Panic Now, Or Die Horribly!

Climate alarmists are becoming desperate. We’re not concerned enough about climate change, so they are going full out to try and create blind panic in the forlorn hope that we will be herded like sheep into taking action and/or consent meekly to the taking of drastic action, because we have become fearful, fed as we are on a daily diet of their constant doomsday drivel. It’s not going to work. Climate change alarmism is a busted flush which thinks it’s a full house. Climate alarmists are running on empty – heads mainly.

They’re not even trying to hide the fact that they are trying to panic us all into action now; in fact, right now, some are even proposing this as the best method of achieving the drastic change to society and the global economy which they so desperately crave. Meanwhile, climate activists are taking to the streets to try and spur governments into action – witness the latest alarmist incarnation, Extinction Rebellion and the scandalous employment of brain-washed ‘striking’ kids as a lever to spur governments into action on the putative “climate crisis”, as non-existent as it is supposedly existential.

This NYT article is very useful, because it quintessentially captures the mood currently prevailing in the climate alarmist camp and, in so doing, exposes their desperation and the lack of hard evidence which might justify their advocacy of a sustainable, green, new world order.

Time to Panic

The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. And fear may be the only thing that saves us.

That’s the headline. It gets better (or worse).

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames.

OMG, you mean, dozens died . . . . . out of a population of several billion . . . . . and what’s that you say? It melted peoples’ car tyres and even their designer footwear? Christ almighty, that is serious!

Yes, many people did die (along with huge numbers of animals too, no doubt) and we should mourn their loss to the very real threat of extreme weather, coupled with human carelessness and criminal behaviour – in the case of the California wildfires. But blaming man-made climate change for those fatalities is dumb, desperate and deplorable.

Just how dumb is illustrated from a most unlikely source – The Guardian, of all places.

But why is so much of our world currently being afflicted with blisteringly hot weather? What is driving the wildfires, the soaring temperatures and those melting rooftops? These are tricky questions to answer, such is the complex nature of the planet’s weather systems. Most scientists point to a number of factors with global warming being the most obvious candidate. Others warn that it would be wrong to overstate its role in the current heatwaves, however.

“Yes, it is hard not to believe that climate change has to be playing a part in what is going on round the globe at present,” said Dann Mitchell of Bristol University. “There have been some remarkable extremes recorded in the past few weeks, after all. However, we should take care about overstating climate change’s influence for it is equally clear there are also other influences.

One of those other factors is the jet stream – a core of strong winds around five to seven miles above the Earth’s surface that blow from west to east and which steer weather around the globe. Sometimes, when they are intense, they bring storms. On other occasions, when they are weak, they bring very calm and settled days. And that is what is occurring at present.

“The jet stream we are currently experiencing is extremely weak and, as a result, areas of atmospheric high pressure are lingering for long periods over the same place,” added Mitchell.

Other factors involved in creating the meteorological conditions that have brought such heat to the northern hemisphere include substantial changes to sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. “These are part of a phenomenon known as the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation,” said Professor Adam Scaife, of the Met Office.

“In fact, the situation is very like the one we had in 1976, when we had similar ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and an unchanging jet stream that left great areas of high pressure over many areas for long periods,” said Scaife.

“And of course, that year we had one of the driest, sunniest and warmest summers in the UK in the 20th century.”

Oh dear

David-Wallace-Wells, in his piece for the NYT, blames the 2018 Northern Hemisphere heatwave on CO2 and identifies it as the ‘tipping point’ for generating panic. He’s also written a book on anthropogenic global warming called The Uninhabitable Earth, which kind of explains his lack of rational thought. It would seem that the most fanatical of climate change fanatics get to promote their latest hysterical works of fiction in the national press – by saying that scientists should be more fanatical:

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change.

This is a bit strange. You don’t typically hear from public health experts about the need for circumspection in describing the risks of carcinogens, for instance. The climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, has called the phenomenon “scientific reticence” and chastised his colleagues for it — for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat actually was.

This reticence to spread panic and alarm and overstate the scientific case for that alarm was, according to Wallace-Williams, blown away by events in the real world, events which, in his crazy, irrational world of make-believe, conclusively prove the reality of the emerging “climate crisis”. Or don’t.

In 2018, their circumspection began to change, perhaps because all that extreme weather wouldn’t permit it not to. Some scientists even began embracing alarmism — particularly with that United Nations report. The research it summarized was not new, and temperatures beyond two degrees Celsius were not even discussed, though warming on that scale is where we are headed. Though the report — the product of nearly 100 scientists from around the world — did not address any of the scarier possibilities for warming, it did offer a new form of permission to the world’s scientists. The thing that was new was the message: It is O.K., finally, to freak out. Even reasonable.

Yeah, let’s all freak out and demand global socialism starts next Thursday because of the weather. They were limbering up for a mass freak out in 2016 when El Nino reached its peak, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite right. There was still just a little too much reticence – presumably masquerading as scientific rationalism – and then the world rapidly cooled, which was a bit inconvenient. But bad weather always happens, somewhere, sometime. The vibe is right now though:

This, to me, is progress. Panic might seem counterproductive, but we’re at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons.

The first is that climate change is a crisis precisely because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global response, now. In other words, it is right to be alarmed.

This helps explain the second reason alarmism is useful: By defining the boundaries of conceivability more accurately, catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. For years, we have read in newspapers as two degrees of warming was invoked as the highest tolerable level, beyond which disaster would ensue. Warming greater than that was rarely discussed outside scientific circles.

The third reason is while concern about climate change is growing — fortunately — complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism.

A fourth argument for embracing catastrophic thinking comes from history. Fear can mobilize, even change the world.

Be afraid, be very afraid, because really, really bad things might happen, worse than the really bad things which are happening. History tells us that if enough people can be terrorised by imaginary hobgoblins, on behalf of those demanding change, then that change can happen.

But perhaps the strongest argument for the wisdom of catastrophic thinking is that all of our mental reflexes run in the opposite direction, toward disbelief about the possibility of very bad outcomes. I know this from personal experience. I have spent the past three years buried in climate science and following the research as it expanded into ever darker territory.

I know the science is true, I know the threat is all-encompassing, and I know its effects, should emissions continue unabated, will be terrifying.

He knows, he’s spent 3 years digesting the climate alarmist literature, finding no good news, only bad news apparently.

We are all living in delusion, unable to really process the news from science that climate change amounts to an all-encompassing threat. Indeed, a threat the size of life itself.

How can we be this deluded?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, and involves simply replacing ‘we’ with ‘I’.



  1. Paul M,

    My thoughts exactly. I wonder if they’ll push back again, or give it a free pass this time. They’re kind of damned if they do and damned if they don’t…


  2. Hi Jaime, related but o/t
    I would say all types of Scientists/alarmists are becoming desperate to make headlines –

    “Scientists say roast meal can make household air dirtier than in sixth most polluted city”

    partial quote – “She advised people to open windows and use extractor hoods if possible to ventilate the home while cooking.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul, thanks for reminding us of the very significant backlash from scientists re. WW’s last absurdly apocalyptic article in the popular press. You would think that the NYT would steer clear of him after that drubbing, but no, there’s too much at stake: any way, any how, any where, they simply must trigger politicians and the populace into acting on the “climate crisis”. They’ve apparently decided that the only way to do this is to ramp up Project Climate Fear – scare the bejeezus out of us. They appear not to comprehend the fact that the Medieval mindset is not as prominent in society today as it once was and that people now have instant access to many forms of alternative information and dialogue which contradict the message of doom which they are trying to brainwash people with.
    Andy, there’s not a lot of science (undetectable levels) in the current article, so I don’t imagine it will attract quite the widespread criticism from scientists which his last article did.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. CAGW violates a basic tenant of the scientific method, of critical thinking, rational thought and scepticism , that “exceptional claims require exceptional evidence”, or as David Hume wrote long ago in 1748: “A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence”.

    When I first began to seriously consider climate change back in the early 1990s, and in the bosom of UEA, I was repeatedly assured that that evidence existed. Later, by consulting blogs such as Paul Homewood’s I discovered that, time after time, what was being claimed as exceptional wasn’t. I still use this method; any claim about exceptional weather or statistical “fact” is checked and invariably turns out to have precedent, or is garbage.

    Real, viable science can be extremely reticent to accept extraordinary claims, demanding proofs for every facet of the claim. If the claim violates established knowledge (as in the OPERA faster than light neutrinos measured in 2011) then so much stronger is the attack.

    The example I know best concerns the origin of the Channelled Scablands of Idaho. These geomorphological features – anastomosing channels, some with huge sandwaves on their floors, others that appear to have flowed uphill – were interpreted as the product of giant floods by J Harlen Bretz, but he could find no source for the sudden appearence of the vast quantities of water required. Later J.T. Pardee suggested this came from the sudden draining of a glacial lake when its ice dam broke. This combined Bretz-Pardee hypothsis was bitterly opposed by the geological establishment of the time. And for good reason, geology as a science had only recently come out of entrenched warfare between catastrophists (who amongst other things believed in periodic global floods) and uniformatarianism (the belief that the Earth’s surface and its history could be explained by slow, natural processes occurring today). Having at long last won the argument, uniformitarianists were bitterly opposed to the catastrophic hypothsis of these two young geologists, denouncing them, but without ever visiting the Scablands themselves. Eventually the extraordinary evidence was confirmed. There was a happy ending: Bretz was awarded the Geological Society of America’s most prestigious medal for his work and ideas. His interpretations were subsequently used as the core of an explanation of anastomosing channels on the surface of Mars.

    But why has Climate Science broken the rules? How can so much existing knowledge be ignored or trampled over – such as when the hockey stick buried multiple lines of evidence for past climate changes? Doesn’t the rebuttal of, by now, multitudes of claims as being the necessary evidence pointing to catastrophic AGW, have any effect? It’s like a disease, infecting everything.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Alan, you’re so right. What bothers you, bothers me. The science of AGW has leapt out of its box and is being used and abused by all manner of dubious characters for their own ends. The science has, in many ways, become a sideline to the political narrative but, if we are ever to sort this mess out, it is ultimately to the science that we must return, because only firm, scientific evidence and high quality, empirical data will ever justify the drastic mitigation measures proposed by catastrophists. High end scary scenarios – hyped even beyond the realms of scientific possibility – which subsequently invoke the use of the precautionary principle, will only result in us constructing a paper house which will almost certainly burn down or blow away at some future point.


  6. Alan:

    “But why has Climate Science broken the rules? How can so much existing knowledge be ignored or trampled over…”

    This happens constantly in science, which is very fragile to cultural takeover writ small (some groupthink) or large (say a major religion or indeed the culture of climate catastrophism). A few of the more well-known examples where consensuses were enforced, socially promoted, clung to and defended against evidence to varying degrees, sometimes with much damage, are: static continents, the motion of blood, miasma, cause of ulcers, superfluous hand washing (doctors), Ptolemaic system, saturated fats cause heart disease, and obesity plus diabetes, eugenics, bloodletting.

    ‘extreme’ is in the eye of the beholder and in cases where a socially enforced consensus rules, amounts to ‘that which violates the consensus’, rather than relative to some objective measure. Had catastrophism still ruled the roost (i.e. via social not evidential reinforcement) at the time Bretz put forward his theory, this would have been welcomed as ‘normal’ / ‘confirming’ evidence. And even correct theories can gain a kind of dogmatic weight which tends to resist further development sometimes (as you imply above), so taking that further for instance, did established uniformitarianism contribute to the implacable refusal to accept tectonic plate theory for half a century? i.e. it seemed too dramatic / unusual as seen from that framework at the time.

    As a big supporter of science since childhood, pretty much the hardest thing for me ever to have grasped is the constant and systemic ways that it goes wrong. Albeit it is persistent and in the long term still picks away to eventually triumph, this is not too comforting regarding areas that may be hi-jacked for years or decades or generations. The saturated fats consensus, which slow-motion collapse has still far from swept away the huge infra-structure and beliefs that were built up over 50 years, has probably damaged the health of hundreds of millions of people, some seriously.

    Two of the usual pre-requisites for going wrong are genuine uncertainty (so typically starting in a nascent field or new branch of an established field), and perceived social impact (although bearing in mind that if a cultural narrative starts to gain traction on the subject, it will amplify our perception of social impact). But there was never a feeling of high social impact regarding tectonics, for instance; merely challenging the general opinion of those who make up the heirarchy of the relevant discipline, is sufficient to trigger social resistance. The truth is that we are social creatures, and the very institutions we have set up to do science are soaked in social workings, even without taking into account their necessity for funds and the pleasing of political masters and other exterior considerations. None of this means that there hasn’t been floods of really good science (the vast majority under the social radar) and obviously enormous progress over the last few centuries, and especially the last one. But to think these issues are new or different or exceptional, or indeed not entangled with our deepest makeup as humans, will delay getting to grips the problem and truly addressing it. The scale in the climate change case is larger, and so maybe a good thing that will eventually result is that we can’t just sweep this one under the carpet and pretend it’s a few bad apples or an exceptional case; we need better ways ‘to sort this mess out’ as Jaime puts it, to protect the enterprise of science from ourselves, from our inherent weaknesses and cultural leanings.


  7. Andy
    “existing knowledge… ignored or trampled over…” ” happens constantly in science, which is very fragile to cultural takeover ” I tend to disagree. The examples you use are mostly medical, of which I lack detailed knowledge, however you strayed into my territory when you mentioned static continents. I was an undergraduate when the controversy about plate tectonics was all the rage, and much later had Professor Fred Vine as a colleague at UEA. Evidence suggesting continents were originally much closer together had been collected for decades, but it wasn’t uniformatarianism that formed the opposition but the lack of any reasonable mechanism and arguments from physics against any mechanism proposed. What eventually broke the dam between geologists that had catalogued the evidence for moving continents and physicists who said movement was impossible, was a flood of information about the ocean floor that was so compelling that a mechanism just had to exist and was then deliberately searched for.
    The other example I know something about is the theory of blood circulation as proposed by Harvey. Once again much of the evidence had been known (even the one-way valves in veins). What Harvey did was to conduct experimental work (some of which like the filling and emptying of veins in your arms are easily done). Harvey’s investigations produced a hypothesis, not a theory because Harvey had to deduce the existence of capillary connections between arteries and veins, he never observed them (this wasn’t done until a further 30 odd years). The brilliance of Harvey’s interpretation was that, like plate tectonics, it combined numerous previous disconnected data and interpretations into a greater whole, which was predictive. Some evidence and interpretations had to be ignored, such as the fact that during dissections arteries were empty leading to the idea that they carried air around the body.

    In these two cases, revolutionary theories were met with initial resistance, because they opposed established views, but the presence of overwhelming supportive evidence (that continued to accumulate) and especially their predictive value led to acceptance. In contrast much of the catastrophic aspects of Climate Science are not based upon accumulated and reassembled evidence and certainly any predictive value has yet to be demonstrated. Time and time again evidence is ignored or shoehorned into place. I will argue that there is a fundamental difference between CAGW and the acceptance of other initially controversial scientific theories. One assembles evidence, the other buries or hides that which doesn’t fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Alan:

    “I was an undergraduate when the controversy about plate tectonics was all the rage…”

    My geology teacher came through it too, and was very bitter about the experience, essentially having to conform to what he knew wasn’t true in order to pass exams etc.

    “In these two cases, revolutionary theories were met with initial resistance, because they opposed established views, but the presence of overwhelming supportive evidence (that continued to accumulate) and especially their predictive value led to acceptance.”

    My suggestion on uniformitarianism was merely a suggestion. But in both these cases the acceptance was resisted for many years tooth and nail, against what eventually became overwhelming evidence, and for far far longer than was necessary (in retrospect) to demonstrate reasonably the case, plus in medical cases (and many others) causing great harm during the prolonged delay. My teacher explained that most of the young generation in the discipline he knew believed the tectonic evidence, but were crushed out from expressing this, which given how fundamental the issue is in the discipline, caused great damage to it and its younger members. That is not at all how science is supposed to operate, and the reasons why are exactly the same as…

    “…much of the catastrophic aspects of Climate Science are not based upon accumulated and reassembled evidence and certainly any predictive value has yet to be demonstrated.”

    …because that which unreasonably resisted was in the end not based on evidence either but merely on the strength of cultural support of the reigning consensus. There was never good evidence for the saturated fats case from the very beginning either, for instance. It was challenged sporadically at various times, even by other scientists in a congressional hearing in the 70s, but these challenges all failed not due to any flaws in their evidence, but due to the cultural weight opposing them.

    So to the main point, if you are suggesting that the catastrophic climate change case is indeed new and different and exceptional, and for instance not tied to our deep characteristics as humans that have had similar observed effects all throughout history, you’ll need exceptional evidence as to why, and what these exceptional mechanisms are 😉


  9. In France it’s got an ‘ology’…

    Date: 19/02/19 The Times

    La collapsologie, which Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, calls a personal obsession, is based on the assumption that climate change, declining resources and the extinction of species is driving the world to its destruction far more quickly than we imagine.

    Any excuse to open the next bottle of wine.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oldbrew,

    “Les collapsologistes are strongly concentrated among left-leaning urban dwellers with at least one university degree, a survey showed.”

    How very not odd.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Paul,

    He’s being given free publicity to sell his cli-fi book and it appears to be working – enough idiots have bought his mediocre work of fiction in order for it to become #1 bestseller on Amazon in the climatology category. I bet he gives all of his profits away to poor farmers in Africa trying to adapt to changing weather patterns.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ‘Scaremongering sells’

    It sure does.

    Interviewer: “Are you trying to scare us and if so, why?”

    WW: “Yeah that’s one of the purposes of the book, but my main impulse is really just to tell the truth…”

    where he thinks the truth comes from what academics and scientists tell him ‘off the record’. But a) very few mainstream scientists support the catastrophic, even less to the utterly apocalyptic WW version as evidenced by even Mann pushing back on that New Yorker article, and b) the fact that these stories are off rather than on the record merits an explanation that is not given. At any rate, all the beyond worst case scenarios glued together are sold as ‘truth’.

    WW: “Well it’s interesting you mention the Book of Revelation, because I think one of the amazing things about climate change is that it really is a drama unfolding at a theological scale…”

    …and yet he still strongly promotes hope of salvation, if we immediately do all the right things of course, despite the imminent and indeed rapidly descending (faster than anyone thought) climate apocalypse of practically unimaginable scale. Well this is classic theology alright, but not in the way he thinks.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I couldn’t face watching more than a couple of minutes but it looked like a really soft interview from ITV’s so-called Science Editor Tom Clarke. Just as bad as the BBC if not even worse.

    If he is trying to tell the truth he’s not succeeding.


  14. Speaking of Revelations, Wallace-Wells is a pimple on the arse of the Second Beast, the False Prophet:

    I saw another beast coming up out of the earth. The False Prophet will be earthy. All man-oriented false religions are earthy. Carl Marx, the founder of communism said, Religion is the opiate of the masses. Antichrist’s false prophet, will head up a new worldwide religion during the days of the Great Tribulation. It will be the religion of Antichrist worship. It will be the epitome of all the false religions that have preceded it … earthy … deceptive … Satanic … filled with man’s ideas, not God’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. David Wallace-Wells is just a huckster selling a book. And the media are falling for it giving him lots of publicity. There are some extracts here;

    He has very little experience and knowledge of the natural world. In his own words:

    “I have never been an environmentalist. I don’t even think of myself as a nature person. I’ve lived my whole life in cities, enjoying gadgets built by industrial supply chains I hardly think twice about. I’ve never gone camping, not willingly anyway, and while I always thought it was basically a good idea to keep streams clean and air clear………”

    And he doesn’t even really believe his own hype:

    “I’ve often been asked whether it’s moral to reproduce in this climate, whether it is fair to the planet or, perhaps more importantly, to the children. As it happens, last year I had a child, Rocca. Part of that choice was delusion, that same wilful blindness: I know there are climate horrors to come, some of which will inevitably be visited on her.”

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Potentilla:

    Regarding having a child, this is the same as scientist Eric Holthaus:

    “If you’re like me, climate change keeps you up at night on a regular basis. It’s not so much that we’re still on track for the worst-case global warming scenario, or that the survival of countless species—not to mention civilization as we know it—hangs in the balance, but the quiet understanding that our kids are going to feel some of the worst impacts in just a few brief decades…
    Increasingly, and understandably, these existential climate change crises have put a lot of us on edge, raising big, scary questions about the fate of humanity in the 21st century. That so many have opted for willful ignorance almost makes sense. For those who live in the real—and warming—world, though, the fact that the earth’s atmosphere will undergo some pretty fundamental changes in the next generation can raise second thoughts about the idea of procreation…
    For natural pessimists, the inexorable destruction by climate change leads to thoughts that fall along the lines of this Jezebel headline, which asks: ‘Why Would I Ever Want to Bring a Child Into This Fucked Up World? Because really, why the hell would someone of procreating age today even consider having a baby? It feels like an utter tragedy to create new life, fall in love with it, and then watch it writhe in agony as the world singes to a crisp…
    We live in a very critical time for human history, as the first generation to fully understand the implications of the damage we have done to the earth, and perhaps the last generation with the opportunity to change course. It’s perfectly normal to get a little freaked out when you realize the implications of that at a personal level…
    My wife and I just had a baby, and it’s quickly becoming the best decision we ever made. Even though his future is uncertain, the knowledge that there’s still time left to turn things around has become a tremendously powerful motivating factor in our lives. Our baby has brought us back from the brink. It’s impossible to be hopeless with a newborn. Climate change has changed me. And I don’t think I’m the only one.”

    WW: “Part of that choice was delusion…”

    Indeed, but again, not the one he thinks. Cultures invoke subconscious communal thinking / coordination mechanisms, whereby one part of our brain lies to other parts, allowing us to passionately believe the cultural narrative while actually not doing the practical things it implies we should (such as not having kids in this case), and yet simultaneously not actually be lying to anyone externally either. There is some early suggestion from brain scans that these group delusions utilise the same part of the brain that hypnotists leverage (and maybe that is why it’s there?) But they are not delusions in either the sense of being deliberate or of being a medical problem (the same architecture is in all of us). They also protect the believer from a realisation of the contradictions invoked. The contradictions from WW and EH here, in every way match classic cultural belief.


  17. “the product of nearly 100 scientists from around the world”

    The usual appeal to false authority. The 100 scientists included, for example:
    Stephen Humphreys
    Lecturer in the Department of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has edited a book on climate change and human rights.

    Seth Schultz, Special Advisor on Science & Innovation to Global Covenant of Mayors
    Formerly worked on climate and sustainable development issues at the Clinton Foundation

    Linda Steg, Professor of Environmental Psychology.

    She gained her PhD at the University of Groningen with a thesis entitled ‘Gedragsverandering ter vermindering van het autogebruik’ [Behavioural change to reduce car use]

    JIANG Kejun Director of Energy Research Institute (ERI)
    Ph.D in Social Engineering from the Department of Tokyo Institute of Technology.


    Petra conducts research at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, social-ecological resilience, environmental justice, livelihood security, and participatory action research and learning within a development context.

    Top climate scientists all, according to the reporting around the world.

    “The selection was undertaken according to the Principles Governing IPCC Work, considering the required scientific, technical and socio-economic expertise, geographical representation, gender balance, and the inclusion of experts with and without previous IPCC experience.”


  18. From 2011,
    Pre-Lew I think:

    “The use of dire predictions to encourage action on climate change may be backfiring and increasing doubt that greenhouse gases from human activities are causing global warming.

    Although scientific evidence that anthropogenic activities are behind global warming continues to mount, belief in the phenomenon has stagnated in recent years. “When I was a pollster, I was detecting that many dire messages seemed to be counterproductive, we really needed someone to determine why,” says Ted Nordhaus at the Breakthrough Institute, a Californian think-tank for energy and climate issues.

    Matthew Feinberg at the University of California, Berkeley, wondered whether presenting children as the main victims of climate change, a common feature of warning messages, might be viewed as unfair because children have not caused global warming.”


  19. Dennis:

    “Pre-Lew I think” Pre his main climate domain involvement, yes.

    “…many dire messages seemed to be counterproductive, we really needed someone to determine why…”

    But if it was in any other domain, they would know why, yet they’re still trying to figure it now. Only the conviction that imminent climate catastrophe is a scientifically backed certainty (absent dramatic action), prevents them seeing in this domain.


  20. For the interest of those who followed my discussion with Andy earlier today about the adoption of continental drift, and then plate tectonics, I do not recognize the picture painted by Andy as relayed to him by his geology teacher. My recollection is that as soon as I became an undergraduate (1961) in London most geologists were converts to continental drift or were listening. Part of the problem was that most of the evidence was coming from the southern continents. I remember going to a presentation by a South African geologist at the London Geological Society were some of this evidence was presented for the first time in person. Afterwards the meeting broke up in a fervour. Mostly in support, but older, wiser heads were dubious still requiring a mechanism that would allow continents to migrate across a seemingly rigid mantle. The fact that seemingly even more rigid crust deforms and migrates for hundreds of kilometres in mountains like the Alps, seemed to us young turks, to pass them by.
    I do not recall any rancor in these disputes. (At this point I should mention that the old Geological Society lecture room was arranged like the House of Parliament, two facing, parallel banked rows of bench seats the closest spaced a swords distance apart. Whether this was in anticipation of more heated exchanges in the past, I cannot attest).
    As a research student, I watched as seminal paper after another was published, confirming continental drift and introducing plate tectonics. The geological world became drunk with revolutionary ideas. I attended lectures at the Geological Society and at my home university from invited guest speakers. Yes there were some holdouts, I don’t believe my departmental Professor was ever totally convinced, but then he freely admitted to be out of his depth.
    As to belief in continental drift putting into peril one’s exam grades, well in 1964 I answered such a question and this never did me any harm.
    My recollection is that the British geological world was eager for plate tectonics. I doubt if there were many opposed to it. This may not have been true of geophysicists, and it is somewhat ironic that it was from this field of study that the overwhelming proof of mobile continents was to come. I witnessed that also, and I feel very privileged to have been around.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. Alan, interesting indeed to have participated / observed. I know only what my teacher told me in a short conversation very many years ago. It’s the bitterness in his voice that latched it in, otherwise I doubt I’d ever even have recalled. He’d be rather older than you though. Given Wegner stated publicly the first version of his theory around 1912, 50 years is a long time to the point were young geologists were indeed ‘eager for plate tectonics’, that eagerness implying indeed an over-wait, having being held back by many whose state was indeed as you believed of one such, ‘ever totally convinced’. There was no Internet then, no opportunity for climategate, so would rancour beneath the surface in prior years be visible to an undergraduate? I wonder in 10 years time will there be a generation of young climate scientists eager to ditch the association with catastrophism? Right now the great majority of mainstream scientists do not speak out against the narrative, but is that through fear / peer-pressure, or tacit belief despite the lack of support in formal AR5.


  22. That’s really fascinating and valuable on the way plate tectonics finally triumphed Alan. By the time you were an undergraduate, it seems geology was operating as real science – and in great excitement. I’m not in a position to judge earlier decades but I admit a fondness for Arthur Holmes, who “championed the theory of continental drift at a time when it was deeply unfashionable” according to Wikipedia and suffered greatly in other ways for his accumulated expertise.

    There’s something truly rotten in climate, meanwhile, as you have stated eloquently.

    Les collapsologistes has shot into first place in my list of favourite Franglais, thanks Oldbrew. They’re not allowed to enjoy rosbifs, presumably.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Potentilla,

    Regarding that interview in the Guardian. Wallace-Wells says:

    A few years ago, I began collecting stories of climate change, many of them terrifying, gripping, uncanny narratives, with even the most small-scale sagas playing like fables: a group of Arctic scientists trapped when melting ice isolated their research centre on an island also populated by a group of polar bears; a Russian boy killed by anthrax released from a thawing reindeer carcass that had been trapped in permafrost for many decades.

    This illustrates perfectly his complete lack of critical thinking. He avidly read up no doubt on how climate change caused the Russian anthrax outbreak of 2016 because an Arctic heatwave melted the corpse of a reindeer which died in 1941, releasing deadly anthrax spores. It seems to have escaped his attention that the reindeer which died in 1941 was just one of thousands killed in the last major anthrax outbreak in the Arctic – which also killed people. Did man-made climate change cause the WW2 outbreak too? I doubt it. Natural climate change probably did. The Arctic was very warm – perhaps even warmer than today in the early 1940s. Permafrost then was also melting rapidly. Floods in Spring and intense heat and drought in summer are perfect conditions for the spread of anthrax spores. W-W either dismisses any natural explanation for the 2016 outbreak, or more likely it doesn’t even enter his head as a possibility. In three years of studying climate change, he found only what he wanted to find. Then wrote a book about it, got famous and made loads of money pretending he was the purveyor of a terrifying truth which scientists were reluctant to admit to.


  24. Richard, my first edition Principles of Physical Geology, by Arthur Holmes was my largest, heaviest and most expensive undergraduate textbook, constantly used so that after three years it was plane worn out. I don’t remember its continental drift content, but it was full of fascinating material absent from most other compilations.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Good question indeed. I suspect some of them get their kicks not so much from the frisson of being scared about climate doom, but rather from scaring other people. Scary stories catch people’s attention. They listen to warnings. Evolution at work one might suppose.

    This explains the remarkable absence of anything resembling an effective critical/sceptical/digging-deeper faculty in some alarmists. They absorb ‘insights’ from such as Al Gore or the UK’s disgraceful Royal Society leadership and just take them as given truths, and they will relay them to the rest of us, perhaps enhanced with vivid imagery of their own devising. Is this some form of clinically-diagnosable sadism? Or just ‘warped personality disorder’? It is not very nice.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. John S:

    “Is this some form of clinically-diagnosable sadism? Or just ‘warped personality disorder’?”

    Please take care… not nice is true, but it is not a medical problem of any kind. To think this avoids the very uncomfortable but critical-to-know truth that we all possess the potential to behave this way (which is also domain specific). Painting ‘the others’ as crazy or ill is part of how tribal reinforcement can get such a grip.

    “Evolution at work one might suppose.”



  27. I agree about taking care here, Andy, and hence my question-marks. But they are not really enough to allow me to escape some censure! On the other hand, I do suspect that sadistic impulses, absent any medical overtones, are part of the explanation for enthusiastic eco-catastrophe promotion in some, but maybe not all, cases.

    Back in the days when I campaigned for ‘world development’ (what a modest fellow I was!), I remember doing an evening talk for a mostly elderly church-group somewhere in Gloucestershire. They were cheerful and in good spirits when I arrived, but by the time I had finished going on about world hunger, they were dispirited. And so was I as I drove home: the hunger was not their fault. I was not really an expert in any way. I was just spreading dismay and sadness, to what effect? It was so easy to get at least somewhat sympathetic audiences spellbound with rhetoric, occasional statistics carefully selected, and simple-minded catchphrases. I never did such talks again, and I gradually became wary of anyone enjoying the promotion of doom and gloom, starting back then with Paul Ehrlich of ‘Population Bomb’ fame.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Before seeing your reply, John, I was thinking of Facing The Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps by Tzvetan Todorov. That’s no doubt because I’m such a cheerful chap myself!

    It’s also because I’m sure you’re right about sadism as a key driver, once people are given the power to be sadistic without restraint (and this is what climate hysteria is increasingly doing). Todorov is about as near as one can get to an empiricist in such areas, studying testimonies of survivors of both Hitler and Stalin’s gulags. He also notes the incredible (almost irrational) power of simple human kindness in such situations.


  29. Andy. Thank you for the Smithsonian reference about Alfred Wegener and the opposition to his wandering continents hypothesis. It illustrates well the nature of this opposition, and links this opposition to one of my heroes Thomas C. Chamberlin, a link I was previous unaware of . For me Chamberlin’s greatest contribution was his elucidation of the “Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses”. In geology there may be insufficient preservation of evidence to come to a single conclusion so several differing interpretations may, and should, be maintained rather than selecting just one. (I have always maintained that Climate Scientists should follow Chamberlin). It was therefore rather surprising to me that Chamberlin didn’t seem to follow his own advice when it came to continental drift. A little thought, however, suggests that this opposition reveals more about the incomplete nature of the evidence that Wegener employed.

    Now that we accept plate tectonics it is difficult for us to look back and view Wegener’s evidence without prejudice, but clearly it wasn’t convincing. There was (and remains) a competing theory – that the earth expanded and/or contracted (in one case from being a gas giant). Perhaps continental drift was originally considered and treated in the same way that most geologists today regard the expanded earth theories – mostly with contempt.

    Lastly I was unaware of Wegener’s heroic death in Greenland. I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t tackled it. Interestingly his icy grave is now probably buried by 100m of accumulated ice.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Alan,

    I think your above completely misses my point, which is the same as the main point made by the article. And I have never argued that Wegener’s theory was complete, which is completely beside the main point. It’s likewise completely beside the point if the theory was mostly in the right direction, yet modern times (or any point in the future) reveals further additions or somewhat alternate drivers than Wegener originally thought.

    Science is an enterprise (which was very much the case for geology even back then). He should not be expected to present a complete and fully formed / validated theory for it to be accepted as a legitimate area of work and pursuit within the academy! The point is that a great deal of the academy did not want to consider his theory, and tried their best to get him shunned and the theory excluded from the academy, so that the valid efforts and contribution (and *legitimate* challenge) by many minds would not get a meaningful opportunity to fix the flaws and / or pursue leads properly, or indeed to eventually throw it out purely on the basis of evidence if those leads turned out to go the wrong way. And in this exclusion, as the article points out, they were largely if not completely successful for decades.

    As the article even points out in the title, his theory was labelled ‘pseudo-science’. This means *not* science. And not to be touched with a barge-pole by anyone who valued their reputation within the discipline. This is exactly the same as climate sceptic theories being labelled as pseudo-science now, and excluded from the academy except by the few brave souls who are willing to progress under heavy fire. This is cultural resistance in both cases, the enterprise of science systemically going wrong via the very same mechanisms, albeit the scale is larger in the CC case. And indeed there are various skeptic theories, some no doubt more plausible than others, but a number at least would, if the current enterprise of climate science was truly objective, belong perfectly well within the academy despite the fact that none of them are complete. They can’t be complete because there isn’t enough data yet, which is likewise true for the orthodox theories too. And nor were the orthodox theories Wegener’s work challenged complete either, they can’t have been because they were also lacking full data in that era and indeed turned out to be wrong.

    This quote from the article not only represents that era / discipline, but likely is just as true for climate science in recent times: ‘For decades afterward, older geologists warned newcomers that any hint of an interest in continental drift would doom their careers.’ And likely it is something like this that caused the bitterness I referred to above.

    So… “A little thought, however, suggests that this opposition reveals more about the incomplete nature of the evidence that Wegener employed.”

    Not at all. The article clearly points out that his opposition was because he was besotted with his own theory, which Wegener’s work would fundamentally challenge if it received any oxygen in the academy, and he got his son and others to do the dirty work (the article’s words) of ensuring that oxygen was never supplied. In this your wish has come true, because that’s exactly what at least some climate scientists are doing wrt skeptic theories, because they are besotted with catastrophism or at least the control knob. This is not a level playing field, the excluded theories are not allowed to properly compete on an evidential basis only.

    Without this cultural resistance, serious work by the enterprise would likely have occurred with Wegener’s ideas decades before it did. The same is likely true for an investigation of all that the consensus has excluded for climate change, for instance natural variability.


  31. Andy you claim “Without this cultural resistance, serious work by the enterprise would likely have occurred with Wegener’s ideas decades before it did.”
    Prove it. What is your evidence that work to support Wegener’s hypothesis could have begun decades earlier than it did – so in the 1940s? I think what you have written is utter rubbish and I can prove it. It would not have been possible because the necessary information and technological development was not developed.

    Wegener in the 1920s did not have a convincing case. Just as today’s supporters of an expanding earth hypothesis do not. Wegener’s evidence was examined and found inadequate. For example, perhaps the most persuasive evidence was the matchup of opposite Atlantic coastlines, yet a close examination reveals numerous mismatches. (What was not realized by either side is that it wasn’t the coastline match that was important but that of the matchup of the edges of opposing continental shelves). Detailed knowledge of much of the Atlantic shelf edges was unavailable in the 1920s.

    As I have discussed earlier – extraordinary claims (like movement of continents across a material that behaves seismically as a solid ie a rigid material) require extraordinary evidence. Wegener didn’t have it in the 1920s. What he had were opponents with evidence seemingly on their side.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Alan,

    I can no more prove it for the geology case than I can for the climate change case. Because the whole point is that proper scientific endeavour is being excluded and no-one knows therefore what would have happened. This is why I said ‘likely’. However, the article is crystal clear that the theory was *illegitimately* excluded from the academy, i.e. not on the basis of the academy’s proper work and inquiry and accumulation of evidence for / against over time. Hence…

    “Wegener’s evidence was examined and found inadequate…”

    This is simply not so; because the academy did not assess the theory via normal / objective workings as science should, but via ‘dirty work’ and cultural bias and closing ranks, simply excluded it from the necessary academic oxygen that would have allowed the proper process of science to then execute upon it over time; the article is very clear on this.

    “I think what you have written is utter rubbish…”

    That’s your privilege 🙂 But in respect of this case I’m saying nothing fundamental the article hasn’t said too. So to be clear you think this is utter rubbish too? If not, then how do you account for all the points in the article, some reflected in this reply, showing the illegitimate treatment of Wegener and his theory, the closing of ranks (not a scientific thing! A bias thing!) the besottedness with other theory (bias!), the dirty work (!!), the anti-German bias, etc etc all of which are nothing to do with science and evidence, and all to do with cultural positioning. Not to mention: ‘For decades afterward, older geologists warned newcomers that any hint of an interest in continental drift would doom their careers.’ No way can this be viewed as a legitimate part of any scientific enterprise reaction to a theory that is merely viewed to be incompete! This is completely indefensible. If the theory was so poor that it failed in all respects, no such heavy bullying would be needed, individuals simply avoid such voluntarily, maybe after turning it over amongst the occasional sifting of other leaves. Such strong-arm tactics are only needed for that which represents a threat to an established order, and which likewise have occurred in the climate domain.

    “and I can prove it…”

    Then please go ahead.

    “It would not have been possible because the necessary information and technological development was not developed.”

    Of course it wasn’t! That’s why I said ‘work would have occurred’, i.e. starting by pursuing the necessary investigations and necessary information and framing the necessary paths needed to test the theory properly etc etc. which Wegener continued to do until the year before his death, plus a few other unpopular souls working against the grain after his death (which souls likewise exist in the climate skeptic incarnation). The point is that not that it would suddenly appear in the academy in the state that occurred in 1962 or whenever, having waited for a lot of resisting folks to die as the article also points out, but that it would have occupied a status as a *legitimate* but unproven theory pursued *in-house*, and not instead spend decades out in the cold with a stigma applied (psuedo-science = NOT science and NOT to be touched) to those who dared to reach out to it. This is the same as has occurred for skeptic positions in the current climate science set-up. Details like continental shelf edges etc etc would simply be part of the exploration work that the academy would have looked into in-house, but communally via bias and closing ranks etc, chose not to. When a theory is kept out of the academy for reasons wholly unconnected with its potential viability, as the article makes very clear, then no such details would ever be looked at, so the theory is never going to progress, for better or worse.

    The article also points out, that as well as a completely inappropriate besottedness with existing theory, resistance also sprang (per the words of the unidentified geologist), from the fact that if they gave this theory enough oxygen to be pursued by the academy, they feared it could result in them having to throw away much of what they had learned in the last 70 years. However real or unreal that fear might be, this is not at all an appropriate reaction for the enterprise to science, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the theory not being considered complete or indeed inadequate. No such fear would ever arise if the theory genuinely was thought to be inadequate.


  33. Alan and Andy, the history of the theory continental drift and its eventual acceptance by mainstream science is a fascinating one. Wiki actually has a very good summary of this history. As a paradigm of course, the idea of drifting land masses was not new, going as far back as the 16th century. Wegener formalised this paradigm into a theory, but which lacked a mechanism. Arthur Holmes suggested a plausible mechanism in the 1920s, which was close to modern plate tectonics, but which ultimately turned out to be incorrect. World War 2 no doubt played a part in delaying progress on the theory of continental drift along with a viable mechanism. Without doubt, cultural resistance did exist. I would not presume to speculate on whether cultural resistance, or lack of a viable mechanism, or indeed world events, played the dominant role in hindering progress on Wegener’s theory, but I find this comment from David Attenborough quite fascinating:

    David Attenborough, who attended university in the second half of the 1940s, recounted an incident illustrating its lack of acceptance then: “I once asked one of my lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that if I could prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it. The idea was moonshine, I was informed.”

    What is important from my perspective is that science progressed eventually and the theory of plate tectonics, with much evidence to back it up, became mainstream science. That’s how science should work. The theory of man-made global warming has reversed this natural order, but I believe, in the end, the proper scientific method will prevail as research continues into the mechanisms (both natural and anthropogenic) which drive climate change over various geographical and temporal scales.


  34. Andy. I’ve reread the Smithsonian article carefully again and do not see anything in it to support your conclusions. Wegener’s evidence was fully displayed in the various versions of his book and was rejected. Why was it rejected? My suggestion is that that his evidence was insufficient. After all, Wegener had little status and was not even a geologist, yet here he was proposing that rocky continents could sail apart across an equally rocky ocean floor- a material that transmitted sound waves in such a way that it must be a solid material that would resist continent movement. Any movement would also have to be exceedingly slow and, because the of the size of the new ocean between the drifting continents vast periods of time would be needed. Unfortunately geophysicists were almost unanimous (on the basis of calculating a rate of Earth’s cooling) in claiming that this length of time was not available). Two major strikes against the Wegenerian “nonsense”.

    Let’s try a more recent analogue. What would you think would be the chances of a prospective history or archaeological student proposing to re-examine Stonehenge because they felt von Däniken’s “evidence” had been ignored or misunderstood? What sort of advice would you think might be offered?

    If the wandering continents hypothesis had been given a more sympathetic reception then what new evidence or interpretation could have been achieved? First, the geological establishment on southern continents continued their assembly of information about the similarity of their stratigraphy regardless of whether they believed in the Wegener theory. So no change there. Matching continental margins was a mess, no-one AFAIK used 3D constructed maps on a globe. Using 2D maps imposed distortions. So no change there either. The biogeographical evidence was already strong and had been essentially ignored. In the early twentieth century the different sciences kept in their own boxes. Strengthening this type of evidence would not have changed matters. I fail to see what early twentieth century science could have done to offer support to the Wegenerian theory.

    Acceptance of continental drift, morphing into plate tectonics, required critical evidence from the oceans and from the development of palaeomagnetism. The necessary technologies – ocean drilling, discovery of magnetic stripes of the ocean floor and the necessary international cooperation and funding were not available before the 1950s.

    I have, in my previous posts perhaps given too strong an impression of the importance of what was to end up becoming a major scientific revolution eventually affecting almost every aspect of geology. In the early 1960s, when I was an undergraduate, Wegener’s theory was taught as a speculation, with insufficient confirming evidence. Geosynclines were still all the rage. There were many other exciting speculative bits of geology to get excited about – and we did. I was fortunate to be a student at a very exciting time, although we didn’t really recognize it.
    Another important fact was the relatively small size of the British geological community then. For example my undergraduate year consisted of only 7 students. Those were the days.


  35. “But perhaps the strongest argument for the wisdom of catastrophic thinking is that all of our mental reflexes run in the opposite direction, toward disbelief about the possibility of very bad outcomes.”

    And yet countless billions of people on this planet are prepared to believe in the existence of mythical creatures when threatened by the prospect of a ‘very bad outcome’ that doesn’t even kick in until after you die!

    This is just another dreadful example of the class of asinine thinking that alarmists are prepared to engage in to buttress their preconceptions. ‘Mental reflexes’, indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Thanks Jaime, I’ve read this in the past and other material too.

    “What is important from my perspective is that science progressed eventually and the theory of plate tectonics, with much evidence to back it up, became mainstream science.”

    Yes, after decades of being out in the cold with the stigma of pariah status as ‘psudeo-science’, after ‘dirty work’, after the ‘closing of ranks’ and the blocking of the idea from the oxygen of the academy so that neither its strengths or weaknesses were tested / investigated, after personal smear and bias of the first order regarding existing theories to which powerful folks in the academy were besotted, after the reactive fear that the academy would have to relearn much that it thought it knew. Articles that are honest about the hard past truths of science are not so common, it’s not something folks are comfortable with. But the Smithsonian article could hardly be clearer on these issues. So…

    “That’s how science should work.”

    This is not the slightest bit how science should work. And it’s exactly the same (albeit on a smaller scale) as what has been happening in climate science in recent times.

    “…but I believe, in the end, the proper scientific method will prevail as research continues into the mechanisms (both natural and anthropogenic) which drive climate change over various geographical and temporal scales.”

    Assuming humans and the scientific enterprise continues, it’s practically a certainty 🙂 Meanwhile, most skeptic theory and the investigations required for it (e.g. into natural variability), have suffered similar ostracization from the academy for decades, similar bias, similar smear, similar ‘dirty work’, and the ‘closing of ranks’. I do not think that just because science will almost certainly triumph in the long run, you for one moment think that this is ‘how science should work’. Nevertheless, it’s quite likely that unless we face our discomforts and properly address the inherent issues, the future history of climate science will likely have a wiki entry saying that all turned out well in the end and that some minor disagreement for a while is ‘how science should work’; hence committing the entire sordid history (and the skeptic struggle along with it) to the memory hole.


  37. Alan,

    Thank you for your careful consideration, but you have not addressed any of the list of points regarding highly inappropriate bias and behaviour of the academy and various specific folks within it, from my last above and indeed more in the article, which all completely contradict your reading. How about addressing those? As noted, that a theory in incomplete or even insufficient, is quite beside the point. Especially as ‘insufficient’ is in the eye of the beholder, and the academy in part exists to understand that there simply is not any omnipotent beholder. The academy also exists to pursue theories, to bottom them out, and to throw them out only *after* the necessary in-house work if they don’t hold, and instead it took the path of excoriating Wegener and his theory, and ensuring that for decades no-one would seriously pursue this theory for better or worse, in which effort they were not completely successful, but mostly so.

    “What would you think would be the chances of a prospective history or archaeological student proposing to re-examine Stonehenge because they felt von Däniken’s “evidence” had been ignored or misunderstood? What sort of advice would you think might be offered?”

    I think the student’s chances of getting attention from the academy would be about zero. But neither would the academy publicly excoriate him, send messages to their peer-pals in important positions that this personage should be excluded at all costs, hold lectures and discussions where speakers queued to ‘blow up’ this student and then thank him / her for offering themselves for an explosion, have internal communication (al la climategate) where letters recorded the fear that they might have to relearn everything they thought they knew for the last 70 years, have older members of the academy warn all juniors that their careers were doomed if they went anywhere near this theory. Etc, etc. Why would any of this be necessary for something completely unthreatening to the status quo anyhow, as a Von Daniken based effort would certainly be? They might possible laugh, which is impolite I’ll grant you, but hardly amounting to the above violations of the fundamental principles a scientific enterprise should support.

    How about a much more realistic modern example. One that actually happened. Not only students, but some bona-fide actual scientists with track record, proposed to re-examine climate science because they felt that the ‘evidence’ regarding natural variability and other issues had been ignored or misunderstood, leading to an over-emphasised control-knob theory and an inappropriate leaning towards unlikely outlier scenarios. So in this case the academy excoriated them, sent messages to their peer-pals in important positions that these personages should be excluded at all costs, held lectures and discussions where speakers queued to ‘blow up’ these people and then thank them for offering themselves for an explosion, had internal communication called climategate where letters recorded their fears about what would happen to their over-precious theories should these challenging ideas take hold, and indeed it wouldn’t surprise me if they warned juniors that their careers were doomed if they went anywhere near these propositions (although I don’t know if there’s evidence of this). They did all this not because the proposed theories are incomplete (which they are), or even that they are insufficient (well there’s more than one theory and some more plausible than others no doubt, but the absence of enough data means they are not really ‘sufficient’ yet either, any more than the orthodox ones are), but because they represented a serious threat to the established cultural order. Same actions for the geological case, and same reason why.

    “I was fortunate to be a student at a very exciting time, although we didn’t really recognize it.”

    Indeed so. Your related experiences are quite something, I think I may be jealous 0:


  38. Andy,

    “This is not the slightest bit how science should work.”

    Please take note of the context in which I stated ‘this is how science should work’. I did not make the assumption – as you have – that the development of Wegener’s theory had been hindered for years by cultural resistance from within mainstream consensus science, because I’m not knowledgeable enough on the subject to assess the evidence for or against that. I merely noted that science did progress and that plate tectonic theory became the dominant accepted theory – backed up by copious evidence – for continental drift. That is how science should work.

    With anthropogenic climate change, I have rather more knowledge and somewhat more robust evidence to tentatively conclude that research into natural climate change processes has indeed been hindered by resistance from the consensus. This is not how science should work and it can be demonstrated with factual examples that, with climate change in particular, science is not working as it should.


  39. Jaime:

    “Please take note of the context…”

    Noted, and I did. I assumed you’d read the article and were stating this despite what it said. So a withholding of judgement would perhaps be more appropriate than a statement of ‘this is how science should work’, as indeed you now imply. I agree too that one article should never form the basis for judgement; I have read other stuff over the years but I’ve never recorded / collected it.


  40. David Wallace-Wells seems to be suffering from what Lewandowsky and Cook refer to as the World-view Backfire Effect.

    Confronting people with true facts and statements that counter their beliefs can fail to persuade them, but have the opposite effect.

    The most common response was attitude bolstering – bringing supporting facts to mind while ignoring any contrary facts. The process of bringing to the fore supporting facts resulted in strengthening people’s erroneous belief.

    If facts cannot dissuade a person from their pre-existing beliefs – and can sometimes make things worse – how can we possibly reduce the effect of misinformation? There are two sources of hope.

    First, the Worldview Backfire Effect is strongest among those already fixed in their views. You therefore stand a greater chance of correcting misinformation among those not as firmly decided about hot-button issues. This suggests that outreaches should be directed towards the undecided majority rather than the unswayable minority.

    Second, messages can be presented in ways that reduce the usual psychological resistance. For example, when worldview-threatening messages are coupled with so-called self-affirmation, people become more balanced in considering pro and con information.

    This is what is happening to the climate alarmist community. They are being bombarded with the observations and opinions that oppose mantras like “Climate Change is real, serious, human-caused and solvable” but cannot accept that contrary evidence. The solution is to exclude alternative voices from the media and spread a message that makes people feel hopeless and fearful.

    Yet people quickly find that they are powerless to achieve the solution. That proposed policy solution is to reduce global emissions to zero. As most countries, with 80% of the global populations and around two-thirds of global emissions are exempt from any obligation from reducing their emissions, achieving policy objectives requires engagement with those countries. It also involves engagement with those countries which rely on the production of fossil fuels for a large part of their national income, such as Russia and nations in the Middle East. By Lewandowsky and Cook’s Worldview Backfire effect, they are telling developing countries that a major source of rapid economic growth (and thus poverty reduction) is damaging future generations. Similarly, fossil fuel producers are receiving the message that the very thing that provides them with national prosperity is harmful to future well-being. But when alarmists cannot engage with non-believers with similar Western Worldviews, they are not going to persuade those with very different Worldviews and who have much more to lose by embracing the mitigation pathway.


  41. John, indeed, rather than shy away from a willingness to embrace the idea of catastrophic outcomes, it seems to be almost the default option of the human race to lap up the concept of Armageddon. The ozone hole of the early 80’s was going to make rabbits go blind en masse in the southern hemisphere and cause us all to die of skin cancer within 50 years. Hollywood leapt on Broecker’s abrupt shutdown of the Gulf Stream theory and the film made millions! We love catastrophe. The only time we don’t love it is when it’s happening. That’s why alarmists are trying so hard – unsuccessfully – to prove to us that it really is happening.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. MB:

    What amuses me most, is that Lew exhibits to an extreme degree all of the bias / behaviours that his (largely pre-climate phase) efforts have researched.


  43. “We love catastrophe.”

    This is very much the case. Often coupled with relevant salvation. This provides a powerful hope+fear cocktail that triggers our emotive conviction (albeit there are often a bunch of lesser emotive persuaders in attendance too).


  44. Jaime. Fascinating story about David Attenborough. I see nothing wrong with the response he received (except the sneering). The objection proffered was a very real one – there were suggestions of mechanisms but all had major flaws. The fact that Wegener offered six possible mechanisms demonstrates just how tenuous each of them were. At the time of Attenborough, knowledge of mantle rheology was in its infancy and insufficient to support any viable mechanism.
    Geologists of the early twentieth century I suggest are unduly chastised by us 21st century types for their rejection of Wegenerian theory. They had a duty to be custodians of their science, to protect it from being sent down false paths or paths insufficiently supported by evidence. Darwin produced a revolutionary theory supported by masses of carefully assembled evidence. It even lacked an adequate mechanism. Yet it’s simplicity and enormous evidence base were sufficient to attract some respected individuals to its cause. Wegener attracted no such support, and had insufficient evidential support.
    The remarkable aspect of the theory, nevertheless was its persistence. It never went away, Attenborough had heard of it. It arose phoenix like when technology had developed sufficiently to investigate the oceans and provide the necessary evidence for its acceptance. If there had been an underlying cultural resistance, I suggest Wegener’s heresy would have been completely buried and would not have been so completely and rapidly resurrected.
    Yes there might well have been some nastiness, but I never experienced any and my university years spanned the transition between rejection and acceptance of Wegener’s ideas.


  45. After the war, US personnel discovered a very large diary dictated by Dr Go*bbels. In it are his principles of propaganda. Leonard Doob’s in a 1950 article details them from a translation of the diary by Louis Lochner (1948). These principles …

    Avoid abstract ideas – appeal to the emotions.
    Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped phrases.
    Give only one side of the argument.
    Continuously criticize your opponents.
    Pick out one special “enemy” for special vilification.

    Disturbing when science parallels principles of propaganda.


  46. Alan, “if there had been an underlying cultural resistance, I suggest Wegener’s heresy would have been completely buried and would not have been so completely and rapidly resurrected.”

    This is a non-sequitur. There is huge cultural resistance to skeptical notions of climate change, but likewise they persist and have never gotten completely buried, have always remained a significant thorn in the side of ‘the consensus’. I’d guess there’s more than 6 notions too. It is not which one (or ones, or any) that might be right which matters, it’s the fact that they are legitimate angles that the academy should consider not inappropriately exclude, and that the consensus is likely wrong too (because it is culturally, not evidentially supported). I note that you use the religious / cultural term ‘heresy’ regarding his theory, which indeed is how the consensus of the era regarded it. Here’s to hoping climate skeptical objections will one day rise to their proper / appropriate consideration in a similarly rapid phase one day 🙂


  47. Alan, I guess what I was trying to get across is that it is human nature to resist change (especially if your career depends upon the status quo). It’s unfortunately all too human to sneer at and dismiss anything which is considered speculative, especially when one is in a position which is firmly grounded and supported by one’s peers. We are, by and large, creatures of habit, most comfortable with the familiar and the well established and we tend to reject that which threatens that stable sense of familiarity. In the case of Wegener’s Theory, there was very good reason to reject change. When there was not good reason, change happened and science progressed. Andy maintains that human nature dominated the continued rejection of Wegener’s theory. You argue that it was simply a lack of a viable mechanism for his theory and your personal experience tends to back that up. I argue that, whatever the case, science and real world evidence triumphed in the end. It’s my personal opinion that climate change catastrophists are about to get whacked hard by the inexorable progress of scientific knowledge and the accumulation of hard data, but I could be wrong and the very opposite might happen.


  48. “They had a duty to be custodians of their science, to protect it from being sent down false paths or paths insufficiently supported by evidence.”

    This is an argument invoked by climate orthodoxy when arguing how damaging skeptical views are to science and to ‘real’ scientists, as indeed was invoked over climategate being due to harassment. It’s essentially an appeal to authority that should have no place in science. No protection should be needed from evidence that doesn’t work. Evidence that does work should not be resisted no matter what it overturns. Of course ‘work’ is often insufficiently known due to uncertainties, the proper reaction is to withhold judgement while further work is pursued, not throw legitimate lines of inquiry out of the academy and attach enormous stigma to them. Of course the world is not ideal, and never can be; so for instance lines of evidence backed by enormous funding and suspiciously ardent gov or corp push, may indeed merit a more critical eye to see whether all that funding and attention has caused bias. But unless one believes the merchants of doubt meme or evil oil funding memes, skeptical notions have not had such backing or push. Nor did Wegener.

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  49. I tend to agree with Andy there. The only duty a scientist has is to be continually open to challenge of the orthodoxy and the emergence of conflicting evidence. Wegener’s Theory was apparently rejected primarily because of the lack of evidence, not because geologists were intent on maintaining the integrity of the then currently prevailing body of knowledge. This is part of the problem with modern climate science: scientists have actively assumed the role of custodians of The Science and are not merely content to let – in their opinion – bad evidence and bad theories which run counter to the consensus merely fall by the wayside and fail on their lack of merit.


  50. “Wegener’s Theory was apparently rejected primarily because of the lack of evidence, not because geologists were intent on maintaining the integrity of the then currently prevailing body of knowledge.”


    ‘By the 1920s, Chamberlin was the dean of American science and his colleagues fawned that his originality put him on a par with Newton and Galileo. But he had also become besotted with his own theory of earth’s origins, which treated the oceans and continents as fixed features. This “great love affair” with his own work was characterized, historian Robert Dott writes, “by elaborate, rhetorical pirouetting with old and new evidence.” Chamberlin’s democratic ideals—or perhaps some more personal motivation—**required grinding Wegener’s grandiose theorizing underfoot**. Rollin T. Chamberlin, who was also a University of Chicago geologist, did his father’s dirty work…’

    (Asterisks mine).

    ‘Young Chamberlin also quoted an unnamed geologist’s remark that inadvertently revealed the heart of the problem: “If we are to believe Wegener’s hypothesis we must forget everything which has been learned in the last 70 years and start all over again.”’


  51. Andy There are two words in a sentence within your last post that I object to “it’s the fact that they are legitimate angles that the academy should consider not inappropriately exclude…” : legitimate and inappropriate. You are using them in the 21st century to make judgements about a scientific controversy that occurred a century ago. Who could be trusted to make those judgements?
    Think yourself back into the early twentieth century. A meteorologist with no geological training proposes to revolutionize geology by proposing the unthinkable – that rocky continents could split apart with the parts migrating across the ROCKY ocean floor propelled by some unknown force. Suggestions for a possible mechanism were out of reach (deep within the Earth) and therefore could not be a subject of study. Much of the evidence, matching coastlines was falsifiable, other evidence was poorly known in the northern hemisphere and the biogeographical arguments were already being explained differently (by vanished landbridges between continents).
    So a revolutionary theory requiring but lacking a viable mechanism, a theory with insufficient supporting evidence or evidence explained by other means, a theory which, at the time, would have stretched credibility and would have necessitated throwing aside well established interpretations (on the basis of an inadequately proven hypothesis), this theory was inappropriately dealt with (according to you) .
    So, who should make judgements about “legitimate” and “inappropriate”? Well, for me it would be the geologists of the time, and they did. They judged the theory inadequate and suggested continued investigation of it inappropriate (even if the necessary studies required were even possible). But even with this opposition, the ideas never went away. It was a theory pushed well before its time.


  52. Jaime. Once again I feel the need to apologize to you for deliberately dragging one of your posts into a different direction from that you probably intended.


  53. Alan,

    “legitimate and inappropriate…. …You are using them in the 21st century to make judgements about a scientific controversy that occurred a century ago.”

    Not at all. My point is precisely the opposite, i.e. that science never knows and even in theory can never know, what the eventual context will be regarding these words. In any era, regarding any future, in which we now live for this particular case. And this nor the fundamental nature of the challenge is no reason whatsoever to stigmatise work, eject it from the academy, close ranks, exercise bias, and pour scorn on its originators. So there was serious doubt as to legitimacy, well fine! If the work is so flawed that those doubts will mature and the proposition will easily get debunked, either immediately or over some time while evidence accumulates, then what’s the problem? The work would fail of its own account (and vast amounts of work, fundamental or not, do fail in this very way). This is what is supposed to happen. But it can’t happen at all if the work is excluded from the process, just as climate skeptic notions are similarly stigmatised and excluded.

    “Who could be trusted to make those judgements?”

    Exactly! No-one! The enterprise must do its work, ONLY the scientific method can judge, and to exclude the propositions from the academy with enough stigma to ensure that the scientific method will not get a chance to execute on this work for decades, is effectively pre-judging the situation in the immediate and absolute negative sense. The discipline elite were allowed to exercise judgement, no-one stopped them, and you are right, it turned out that they could not be trusted. No one can!

    “Think yourself back into the early twentieth century.”

    There is no era, unless before modern science appeared, and no proposition, that deserves all the atrocious bias and behaviours listed in that article, which yet again you do not address in any way. Science only will make the judgement of what is legitimate, not vain Deans besotted with their own theory, not ANY individual; so if because…

    “It was a theory pushed well before its time.”

    …there was insufficient evidence to accept, then absolutely fine, let the thing have the oxygen of science and the academy to see whether it stands or falls. That oxygen was emphatically denied, in a sufficiently heavy-handed way as to have starved the proper process for many years.


  54. “…and suggested continued investigation of it inappropriate…”

    ‘suggested’? Say what??

    ‘For decades afterward, older geologists warned newcomers that any hint of an interest in continental drift would doom their careers’

    This is rather like the Mafia ‘suggesting’ you might like to pay them some protection money. There have been rumours in the past of similar ‘suggestions’ regarding climate careers and skepticism, though it’s not something I’ve ever looked into.


  55. Jaime, Alex. It’s amazing just how fast this three way discussion on Wegener progresses. I slowly compose and type out a response and after posting it there are two or three responses waiting, commonly raising new issues. I really only have two main issues with your responses.
    1. You make judgements, as persons knowing that Wegener was essentially correct, thus damning the negative reactions of his geological contemporaries. I maintain that, for the times, those reactions were the correct ones. You don’t trash huge swathes of your discipline on the basis of insufficient evidence. Nor do you waste precious research time or money upon possibilities that, in your view, are not warranted.
    2. Opposition was not only based upon a lack of an adequate mechanism, it was that any continental movement would violate what was thought to be known about the Earth’s physical properties. Wegener’s main opponents would turn out to be not geologists, but geophysicists.

    If I had been a early twentieth century geologist or geophysicist I would have joined the anti-Wegener chorus and not for any “cultural” reason.


  56. Jaime,

    The author of the article is not explicit regarding the cognitive biases that concern him, but it would appear from his text that he is alluding to normality bias, status quo bias, optimism bias, and system justification. He seems confident that these provide a complete picture, hence:

    “These optimistic prejudices, prophylactic biases and emotional reflexes form an entire library of climate delusion.”

    Would that were true! An ‘entire library of climate delusion’ would have to also include the biases upon which alarmism is founded. Unfortunately, the psycho-ecologists seem to have a strange blind-spot when it comes to such biases. As the author himself says:

    “We can’t see anything but through cataracts of self-deception.”

    Talk about being hoisted by one’s own petard!


  57. Andy. “For decades afterward, older geologists warned newcomers that any hint of an interest in continental drift would doom their careers’
    Much too strong a comment, for during those decades continental drift was taught as a speculative hypothesis and probably dismissed for lack of evidence and for violating geophysical “knowledge”. Nothing had essentially changed in the period between the 1920s and the earliest 1960s. So the advice remained the same.
    After that period three changes occurred – 1. Familiarity of the similar geology of the southern Gondwana continents began to grow in the northern hemisphere, 2. Polar wandering curves were established for the different continents using palaeomagnetism and 3, the relative youth of ocean basins was established by ocean drilling of their basement basalts and dating them. With the explanation of ocean floor magnetic stripes, resistance to Wegener’s theory withered away extremely quickly. The evidence needed to support Wegener had arrived.
    As to the mechanism, a short reading of Wikipedia reveals this still isn’t agreed upon.
    Now the advice probably is that disbelief in Wegener is probably career threatening.


  58. Alan:

    That bitterness communicated to me per above, while only anecdotal, suggests there is indeed more substance behind the comment about careers. Most of that was hardly likely to be public, and there was no Internet in 1930 or 50 or whatever. And this is indeed only one article, but your stance thus far has not been therefore that withholding judgement on its relation of history and quotes is appropriate pending more, which is fine, but simply not acknowledging the possibility of all of the things it actually says re bias and behaviours, some of which are direct quotes of the time, and being unacceptable behaviour, unless you do accept it?

    “If I had been a early twentieth century geologist or geophysicist I would have joined the anti-Wegener chorus…”

    I think you’re better than that. The chorus:
    …Lingering anti-German sentiment
    …thanked the absent “Professor Wegener for offering himself for the explosion.”
    …“Germanic pseudo­-science”
    …accused Wegener of toying with the evidence to spin himself into “a state of auto-intoxication.”
    …“wrong for a stranger to the facts he handles to generalize from them.”
    …geology’s equivalent of O.J. Simpson’s glove.
    …required grinding Wegener’s grandiose theorizing underfoot
    …inadvertently revealed the heart of the problem: “If we are to believe Wegener’s hypothesis we must forget everything which has been learned in the last 70 years and start all over again.”
    …launch another flurry of attacks on his “fairy tale” theory
    … For decades afterward, older geologists warned newcomers that any hint of an interest in continental drift would doom their careers.

    Science: There isn’t enough evidence to support this theory

    Proper reaction: Discuss, throw it around, pursue, at minimum don’t do…

    Actual reaction: Stigmatize theory and person, prevent pursuit

    Skeptisicm of the theory is fine, in the circumstances one would expect nothing else. Vilification and closing ranks of the academy and the other biasing effects, are no better than what is happening with climate science today. That the theory earned vitriol and scorn, in part for being an outside challenge, and indeed most from geophysicists, is not in dispute. Are you claiming that vitriol and scorn and ridicule are proper reactions of science and scientists? McIntyre is also an outsider who challenged the elite in a discipline too, and despite politeness and enormous patience, got the same treatment, and the same long-term blocking from academia. Why do you think the reactions are different?

    Yes Wegener lacked a mechanism. So did Darwin, his own suggestion of various propositions that were offered over the years was wrong, and the actual mechanism wasn’t proved until the discovery of DNA was published a century after Darwin’s publication. A much bigger gap than in the Wegener case. The lack of a mechanism in no way explains the treatment of Wegener and his theory.


  59. John:

    “Unfortunately, the psycho-ecologists seem to have a strange blind-spot when it comes to such biases.”

    Very true! Given their emotive conviction to the cause, the problem here is that they’d be forced to see the contradictions within themselves. Doubling down, especially per Lew, seems to be the way they are going.


  60. Let me try one last tack. At the same time plate tectonics was achieving acceptance Soviet geologists were developing the concept of oceanization – the conversion of less dense, siliceous continental crust into higher density, mafic-rich oceanic crust. This was an attempt to explain why mountains in the Crimea disappear beneath the Sea of Azov only to reappear as the Caucasus Mountains. In a similar fashion the Crimea Mountains disappear westwards beneath the Black Sea only to reappear in Romania. What the Russians proposed was that the crust between the surviving mountains had been consumed by this oceanization process. Unfortunately such a process would involve the removal of enormous volumes of rock and wholesale geochemical changes. These changes would have occurred without leaving evidence in the adjacent mountains.
    You are asked to support this hypothesis – something with hardly any scientific evidence. What would you recommend? As far as I can tell this scenario is extremely similar to that facing geologists with the appearance of Wegener’s hypothesis.


  61. Alan,

    yet again, you haven’t addressed any of the stuff above about bias and behaviours from the article.

    “What would you recommend?”

    Exactly the same as for the Von Danniken example you gave. Let science do its job. The thing will stand or fall on its own legs. I would only be asked to support such a proposition if I was someone with relevant expertise in the domain, and of course I can’t tell what my opinion would be if I possessed such (presumably conventional) expertise. But what I *wouldn’t* do is signal to my peer-pals that these Soviet geologists are guys are to be avoided and closed down, spout vitriol and ridicule and condone blatant attacks on their work that are clearly not motivated by their lack of evidence / mechanism, or even indeed use the authority of my position / expertise to publicly announce that theirs “is a theory which explains nothing we wish to explain.” (see below). Unless it is so far back that everything was still molten (what you describe seems nothing like that kind of age at all), everything in geology leaves evidence. There will be paper trails, which eventually will or won’t support the theory, just like any other theory.

    If you want more than the Smithsonian, try some other sources which point out that what happened was no way what we’d aspire for science to be doing, but indeed featured strong cultural reactions, for instance:

    Inside Science (Nov 2015, Joel Shurkin, guest columnist):
    “When I was an undergraduate at Emory University in the late 1950s, I took Geology 101. Besides teaching us about rocks and rock formations, it went into the origin of Earth, and how continents were formed. It was taught with all the assurance you get when scientists are positive they know what they are talking about… …The man who shifted the geology paradigm was Alfred Wegener and he was never mentioned in my Geology 101 class. How this happened was discussed at a meeting of the Geology Society of America in Baltimore earlier this month… …His problem was, said Jordan [associate professor of physical sciences and oceanography at Brigham Young University], that he couldn’t explain the mechanism. And, he was fighting an established consensus. The battle eventually turned into one between southern geologists, mostly in South Africa, who backed the theory of moving continents and Wegener, and northern geologists who wanted none of it. I was taught at a school in the Northern Hemisphere. Wegener was never mentioned. Wegener was ostracized and lost several teaching appointments because of his unconventional theory. The eminent British geologist Sir Harold Jeffreys wrote that his theory of drifting continents “is a theory which explains nothing we wish to explain.” He was also hampered by not having a mechanism to explain how continents can move through solid rock, Jordan said. “They [other geologists] said ‘if you are going to come up with a hypothesis, you are going to have to come up with some explanation to explain that hypothesis.’ To be fair, that’s not how science works. They weren’t being fair to Wegener.” Jordan said Wegener also was rejected in part because he was a meteorologist, not a geologist, and scientists, like many professionals, can grow unhappy when someone out of their field intrudes. That is still true today… … Jordan said that when he was a graduate student, he went up to his professor and asked how geologists explained things like mountains and earthquakes before Wegener and the acceptance of plate tectonics. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

    Prof. James S. Aber Earth Science Department Emporia State University
    ‘Without a plausible physical mechanism for continental drift, many people considered the whole idea ridiculous. In 1926, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) held a special symposium on the hypothesis of continental drift. AAPG was and still is one the largest and most influential geological organizations in the world. Nearly every aspect of continental drift was criticized. American geology was held in high regard in the early 20th century, and such complete rejection of continental drift put an end to serious scientific discussion of the idea for the next four decades. It could be argued that AAPG was not an appropriate body to render a decision on Wegener’s ideas considering the state of petroleum geology at the time. Oil and gas were produced only from land areas; no offshore oil wells were drilled until after World War II. Petroleum geologists were land-based continental geologists; they had no experience, interest, or appreciation for marine geology of the ocean basins. Furthermore, petroleum geology was (and still is) an applied aspect of the profession. The goal is to find oil and gas, not to understand basic principles of Earth history and global tectonics. In the early twentieth century, AAPG had no economic incentive to consider the possible implications of continental drift… …With the view of historical analysis, it seems clear that Wegener and continental drift fit a pattern that has been repeated many times in geology as well as other scientific disciplines. As a discipline matures through time, complacency and authority develop, such that new ideas become increasingly difficult to accept. Those who are trained in the discipline learn a body of data, facts, methods, and theories that are taken to be literally true. To suggest otherwise may not be in the best interest of a person’s reputation and career. Most practitioners of a discipline, thus, have “closed minds” to anything outside the normal dimensions of their work. This was the situation into which Wegener ventured with his hypothesis of continental drift.’

    100 years of continental drift, Romano and Cifelli, Science 20 Nov 2015: Vol. 350, Issue 6263
    ‘The drift hypothesis was so iconoclastic that it earned vitriol, ridicule, and scorn from specialists, whose own published records were premised on a horizontally immobile Earth crust. Paleontologists were quick to point to their own expertise, some invoking the existence of sunken intercontinental bridges.’

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  62. I think in this discussion both Alan and Andy have missed an important point. That is that the experimental data that came to light in the 60s and later did not so much prove the theory of continental drift as made the older fixed continent theory untenable. It was a shift in the balance of evidence that caused the shift in the accepted theory.

    The whole history of science has operated in much the same way. Ptolemaic astronomy was the ‘best’ science until people started adding more data and realised the model didn’t exactly fit. The same in medicine with Galen and Paracelsus. The messy change over from one dominant theory to the next gave us the old saw about ‘New theories are never proved, it’s just that proponents of the old ones die first’. Which leads me to suspect that the greenhouse gas theory of climate change is going to follow the same well-trod path.

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  63. Today Plate Tectonics, which is so much more than continental drift, is all encompassing, affecting almost every part of geology. It is now perhaps difficult to perceive that when continental drift was proselytized by Wegener it would have ranked much, much lower in importance. This ranking certainly persisted until the early 1960s when I was an undergraduate. It was covered as a topic, but perhaps as an afterthought at my London college. Elsewhere in the UK it may have been deliberately excluded, as at Cambridge on the grounds that, without a feasible mechanism, continental drift was “moonshine”. But, in the UK it was a topic in some textbooks and people would know of it, as did Attenborough.

    I am criticised for not acknowledging the poor behaviour of many towards Wegener and his ideas, especially in the USA. So I here do so. I wonder why? If I were writing a screenplay for a film about Wegener’s lifestory I would suggest that it might have been because of his irritating persistence. The first edition of his book would have been rejected for not providing a mechanism, for riding roughshod over what was known about rock physics and using non-geological evidence. Then Wegener pops up with several successive editions. Wegener just wouldn’t go away, so the opposition became ever more stronger and objectionable. I doubt if continental drift was ever threatening, despite what later commentators write.
    So did the opposition to the continental drift hypothesis damage the science of geology? Many believe so, but I believe they are blinded by the overarching reach of modern plate tectonics believing that if only geology had pursued Wegener’s lead we would have reached the golden highlands of plate tectonics so much sooner. As I have outlined earlier, I doubt this. Advancement required enormous strides to be made on numerous geophysical fronts, many of which were dependent upon technological developments that occurred during and because of the Second World War. So was geology damaged? I would suggest not, or no more than it was in America by rejecting the catastrophist explanation of the channelled scablands. But these are just opinions.

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  64. Bill, I’m sorry if any lack of clarity of my writing led you to believe that I had ignored the importance of experimental work. However I have repeatedly mentioned palaeomagnetism and made passing mention of high pressure and temperature studies of rock reology. But neither of these excluded the possibility of a rigid Earth with fixed continents. The finding of different polar wandering curves for different continents was initially interpreted as being due to the magnetic poles wandering (as ours do today) and there being more than one pair of poles in the past. Later, using the original ideas of migrating continents , it became clear that the simpler explanation was to keep a single pair of magnetic poles and allow the continents to move around along different paths.
    I would suggest that the rigid earth interpretation was never formally disproven, it simply faded away, swamped by a flood of discoveries as Plate Tectonics began to explain more and more of geology. It had predictive power. The fact that most of the new confirming evidence for continental drift came from its chief critics – the geophysicists – was critical in explaining the rapidity of the revolution. Geologists had to play catchup.


  65. Bill, a shift in the balance of evidence is a very good way to describe how old theories fade and new theories come to be accepted mainstream science. Rarely is anything proved or disproved beyond all doubt. Science is not like pure mathematics! The balance of evidence is starting to shift in the field of climate science, dominated hitherto by the catastrophic global warming meme, where the ‘evidence’ – such as it is – has been unfairly weighted.


  66. Bill:

    I think you have a point and indeed it is part of the same one that I’m making. I.e. that factors which are (or should be) nothing to do with science, but to do with culture and emotive convictions etc, can and do play a large part in whether theories advance smoothly or not. Indeed the Smithsonian article says: ‘We like to imagine that knowledge advances fact upon dispassionate fact to reveal precise and irrefutable truths. But there is hardly a better example of just how messy and emotional science can be than Wegener’s discovery…” …and if for such reasons certain angles are excluded from the academy (or most of it) overlong, then indeed a position will eventually be reached where an older consensus is simply flying on reputation and authority status only, so indeed becomes untenable and then suddenly undermined as the evidence built up over years, yet suppressed from proper expression, finally breaks out like a dam-burst. As the same article notes, the turnabout came quickly. However…

    “The whole history of science has operated in much the same way.”

    …this is not the case. It has happened frequently, indeed systemically; this is why we need to stop brushing such cases under the carpet, pretending they are minor exceptions and / or de-emphasising their occurrence in history, e.g. by saying that ‘science triumphed in the end so all was well’. It was most certainly not well, and the same mechanisms are in play yet again in climate science now, on a much larger scale and with much more social impact. This is why we need to understand, and hence mitigate, these behaviours that have often spiked the enterprise of science. BUT lots of science is *not* heavily impacted in this way, and proceeds more or less as we would wish, even sometimes when the theories are extremely challenging. For instance the mechanism for Darwin’s theory was not pinned down for a century (between his publication and that of Watson and Crick), with various propositions over those years being wrong, as was Darwin’s own. This is a much longer gap than occurred to fill in mechanism for the Wegener case; I guess it was just some extremely difficult science / experiment to work through. But this didn’t stop theory being accepted and within a relatively short time the academy working hard to find a mechanism. Arguments / discussions occurred, sometimes very robust, but they were largely in-house, so not in the context of stigmatising and excluding the theory (as also for instance with skeptic climate notions now), which seriously attenuated the search for mechanisms. We need much more effort on the science of science sociality and the science of science communication in order to upgrade the enterprise of science to have much more robust protections against cultural takeover. Otherwise situations such as we find with climate change now, will continue to be inevitable.


  67. Alan,

    “Wegener just wouldn’t go away, so the opposition became ever more stronger and objectionable…”

    So this is the exact opposite of how science should have reacted, given also that each of his passes was an improvement. Did the academy expect Darwin to completely rewrite biology on his own, including all relevant mechanisms, and only knock upon the door again when he was done? Meanwhile beg outside that door. Did the absence of a mechanism (for a much longer period of time than in the geology case) cause the academy to reject and stigmatise him? Well despite robust exchanges and fractures, NO. And when was being ‘objectional’ *ever* a proper response of science? So thank goodness for Wegener’s ‘irritating’ persistence, or the situation might have been even still worse. If science authority and established consensus is not being ‘irritated’ by new knowledge, something is seriously wrong. Being irritating and persistent is an argument levelled by climate orthodoxy at those who constantly attempt to get sceptic notions into the formal agenda of the domain, but this in truth is no argument at all.

    “I doubt if continental drift was ever threatening, despite what later commentators write. So did the opposition to the continental drift hypothesis damage the science of geology? Many believe so…”

    The Smithsonian article includes direct quotes from the time describing the threat. And while your defence of the discipline is highly understandable, I sympathise, and indeed the hardest thing for me ever to get my head around (being a huge supporter of science from childhood) is that the enterprise of science does systemically fail, we not only need to take these commentators and historic lessons seriously, we need to address the generic mechanisms of those failures, otherwise as noted to Bill above, situations such as we find with climate change now, will continue to be inevitable.

    What would have happened without the inappropriate rejection / stigmatization in the geology case is unknowable, especially with so much data and players lost to history. But he *may* have been in his own lifetime the Darwin of geology, and it’s very hard to believe that the prospects for mechanism discoveries wouldn’t have been hugely improved by this outcome, with the academy actively looking, as indeed was exactly the case with Darwin. Meanwhile, we have a real case, ongoing, albeit on a bigger scale, with all the data and players fresh, and we know jolly well that the domain is damaged because of it. The cultural mechanisms are the same.


  68. Climate sceptics have become so irritating that it has become necessary to officially quarantine them – in a nice little cubby-hole labeled variously ‘science deniers’, ‘conspiracy theorists’, ‘fossil fuel shills’ and now, according to our learned friend, David Wallace-Wells, sufferers of a mental aversion to catastrophic outcomes. People like Lew, Cook and Oreskes have pioneered this approach and Lew is still at it, supported by the academic establishment.

    Paul has challenged the author on Twitter:

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  69. The missing mechanism of inheritance necessary for the Darwin theory of Natural Selection to succeed had already been discovered by Mendel in Brno. Unfortunately Darwin was unaware of it (as were most scientists) otherwise Origin of Species would have been even stronger. Even Darwin reneged, reverting to Larmarkian views of inheritance and undermining the recognition of the great importance of his great work. Mendel’s theories were rediscovered and integrated with the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory of inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1915. This chimera was then combined with the theory of natural section by Ronald Fisher in the 1930s. Darwin’s main legacy was the discovery and documentation of natural selection, and not evolution in its fullest sense.


  70. Alan,

    “Unfortunately Darwin was unaware of it (as were most scientists)…”

    Indeed, but a) those ‘most scientists’ representing the academy didn’t reject and stigmatise Darwin because of the lack of mechanism of which they were also unaware, and b) it was *not* a complete mechanism by any means; it was a strong empirical clue as to what the nature of the mechanism might be, which indeed had to wait an entire century before being definitively pinned down.


  71. Jaime:

    Bill, a shift in the balance of evidence is a very good way to describe how old theories fade and new theories come to be accepted mainstream science. Rarely is anything proved or disproved beyond all doubt. Science is not like pure mathematics! The balance of evidence is starting to shift in the field of climate science, dominated hitherto by the catastrophic global warming meme, where the ‘evidence’ – such as it is – has been unfairly weighted.

    Interesting discussion of plate tectonics, and what preceded it, and modern theories of evolution, and what preceded them. The problem with any parallel being made with climate is the difference in the scale of the money at stake – both being put into the scientific research, including ‘impacts’, from George Bush Snr’s expansion of the funding from 1989 onwards, and in the resulting scams (or, slightly more politely, crony capitalism) arising from terrible energy policies nominally based on the corrupted science. Panic sells – but much more than newspapers.

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  72. Andy , what are you talking about? Darwin (and Wallace) described the MECHANISM of evolution – natural selection. Evolution had been proposed before Darwin, and as I have already described required a mechanism for ensuring traits selected for by natural selection could be transferred to offspring. Understanding this inheritance was to take many more years and the rescuing of Mendel’s work from obscurity.


  73. This afternoon I went to our loft, there to rescue some old dust covered notes. Made two “discoveries” about Wegener, which are rather contradictory.
    1. Initially he described new ocean forming at the Mid Atlantic ridge as the ocean is split apart. This is essentially our present-day understanding. But in subsequent editions this insight was abandoned.
    2. He was completely wrong in believing the continents were moved through oceans by some force rather than by sitting upon moving oceans (as we believe now). There was also no conception of plates composed of continental AND oceanic crust (or oceanic crust alone). Nor would this be expected given the state of knowledge at the time.
    It is difficult to determine which explanation would have prevailed if Wegener had been given a better reception.
    Explanation 1 could have led to an earlier appreciation of a plate tectonics theory, but would have required massive funding to sponsor marine geology (most unlikely).
    Explanation 2, if pursued, would have led down a blind alley.

    Liked by 2 people

  74. Alan,

    “Darwin (and Wallace) described the MECHANISM of evolution – natural selection.”

    Of course! But they had no idea how it happened inside biology. Darwin’s own idea was way out.


  75. Alan,

    1 + 2 : None of which in any way addresses any of the above issues of bias / stigma etc as represented by the quoted sources. As noted above, we cannot know what *would* have happened if the enterprise of science had functioned as we would like it to. But the point is, it didn’t. And it didn’t in ways that while on a smaller scale, in terms of the size of the academy, social impact, and indeed as Richard points out, money too, have underlying mechanisms shared with the climate case.


  76. Andy, again what are you talking about? Darwin in particular described in exquisite detail the mechanism of Natural Selection (together with describing the natural variation that occurs in species). You appear to be mixing up INHERITANCE of selected characters, which Darwin failed to understand (although he fully understood the necessity for) with what he did achieve.
    Darwin was unable to demonstrate natural selection in operation although Tutt’s observations of the Peppered Moth in England soon provided a simply magnificent example.


  77. Jaime,

    I have to say that until the New Yorker Mag article came out, I was beginning to wonder where the end-point actually was, i.e. the point at which even the strictly orthodox are forced to push back, which point must theoretically exist somewhere but until then seemed not to. When Mann weighed in against it, there was at last a marker for this point, extreme though it is. The marker is useful, because while it won’t stop the appearance of stuff that goes further (indeed it seems not to have stopped WW) in principle this is the point where the messaging will likely be damaging orthodoxy, and losing them more recruits than it gains. In policy terms, the NGD may have reached the same point, which presumably is why US Reps were all for having a vote on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  78. “Andy, again what are you talking about?”

    I could ask the same of you. Of course your last is not in question at all (so why ask??). But per your own posts too, no-one had a clue what the biological mechanisms were via which natural selection could take place, and as you also pointed out a strong clue went missing in action for years. Indeed you described part of this journey yourself. And ‘Darwin’s lack of a model of the mechanism of inheritance left him unable to interpret his own data that showed Mendelian ratios, even though he shared with Mendel a more mathematical and probabilistic outlook than most biologists of his time.’ However, his ‘pangenesis’ model was wrong (as were offerings from others). The fact that you can use the word ‘mechanism’ in different contexts within this discussion should not confuse, because the contexts have all been clear.


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