Warren Pearce: Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?

Posted: July 30, 2013 by tallbloke in Accountability, data, flames, FOI, humour, Incompetence, methodology, Philosophy, propaganda

Bit of a turnaround for the Guardian this. It looks like the ‘Making Science Public’ blog posts Warren Pearce has been running at Nottingham University’s website looking at Dana Nuccitelli’s ‘97% consensus paper have had the opposite effect to that which Dana hoped for. Along with many other well known critics, plus Prof. Mike Hulme, I assisted in giving the 97% consensus paper ‘a bit of a kicking’.


Click to visit Josh’s site – and buy a mug or something.

Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?
Warren Pearce 30-7-13

Since climate change came to prominence in 1988, the role of scientific knowledge – especially an idea of scientific consensus – has played a starring role in the ensuing academic enquiry/political debate/trench warfare (delete as preferred).

Beyond a depressingly binary characterisation of simply pro or anti-science, I’d argue sceptics cannot simply be written off as anti-science orconspiracy theorists

Many climate sceptics worry climate science cannot be dubbed scientific as it is not falsifiable (as in Popper’s demarcation criterion). They claim that while elements of climate science may be testable in the lab, the complexity of interactions and feedback loops, as well as the levels of uncertainty in climate models, are too high to be a useful basis for public policy. The relationship of observations to these models are also a worry for climate sceptics. In particular, the role of climate sensitivity.

As well as their use of models, the quality of observations themselves have been open to criticism; some of which have been attempts to clean up issues deriving from the messiness of data collection in the real world (eg the positioning of weather stations), while others have focused on perceived weaknesses in the proxy methods required to calculate historic temperature data such as cross-sections of polar ice sheets and fossilised tree rings

Both climate change sceptics and advocates of climate policy see this question as important; sharing a faith that scientific evidence is the basis for public policy. However, such a faith omits the possibility that science is not suited to such a role, and that “solving” climate change does not flow linearly from agreement on the science. The attentions of sceptics may or may not be improving the practice and knowledge of climate science. However, if sceptics’ never-ending audit is really damaging policy, that may be more a reflection of an overly scientised policy process than a basis for denying them a voice in debate.

The conundrum is that both “sides” (if one can use that term) seem to focus on real science as the arbiter of knowledge claims. In doing so, they risk constricting material policy measures, issues of wider public significance than scientific debates about climate change.

Read the rest here:

  1. mitigatedsceptic says:

    I never dreamt that fuzzy logic could be used to create such a dense fog!
    If we should not ‘focus on real science as arbiter of knowledge claims’ what kind of ‘unreal science’ should guide our political decisions – perhaps this a reference to Nurse’s ‘post-normal science’?
    Is this a proposal to adopt some kind of supernatural insight instead of empiricism?
    The “Vital Spark’ still founders on the carbon myth and no amount of change from top down to bottoms up can prevail, so long as the demonisation of carbon continues.
    Why do people like this simply admit that what is going on in the climate is far too complex and that climatology is as close to mediaeval scholasticism as is possible to get in a world full of avaricious charlatans posing as ‘scientists’. OK let’s ditch science and let local communities choose from themselves which animals entrails they they would like to use to predict the future and to guide the formation of public policy 😉

  2. Dan Pangburn says:

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is an odorless, tasteless, transparent gas that is absolutely necessary for life on earth. Plants must sort through 2500 molecules to find one that can be used to make food. More CO2 results in more food.

    Calling CO2 a pollutant is technologically incompetent.

    Any credible change to the level of non-condensing greenhouse gases has never had and will never have significant effect on average global temperature.

    The influence of solar activity on earth’s average global temperature is accurately quantified by a proxy which is the time-integral of sunspot numbers.

    GW ended before 2001. http://endofgw.blogspot.com/

    AGW never was. http://climatechange90.blogspot.com/2013/05/natural-climate-change-has-been.html

  3. BoyfromTottenham says:

    IMO, pseudo-scientific ‘papers’ like Cook et al’s “97%” piece eminently qualify as ‘disinformation’ as was practised so effectively by the KGB during the Cold War, as can readily be deduced from this definition by Wikipedia:
    Disinformation is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately (tick!). For this reason, it is synonymous with and sometimes called black propaganda. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince someone of untruth (tick!). Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.
    Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions (tick!). A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole (tick!). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disinformation.
    We should not waste our valuable time and effort criticising these authors for their scientific errors or lack of rigour, instead we should call them out as propagandists for resorting to such disinformation techniques, and the inevitable hidden agenda that they are promoting. This is a new Cold War folks, and they are the enemy.

  4. hunter says:

    Of course skeptics are. AGW true believers are just a secularized group of faithful who claim to have the secret code for the latest apocalypse myth.

  5. […] Click here to read the full article _____________________________________________ […]

  6. Roger Clague says:

    Warren Pearce comes not to praise but to divide.

    He says the climate policy advocates and mainstream sceptics are real scientists because they accept the orthodox view of atmospheric physics, that CO2 causes warming. Fringe sceptics such as Principia Scientific International ( and Tallbloke ) are pseudoscientists because they think CO2 does not cause warming, other things do.

    Even if real, he says there is too much focus on science in policy and as ” the arbiter of knowledge”.

    He is another believer who, like Cook , knows what sceptics do or should think. I think sceptics should stick with other sceptics and not be tempted to join the advocates for a voice.

  7. tallbloke says:

    Hi Roger.

    I am in an independent position between Wattsup and PSI. Wattsup is too far to the lukewarm position for my taste (I note Warren didn’t pick up on this as a category description) and PSI is too far into novel radiative physics theory for me.

    So I sit in the middle and get shot from all sides. 🙂

    In the passage (the final paragraph) I think you identify as meaning he thinks there is too much focus on science in policy:

    “The conundrum is that both “sides” (if one can use that term) seem to focus on real science as the arbiter of knowledge claims. In doing so, they risk constricting material policy measures, issues of wider public significance than scientific debates about climate change.”

    there is a link from ‘material policy measures’ to http://www.academia.edu/3998653/The_Vital_Spark

    Plenty in that document to think about.

    The fact Warren chose to link it tells us he not trying to diminish the importance of science in policy. He’s trying to widen the context of the policy areas science is involved in. Perhaps he thinks the climate debaters (of all stripes) have become limited by their close focus on the climate science issue.

  8. Jaime Jessop says:

    I tend to agree with Roger here. Warren Pearce’s piece in the Guardian today is, in my opinion, just more unnecessary and largely unwanted hubris adding to the already muddied waters of the climate debate. By picking who he ‘wants to be friends with’ from within the sceptic community, Pearce might plausibly be accused of playing the ‘divide & conquer’ game and watering down the opposition.

    Let us never forget that the overwhelming impetus for developing a renewables industry and an energy policy focused upon that industry is that James Hansen persuaded the US Senate in 1988 that runaway man-made global warming was a real threat and, in the UK, Sir Crispin Tickell convinced Margaret Thatcher that Hansen was right. It’s a little more convoluted and complex than this, but not greatly so.

    So talk of risking constricting material policy measures by being too narrowly focused on the essentially science-based debate about whether climate change is predominantly man-made or not is an unwelcome diversion from the essence of the problem. That ‘problem’ is the economically, socially and environmentally crippling cost of applying the ‘cure’ for a planet made feverish (supposedly) by man’s activities, justified on the basis of observations (now woefully lacking) combined with an ensemble of climate models which have consistently failed to deliver the goods where prediction of future climate is concerned.

    So the debate should revert right back to one of observation combined with emerging theories about climate change which have less to do with man-made CO2 and far more to do with the analysis of natural forcings. Then, and ONLY then, in the light of evidence from this research, new energy and climate policy can be framed. Until the results come in, policy has no say whatsoever in my opinion. It is entirely secondary and dependent upon a root and branch reassessment of what causes climate change. Given also that the evidence now firmly points to a far less urgent need to act on CO2 emissions, crippling renewables targets and uncompetitive taxes should be abolished yesterday before they do any more damage to the economy, the environment and millions of hard-pressed energy customers.

  9. tallbloke says:

    Jaime: Welcome, and thanks for your comment. Personally, I find myself in agreement with you. However I recognise that the reason for Warren’s line of approach is his attempt to steer a middle course. In the document he linked we get this, which I’d welcome everyone’s views on:

    To be clear, all the major temperature ensembles agree that the century trend since the late 19th century shows that the atmosphere has warmed by approximately 0.8 degrees Centigrade. The precise balance of the forces responsible is still unclear, but it would be surprising if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, (the action of which has been plain since Arrhenius published his seminal work in 1896), have not contributed to a material degree, even if we now see that the effect cannot be specifed as defnitively as some would argue. Indeed, the welcome intensification of primary research since the 1980s in all branches of observation of the climate, in paleoclimatology and in data-processing and interpretation, has served to erode our confidence in the certainties of the 1980s-2000s, just as it has deepened our understanding. In spite of this uncertainty, it is still prudent to conclude that emissions of greenhouse gases should be rapidly reduced; butthe aim of avoiding probable further anthropogenic temperature forcing becomes one reason among many. This modest and pluralistic approach has important consequences for the design of policy.

    Unfortunately, combatants on both sides of the “climate wars” have tended to use arguments that focus upon short-term climate trends, observed over periods of time such as decades. These are too short to be informative, whatever their rhetorical power. As a result, the watching public has become confused. On the one hand, theabove average warming trend of the 1980s and 1990ssustained a catastrophist attitude amongst “climate action” advocates; on the other, the temperature plateau of the past fifteen years has deepened the suspicions of those who allege that the entire case for human involvement in global warming is a specious fabrication. Neither position is robust, and neither can provide a helpful conceptual framing if we wish, as the Hartwell authors do, to advance a pragmatic approach to whatall informed parties grant is a problem simultaneously marked by grave hazards and great scientific lacunae. In this perplexing situation we must, at the outset, acknowledge the specific difficulties posed by imperfectly understood open climate systems. Foremost among these is the fact that we can never know enough to conclude that research and data gathering should cease and policy-making begin. The two activities must proceed together, with policy remaining as responsive as possible to the changing state of understanding.

    Furthermore, we should acknowledge that “wicked” problems such as climate change present extreme difficulties for those whose hands rest upon the levers of governmental power. The desire to do something with their power is present in most politicians, and the pressure to act is sometimesoverwhelming during periods when existential anxietiesdominate the public mood; but prematurely irreversibleactions, immune to course correction and improvement and without the ability to identify and to open gateways to the possibility of radical invention, could be severely counter-productive

  10. tallbloke says:

    Worth pointing out that the new theory of climate being developed here at the talkshop uses 10,000years of proxy data.

  11. Roger Clague says:

    I support your position. The unique feature here is you favour looking at other theories of climate change, especially solar.

    I found Vital Spark to be accurate and thus positive about fossil fuels but agree with mitigatedsceptic who says:
    July 30, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    The “Vital Spark’ still founders on the carbon myth and no amount of change from top down to bottoms up can prevail, so long as the demonisation of carbon continues.

    The demonisation of carbon continues where Pearce refers to the orthodox view of atmospheric physics and links to the PSI discussion of our old friend the Willis Steel Greenhouse

    Still this discussion of how sceptics and greens use science in the Guardian is welcome.

  12. Jaime Jessop says:

    Thank you for welcoming me onto the page Rog.

    ” Indeed, the welcome intensification of primary research since the 1980s in all branches of observation of the climate, in paleoclimatology and in data-processing and interpretation, has served to erode our confidence in the certainties of the 1980s-2000s, just as it has deepened our understanding. In spite of this uncertainty, it is still prudent to conclude that emissions of greenhouse gases should be rapidly reduced; butthe aim of avoiding probable further anthropogenic temperature forcing becomes one reason among many. ”

    To my mind, this is acknowledging the growing uncertainties in CAGW theory whilst not giving an inch on CO2 reduction policy and further, widening the goal-posts to include other (unspecified) reasons for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What these ‘other’ reasons might be I can only hazard to guess, but I would suggest that they are driven more by ideology than practical considerations. Having one’s cake and eating it springs to mind!

  13. tallbloke says:

    Jaime: I suspect that further investigation of the ‘Vital Spark’ manifesto (for that is what it is) will reveal plenty of entrenched thinking as well as some genuine attempts to get away from ‘top down’ policy diktat. I’m short of time for dissecting it, but I’ll skim and comment. It would be good if Warren would join us and assist in highlighting. I’ll tweet him and see if he will.

  14. tallbloke says:

    Roger – thanks. It is very hard for people who haven’t studied the subject to appreciate just how uncertain even the fundamental tenets of the agw theory are. There is a feeling that “well the physics core MUST be solid, even if details and magnitudes are uncertain.” They just can’t ge their heads around the idea that the whole radiative approach is fundamentally flawed. (It is, because while radiative quantification gives accurate diagnostic numbers, it is mislaeding to assume it is causative rather than symptomatic of the underlying forcings.)

    But actually, the physics core of atmospheric science has been in a parlous state from Houghton onwards.

  15. grumpydenier says:

    I’d best keep out of this debate, Roger. I’m a simple man who looks at things from a simple perspective and having traced this all the way back to Fourier, I have arrived at the very simple conclusion that it’s all BS and the simple fact that the politicians have grabbed this with both hands (irrespective of the scientific doubts) tells me all I need to know.

    The vitriolic nature of those defending the hypothesis is also enough to tell me that science has SFA to do with this and that the left have been given a massive stick with which to beat the free-market system into submission (should it ever get a chance to be given a new lease of life).

  16. tallbloke says:

    GrumpyD: Given the vast financial implications of the Climate Change Act I think your position that ‘climate policy’ is economic and social policy in thin disguise, is a legitimate stance to take.

  17. mitigatedsceptic says:

    I suggest that the story is being told incorrectly – the origin of AGW was entirely political and science flourished only after politicians started the gravy train.
    As to the vitriol – these poor ‘scientists’ are fighting for their jobs – it is they who are afraid of what happens next.

  18. tallbloke says:

    MS: I think what happened was that following the CFC Ozone scare, the atmospheric scientists saw a great opportunity to grow their University faculties on plentiful funding. At the same time the enviros saw a great opportunity to push for a big cleanup of industrial emissions, and some ‘rising stars’ like Schneider, Solomon and Hansen went large on claims. At the same time the computer guys said, we can do that and built the first models, tweaking them to match the scenarios of doom Schneider was pushing. At the same time population was growing apace and fears for resources were high in the cold war. It all added up…

  19. mitigatedsceptic says:

    Indeed it all added up. What is being forgotten, in UK at least, was the bitterness and fear of unions, especially the miners’ union which had brought down the Heath government, caused power cuts (the three day week and the winter of discontent) and which Thatcher, advocate of nuclear power, had called ‘the enemy within’. She was determined to crush the unions whatever the cost and, prompted by Tickell, saw that the greenhouse tale a way of killing off King Coal for ever. The undermining of the Met Office, the creation of the Hadley Centre and the sponsoring of UAE and many others Universities were all part of her campaign. She admitted as much later saying the science was rickety, She could not get the people to hate the miners but contrived to make them fear the effects of burning coal. Now we face soaring energy bills, power cuts and, possibly, petrifying winters while the government blunders on wasting money on subsidising ‘renewables’ and attempting to make them look competitive by forcing up the cost of conventional power generation with carbon taxation. Now a couple of generations of children have grown up with minds permanently crippled by the Green Myth. It is heartbreaking!

  20. Jamie Jessop says:

    Couldn’t have said it better ms. The UK situation in a nutshell.

    Now, as opposed to exploiting a plentiful supply of ‘dirty’ cheap coal and conventional gas reserves, the government is going all out for fracking, as well as pursuing ambitious and crippling renewables targets, seemingly completely oblivious to the glaring inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in such an approach. Without getting into the specific merits or otherwise of fracking, these facts alone make me highly suspicious of this latest ‘policy innovation’ in UK energy production.

  21. Andrew says:

    Since WW2 the science community has in many ways, had a boom, trust & expectancy of the public has rocketed, with this comes responsibility. At the same time politics has had exactly the opposite experience. However the job of both has not changed. What has changed is influence. Politicians are weak, therefore more willing to do the popular “weather vanes”. Some in the climate science sector have taken full advantage. Add in fanatics of the environment movement, leads to knee jerk policies. Politicians have the advantage that they can repent at leisure when they are no longer in power, with lavish benefits.

    The biggest name in climate science in UK (as seen by the public) is the Met office, it has gained status, politicall and publicly, akin to the NHS. So it feels the need to keep the status it has gained. This in turn leads to the “submarine captain” situation. The captain must appear to know what is going on out there & appear to know exactly what to do, especially when he/she doesn’t. The point at which the crew suspects otherwise, is deadly to both.

    This is happening to the Met and the like. The skeptic community stands ready with alternative view, waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting for a speech from the Met et al, which speech?

    The Rumsfeld “known unknowns” speech. A truely painful ( for warmist ) admission. If, when & how. Will the publics response to energy bills, be a ” forcing” or will it be the climate itself, that brings it about. Whatever brings about the admission, or public sense that the Met et al knows it doesnt know, with the collapse in trust that will surely happen. it is then that the door will open. It is at this point that the skeptic community will have its say, also may need to restore faith in science, as it will be seen by many, as little more trustworthy than the politics it has shaped.

  22. mitigatedsceptic says:

    Apologies TB for the double posting.

    No, Andrew, I fear that the rise in energy bills will not engender political opposition by the public – rather there will be more demands for taxpayers’ life savings (the Eloi) to bail out those immersed in fuel poverty (Morlocks).

    I believe that the green agenda will be with us long after the AGW myth has exploded, simply because the alarmists are turning their attention to other ways humans are affecting the world – sea level rises, changes in the magnetic field, continental drift who knows? What they will fail to comprehend is that civilisation as we know it depends on energy and that without affordable energy anarchy beckons. It is not viable to meet rising energy bills with more debt. With smart meters everywhere, energy rationing is easily enforced.

    The real snag is that it is dangerous to turn gas off and on and so the country will be steered away from gas to electricity – which, itself, is not an energy source but just a vastly inefficient way of transporting energy.

  23. Andrew says:

    The weakness that much of the “green agenda” have, comes in a W.Churchill quote. “A fanatic is one that cannot change his mind & won’t change the subject”. As always a font of good quotes. This either makes people believe or stop listening. They have been successful so far at the former, though as the climate refuses to play ball, costs to the public rise, I believe this is shifting to the latter. The 1990s was a decade when many soft issues took president, as incomes rose in the west. Times are now harder, decisions have become more pragmatic, at last, some difficult choices have been made by a government ( yes I know )..

    This is why the green agenda sees it necessary to target the next generation, climate camps & the like. Today on twitter, I pushed the boundaries of taste, by comparing them to Hitler youth camps. The similarities are there. It should be said that not all of the action the”green agenda” is taking are bad, but some are fanatics, so the centre-right greens, if you like, are equally damaged. To be v.generous, we are being “nudged” into being more Eco-responsible which isn’t all bad.

    What I’m trying to say is the extremists always have their time in the sun, they will eventually be exposed.

    what i have written it may appear that I may be wearing rose tinted spectacles, but I see no need to promote a difficult , more negative, if realistic prediction, although I regularly have those opinions, as we would all sound the same.

  24. Q. Daniels says:

    Under Heterodoxy, inquiry turns into debates.

    Under Orthodoxy, inquiry turns into inquisitions.