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A Brief History of the Fact

When I first started perusing the wonderfully wide world of the web, searching for the juiciest and truthiest of global warming facts, I would often come across sites upon which the owner had helpfully summarised the nature of the debate using two lists: one labelled ‘The Facts’ and the other labelled ‘The Myths’. However, it soon transpired that it was always the same pair of lists and the only difference between the sceptics and believers was their allocation of labels. This, of course, didn’t help a great deal. Such games of declarative ping-pong also called into question the very concept of the ‘fact’. Just how factual does a fact have to be before some group or other can’t label it a myth?

Now I am older and wiser, and when I happen across a website claiming to know the difference between a global warming fact and a myth I find it a lot harder to fake the ecstasy. I already know that it is a myth that 1970s scientists were more worried about an imminent ice age than they were of global warming, and I already know that it is a myth that this is a myth. Much better that I waste my time investigating whence we first got the idea that there were any such things as facts.

The Fact is Born

To understand how the ‘fact’ came to monopolize our grasp of reality one has to appreciate that the word originates from the Latin factum, meaning ‘that which has been done’. Accordingly, the word found its earliest application within ye olde judicial system as it strove to ascertain the deeds that had been performed (this usage can still be found in phrases such as ‘accessory after the fact’). The wider meaning relating to the observation of events or situations, as opposed to just the testimony of deeds, only became prevalent in the mid to late 17th century. Prior to that, there was no need for a word to describe a reality determined through observation or experiment, since the Ancients had already sorted reality out – at least as far as the medieval mind-set was concerned.

I won’t bore you with the details,1 but early English usage within the wider context appears to be down to the likes of Thomas Hobbes and Kenelm Digby2 (though they probably both got the idea directly or indirectly from Galileo, who had already started to use factum to refer to the phenomena he was observing). Being representative of reality, facts were to be distinguished from opinions – whether they be the authoritative speculations that preceded the discovery of the facts, or the authoritative pontification that resulted from such discoveries. So when Digby wrote that the fantasies women have during sexual intercourse affect the appearance of their children, he believed himself to be stating a fact, and was careful not to offer an opinion as to how this works.

The Fact’s Difficult Childhood

Today we would say that the facts speak for themselves. However, in the infancy of the fact things were very different. As befitting all things yet to achieve maturity, facts were to be seen and not heard. Take, for example, the dogged persistence of the Ptolemaic system. The ideas that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and that all celestial motion must be perfect (and hence circular) were so cherished and entrenched that no amount of evidence of aberrant planetary motion seemed able to dislodge them. By introducing deferents, epicycles, eccentrics and equants, it always seemed possible to amend the mathematical models to ‘salve the phenomenon’. Facts could be problematic, but their voice had yet to gain the respect required for the overthrow of a received wisdom. Furthermore, it mattered little to the astronomers if the model required to explain planetary motion in the plane of the ecliptic was inconsistent with that used to explain motions above and below this plane.3 Much like modern climate models, as long as there was a model for every problem requiring an explanation, everyone was happy. Model integrity and consistency was then (and remains today) a matter of artistry and expedience.

To cut a long story short, the observed phases of Venus finally put paid to this jiggery-pokery,4 but the cherished ideas of the Ancients were still to be found in texts long after the facts had spoken. It took an awfully long time for ‘the matter of fact’ to emerge from the long shadow cast by scholastic authority and to gain the epistemic potency it so thoroughly deserved.

The Fact Comes of Age

Eventually, the promulgation of ancient wisdom, as passed down through the ages via manuscript, proved to be no match for the promulgation of fact, courtesy of the printing press. Indeed, there is a view5 that it wasn’t the introduction of experimentation and the technical apparatus for its conduct that drove the Scientific Revolution. It was instead the invention of the printing press and its ability to open up experimental results to a wider audience, thereby facilitating peer review and replication. With the printing press, the fact would never look back, and science and the fact became inseparable friends. And yet, things were not all calypso and candy.

The problem stems from the judicial context within which the word ‘fact’ first found its application. The legal process by which the ‘matters of fact’ could be determined required careful scrutiny of witness testimony, and usually the credibility of such testimony rested upon the authority enjoyed by the witness. Ideally, this authority came purely from the witness having direct experience to report, but often it would also rest upon the influence and standing of the individual concerned. This matters, because once the jury had established the facts, the Truth had been made known unto Man.

All of the above remained the case even after the definition of ‘fact’ had broadened to apply to both professed deeds and observed events. Since the fact had been born in the courtroom, the means of ascertaining scientific factuality was to become tainted by the legacy of legalism.6 Matters of scientific fact still depended upon the credibility of testimony, and credibility took many forms. The voice of ancient authority could no longer get away with just any old foolhardiness, but this did not mean that facts were the new authority, since facts only became facts through respected reportage and authoritative endorsement. As for the sanctity of scientific truth – well this rather depended upon how the pious expected God to reveal Himself.

The Fact Goes Senile

It’s well over 300 years now since the scientific fact was invented and in that time the fact can be very proud of what it has achieved. Notwithstanding social intrigue, the fact is a potent weapon that can counter much cultivated nonsense. It is the nearest thing we have to a record of reality, and it provides the solvent by which even the toughest of prejudicial stains may be dissolved. However, in our post-modern times, the matter of fact has itself dissolved to such an extent that it now operates very much like a matter of opinion.

When the determination of scientific facts through direct and replicated experience first became popular it had the effect of undermining the dogma du jour. Now the fact does not have that same impact, largely because the use of the term has been widened to include such dogma.7 Hypothesis can now be easily passed off as fact as long as the source enjoys the confidence of its audience. We seem to be back to square one, where we get our ideas from recognized authority and treat them as though they were facts. Except that this time we now have the internet to aid and abet our allegiances and prejudices. In the same way that the printing press democratized the fact, thus enabling the cruel exposure of ancient scripture’s naivety, the internet has democratized prejudice, thus enabling the cruel exposure of the fact’s subjective underbelly. No doubt, the truth is still out there; I’m just not that confident anymore that it will win the battle for hearts and minds. And even if it did, I’m not sure how we would tell.

Notes:

[1] The person who could provide you with the details without boring you would be David Wootton, The Invention of Science (2015).

[2]Thomas Hobbes, Elements of Law, Natural and Political (1640); Kenelm Digby, On the Immortality of Reasonable Souls (1644).

[3] Owen Jay Gingerich, Johannes Kepler (1989).

[4] It would be remiss of me if I were to fail to point out that prior to the discovery of Venus’s phases the main competing astronomical theories (the Ptolemaic, Copernican, and Tycho Brahe’s Geoheliocentrism) were underdetermined, i.e. the known facts could be made to fit them all. In such circumstances the facts are subservient to the preferred ideologies of the day.

[5] I refer here to the Eisenstein thesis, first propounded by Elizabeth Eisenstein in The Printing Press as an Agent of change (1979).

[6] The same could be said regarding the terms ‘scientific evidence’ and ‘laws of nature’. Both have their roots in the judicial system and in both cases this legacy has implications. However, let us not overcomplicate things. Ascertaining scientific facts is difficult enough without having to then consider their role in providing evidence of nature’s laws.

[7] It has also been loosened to apply to logical necessities, such as 2+2=4. These necessities were referred to by David Hume as ‘Relations of Ideas’ and, as such, were to be contrasted with ‘Matters of Fact’. Nowadays, we tend not to make such a distinction, which rather muddies the idea that facts are supposed to be contingent, i.e. they could have been otherwise.

98 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Fact

  1. One of my favorite climate oxymorons is ‘Forecasting the Facts.’

    Also, don’t you love reading ‘debunkings’ of ‘myths’ à la John Cook that begin, “While this myth is technically true…”

    Or maybe I’m making that quote up.

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  2. If it’s any help (and I’m sure it’s not) the French word for a fact – “fait” – (also derived from the Latin) also means a “thing done” as in “fait accompli.” It’s also the top of something accomplished, like a rooftree. And a “fromage fait” is a cheese that’s well ripe, and the same for “un homme fait.” (Not sure about “une femme faite.”)

    Your assertion in note [7] that “Nowadays, we tend not to make such a distinction” between necessary (2+2=4) and contingent (“global warming is a load of old cobblers”) truths” is not true, I hope. It’s hard work establishing contingent truths, and nothing is gained by pretending that it’s as easy as solving Fermat’s theorem.

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  3. Tom Stoppard wrote “Comment is free, but facts are on expenses.” In matters of climate, he got it dead wrong.

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  4. It is quite obvious from its earliest origins that the concept of a ‘fact’ is firmly rooted in the past tense. ‘Something which is done’, an event, a deed, a phenomenon observed or testified on reliable authority to have occurred. This seems quite natural in a human society fixated, as it is, on events, on the seemingly immutable nature of time itself and the concept of the Arrow of Time, which flows from the past to the future, via the present. Only things emanating from the past (be it the distant past or the very recent past) can be deemed to be factual on account of the ‘fact’ that they have happened, i.e. they have become manifest in the ‘real’ world.

    Cutting edge quantum physics tells us that, on the sub microscopic, post Classical, post General Relativistic scale, this peculiarly psychological view is but an adaptation and the ‘reality’ of Time is very different and that past, present and future have no inherent physical meaning. So our ‘facts’ constitute nothing more than a peculiarly human sensory and psychological adaptation employed to make sense of the macroscopic world in which we find ourselves.

    Great. So modern quantum physics is the first post factual science that we know of. But is it post normal? Does it elevate theory above experimental verification? Models above data? Does it abandon the scientific method in order to make claims about the nature of reality based only upon untestable hypotheses? No. General Relativity, verified experimentally very precisely, demolished the concept of the present. Then quantum physics, also firmly rooted by precise experimental validation, tore up the rulebook and demonstrated the equivalence of past and future.

    But what we have with climate science is something rather unique. A classical physics-based science whose arena is most definitely the macroscopic world, making predictions of the future of that classical, macroscopic world which are judged by the pracitioners of this science to be ‘facts’, based not on experimentation but upon authority and consensus. Models take precedence over data. That which has happened is subjugated to the requirements of that ‘which will happen’.

    Climate science is the first post factual and post normal science.

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  5. Even more famously, CP Scott wrote that “facts are sacred”, but not in climate science, where they may be marmorized with extreme prejudice.

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  6. When you examine in detail the processes and procedures whereby ‘facts’ in climate science are dishonestly disseminated and promoted to a gullible audience, you realise it’s a lot like a general election campaign.

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  7. John you’ve opened up a huge worm can. We can debate whether facts “are” or whether they “become”? Then there is the question of whether they are immutable or if they can change. Does my ‘ead-in.

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  8. ALAN KENDALL
    I’m afraid CP Scott’s famous “Facts are sacred” was just another Guardian spelling mistake. What he meant to say was “Facts are scary,” or possibly “Facts are scarce, (so let’s have lots of Comment, which is free.)”

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  9. Geoff,

    One certainly wouldn’t wish logical necessities to be proffered as relevant ‘facts’ but it does happen. Take, for example, the debate that broke out (regarding reliability of data) on Tony Thomas’ latest post, in which Steven Mosher used the refrain “1 means 1”. He was, I think, trying to make the point that there are some facts that cannot be denied. Yes, but let us not think of them as facts. The contrarian position is not founded upon a suspicion that “1 may not mean 1”, rather the possibility that the “1” should have been a “2”.

    I think it is important to retain this distinction because a failure to do so may explain the sentiment lying behind many of the “denier” accusations. It is indeed irrational to dispute logical necessity, but disputing the model predictions is often seen in this light. Whilst conceding that there are uncertainties in the predictions, the activists choose to work them to their advantage whilst emphasising that the scientists are just exploring the logical implications of axiomatic truths, i.e. the known laws of physics. But it isn’t the deduction that I would dispute, it is the over-reliance upon it.

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  10. Alan,

    The can of worms that we are in danger of spilling on the floor is the whole debate between the realist and constructivist positions within the philosophy of science. I like to think of myself as a pragmatic realist (as opposed to a naïve one). Facts are statements and, as such, they only exist within a sociological setting. Therefore, they have to be treated with suspicion even though they serve the purpose of representing reality. Thankfully, there are intellectual instruments that can be used to guide us through the maze. One of those is the replicated experiment – the birthplace and graveyard of facts.

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  11. Hunterson7,

    Thank you for that feedback. I am gratified that you felt that the article worked on more than one level, since that was something I was quite keen to achieve. More than anything, I wanted to convey the sense of bewilderment that one experiences when trying to get to the bottom of things, and how facts are often not as helpful as they initially appear. But don’t get me wrong – I am still a massive fan of facts. I was first acquainted with the facts at school and, even now, I still like to keep in touch from time to time.

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  12. Hardly Brad. A marble statue of Rhodes in a University campus today doesn’t sanctify, consecrate, canonize, or immortalizes him. If it ever did, then those facts have changed big-time.
    To me, facts are never static. I seem to recall even reading there are universes, real or conceptual where 1+1 doesn’t always equal 2, and if you have apples and oranges….

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  13. “Hardly Brad”

    Softly Alan!

    “To me, facts are never static”

    So was CP Scott wrong, and is climate science right to treat facts as non-sacred?

    Or was CP Scott right, and is climate science wrong to treat facts as non-sacred?

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  14. Dark energy is convenient, it balances the books and without it the universe doesn’t balance. You get the feeling climate models are similar.

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  15. IMO, the term “fact” has a particular meaning in science which is frequently disrespected. Firstly, science requires data i.e., numerical measurements of observations of events occuring in the world. As Kelvin noted, if you can’t measure it, you don’t know it. Then a scientific fact is a finding, a repeatable, dependable discovery of a pattern in the data. For example things fall down when dropped at the same rate independent of their mass.

    Most of the modern trouble comes from losing the distinction between “facts” and “what to do about them.” The confusion over fact and myth is precisely mixing up “what is” with “what should be”, applying values out of a concern over what to do about the facts. Sparing you a long post, a more detailed discussion of data, facts and information is here:
    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/data-facts-and-information/
    Jordan Peterson explains facts and myth in his book Maps of Meaning, including how our notion of “fact” was unknown to the medieval mind. A synopsis of this in a post
    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/cosmic-dichotomy-petersons-pearls-1/

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  16. As my flossy furs are busy helping me cope with Scotland’s current bitter frosts, I can’t add much to this discussion. However, it might be as good a spot as any to mention that oodles and oodles of well-researched facts are to be found in the recent book by Australian conservationist Bernie Lewin, “Searching for The Catastrophe Signal” (GWPF at about 20 quid). Note please how I cunningly eschew the E-word in describing the author.

    Apologies if I’m the last person in this milieu to learn about his work but I’ve just finished the book. Though well written, it’s by no means a light read and there is perhaps little in it most of us don’t sort of already know in a outliney kind of way but the wealth of detail and the way in which Lewin puts the story into historical context is as impressive as it is helpful.

    It’s about the “official” science (if official science is not almost as oxymoronic as Scotch-WWF’s Dr Richard Dixon) with little to say about the Greenpeaces or the FoEs of this world, however long it may last. Also, as the sub-title (The Origins of The IPCC) implies, the account stops at AR2.

    But, even if Wee Greetsie doesn’t make it, it is still IMO a mandatory read.

    D

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  17. I think the tension at the heart of John’s excellent essay, is ultimately due to the issue of propagating knowledge. The power of successful replication is rather subsumed within a population of 7 billion, who are not able to do this personally in most cases. Hence they must rely upon information networks, which involve social co-ordination and trust (or lack thereof), which in turn rest on the systems evolved in us for this purpose and which operate largely outside of our rationality for any information perceived as being identity critical. This is not to say those systems can’t be constrained, which indeed they are by enterprises such as the law, science, democratic structures. But it’s a battle. New technology waves (writing, print, telegraph, email, web) may tilt the battle in favour of one side or the other and with regional dependence, but after the wave has passed they should be value neutral; it’s technologically just as easy to publish more biased data as less biased data in print of old or via the web, but sanction for that to occur and also how the information impacts target audiences (and regarding its emotive load as well as info content) is just the same as ever. Which is to say all sorts of tribal fights for control of sanction and all sorts of biases in digesting the received information. While anyone can tweet anything, it is not that technology ultimately determining what is widely heard, nor necessarily the objective (e.g. determined not by a human, but say an ultimate Vulcan) content, but the evolved networks and the emotive content. Sanction and reception are social. Where replication is easy, 7 billion people will largely agree – fire is hot. Where knowledge is not replicable, there is still a battle – although on the upside and albeit a 2 steps forward 1 step back sort of process, this battle is currently very advanced in favour of faithful propagation compared to the vast majority of history. I think quantum physics doesn’t really come into this; that a lot of knowledge depends on probabilities (and indeed unresolved possibilities) has long been the case in say wicked systems, even in classical terms. That this is true now on micro scales for practically everything is a large change in our understanding, but not theoretically any different regarding the issue of knowledge propagation. The latter has always included too the difficulty of propagating “we don’t know”, which the cultural influence resists endlessly, having evolved to eliminate uncertainty in arbitrary group narratives, among other things.

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  18. Ron,

    I’ve only had a quick look at the Jordan Peterson link, and I am not a very quick reader. So what I have to say in response may be premature:

    Firstly, the distinction he appears to be making vis-à-vis the pre-scientific and the scientific mind is not the same one that I have focussed upon. I am reflecting upon what can be discerned from looking at the adoption of the word ‘fact’ within the context of a transition from a world that had previously deferred to scholastic teaching to one that sought truth through direct experience. I do not believe that particular transition was motivated by, or reflects, a transition from a teleological to non-teleological approach towards explaining the universe. I’m not even sure one can characterise the transition as one of going from a moralizing to non-moralizing approach. There is a sense in which the world was ‘disenchanted’ (to use Max Weber’s terminology) during the scientific revolution but this did not put an end to the thinking that there was a beneficence that lay behind the universe’s orderliness. The modern phrase ‘Law of Nature’ captures this view since it borrows from the concept of human law, inheriting its ethical connotations.

    I’ll stop there because I’ve suddenly realized that I really do need to give this a great deal more thought before I can give your comment justice.

    Andy,

    Thank you for your response. I re-iterate, I am a slow reader. I will get back to you after I have given time for your points to sink in.

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  19. It’s been a while since I considered General relativity (for a debate) and I don’t consider myself anything of an expert, but I seem to remember coming to the conclusion that it didn’t destroy the concept of “The Present”. What it destroyed was the assumption that time is the sole descriptor of the present. It can be an excellent descriptor, but only if other variables are held constant. Take into account those variables and you can calculate the relative “present”.

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  20. Without wishing to appear rude, I think everyone would be wise to steer clear of subjects such as quantum mechanics, special relativity or general relativity. I assure you that they were not in mind when I wrote my stuff. The principle of the objective observer may be an issue, but not in the technical sense explored by any of the above. My essay is addressing sociological and methodological issues that you will not resolve by consulting a physics textbook. Furthermore, your layman speculations on arcane subject-matter may seem harmless enough, even tongue-in-cheek, but there are those out there that will pounce upon them as evidence that sceptics are just out of their depth, scientifically-speaking. I wouldn’t give them that ammunition.

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  21. DaveJR, because two causally unconnected events which are deemed to be simultaneous in one frame of reference, may not be simultaneous according to an observer in another frame of reference (e.g. in high speed motion or subject to a different gravitational field), there exists no universal, absolute ‘present’, only a subjective local present.

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  22. John,

    “Furthermore, your layman speculations on arcane subject-matter may seem harmless enough, even tongue-in-cheek, but there are those out there that will pounce upon them as evidence that sceptics are just out of their depth, scientifically-speaking.”

    After responding to DaveJR above, I shall henceforth cease my own “layman speculations” on this thread as they appear to be deemed off topic.

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  23. Jaime,

    No offence was meant when using the term ‘layman’. It is a label I would happily apply to myself in this instance. Similarly, ‘speculation’ is simply what we laypeople are resigned to.

    Your clarification for DaveR’s benefit may have been right on the money but, believe me, when you say that “Cutting edge quantum physics tells us that …. past, present and future have no inherent physical meaning” you are leaving yourself wide open for some smart-arse to come in and point out that Schrodinger’s equation is time-dependent (except in the special case of the Hamiltonian not being an explicit function of time). Truly atemporal formulations of quantum mechanics have been developed (such as that proposed by Julian Barbour) but even the proponents of such frameworks would readily admit that they occupy the realm of speculation.

    That said, I am caviling. Your basic point that climate science cannot be dealing with facts, insofar as it is speculating about the future, is entirely to the point and it would displease me if you were to refrain from pursuing it on this thread.

    As I said, no offence was intended and I apologize if I failed in that regard.

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  24. I just love this site. It contains so much; serious threads that cover a multitude of topics, and in a huge variety of styles. Everything from humour to (in my case) crap poetry. Scarcely a day goes by without me being informed, stimulated or puzzled by my ignorance. Thank you for keeping me sane. I owe you all a tremendous debt. The only thing we lack now is a resident troll. We used to have ours but he is long gone. I miss him (them?).

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  25. Alan,

    I agree with your summary of this site. And might I add, at the risk of appearing obsequious, your own contributions are one of its main attractions.

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  26. Thanks John, for another interesting post. I’m with Alan in his appreciation for this site: it’s a ripper, to use an old fashioned term of approbation.

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  27. Talking of ‘facts’, it seems the Conservative Party Press Office thought it would be a good idea to become ‘fact checkers’ for the duration of the leaders debate on ITV. Not a lot of people agreed, especially the ‘actual’ fact checkers. LOL

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  28. John. I forgot to add that the reason for my praise of this site (and the cause of my writing it) is the care taken firstly not to offend other contributors, and secondly, if this inadvertently happens, the care that then is taken to rectify the situation. Your immediately preceding message to Jaime, was the example that set me off. I thought it was worth a comment because, in my experience, this environment is both rare and precious. 😃

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  29. Adding to the note of general appreciation, I valued John giving us all a heads-up on another thread about his intention to do this post, as we were busy with Climategate and stuff. When I actually read it … it was both exciting in its readability and philosophical purity and, I felt, beyond me to say anything that could add much. (But then I had also got distracted by the terrible situation in Hong Kong from my birthday onwards, not least for family reasons. Not a welcome present.)

    Anyway. Steven Mosher may have put my bashfulness right this morning by ‘Like’-ing this tweet from a few weeks ago, and thus reminding me of it. It may at least tangentially relate to John’s theme.

    It was an interesting moment in lots of ways. And aren’t there lots of those to deal with?

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  30. Andy,

    Much like Venus, I am going through a phase. In my case, it is a phase in which I am becoming increasingly interested in reading historical accounts of scientific developments. As one reads these accounts, common themes become ever clearer. As a result, so many quotes can be taken out of their historical context and used to illuminate modern debates, such as those surrounding climate science. Seeing the climate science debate as having many precedents is quite sobering and re-assuring, IMHO. If I was not finding these parallels in history, I might be more worried about my own climate scepticism, but the repetition of theme is so striking. It is obvious that there are universal fundamentals at work here. I think this understanding lies at the heart of your own writing, and I see it again in your commentary above.

    I’ll offer just the one example of what I am referring to when I allude to recurring themes. In my article I cited the cosmological models of the 17th century and drew parallels with the attitudes of the modellers of yore and those of today. I suggested that modelling would appear to have always owed much to “artistry and expedience”. By coincidence, I have since then come across a quote from the physicist I. I. Rabi, in which he suggested that the nuclear modelling in the early days of atomic physics was a mixture of “artistry and effrontery”. Artistry? Expedience? Effrontery? When it comes to modern climate models I think you can take your pick. After all, they are only keeping up a proud and long tradition.

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  31. Jaime:
    “That which has happened is subjugated to the requirements of that ‘which will happen’.”

    Spot on. Climate model outputs are now treated as facts and then provide a “factual” base for the next round of climate models. “Scientists suggest”, “scientists believe”, “scientists have linked”, then becomes “new research shows that xyz WILL happen”, when the only research is another torturing of the data until they confess, (Roy Spencer I think).

    In 1999, there was a series of seminars in Europe focusing on “Uncertainty in Climate Models,” known as the ECLAT series, “Representing Uncertainty in Climate Change Scenarios and Impact Studies” published by the CRU. Very many conclusions on uncertainty were drawn from the seminars. I quote merely from the introduction here:

    “Even with perfect models and unlimited computing power, for a given forcing scenario, a range of future climates will always be simulated. It is for this reason that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have always adopted the term ‘projection’.”

    In 2007, Kevin Trenberth revealed some facts on climate models: http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2007/06/predictions_of_climate.html

    “I have often seen references to predictions of future climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presumably through the IPCC assessments. In fact, since the last report it is also often stated that the science is settled or done and now is the time for action.

    In fact there are no predictions by IPCC at all. And there never have been. The IPCC instead proffers “what if” projections of future climate that correspond to certain emissions scenarios.

    There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess.”

    “None of the models used by IPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate. In particular, the state of the oceans, sea ice, and soil moisture has no relationship to the observed state at any recent time in any of the IPCC models.

    Moreover, the starting climate state in several of the models may depart significantly from the real climate owing to model errors.”

    ECLAT again:
    “Projecting the future state(s) of the world with respect to demographic, economic, social, and technological developments at a time scale consistent with climate change projections is a daunting task, some even consider as straightforward impossible.

    Over a century time scale, current states and trends simply cannot be extrapolated. The only certainty is that the future will not be just more of the same of today, but will entail numerous surprises, novelties and discontinuities.

    The probability of occurrence of long-term trends is inversely proportional to the ‘expert’ consensus.
    Excessive self-cite and “benchmarking” of modeling studies to existing scenarios creates the danger of artificially constructing “expert consensus”.

    Yet the NASA website still gives us these “facts”:
    https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

    “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

    It’s not Rocket Science…

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  32. This is perceptive, Jaime:

    That which has happened is subjugated to the requirements of that ‘which will happen’.

    Climate science is the first post factual and post normal science.

    When climate science seceded from actual science, the function of prediction changed unrecognizably.

    According to Feynman’s 63-second scientific method, predictions are a means to an end: we use them to test the hypotheses of which they are corollaries. In other words, the hypothesis (or in Feynmanese, the guess) is hostage to the empirical success or failure of its derived predictions.

    Experiments, then, are effectively bets. What’s at stake is the hypothesis itself: whether it must be abandoned and improved upon, or (provisionally) accepted as True.

    The end product of the scientific project is knowledge—a body of theory whose predictions have a record of “winning” the wagers we make on nature.

    But in Climate Science, the prediction IS the end product.

    Which means you can say goodbye to tedious scientific studies that used to take a minute or more to complete! In Climate Science, you’re all done by the 23-second mark:

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  33. Richard,
    So even poor Tamsin Edwards, after all the plain evidence from reality and the sorry history of the hype culture, is stuck on scary.
    Certainly it is long past time to point out the simple facts that nothing has changed in climate of any significance in the past 30+ years, that flooding, storms, droughts, death counts, famine, sea level, etc.
    Certainly it should be ok to have, finally, a reasonable conversation about revisiting the climate community’s credibility when basically not one prediction of doom has been true. That not one policy the consensus promotes actually helps the climate, the environment or people. That climate consensus driven policy are all pain and cost, and no benefit.

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  34. Hunterson7,

    “So even poor Tamsin Edwards, after all the plain evidence from reality and the sorry history of the hype culture, is stuck on scary.”

    As Upton Sinclair said—well, you know the rest.

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  35. Brad,

    I think that the misconception that climate models can be the originator of climate fact is best illustrated by the use of the misnomer ‘mathematical experiment” when referring to differing runs of a given model.

    It is no coincidence that the first use of the word ‘fact’ in a scientific context coincided with the emergence of the experimental approach. As I have stated above, the modern day concept of the fact is a direct result of that initiative. The fact is, as it were, the love child of experiment and observation, and this family relationship is not lost on climate science. With no experiment available to them, and no means of observing the future, the climate scientists crave facts but lack the means of conceiving them. So, in the absence of any real experimentation, one requires something sufficiently similar. And in the absence of the required observation, one needs something sufficiently similar to a time machine. The models are that time machine, and their manipulation is that experiment.

    However, the manipulation of mathematical models is actually the very antithesis of an experiment. The models are just massive, complicated mechanisms for engaging in deductive reasoning. As such, they do no more than explicate the implications of making a set of uncertain assumptions. Their manipulation generates no new knowledge, as would be the case in the conduct of a real experiment. Rather, it only leads to a better understanding of the range of implications possible when altering one’s assumptions. No facts, just a proliferation of conjecture. Or, as you say, the prediction is the end product.

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  36. This is a great thread. But what about geology and the lack of experiments there? Alan? John? How did Adam Sedgwick arrive at the conclusion of a very old earth? Was that not science? (A Church of England vicar no less. But he’d clearly have no truck with modern young-earthers. But that’s an aside. The key question here is whether and in what way Sedgwick was establishing facts.)

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  37. Hunterson:

    So even poor Tamsin Edwards, after all the plain evidence from reality and the sorry history of the hype culture, is stuck on scary.

    Tamsin was at the time (and probably still is) in dialogue with the good people of Extinction Rebellion. Here she was quite rightly losing her rag with Rupert Read for stating as apparent fact things that she doesn’t think are justified by the science as she perceives it. But John’s iron law of one lady scientist’s fact being called myth by the very next tweeter was confirmed here too:

    I groaned as I read that. For me, the greenhouse effect is well, fact. It’s not trivial to explain how it works but Syukuro Manabe’s radiative-convective explanation has convinced me. (Or other people’s based on Manabe, to be more precise.) Experiments though are hard to come by, hence my previous question.

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  38. Talking of XR and with this in mind from John

    I think it is important to retain this distinction because a failure to do so may explain the sentiment lying behind many of the “denier” accusations. It is indeed irrational to dispute logical necessity, but disputing the model predictions is often seen in this light.

    there was this outburst tonight from an ex-Labour MP, with strong feelings on the subject because of his Jewish father, on the back of a Telegraph story about the German reaction concerning some history that they still, to their credit, think of as fact:

    My next two retweets, by mere reason of tweet chronology:

    That’ll be Australian time from Gray Connolly by the way. The flawed – very flawed – judicial context for establishing facts back in 1945. And Roger Hallam of XR has scary scientific facts today that make all that old stuff well, fuckery.

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  39. It was the Sanjay Nath affair, TataGate, that reacquainted me with a Latin word I hadn’t seen since high school—not once, but twice.

    IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, the slightly ridiculous lecher who’d enjoyed climate’s head job for 13 years and helmed the panel to the climax of its glory,responded as follows to charges of textual harassment made against him in 2015:

    “”The said email has indicated misuse of my computer resources and communication devices, without my permission or consent,” he said. “From your email, I have come to know the factum that my computer resources including my email ids, mobile phone and WhatsApp messages have been hacked and that unknown cyber criminals have gone ahead and have unauthorisedly accessed my computer resources and communication devices and further committed various criminal activities.”

    But Pachauri had other helmets as well, including a post he’d invented for himself at The/Tata Energy and Resources Institute. TERI fired him in the afterwash of the allegations, having determined that his position was non-adhesive:

    After determining that the post of executive vice-chairman that Pachauri had been given by the governing council in February didn’t exist under Teri’s rules, the decision was deemed a ‘non est factum’ order, or one that needn’t be adhered to.

    This action sent a stern message to other Indian males who might be inclined to treat women as chattel—or would have, had TERI’s board not rewarded Pachauri with payment in full for the remaining 2 years of his tenure. At the moment of severance his package was rumored to be bulging, “amount[ing] to about Rs 1crore.”

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  40. Richard,

    You are quite right to question whether a field of study should be dismissed as a science simply for lack of experiment. If this were the case, we would not consider astronomy to be a science. That is why I try to be careful in referring to ‘experiment and observation’ as being key. Furthermore, the observations have to be such that predictions can be made that are confirmed by subsequent observation. That is what makes astronomy a science and astrology not. In climate science there is plenty of observation of the past and present, and, therefore, plenty of potential fact at hand. To that extent, it does qualify as a science. However, a political decision has been taken that we cannot afford the luxury to await the key observation of future temperatures before we take action. The key fact, therefore, is not at our disposal. But we need some facts to base our decisions upon. That is why things like the Hockey Stick take on such importance, why there is such a desperation in observing the ‘climate signal’ in our current weather, and why the climate model outputs are deemed to be the results of an ‘experiment’. It all brings the ‘future fact’ into the present/past and thereby gets around the objection raised in this thread by Jaime’s initial post – the factum is that which has been done, and so speculation of the future does not qualify.

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  41. I’m not convinced that Adam Sedgwick concerned himself with the age of the Earth. A convinced catastrophist for most of his life, he was more concerned with dividing up strata beneath the Carboniferous. Catastrophism is not very conducive to establishing geological time. Much of the push for an old Earth came from the need for enough time to allow evolution to occur. Darwin used mathematics. Most people know of his calculations involving rates of soil turnover by earthworms, but he also elegantly demonstrated the great lengths of time required to create landscapes. He took a geological map of the Weald, constructed cross-sections across this giant anticline, from which he was able to calculate the volume of rock removed to create the inward facing scarps. From estimates made from the amount of material transported as sediment and in solution each year, Darwin was able to suggest just how long it would have taken to erode down to expose the oldest rocks in the Weald’s centre. His estimates were incredibly crude and the result (300 million years) wildly excessive, but nevertheless it demonstrated the need for great spans of time. Note the absence of facts.

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  42. Richard. I’m unsure if there’s many “facts” in the “observational” sciences. It’s more a question of observations and their interpretations. Eventually the observations are sufficiently repeated and/or the interpretations are supported by the new observations that the interpretations are considered (provisionally) to be true (and may be called by some “facts”).
    I was thinking along these lines this morning and when walking to the shop. I came across a distinctive circular swirl of leaves. I had seen similar in Texas where tornadoes had temporarily touched down, and thought to myself “tornadoes in Norfolk, I wish I had a camera”. Coming home, I passed the circular accumulation of leaves, but this time further along the path I noted leaves arranged in parallel arcs. I realized that if these had also been caused by the tornado, then very fortuitously it would have had to exactly parallel the path, and not be affected by some rather massive oak trees along its route. I abandoned the tornado interpretation and, mind in overdrive, realized the observations were consistent with the effects of a town-council leaf sweeper having passed along the path. Now I had a new interpretation but no facts – I have not seen the interpreted leaf sweeper.
    This illustrates the way my (scientific?) mind works- it assembles information and compares it with previous experience, then constructs an interpretation. If more information is found, and especially if it seems inconsistent with the initial interpretation, a new one is constructed. But until I see evidence (fact?) I cannot convert interpretation into certainty.
    Once you have developed a way of scientific reasoning, you can’t turn it off. I just couldn’t walk past that swirl of leaves and just think “how pretty”. Such a mind is sometimes an absolute curse.

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  43. Alan,

    “I’m unsure if there’s many “facts” in the “observational” sciences.”

    It all depends upon your use of the word ‘fact’. In your anecdote, I would say that the existence of swirls of leaves was a fact (subject to my trust in your testimony). That they were as a result of a mini-tornado was your hypothesis. Whether or not the fact of the leaf swirls constituted sufficient evidence to support the tornado hypothesis was the key issue. Further facts came to your attention (other patterns of leaf swirl). These facts provided evidence in support of alternative hypotheses. And so you were left unsure of the truth but still with an insatiable desire to understand the world around you.

    Me? I would still be saying, “Just look at all those pretty leaves.”

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  44. I too would vote leaves.

    Thanks for these excellent responses to my questions. Not got much time to respond at present but will mull it over. Is the greenhouse effect a fact? There’s another one.

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  45. Richard,

    Once again, I would think in terms of the judicial model to think this through:

    Firstly, there are the facts placed before the jury (the discovery of a dead body, a weapon in proximity, the fingerprints of the accused on the weapon, foreign fibres on clothing, results of DNA tests, etc.)

    Then there are testimonies provided (character witnesses, alibis, expert opinions, etc.)

    The above are combined by the jury and evaluated as evidence in support of a hypothesis (the posited crime).

    If they are sufficiently persuaded by the evidence, they will reach a verdict.

    That verdict is then deemed an ‘established fact’.

    In my opinion, greenhouse warming is an established fact. But verdicts can be overturned and not everyone agrees with them. The judge’s custodial sentence will often be based upon the prediction that the culprit will re-offend if allowed to.

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  46. The modern politician’s concept of the fact is not so far removed from the ‘climate fact’, i.e. an opinion of what will happen in a theoretical future:

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  47. The vibrancy of this discussion since I joined is hampered by the fact (see what I did there) that I agree with almost everything Alan and John have said. Even when they disagree with each other. For there are no facts in geology (Alan) but I suspect from his latest answer that John would say plate tectonics is an established fact. (He says desperately trying to engender more conflict. But I would agree with them both anyway. Cf the great philosopher Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.)

    I thought Sedgwick moved away from catastrophism, based on the data he found, Alan? But the canny old cleric was illustrative only.

    From this passage from John I will try and tease out a soupçon of a scintilla of a difference:

    In climate science there is plenty of observation of the past and present, and, therefore, plenty of potential fact at hand. To that extent, it does qualify as a science. However, a political decision has been taken that we cannot afford the luxury to await the key observation of future temperatures before we take action. The key fact, therefore, is not at our disposal. But we need some facts to base our decisions upon. That is why things like the Hockey Stick take on such importance, why there is such a desperation in observing the ‘climate signal’ in our current weather, and why the climate model outputs are deemed to be the results of an ‘experiment’. It all brings the ‘future fact’ into the present/past and thereby gets around the objection raised in this thread by Jaime’s initial post – the factum is that which has been done, and so speculation of the future does not qualify.

    First, where I am in the most violent agreement: model runs being called ‘experiments’ is an abomination. No good can come of it.

    However, the status and history of the Hockey Stick are I think interesting. I remember prior to Climategate ten years ago, and certainly after, Steve Mc being baffled as to why the pseudoscience used to produce this artefact (see what I did there too) was defended – or at least overlooked – by other climate scientists not directly implicated. It was and is nowhere near a fact, unlike the greenhouse effect. It was also irrelevant to the much more central debate about climate sensitivity. So why did they all double down so?

    And subsidiary questions.

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  48. One of the most interesting facts about Adam Sedgwick is that he was appointed Woodwardian Professor of Geology (now a prestigious appointment) without ever having done any practical geology. Subsequently he proceeded (with Murchison) to unravel some of the most difficult strata in Britain.

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  49. Alan: that was in the days you had to be (or pretend to be) an Anglican to be accepted in any such position, right? I remember explaining that to the late Victoria Wood, this sad history, as we sat waiting for our daughters to perform in a concert in the big ‘Free Church’ up on the hill at Hampstead Garden Suburbs. There’s a similarly large CofE building right next to it where my eldest would practice the organ. But the strange name raised a question in Victoria’s mind. University College London pioneered a lot of freedom after Sedgwick’s time and rightly so.

    But, working within the system, I’m sure you’re right that as a practising observational scientist Sedgwick did a fine job. Isn’t history a mess?

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  50. Richard,

    When I said ‘it all gets around the objection raised…” I should have made it clearer that it only does so in the minds of those who place such importance upon the likes of Hockey Sticks, mathematical experiments and climate signals. I am trying to explain (to myself) why these things should be so goddamned important and why people ‘double down’ when they are challenged. And I am wondering if the answer is because, in all three cases, a matter of speculation regarding the future gets to take on the appearance of a matter of fact rooted in the present.

    But this appearance is an illusion. The Hockey Stick was a phoney, mathematical ‘experiments’ are a misnomer, and the climate signal is wishful thinking. So CAGW remains a case of dodgy induction masquerading as fact.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that we are told that the human brain cannot deal with the abstract future, only the concrete present. The climate scientists say there is nothing dodgy about the induction but we all suffer from cognitive biases that make it necessary to re-frame the problem in factual terms. Something needed to be done to shake us out of our complacency, don’t you know. So the facts aren’t phoney, they are just an expedience.

    Anyway, none of this matters anymore. The ‘facts’ are established. Society has made its decision. And it’s all over now Baby Blue.

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  51. John. But we have perfectly good mathematical models that predict the future with a high degree of precision. We can predict the position of the moon and sun in the sky for centuries ahead so can also predict when and where solar and lunar eclipses will occur. So confident are we, that surely these predictions are “facts”.
    In the same way, so improved are meteorological models that most of the time predictions up to several days ahead can be relied upon in the UK. Are these predictions “facts”?

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  52. Richard, to continue our Sedgwickfest, Sedgwick taught Darwin geology and there developed a strong bond and admiration between them. But Sedgwick was never convinced by natural selection. Darwin sent Sedgwick a copy of the First Edition of Origin of Species. Sedgwick’s letter in response
    https://web.archive.org/web/20070902194530/http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-2548.html must have been extremely difficult to receive. So much detailed evidence in support of a concept that we mostly accept as being almost self evident, dismissed as false because of a lifetime of conformity to different concepts. Remind you of anything? Yes I’m guilty.

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  53. Alan,

    But we have perfectly good mathematical models that predict the future with a high degree of precision. We can predict the position of the moon and sun in the sky for centuries ahead so can also predict when and where solar and lunar eclipses will occur. So confident are we, that surely these predictions are “facts”.

    We only know that they are perfectly good models that predict the future with high precision because they have been observed (past tense) to be highly accurate in the predictions of futures passed. It is therefore an established fact that they are extremely accurate (so far) in predicting future states. But that’s where factuality ends. Current predictions of future states are still not facts, they are only predictions that can be relied upon with near (but not total) certainty. Truth (the body of facts) can only ever be manifest. The future, by definition, is not manifest.

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  54. Sorry, Richard, but I have just realised that all the facts I have just cited above should be under the ‘myths’ column. Short-centred principle component analysis is just cutting-edge statistics and the Hockey Stick has been corroborated countless times. ‘Mathematical experiment’ is just an innocent term like ‘mathematical trick’. And Fishlake and Venice are famously high altitude settlements that have never been flooded like this before. And did I mention the polar bears? They’re drowning as we speak. Not that any of you lot care!

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  55. Alan,

    No, they are not facts; they are predictions that can share the reliability and credibility of facts. My footnote [7] alluded to this. Mathematical models are just exercises in logical deduction. Some people class their output as facts but I would rather that they didn’t. Besides which, the three cosmological models referred to in my article could all be used to accurately predict, but only one turned out to be a representation of reality.

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  56. I think you are splitting hairs. When we radiometrically date the past, creating new acceptable facts, we assume that rates of radioactive decay are constant. Because this cannot be proven, are the dates achieved “facts”. Using the same reasoning as was applied to my suggestion that predictions of eclipses should be considered as “facts” (for goodness sake they get printed in diaries) using similar logic, radiometric dates should not be “facts” but some form of prediction.
    In fact, if I remember my philosophy of science reading correctly (before I slung the textbook across the room ), nothing in the past can be considered as fact. You cannot prove that the universe (including our memories) didn’t arise fully formed in all its intricate detail just a second previously. It has been quite a few decades since I refused to engage in such rubbish, yet people have given their intellect in such pursuits.

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  57. Alan,

    I don’t think Jaime or I will be able to persuade you since you appear to be using the word ‘fact’ to apply to anything that can be relied upon. However, we choose to restrict it to apply only to the results of observation and experiment. We exclude the implications (no matter how trustworthy they may appear) simply because such implications are the result of applying hypothesis based upon fact. Yep, maybe that is splitting hairs, but sometimes it is an important hair to split. The question is this: Do the conclusions drawn upon consideration of radioactive half-lives have the same epistemic value as those drawn from climate models? After all, it’s all just physics. Isn’t it Ken?

    Maybe this debate is not about what constitutes a ‘fact’, so much as what is important to decision-making.

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  58. I would think that most people, in science and more generally, consider facts to be synonymous with “truths”. The scientific method was important in that it showed that all facts (or truths) must be regarded as representations of reality on a temporary basis and subject to periodic verification. In the history of science, as is well known, there have been many instances where universally accepted facts (commonly referred to as “textbook facts”) have later shown to have been to be wrong, or more commonly shown not to be universally applicable
    Our current understanding of the Universe is currently in a shambles, whereas only a few decades ago our understanding was believed to be essentially complete (i.e. all was factual).
    One of my own papers, describing the origin of some carbonate cements, was later shown (fortunately by me) to be totally wrong. In the interim people used my initial interpretation as being correct – they treated it as factual.
    I have come to believe that all facts are potentially ephemeral, but of course, some much more than others.

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  59. Alan,

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to continue splitting hairs with you. Returning to the judicial origins of the terminology: The facts are placed before the jury in order that they may determine the truth of an accusation. You can call the verdict an established fact, but I think the verdict has a different epistemological standing to the facts that had been presented.

    I would like to call a truce at this stage but, in accordance with any gentlemanly duel, I grant you the parting shot, should you wish to take it.

    In the meantime, I am beginning to formulate my next article, which I think may go by the title, “A Brief History of Fiction”.

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  60. John, Alan,

    I think you have to be very strict in the definition of what constitutes a fact and set the bar as high as possible, even if this might seem that you are ‘splitting hairs’ which, as John points out, it is sometimes important to do. The reason being of course is that, if you for instance dignify astronomical predictions in diaries, Alamanacs etc. with the title ‘facts’ (which, barring some absolutely extraordinary event, they are, in essence), then you’re asking for some bright spark climate scientist to come along and say his/her predictions of global temperature rise are also ‘fact’ because his/her all-singing, all-dancing, ultra-high resolution climate model has been shown to be very accurate in hind casts and it correctly predicted the rise in global temperature this year. When you say no, that’s not the case, your model has to be really, really accurate, verifiably accurate – like those which predict the motions of the earth, sun, moon and planets – he/she will just say ‘you’re splitting hairs’!

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  61. Jaime. I’m afraid you are showing prejudice (no matter how correct you may turn out to be). When you write “you’re asking for some bright spark climate scientist to come along and say his/her predictions of global temperature rise are also ‘fact’ because his/her all-singing, all-dancing, ultra-high resolution climate model has been shown to be very accurate in hind casts and it correctly predicted the rise in global temperature this year.” strictly speaking this is true and the prediction is “fact” or truthful until proven otherwise, or an alternative is produced that vies for a share of the “truth”. As I have written earlier facts (truths) are ephemeral.

    There is a convention that used to be adhered to (although I have noted that some climate literature breaks these rules). The convention is that when referring to information or interpretation in previously published literature (e.g. Adams, 1987) that information is always referred to with a verb tense that implies this information is correct – it is existing knowledge (even if you suspect that information to be incorrect). In contrast, what you are trying to convince your readership about should always be conveyed using the conditional tense. You are trying to convince and your conclusions and new facts have yet to gain acceptance. This is a useful convention because it ensures an easy separation for the reader between what the author is introducing and what previously has been accepted (by having successfully gone through a review process and, at least for a short time, been the “truth”). Once published, the contents of the new publication, are accorded their commonly brief time of truthfulness.
    Of course the modern practice is for papers published with fundamental flaws to be withdrawn – treated as if they never revealed any truths, nor contained any facts.

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  62. A computer simulation is not a fact because it exists in a reality of its own making that is not the same as this one. Inside that reality, every parameter is a solid fact, but in this one, the one it is used to represent, it is not.

    This is a trivially easy to demonstrate. You say the models accurately hindcast, but of course that is simply not true. Taking a very specific parameter ie global temperature, it is only approximates what the facts in this reality are. It does not adhere to them. Looking beyond temperature, and into parameters in greater detail, the appearance of being factually correct quickly drops into absurdity.

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  63. John. Would your historical usage be situated before or after evidence could be freely tested in court and Garrow’s concept of “innocent until proven guilty” was acceptable? It makes an enormous difference if you wish to use historical precedents for your definitions of “fact”.

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  64. Alan, I think what you deem to be ‘fact’ is what I would deem to be scientific interpretation of data which can and does change as more data emerges and knowledge progresses. Research conclusions are never ‘fact’; they are mostly tentative and ephemeral, as you say, because that’s how science progresses. They may become generally accepted if unchallenged by new data or theories over many years but they only ever become established as factual accounts of the real world if that research is repeatable many times over and gives demonstrably the same result.

    An empirical fact is, in my humble opinion, a very different creature from a factual account of the real world, which is a theory of why things happen which is exhaustively tried and tested and rarely, if ever, found to be in error. It rained today in the mountains. That is a fact. It rained today because warm, moist air driven towards the mountains was uplifted in contact with the mountains and cooled, resulting in the water vapour in the air mass condensing and forming water droplets which fell as rain. That is a well established factual account of ‘reality’, which we generally assume to be an assembly of ‘facts’, observations, events, things manifest which our human senses and – where they fail – our instruments of measurement and observation detect.

    Post normal climate science is, again in my opinion, playing fast and loose with the whole concept of what constitutes reality and what is ‘fact’ by blurring the distinction between data, observations, empirical facts and untested (in many cases untestable) theory. The entire discipline of climate science has become a huge, heaving laboratorial mess which has birthed Frankenstein (climate action) and now the bride of Frankenstein (the catastrophic climate crisis cultists).

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  65. DaveJR Models can be used to predict certain aspects of the future with a high degree of precision and accuracy (I have previously suggested examples). It is also acknowledged that, if the future climate can ever be predicted, it will need to be done using models. The questions are whether we can 1) ever make the models sophisticated enough, and 2) whether starting conditions can ever be input in sufficient detail to allow the model to begin. I am told that a reliable climate model would have enormous complexity – far greater than that needed to successfully predict the complexities of the world economy. When I learn that financiers are risking all their wealth using such financial models, I’ll wonder if climate models might show some promise. I used this argument for years at UEA and never received a successful counter.

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  66. Jaime but suppose I know that it is predicted that warm, moist air will be driven towards the mountains then I can further predict that the air will be uplifted in contact with the mountains and cooled, resulting in the water vapour in the air mass condensing and forming water droplets which will fall as rain. Same information, same logic string yet facts are deemed only able to explain what has happened, never to predict.
    Also explanations must be repeatable. That means observational geology can have few, if any, facts.

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  67. Alan,

    As I understand it, ‘factum’ was first used in the judicial context back in the thirteenth century, coinciding with the introduction of the jury system to replace trial by ordeal. The point was that the jury had the responsibility of determining the deeds (the facts) and the Judge had the job of interpreting the law and deciding the sentence. Interestingly, appeals on the grounds of new evidence are a surprisingly recent legal innovation (somewhere in the nineteenth century, I think, though I cannot remember where I read that). Prior to that, the determined facts were considered undisputable once the jury had decided upon them, i.e. juries were held to be infallible instruments of God.

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  68. John. What is important is the time when evidence presented by the prosecution was not considered automatically as factual and could be challenged by a defence lawyer. Before that, convictions were almost certain and doubtless many “facts” were scarcely that. I don’t consider historical arguments that are pre Garrow (18th century) to be particularly relevant. Sorry.

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  69. Alan,

    There is no need to apologise. However, I fail to see the relevance of Garrow. The point made in my article is that the original concept of the fact arose within the justice system. This I think is a matter of record. The scientific concept of the fact followed chronologically. That is also a matter of record. In both instances, the word was being used as a representation of reality, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the scientific usage took as its precedent the pre-established judicial usage. For this thesis to work, it doesn’t matter whether you or I thought they could possibly have been doing a good job of actually establishing truths within the early judicial system. All that is necessary is that they thought that they were. And I don’t doubt that for a minute.

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  70. Alan (8:51am): I wasn’t aware of that letter from Sedgwick to Darwin, his old student. Thank you very much. (And a reference needing use of the Wayback Machine gets extra marks for effort!)

    I humbly accept God’s revelation of himself both in His works & in His word…

    Francis Bacon’s ‘two books‘ nicely expressed there.

    I don’t find all the rest too easy to grasp. It’s certainly possible that Sedgwick wasn’t getting the integration of the two books right, even within his own terms, based on the evidence Darwin had assembled by 1859. But I won’t try to comment further. Neo-Darwinism has some interesting mathematical critics by now. Oh dear, I did comment, just a little!

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  71. John. Pre Garrow accusations and supporting “factual” evidence could not be challenged in an English court of law, leading to many deliberate miscarriages of justice. After defence lawyers able to challenge veracity of evidence, facts in a case became closer to our current use of the term. That’s all.

    The “sorry” was for continuing the discussion beyond where I judged you wished it to go, as I am continuing to do now. Sorry.

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  72. No John thank you. You allowed me to experience once again the total joy of hurling a textbook on scientific method theory across a room. The relief I felt then from not having to consider minutiae of what I felt was illogic was palpable. It was good to re-experience that particular memory.

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  73. It has occurred to me that, before leaving this debate, there are two points of historical detail that may be worth pointing out.

    Firstly, when I wrote earlier that “the facts are placed before the jury in order that they may determine the truth of an accusation”, that was not always the case. Initially, the role of the jury did not include the weighing up of evidence – that was done by the judge. All the jury did was to sort the factual from the counterfactual.

    Secondly, an important innovation was the introduction in the 17th century of the legal concept of moral certainty (a term first coined in the 15th century in the context of theology). This lowered the bar so that absolute proof would not be necessary to convict. A decision could be justified if the evidence was sufficient to the extent that there would be no moral peril should one be subsequently proven to have decided incorrectly. The modern adage is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, and I think you could say it is a precursor to the precautionary principle. I say this just to exemplify the sort of issues raised when one moves on from considering matters of fact to consider matters of evidence.

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  74. On further reflection, I cannot now think where I got the idea from regarding the initial role of the jury. At best, you should treat it as unreliable testimony — I may have just suffered a ‘senior moment’.

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  75. Cli-scep, the place to go for yr formal or informal essay, whether argumentative or reflective, whether expository or sceptical, whether humorous or satirical.

    A serf musing here on yr truly elegant essay, ‘A Brief History of the Fact.’

    1st musing: There’s the world of facts in themselves, let us be bold, events or phenomenon that occurred regardless of who saw, who reported or did not, the Tree that falls in the forest, (time, pre-historical,) the Murder on the Orient Express, (June 1932,) the Rain Shower that fell on the east coast of Bald Mountain (17/ 10/ 2011,) or the Physics that brought about the phenomena of that rain shower, and so on…

    2nd musing: Then there’s the world of statements or observations regarding ‘facts,’ which may be true or false statements relating to whether event or phenomena “such and such” occurred, or not. ‘The statement ‘that rain fell on Bald Mountain on 17/10/2011’ is true, if, and only if, rainfall did, in fact, fall on Bald Mountain 17/10/2011’.

    Follow-on musings re the above, you’ll note that the first, the world of facts in themselves, let’s call this World A, doesn’t depend on the latter, yr World B, whereas the latter, with regard to status, ‘true’ or ‘false,’ depends on the former. B depends on A but A is independent of B. As in the popular song, they ‘go together like a horse and carriage,’ but not vice versa. And where there are two statements that conflict, since both can’t be true statements, one at least must be false, stands to reason.

    No problemo, you might say, and there’s Galileo, da-dah, actually observing Venus through a telescope, so yr observation and yr fact become enjoined in a good way. And then there’s the printing press, da-dah getting the word about ! Hurray! Every dog has its heyday and so too the science fact, hurray, ‘the nearest thing we have to a record of reality.’ (John Ridgeway.) Hurray!

    Nutso fast! Judge not that ye shall be judged! There’s a problem arising from way-back when yr poor little fact first saw the light of day back in the Medieval Warming Period when no one cared too much about the world of facts as above. You had your scholastic authority, you had your reality model by Ptolemy and that sufficed, subject to a tweak or two. What they did focus on back then was yr fact, Factum they called him, as legal testimony.
    .
    There’s a problem that stems from the judicial context of yr factum, (Latin for ‘what has been done,’) depending on who is giving the evidence. As the child of his times, (if you’re gonna’ call Fact by his right name, hi ‘Fact,’) there has to be a witness after the fact. ‘Fact’ may only become himself through respected reportage. God knows, yr can’t have Freddy the Pickpocket as authoritative witness before the law, even if he isn’t blind! Importance of the credible witness, ‘twas meant with the best of intentions, but the door’s been opened to testimony depending on the influence and standing of he who may be permitted to testify.

    Though Richard Feynman in the peak age of science facts might famously argue regarding the importance of rigorous evidence and testing: ‘It don’t matter WHO says it, or HOW MANY say it, if it doesn’t conform to observations it’s wro-ong.’ … well, just remember that yr Galileo, in relation to Papal authority, did not have an easy time of it, and even in the heyday of The Science Fact, yr James Hutton geological observations at Sikkar Point didn’t jell with the established authoritative explanation of the Biblical Flood Event.

    And now you’ve got yr internet! It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that schwing, dooh-ah, dooh-ah,’ …Edward Bernays would’ve luved the internet.

    Fer a brief flowering yr Feynman Science prevailed, (Hurray!”) but habits die hard. Say sayonara to the WHAT, to the objectivity of the observation, the rigour of the test, say hello (yet again) to the WHO, yr post-modernist matter of opinion, no truth out there to be discovered, ‘and that’s the truth’… back to square one-ski.

    Liked by 3 people

  76. Beth,

    Reading such an excellent précis of wot I wrote, I get a warm feeling inside. It makes me feel I might actually be on to something.

    Like

  77. I find it interesting that, apart from Richard who briefly asked about geology, there has been no mention of the hierarchy of the sciences with regard to facts.
    In this hierarchy, mathematics sits high above, being pure reason, not requiring facts. Below lies Physics, so dependent upon mathematics, with truths capable of being demonstrated by experiment and measurement. Facts are verifiable. Then comes chemistry, now much of which has been absorbed by physics (see Oliver Sacks “Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood” explaining why he moved away from his early fascination with chemistry). Then comes a range of largely observational sciences (biology, geology) which initially had no experimental components. These were commonly spurned, especially by physicists, as the “stamp-collecting sciences”. Facts are more flexible. I recall when I was taught palaeontology, it was believed that the history of ammonite classification had been and still was dependent upon the death of “the expert”, revolutions in ammonite systematics occurred when a new expert appeared.
    Guess where I would place climate science?

    Liked by 2 people

  78. “Guess where I would place climate science?”

    It wouldn’t happen to be in the sub-factual stratum, would it? That would be harsh but understandable.

    Like

  79. John I wrote “Guess where I would place climate science?” as a throwaway line. All day I’ve been thinking about it. Are we not confusing the science with those that study the subject? Use of models to study such a complex subject is the only methodology that can be used, and successive generations of models are getting progressively more complex. This would be an expectation of a genuine scientific endeavour. What we object to is the belief of many”scientists” that this science is capable of making reliable predictions of the future, that it can attribute bad weather to climate change and increased atmospheric levels of CO2, and mathematical manipulations of proxy data can be used to negate historical data. So it’s a mixed bag, like much of science it can be used for good or ill.

    Like

  80. Alan,

    Yes, indeed. We were both being flippant, I think.

    Steven Mosher has been on this website recently pointing out that there is a principle of charitability to be adhered to. If one concentrates solely upon the weakest evidence, it is easy to overlook the presence of strong evidence and thereby miss the point. The problem is that it is often quite difficult for the layman to discern between the two (a central theme of my article) and, in the case of climate science activism, there is rather too much weak stuff out there begging for attention. In fact, I’ll stop fixating upon the poor stuff just as soon as the media stop ramming it down my throat.

    Liked by 1 person

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