. I guess I wrote it out of a misplaced respect for Maessen’s time.

    I reproduce it here for posterity….
    To sum up, in answer to Oreskes’ question…

    “If scientists don’t use a single method, then how do they decide what’s right and what’s wrong? And who judges?”

    Nature. Nature judges.

    And I’m not talking about the journal 😉


  9. Alan, surely the correct approach is a hybrid, not a multiple-personality doublethinking quantum superposition, of the two extremes you laid out. To wit:

    Never trust anybody’s opinion.*
    Trust evidence.**

    That’s it.


    *Note that this doesn’t entail distrusting your colleagues as people, or their competence, or their honesty. You don’t have to assume they’re lying, or even wrong, about anything. But you can’t assume they’re right.

    **Note that this doesn’t entail “doing everything from scratch” or “reinventing the wheel” (i.e. gathering your own data). These misconstruals, or caricatures, of the obligations inherent in the NULLIUS IN VERBA ethic rely on a fallaciously-restricted definition of the word ‘evidence’ that excludes published evidence. Yet the vast majority of evidence you’ll ever see as a scientist is in precisely that form: textual evidence. It’s perfectly legitimate to trust the literature—not the conclusions/discussions, of course, but the data/results—and even to trust the textbooks, in so far as a textbook makes an implicit warrant that its contents are uncontroversially plausible assertions according to the sum of the evidence known to mankind at time of publication.


  10. Brad,

    With sincere apologies, I compiled the following response before reading your advisory link. I will now do so belatedly (after I get back from the garden centre).

    Your evidence of a reluctance to debate is interesting but I don’t think it is sufficient proof that the warmists are hiding secrets. I would still err on the side of the ‘genuine contempt for deniers’ theory. I am reminded of the public debate organised by IQ2US, held between three prominent sceptics and three champions of the good cause. In particular, I recall one pivotal moment which went something like this:

    Dirty Rotten Denier: “Blah, blah, blah, blah”

    Gavin Schmidt: “Well there you go. That’s just the sort of thing I’ve been talking about. It sounds like a scientific argument to anyone who doesn’t know any better, but to a fabulously talented scientist such as myself, it is obvious that it isn’t. The problem is, that you, the audience, are too ignorant to see the difference. This is what we climate scientists have to deal with all the time.”

    Audience: “Boooo!”

    Despite the fact that a pre-debate poll of the audience supported the climate science consensus, the post-debate poll swung massively the other way. One can imagine the post-debate enquiry held within the champions’ camp:

    First Champion: “How the hell did we lose that one?”

    Gavin: “It’s when that dirty rotten denier bewitched the audience with his pseudoscience.”

    Third Champion: “You don’t think it was when you gobbed on them then?”

    Gavin: “?!?!?!”

    I don’t think that Dr Schmidt and his fellow evangelists hold any secret respect for naysayers. They seem to be very much wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The only reason they avoid debate is because they think they can’t trust the damned, stupid audience. To paraphrase you, Brad:

    It’s contempt all the way down.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brad, some scientists go through life with the intent of getting some of their work incorporated into textbooks. Others (more aggressive?) lust after proving textbook facts wrong. The most extrovert write the textbooks confirming whatever consensi are favoured by them or their friends.

    This applies to academic science. In industry your belief may be that of your line manager.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. John,

    Your evidence of a reluctance to debate is interesting but I don’t think it is sufficient proof that the warmists are hiding secrets.

    Well, I only allege one secret—that they’re holding a dud hand—and (at the risk of getting Freudian) I suspect they wish to hide this fact from themselves as much as from the taxpayer.

    This is a very interesting hypothesis…

    It’s contempt all the way down.

    …but I would qualify it by submitting that contempt can be both heartfelt and tactical at the same time. (I guess it’s too late to worry about getting Freudian.)

    Remember, for instance, the Climategate emails where the strategy is formally proposed of portraying the Adversary as unserious, amateur, unworthy of a response and beneath contempt? (I believe it was first formulated as a response to the Soon/Baliunas paper, but no doubt the same plan could have been independently devised in many climate research units in many countries.)

    When a husband “won’t dignify that [accusation of cheating] with an answer,” is it because he really thinks his wife is being silly and irrational… or because he’s buying time to invent an alibi?

    When Collin Maessen or [insert any believalist blogger] deletes my comments for unspecified ‘False statements,’ is it because he really thinks their fatuity is matched only by the reader’s inability to tell a fatuous argument from a peer-reviewed finding… or because he has no comeback, and he knows it?


  13. Alan,

    I very much hope that your observation…

    The most extrovert write the textbooks confirming whatever consensi are favoured by them or their friends.

    …is an indictment specific to the earth sciences. I suppose I could live with that. I’m certainly under no illusion that, say, John Cook’s textbook constitutes “an implicit warrant that its contents are uncontroversially plausible assertions according to the sum of the evidence known to mankind at time of publication.” As I’ve blogged, so hath it been believed by me: his Modern Synthesis is a (barely) glorified shopping-list of opinions misheard by pressing a glass to the walls of climate academia.

    But if (say) medical-science textbooks are no better than those found in the euphemistically-named Systems Sciences, then we’re screwed. Not just those of us who’ve had to study them at university. All of us.

    So I dearly hope Shub isn’t about to appear and break my naïve, recent-med-student heart.


  14. Brad. Yes my first hand experience is with the Earth Sciences, but I was writing with Climate Sciences in mind as well (having read through several). Also History of Art texts belonging to my wife seem to be extremely varied, presumably reflecting divergences of opinion and schools of thought.
    In fact, come to think of it, any study that has different schools, will have textbooks that differ. Since medicine advances and practitioners differ, I cannot believe medical texts are uniform (ever since Galen was overthrown).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. In fact, come to think of it, any study that has different schools, will have textbooks that differ.

    But in science, surely ‘different schools’ differ only with regard to open questions—questions of the kind that can’t be answered in a textbook. (I’m speaking of non-pathological sciences, of course, but I hope in doing so I’m not committing a No True Scotsman.)

    Since medicine advances and practitioners differ, I cannot believe medical texts are uniform (ever since Galen was overthrown).

    Sure, but a couple of points:

    – I restricted my comment to medical science textbooks, not manuals of medical practice. The former is a science; the latter is an art, or technē.

    – Progress is of course to be expected in any non-dead science, and it doesn’t violate the warranty I mentioned above (that textbook contents must be uncontroversially plausible assertions according to the sum of the evidence known to mankind at time of publication).


  16. Brad
    “I restricted my comment to medical science textbooks, not manuals of medical practice. The former is a science; the latter is an art, or technē.”

    But manuals are based on the prevailing science at the time. An oncology manual, like an oncology text will only be current for a year, maybe less, as different treatments are developed or are abandoned. Commonly their are different beliefs about the efficacy of different treatments and even close colleagues can differ – that’s why we seek second opinions or try different “experts”. A textbook written at any given time might or might not show this diversity.

    “textbook contents must be uncontroversially plausible assertions according to the sum of the evidence known to mankind at time of publication”
    But if this were true, there would would need be only one textbook and it would be deadly dull. The “best” textbooks are written by informed people who can make good judgements about the near future of their science, selecting data, examples and references that, in their judgement will be proven important. Textbooks are commonly controversial (read any Sunday newspaper review).

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Superstring theory, as John points out, enjoys no experimental confirmation; even worse it does not even benefit from the realistic prospect of enjoying experimental confirmation in the foreseeable future. I’m sure that when Einstein attempted to unify General Relativity with electromagnetism, had he succeeded in that endeavour, then by now his Unified Field Theory would have been verified observationally. However, treating a point-like particle as a tiny, tiny, tiny super-symmetric thingummy/stringummy which vibrates variously with unobservably small amplitude inside a forever hidden multi-dimensional ‘sub-space’ to generate mass, charge, etc., thus unifying the macroscopic theory of gravity with quantum mechanics, suffers not only from a lack of direct observational confirmation, but also from a lack of indirect, circumstantial evidential validation. It’s not good, but physicists love the theory because it’s so compulsively alluring; when they get through with licking the stiletto heels of Mistress Scientific Method, they can finally gaze up in awe at the beautiful form of Mother Nature revealed in all her Unified Glory. That’s the promise.

    Not nearly as alluringly attractive, anthropogenic global warming theory suffers similarly from a lack of validation, but not quite so terminally as does string theory. We’ve emitted billions of tons of CO2, it has warmed, GHG radiative forcing is a plausible explanation for at least some of that warming and the models (tweaked in hindsight) do a passably OK job of accounting for all or most of the observed recent warming, but only by making certain dubious assumptions about the real world, about natural climate variability, and by ignoring many systemic uncertainties. On this basis alone, climate scientists extend their model projections into the future and tell us that we will see a lot more warming in the next 50-100 years than the harmless, overwhelmingly beneficial modest warming (of 1C or so) that we have witnessed since the Industrial Revolution. They tell us further that the supposed ‘symptoms’ of this warming (melting glaciers, melting sea-ice, heatwaves, storms, increased rainfall, drought, freezing winters(?), rising seas, etc.) will become catastrophic within our children’s lifetimes unless we (Westerners) give up our high energy lifestyles – but not the billions of Chinese and Indians, obviously. This is the Hydra-headed CAGW Theory (necessitating a multi-trillion dollar mitigation industry) which is terminally unfalsifiable and unverifiable in the present – just like string theory.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Alan,

    1. in the sciences I’m familiar with, there are several textbooks because there’s a diversity of approaches to explaining and illustrating (visually and verbally) the subject matter, NOT because there’s a range of beliefs about the subject matter. It would be rather concerning if two Anatomy atlases contradicted each other, for example.

    2. Manuals for removing tumors etc. are beside the point, because I stipulated that I’m talking about medical science, not medical practice.

    3. I suspect my local Sunday paper is different from yours, but the science-textbook controversies I’m aware of hinge on disagreements about pedagogy—i.e. what students should learn about, and how it should be taught them. Outside Kansas and the Creationism Belt, I don’t believe textbook knowledge is a cause for controversy.

    4a. So my point stands (for the time being): it’s perfectly scientific—and compatible with skepticism—to believe what textbooks assert about nature, at least if they’re hot off the presses. It’s not a violation of Nullius in Verba to do so.

    4b. There is no analogy between believing P(x) because a 2018 edition of your textbook says P(x) and believing P(x) because most of your colleagues seem to think P(x).


    PS Points 1 thru 4 may be wrong.


  19. Brad. I believe we are talking about all science textbooks and not just medical ones. I cannot accept your exclusion of texts that deal with techniques (why?). Textbooks not only cover what is known and accepted, but also what is still being debated (commonly with the author’s views). Even when dealing with basics, textbooks can vary considerably because those basics may be introduced differently, illustrated differently and linked differently to other parts of the science (other basics).

    I once started to write a text to go with my course module on fossil fuels, mainly because I could find no book that covered the course content – which covered fossil fuel geology, technology, economics, politics, environmental problems (including climate change) and peak oil. I wrote and compiled most of it – most of it was from my existing lectures. However, I never completed it because I realized it became outdated within months and if I got it published I would have to compile a whole new course unit (or just cover the same ground as by textbook which would be boring). The main reason, however, was that I belatedly realized that there would be no market. No-one else gave a university course like mine. Nevertheless I had a publisher who was encouraging me to complete my book.

    There are of course very popular climate science textbooks that violate your definition of a textbook and what it contains.


  20. Alan Kendall says: 21 Mar 18 at 7:31 am

    “There are of course very popular climate science textbooks that violate your definition of a textbook and what it contains.”

    There can be no ‘learning’ from textbook! Demonstrate to your 4 year old daughter now riding tricycle, by riding bicycle that her elder brother can do so much better than you ‘old man’! That demonstration of weak skill, is called ‘teaching’! Her learning to ride must be painful, lest no learning! Momma must be implied\encouraged for ‘hugs’, ‘kiss-it’ make it all better, ‘ow sweet baby’, then you ‘teacher’ must get her up on bicycle to again ‘attempt’ to ‘learn how to ride bicycle’ That effort is why daughter and Momma will love you through all eternity! All the best!-will-


  21. Will. There can be no ‘learning’ from textbook!”
    Gosh! All that wasted effort of those writing the textbooks, all that wasted effort of publishers pushing textbook sales and all that unnecessary expense of students wasting their beer money.
    I must be an exception because I have learned much from textbooks in the past, and keep many on my bookshelves, just in case.


  22. Alan Kendall says: 21 Mar 18 at 9:38 am
    “Will. There can be no ‘learning’ from textbook!”
    Can you express any of your so called learning from your own text rather than the pain of ‘learning’?
    Writing of others can help, but YOU still gotsta do it your own self! Face and eyebrows burned off. Not gona do dat again; “LEARNING”!! Wißenshaft


  23. Hi John

    thanks for the post

    as a non academic, but eager to learn, I remember back in the 70-90s reading all the “new physics” stuff
    & at the end gave up as it was interesting but obviously all speculation/theory & could go on for ever without any proofs (as it seems to have up to this time at least)

    your Bluebottle ref reminds of the appropriate fun yin tong song –

    Liked by 1 person

  24. From CliSep dougieh says: 26 Mar18:22:59
    “& at the end gave up as it was interesting but obviously all speculation/theory & could go on for ever without any proofs (as it seems to have up to this time at least)”
    How very reassuring that others have also noticed this so called (post modern science 1922)! This crap has no scientific method, only first out of the terlit concept that is difficult to falsify; as such concept is mathematically trivial! Why do so many Earthlings accept this total CRAP!. What Evil, Greedy, Political, crap has been discovered by some clever Earthlings; only to SCAM/SCREW all other Earthlings?
    All the best!-will-


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