Cross Post: What do sugar and climate change have in common? Misplaced scepticism of the science

Written by Professor Neil Levy, Senior Research Fellow, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Erosion of the case against sugar. Shutterstock

Why do we think that climate sceptics are irrational? A major reason is that almost none of them have any genuine expertise in climate science (most have no scientific expertise at all), yet they’re confident that they know better than the scientists. Science is hard. Seeing patterns in noisy data requires statistical expertise, for instance. Climate data is very noisy: we shouldn’t rely on common sense to analyse it. We are instead forced to use the assessment of experts.

So we think that experts should have much greater standing on these questions than non-experts. And we think that a consensus of experts is particularly good evidence for a claim. Famously, there is a near consensus among (relevant) experts about climate. The exact numbers have altered from study to study, but there is a consensus on the consensus: about 97% of climate scientists agree that the world is warming and that our emissions are largely to blame.

In response, climate sceptics sometimes argue there is no consensus, citing, for instance, an infamous petition allegedly signed by thousands of scientists rejecting the claims of man-made global warming. Even if the signatories to the petition are all genuine, and all have credentials in science (both claims are hard to verify), few have expertise in climate science: so the petition is entirely consistent with the 97% consensus claim.

The other favourite response from sceptics is to claim that the consensus reflects not a disinterested search for truth, but the influence of money. Climate scientists dare not dissent, because if they do, they will not receive funding from the granting agencies.

There is certainly evidence that money can corrupt science. A recent paper documents a case of this occurring. In the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to carry out a piece of research that reached a predetermined conclusion: that fat, and not sugar, was responsible for heart disease. The resulting “research”, a literature review that claimed that the studies suggesting sugar was responsible had methodological flaws, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. At the time, the journal did not require authors to declare conflicts of interests, and they didn’t.

Of course, it is not news that industry attempts to influence scientific findings. The case of sugar versus fat is an interesting one, because the industry was so successful in establishing a consensus. That fat is the main cause of heart disease, not sugar, became accepted by medical scientists. Publishing review papers in high profile journals is a good way to sway debates and establish claims. Once the claim was established securely in the minds of scientists, those who challenged it were dismissed as cranks. Might something similar be occurring in the case of climate change?

Parallels and differences

There are important differences between the case of sugar and that of climate change. The most important is the source of the funds: the money came from industry, which had a vested interest in the findings, not from granting agencies (whose reviewers have, at most, a commitment to validating knowledge, not a financial interest in it). That is not to say that these commitments cannot bias reviewers: they surely can. But the effect is likely weaker.

Watering down the evidence. Shutterstock

While there is extensive evidence for all sorts of cognitive biases, we remain capable of recognising the stronger argument and rejecting the weaker. Our biases are decisive only when the evidence is relatively evenly balanced and even then, we usually come round with the passing of time. When someone cynically manipulates data, though, they can bring all their intelligence and skill to presenting their case. The biased salesperson is a threat to our capacity to make good choices, but we should beware the conman much more.

The other difference is that in the case of climate change, there are buckets of money available to those who want to put forward a contrarian position. Scientists want to do science; that’s why they apply to granting agencies to fund them. But if they want to make real money and don’t care about the science then they should look elsewhere.

In fact, there are good grounds for thinking that the sugar case and the climate change case are parallel, not because in both cases money distorts the science by establishing a narrative, but because in both industry money distorts what the public believe. In the first case, industry money helped produce the scientific consensus, which was then disseminated to the public; in the second, industry money largely leaves the science unaffected but distorts public perceptions via other channels.

This is not to deny that the existence of a scientific consensus mightn’t make it more difficult for dissent to be heard. Scientists are human beings, and they are influenced by the need for respect from peers and their own biases. All scientific claims need to be subjected to searching scrutiny to avoid complacency. With regard to climate change, though, the scrutiny from dissenters has been constant and ongoing, and the science has emerged strengthened.

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164 Responses to Cross Post: What do sugar and climate change have in common? Misplaced scepticism of the science

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    You say: “almost none of [the climate sceptics] have any genuine expertise in climate science (most have no scientific expertise at all)”

    Except e.g. Richard Lindzen, Professor or Meteorology at MIT, and Roy Spencer and John Christy of the University of Huntsville Alabama, who run the NASA satellite global temperature programme. Lindzen expects temperature rise of approximately 1°C this century, consistent with the IPCC lower climate sensitivity estimate. The satellite data suggest something similar. There are plenty of others of course, but that’s enough to disprove your assertion.

    You say: “Seeing patterns in noisy data requires statistical expertise, for instance. Climate data is very noisy: we shouldn’t rely on common sense to analyse it. We are instead forced to use the assessment of experts.”

    …which is precisely what palaeo-climatologist Michael Mann failed to do in constructing his famous “hockey stick” graph. Professional statistician Steve McIntyre deconstructed the hockey stick, and the official Wegman Report criticised Mann and his colleagues precisely for failing to seek expert statistical help. We non-experts are perfectly capable of judging the arguments from experts on both sides in this case, and in many others.

    You say: “Famously, there is a near consensus among (relevant) experts about climate.”

    Famously, all the studies regularly quoted in support of this statement used different methods, asked different questions using different definitions, and committed so many outrages on logic and scientific method as to be useless.

    You say: “…experts should have much greater standing on these questions than non-experts. And we think that a consensus of experts is particularly good evidence for a claim. Famously, there is a near consensus among (relevant) experts about climate. The exact numbers have altered from study to study, but there is a consensus on the consensus”

    And the experts you quote in support of that claim? Cook et al: i.e. a blogger and his mates, including a professor of psychology, an astrophysician, a historian and a former police officer. That’s your source for the consensus on the consensus. My judgement of them is no doubt biased by the fact that four of them have lied about me and defamed me in blogs and newspaper articles, but that needn’t concern a researcher in practical ethics, since defaming a simple blogger has absolutely no practical ethical effects.

    • John Shade says:

      This essay is rightly shown up by Geoff Chambers to be something of a blinkered apologia for what might be called the CO2 Alarm Sounders and their associated support-base in various science departments in universities and in state-funded research centres. The Climategate revelations pointed quite clearly to a culture of schemers and plotters intent on protecting their pet theories and projects. Mere ‘human beings’ perhaps but unedifying all the same. Interested readers passing this way might like to Google NIPCC to get links to a great deal of scientific analysis that undermines pet, and often dramatically promoted, theories and projects in the now very broad and prosperous area of ‘climate science’.

    • Neil Levy says:

      I’m afraid you dont understand how evidence works in science. Asking the same question in different ways, using different methodologies, is what good scientists do. The gold standard in science is convergence. A claim is supposed by convergent evidence when it is supported by different kinds of evidence. So, for instance, a claim about the mind might be supported by genetic evidence, neuroimaging, behavioral tasks and evolutionary evidence.

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        You say: “I’m afraid you dont understand how evidence works in science.”

        I’m afraid I do. And we’re not talking about science, but (in the case of Doran & Zimmerman) about opinion research, and in the case of Oreskes, Anderegg and Cook, about simple opinion. Doran sent out thirty thousand questionnaires, received ten thousand replies, wittled them down to 78, and came up with the figure of 97%. Cook announced to his collaborators before the research that 97% would be a good result and that’s what they got.
        I am not a scientist, but I once practised opinion research for a living (I have a medal from the British Market Research Society to prove it – something I’ve never admitted to anyone) and Doran and Zimmerman is what we call in the business pure shit (an opinion with which Zimmerman concurs, in politer terms.)

        Cook is a liar. He lied to me in a private email at the same time he was collecting quotes from me on blogs to be used in a peer-reviewed article (since retracted) which accused me of feelings of persecution and being incapable of rational thought. Anyone quoting him lays himself open to accusations of extreme naïveté, to say the least.

        You say: ”Asking the same question in different ways, using different methodologies, is what good scientists do.”

        And listing the sources of different studies, using different methodologies, asking different questions, as independent evidence for the same conclusion is what charlatans do. Whenever I see Cook, Anderegg, Oreskes, Doran etc. cited together, I reach for my keyboard, because I know I’m being had, and often by someone who doesn’t realise that he also is being had.

        You say: “ “The gold standard in science is convergence.”

        When I google “gold standard in science” I get, not “convergence”, but “peer review”. We don’t know who peer-reviewed the Cook articles you cite, but we know that another article coauthored by Cook (the retracted one) was peer-reviewed by one Sirven Swami, an expert (i.e. author of a peer-reviewed article) on: the appreciation of female bottoms. But his peer-reviewed research diverged from the existing literature to such an extent that he is now a full professor.

        The gold standard in science is creating a buzz. You have done that at the Conversation. Congratulations.

        • Neil Levy says:

          Thanks, but the congratulations is entirely undeserved. The majority of the comments have come from the self-reinforcing world of the denialist echo chamber. I don’t think that attracting the usual suspects with the usual talking points and unsupported assertions counts as “creating a buzz”.

          • Geoff Chambers says:

            “The majority of the comments have come from the self-reinforcing world of the denialist echo chamber.”

            No they haven’t. They’ve comed from the rational folk who gather at cliscep dot com, plus one or two others, whom we have welcomed into the fold. None of us has any connection with the fantasy world described by Oreskes, Cook and co. of recipients of the billions of dollars imagined by Brulle whom you quote. Do you realise how closely these lies mirror the far right fantasies of Moscow gold and Zionist conspiracies of yesteryear? Do you have any idea where you’re heading, ideologically?

            I don’t think that attracting the usual suspects with the usual talking points and unsupported assertions counts as “creating a buzz”.

            I do object to being referred to as “the usual suspects.” Do you know the origin of the reference? In the film “Casablanca” it refers to the Arabs (understood: sub-humans) who can be rounded up and accused of anything because they have no rights. In fact, applied to us climate sceptics, it’s quite appropriate. But you can change that, by agreeing to a discussion between equals (all non-experts) on the most pressing subject of the moment (according to our political masters) at Practical Ethics – viz. Climate science.

          • Jon Anderson says:

            I’m sorry Neil but I find it extremely difficult to believe that you’ve actually read, let alone
            understood, what any of the consensus ‘studies’ you quote actually say. You use of the
            term ‘denialist’ then removes any doubt as to your motivation.

            • Ben Pile says:

              It’s an interesting point. The ethicist seems to make an ethic out of not understanding a debate, and its scientific, moral, and political dimensions.

              We know they must be wrong because everybody else says they must be wrong, and so we don’t need to know what they say.

              Socrates without his interlocutors. Hegel without his antithesis. The interlocutors com from bad money, and the antithesis is just corporate PR. Philosophical debates that have run for thousands of years are now resolved! We just have to see what the money says, and take the opposite view.

              It is thus the terminal point for philosophy, amongst other fields.

              Which is why it interests us. You don’t even have to deny that climate change is happening to wonder what is going on with the academy’s regression.

              It’s okay though. Society doesn’t need philosophers, and philosophy doesn’t need universities. As academic philosophy turns itself into a policeman, so it will deprive itself.

  • Paul Matthews says:

    Over at the so-called “Conversation”, the moderators have started deleting comments, including two of mine that exposed the absurdity of the claims in this article. I think I may have a copy so I may be able to copy them here later, and we will see whether the standards of Practical Ethics are any higher here than at the Conversation.

    As an issue of Practical Ethics, I feel I should alert you to the fact that I wrote an article criticising this piece, “Buckets of money are available” at a blog called cliscep dot com (your link-disabling policy does not allow a direct link). You would be very welcome to join the discussion over there. I understand that some members of your group encourage inter-group communication as a means of reducing inter-group conflict, an idea that Geoff and I are all in favour of.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Professor Levy

    In a reply to Robin Guenier at the Conversation you say:

    “The people who should care what the consensus is are those who are not expert enough themselves to assess the science for themselves. That’s almost all of us (including most scientists).”

    Much of the “science” you quote is by one John Cook, who, at the time he wrote his papers, was not a scientist but (like me) an unemployed illustrator with a blog. He is the third most frequent contributor on climate change at the Conversation with 30 articles, while in second position is his doctorate supervisor Stephan Lewandowsky with 41. As psychologists, neither can claim any superior expertise over me or any other commenter when it comes to assessing climate science.

    You go on to say: “..in science if you’re not publishing in peer reviewed journals, you are almost certainly not an expert”, which is not to say that if you are publishing in peer reviewed journals, then you almost certainly are an expert.
    Cook is an expert in nothing except pro-consensus propaganda. It was Professor Lewandowsky, his co-author on “the Debunker’s Handbook” and later his doctorate supervisor, who pointed out that belief in the existence of a consensus provided a strong incentive for belief in the subject of the consensus, which prompted Cook to emulate Doran and Zimmermann in their establishment of a 97% consensus (on a sample of 78, after 99% of the original sample had been weeded out. Have you read what Ms Zimmerman has to say about the quality of the article that got her her PhD? You should).

    And you continue: “Interestingly, the ‘sceptics’ apparently care about whether there is a consensus. Almost every comment on this article was prompted by an organized effort to ensure that the denialist voice is the loudest.”

    What is your evidence for “an organised effort?” Are you suggesting the existence of a conspiracy? It’s true that Paul Matthews, John Shade and I are all associated with the climate sceptic blog cliscep dot com. We’re all keen readers of the Conversation because we share a distaste for government-sponsored propaganda and censorship of opposing views. Otherwise our political views are as disparate as could be.

    Excuse the length of this comment, which would be at the Conversation, except that they’ve banned me from commenting. Coming from an organisation financed by my old university, that rankles. My granddaughter is currently at Oxford where you are a senior research fellow. I wouldn’t like her to be ashamed in later life of having attended a seat of learning which was complicit in the suppression of free discussion. Alas, all the British universities which finance the Conversation are currently in that case.

    • Neil Levy says:

      What’s the relevance of the fact that Cook is not a climate scientist? Whether he’s qualified to do climate science is surely irrelevant to whether he’s qualified to survey the opinions of climate scientists.

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        “Whether [Cook] is qualified to do climate science is surely irrelevant to whether he’s qualified to survey the opinions of climate scientists.”

        Agreed. And the same goes for me, and your other interlocutors here. Which is why we at Cliscep dot com have been proposing for ages a discussion about the opinions of climate scientists, to be conducted by those who are qualified to survey their opinions, i.e. everyone, but more especially – why not – between us at cliscep dot com who are particularly keen on such a discussion, and you at Practical Ethics, for whom such questions (of life and death, or climate change) are your bread and butter?

        Ready when you are.

        • ...and Then There's Physics says:

          Geoff,
          Of course anyone can undertake a piece of research to – for example – survey the opinions of climate scientists (assuming that they also abide by whatever research guidelines might apply). What you can’t do is insist that it is published in a specific peer-reviewed journal, or insist that people take your study seriously. What John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky have done is actually undertake research, have actually published their results, and – based on citations – it seems to be being taken seriously by some at least. If you really think there is something worth researching, you should – IMO – just get out there and do it.

          As far as collaborating with those associated with cliscep.com is concerned, I would seriously suggest anyone considering doing so read the posts and the comments before deciding whether or not to actually do so.

          • Geoff Chambers says:

            ;;and then There’s Physics is a co-author of Cook and Lewandowsky under the name of Ken Rice. I would not seriously suggest reading his comments at cliscep, except perhaps to get an idea of what the defence of” the science” looks like.

            • ...and Then There's Physics says:

              Geoff,
              I was tempted to point out who I was and acknowledge an association with Cook and Lewandowsky, but I was confident that you would do so for me 🙂

              I wasn’t suggesting reading my comments on cliscep; I was suggesting reading the posts and – in particular – the comments of those associated with the site, before making any decisions about whether or not to collaborate.

              You still haven’t really responded to what I was getting at, though. If you really think that there is some piece of research that is worth doing, then you should just get out there, do it, publish it, and see how it is received. There’s nothing fundamentally stopping you from doing so. You can criticise the credentials of others as much as you like, but at the end of the day, they will probably be judged by what they actually do, not by their underlying credentials.

              • Neil Levy says:

                I don’t think it’s necessary to go clisep to make an informed decision on whether a collaboration is warranted. I think there’s sufficient evidence available right here.

                • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                  Indeed, but I’m always in favour of collecting as much evidence as possible 🙂

        • Neil Levy says:

          See previous comment, Jaime, Barry and Geoff.

  • Paul Matthews says:

    There are so many ironies here I don’t have time to point them all out. But here’s one.

    We have a senior member of an Institute for Ethics casually smearing people who disagree with him and point out his errors as “denialists”.

    • Paul Matthews says:

      The only person here with any proven financial links to climate denialist organisations is Neil Levy himself, having taken money from the Templeton Foundation, one of those organisations clearly identified by Brulle as funding the climate change countermovement.

    • Neil Levy says:

      I suggest you read over your previous comments before you accuse others of engaging in ad hominems, Paul. In case you’re interested, I settled on ‘denialist’ after some thought. I don’t think delusional is appropriate, because I think the cognitive processes of denialists are working as they’re designed to; they’re just instances of the confirmation bias gone to extremes. I know you prefer “sceptic”, to clothe yourself in the respectability of its connotations. “Denialist” seems a reasonably neutral alternative. After all, you take yourself to be denying a claim- or a number of claims – that many people espouse.

      • Jon Anderson says:

        Do honestly consider yourself objective? in any way? at all?

        You don’t think ‘denialist’ is a pejorative (thus an ad hom. in the context of a supposedly rational debate)?

        I have a degree in Oceanography and a masters degree (with distinction) in geoscience. I consider myself
        more expert than you (having at least studied meteorology, glacial environments and oceanic circulation).

        Can you elaborate what it is you think I’m ‘denying’?

        In fact, I’d challenge you to present a coherent position on what ‘The Consensus’ actually *is*based on
        the references you cite. I’ll even give you a clue, if you think they support the position that man is causing
        more than 50% of the observed temperature increase in the metrological record you’d be wrong.

      • Paul Matthews says:

        I was not accusing you of engaging in ad hominems. I was pointing out the irony of a supposed institute for Ethics indulging in this sort of smear campaign. I am not the one speaking from an ethics institute.

        I am quite happy engaging in ad hominems, as you have observed, particularly with regard to ignorant and hypocritical political activists with no sense of self-awareness.

        • ...and Then There's Physics says:

          You seem to be suggesting that someone who is associated with an Ethics Institute is somehow obliged to behave more ethically than someone, for example, associated with a Mathematics Department (or, equivalently, that someone from – for example – a Mathematics Department is somehow allowed to behave less ethically than someone from an Ethics Institute). Our research interests don’t define, or set, our public conduct. If you think that it’s acceptable for you to enage in ad hominens and to insult and smear others with whom you disagree (which appears to be the case) then you should regard it as acceptable for others to do the same.

          • Jaime Jessop says:

            “You seem to be suggesting that someone who is associated with an Ethics Institute is somehow obliged to behave more ethically than someone, for example, associated with a Mathematics Department”.

            That’s hilarious Ken. Can you not see your comparison is not like for like? You might expect a professor of Ethics to be rather more aware of ethical and non-ethical behaviour than your average Joe Public (or Maths Professor). You might expect that an Ethics Professor would be more acutely aware of his or her own behaviour with regard to ethics and therefore tread more carefully when debating in public. On the other hand, whilst you would expect an academic trained in mathematics to be passingly familiar with . . . . mathematics (surprise!), it would be odd to expect said person to be any more ‘ethically aware’ than anyone else.

            • ...and Then There's Physics says:

              Jaime,
              I didn’t refer to awareness, I referred to obligation. There’s no reason why we should expect an ethics researcher to behave in a more ethical manner than, for example, a Mathematician. Or, equivalently, excuse – for example – a Mathematics researcher’s lack of ethical conduct on the basis of their understanding being less than that of an ethics researcher (we should all be perfectly capable of understanding what is appropriate conduct – we don’t need to research ethics to do so). Also, you seem to be suggesting that researchers should not simply be objective observers, but should – instead – conduct themselves in some manner that is guided by their understanding of their research topic.

              • Jaime Jessop says:

                We live in the real world Ken. The world where people see ‘mathematics’ in somebody’s title and expect them to be better at maths than we are; the world where people see ‘ethics’ in the title of a person or organisation and expect that person or organisation to ‘do’ ethics just a little bit better than your average person. Of course there is no ‘obligation’ as such, beyond perhaps a commitment to uphold the reputation of one’s academic institute or whatever. Also we must be careful not to confuse ‘ethical behaviour’ with accepted norms of polite behaviour between say, academic professionals.

  • Barry Woods says:

    Hi Nick –

    I’m afraid you must be very new to (and almost completely ignorant) of) the climate debate to think ‘denialist is a neutral phrase to describe a group of people and at this point it is totally polarising.
    As “climate change denier”, “climate deniabilist” has been used to equate skeptics as the moral equivalence of holocaust deniers, (not exclusively, also used to equate them with creationists, and aids deniers and anything else derogatory)

    to quote Professor Lewandowsky and Dr John Cook’s latest paper (about sceptics contradicting themselves)-

    “We use denial as a noun that describes a political or discursive activity but we avoid labels such as “denier” or “denialist” that categorize people.” -Lewandowsky,Cook, Lloyd

    It was rather amusing, that they then contradicted themselves by doing just that,catergorising people, in the very same paper..

    “…views in the “community” of denialists…”

    “No such corrective processes can be observed in denialist discourse…”

    “…incoherencies manifest in denialist discourse…”

    Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, and Johna Hari seemed top have started the equating climate sceptics with holocaust deniers – around 2005/2006 – in the main stream media – as this was around the time of the David Irving trial, it no doubt seemed like a convenient metaphor to equate climate sceptics with views beneath the pale..

    Dr John Cook – also observed this issue in 2007, at the same time as he was starting his Skeptical Science website (sceptical of climate sceptics)

    “I’ve been following the global warming argument closely of late and I’ve noticed both sides often fulfill Godwin’s Law. Global warming advocates liken skeptics to Holocaust deniers (akin to a Nazi). Skeptics compare Al Gore’s public awareness campaign to Nazi-like propoganda. It’s lazy debating – why discuss the issues with facts and logic when you can easily write off your opponent with a derogatory label?” – John Cook – 2007

    “The climate-change deniers are rapidly ending up with as much intellectual credibility as creationists and Flat Earthers. …they are nudging close to having the moral credibility of Holocaust deniers.”

    – Johann Hari, The Independent (2005)

    “I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial.”

    – Mark Lynas, Environmental Activist (2006)

    “Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial.”

    – George Monbiot, The Guardian (2006)

    “The obvious reductio ad absurdum is Holocaust deniers: Should their perspective be provided, for “balance,” any time someone writes about the Holocaust?”

    – Chris Mooney, The Intersection (2006)

    So when you say – “I settled on ‘denialist’ after some thought.” – it seems it was in complete ignorance of the last decade highly polarised climatedebate –
    even the Guardian had a long debate init style guide about how useful the phrase denier had and it’s connotations.

    This was SIX years ago:Guardian

    “We have been discussing such terminology, and some of my colleagues have suggested that Guardian style might be amended to stop referring to “climate change deniers” in favour of, perhaps, “climate sceptics”.

    The editor of our environment website explains: “The former has nasty connotations with Holocaust denial and tends to polarise debate. On the other hand there are some who are literally in denial about the evidence. Also, some are reluctant to lend the honourable tradition of scepticism to people who may not be truly ‘sceptical’ about the science.” We might help to promote a more constructive debate, however, by being “as explicit as possible about what we are talking about when we use the term sceptic”.

    Most if not all of the environment team – who, after all, are the ones at the sharp end – now favour stopping the use of denier or denialist (which is not, in fact, a word) in news stories, if not opinion pieces.

    The Guardian’s environment editor argues: “Sceptics have valid points and we should take them seriously and respect them.” To call such people deniers “is just demeaning and builds differences”. One of his colleagues says he generally favours sceptic for news stories, “but let people use ‘deniers’ in comment pieces should they see fit. The ‘sceptics’ label is almost too generous a badge as very few are genuinely sceptical about the science but I think we have to accept the name is now common parlance.”

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Neil Levy says:

    “I don’t think it’s necessary to go clisep [sic] to make an informed decision on whether a collaboration is warranted. I think there’s sufficient evidence available right here.”

    Then your decision is not informed, obviously, and your assertion that it is appropriate and ‘neutral’ to label climate change sceptics as ‘denialists’ is entirely contradictory. Please present yourself to Messrs Cook and Lewandowsy for analysis.

  • Barry Woods says:

    Hi Nick – take a look at this comment of yours..

    “I know you prefer “sceptic”, to clothe yourself in the respectability”

    do you know anything about Paul Matthews?

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Excellent research Barry, but his name is Neil.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Yes indeed Geoff; whereas denialist (like denier) is a definite ad hom, Barry mistakenly addressing Neil as Nick, would appear to be just an innocent ad nom. 🙂

  • Neil Levy says:

    “Excellent research Barry, but his name is Neil.”

    So maybe not completely excellent, then?

    There’s also the little fact that a good half of the quotes support the use of denialist.

    I will leave you guys to play by yourselves now. I will only respond if someone has a substantive point to make (where asserting that I’m wrong, or stupid, or playing gotcha don’t count as substantive, by my lights). Have fun.

    • Jon Anderson says:

      /golf clap

    • Paul Matthews says:

      “There’s also the little fact that a good half of the quotes support the use of denialist.”

      You have completely missed the point of Barry’s excellent comment (the typos are his trademark by the way).
      Allow me to spell it out so that even you can understand it.
      The quotes from Hari, Lynas, Monbiot and Mooney circa 2006 make it clear that the intent of the “denialist” label is to smear by association with holocaust deniers. This shows that your description of it as “reasonably neutral” is completely false.
      The more recent and thoughtful statement from the Guardian circa 2010 shows that they had realised the falsehood of your statement by that time.

      As Barry points out, this shows that not only do you have very little understanding of climate science itself, you also have virtually no understanding of the human and ethical aspects climate debate. Yet you blunder into it, writing an article about it at the Conversation and here.
      I believe the appropriate term is the Dunning–Kruger effect.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Well at least we all seem to agree that debating sugar is not very interesting. To get back to the subject of Neil Levy’s article: his first substantive statement about sceptics, in paragraphs three and four, is wrong. We hardly ever discuss the “infamous” petition or the influence of money. What we discuss is the rotten science and the even rottener propaganda that surrounds it, much of it passed off as science in peer-reviewed papers. Professor Levy won’t defend it because he can’t.

    His second error is the buckets of money of course, which is based on the Brulle argument that because billions of dollars passed from A to B, and that B once gave an unknown sum to C, therefore C is receiving billions. It’s the Moscow Gold argument, isn’t it? What next? The Protocols of the Elders of Heartland?

    At least we can agree with his statement in the last paragraph that “all scientific claims need to be subjected to searching scrutiny to avoid complacency” and that “with regard to climate change …the scrutiny from dissenters has been constant and ongoing.” But he spoils it by adding: “… and the science has emerged strengthened.” Strengthened? How? Forty years ago scientists were saying they thought climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 (plus feedbacks) was somewhere between 1.5°C and 4°C, maybe a bit more or a bit less. And a couple of years ago the IPCC said exactly the same. That’s not strengthening, it’s admitting ignorance, always a good first step in science.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Neil Levy: “There’s also the little fact that a good half of the quotes support the use of denialist.”

    That’s because they’re from different people who are having a debate. You are here committing the Lewandowsky Fallacy (see his latest paper attacking denialists – whoops I mean skeptics. No I don’t. I’ll keep on saying nig… oh, never mind) of thinking that if a group of people (in this case Guardian journalists) say different things, they’re incoherent. Lewandowsky applied it to us denialists, but it works just as well here, doesn’t it? “Some Guardian journalists said something different from what some other Guardian journalists said; therefore Barry Woods is wrong.”

    Thanks for the philosophy lesson.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Neil Levy says:

    “I will leave you guys to play by yourselves now. I will only respond if someone has a substantive point to make (where asserting that I’m wrong, or stupid, or playing gotcha don’t count as substantive, by my lights). Have fun.”

    Substantive points having been made and not replied to substantively. Nothing to see here. Move on.

  • Ben Pile says:

    Neil, you ask, Why do we think that climate sceptics are irrational? and posit the answer that almost none of them have any genuine expertise in climate science (most have no scientific expertise at all), yet they’re confident that they know better than the scientists.

    The main problem would seem to me that, as far as I can tell, you don’t have any background in climate science yourself, so you defer to approximations of the consensus position.

    This is, of course, not unlike pointing to the hitherto consensus on fat, which you rightly point out was mistaken. So you go on to try to make a distinction between the two consensuses.

    You say that the consensus on fat was the result of ‘money’ coming from ‘industry’, and that this makes the difference between the consensus on fat and the consensus on climate. It would be interesting to see both quantitative and qualitative and research on this, such that a meaningful comparison of the production of knowledge on fat and climate can be made. But I suspect it may not exist, and that your argument is premature.

    As it happens, we can see by looking at financial statements and funding data for UK research, that there is a great deal of private funding of climate research. Indeed, a number of research outfits in the UK which emphasise environmental science and governance bear the name of their super-wealthy benefactors. Just up the road from you are the Smith and Martin schools at Oxford, for instance, the latter now occupying the Old Indian Institute on Broad Street… One doesn’t set up in such a building if you’re scratching around for a living. And that is at just one University amongst the UK’s 100 or so, many of which have one or more public and/or privately funded department or school.

    So the notion that ‘money’ can explain the fact of a false scientific consensus on one case is more than a little vulgar. If we do the sums, we find quite a lot of green stacked up behind the green scientific agenda. Even outfits like the Tyndall Centre have been funded by oil companies, yet it is not possible to detect a whiff of denial from its branches at UEA, Oxford, Sussex, Manchester, Newcastle, Cambridge or Southampton. Ditto, in spite of a large part of Jeremy Grantham’s $mllions having been realised from investments in oil companies, we can find the research institutions that bear his name now making very angry statements about the companies he had shares in. He may well have disposed of those shares since establishing that institution, but we cannot be sure, can we — on your own argument — that his investments in environmental research and policy-making don’t reflect the interests of his new portfolio. A full account of the ‘industry money’ behind climate research would take many many pages to complete. Suffice it to say that if the consideration of ethical philosophers on the question of trust in scientific consensus reduces to nothing more than ‘follow the money’, then every bloke at the pub is a philosopher.

    And perhaps that is one reason why sceptics don’t believe the ‘consensus’ is rational. It seems to be doing more than simply summarising the science. It seems also to be doing the heavy lifting for philosophers, as well as politicians. Moreover, far from being ‘confident that they know better than the scientists’, many sceptics point out that what is passed off as ‘consensus’ doesn’t in fact reflect scientific understanding. For example, one climate scientist said in response to the 97% survey you cite,

    The “97% consensus” article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country that the energy minister should cite it. It offers a similar depiction of the world into categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to that adopted in Anderegg et al.’s 2010 equally poor study in PNAS: dividing publishing climate scientists into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. It seems to me that these people are still living (or wishing to live) in the pre-2009 world of climate change discourse. Haven’t they noticed that public understanding of the climate issue has moved on?

    Links are prohibited here, but you can find that statement by searching for my name, and the title ‘what’s behind the battle of received wisdoms’ and ‘nottingham’ and ‘making science public’, where I observe that the ‘consensus’ has become hollow, and is used in arguments as a battle of received wisdom, at the expense of understanding what is actually being debated. That it so say that deference to the consensus isn’t obviously deference to expertise, as much as it is obedience to a political cause and that the polarisation of the debate into ‘scientists’ vs ‘deniers’ occurs before the debate. It is only the enforcement of consensus that sustains the understanding of the debate as two, counterposed sides, of goodies and baddies, right and wrong, rational and irrational. You may wish to paint complex debates as stark, black and white moral tales, but that would surely lump together deeply irrational deep ecologists and climate scientists, whose views are otherwise irreconcilable.

    Finally, you claim that the climate consensus is different because “industry money largely leaves the science unaffected but distorts public perceptions via other channels”.

    We’re left wondering, where these ‘buckets’ of money are, how much money is in them, how much money does this compare to, and what these ‘other channels’ are, how they work, and what they exist in contrast to. You seem all very sure of it, but not fluent in the substance of the debates you comment on. As the expert, I’m sure you deserve the deference you expect. But the unanswered questions just rattle together like so many empty buckets. They seem like more than sufficient reason to question just how rational your own perspective is, and what might be driving it. It doesn’t look much like the work of any ethical philosopher I’ve ever read. And this only leads to more questions. Is it ‘irrational’ to find your argument so unconvincing, and to ask the questions it seems to raise?

  • Barry Woods says:

    By your logic Neil.. labour party activists – calling out tory scum. Red tories. Tory vermin. Is evidence of support of those phrases.. when the topic was whether or not the phrase was neutral.. and non counter productive.. not offensive

    Do you still consider ‘denialist’ neutral… is my question to you.

  • John Shade says:

    Well, here is a sorry pass indeed. A professor, at Oxford no less, posts his article here on a site whose purpose is to ‘promote dialogue and debate’, and then fails to participate for very long in either when confronted with penetrating criticisms of said article. He completes the pantomime by flouncing off his own stage with this jejune remark: ‘I will leave you guys to play by yourselves now.’ This is all somewhat unimpressive.

    I am reminded of once when at a football match, and a chap beside was roaring out about how great his team was – ‘the best’, and so on. In a pause, I pointed out that they had lost more games than they had won in the season so far and so ‘best’ was pushing it a bit. He looked at me askance and moved away to continue, a short time later, his jubilant support for his team. I guess Prof Levy was just doing something similar for the side he supports in the climate game – making a display of loyalty and encouragement despite his side’s dire track record on the science side. And now he’s gone away too.

    But maybe just for his version of Bovril and a mince pie, and we might get him back again when he’s feeling sufficiently refreshed. I hope so. He needs help.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    John Shade
    Barry Woods and I were once explaining patiently and fairly politely exactly what was wrong with the Cook/Lewandowsky kind of science under an article in the Conversation and a professor of philosophy popped up and replied: “Oh, I see.”

    I admired him for that. Humility doesn’t come easily to anyone, least of all to philosophy professors, I imagine, and I do realise how insufferably know-it-all we must sound.

    What’s that about Bovril and mince pies?

    • John Shade says:

      A cup of Bovril and a mince pie (using minced mutton) are classic dishes for consumption at half-time during football matches in Scotland. They go well together on a cold day. I don’t get out to football very often, perhaps twice a year or so, and I look forward to the culinary stuff as well as to the games.

      Not so sure about the ‘know-it-all’ impression. If true, it would be very vexatious for readers such as Prof Levy, and he would have my sympathy. I prefer to see myself merely as ‘unconvinced’ by the scares which have been raised about airborne CO2, and as being very much open to being persuaded otherwise. But with the models running hot, despite all the pampering they get (or perhaps because of it), and with the climate system doing a pretty good impression of business-as-usual, I think it is a hard task to claim a dominating role for CO2 which it has never seemed to have displayed in the past, let alone the present. The future is all they have, the alarm-sounders, but they have a poor record when it comes to prediction of anything we have been able to verify.

  • David Walker says:

    It strikes me Professor Levy subscribes to the same type of ‘ethics’ as Peter Gleick.

    Oxford University seems to have changed very considerably in the past half-century…

    But hey, when you’re “Saving the World™”, it seems anything goes…

  • clovis marcus says:

    To demonstrate whether denier is appropriate I would simply ask what you think deniers are supposed to deny?

    That there is a climate?
    That the climate changes?
    Humans change the environment?
    That there is an global temperature?
    That CO2 is one of the drivers of global temperature?
    That science, particularly science based on modelling chaos, is infallible?

    I think the gap between the deniers and the real scientists (as opposed to activists) is narrower than you think. Except in subjective areas around the nature of the (non)-catastrophe and how much benefit would come from a radical rethink of industrial society both of which are outside the realm of Hypothesis-Experiment-Result science and are surely worth challenging debate.

  • Neil Levy says:

    Oddly enough, I’m not at all concerned with living up to a notion of ethics as defined by the majority of commentators here. Weird, huh?

    • Ben Pile says:

      So much for ‘ethics’, then. And ‘philosophy’.

      • Neil Levy says:

        I suggest that you move on now to a campaign to get mathematicians and engineers to round pi down to 3.

        • Ben Pile says:

          I’m happy to move on. But I’m not sure I’d move on having understood your analogy. It’s you, not I, trying to say that one can form an approximate understanding of a debate without engaging in it, but by understanding it in relation to others — I’m asking for more precision, not less.

          • ...and Then There's Physics says:

            Ben,
            I don’t think one needs to actually participate in a public debate to draw conclusions about it. For example, it wouldn’t take much to establish that if you have a discussion with Ben Pile and largely disagree with his position about this topic that he will probably call you a pr*ck and/or compare you to a mass murderer, while also complaining about the state of the public debate.

            • Ben Pile says:

              Gosh. I’m rather concerned that you may be stalking me, Ken. Which is why it may be that I have lost my temper with you. You do seem to be absolutely everywhere I read and write. And you do seem to be so very very cross all the time, and determined to continue discussions that were had, years ago, and which you don’t seem able to contribute to. Others might suggest I take it less personally, and that you’re trying to control the entire debate, popping up in every forum. I’m not sure that’s any better.

              • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                Ben,
                Stalking? Everywhere you read and write? Cross? Trying to control the debate? Are you sure you mean “years ago”? Amazing. Anyway, apologies, I keep forgetting how sensitive some can be.

    • Jaime Jessop says:

      What’s weird is that you think the majority of people commenting here seem to have defined their own unique notion of what ethics is, whereas I suspect that the notion of ethics and ethical behaviour shared by commenters here is probably very similar to that shared by the populace in general.

      • Neil Levy says:

        No doubt you have survey evidence to back up your claim about what most people believe? After all, you hold the very highest standards concerning claims about a consensus.

    • Geoff Chambers says:

      Neil Levy
      “I’m not at all concerned with living up to a notion of ethics as defined by the majority of commentators here.”

      What about living up to normal debating ethics and engaging with people who make substantive (and so far unchallenged) points against your argument? That might mean admitting where you’re wrong (e.g. in recommending blind faith in the word of the likes of John Cook) and then moving on to explain where you disagree with us.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    It was not a claim which would require evidence; I merely said I suspected that was probably the case. More a common sense observation really. Why should our (i.e. sceptics, or denialists if you prefer) notion of ethics differ significantly from the majority of people? Your apparent opinion that the notion of ethics shared by most commenters here is unique in some way puts you at odds with this assumption, which might in itself require some form of evidence. That is all.

  • Neil Levy says:

    Okay, this will be my last word on the matter. Here’s the thesis of the OP: if you are not genuinely an expert on a topic, you should accept the testimony of the experts. That principle holds ceteris paribus; it may be defeated in particular cases. In general, though, your credence in an expert view should be proportional to expert credence, which in turn is a function of expert confidence and inter-expert agreement. I talked only about the latter, but nothing changes in this case if we add in the latter (just eyeballing the Bayesian equation, maybe it would reduce the posterior probability by a fraction of a percent).

    Many commentators on this post reject this claim. They may rationally do so is they are themselves experts (it’s an important question what weight an expert should give to the views of another expert, but that’s not my question – in any case, not as much weight as a non-expert should). You don’t fall within the scope of the principle if you’re an expert in climate science or in the methodology of measuring a consensus. So who is an expert? Everyone has a tendency to have higher confidence in their own expertise than is warranted. That is seen in the Dunning-Kruger effect, but it’s true of all of us. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it that you’re an expert. And you should be wary of your own confidence, too. Given our tendecy to exaggerate our own expertise, we need evidence of our own expertise just as much as others do.

    Several people commenting have rejected the consensus claim. Well, fine. Demonstrate your expertise and you’ll qualify as having a basis for doing so. Don’t run through some claims which establish to your own satisfaction and that of people who are like-minded (remember the confirmation bias) that you’re right. Prove it yourself and others by getting your claims published in a proper peer-reviewd journal. You can either conduct your own survey to show that the consensus has been exaggerated, or publish a methodological critique (there are several journals that would be good venues for such a critique). In the meantime, don’t expect me to bow to your self-proclaimed expertise. Nor is your capacity to beat me in a debate (should you have that capacity) relevant (unless the debate is about philosophy); remember I’m not an expert on climate science or the methodology of surveys. Until you produce the peer-reviewd evidence, I will be sceptical. And you should be much less certain yourselves.

    • John Shade says:

      No, no, a thousand times no to this assertion: ‘ if you are not genuinely an expert on a topic, you should accept the testimony of the experts.’

      It is hard to think of a topic for which no ‘experts’ can be found. As well as scientific endeavours, we have flower-arranging, cars, washing-machines, art, music, politics, fashion, journalism, etc etc etc. Are we to kneel before them all, and quietly accept their views? Even when, as in the case of the CO2 Alarm folks, they intrude in aggressive ways into our lives?

      No thank you. I will continue the struggle of trying to think for myself, and to challenge notions and assertions (such as that of the CO2-driven catastrophe heading our way) of any expert who wishes to tell me what to do and what to think – especially when they insist there is no alternative, and a fortiori when the case they make is a feeble one.

      Your article above is a feeble one, and your decision not to defend it in any substantial way to the reasonable challenges made in these comments is also feeble. You thereby provide us with a case study of why we should not regard ‘experts’ as infallible.

    • Ben Pile says:

      Neil – f you are not genuinely an expert on a topic, you should accept the testimony of the experts.

      This is interesting. A’s expertise seemingly creates an imperative for B, but not for A, though it is A who is the special case. B is only allowed to challenge A if B can demonstrate — ‘in the peer-reviewed literature’, etc — that his understanding is equivalent to A’s. ‘Ethically’ I think this is weak. The virtue of expertise is surely the ability to explain, not to command obedience, other than in certain circumstances in which the expertise is in exactly commanding. Moreover, the imperative reduces to ‘put up or shut up’, which would merely sustain the deficit between A and B, B’s challenge to A being the possibility of learning from A. Moreover, I think this ‘ethic’ speaks to a historical transformation, in which speaking truth to power has become speaking truth for power… The expert has become a policeman, not of the established classes, but the unruly masses. Indeed the formation of ‘consensus’ might be merely the fruit of a Gramscian war of position — the end of a long march, rather than a scientific discovery… The anointment of experts is an institutional process, as is the publication of articles. Thus the deference to expertise is deference to a particular political order, and its emphasis comes at a particular moment in history, which the exploration of the ‘ethics’ of deference to expertise of has no grasp of, and no incentive to take account of.

      And the argument is weak philosophically, too. The object of sceptics’ criticism is less often the substance of the consensus than the second hand understanding of the consensus. You admit yourself, Neil, that you don’t understand the consensus, and that you therefore defer to it. But you seem to want to sustain your cake and eat it here. The consensus seems to mean whatever you want it to mean, but when sceptics point out that your understanding of the consensus doesn’t correspond to anything that might be found within the substance of the consensus, you claim they’re taking issue with the consensus, not your own argument. The most visible example of this was the event organised by the Climate Camp a few years ago. The protesters turned a report from the Tyndall Centre into gloves that they work and held above their heads, under a banner that proclaimed “we are armed… only with peer-reviewed science”. But the paper was not science, it was a policy paper on a zero carbon UK, commissioned by the Cooperative Bank and FoE. And it was not Peer Reviewed. Pointing it out to the protesters would have made little difference. Science it seems, doesn’t count for very much, after all.

      The Dunning-Kruger effect is often posited, but I find it unconvincing. Firstly, no matter how good or bad my own estimation of my comprehension of The Science is, I have no difficulty observing the concern that science is experiencing a crisis, particularly within medicine and cognitive science, those fields having no equivalent of ‘five-sigma’ measure of confidence. On your own argument, I should take that growing concern that ‘as much as half’ of published research is wrong at face value. The Dunning-Kruger effect, then, might be something that afflicts experts much more than lay folk, who seem far less prone to hyperbole, in fact, than their intellectual betters. Indeed, it is the soft sciences which seem to generate the most political capital, promising as they do, encompassing frameworks of explanation, and interventions which do not seem to survive tests of history. And it is not as if the environmental and biological sciences lack spectacular historical failures. Second, the Dunning-Kruger effect can be shown to be bunk by my own estimation of my ability to recreate the banjo-guitar duel in the film, Deliverance. It looks like a lot of fun, but I can play neither instrument. According to Dunning-Kruger, then, I should have a high estimation of my ability to reproduce the performance. Yet, I know that it would offend my own ears. If confidence is inversely proportional to ignorance, nobody would ever have developed the inclination to advance their understanding. There would be no experts.

      Finally, you say, “Prove it yourself and others by getting your claims published in a proper peer-reviewd journal.”

      I do not want to write an article, much less seek an academic publisher for an article pointing out that Neil Levy is wrong, doesn’t understand the consensus, and whose ideas about the ethics of expertise are misplaced. I can point it out here, albeit informally. The article above, isn’t published in a peer reviewed journal — it’s published on this blog and at the conversation. So why should answers to it have to go through the ‘proper channels’? It it possible that you’re using process to defend your argument here? It is surely within your capacity to defend your argument here. Yet you seem reluctant. And this seems to be the tendency of many who wish to defend the virtues of consensus, but who also seem not to have a grasp on the substance of that consensus. This, I would suggest is a far more interesting phenomenon, worthy of academic research, than half-baked speculation about what motivates rejection of the ‘consensus’.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Neil Levy
    You demand that Jaime produce survey evidence to back up her claim about what most people believe, yet your article is full of such unsubstantiated claims: “…we think that climate sceptics are irrational … we think that experts should have much greater standing on these questions than non-experts…” (I assume the “we” in these quotes is inclusive and doesn’t just refer to fellows of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.)

    Normal debating practice would be to accept provisionally her very reasonable premiss and then deal with her substantive points.

    Ben Pile in a comment further up calls your method “Socrates without the interlocutors”, but it’s worse than that. It’s Socrates starting a debate (That’s the point of putting up an article here, isn’t it?) and then walking away when he doesn’t agree with his interlocutors. But Socrates never agreed with his interlocutors. That was the whole point of the dialogues, and arguably the starting point of Western thought.

    A good starting point for a debate might be Richard Feynman’s famous dictum that science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. Your whole article is a dispute with Feynman.

    • Neil Levy says:

      See previous comment, Geoff.

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        Your previous comment is doesn’t answer my point. How could it? We’re asking you to engage in debate. We have given many reasons why your chosen experts are not to be trusted. The debate is not about climate but about the epistemological status of statements about climate. There are no recognised experts in this field. Lewandowsky and Cook set themselves up as such and failed. Lewandowsky’s Moon Hoax article was demolished by a peer-reviewed (as if that mattered) reply in Psychological Science by Dixon and Jones. Lewandowsky and Cook’s follow up article was twice withdrawn and revised before being retracted. All this is well known. The field is open for anyone to establish himself as the go-to expert on the philosophy of climate denial. But you have to debate first.

        • ...and Then There's Physics says:

          Geoff,
          But your “debate” is largely based on assessments of the characters of those involved, rather than on the substance of what they present. Yes, an article was retracted. There are, however, arguments – that you may dismiss – that this was due to pressure from those who objected to what the article said, rather than because of anything substantive wrong with the article. Yes, there is a peer-reviewed response to another article, but that does not mean that the article has been demolished. You argue that Cook and Lewandowksy have failed to become “recognised experts” and yet they are well-published, well-cited, and both employed to carry out this type of research. One reason one might chose not to debate is because of the certainty with which you express your views; there’s not much point in a debate with someone who has already made up their mind. Additionally, many researchers regard “debate” as the wrong manner in which to conduct such discussions. This isn’t about winning, or losing, it’s about gaining/developing understanding. Again, discussions with those who views are largely settled is unlikely to productive in that regard.

        • Paul Matthews says:

          Geoff, I think “See previous comment” refers to the fact that he’s thrown in the towel, realising that he is completely out of his depth. At least he turned up to the debate, even though he had nothing to say and no answers to any of the points raised.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Richard Feynman was of course himself an expert, but I don’t recommend you pursue that line. Your argument for faith in experts is of course a reputable one, going back to Plato of the Republic and Statesman. Post-Popper it’s a little – odd.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Same old, same old. Person/organisation not expert in climate science dismisses rational criticism of climate science by (last) resort to belief in the authority of an exaggerated consensus of ‘experts’ in climate science. Not only dismisses rational criticism but impugns the motives of said critics of climate science and/or attributes rational criticism of climate science to a mental defect or defects. Conclusion: Leo di Caprio and Neil Levy have a lot in common.

  • Barry Woods says:

    Hi Neil (sorry about using Nick earlier, mixed your name up with a friend)

    Many climate scientist have criticized the Cook paper, for being a poor paper. And the concern is the way it’s findings are misrepresented – Obama added 97% of scientists say ‘dangerous’ linking to that paper. Prof Richard Betts (Head of Climate Impacts, UK Met Office) said the paper said no such thing. Cook did not respond to this misrepresentation of the papers findings

    Please don’t get caught up in thinking the issue is black/white.. and a choice of being either on one side or the other

    An example. Professor Mike Hulme was very critical of both the Cook methodology AND how it was used in communicating the issue.
    Prof Mike Hulme is the founding director of the Tyndall Centre of climate change, and was one of the scientists that had their emails leaked from UEA several years ago. He received an awful lot of criticism from ‘climate sceptics’ not least for his emails to try and influence the BBC’s Roger Harrabin to keep climate sceptics scientists off the BBC and in his letter, in conjunction with the WWF trying to get scientist to be signatories to influence the Kyoto agreement (a senior colleague, if you are interested utterly condemned this, and if ethics are your thing, Tom Wigleys criticism goes to the heart of scientific ethics. (can’t add the url, sorry)

    so not a climate sceptic(denier or denialist). Mike Hulme said of Cook’s 97% paper..(and other consensus papers)

    “The “97% consensus” article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country that the energy minister should cite it. It offers a similar depiction of the world into categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to that adopted in Anderegg et al.’s 2010 equally poor study in PNAS: dividing publishing climate scientists into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. It seems to me that these people are still living (or wishing to live) in the pre-2009 world of climate change discourse. Haven’t they noticed that public understanding of the climate issue has moved on?

    And he expanded further, when asked to clarify:

    “Steve – my point is that the Cook et al. study is hopelessly confused as well as being largely irrelevant to the complex questions that are raised by the idea of (human-caused) climate change. As to being confused, in one place the paper claims to be e”xploring “the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” and yet the headline conclusion is based on rating abstracts according to whether “humans are causing global warming”. These are two entirely different judgements. The irrelevance is because none of the most contentious policy responses to climate change are resolved *even if* we accept that 97.1% of climate scientists believe that “human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” (which of course is not what the study has shown). And more broadly, the sprawling scientific knowledge about climate and its changes cannot helpfully be reduced to a single consensus statement, however carefully worded. The various studies – such as Cook et al – that try to enumerate the climate change consensus pretend it can and that is why I find them unhelpful – and, in the sprit of this blog, I would suggest too that they are not helpful for our fellow citizens. Mike” – Prof Mike Hulme

    Neil – What do you think the consensus is? not the how many scientists agree (the 97%) but what the actual object of the consensus is. What (very specifically) do you think they agree about?

    All he papers mentioned, have merely the low bar of humans are a cause of global warming – no quantification to how much. Cook himself has acknowledged this, when pushed on the issue

    as an aside, Paul Matthews is a mathematician at Nottingham University, so the rounding down pi to 3 comment, look like a very cheap shot and a cheap shot to try associate comments here (and the people making them), with something stupid

    • ...and Then There's Physics says:

      Barry,
      Yes, some scientists don’t like consensus studies. So what? They don’t have a mandate to decide what others should research and – as far as I’m aware – do not dispute the existence of a consensus. Yes, Barack Obama did include the word “dangerous” in his tweet. Yes, he has not been publicly criticised by the authors of the consensus studies, but do you really expect PhD students from Australia, who get their papers mentioned by Barack Obama’s twitter feed, to suddenly feel obliged to criticise the president of the USA if he doesn’t get it completely correct? AFAIA, they have indeed publicly stated that their papers do not mention whether or not AGW is dangerous; they simply quantify the consensus with respect to it being caused by us, so they have – I think – publicly clarified this, even if they have not publicly criticised Obama. Yes, Mike Hulme has also publicly criticised the consensus project. Again, so what? There are plenty of equally well-credentialled people who quote it favourably.

      If you regard Neil suggesting rounding down pi to 3 as a cheap shot, how would regard Paul Matthews accusing him of suffering from Dunning-Kruger effect?

      • Barry Woods says:

        “Dunning Kruger is certainly something that regularly comes to mind.” – ATTP/wottts

        google site:wottsupwiththatblog.wordpress.com dunning

        and used quite often on your new blog about people , without comment by you.

        • ...and Then There's Physics says:

          Barry,
          What’s it got to do with me? You were the one complaining about a cheap shot.

          >and used quite often on your new blog about people , without comment by you.

          I don’t think it is used “quite often” and I don’t think it has ever been directed to someone else commenting on my blog without me intervening. Feel free to prove me wrong, though, I certainly don’t remember all of what has happened on my blog.

          • Jon Anderson says:

            The usual apologist piffle from ATTP who is seemingly willing to forgive any lapse in
            ethical standards if it’s for what he clearly perceives as the greater good.

            I doubt that ATTP will have seen this over at Brandon’s blog.
            ATTP has been taken to the cleaners too many times by Brandon.

            The tweet wasn’t from Obama. JC and the SKS crew were super psyched about Obama’s
            tweet; this is well documented. i.e. The Sydney Morning Herald carried this snippet:

            > “It was pretty cool news,” said Mr Cook, a fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global
            > Change Institute and founder of the website skepticalscience.com. “It was out of our expectations.”

            Pity he also didn’t point out that it was a complete mischaracterisation of what his study is even
            purported to show.

            • Brandon Shellenberger says:

              Jon Anderson, it is interesting you say you doubt Anders “will have seen this.” I’ve discussed the fact neither President Obama nor his staff sent that tweet on my site a number of times, and I can state with certainty Anders has seen such discussion on at least one occasion. I can’t say if he actually read any such discussion, as perhaps he simply looked at it and didn’t bother to read it, but he did certainly look at it. Given that, it is strange for him to say:

              Yes, Barack Obama did include the word “dangerous” in his tweet. Yes, he has not been publicly criticised by the authors of the consensus studies, but do you really expect PhD students from Australia, who get their papers mentioned by Barack Obama’s twitter feed, to suddenly feel obliged to criticise the president of the USA if he doesn’t get it completely correct?

              As he is aware or should be aware Obama did not tweet anything about this paper. That, of course, undercuts his argument as nobody would be criticizing the President of the United States for getting this wrong as he had nothing to do with the tweet. The tweet came from a political advocacy group.

              That said, to answer the appropriate question… why not? If you’re going to frequently refer to and promote a tweet, you are obliged to point out if the tweet misrepresents your work. Failing to do so helps mislead people about what your work says. You don’t have to criticize the President or anyone else, but you should certainly correct them when they misrepresent your work in material you’re telling people to look at.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Neil has indicated his intention not to engage in substantive debate with us here and that is his right. Geoff, Barry, John, Ben have said more than enough to substantially challenge Neil’s views expressed on this post but Neil stubbornly maintains that, in the final analysis, non-experts in climate science are not qualified per se to challenge the conclusions of ‘experts’ in climate science. This is why I much prefer to debate aspects of the actual science with those willing to engage in such debate because (a) it proves that you do not always need to be a professional scientist to engage in substantive debate about climate science and (b) there can be no resort to authority where data is concerned. Hence the tropical mid-tropospheric hotspot is either there or it is not (unlike Schrodinger’s Cat), and most available data tends to point to the fact that it is not. Fait accompli.

  • John Shade says:

    There was an excellent, thoughtful, and penetrating series of posts here on this site several years by Nicholas Shackel of Cardiff University on the nature of the knowledge claimed or display by climate scientists intent on alarming us about CO2.

    The first of this series of 6 posts begins as follows:

    ‘Global warming hawks claim the moral high-ground, claim to speak for what is right against grubby self-interest. It behooves those who take the high ground to behave well themselves. Do they?’

    Data and email exchanges between climate scientists have been stolen from the servers at University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and published online. Whether the data or content of these emails tell us anything about global warming is not an issue I am concerned with. Nor, for that matter, am I concerned with bad behaviour in the sense of global warming hawks being rude about global warming skeptics. The bad behaviour of interest is epistemic bad behaviour, and on this matter I think the emails tell us quite a lot. Furthermore, the Climatic Research Unit is one of the world’s leading players and so the behaviour of its members tells us something about the epistemic state of climate science.

    On the whole I would have to say that the attitude of the hawks towards the lay public has been high handed. They do not think we can be trusted to form our own opinions about what is happening and what should be done about it, and they think this despite the very great success they have had in convincing us that the climate is warming and that humans have caused it. One must wonder, therefore, why they have this attitude.

    Part of the answer is that they are, in a certain limited respect, right. Climate scientists are experts and we should rightly give greater weight to their testimony within the realm of their expertise. But that is only the beginning of the matter. We are not required simply to submit to experts, nor can experts expect us to become experts before we can have a view and even disagree with them. There are significant constraints on the weight we should give to expert testimony that depend on our assessment of their testimonial reliability, and since we can’t assess them on the content of their testimony we must make use of other information: information about their epistemic character and information about how reliable expertise is in particular and in general.’

    I commend that entire set of six posts to readers here. Since I cannot give links, I suggest the posts be found by using the Authors / Select Author facility on the right-hand bar, and scroll down his posts to reach those of 2009 and 2010.

    In Part 6, you will find this amongst his conclusions:

    ‘The evidence I have summarised is, I believe, sufficient to conclude that climate science has fallen prey to a corruption of its epistemic character. Not only did the individuals fail in various epistemic duties; they did not regard their faults as vices, but rather, as virtues, and knew that their activities were quite acceptable with the field. The individuals concerned are eminent in the field and the institution is a central one within climate science. The same faults have been manifested by other climate scientists in other circumstances. So this is not a matter of individual human foible and weakness. The epistemic virtues of science, when practised, are sufficient to protect science from those. No. The defects are sufficiently severe and pervasive to have resulted in epistemic corruption.’

    • Jon Anderson says:

      Yes, I recall reading that series a while back. Well worth it regardless of whether you ‘believe’
      in CAGW or not.

  • Brandon Shellenberger says:

    I’m not interested in the great deal of verbiage above, as it appears nobody is doing a reasonable job of communicating with one another, but I feel one aspect of this post merits some attention. The post says:

    So we think that experts should have much greater standing on these questions than non-experts. And we think that a consensus of experts is particularly good evidence for a claim. Famously, there is a near consensus among (relevant) experts about climate. The exact numbers have altered from study to study, but there is a consensus on the consensus: about 97% of climate scientists agree that the world is warming and that our emissions are largely to blame.

    And in a later comment Neil Levy says:

    Okay, this will be my last word on the matter. Here’s the thesis of the OP: if you are not genuinely an expert on a topic, you should accept the testimony of the experts. That principle holds ceteris paribus; it may be defeated in particular cases. In general, though, your credence in an expert view should be proportional to expert credence, which in turn is a function of expert confidence and inter-expert agreement. I talked only about the latter, but nothing changes in this case if we add in the latter (just eyeballing the Bayesian equation, maybe it would reduce the posterior probability by a fraction of a percent).

    I’m not going to argue anything about the latter quote. Whether or not one agrees with what is said in it, its application to this post hinges upon the claim “there is a consensus on the consensus.” That claim is false. While Neil Levy may trust the authors of the paper he relies upon to give an accurate representation of work on a subject, that trust would be misplaced. The reality is the paper he relies upon is grossly misleading.

    Before anyone brings up the question of whether or not I am an “expert” on this subject, let me point out many errors require no expertise to identify. It is often enough to possess basic reading skills. That is the case here. This paper contains gross distortions and depends entirely upon cherry-picking results. There are too many examples to cover here, so I’ll stick with the central one.

    This paper claims the degree of consensus increases with expertise, providing a figure which claims to demonstrate this. In media articles, the authors even draw a line ostensibly showing this relation. This relationship is purely an invention of the authors. For this figure, they assigned expertise levels to various “consensus estimates” they took from papers while failing to include other “consensus estimates” those papers contained in what amounts to blatant cherry-picking. There were no guidelines for how these expertise levels were assigned, no rubric explaining the choices and no explanation justifying them. The choices of what data to use and what categories to place them in was purely arbitrary.

    Once these “consensus estimates” were assigned their arbitrary expertise levels, there were five categories. Categories 1 and 2 each had two values. Category 3 has three values. Category 5 had nine values. Category 4 wasn’t used. The natural way to display these results would be to show each of the five categories as its own column (perhaps excluding Category 4). The authors chose not to do this. Instead, they displayed each data point as its own column, with the X-axis labeled as “Expertise” without the category numbers being displayed.

    The result of this was 16 columns, more than half of which belonged to the same category, all being placed side-by-side. This, combined with the arbitrary ordering of display within each category created the illusion of a smooth curve solely by displaying the data in a misleading way. If the data had been properly grouped by category, the smooth curve the authors promote would disappear.

    There is much more to say about the paper (and that figure), particularly in how the authors conveniently ignored many “consensus estimates” provided in the papers they discuss. It is too much for a comment on a blog though. The point is anyone who applies even the slightest critical thinking/examination to the paper this post’s author relies upon would realize the paper is grossly misleading.

    Perhaps we should normally trust what experts believe on a subject. However, we should not assume experts believe something just because a handful of people (whose self-interests may depend upon the answer) say experts believe something. That’s not trusting experts. That’s just being lazy and accepting whatever you’re told.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Brandon Shollenberger’s critique of the Cook “Consensus on the Consensus” paper above can be repeated for every single article you cite. The first one which you cite in your second paragraph (Anderegg 2010) says in its abstract: “A broad analysis of the climate scientist community itself, the distribution of credibility of dissenting researchers relative to agreeing researchers, and the level of agreement among top climate experts has not been conducted.” and this is still true, as Robin Guenier pointed out to you in comments at the Conversation.

    What Anderegg did was to rank reasearchers’ expertise using numbers of publications and citations, and divide them into “convinced” or “unconvinced” by the evidence according to their apparent agreement or not with the opinions of the IPCC. The reasoning is perfectly circular, since IPCC authors (convinced, one assumes, by their own evidence) tend to cite researchers whose views reflect their own (they’re often the same people.) And we know from Climategate the lengths they’d go to to keep contradictory evidence out of the IPCC reports, or even journals.

    I’ve already pointed out that the Doran paper got its 97% consensus by whittling ten thousand respondents down to 78. If a market researcher did that in order to prove that 97% of cats preferred Whiskas he’d be sacked. Explain to us why Doran is different.

    But what should interest a philosopher is this. It shouldn’t be necessary to point out (but apparently it is, so I will) that a statement such as “the world is getting warmer and humans are at least partly responsible for the warming” is not a scientific statement. It’s not a theory or a hypothesis or a statement of observable facts. The first part is compatible with “there has ben no warming for 20 years” or “it’s colder than it was in the Plasticene” or a million other factual statements about global temperature, and the second has been trivially true since man first struck sparks from a flint. It’s an opinion, and it was as such that it was the subject of the papers you rely on.

    I think it was Plato who pointed out that opinions are like immortal souls – everybody has one.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    A.N.T. Physics says:

    …your “debate” is largely based on assessments of the characters of those involved, rather than on the substance of what they present.

    My assessment of their characters is based entirely on the substance of what they present. What else could it be based on? They lied to me about one paper, and then they lied about me in another.

    Yes, an article was retracted. There are, however, arguments – that you may dismiss – that this was due to pressure from those who objected to what the article said, rather than because of anything substantive wrong with the article.

    Of course it was due to pressure from me and others who wrote “a small number” of letters of complaint. Our letters detailed what was substantively wrong with the article. That’s why the editors described them as “cogent and well argued” and retracted the article. Then the authors and their colleagues at SkepticalScience (in blogs, neswspaper articles and a peer reviewed paper) falsely accused us of “bullying” and “harrassment”and of making legal threats. Any more false dichotomies?
    You make one good point when you say:

    One reason one might chose not to debate is because of the certainty with which you express your views;

    This is because of the necessary brevity and ephemerality of blog comments. Granted, it’s not good debating tactics to play your best card first, but look what happens to comments like the estimably polite ones by clovis marcus (October 4, 2016 at 4:03 pm) or Jon Anderson (October 4, 2016 at 9:29 am). Be polite and tentative and you’ll be politely ignored. Not that my policy of pointing out incontrovertible facts has ever had the slightest success with the various professors of ethics and related subjects with whom I’ve attempted to hold conversations at the Conversation. Opinions are their thing. Facts make them nervous.

    • ...and Then There's Physics says:

      Geoff,

      My assessment of their characters is based entirely on the substance of what they present. What else could it be based on? They lied to me about one paper, and then they lied about me in another.

      That still doesn’t change that your “debate” involves discussing the characters of other researchers, rather than the subtance of their research. Most researchers are more interested in the substance of the research than being involved in public character assassinations of other researchers.

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        …and Then There’s Physics

        your “debate” involves discussing the characters of other researchers, rather than the subtance of their research.

        I’m in danger of having a Ben Pile moment here.

        My arguments are based entirely on the substance of what these researchers present. I don’t normally give my character assessments of the rascals on blogs like this one (but I will in a moment.) My assertion that John Cook is a liar and an incompetent researcher whose defamatory errors led to a paper he worked on being twice withdrawn, corrected, and finally retracted is a simple statement of fact which anyone can verify.

        Here’s my character assessment of John Cook (for the first time in print).

        Anyone who’s glanced at the Treehut Files – the secret discussions between Cook and his fellow plotters at SkepticalScience, available at Brandon Shollenberger’s excellent blog – will be struck by the fact that he is highly intelligent, a fluent writer and an excellent organiser, (except when it comes to protecting his confidential data) with a keen sense of tactics (unlike us climate sceptics who are basically an unorganised rabble, but we like it that way.) Then you find him making enormous, suicidal errors, like failing to put his hero Prof Lewandowsky’s survey request up on his blog after promising to do so; lying to Lewandowsky about it; screwing up catastrophically when Lewandowsky (inexplicably) put him in charge of data collection for his sceptic hit job paper, and finally, leaving a photo of himself in Nazi uniform around on his blog for someone to find. Why?

        Cook, in an interview in the Guardian with Graham Wayne, (his number one fan and first co-author on SkepticalScience, though we didn’t know that at the time) attributed his motivation to his Christian beliefs. Now it’s not difficult to see that he might be feeling some fairly stiff unconscious tension between certain propositions in the Sermon on the Mount and the scientific methods he espouses.

        Cook’s scientific oeuvre is one giant Freudian Slip up.

        But that’s just my opinion.

  • Brandon Shellenberger says:

    Anders:

    That still doesn’t change that your “debate” involves discussing the characters of other researchers, rather than the subtance of their research. Most researchers are more interested in the substance of the research than being involved in public character assassinations of other researchers.

    I won’t speak for Geoff, but I feel it is worth pointing out one can both discuss people’s character and discuss the substance of their work. For instance, when one sees an author write something you know they know isn’t true, you can explain how it isn’t true, explain how you can know they know it isn’t true and draw the conclusion they are a liar. That’s true even if you dislike people labeling others liars.

    For instance, in a recent “consensus” paper on which Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook were co-authors, we see this:

    Current atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than at any time since at least 2.6 million years ago (Masson-Delmotte et al. 2013, Fig. 5.2), and the consensus position that global warming is happening, is human caused, and presents a global problem is shared by more than 95 % of domain experts and more than 95 % of relevant articles in the peer-reviewed literature (Anderegg et al. 2010; Cook et al. 2013, 2016; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Oreskes 2004; Shwed and Bearman 2010).

    Even though the paper you co-authored with with both of these authors about the “consensus on consensus” makes it clear both Cook and Lewandowsky know the papers they cite do not support this claim. That’s true even though Cook and Lewandowsky cite that very paper (Cok et al. 2016), a paper which claims to lay out the consensus positions of consensus studies – listing not a single one of them as saying global warming ‘presents a global problem.”

    While a person could limit themselves to pointing out the cited sources not only fail to demonstrate what the authors claim but directly show it to be false, it is perfectly reasonable to add the conclusion, “So they’re lying.”

    • Brandon Shellenberger says:

      This was meant to be a response to this comment. I’m not sure how I misplaced it.

  • Raff says:

    Are you serious Brandon Shellenberger. That the lack of explicit text saying GW “presents a global problem” amounts to ‘lying’? I know accusations of ‘lying’ are the stock in trade of “sceptics” but that is weak even by their standards.

    • Brandon Shellenberger says:

      You may find this difficult to believe Raff, but in normal science, you do not get to publish papers claiming work has shown things it has not shown. The consensus studies so far have (mostly) asked specific questions, usually via surveys in which the questions were explicitly laid out. You may find it convenient to take the answers given to these surveys as being answers to questions which were never asked, but that’s not how science works.

      None of the cited studies sought to determine if anyone believes global warming is a problem. Both Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook showed they know this by co-authoring papers in which they discussed what the results of these studies are, without saying a single word to indicate the results show anyone believes global warming is a problem.

      Put simply, Lewandowsky and Cook knowingly claimed papers demonstrated things those papers did not show. That is lying. It remains lying even if you are okay with it.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Brandon
    You say:

    “The consensus studies so far have (mostly) asked specific questions, usually via surveys in which the questions were explicitly laid out.”

    It’s worth pointing out that of the 6 “consensus” papers cited by Lewandowsky and Cook in the passage you quote in your previous comment, only one, Doran and Zimmerman, actually asked any questions at all, and they were so vague that most if not all “denialists” might count themselves among the 97%. The others sorted papers and scientists into heaps variously defined according to the whims of the researchers. I don’t know what Shwed and Bearman 2010 did, but in their abstract they don’t mention climate scepticism at all.

    • Brandon Shellenberger says:

      Geoff, that’s fair. I would clarify that while Cook et al. 2016 (the main paper of my focus) didn’t involve asking questions of people directly, it was portrayed as a meta-study covering all the studies which had done such surveys. The reason the other cited studies don’t involve surveys is Cook et al. 2016 covers all of them.

      Actually, maybe that’s not true. Anderegg 2010, Oreskes 2004, Cook et al. 2013 and Doran and Zimmerman 2009 were all included in Cook et al. 2016’s database (Shwed and Bearman 2010 were cited in the discussion). Given that, I’m not sure why they’d be cited separately while others were not. It can’t be that they were the most recent studies because Cook et al. 2016 cites a number of more recent ones. I wonder why the authors chose those papers to cite rather than any others.

      By the way, Shwed and Bearman (2010) did a citation analysis. Basically, what they did was search for papers on topics (global warming was just one) and look for patterns in how they cited and are cited by other papers. It’s an interesting form of analysis that’s been applied to a number of fields. It’s also prone to several types of over-interpretation, something a number people who use this sort of analysis have pointed out. What’s most interesting about this particular use of it isn’t about that though. What’s most interesting is Shwed and Bearman conclude a consensus on global warming farmed ~1992, strengthened in 1995 and remained nearly constant since then. This is interesting given the massive changes in the “consensus position” since 1992.

      One might wonder how a “consensus” would be reached in ~1992 yet “consensus position” change a great deal over the next two decades.

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        Thanks Brandon. One is always in danger of being proven wrong in a situation like this, where the speed and necessary brevity of blog comments can cause silly mistakes.

        On the question of the consensus since 1992, though the certainty of the IPCC with respect to anthropogenic attribution of global warming has evolved over the years, their estimate of climate sensitivity has apparently remained practically stable at 1.5-4°C since 1976 (!) (according to a comment at our blog by Catweazle). A “consensus” about a future temperature rise over the next century or so somewhere between unnoticeable and potentially catastrophic is of course an absurdity. As our colleague Ben Pile has pointed out, it’s a consensus with no object.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    We’re not quite finished.

    In his “last word on the matter” (October 5, 2016 at 7:47 am) Neil Levy says [my bold]:

    “..if you are not genuinely an expert on a topic, you shouldaccept the testimony of the experts […] Many commentators on this post reject this claim. They may rationally do so is they are themselves experts..”

    Note that the words “should” and “may” seem to imply that we non-experts have a moral duty to accept the testimony of experts, and are morally banned from (rationally) holding views contrary to those of the experts.

    It is trivially true that experts are sometimes wrong (think pollsters). Presumably this is why he adds: “That principle holds ceteris paribus; it may be defeated in particular cases.” – the “particular cases” being those where the experts happen to be wrong and the non-experts right. But how are we to know which cases these are?

    And he adds:

    “Several people commenting have rejected the consensus claim. Well, fine. Demonstrate your expertise and you’ll qualify as having a basis for doing so. […] Prove it yourself and others by getting your claims published in a proper peer-reviewed journal.”

    Taken literally, this seems to mean that being “published in a proper peer-reviewed journal” is proof of truth, which is clearly not possible since contradictory hypotheses are frequently published in peer-reviewed journals. So let’s interpret “being published in a proper peer-reviewed journal” more loosely as meaning “demonstrat[ing] your expertise”. But that can’t count as a necessary condition for being qualified to reject the consensus, because it’s already been admitted that experts may sometimes be wrong and non-experts right.

    There is therefore no logical basis for stating that non-experts should accept the testimony of experts.

    Levy continues:

    “Nor is your capacity to beat me in a debate (should you have that capacity) relevant (unless the debate is about philosophy)..”

    But it is about philosophy. It’s about (among other things) whose word should we trust? Socrates and his disciple Plato (who is almost our only source for Socrates’ beliefs) held diametrically opposing views. Sir Karl Popper famously re-opened the debate in the 20th century, linking his analysis in “the Open Society and Its Enemies” to the great twentieth century tragedies of Nazism and Stalinism.

    Neil Levy’s last quoted remark implies that such a debate is relevant. Leonardo di Caprio, standing next to a silent Barack Obama, has just suggested that climate sceptics should be deprived of government employment. That happened of course in the fifties to Americans judged guilty of “un-American activities”.

    It is difficult to imagine a subject on which the advice of philosophers specialising in practical ethics is more relevant and necessary. Will Professor Levy forgive us for our somewhat brusque and uncouth manners and participate in debate?

    • Geoff Chambers says:

      Correction: for “necessary condition” in para.6 above (the one beginning “Taken literally…”) please read “sufficient condition.”

  • Paul Treanor says:

    Some scientific expertise is certainly missing here: that of political scientists and sociologists. I don’t claim to speak for them, and many would be unwilling to get embroiled in the climate change controversy. However, it is clear that climate change has ceased to be a ‘scientific controversy’, and has become a political issue, reflecting underlying social trends. The recent Brexit referendum is a reminder that political elites cannot ignore these trends for ever, and that sooner or later they will impact on the mainstream political process.

    Climate scepticism must be seen in the light of other sceptical positions, such as vaccine scepticism, opposition to smoking bans, and opposition to political correctness. As a movement, however loose, climate skepticism is classically populist. It positions itself as opposition to a malicious and powerful elite, and as representing the ‘ordinary people’ (who pay the price for the misguided policies of that elite). We can expect that its adherents tend to support populist parties, and you can certainly find individual examples, although apparently there are no major surveys yet.

    The political impact depends to some extent on national politics. Two-party systems tend to make dissident minorities less visible, although that barrier is itself collapsing, as mainstream parties weaken. In the UK, I would expect climate sceptics to be UKIP voters, often former Conservative voters. I would expect climate scepticism to correlate with Euroscepticism, opposition to immigration, and hostile attitudes to Islam. In the Netherlands, I would expect climate sceptics to support primarily Geert Wilders’ PVV, and to defend traditional national culture against real or perceived political correctness. This is a section of the population which is constantly battered by attacks on their few remaining certainties: it is constantly on the defensive. The left-wing elite destroyed their communities and filled them with immigrants, gave their jobs to Turks and Poles, banned smoking in their pubs and bars, banned Christmas and Zwarte Piet, banned cheap lightbulbs, and now it is going to take away their car (which they can barely afford to run anyway), to promote some useless climate theory.

    Like many other academics, Neil Levy makes no attempt to understand the bitterness and frustration of these people. In fact, their bitterness and alienation is constantly reinforced, by elite contempt for them and their views. We have to recognise that people at the bottom of the social ladder – the ones who never stood a chance of going to university – are not simply passively suffering victims. They can, and do, turn against the elite which despises them. And populist hostility is no longer confined to the lowest decile, but is increasingly visible in the middle class as well. Climate scepticism is almost certainly driven more by social and political resentment, rather than pure disagreement on scientific theory. Nevertheless, once such a position is established, it must be taken seriously, as with opposition to immigration, and euroscepticism.

    These are not pleasant issues to discuss, and academics tend to avoid them for that reason. A case in point is the recent controversy in the UK Labour Party about antisemitic comments by black activists. Like it or not, many Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans in the US and Europe do believe that Jews were responsible for the Slave Trade. That too is classic populism. The political elite, however, despises their views. It reacts with repressive measures, reinforcing the activists’ perception that black people just don’t stand a chance in white institutions. More polarisation results: a vicious circle with no apparent exit.

    Is there anything that can be done? I think there is a lot that can be done, but it requires a major and painful reassessment by the elite. The very first step, for Neil Levy and his fellow debunkers, is to shut up. Stop arguing. Stop complaining. You don’t walk into a mosque shouting that Mohammed was wrong, so stop telling climate sceptics that they are wrong. Accept their beliefs as fully valid.

    That’s the first step: the willingness of the elite to abandon its contempt. Once past that stage, we can think about how state and society should be ordered, so as to accommodate both climate scepticism and climate change policy. That’s probably quite possible, but we can’t get to that point, unless and until the elite is willing to do so.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Paul Treanor
    There’s lots to agree with in your sociological analysis. Certainly there’s a correlation between climate septicism, Brexit, and populism. The fact that some of the research which shows this is conducted in order to denigrate sceptics doesn’t make it false. There’s no great mystery about this overlap. People who don’t like big government (in Brussels or elsewhere) won’t like being told to limit their carbon footprint.

    But it is a mistake to identify the significant proportion of the population of the western world who are sceptical about man-made global warming, who are numbered in hundreds of millions, with us self-identified climate sceptics – a few thousand individuals who are sufficiently obsessed and well-informed to express our views coherently on internet blogs. Of course we are technically part of the first group, but we constitute a mere pimple on the Venn diagram of “denialism”.

    I do object to your comparison of Dr Levy’s behaviour to insulting Mohammed in a mosque. We are not a religious sect. We won’t issue a fatwah. We expect a philosopher who writes an article denigrating people for their beliefs at an academic site called the Conversation to be willing to take part in conversation with those people. Not to do so is a dereliction of his duty as a publicly funded academic. I admit we have sometimes been a bit rude, particularly about him entering a debate evidently ill-prepared, and I apologise for that. He could apologise for his unsupported claim that we are irrational and financed by sinister forces. Then a discussion could begin.

  • Raff says:

    Why does he have this’duty’, Geoff Chambers? If he’d written denigrating anti-vaxers or moon hoax folk or other more objectionable groups, would he have a duty to discuss their obsession too?

    • Geoff Chambers says:

      If anti-vaxers or moon hoax folk turned up asking for a discussion – yes, of course. But they never do. We do. Always. Everywhere. It’s one of the clearest signs that we hae nothing to do with the groups you mention.

      • Raff says:

        No, I didn’t say you have any connection to other groups. I imagine they turn up at other places, so if you wrote for example on cliscep (where I seem to be blocked now) that the anti-vax position is unscientific tosh, would you feel a *duty* to engage with each and every anti-vaxer who turned up to dispute that?

        • Geoff Chambers says:

          No

          • Raff says:

            So why do you say Levy has a duty to engage with (debate, discuss with, etc) you?

            • ...and Then There's Physics says:

              Raff,
              Indeed, I would quite like to see an answer to this question too. Based on what I’ve seen said on cliscep and here, the view seems to be that Neil has “run away” because the arguments being made are so devastating that he can’t confront them. An alternative view (which I think should be considered, even if it is not the case) is that the arguments are so inane that he really can’t be bothered wasting his time engaging with them. My own – admittedly limited – experience is that public pronuncements of having made a devastating argument is a reasonable predictor for inanity (that may, of course, not be the case here).

              By the way, are you now actually banned on cliscep?

              • Jaime Jessop says:

                Ken,

                You can’t quite decide whether the Cliscep members’ arguments put forward here are so devastating to Levy’s argument that he’s ‘run away’ or so inane that he can’t be bothered to reply. You seemingly cannot look at the actual substance of those arguments and even make an educated guess? Instead, you rely upon an anecdotal rule of thumb whose provenance is not made clear that “public pronuncements of having made a devastating argument is a reasonable predictor for inanity”! Give us a break Ken. Why have you got this seemingly pathological aversion to expressing a clear and precise opinion and backing it up with a logical argument or facts/evidence to support you opinion? Do you, or do you not think that Barry, Paul, Geoff and others have made substantive arguments here which seriously challenge Levy’s point of view?

                • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                  Jaime,
                  I think I’ve made my views pretty clear on many occasions.

                  Do you, or do you not think that Barry, Paul, Geoff and others have made substantive arguments here which seriously challenge Levy’s point of view?

                  No, I do not think that they have made substantive arguments here which seriously challenge Neil Levy’s point of view.

                  • Jaime Jessop says:

                    Well thank you. We’re half-way there! Perhaps you will feel inclined (or not) to give us some indication of why you don’t think that Barry etc. have effectively challenged Neil Levy’s viewpoint.

                    • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                      Jaime,
                      You appear to be missing the point of my earlier comment. Those who are suggesting that there have been substantive arguments that seriously challenge Neil Levy’s point of view are either those who made the arguments, or their associates. My suggestion is that self-professed claims of brilliance are potentially an indicator of over-confidence and a lack of self-scepticism. They may also be an indicator that one is dealing with a group who are unwilling to consider flaws in their own arguments, which may be another reason for a lack of willingness to engage. Therefore, claims that Neil has “run away” because he can’t deal with your devastating arguments might be missing alternative explanations that are equally – or possibly more – plausible.

              • Raff says:

                It seems that I am indeed blocked (as my posts no longer appear) if not actually ‘banned’.

                When Geoff answered ‘No’ yesterday I thought he might be an exception among ‘skeptics’ and that he was about to explain how he had changed his mind and that Levey didn’t actually have a duty to reply. Today I see no evidence of that, yet, but I remain hopeful that he might be “the one” – the real skeptic among ‘skeptics’.

                • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                  I haven’t tried commenting since yesterday, so there’s always a chance I’ve been blocked too. Here’s hoping.

  • Ian Woolley says:

    Raff, are you saying Professor Levy is ‘denigrating’ climate sceptics?

  • Raff says:

    No, Geoff did

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Paul Treanor,

    “However, it is clear that climate change has ceased to be a ‘scientific controversy’, and has become a political issue, reflecting underlying social trends.”

    Climate change has indeed become a deeply political issue, however the scientific controversy remains. There is still much that is not ‘settled’ in climate science.

    “Climate scepticism must be seen in the light of other sceptical positions, such as vaccine scepticism, opposition to smoking bans, and opposition to political correctness.”

    Poor analogies, particularly the last two.

    “As a movement, however loose, climate skepticism is classically populist. It positions itself as opposition to a malicious and powerful elite, and as representing the ‘ordinary people’ (who pay the price for the misguided policies of that elite)”.

    Scepticism of climate change is not, and never has been, a political movement. It is, in essence still, rooted in scepticism of the science that says man-made climate change is real and significant and even dangerous. The politics arises from secondary disgruntlement at climate change mitigation, seen as (a) unjustified by the weight of so-called ‘evidence’ for man-made climate change, and (b) ridiculously ineffective, very costly, even (as we have seen) a threat to energy security and/or detrimental to the environment and wildlife.

    “Climate scepticism is almost certainly driven more by social and political resentment, rather than pure disagreement on scientific theory.”

    I disagree. Spend some time on climate sceptic blogs and I do not think you will be able to endorse this opinion.

    “You don’t walk into a mosque shouting that Mohammed was wrong, so stop telling climate sceptics that they are wrong. Accept their beliefs as fully valid.”

    Very poor analogy for reasons which hopefully I do not have to point out.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Jaime
    you quote Paul Treanor saying:

    “Climate scepticism is almost certainly driven more by social and political resentment, rather than pure disagreement on scientific theory.”

    and reply:

    “I disagree. Spend some time on climate sceptic blogs and I do not think you will be able to endorse this opinion.”

    My comment above shows why I can agree with both of you. The scepticism Paul is talking about is that found in the general public, as measured by opinion polls which leave the respondents little room to express complex ideas. We sceptic blog commenters are a few thousand slightly weird obsessive individuals whà have noticed the glaring unreality of both the science and the politics of the global warming movement. Unofficial samizdat (i.e. non-peer-reviewed) surveys show us to be highly educated, with a large proportion of engineers and empirical scientists, often outside academia – people who understand how things work. There is no reason to expect any common motivation between the two groups.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Geoff,

    I’m not not sure Paul Treanor is talking about the general public, as he prefaces his arguments with so many references to what seems to be a rather well-defined group of people he identifies as climate sceptics. Levy is certainly not talking about the general public. The general public who don’t embrace the global warming message are not really climate sceptics; they are mainly disinterested, but generally sceptical of most attempts by government to interfere in their lives, for whatever reason. There was a recent survey in the States I think which showed climate change came bottom of the list of ‘problems’ which the American public were concerned about. Most people are just not engaged with the climate debate whereas we “slightly weird obsessive individuals” are highly engaged. Global warming activists seem to be concerned about us because of the possible influence we may have upon a non-engaged public who are naturally resistant to the sweeping changes advocated by their governments and by environmental activists. In that sense i guess, ‘climate scepticism’ might become a more widespread ‘populist movement’. I’m not sure that is where we are at this moment; well, certainly not here in the UK.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Ken,

    “Those who are suggesting that there have been substantive arguments that seriously challenge Neil Levy’s point of view are either those who made the arguments, or their associates. My suggestion is that self-professed claims of brilliance are potentially an indicator of over-confidence and a lack of self-scepticism.”

    Let’s look at a couple of examples:

    Neil Levy says “there are buckets of money available to those who want to put forward a contrarian position.”

    Paul Matthews provided several links which demonstrated that this was not the case. So you are dismissing the credibility of his external sources.

    Neil Levy says:

    “In case you’re interested, I settled on ‘denialist’ after some thought. I don’t think delusional is appropriate, because I think the cognitive processes of denialists are working as they’re designed to; they’re just instances of the confirmation bias gone to extremes. I know you prefer “sceptic”, to clothe yourself in the respectability of its connotations. “Denialist” seems a reasonably neutral alternative.”

    Barry replies with a long comment elucidating the murky history of the adjective ‘denier’ and ‘denialist’ and the noun ‘denial’ in the history of the climate debate, illustrating that those terms are anything but neutral. So you are yourself denying this proven history in favour of supporting Neil Levy in his assertion that ‘denialist’ is a technically apt and reasonably neutral term of reference to apply to “sceptics” of climate science who are not considered true sceptics, because that would ‘clothe them in respectability’.

    Just two examples of substantive arguments, among others, that you casually dismiss on the basis that the persons making them are likely over-confident and probably lack self-scepticism. Play the ball Ken, not the person.

    • ...and Then There's Physics says:

      Jaime,
      You seem to want to continue to suggest that the arguments presented were devastating and substantive and – presumably – that that is why Neil Levy has “run away”. My suggestion is simply that there may be alternative explanations which are worth considering, one of which might be that self-professed claims of brilliance might indicate an over-confidence and lack of self-scepticism that would make engaging rather pointless. It’s just a suggestion, mind you.

      • Jon Anderson says:

        Brilliant.

      • David Walker says:

        “an over-confidence and lack of self-scepticism that would make engaging rather pointless”

        As you are perhaps the biggest culprit in that department bar none, we’ll bow to your superior knowledge.

  • Keith Tayler says:

    115 posts and counting! Even if CO2 is not responsible for global warming, the heat from the debate must be.

    I am inclined to agree in part with Paul Treanor that the verbal conflagration is being fuelled by more than just science. I also agree with his criticism of the ‘elite’. There is an unfortunate tendency by some of the contributors to the Practical Ethics blog to look at the science, technology, politic, ethics and just about everything else that takes their fancy as being only truly understood, and in some cases administered, by experts, among whom of course they count themselves. This is obviously very disturbing when it is applied to ethics. It was not so long ago when philosophy undergraduates could expect to be asked to write an essay with the title ‘Are there moral experts?’ The short answer was no, but you were expected to arrive at this conclusion byway of Kant’s problem with it, or by disputing Peter Singer’s 1972 essay ‘Moral Experts’ (Singer was at Oxford at this time).

    When a similar question was asked of science the essay became more difficult. Keeping it short, it is obvious that scientists have what could be described as ‘expert’ knowledge and understanding. However, as Heisenberg put it:

    ‘The physicist may be satisfied when he has the mathematical scheme and knows how to use it for the interpretation of the experiments. But he has to speak about his results also to nonphysicists who will not be satisfied unless some explanation is given in plain language, understandable to anybody.’ (Physics and Philosophy. 1958.)

    The complexity of theory and ontology are at the extreme in physics and quantum mechanics, but many physicists have gone to extraordinary lengths to make their science accessible. In many respects climate science is pretty much child’s play in comparison and there are no excuses for why climate sciences cannot make their research assessable to public scrutiny.

    I have read all the UES CRU emails which give a fascinating insight into the minds of climate scientists (they are all at di2{dot}nu/foia/foia{dot}pl, have a search and well worth a read) Although they do in general show nothing more than group of people doing science, they are extremely dismissive of *all* criticism and sceptics. This includes criticism from senior researchers in climate science that seek to advance heretical theories and/or raise issues about published evidence and methodologies e.g. controversies over the ‘hockey stick’, 1940-70 cooling, ‘bucket/intake’, proxy records, oscillation theory, etc. When it comes to communicating with the lay public there is much ridiculing of sceptics and obfuscation. For example, the following is typical.

    ‘Fortunately in Australia our sceptics are rather scientifically incompetent. It is also easier for us in that we have a policy of providing any complainer with every single station observation when they question our data (this usually snows them) and the Australian data is in pretty good order anyway.’ (Email 3203. From: David Jones to Phil Jones)
    Surely you would want them to be competent because if they were they would be more likely to agree with your science if it is competent. Is ‘snowing’ them with data going to improve their science? Are we to assume that other data are not in good order? Could ‘good order’ mean ‘supportive of the theory’? Later we get.

    ‘Is he saying that if the skeptics realised how fragile the bucket/intake corrections were they could go to town on them? As I understand it, they all stem from Chris and David. Do we need more work to get them on a firmer footing?’ (Email 4875. From Geoff Jenkins to John Mitchell)

    This email thread finishes with the Phil Jones informing the chief scientist at the Met Office:

    ‘By the way, the skeptics may one day realise that the only bias in the surface temperature data that really matters is the bucket/intake one.’ (Phil Jones to John Mitchell)

    Okay I am an old cynic, but manipulating data to fit the theory is not good science. Nobody expects scientist to be strict Popperians that are always attempting to falsify their theories and the CRU et al are under extreme criticism much of which is unfounded. Nonetheless, the emails do shake ones confidence in climate science “experts” and their willingness to share their science. I could not give a damn whether there is a consensus of the consensus of climate scientists if I have doubts about the science. I believe that most of it is good, but science that is a curate’s egg is simply not good enough.

    • Ben Pile says:

      Keith, I think you make the most important observation here: “Although they do in general show nothing more than group of people doing science, they are extremely dismissive of *all* criticism and sceptics.”

      It seemed to me that what was lacking from Climategate was any comparison with exchanges between others, to establish its distance from the norms of institutional science, in contrast to the celebrated virtues of the scientific method. I’m pretty sure that we’d find no less acrimony, scheming and plotting — small-p and big-P politics — between researchers in other fields, if we were free to poke around in their emails.

      It came as a shock to the putative ‘pro-climate’ camp, because that was where the notion was forged of virtuous, hardworking scientists, who were uncontaminated by financial or ideological interests and the such like. That myth of the heroic researcher had been emphasised, to contrast with their binary opposites: the evil, interested, irrational sceptics. Then we discovered that scientists are human, too.

      In other words, “science” seemed to rescue from obscurity a vulgar virtue ethics, and the end-of-the-world story stood as a cheap, off-the-shelf moral realism, both coming to the rescue of academics who otherwise could not articulate any vision of the Good Life.

      What that remains post-Climategate, then, which I think Neil Levy’s ‘ethics’ precludes an understanding of, is the question about our expectations of science — climate science in particular. Neil instead puts the emphasis on the layperson, who it was incumbent on, as Robert May argued, to ‘Respect the Facts’ — (his translation of ‘nullius in verba’).

      In fact, what Climategate revealed is precisely that Levy’s and May’s ethics don’t work — they create expectations of institutional science that it is simply not equal to. We are leery of things political and ideological, and want science to provide unimpeachable, transparent, uncontaminated advice, but institutional science is as riddled with prejudice, vanity, jealousy as any other human enterprise, even if, the properly-applied scientific method gives us unrivalled access to the material world. We want objective answers to solve ethical, political and economic questions. If we didn’t have such expectations, there would have been no significance to Climategate — it would have been run-of-the-mill academic bitchiness.

      If climate scientists had any sense about them, they would recognise the expectations, and would not indulge them. But perhaps a nascent science has been flattered by the attention, and has forgotten itself. The curate’s egg promised to be a golden goose only because golden eggs were so desired by so many, and the stakes placed on the egg rose so high. The pressure on science to answer questions outside the scope of its understanding will only be removed when the expectations that Neil has raised as virtues, interrogated. While the scientists in and around UEA are asked to find the basis for the most far-reaching transformation of productive society, the hostile interrogation of scientists seems understandable; people want to hold decision makers and their servants to account. Climate scientists are made into human shields by Neil’s ethics, and so, as much as he appears to elevate and flatter them, they should reject these ‘ethics’.

  • Paul Treanor says:

    To clarify the analogy with Islam, I am not suggesting that climate scepticism is a religion, or specifically comparable to Islam. (I noted the overlap with other forms of right-wing populist and culture wars tendencies, and probably climate sceptics are disproportionately anti-Islam, and disproportionately secularist).

    What I am suggesting is that liberal-democratic societies, especially the elites, approach climate scepticism using the same template, that they apply to Islam. Partly due to its historical origins, the broad ideology of liberalism has been reluctant to attack religious beliefs. They are considered exempt from the liberal marketplace of ideas, which allegedly sorts good ideas from bad, ruthlessly. This well-known tweet from Richard Dawkins illustrates the issue:

    Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.

    The point is that Dawkins was widely criticised for this attack. Liberal societies tend to see religious beliefs as private, and direct attacks on them as taboo. All religions have quasi-mythical beliefs which will not stand up to scientific examination, such as the Virgin Birth for Catholics. Nevertheless, western liberal societies let people with such views teach at universities, and serve as civil servants and army officers. Often they are allowed to run their own schools and hospitals, among other institutions. Dawkins aggressive atheism would have been more at home in the Soviet Union.

    What I suggest is not that climate sceptics are Muslims, but that state and society should treat them like Muslims, or indeed like Catholics. Now it is true that Muslims have a hard time in western societies, but by and large their religion is left alone. The state is circumspect, even if part of the electorate is not. The state does not ridicule belief in winged horses (Buraq), and does not persecute those who hold that belief.

    In a similar way, the political and scientific elite should cease to argue with climate sceptics, accept their views as entirely valid, and allow them to propagate those views without opposition. The state should exempt climate sceptics from consequences which do not accord with their belief. For instance, they should not have to pay taxes to fund control of carbon emissions, and should be allowed to burn coal and oil as they please, limited only by the direct impact on others. They should be allowed to live as they might have lived, if there had been no climate controversy, and indeed no climate change.

    What Neil Levy is proposing is, in effect, that state and society should behave like Richard Dawkins. Applied to Islam, we would then see that Muslim journalists fired for believing in Buraq, and Muslim Schools closed for teaching about Buraq. No Muslim would get a job in the civil service or police, or serve in the military, because the state would not trust believers in winged horses. Put like that, the consequences are evident: polarisation and violence are inevitable. But if liberal societies shirk from treating their Muslim minorities in this way, then why go to war against climate scepticism?

    • ...and Then There's Physics says:

      I don’t think Neil Levy is suggesting anything like what you suggest that he is. Basically, as I understand it, the suggestion is that collectively (i.e., as a society) we should give credence to the views of experts, especially if there is a strong consensus about some issue. That doesn’t mean that all individuals in that society have to accept that consensus position, but does mean that those who make decisions on our behalf should do so. Also, giving credence to experts doesn’t suddenly mean that the experts are making decision or that the consensus position somehow defines the decision that should be made. It simply means that decisions should be evidence-based.

      • Jon Anderson says:

        What is the consensus position? It really isn’t clear to me.

        If you can clear that up, can you explain how it relates to public policy decisions such
        as energy spending and taxation. Thanks.

    • Ben Pile says:

      Paul you raise some interesting points and questions about individual beliefs, and what states should be able to impose on individuals, to the extent that those measures impose on them.

      However, isn’t there is a sense in which environmentalism (of which the climate-centric perspective is a part) is also a ‘religion’ — and much more so than its counterpart. For example, green thought offers an encompassing framework, which suggests a theological natural order of things, deviation from which is explained variously as immoral in very much the same terms as Old Testament sin, punishment for which is exacted by Nature Herself, given personality and intentionality. It’s often expressed scientifically, of course, but the underlying myths of ‘balance’ in this natural order is more often presupposed than identified, yet are used very much to put emphasis on the individual to observe as ‘ethics’ — to consider the ‘impact’ of his actions, directly corresponding to original sin and its vices. I could go on, but you get the gist, the point being that there is a great deal of mysticism in contemporary, mainstream and even ‘scientific’ dialogue about the environment.

      The problem, I think, is if we start identifying either environmentalists or climate sceptics as religious identities, we exempt anyone with beliefs from the social contract — people just get to pick and choose what obliges them, rather than object through some democratic or political or other formal process. That, I would argue, might be one of the shortcomings of muliculturalism (as in the political doctrine, not the fact of a culturally and racially plural society) and its underpinning relativism. People from different ‘communities’ were understood to have irreconcilably different perspectives and values, and so no process could successfully negotiate those differences. As contemporaneous political ideas, however, environmentalism and multiculturalism might point to a deeper problem of a failure to articulate the social contract, which Neil Levy’s ‘ethics’ of deference to ‘expertise’ also epitomises: do as we say or there will be racial/environmental catastrophe. The experts. Both doctrines do not credit ordinary people with the ability to understand the ‘risks’ they are exposed to, and so do not credit them with the ability to make decisions about governance. This being the tendency of most contemporary political ideas, it’s hard not to see the enumeration of risks (and the consequent elevation of experts) as a ruse. The arrival of ‘ethics’ imploring deference to experts is the consequence of an almost completely depoliticised public sphere — more poison.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Paul Treanor restates the argument in favour of religious freedom of thought which nobody I suspect – not even the right-wing commentators here – would argue against. But that is not the issue with Islam and Muslims who tend to argue for the right to do according to their religious convictions, even if that means transgressing the social norms of the country in which they find themselves, even if that means breaking the laws of the country which they live in. In contrast, climate sceptics are not expecting to be exempt from restrictive lifestyles, carbon taxes etc. etc. if those measures are proven to be necessary and a logical response to a proven threat. And that is the issue. The ‘threat’ is hypothetical and in many cases hyped and the response is illogical and technologically, socially and environmentally inept, even assuming that the threat was real! So choosing the example of Islam to argue the case that climate sceptics should be left alone to do their thing is wholly inappropriate. Sceptics, as Ben points out, view the inconsistencies, irrationality and ideologically driven imperatives associated with climate change activism (argued unconvincingly to be based upon sound scientific evidence) as akin to religious fervour. Hence arguably, it’s the main body of their opponents who are the religionists here, who want to change their way of life and that of everybody else. Sceptics are arguing AGAINST society behaving irrationally by uncritically accepting the supposed imminent threat of ‘dangerous’ climate change, AGAINST the preachers of climate doom continually warning us of Thermageddon if we do not mend our wicked ways, and AGAINST the consensus enforcers who wish to silence and even punish those outspoken heretics who take issue with the exaggerated climate change consensus.

  • Geoff Chambers says:

    Paul Treanor
    Should we thank you for proposing that “The state should exempt climate sceptics from consequences which do not accord with their belief. For instance, they should not have to pay taxes to fund control of carbon emissions..”? No, I don’t think so, despite the fact that it would immediately raise the number of climate sceptics to well above 97%.

    We don’t want to be tolerated, we want to be argued with. We want Neil Levy to come here and justify his baseless accusation that we climate sceptics are irrational. He can call us denialists or whores of rightwing thinktanks if he likes. But he must demonstrate that we are wrong. He’s a professor of Practical Ethics for Gaia’s sake, not some government-funded part-time BBC journalist like Sir Paul Nurse FRS, or a limp-wristed Royal Court thespian like UCL Professor Of Climate Ooohwatchout! Chris Rapley. His speciality is, if not telling people how to behave, at least explaining how to reason about how to behave. Unless he’s some kind of Zen master who believes the profoundest lesson is to sit in silence with his finger up his bum, he needs to come here and discuss.

    • Keith Tayler says:

      You certainly do not know how to advance reasoned discourse. Why would Neil or anyone else be interested in debating with you?

      • Geoff Chambers says:

        Neil Levy has already said he isn’t going to debate. See the beginning of this thread where I politely raised four evidence-based objections to the article. He replied by saying: “I’m afraid you dont understand how evidence works in science.” and challenged the easiest of my points, the one where I didn’t quote evidence since it’s so well-known and life is short and so should be blog comments.

        He came back with one sarky comment about “the self-reinforcing world of the denialist echo chamber” one easy question, one refusal to inform himself by going to our blog to find out what scepticism is, and a justification of the use of the term “denialist” as “a neutral term.” When Barry Woods demonstrated that the term “denialist” was deliberately chosen by prominent believers Monbiot and Lynas in order to associate us with holocaust deniers he flounced off.

        On another blog on another subject with another type of expert it wouldn’t matter. Moral philosophers are not supposed to do this. It’s in the job description.

        And anyway, he started it.

        • Keith Tayler says:

          Moral experts do not need to discuss with non-experts; that regrettably is what some moral philosophers believe is in their job description. However, reasoned discursive discourse should always be maintained as not only a means but an end in itself. If the conditions of ‘Discourse Ethics’, which are rooted in discourse and argument theory, are maintained we might gain greater understanding of each other’s position and perhaps reach a consensus. That surely is what is missing in the dispute over the science, policies and ethics of climate change.

          • Jon Anderson says:

            Whilst I fundamentally agree with your general point, it ignores some of the unfortunate realities of
            the evolution of the climate debate. Points that have already been raised in various responses on
            this thread.

            We’re in a situation where you are either with ‘The Consensus’ or a ‘denier’. Hence when you
            start with the tool of ‘The Consensus’ to separate out the deniers, you are unlikely to get
            anything productive. As you can see, it’s not even possible to challenge what ‘The Consensus’
            actually is. If you’re not with ‘The Consensus’ then you’re obviously either an uneducated
            shill who is ignoring physics (what has physics got to do with ‘The Consenus’ one may rightly
            ask) or just an uneducated brexiter with anti-establishment views.

            Those of us who want to question the dubious model parameterisations, the curious abuses
            of statistics and metrology standards in maintaining temperature records, the dubious
            attribution and damage quantification etc. etc. are SOL.

            • Keith Tayler says:

              As I have explained above, I wish to question the validity of some of the science and theorising that is done by some climate scientists. I have also spent a considerable amount of time over the last two years trying to stop the erection of onshore wind turbines that have been deliberately made less efficient (‘de-rating’) in order that developers can make obscene profits from government subsidies. (There are numerous other reasons why these machines are useless alternative energy technology, but here is not the place to explain.) I am pleased to say that I and many others throughout the UK have managed to bring a halt to this grubby industry and there will be no more de-rated turbines erected.

              I should also make it clear that I do believe there is quite a high probability that most climate warming is anthropogenic. However, I hold this belief in spite of climate science predictions of the last 30 years not because of them. The basic science and theory since Tyndall is pretty sound. The problem is that since the 1980s I have progressively had less respect for the “facts” and virtually none for the policies to combat the “threat”. That puts me in the middle, which I can assure you is more difficult than being a believer in everything the so-called experts hand down to us mortals, or indeed being a non-believer. I am supportive of developing sensible alternative energy technology (by no means just for combating possible global warming problems), but am adamantly opposed to most of it that is presently on offer.

              What worries me more than the predicted heat death of the plant, even more than the bad science and technology, is the totally unproductive discourse between the pros and antis. Obviously I agree with you that Neil is very ignorant of the ways of science and technology if he thinks we should quiescently accept everything the so-called experts say. But if Neil does not wish to wake from his
              dogmatic slumber, so be it.

              • Jon Anderson says:

                If by anthropogenic you mean a man ‘homogenized’ the data then you’ll get no disagreement from me! 🙂

              • Geoff Chambers says:

                Keith Tayler
                “Dogmatic slumber” was a good crack when it was first made, by someone in a different league from any of us, and about himself, what’s more.

                Your definition of your “middle” position in the debate is more or less where many of us are. Indeed we’d come within the 97% by many definitions, which is one reason why Neil Levy and those he quotes are so unwilling to provide a definition of the consensus. I get a feeling what it must have been like to be a reasonable ordinary bloke at the Council of Nicaea, if there were any. (History doesn’t record them. It never does.)

                My big regret about this thread is that I jumped in at the beginning with four watertight arguments showing that Levy was wrong. If only I’d started with some nice abstract waffle and waited until he was hooked. If only I’d studied law (or angling.)

                • Keith Tayler says:

                  Yes, I do find that many in the middle or moderate antis are pushed to the edge because the pros are so unreasonable and damn right aggressive. Pro “ethicists” are particularly bad at this because without the big theory much of their fantasising about our responsibilities to future generations would not have a market. Although I am no great fan of Bentham and accept we should give consideration to future generations, I am inclined to repeat his question: ‘Can it be conceived that there are men so absurd as to…prefer the man who is not, to him who is; to torment the living, under pretence of promoting the happiness of those who are not born, and who may never be born?’

          • Geoff Chambers says:

            As was mentioned by a commenter above, whether there is such a thing as a moral expert is an open question in philosophy. The commenter mentioned Kant, but the debate surely goes back to Socrates.

            I do agree though that we should all try and behave in a civilised manner. While I didn’t realise there was a specialised subject called Discourse Ethics, we climate sceptics are all too painfully aware of how sensitive the subject of the tone of discourse can be, and how easily offense can be taken, often as an excuse for not engaging in debate.

            Ever since I had a Guardian journalist (and one of John Cook’s co-authors at SkepticalScience) stating on the Guardian’s “CommentisFree” blog that he’d like to bend me over a table and roger me, I’ve not taken too much notice of the niceties of polite discourse, though I do try to adapt my tone to that of others.

  • Paul Treanor says:

    I made the analogy with Islam, to propose that the treatment of religions in liberal societies offers a template for the treatment of climate scepticism. That does mean that climate scepticism is a religion, or that climate sceptics are ‘like Muslims’. The question of whether ‘environmentalism’ is also like a religion, is therefore irrelevant.

    The template implies that the state would refrain from imposing alternative beliefs on the ‘adherents’ of climate scepticism. It also implies that the elite would refrain from attacks on the beliefs of minorities, and treat them with some deference (not behaving like Richard Dawkins and his supporters). Most importantly, the template implies that there would-be no ‘forced conversion’ – no-one would be told to change their sceptical views on climate change.

    The suggestion of exemptions from state policy does go further then this template. The best analogy here is with immigration policy. Although there is widespread hostility to immigration in western Europe, no citizen is ever exempted from immigration. The elite’s insistence that “we must all accept immigrants” has not resulted in acceptance and assimilation, but in an ever more aggressive populist backlash. That backlash also underpinned the Brexit vote in the recent UK referendum.

    Ben Pile understands the implications of exemptions:

    … if we start identifying either environmentalists or climate sceptics as religious identities, we exempt anyone with beliefs from the social contract — people just get to pick and choose what obliges them, rather than object through some democratic or political or other formal process.

    But that is the point: it is time to abandon outdated liberal principles such as the social contract and the democratic process – and the rule of law, and the state monopoly of force, and so on. The liberal utopia is a homogenous society, and liberal state and society are intended to generate centrist homogeneity, by waging war on the extremes. Concessions to minorities undermine that goal, that’s why the present liberal tolerance of religious belief is so notable. (Early liberal regimes were often anti-clerical and secularist). The centrism and uniformitarianism of liberalism facilitated its alliance with nationalism in the 19th century, which in turn gave us the modern liberal-democratic nation-state.

    The homogeneity of the liberal utopia is inappropriate for increasingly fragmented and polarised societies. It is only two decades since liberal triumphalism of the 1990’s, the ‘End of History’, and the alleged transition to a post-ideological society, but they seem to have got it wrong. Bitterness, frustration, hostility, anger, polarisation, and resentment, characterise western societies. Climate scepticism is only one example of a much wider phenomenon.

    Obviously, the elites in liberal societies are reluctant to abandon their core principles and turn society on its head, but that is how to adapt to polarisation. In the case of climate scepticism and similar movements, that implies abandoning the democratic process, and a policy of full exemption. It is not difficult to put exemption into practice: since climate change policy is recent, the state can simply put the clock back in policy terms, by about 30 years. All climate change treaties and conventions must be abandoned, and all the derived legislation revoked. It is comparable to a rigorous Brexit: the UK would repeal all EU-derived legislation, and return to the 1950’s, as far as policy was concerned.

    Similarly, the state must create a society for climate sceptics, which is so far as possible indistinguishable from the hypothetical parallel world, in which there was no climate controversy. Just as Eurosceptic Britons want ‘their country back’, climate sceptics want their society back, as it was before climate change influenced policy. The state should concede their demands, which means abandoning national climate change policy.

    • Raff says:

      Why should the state concede one set of objections and not every other set?

      • Paul Treanor says:

        My comment does not say that the state should not concede other objections. It does not use the word ‘objections’ at all. Although that term might be accurate for climate scepticism, other groups may have other political demands such as recognition of identities and values, reform, facilitation of aspirations, and so on. Most of them don’t fit into existing frameworks of political consensus, some are off the political agenda entirely. In an increasingly fragmented society, it would be a good thing if political elites gave this problem some thought.

        • Raff says:

          Whether ‘objections’ to the existing order or ‘demands’ for change, you are suggesting that a few hundred noisy activists be given a veto over national policy. For someone who gives the impression of wanting what he writes to be taken seriously, that nonsense has the opposite impact.

          • David Walker says:

            “you are suggesting that a few hundred noisy activists be given a veto over national policy”

            Really, RAFF?

            Perhaps you should consider the findings of the United Nations ‘My World’ Global survey on attitudes to caused of concern, currently covering 9,730,421 respondents, that shows “Action taken on Climate Change” comes flat last, 16th out of 16 categories.

            http colon // data dot myworld2015 dot org/

            It’s YOU CAGW quasi-religious fanatics that are in the minority Sunshine, not we AGW sceptics who believe there is little or no cause for concern, certainly not enough to merit seriously damaging the economy of the industrial nations, causing considerable hardship and mortality to much of the Third World by depriving them of clean energy to cook and light their dwellings, causing excess mortality amongst the weak and old in many Western industrial nations due to being forced to choose between eating and heating and covering tens of thousands of square miles of land with worthless, ecologically disastrous “renewable” energy generation.

            Mankind can no more significantly alter the Global temperature than significantly alter the time the Sun rises and sets. This is becoming more apparent with every passing year, despite the ever-growing desperation of those who stand to make the greatest profit from promoting the creed of CAGW.

            You do understand what significantly means, don’t you? It does NOT mean denying that CO2 slows the transit of certain energy levels of photons from the Earth’s surface to space.

  • John Shade says:

    There is much of interest in this post and thread.

    The post begins ‘Why do we think that climate sceptics are irrational?’, a question-begging remark if ever there was one. It seems perfectly clear to me that rationality is a hallmark of the kind of climate sceptics I have come across and associated with, for example at CliScep.

    The case for alarm over our impact on the climate system is an extremely weak one, and I continue to be astonished and dismayed at the impact of those who wish to big-up CO2 have had.

    I presume our current host, Prof Levy is a trusting soul, or perhaps merely one of the anointed who presumes his own rectitude and competence to go along with the modest clump of scientists who made up the core of the IPCC working groups on causes of climate change. The order of 50 in total? The tiny science of climatology had scarce a tenth of that number before the hoohah got underway, so other scientists either had to give them the benefit of the doubt, or do some investigation and thinking on their own. Others no doubt merely saw political or financial advantage in going with the flow. And what a flow it has been! A torrent of papers, positions, conferences, politics, personalities refreshed by the joys of saving the world, and dollars by the tanker-load, enabled by the supine, positive reactions of governments and other wealthy funders.

    But yet, the climate system carries on with business-as-usual, displaying nothing unusual, nothing untoward, and in particular not following the hockey-stick imaginings of the zealots when it comes to temperatures, sea levels, ice melts, hurricanes, rainfall, or indeed anything else meteorological. Each week brings more to confirm the rationality of the climate sceptics. Take hurricanes for example. Read this recent piece of reporting:

    ‘John Sutter, a CNN columnist who focuses on social justice and climate change in his op-ed essays, claimed a few days earlier that humans, by causing the ocean temperatures to increase, are simultaneously causing hurricanes (or, in this case, tropical storms) to get even more intense than they otherwise would.   He called this claim a “truth”, and implored American readers to “rid the economy of fossil fuels” so as to reduce storm intensities.
    CNN (John Sutter):
    “[T]here’s an uncomfortable truth the rest of us should wrestle with: Hurricane Matthew looks a lot like future climate change. And if we want to stop storms like this from getting even more intense, we need to do everything we can to rid the economy of fossil fuels.”
    To garner support for his opinions, Sutter quoted Dr. Michael Mann ‘

    But yet, we go on to read:

    ‘Simply put, the opposite of what Mann (and Sutter) claim to be “truth” about warming ocean temperatures and hurricane intensification is detailed in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.  Namely, observations indicate that there has been no trend in increased hurricane intensity in recent decades (i.e., Category 3 and up), and many observations even show there has been a slight decline in overall hurricane intensities since the middle of the 20th century.   Secondly, the frequency with which hurricanes make landfall have also been declining in recent decades.   And finally, it has been determined from paleoclimate analyses that cooler ocean temperatures are associated with more tropical storms and major hurricanes than warmer ocean temperatures. ‘
    [For the rest, see the blog No Tricks Zone, and the post ‘scientific-consensus-30-papers-global-warming-leads-to-less-intense-less-frequent-hurricanes’. ]

    My goodness, these pesky sceptics are getting everywhere! Coming up with statistics, with trend analyses, with historical research, with theories of their own. None of which are at all alarming, and therefore must be beyond the pale? Are they to be subjected to the condescensions of the ‘Prof Levy’s of the conformist world? Are they forever never to be grist for his feeble mill? I fear so.

    But not all observers from outwith the now swollen ranks of climate science have been so trusting as our current host. I have just come across a new book by a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. Michael Hart is, to put it mildly, not at impressed by the hoohah of CO2 alarmism. I look forward to reading his book (‘Hubris: the troubling science, economics, and politics of climate change’) on a forthcoming trip abroad, but let me just quote the final paragraph:

    ‘It will be cold comfort to future generations when their leaders finally realize how badly they have been fooled and deeply they have embedded global warming hysteria into their cultural and governing norms, from tax policy to education programs. They will wonder, along with Richard Lindzen, why “the early twenty first century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basic of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference proceeded to contemplate a rollback of the industrial age.” Now is the time for governments to being the painful task of dismantling a movement that they have helped to create and that now threatens much more than the integrity of science.’

    Now, I wonder what could have led him to such a conclusion? I will read the book and report back next month if comments are still open here. Oh, and by the way, for those who do not already know, Richard Lindzen is probably the world’s most talented and distinguished atmospheric physicist. Prof Levy would do well to pay him heed, after all he, Prof Levy, feels ‘forced to use the assessment of experts’ and none are more expert here than Prof Lindzen.

    • Geoff Chambers says:

      John Shade

      Why intelligent people like Neil Levy (not to mention Barak Obama, Noam Chomsky, Vivienne Westwood and Leonardo di Caprio) believe what’s written by environmental journalists and axe-grinding cognitive pasychologists and ignore the opinions of experts like MIT professor Richard Lindzen is indeed one of the biggest mysteries of the whole affair. It’s not as if Dr Levy is the first to have been caught out jumping head first into the controversy without any thought for the precautionary principle. If you look at some of articles at the Conversation (not the ones by big hitters like Cook and Lewandowsky, who never engage with critics, but the one-off articles by philosophers, law professors, media experts etc.) you’ll see time and again their ignorance laid bare by a tiny band of honest folk. I suppose they don’t discuss their humiliation much among their academic colleagues, so it looks as if we’re going to have to pick them off one by one. It’s tiresome.

      • Raff says:

        Simple, honest folk, is that how you see sceptics? That is not my impression from talking with many over the years. But why not do the honest thing and answer my question from above. You said you would not feel a *duty* to engage with each and every anti-vaxer who turned up to dispute what you might write about anti-vaxers, so why did you say Levy has a duty to engage with (debate, discuss with, etc) you?

        • Jon Anderson says:

          Strawman. What have anti-vaxers got to do with climate change? Almost as much as the moon landings I
          would say.

    • Raff says:

      Hart’s opinion on climate science is almost certainly no more well informed or useful than yours or mine. Who cares what he thinks? As for Lindzen, how on earth do you know whether he is “the world’s most talented and distinguished atmospheric physicist”? How do you measure that? Here’s what another distinguished climate scientist, Ray Perrehumbert, said of Richard Lindzen:

      “It’s OK to be wrong, and [Richard] is a smart person, but most people don’t really understand that one way of using your intelligence is to spin ever more clever ways of deceiving yourself. … He has made a career of being wrong in interesting ways about climate science.”

      • David Walker says:

        “Who cares what he thinks?”

        As the Simon Reisman chair in trade policy at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, clearly many, many times more people than care what YOU, an anonymous commenter on a blog think, Raff.

      • Jon Anderson says:

        So we end up with expert ‘Top Trumps’. Nobody is exempt from being wrong; I’d imagine
        both Richard Lindzen and Ray Pierrehumbert have been wrong many times on many things
        in the course of their lives. So far, the empirical evidence (observations) favour
        Lindzen’s interpretation of things (ECS ~1.2 – 1.6 DEG C).

        Feedbacks dear boy. It’s all about the feedbacks. Based on climate history, they must
        be net-negative – until SSTs reach boiling point.

        • Raff says:

          My understanding is that climate feedback must be strongly positive in order for the small change in forcing from orbital variations to cause a very large change in global temperature on exit from glaciation periods. Orbital changes are not enough on their own.

          • ...and Then There's Physics says:

            My understanding is that climate feedback must be strongly positive

            It depends on what you mean by feedbacks. Overall, the net feedback must be negative, given that the system is overall stable. However, this is because of the Planck response being negative and larger, in magnitude, than all the other feedacks (water vapour, lapse rate, clouds, albedo). If you ignore the Planck response (as is normally the case in this context) then the evidence suggests that the feedbacks (non-Planck ones at least) are net positive.

            Even the observational evidence supports this. We’ve warmed by around 1C after a change in forcing of just over 2W/m^2 and we still have a positive planetary energy imbalance. If Lindzen were correct, then we should have already warmed sufficiently to retain energy balance. Since we have not, suggests that he is not.

            • Ben Pile says:

              The topic is ‘ethics’.

              The climate ‘debate’ descends to ‘science’.

            • Raff says:

              Thanks for the correction 🙂

              Feedbacks must indeed be net-negative. But as you say, that doesn’t in itself put a cap on sensitivity at Lindzen’s 1.2-1.6C

            • Jon Anderson says:

              You’re forgetting about the uncertainty monster ATTP and, no doubt, you are giving too much weight
              to the surface temperature records. IMO, the only reasonable way to measure planetary energy
              accumulation is OHC. In my view the data available here are not of sufficient coverage (spatially and
              temporally) to give any significant insight. Even the ARGO data has been shown to have significant
              instrumental drift in some cases. For OHC, we’re talking changes in hundredths of degrees – as a
              direct temperature measurement is the only proxy we have for OHC. Ship intake temps/bucket temps
              may as well be thrown away as far as OHC is concerned.

              I also dispute your statement that all non-Plank feedbacks must be net positive. The behaviour
              of clouds is definitely not ‘settled’. It also looks like nobody really understands why the
              planetary albedo is what it is either (e.g. across hemispheres). Sulphate aerosol forcings
              also don’t seem to be quite so settled as we’re often led to believe.

              The above is why I consider myself sceptical; not because I have any particular issue with the
              basic physics involved. We all concede we’re talking about coupled non-linear system after all,
              which has shown similar historical variations. My principal problems are:

              The high degree of precision and certainty which most results appear to be reported with. Almost
              all papers I’ve seen ignore systematic error assuming it will average away like a random
              error will.

              Treating trends of non-deterministic systems as having any predictive power whatsoever. This is
              plainly false but is abused (mostly by the MSM to be fair) as a matter of course.

              Treating regional climatic phenomena which support ‘Climate Change’ as directly attributable (one needs to
              look no further than the reporting around Matthew – even Mann had something to say on Matthew).
              Conversely those phenomena that do not are just ‘weather’.

              I could go on but I’m irritating myself now…

              • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                You’re forgetting about the uncertainty monster ATTP

                Not at all. The likely range for ECS is 1.5 to 4.5C so that does include the possibility of it being as low as Lindzen suggests, but indicates that that is regarded as unlikely.

                no doubt, you are giving too much weight to the surface temperature records.

                No doubt you are a bit too certain about how much is too much.

                I also dispute your statement that all non-Plank feedbacks must be net positive.

                I didn’t say “all” and I didn’t say “must”. I said “the evidence suggests that the feedbacks (non-Planck ones at least) are net positive.” In other words, given how much we’ve warmed, given the change in forcing, and given that the we still have a positive planetary energy imbalance suggests that the non-Planck feedbacks are net positive. This doesn’t mean that they all – independently – must be positive, just that together they are net positive.

                If Lindzen is correct that the ECS is 1.2C (or even lower) then a change in forcing of 2.3W/m^2 should produce an equilibrium change in temperature of around 0.75C. According to the temperature datasets (multiple of them) we have warmed by around 1C and still (from the OHC) have a planetary energy imbalance of something between 0.5W/m^2 and 1W/m^2. There either have to be some very large errors in those datasets, or there has to be some combination of very unlikely events, for what we’ve observed to be consistent with an ECS as low as Lindzen suggests. Nothing is impossible, but some things are unlikely.

                The above is why I consider myself sceptical;

                I don’t think the correct word is sceptical.

                I could go on but I’m irritating myself now…

                I can see why.

                • Jon Anderson says:

                  Not at all. The likely range for ECS is 1.5 to 4.5C so that does include the possibility of it being as low as Lindzen suggests, but indicates that that is regarded as unlikely.

                  Likely according to whom? the IPCC? remind again how long the ECS estimate has been in that range and what
                  recent papers using energy balance approaches are saying.

                  No doubt you are a bit too certain about how much is too much.

                  Well, it’s implicitly true as you wouldn’t be able to make the case you are trying to make
                  without using surface temps. Satellite data do not show that level of warming. Perhaps
                  you’d prefer to use model output instead? after all, it’s probably the observations that
                  are wrong.

                  I won’t bother responding to your entirely circular argument on non-Plank feedbacks.

                  I don’t think the correct word is sceptical.

                  If you don’t think it’s sceptical then you clearly must think it’s something else. Why don’t
                  you try, for once, saying what you mean?. I realise it makes it much harder to backpedal
                  in the future but suggest you give it a try anyway.

                  I can see why.

                  Indeed. If only we all had such self-awareness eh?

                  • ...and Then There's Physics says:

                    remind again how long the ECS estimate has been in that range and what recent papers using energy balance approaches are saying.

                    It’s been in that range (sometimes 2 – 4.5C) for quite some time, but that’s hardly an argument against it. If you mean the work by Nic Lewis then his work suggests a likely range of about 1.2C to 2.4C, and an extremely likely range of around 0.8C to 3.1C. However, there are a number of reasons as to why these may underestimate the ECS (technically the Effective Climate Sensitivity, rather than the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity). This doesn’t mean that it is too low, but does suggest one should be careful of giving too much weight to these estimates.

                    Well, it’s implicitly true

                    That doesn’t imply “too much weight”.

                    Why don’t you try, for once, saying what you mean?

                    I did.

              • Raff says:

                … you are giving too much weight to the surface temperature records. IMO, the only reasonable way to measure planetary energy accumulation is OHC

                Your 1.2-1.6C sensitivity range is not stated in terms of OHC but in surface temperature for a good reason. Energy will stop accumulating only when the surface temperatures reach a level at which outgoing IR offsets incoming energy. That, and the fact the we live on the surface, is why measure of surface temperature dominate discussion.

          • David Walker says:

            “My understanding is that climate feedback must be strongly positive”

            Your understanding is wrong.

  • Jaime Jessop says:

    Climate sceptics are irrational? I just had the most irrational, abusive, self-important, arrogant, ignorant freelance journalist attack me on Twitter, telling me I’m dangerous, that he’s put google alerts on me, but not to worry too much because he doesn’t have an awful lot of time to counter my climate denier propaganda!

    John Shade points out the inconvenient scientific literature on hurricane intensity and frequency. There is in fact, if not quite a steady flow, certainly more than a drip drip of inconvenient peer-reviewed scientific research which brings into question the idea of the dominance of man-made climate change in the modern era. Take the Antarctic for instance. Whilst the Arctic has been losing sea-ice over the last 30 odd years, there has been a significant positive trend in southern hemisphere sea-ice extent over the same period, which peaked at a record in 2015. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Now we have a new research paper in Nature:

    ‘Assessing recent trends in high-latitude Southern Hemisphere surface climate’ – Jones et al

    I quote:

    “Over the 36-year satellite era, significant linear trends in annual mean sea-ice extent, surface temperature and sea-level pressure are superimposed on large interannual to decadal variability. Most observed trends, however, are not unusual when compared with Antarctic palaeoclimate records of the past two centuries. With the exception of the positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode, climate model simulations that include anthropogenic forcing are not compatible with the observed trends. This suggests that natural variability overwhelms the forced response in the observations, but the models may not fully represent this natural variability or may overestimate the magnitude of the forced response.”

    That’s not really the message which climate change alarmists want the world to hear (and the world generally doesn’t hear about such research because the media almost always ignores it). The IPCC states in a very unscientific manner that most or all of the warming from 1950-2010 is “extremely likely” anthropogenic in origin, but here we have evidence of climate change over much of that same period at the South Pole which is dominated by natural variability.

    So high latitude southern hemisphere trends are not compatible with anthropogenic forcings, but the global mean surface temperature trend over the 36 year satellite era and indeed the declining trend in northern hemisphere sea-ice during that time is presumed to be dominated by anthropogenic forcings. Neil Levy effectively says that questioning such inconsistencies and suggesting that perhaps natural forcings may have had a rather more significant part to play in modern climate change is irrational, nay even motivated denial! Paul Treanor says such scepticism is a belief which society should indulge, like it should indulge Islam or Catholicism. Heaven help us. How did we arrive at such a bizarre impasse?

  • Paul Treanor says:

    I suggested that the state should concede the political demands of climate sceptics, and abandon national climate change policy. That brought this reaction:

    … you are suggesting that a few hundred noisy activists be given a veto over national policy.

    I am indeed suggesting that disadvantaged minorities should be given a veto over national policy. A generalised veto is one of several strategies, to transition from the entire ‘national policy’ model, to a post-democratic and post-national alternative.

    How do western liberal-democratic nation-states make policy? They take conflicting attitudes, propositions, and values, put them into the democratic process, let it run its course, and at the end, supposedly, we have a consensus which is acceptable to the nation as a whole. We also allegedly get political legitimacy – the willingness of the population to accept laws and government policy, which they as individuals oppose. This is the world view of the broad liberal elite in western countries, and as such the starting point for Neil Levy’s position on climate scepticism.

    It ought to be obvious by now, that this model is dysfunctional. The population is no longer willing to subject their values and aspirations to the liberal marketplace of ideas, and then abandon them if they don’t meet general approval. The sense of national unity and community, another pillar of the nation-state, is also visibly eroding. Climate scepticism is just one example of oppositional values and aspirations, that refuse to be blended into centrist uniformity by the democratic process. The rise of populism is the political symptom of the increasing unwillingness to accept the consensus models, which typify the politics of stable nation-states.

    The Brexit referendum, a debacle for the liberal elite, shows that elites cannot simply suppress these symptoms, until they go away. At some point, they must take account of fragmentation and polarisation in their societies, and make concessions to those trends.

    The issue of immigration is a good example of the necessity of veto in democratic societies, and it has some parallels with climate policy issues. Despite increasingly acrimonious ‘debate’ on immigration (including death threats, murders, and terrorism), elites in western Europe have continued to insist on its benefits. They are unwilling to recognise that some people simply don’t want any immigration, and that consequently every immigrant is a burden on those individuals. The logical option is to give them a veto on immigration: then there won’t be any immigrants, and their burden is gone.

    The logical option is also to give feminists a veto on porn, and ban it entirely. The logical option is to give opponents of drinking and smoking a veto on alcohol and tobacco, and ban them entirely. The logical option is to give opponents of Islam a veto on the Koran, and ban it entirely. The logical option is to give Salafists a veto on blasphemy and apostasy, and on Christmas (haram). The logical option is to give conservative Catholics a veto on abortion, and ban it entirely, along with homosexuality.

    The state must do this because some people are very, very, angry. They are bitter and frustrated at being forced to live in a society, that is deeply offensive to their values. The fact that their values often contradict each other, in no way diminishes their anger and frustration. This comment on climate policy is illustrative:

    … seriously damaging the economy of the industrial nations, causing considerable hardship and mortality to much of the Third World by depriving them of clean energy to cook and light their dwellings, causing excess mortality amongst the weak and old in many Western industrial nations due to being forced to choose between eating and heating and covering tens of thousands of square miles of land with worthless, ecologically disastrous “renewable” energy generation.

    What do these diverse angry minorities get from the liberal-democratic elite? The advice to express their views in the democratic process, and passively accept whatever comes out at the end. In any case, the democratic process itself is increasingly inaccessible. The long-term trend to political convergence creates an isolated political class, who have become a de facto governing oligarchy. They become unresponsive to political demands from outside, and that only feeds polarisation and anger.

    Systemic change is historically appropriate here. Veto powers are one option, although not the answer to everything. There is a historical precedent, the liberum veto in the early-modern Polish parliament, but predictably it blocked decision-making. Perhaps it is better to see ‘veto’ as a metaphor for a policy of not infringing the core values of minorities. Even in that sense, however, it will not fit inside existing models of liberal democracy.

    • Raff says:

      Those are not “logical options” but just a rag-bag of personal prejudice and intolerance. Banning things practiced or enjoyed by one group at the insistence of another as a way of organising complex societies is the furthest from logic one can imagine.

  • John Shade says:

    Back on 10th October I promised I would review Michael Hart’s new book Hubris here, having quoted from it here back then. I am still on my travels, and only halfway through the book. And what a book it is! I am mightily impressed so far, and will do that review next month as promised. But in the meantime, there is a review just published by the GWPF and written by Prof Kelly of Cambridge University. His review includes these words ‘This book should leave any dispassionate reader deeply disturbed. It should be required reading for people in policy and politics who deal with these matters. No thought leader should be ignorant of the contents.’ To which, so far, I say ‘Hear, hear!’. The review can be found at ‘thegwpf’ dot com location.

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