Learning from my mistakes

I wasn’t sure whether or not to post the following. It comes across as a little whiny and pathetic, but I’ve been a little busy this week so haven’t really had a chance to do much else. Also, there were some questions on a recent post about using Twitter and so I thought I would write something about the value (or lack thereof) in using Twitter. As I said in my response to those questions, it can be very good as a mechanism for being exposed to information that you may not have found otherwise. As far as being a medium for discussing a contentious subject (such as climate change/global warming), it is fairly ineffective and possibly quite damaging.

I only really started engaging in the whole climate change/global warming debate about 6 months ago. I had had short forays into it in the past couple of years, but nothing substantial. In addition to this blog, I also have a Twitter account and have at times engaged in discussions there with people who would probably be regarded as pseudo-skeptics at best. A few people, who shall remain nameless, contacted me privately to suggest that I shouldn’t really engage in such exchanges with those people as it looked bad and gave them undue credibility. Although I realised that they were trying to be helpful, I found it a little irritating at the time. Who were they to tell me what to do and why would they assume that it wasn’t worthwhile to have a discussion with those people. I, rather naively, assumed that if one tried to remain reasonable, that it would be possible to have an interesting and worthwhile discussion with someone with whom you disagreed. I have now, not that surprisingly, discovered that I was wrong. There are certain people with whom a serious discussion is at best pointless and at worst damaging.

There is one non-pejorative reason why such discussions are not really worthwhile. Often they’re simply never-ending and typically circular. You essentially know what the other person is likely to say and they probably know what you’re likely to say. They’ll agree with nothing you say, and you’ll agree with nothing they say. If both parties are actually intending to both learn from the other party and maybe teach them something they didn’t know, it’s a rather pointless exercise. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with such discussions, but there’s only so many times that I can engage in them.

There are, however, some reasons why discussions with certain people should really be avoided. There are a number of common directions that certain discussions head in. One is mis-representation. “So, you think it’s good if scientific models fail”. “So, you want the poor to suffer.” “So, you want to go back to the dark ages.” You end up spending all your time defending what you’ve said against the other person’s mis-representations. Another common theme is to simply continue firing questions. As soon as you’ve answered one, there’s another that either challenges your response or moves in a completely different direction. You’re constantly on the back foot trying to respond, knowing that the other person will almost never give what you’ve said any real thought before firing off another question or challenge. Additionally, if you try asking a question of them it typically gets ignored and the whole discussion moves in a completely different direction.

Also, nothing is ever good enough. Uncertainty is king in such discussions. Ocean heat content data is recent, so can’t be trusted. Satellite measurements of the energy imbalance have large errors. In isolation, some of this issues have merit, but you need to consider the big picture rather than trying to find individual flaws with every little bit of evidence. I also find that I sometimes rather lose my cool and end up responding in ways that I don’t particularly like. I suspect this, in some sense, is the goal of the other person and so doing so effectively hands them some kind of success. If you try to extract yourself from the discussion you’re accused of running away when the questions get too difficult. If you don’t answer questions, you’re accused of engaging in “science by assertion”. It really is a lose-lose situation and one that I would regard as entirely pointless and well worth avoiding.

I should make clear, though, that I am talking about a certain type of discussion. It’s quite hard to explain how to identify such discussions early enough to avoid them, but you do start to learn. I have had some that have been quite worthwhile and valuable. I’m also not suggesting that others should simply take my word for it. I’m quite pleased that I’ve learned this for myself. I’m just a little disappointed that my initial optimism has been beaten out of me. I should also make clear that this is not because I’m disappointed that I haven’t managed to change anyone’s views about climate change/global warming. It’s simply disappointing that it’s not even really possible to engage in a discussion with some. I don’t care if they continue to disagree. Just be willing to consider alternatives and give them some thought. This whole division also seems to be reflected online. There are pseudo-skeptic blogs, and non-skeptic blogs. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth trend. There doesn’t really appear to be any in the middle. I might be wrong, but it does seem that the debate has become so polarised (maybe it’s been that way for quite some time to be honest) that there really isn’t any middle ground. If that doesn’t convince people that it’s become political, rather than scientific, I don’t know what else will.

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170 Responses to Learning from my mistakes

  1. Sou says:

    Wotts, don’t be disheartened. Over time you will learn who the main “skeptic” players are on Twitter. I agree that it is not only pointless engaging with them but counter-productive – on Twitter. On your own blog it’s different. You don’t have to defend yourself on your own blog because the “skeptics” comments are usually obviously ill-informed at best. But they can sometimes be the means of making a point or elaborating on a point in your blog article. That way you can be more sure that lurkers will see the point you or other people are making.

    I had several years on a forum which had mostly “skeptics” who were less informed even than the average commenter on WUWT and much more aggressive. I used to get annoyed (to put it mildly) when people claimed I said something I didn’t. After a while I realised that most readers would spot what was happening. I learnt a thing or two there, I have to say. What you write is very familiar 🙂 Experience is a great teacher.

    Although there is no middle ground between science and “skeptics”, there are still a lot of people who don’t know much about climate and at some stage or other set out to learn. They are the target audience I would like to attract – but there’s no way to know if they lurk or not. I’m also happy enough in the role of pulling back the “overton window” over the science rather than over disinformation, which is where the “skeptics” keep trying to shift it to. Working to make them less dishonest.

  2. Rachel says:

    I haven’t read all of the twitter exchanges you’ve had but the ones that I have read I actually think you handled remarkably well. Whether or not it’s worth standing up to certain people I don’t know, but I don’t like the idea that people can just get away with spreading misinformation without it being publicly corrected and twitter is one avenue for doing it.

    Like you, I get a bit stumped with some of the circular exchanges and am never sure how to end them. Perhaps once they start firing questions it might work to fire questions back at them?

  3. Thanks. What you say about “lurkers” is indeed a valid point. As you say, on the blog, you do have more control over how to engage with others, that you don’t really have on Twitter. You can explain yourself more clearly and it’s harder for the other person to simply bombard you with questions/challenges. What I think I didn’t get across very well in the post is that the Twitter exchanges can look poor even to someone who is just observing so it can damage your ability to make some kind of coherent case that maybe the person you’re engaging with won’t accept, but someone else might. On a blog, that is at least more likely.

  4. Thanks. I do fall into the trap of trying to correct “mis-information” on Twitter and then end up getting dragged into what ends up being an endless and rather pointless discussion. So, I don’t really know what to do about that. Have to keep reminding myself that just because I’ve seen what someone else has said, others may not and so challenging it may be counter-productive. The firing questions thing is tricky because some do have a habit of simply deflecting. It might work in the sense that you’re not on the back foot, but it often doesn’t seem to improve the discussion much.

  5. BBD says:

    Twitter, like live debate, favours bad faith and pseudo-scepticism. Both are best avoided. Sou is correct. Use your blog to provide space for a civil discussion within which egregious rhetoric (eg Gish Gallops etc) can be controlled and claims subject to fact-checking. On the record.

  6. Yes, I think that is indeed the lesson that I have learned.

  7. Thanks, that’s the kind of thing I was referring to in the first paragraph. You certainly do get to read things that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I also had a very interesting exchange with Chris Hope and Dana Nuccitelli about the significance of deep ocean heating, so there can be positives, but only really if those involved are actually interested in learning something new.

  8. The twitter post. Great!

    I agree with Sou. The discussion about the science is mainly for the lurkers, you will never convince a true climate ostrich with scientific arguments, but the lurkers will notice the difference in tone and strength of arguments.

    I am starting to wonder whether the discussion with the climate sceptics should be about politics and not about science. They clearly did not arrive at their position based on scientific evidence and do not care about scientific evidence. Just read the chears after every Mockton post on WUWT.

    They hold their positions on climate because of their political ideology. Then talking about climate without talking about ideology is most likely an unproductive shadow fight.

    That is almost the anti-Tamsin-Edwards thesis, except that it is likely best that the non-scientists hold this discussion, if only because scientists are typically not that well versed in politics.

  9. Twitter is a good tool for getting in touch with people and getting your materials talked about. It can also be a great source for information on what is current and what I see on Twitter often inspires my blog posts (it helps me pick up on things that are talked about).

    It can be a great tool to connect with others for clarifications on articles/blog posts they wrote. Also lets not forget it can be a good way to get their feedback on what you created. Although be prepared for the occasional backlash if you do try to connect in that manner.

    What tends to derail twitter exchanges often are the ideologues that tend to jump in on these exchanges. These are also the people who often can be very nasty and who don’t listen at all to what you say (they assume bad faith), something you probably noticed with the responses to my “Cook’s 97% Climate Consensus Paper Doesn’t Crumble Upon Examination“.

    I do listen to what is said on Twitter, but if those that try to engage me are just too vitriolic I ignore them. You can speak your mind about what I write, but I do expect people to show some modicum of civility.

    Now I sometimes do engage in exchanges on Twitter, but most of the time I disengage as soon as I notice someone is not interested in listening to what I say (most of those behaviours you already mentioned). And often I just switch to writing a blog post to elaborate on the subject, as they are far more useful for explaining scientific subjects.

  10. Rachel says:

    I’ve never actually had a conversation with anyone on Twitter. I just view it as an interesting source of information. Do these people you have circular exchanges with specifically seek you out or do you notice things they write and correct them?

  11. Eventually, I couldn’t resist 🙂

    I think the discussion with climate sceptics is indeed essentially political. That would be fine if they could at least accept the science and then one could debate the significance and what should be done. The issue is though, that in most of my discussions it oscillates between discussing the politics (or something like the politics) back to the science (whenever the other discussion get uncomfortable) and then back to the politics (when the science bit becomes hard to refute).

    The other obvious problem is that there are even substantial differences in various people’s political views. So, even if we could reach agreement about the scientific evidence there would still be significant differences in what we should do given the evidence. That, however, would at least be a step in the right direction.

  12. Your last paragraph essentially describes what I’ve decided to do. Stop engaging as soon as it’s clear that the discussion is going the wrong way and, if appropriate, write a blog post about it. That way those who would like to know more can read it at their leisure.

  13. Why do many people from skepticalscience comment on this website?

  14. I have no idea, why do many people from skeptical science comment on this website?

  15. izen says:

    A familiar narrative, but one that evoked memories from over a decade ago and in the field of evolution rather than climate.
    I must admit to unfamiliarity with twitter. I fear I am far too verbose to function in 140 Chr$! As a headline and link to information it just about makes sense, but as a forum for discussion, it must be like trying to talk only in Haiku.

    Climate is not the only subject in which increasingly polarized ‘sides’ assert the absolute validity of their idealogical y defined positions. The evolution/creation conflict has faded to a few die-hards on each side. There may be a lesson in the way the ID/creationist have shrunk and become more extreme. It is still possible to find a few places where one can indulge in unrestrained flame wars, but neither side are really interested in anything other than inflating their tribal identities. The positions of the Overton windows that each side views the world through are fixed in position.

    Climate is a field where there is still some flexibility in the how the issue is framed. I predict that it will become increasingly polarized because one side has such little scientific support.
    The 97% effect.
    But there are ways of responding to the ideologue. Always quote the words the poster used by cut and paste when responding. Faced with a Gish Gallop, go ‘meta’. Point out how many questions have been asked, pick one and answer in detail. Then ask which of the other questions they would like answered next… but preferably use their questions to shift the discussion from their agenda to the key points you want to emphasise. Always shift back to the issue from your own perspective, don’t adopt their framing.
    Often people will make a bald false assertion that X is absolutely wrong. Ask politely for evidence, pointing out the lack of support for the statement. Make an equally bald statement in reply, but have a detailed set of links and explanatory evidence to back it up if ask to ‘prove’ your point in response.

    Some of this is about the tone. Insulting people politely can be fun, but for the lurker, and as a means of shaping the Overton window, trying to be the reasonable, polite and rational party in a discussion is more effective. You may be quite certain that the poster you are interacting with is incapable of shifting their position, a dogmatism it may advantageous to highlight if you can explain the factors that would cause you to reconsider your own, but the differences in the way in which you explain or present your narrative is as much a factor in shaping the issues as the evidence and arguments you use.

    Of course the best way to learn is to steal!
    As you read the various blogs, reports and post, if you spot a good phrase, effective point or convincing explanation, use it. With credit to SkS, Romm etc as appropriate.

    A last bit of advice derived from similar past experience, avoid word-walls, great blocks of verbose, dense and complex text that wa(o)nders around the subject. If you have the time, edit it down to a Haiku ! As that can take days… weeks at least split it into single issue sections and construct a pithy finish instead of leaving it as a daunting river of text that most will scroll past as this post is.
    For which I apologise. (Grin)


  16. Rob Painting says:

    Yeah, I wonder why?

  17. Marco says:

    To piss you off, Shub. Is it working?

  18. I wish more commented on mine. 😛

  19. Exactly.

    Also the time and energy you have available (especially in my case) is limited. Those Twitter exchanges are an energy sink that take away time from creating a bit more permanent and in depth materials.

    Twitter exchanges can be entertaining for people who watch, but most of the time don’t really help (I’ve found they tend to polarize).

    Another thing is that content in Twitter is basically worthless in the long run. Great for short term broadcasting and exchanges, but as an archive of good content it’s dismal.

  20. The difference being that the 3 of us are real skeptics, i.e. open minded people who really want to learn about the subject, as opposed to pseudo-skeptics who as you note, have an ideological bias brick wall that science and information can’t break through.

    The oceans are a great example – an area where there’s some really fascinating research happening, advancing our understanding of how the climate works. But all the pseudo-skeptics get from this is “the models are wrong” and “their latest excuse is to blame the oceans”. You can’t have a constructive discussion with somebody who views science through a lens of conspiracy theories.

  21. Wait, I know this one. It’s because Wotts is an SkS sockpuppet, right?

    Or perhaps it’s just because SkS and Wotts are both interesting, constructive climate blogs. But the first theory is much more fun.

  22. Marco says:

    I guess that’s a yes, then.

  23. Latimer Alder says:

    I think that you have really missed the point bigtime about this.

    Outside of academia, serious debate is conducted in a far more vigorous and robust way than you may be used to. And anybody making a case has to justify it every inch of the way – against tough questioning.

    For example, you like to try to make the case for (C)AGW being a big urgent problem. But it is not obvious to many (me included) that either of these things have been robustly shown to be true. They may get nods of agreement among your colleagues, but , with respect, Twitter is an external medium, not an academic one – and it is the great mass of non-academic people like me that you need to convince if the actions you seem to wish to see are going to come to pass. We will be paying the big costs (and reaping the benefits, if any) just as much as you are. It’s our planet and our climate too.

    So here’s some advice about how to persuade people like me.

    Present clear, testable evidence that can withstand examination by tough hostile questions. Don’t object to being questionned on it – it’s your case…you defend it. In the real world your starting point is often that your audience is unlikely to accept what you say. You have to persuade and convince, not just assert. And that means that you really have to understand it yourself. That includes really thinking through whether the evidence you present really bears the interpretation you put on it – and whether alternative explanations are possible.

    And especially really seriously don’t run away. It is immature and leaves everyone wondering why you have wasted their time with raising a subject that even you can’t be bothered to defend. Each time the lurkers will see your case as weak and ill-defined. And they may well be right. Try to anticipate the objections beforehand.

    You are effectively a salesman for your case. And good salesmen will tell you that objections and questions are to be welcomed and encouraged. However uncomfortable it may make you feel it shows that the other end of the discussion is interested and engaged in the subject – and open to further discussion. It’s a simple truth that you will never sell your ideas to somebody who just walks past on the other side of the street. At least the heckler cares enough to stop and engage his brain.Objections and questions are an opportunity to further develop your point, not a threat.

    In my case, I’ve mostly enjoyed our interactions and I’ve learnt things from them. But =, like top football teams, I think that you need to work a bit more on understanding your subject. Stuff that goes down well in the SCR might not stand up so well to serious examination from outsiders.

    Best wishes LA.

  24. BBD says:

    Latimer, this is uncomfortably patronising. Self-awareness has been mentioned recently.

  25. chris says:

    Not sure I agree with very much of that Latimer. Twitter is not a forum for “persuading” anyone! How can it be. Being able to set out one’s arguments in a coherent and well though out manner with links to the evidence that supports ones’ case, accompanied by a forum in which individuals can debate the issues with a bit of thought and care themselves (i.e. a blog such as this one) is far more useful “persuasion”-wise. I suspect that this particular blog, like most of the blogs that make an effort at honest and faithful representation of science, are far more convincing to the intelligent and dispassionate “lurker”. Twitter is more of a “beauty contest” type medium wouldn’t you say? It’s hardly a forum to change minds.

    In any case, and with due respect, you probably aren’t the sort of useful “target” for persuasion, I suspect. Individuals that should be persuaded of the scientific evidence are politicians, policy-makers, individuals with industrial and corporate clout and all the other people that have a real and vested interest in addressing scientific matters honestly. And if everyone else is is carried along by honest appraisal of scientific evidence that’s just great, wouldn’t you say? So for example the fact that Germany now produces 25% of its energy from renewable sources with much more to come is because there is an informed and honest appraisal of the scientific issues amongst the public, policymakers, industrialists and politicians.

    And I think you misunderstand the nature of debate academia-wise (cf your notion of public debate), especially if you consider that scientists and science communicators should act like “salesmen”. Academic debate can be very vigorous indeed. A fundamental difference between academic debate and some public debate (i.e. that which becomes politicized) is that academic debate, however robust, is generally carried out honestly and in good faith. Matters of disagreement are often resolved in a reasonably satisfactory manner because the participants have an honest regard for the evidence. Some areas of public debate on scientific matters are subject to misrepresentation and some individuals are either taken in by this or choose to align themselves with misrepresenters for reason’s best known to themselves. Your “serious examination from outsiders” is unfortunately often not very “serious” at all (except in the “menacing” sense of the word). Snappy one- or two-liners on Twitter aren’t going to do much to address that nasty problem.

    Far better carefully essayed and thoughtful discourse on blogs! As someone who’s reasonably informed on matters scientific in general and climate science in particular I’d say this particular blogger (i.e. Wotts) knows his subject rather well. Your attempts at diminishing this by weak insult (“SCR” indeed!) probably don’t go un-noticed by the “lurkers”.

  26. Tom Curtis says:

    Alder’s claim that “Outside of academia, serious debate is conducted in a far more vigorous and robust way than you may be used to. And anybody making a case has to justify it every inch of the way – against tough questioning.” is absolutely laughable.

    Where is that vigorous debate regarding economic policy? When was the last time you saw a politician justify their policies with robust argument, with each step being justified every inch of the way? Or when have you seen the various claims about products justified with such rigor?

    Alder has merely made up a fictional standard as a post hoc justification of his prior rejection of climate science. More importantly, the vast majority of people who reject climate science do so because some obliging people have said that they should and (because they are being told what they want to hear) accepted the obliging nonsense with no critical scrutiny at all. And for those people, a number of people have decided to supply them with what they want to hear, even if they have to distort graphs, contradict themselves, or simply lie simpliciter to do so.

  27. Marco says:

    My experience in the wider world regarding climate change is that those that do the “tough questioning” are those who don’t want to accept any answer other than “you are right, it is not a problem”. You can show whatever you want, facts be damned as long as they don’t lead to the desired answer. The heckler is there to disrupt the proceedings, not to learn anything. S/He is not interested at all, s/he just doesn’t like what s/he hears and wants you to stop talking.

    I have seen the same in just about any other debate where ideology enters the discussion, like evolution, vaccination, and GMOs. In the latter case I have seen some recent changes, with several people openly admitting that they don’t care so much about the science, but rather that they feel mightily uncomfortable handing over the food supply to a few large companies. If only the same would happen with climate change, with people openly admitting, without hesitation, that they just oppose any government regulation rather than oppose the science. But no, so far we are stuck with a few that claim the science is one big hoax to impose government regulation. Why don’t you admit to that, Latimer Alder? It’s quite clear to me that that’s where the shoe rubs for you. At least it will give us an honest starting point.

  28. Rachel says:

    Latimer, defending the accuracy of an article in the Daily Mail which predicts global cooling, is not to my mind, a serious and robust academic debate. Why anyone would even want to do such a thing is very strange.

  29. Latimer Alder says:

    @tom curtis

    You may be right about political discussion. Maybe it is all hearts and flowers and ‘after you vicar’ as the parties stab themselves in both the back and the front simultaneously. As I am not a politician, I have no direct experience of their doings.

    But in the world of commerce, where I do have that background, robust and direct debate is the norm. Especially when it comes to big expensive projects with potentially big consequences…as the climate policy undoubtedly is. So I make no apologies for bringing that history to bear here.

    And it may be that there do exist some people

    ‘who reject climate science ….because some obliging people have said that they should and (because they are being told what they want to hear) accepted the obliging nonsense with no critical scrutiny at all. And for those people, a number of people have decided to supply them with what they want to hear, even if they have to distort graphs, contradict themselves, or simply lie simpliciter to do so’

    But since I am not one of them, nor can I recall ever having met one either in person or in the blogo/twittersphere, I’m ill qualified to comment. Perhaps you;d liek to give some examples to illustrate who you mean?

    But I’d also counsel that ISTM that one of the reasons the alarmist side of the discussions is in its current disarray is precisely because they have have vastly over-estimated the strength of their case and – for too long – have avoided any critical scrutiny at all. Sloppy thinking about ‘Big Oil Funded deniers’ and other such tosh has meant that as real scrutiny does begin to come they are unprepared and ill-placed to defend their position.

    Manchester United did not get to their pre-eminent position by locking the doors to Old Trafford and only allowing kickarounds between their A and B teams. They honed their skills against the best the opposition could manage. ‘Climate science’ persuaded themselves that the key to success was to lock their gates against all comers, tell each other how good they were and dwell in splendid isolation form any scrutiny. Bad strategy!

  30. Latimer Alder says:


    You ask

    ‘But no, so far we are stuck with a few that claim the science is one big hoax to impose government regulation. Why don’t you admit to that, Latimer Alder? It’s quite clear to me that that’s where the shoe rubs for you. At least it will give us an honest starting point’

    Why don’t I admit to it?

    Because it is not a proposition I believe in. Simples.

  31. chris says:

    sorry Latimer but that won’t do either. You are making vague and, to my mind, ill-informed, generalizations based on a hackneyed viewpoint.

    Although several people here have illustrated otherwise you seem wedded to some idea that climate science and its policy responses aren’t subject to robust scrutiny and debate. They are. Several of us here that are active scientists can assure you that scientific debate is extremely robust – only the ideas and interpretations that are strongly evidence-based survive. What there isn’t in science is the sort of faux-“debate” based on insult, misrepresentation and bullying that one sees on the politicised arena relating to attempts to diminish the implications of climate science.

    And you can be sure that the policy, as in the example I gave of Germany which has massively and rather speedily expanded its renewable energy provision, was only made under the most robust and detailed examination of the scientific evidence.

    What’s all this nonsense about “alarmist” “sides” Latimer? Informed policymakers address the evidence! That seems a concept you’re not grasping. Germany isn’t expanding ts sustainable energy provision based on some tedious shouting matches between contrived opposed positions. It’s based on a clearsighted and well-informed assessment of scientific evidence. And that’s largely what goes on on sciency blogs such as this one I would say.

    And of course climate science is entirely open with all of its data compiled in massive databases, with papers published in the scientific literature for everyone to look (if they choose to do so), with regular and very detailed periodic summaries of the science….and so on.

    Your position simply doesn’t ring true to me Latimer. It sounds very much like a second-hand point of view. Perhaps if you gave some specific examples that might help us to understand where you’re coming from…

  32. Welcome to the internetz, as they say. For as many years as I have been using the internet, I’ve observed the behaviour you’ve described in every online forum of discussion of any subject. It’s a way of life on t’internet and you can engage as much or as little as you have the patience for! Good luck!

  33. izen says:

    @- Latimer Alder
    I think there is a contradiction in the comments and advice you are offering to the science side in the climate issue.
    First you suggest abandoning the academic style of debate for the salesman style.

    @-“You are effectively a salesman for your case. And good salesmen will tell you that objections and questions are to be welcomed and encouraged. ”

    Which is classic business/marketing cliché, but then later suggest that scientists have been salesmen that have oversold their product.

    @-“…one of the reasons the alarmist side of the discussions is in its current disarray is precisely because they have have vastly over-estimated the strength of their case and – for too long – have avoided any critical scrutiny at all.”

    I think the marketing methods from the used car lot and the world of commerce have little relevance to determining the accuracy of our scientific understanding of an issue like climate, but your mileage may vary.

    The common theme you raise is that the science side of the climate issue must accept critical scrutiny. With the clear assertion that climate science has avoided this duty.
    It is extremely difficult to see any validity in this claim if the history of the scientific development of AGW theory is known. The past of climate science is a succession of critical scrutiny of its core concepts that were often initially dismissed until the objections were overcome with better data and understanding.

    At first the hypothesis that burning fossil fuels would warm the climate was rejected because the absorption bands overlap water vapour and were saturated. That humans would ,never burn enough to make a difference, that the oceans would absorb any extra CO2 and undefined homoeostatic feedbacks would stabilise and significant climate excursions.

    All of those objections and question and more have put critical scrutiny on the science of climate for several decades. Better understanding of the ocean chemistry made it clear that is was not an instant and unlimited sink for extra CO2. Military research on heat sensors for missiles accurately determined the way energy is propagated in the atmosphere and made it clear it would cause warming. Better understanding of the paleoclimate, including the small orbital changes that trigger glacial advance and retreat and the role of CO2 in that refuted the idea of an inherently stable climate.

    Science, unlike politics and religion, really does start with the data and proceed to the best explanation.
    Politics and religion by contrast start with the idealogical explanation they want and then look for argument they can use in support of the arrived at conclusion. Like the second hand car salesman wanting to sell that car, who will point to its low mileage, good tyres or whatever other features may help the sale.

    Science is not based on that methodology, it has developed a far more reliable means of testing the accuracy of its conclusions which does not involve football completions or marketing techniques. It does involve critical scrutiny over time and the progressive evolution of a network of interlinked explanations of the material world.

    Advocating the fashionable nonsense of marketing techniques or exploiting the uncertainties at the bleeding edge of the subject to call into question the consensus understanding that a century of critical scientific scrutiny has established is either born of ignorance of the history and development of climate science or an ideological myopia that motivates denial.

  34. Marco says:

    And yet you deny the vast majority of the science…

  35. Latimer is right that quality standards are far higher in those parts of industry where investments are big and security key (food, pharma, mining, aviation) than in academia.

    I would add that quality standards in environmental science are generally poorer than in other disciplines.

  36. Rachel says:

    Are you speaking of your own work, Richard Tol?

  37. Martin Vermeer says:

    > those parts of industry where investments are big and security key

    Ah, you mean things like likere-ensurance, Richard?

  38. Marco says:

    Since Richard makes the claim, I am certain he can show us the data that shows “quality standards in environmental science are generally poorer than in other disciplines”.

    Hard data, Richard, with all the statistics that go with it!

  39. bratisla says:

    “Outside of academia, serious debate is conducted in a far more vigorous and robust way than you may be used to.”

    I have to remember that the next time I try a “serious debate” outside academia. Given how active seismic and geoelectric methods people talk to each other (hint : it’s a constant war because each method “is the best” and the other “worthless”), I should really wear a flak jacket and carry some Beretta.
    Maybe Latimer is from Corsica, that would explain a lot then.

  40. bratisla says:

    mining ? Sorry, unless you elaborate I don’t buy it – and I work in post-closure mining operations.

  41. Richard, as many have already said, it would be good if you could back your claims up with actual evidence.

    It may well be true that in some industries the quality control is better than it commonly is in academia. However, when I talk to friends in IT, for example, you discover that their codes are not nearly as neatly written as maybe we’re lead to believe. There are some codes very similar to ones that I use that are also used in mining and we’re developed by academics. I suspect the difference in quality control is much smaller (in general) than many would like us to think.

    I do, however, find this idea that we should impose engineering style management on climate scientists a little absurd. Yes, there has been a hiatus that many climate models didn’t predict (but some did). The hiatus has been interesting and much work has been done to try and explain it. The evidence suggests that it is associated with ocean cycles and that it’s existence doesn’t really change (or change much) what we would expect with respect to the long term warming trend. The climate models are remarkably complicated (oceans, polar ice, atmospheres, radiative transfer, energy imbalances) so that focusing on one mismatch with observations and ignoring everything else is a rather simplistic way to judge their credibility. That’s not to suggest that they couldn’t be improved, but that’s probably true of almost everything.

  42. “Outside of academia, serious debate is conducted in a far more vigorous and robust way than you may be used to”

    Latimer has clearly never been involved in serious academic debate. Academic debates are not only ‘vigorous’ and ‘robust’, but they also feature one other characteristic we see lacking in blog/Twitter ‘debates’: they’re followed up with additional work – sometimes lasting for extended periods of time – to develop empirical evidence supporting one’s own position.

    The ‘debates’ I see on climate blog threads are child’s play in comparison – unfocused, often uncivil, rarely fact-based (at least not on both sides), and almost always inconclusive. I would not label these as ‘debates’, and I certainly wouldn’t call them ‘serious’.


    Your blog is outstanding. Perhaps your time and efforts are better spent here. Meanwhile, Twitter can be useful to announce the fact that you have a new article – and to direct any ‘skeptics’ to ask their questions in the Comments section of that article.

  43. Thanks. I do get the impression that many who like pontificate about how science is being done or should be done have never actually been involved in any actual scientific practices (in academia at least). As you quite rightly say, academic debates are vigorous and robust and lead to an improved understanding of the system being studied through additional work. In fact, I’m involved in a fairly rigorous and robust debate with colleagues from another research group. They’re publishing papers that I think are flawed (but the results look interesting). This has involved face-to-face discussions at meetings, numerous email exchanges with various people involved in the area and a number of new papers that are trying to clarify our understanding of this particular problem. I think that my work is right and their work is wrong, but maybe I’ll be the one who turns out to be mistaken 🙂

  44. No, I was not thinking of re-insurance, because I know nothing of their quality control processes. I do understand their business model, though, which revolves around selling fear and staying on the right side of the government.

  45. Tom Curtis says:


    1) Some parts of business may have superior quality control, but most do not. That was made painfully clear in the Global Financial Crisis in which traders were shown to have effectively not bothered with risk assessments on their investments.

    2) Your “business model” of climate assessment, however, only works because you only count costs on one side. If business stood to loose assets from use of fossil fuels equal to the net harm of fossil fuel induced global warming and with little gain, they would apply your high standard of due scrutiny and conclude the risk in using fossil fuels was too large. Given that the risks of not using fossil fuels and of using fossil fuels are both potentially large, any due scrutiny which demanded a higher standard of proof of risks on one side of the coin alone would represent malpractice. And if you apply the same standard of proof on both sides, you are inevitably forced to allow balance of probability to sway investment decisions.

    Your argument, therefore, depends essentially on an a priori assumption that the risks of not using fossil fuels are very large relative to the risks of using them – an assumption at odds with the scientific evidence. From past encounters, I also know it is based on credulous acceptance of papers which appear to undermine IPCC conclusions, while being hyper-critical of papers that appear to support IPCC conclusions.

    3) If we could overcome the factor of time, I would be more than willing to deal with climate change risks by mandating that all costs (proven on balance of probability) of climate change would be paid for by corporate emitters of GHG in proportion to their total contribution to greenhouse emissions, with the provision that they must carry insurance now to meet all such costs; and that if global temperatures do not exceed 1.5 C above preindustrial levels over the next century, not damages will be due. Such a scheme would very rapidly introduce a carbon price far in excess of any currently proposed politically (IMO), except that fly-by-night profiteers will offer cheap insurance now, with the intention of defaulting before any damages might come due. (I can’t see away around this problem, so this is not a serious policy proposal.) If business were forced to where to wear both costs and benefits of fossil fuel use, they would very soon become green. It is only because they can privatize profits and externalize losses that we are even having this discussion.

  46. Tom Curtis says:

    Yes, Richard, quality control is scrupulous in business where there is a high risk of catastrophic failures with loss of life. Nobody builds a bridge, for example, with a 5% probability of failure. In this case, however, you (and Latimer) are asking us to build the bridge with a >70% probability of failure, and chiding climate scientists for “lack of rigour” because they do not issue warnings only wen the probability of failure excedes 95%.

  47. I would add that quality standards in environmental science are generally poorer than in other disciplines.

    Nothing but your personal opinion. Why should anyone care. There is of course not a shred of evidence to back up this ridiculous claim. It’s certainly dead wrong when it comes to atmospheric sciences (as I can’t speak of the non-physical branch of the vast area of environmental science)! Although, given that utter crap like Lüdecke et al. passed peer review recently, some extremely poor decisions have indeed been made even in this branch of the sciences … just not in the way you’d think. It ever happened, and it is going to happen again. It requires a fair amount of conspirational thinking to interpret this as something out of the ordinary.

  48. Marco says:

    Karsten, I know of a field that is struggling with literally hundreds and hundreds of fundamentally flawed papers, many making textbook mistakes. One such paper even made it into JACS. Trust me, those papers are worse than Lüdecke et al. They make mistakes that you would only expect of your worst students. Undergraduate students, that is.

  49. @Marco
    Luedecke’s are a good example of papers that should never have passed peer-review. Other examples are Mann’s and Vermeer & Rahmstorff’s works.

  50. @Tom
    Don’t put words in my mouth. If you insist on doing decision analysis in the frequentist way (you shouldn’t) then the null is anthropogenic climate change.

  51. Oh Richard, why so deluded? I will probably never understand …

  52. Marco says:

    And if we are to believe Ackermann, Tol’s papers shouldn’t be published either, right?

  53. Richard, are you referring to the Mann, Bradley and Hughes work? A piece of work that has probably been scrutinized more than any other recent piece of work. A piece of work that has been replicated by many other studies. A piece of work that was criticised in a peer-reviewed paper (McIntyre & McKitrick) that has been shown in many places to be largely flawed. Is that the Mann paper you’re suggesting should not have passed peer-review?

  54. @Wotts
    I mean that any paper that uses short-centred PCA, any paper that ignores Yule-Slutsky, and any paper that analyzes trends in de-trended data, should be rejected.

  55. izen says:

    @- Richard Tol
    Well that critique applies rather more to economics and pharmacology than climate science.

  56. @izen
    I don’t pay attention to pharmacology, but I’d imagine that they primarily rely on data from controlled experiments.

  57. BBD says:

    MBH99 was validated by PAGES 2k. Keep up, Tol

  58. BBD says:

    Or is this where some economist gets to tell me about millennial climate reconstructions? I can’t wait.

  59. @BBD
    Don’t be daft. Getting the right answer does not imply that the method was appropriate or applied correctly.

  60. BBD says:

    Sorry for the third comment in a row, but what in God’s name is a supposedly intelligent, engaged commenter like Richard doing repeating denialist bollocks about MBH99?

    What? Here. Now. In 2013?

    What the BF are you playing at Richard? What’s your game?


    1/ It has nothing to do with furthering the understanding of millennial climate change (see eg PAGES 2k)

    2/ It stinks of partisan bullshit

    So what the f_ are you playing at? What is your agenda? GWPF man.

  61. Richard, indeed. But if someone gets what appears to be an interesting answer then others will come along and check for themselves. If they replicate the original result, then eventually we can be confident that the interesting result has merit. Eventually it doesn’t matter how the original researchers got their answer. If it wasn’t fraud, it has merit even if the technique was technically wrong. Ideally peer-review picks up issues with methods, but if it doesn’t (and this is common) those issues will be picked up by newer bits of research.

    Having said that, from what I’ve read of MBH, most reports indicate that how they carried out their analysis does not significantly influence their results. I know that M&M tried to argue that there are issues with MBH but there appear to be much bigger (and much more obvious) issues with M&M than with MBH.

    I appreciate that BBD’s comment below is rather strongly worded but I would be quite interested in the answers to his questions. You’re, of course, not obliged to answer but your criticism of MBH today does seem a little odd given that there is very little doubt that their reconstruction is robust.

  62. Marco says:

    Remember that peer review did not pick up the potential divison-by-zero problem in Tol’s FUND model. Whether it did or did not have an impact (and Ackerman claims it does, significantly so) is irrelevant, this is an error and should not have passed peer review. That is, if you apply the same mindset to Tol’s model as Tol applies to MBH99. But Richard Tol doesn’t do that…I wonder why?

  63. andrew adams says:

    If anyone thinks the way pharmaceutical research is carried out compares favourably with climate science they should read this.


  64. Andrew, indeed you beat me to it. I haven’t read Bad Pharma yet but have read Ben Goldacre’s earlier book. Based on what I’ve read, I wouldn’t use the pharamaceutical industry as an example of good practice.

  65. andrew adams says:


    Yes, Bad Pharma is a good read – I would recommend it.

    I’m sure that different branches of science all have their own specific issues and all have example of bad practice, yet somehow science seems to work and continues to improve our lives and our understanding of the world, despite the effort of the “skeptics” to undermine our confidence in it.

  66. Exactly. I think I’ve made the case before in other posts that we have relied very successfully on the scientific method for a very long time. We don’t need to focus on individual pieces of work and whether or not they’re technically correct (I would accept, however, that highlighting actual fraud is worthwhile). The scientific method allows us to be confident that over time our understanding of a particular area will improve and will, typically, lead to some kind of agreement about that particular area of science.

  67. Paul says:

    Re: Tol comments
    The difference between the rigor of big money analysis and academic analysis is perhaps best illustrated by Dr. Feynman’s participation in the Richards Commission analysis of the Challenger Disaster. If you think the intellectual standards that Dr. Feynman brought to the problem pale before the industrial standards, then you again are in the clear minority. I am further reminded of Dr. Feynman’s appendix remarks: “…reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

  68. Rachel, you’re right, and this is the method I try to use in discussion.

    Q1 is – do you accept that doubling CO2 will increase global temps by ~1C?
    If so, Q2 is – what do you accept as the figure for Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity?

    In practice, it is very difficult to get a pseudo-sceptic to answer Q1. They have an infinite number of questions, but an aversion to answering even one single question put to them. With persistence, I have sometimes extracted an answer, only to have them go back on it later on. At which point it is valid to terminate the discussion on grounds of inconsistency.

    If the answer to Q1 is “no”, there is no point in pursuing the discussion, because the pseudo-sceptic is in denial of basic physics and the greenhouse effect, and is therefore beyond reason.

    The response to Q2 is interesting. Many p-sceptics do not understand what is meant by ECS, but with those that do it is possible to have a useful discussion of the evidence for and against CS values of 2-4.5C.

    The other positive outcome of a discussion framed in this way is that most reasonable Lukewarmers will accept 2C as a high bound of ECS, whereas climatology can accept 2C as a low bound. We can therefore discuss whether the agreed figure of 2C is something that can be viewed with equanimity or not.

    So fruitful discussion is still theoretically possible with some kinds of climate sceptics. They are unlikely to change, but the discussion can have a positive influence on the lurkers and the uncommitted.

  69. Rachel says:

    Thanks, Richard. This does sound like a good strategy and I’ll give it a go next time I’m in one of those circular arguments.

  70. The global financial crisis involved parts that were poor in quality control. That is the message there.

  71. Ah, the conspiracy crackpot reveals himself.

    Do you know the skepticalscience crowd didn’t want you in their midst? ‘Cause they thought you were a ‘nut’?

  72. BBD says:

    Well they were badly mistaken, weren’t they Shub!

    You, on the other hand…

  73. chris says:

    That’s a rather meaningless statement Shub. There are obviously real reasons rather than platitudes (“poor in quality control”!) that caused the global financial crisis (for example an erosion of regulation in the financial sector that allowed unsecured credit to run out of control with the resulting burst of real estate credit and the collapse, or near collapse, of banks and other financial institutions).

    Happily this bears zero relation to climate science – I think you were trying to insinuate that sort of thing…yes? Climate science and science in general has its own in built quality control which relates to (i) the relationship between observations/interpretations and external reality, and (ii) the critical/competitive element amongst scientists that largely disallows seriously discrepant science to last very long.

    Of course those internal elements of quality control don’t apply to pseudo-science of the sort portrayed by some of the so-called “sceptics” that inhabit a bubble of absence of quality control…

  74. So they want you in their midst?

  75. Shub, you’ve heard of the saying “play the ball not the man”?

  76. Look at this: (!)

    “So what the f_ are you playing at? What is your agenda? GWPF man.”

  77. Well, I did acknowledge in a comment above that BBD’s comment was “strongly worded”. Would be interested in Richard’s answer though (although he’s obviously not obliged to answer).

  78. I would be interested in BBD’s answer too.

  79. BBD says:

    To be honest Shub, I haven’t got the faintest idea what you are talking about. Although it does *sound* as though you have been hacking and stealing and reading private correspondence. Is that the case?

  80. chris says:

    BBD did ask a rather pertinent question Shub. Why does someone with some pretension to supposed serious scientific enquiry, engage in repeating tired second-hand arguments in relation to a 15 year old paper that has been broadly validated and largely superceded by a large amount of subsequent science.

    Most of us here are probably able to guess the answer but it would be interesting to hear Dr Tol’s explanation….

  81. BBD says:

    My questions to RT were directly prompted by his own statements on this thread. And I am still waiting for an answer. What this has to do with you escapes me, Shub. Unless you are simply engaged in vexatious trolling and attempting to delegitimise and smear me. Is that the case?

  82. Shub, BBD does make a valid point. BBD’s question were related to comments being made on this thread. Yours appears to be completely unrelated to anything on this thread. Would you care to clarify or withdraw politely?

  83. wotts, chris,
    All very enlightening comments no doubt. But read the thread again. The first person to bring up the GPWF is BBD. Look at wotts’ response to Tol mentioning Mann. Compare that to BBD. Look at Tol’s mention of Mann once again: Mann is in illustrious company. He’s is not being singled out or mentioned in isolation. Just as you are at pains to point, Tol’s remarks were in response to another comment. That’s is what comment threads are for.

    The only out-of-place character in this stream is BBD and his obsession with the GPWF. It is his comments that are playing the man etc. He’s transplanting his politics on to your scene.

  84. BBD says:

    So you have nothing at all. Thought so.

  85. BBD says:

    He’s transplanting his politics on to your scene.

    It’s always projection…


  86. So, do the skepticalscience crowd want you in their midst?

  87. Okay, so take out the “GWPF man” aspect of BBD’s comment and the question has merit.

  88. BBD says:

    This, Shub, is neither a clarification nor a polite withdrawal. Since I dislike what you just tried to do there, I am now going to insist on a polite withdrawal. Please provide one.

  89. BBD says:

    So, do the skepticalscience crowd want you in their midst?

    What are you talking about, Shub? Have you stolen some emails? I don’t understand how you expect me to know anything about SkS’ internal workings and views. You appear to be making up lies about me and repeating them instead of offering a polite withdrawal, something I now insist upon.

  90. BBD says:

    It all has merit Wotts. The GWPF affiliation isn’t something we just pretend does not exist. That would not be objective.

  91. BBD, indeed you may be right. Richard Tol is openly an academic advisor to the GWPF and has come here and made some rather strange comments about what appears to be the work of Michael Mann. So, I take my comment back – “GWPF man” may be a fair representation.

  92. wotts, good comment. If we take out the gpwf from bbd’s comment what is left is bewilderment at why Richard mentioned Mann. That is easy to address. Tol did not mention Mann in isolation but rather in a group of papers/authors given as an example who should not have passed peer-review (for xyz reason). Now, a given commenter’s constitution may vehemently disagree with Mann appearing in such lists, but the point in discussion is not Mann, but that crappy papers get through review and bad analytic methods don’t always fail quality control. Not a point of contention at all.

  93. Well Shub, I disagree. Mann’s paper is not a good example of a paper that should not have passed peer review. It has been extensively scrutinised. It has been replicated. It was the first paper to illustrate that global temperatures today are likely higher than they’ve been for the last 1000 years. It may be one of the most important papers published in the last few decades. It is not, in any way, a reasonable example of a paper that should not have passed peer review. Do you have any understanding of the scientific method?

  94. I see we cross-posted wotts.

    It must be quite entertaining for you, this blog game. That is the number one reason I distrust you. Not completely.

    The GPWF is not the reason -anybody- would think Mann’s paper and his method are bad, and likely give wrong answers. Thinking this to be true -is not an evil thing-. The remarks about Mann’s work is ‘strange’ only to people who’ve been trained to think that way.

  95. BBD says:

    A polite withdrawal is missing here, Shub.

  96. KR says:

    Regarding Richard Tol comments on Mann, Vermeer and Rahmstorf papers:

    Mann’s temperature reconstructions (which appear to be what Tol is discussing based on his mention of PCA centering) have been confirmed by multiple papers, including Wahl & Ammann et al 2007 who specifically examined both his methods and primary conclusions. Hard to tell what papers by Vermeer and Rahmstorf Tol objects to – but I would opine that their bodies of work stand up much better than Tol’s offhanded dismissal.

    In general, I personally view attacks on Mann’s 15 year old and (solidly established) work as a shibboleth of climate science denialism, and in fact an indication that the person making such attacks should not be taken seriously. It’s second as a denialist indication only to mentioning Gore…

  97. Well, wotts, let me put it this way: I am an academic and so are you. I don’t want to waste time with your “do you understand the scientific method” bullshit. I don’t throw such ridiculous rhetoric at you. I could draw satisfaction from the fact that when your arguments take this form you are admitting you are losing. The choice is yours.

  98. Shub, okay so I don’t particularly like the whole “do you understand the …” rhetoric myself. Having said that, you are the one who’s come here and aimed a cryptic but apparently insulting comment at someone else without any clarification or context. Given that, maybe you should avoid criticising me for how I engage with you. I’m happy to remain civil but would expect the same in return.

  99. BBD says:

    I don’t throw such ridiculous rhetoric at you.


    Self-awareness. A precious commodity.

  100. BBD says:


    Knowing Shub as I do, it is unlikely that he will ever clarify or withdraw his earlier comments. What he may well do is repeat them. Can I ask that if he does, you ban him?

  101. I suspect you may be right. You’re putting me rather on the spot there but am happy to state that Shub should not repeat any questions (like those mentioned here) about yourself and skeptical science unless it is in context and relevant. I should add that I can’t, at this stage, envisage a scenario in which it would be in context or relevant so would ask that Shub does not do so.

  102. BBD says:

    Thank you Wotts.

  103. Indeed, that is why it would be interesting to have Richard Tol clarify why he chose to make the comments that he did. I can’t think of any good reason, but then again maybe I’ll be proved wrong/

  104. “withdrawal”

    What is there to withdraw? BBD’s peddling of his conspiracy that anyone on the GPWF’s panel must have an agenda, and their actions reflect that agenda, is dragging the tone down. This bully must be shown the door.

  105. ” Can I ask that if he does, you ban him?”


  106. You’ve rather over-interpreted BBD’s comment. Read KR’s comment below as that is largely consistent with my view. I can think of no sensible reason why someone would use Mann’s paper as an example of a paper that should have failed peer-review, especially as that is a common claim made by those who I would regard as pseudo-skeptics at best. I find it extremely odd that a serious academic would make such comments and would be interested in some clarification. Admittedly, I wouldn’t never insist on it as this is simply a blog, but I find it strange nonetheless.

  107. BBD says:

    Now you are taking the piss, Shub. Unwisely, in my view.

  108. There’s nothing strange about this at all. Tol’s been in the climate debate for the long time, well before the GPWF was even started up. People of all sorts seem to think the Mann paper has bad methods. Tol doesn’t even dis-agree with the PAGES2k results (not that he got into that question, and not that that has been discussed). So it is definitely an over-interpretation to say that anyone criticizing Mann and his precious paper must have an agenda. Which is what BBD did.

    I call him a bully because of his language. The evidence is up there in this thread.

  109. BBD says:

    Anyone claiming MBH99 should not have passed peer review who *also* belongs to the GWPF may reasonably be supposed to have an agenda. I would like to know what it is. This is a reasonable question given the statements made and the facts in the public domain. You, Shub, are pushing your luck here.

  110. Shub, it’s strange, to me at least, that a serious academic would repeat what many would regard as a “denialist” talking point. That’s what I find strange. As KR has pointed out the Mann work has been replicated, examined and discussed in great detail. The idea that it should never have been published seems absurd. Each person is entitled to their own views of course, but I do think we can then judge people by the views they hold.

    In my opinion, as far as language is concerned, I don’t think you are really in a position to criticise how others engage. I wouldn’t regard you as one of the more pleasant people I’ve encountered since starting my engagement with the climate change/global warming debate.

  111. BBD says:

    What do you call someone who repeatedly makes unsupported but derogatory remarks about others and then refuses either to back them up or apologise and withdraw? It’s not “bully” and I can’t quite put my finger on the right description. I’m sure it will come to me presently.

  112. BBD says:

    Crossed again, Wotts! The above was @ Shub.

  113. I gathered that 🙂 I have to call it quits for the night. Can I ask that this doesn’t get out of hand. Will not be in place to do any moderating.

  114. Someone like Shub accuses others of conspiracy … how ironic!
    As BBD aptly put it: Self-awareness. A precious commodity.
    I’m sorry wotts, couldn’t resist this time round. Feel free to delete …

  115. karsten, you are the scientist who uses the ‘denier’ word, right?

  116. Tom Curtis says:

    Given that Shub, in typical grubby style, has brought up matters gleaned from private conversations from hacked SkS files, I think I should set the record straight.

    I will not quote from the hacked files as they are not mine to distribute. Never-the-less, it was not SkS that “didn’t want [BBD] in their midst”, it was me. I will note that nobody called BBD a “nut”, and Shub’s including of that term in quotation marks to suggest that it was our term rather than his (mistaken) interpretation is a direct lie, ie, par for the course from Shub.

    Consistent with my practice of never saying anything in private that I would not say in public, equivalent comments to those I made on the SkS private forum can be found in the public forum here and here. The further remarks in the private forum were merely a means for me to vent my frustration in what was a heated, and initially unproductive discussion.

    Of course, true to form, Shub does not show the end point of the discussion, several days after the private comments to which he alludes. To quote from my response:

    “BBD @308, let me echo KR’s appreciation. Few things improve my opinion of a person as much as a willingness to admit mistakes.

    BBD’s willingness to admit a mistake, and to carry on constructive conversation afterwards shows, IMO, that the cause of the contention between us was a single blindspot rather than a general irrationalism. I would be a fool if I imagined that I did not have similar blindspots (although I can’t see them). BBDs conduct on this forum is consistent with the high opinion I held of him at the end of the SkS debate rather than the low opinion in the midst of it.

    My opinion of Shub as a dishonest and dishonourable muck raker, of course, is only strengthened by this latest example.

  117. Shub, bet on it! Did so just the other day. Will do so again. Check.
    Not too uncommon in that part of the universe I’m living in. Check.

    As we all know what comes next, you may wish to choose your words wisely …

  118. Want to know what I call people like you?

  119. Shub: Of course not, but I’m fiercly afraid you’re gonna tell me anyways … despite the obvious fact that I know the answer already (no-brainer given your blog efforts). Let’s see what words of wisdom you have to offer this time round …

    But be prepared, though it’s been a funny little chat (for me at least), I’m probably gonna leave it at that. After all, there are far too many things left to be learnt and to be discovered. Something a pointless blog argument can’t offer.

  120. BBD says:

    Thank you for this, Tom. The truth – however painfully embarrassing – is *always* preferable to lies and innuendo such as deployed by Shub on this thread and routinely elsewhere. I don’t want to revisit that mess again, but I will confirm that your frustration was justified and the blind spot was mine. Sometimes the wheels come off. Such is life.

  121. I wasn’t aware of any situation with respect to SkS or Tom until Shub decided it worthwhile bringing it up (which, IMO, reflects rather poorly on Shub, rather than anyone else), and I appreciate that it may be painful to revisit such situations. Thanks for the honesty and clarity.

  122. BBD says:

    Shub will think he has “scored a point” but Shub has no understanding of the long game, which he will lose.

    He has, however, trolled this thread and distracted attention away from the deafening silence emanating from Toll. I can only reiterate that a tougher moderation policy would benefit all good faith commenters here.

  123. In all honesty, moderation is still something that I know I don’t always get right and, in retrospect, did not get it right here. As much as I like the idea of people’s views being open for others to interpret, when it is an unnecessary, irrelevant and out-of-context attack on someone else, then that would be something that I would, in future, aim to moderate. So, my apologise. I guess I could go back and removes comments but I would hope that anyone who reads them would recognise that Shub has made a shallow attack on someone else for something that was on a completely different blog, was not relevant to the discussion here and that was resolved quite amicably and ultimately reflected well on those involved.

  124. I made those remarks because I think, based on a formal training in the theorem-proving kind of statistics and two decades of experience as an applied statistician, that the statistical papers of Mann, Vermeer & Rahmstorf, and Luedeke et al. are a load of old rubbish.

  125. Well, thank you for the clarification. I think, though, that it misses what these papers have illustrated. Additionally, others have shown that whatever errors might exist, they don’t influence the results significantly. Ultimately, it’s about the science and certainly Mann’s paper has played a very important role in improving our understanding of our temperature history.

  126. Let’s agree to disagree. I think that Mann’s work has mainly served to put palaeoclimatology in a bad light and climatology and the rest of the geosciences with it.

  127. Yes, probably best to simply agree to disagree. The latter part of your comment may actually be partially correct but I suspect that we would also disagree on the reasons, so probably best to agree to disagree on that aspect too.

  128. BBD says:

    Let’s agree to disagree. I think that Mann’s work has mainly served to put palaeoclimatology in a bad light and climatology and the rest of the geosciences with it.

    No, that was done by a deliberate, dishonest and sustained attack on MBH98/99 which *never* amounted to a substantive criticism and *never* came close to demonstrating that the results were significantly flawed. The more the attack on Mann has been scrutinised since, the more it has been revealed to be a political hit job. See Wegman.

    Yet here you are, in 2013, repeating this rhetoric and cozying up to the GWPF. Small wonder you are dismissed as a partisan with an agenda.

  129. BBD, yes I would agree. What you’ve said is what I was implying in my response to Richard. If Mann’s work has served to put paleoclimatology in a bad light it’s – in my opinion – because some have made claims regarding his work that have not stood up to scrutiny, not because there was anything fundamentally dishonest or wrong with Michael Mann’s work. It’s not dissimilar to what is happening with regards to Cook et al. (not that, with all due respect, Cook et al. is in the same league as MBH). The results in Cook et al. are almost certainly roughly correct but people will try and discredit it by finding some (possibly imaginary or irrelevant) flaw in the analysis.

  130. @BBD
    There is no dishonesty in saying that principle component analysis requires that the data be demeaned; or that, failing to do that, results are meaningless (in the proper sense of the word).

  131. and one can, of course, reverse the rhetoric: for 15 years or so, people have defended what should have been dismissed as an undergraduate error

  132. Possibly (I’m no expert at PCA analysis). It is, however, disingenuous – in my opinion – to not then clarify that the work that you’re referring to has been replicated and scrutinised in great detail and that the results presented in that work are essentially the same as results presented in more recent studies. Why, as a society, would we care that a 15 year old paper had a statistical flaw (and to be honest, I don’t know that it does) when what we should care about (in this context) is our understanding of our temperature history. It does come across as an attempt to undermine all of this work even if it is technically correct (and, again, I don’t know that it is).

  133. BBD says:

    Richard, it won’t wash. Pretending – and it is nothing more than a pretence – that MBH99 is flawed to the extent that the results are meaningless is exactly the kind of borderline dishonest rhetoric engaged in by other prominent “critics” of Mann.

    You know perfectly well, because you are very smart, what is being done here and why. If you were stupid, you would be in a much safer position, but because I know you know exactly what you are doing, you are in a very difficult position indeed.

    Perhaps you should consider your position. Very carefully.

  134. Marco says:

    What I find a bit unfortunate is that this deflection manouvre of Richard Tol has worked. He started with claiming the whole of environmental science has much lower standards than other fields – was challenged to provide evidence – ignored the issue and started to attack a few selected people – and got himself what he wanted: discussion deflected from his initial unsubstantiated claim.

    I will take some of the blame by referring to his own FUND model, but if Richard Tol has even the slightest little honesty left, he will provide us with the evidence of his claim about environmental science, or just admit he blurted out something for which he has zero evidence.

    It would also be nice if Richard Tol explains why he has attached himself to the serial distorters of the GWPF, as it makes his claims about supposed “bad science” in the environmental science even weaker – clearly he either would not be able to recognize bad science (option 1) or he doesn’t mind bad science as long as it fits his ideology (option 2). I’ll add a third option: Richard Tol is a contrarian who actively looks for drama.

  135. Marco says:

    Wotts, I would personally prefer this stays, as it gives good information to point people to when Shub (or others) repeat this meme elsewhere.

  136. BBD says:

    Agreed with Marco – sorry, I should have said something to this effect earlier.

  137. That has been my preference. People can judge for themselves the merits of the discussion and most decent people (I would hope) would regard Shub’s comments as a shallow personal attack on someone else for something, irrelevant to this discussion, that they did elsewhere and that was amicably resolved. In this debate, it’s quite easy for things to get out of hand. It’s how these situations are resolved that really matters, not that they happened.

  138. Getting same results with different methods != replication
    Getting same answers using the same flawed data and methods != validation
    Not all paleoclimate papers show the same results as Mann. Those that do are largely the ones that have these problems. Pointing these out does not require an agenda.

    KR was right above. If anyone picks on Mann, it is just as picking on Gore because it means your case is so weak that you picked the thinnest point to argue. Gore is so discredited as an environmentalist it is a nightmare defending him. That is why picking on Gore is an automatic fail. It is like the so-called Godwin law.

    I think anyone who cannot come up with a coherent answer as to why Mann and Rahmstorff’s papers should not be served up as examples of poor science, and tries to fill that deficiency with reflexive questioning of motives and agendas, is a crackpot. If you have crackpots commenting, you’ll have people questioning them. It is inevitable.

    Curtis, you’re like the court witness who has to deflect all sorts of difficult questions by claiming “I was really frustrated at that time”. As for your cosying up to BBD now – politics makes strange bedfellows. You have admirably defended the Cook paper with Tol, sprinkled liberally with the use of adjectives no doubt, but not questioning his ‘agenda’, if I remember correctly. Go back and check, BBD was there in those parts as well, bringing up the GPWF. At that time the rule was: if anyone is criticizing Cook *and* is in the GPWF, there must be an agenda.

  139. Shub, I assume you and I have different meanings of the word “replication” then. Scientifically I’m interested in the likely temperature history of the planet. If numerous studies using different methods produce similar/consistent results then I would regard the results as having been replicated. I don’t care if initial work had some flaw. I care about our understanding today, which that initial work may have influenced. If replication is the wrong word to use, that’s fine. I don’t care about the terminology. I care about our current scientific understanding. Today, our understanding is that the temperature history for the last 1000 years has a hockey stick-like shape and that temperatures today are likely higher than they have been for the last 1000 years. Do you disagree?

  140. By the way, your response is very close to one that would require some kind of moderation. Can you avoid referring to things that are out of context and irrelevant and that appear to be attacks on others engaged on this thread.

  141. “I can only reiterate that a tougher moderation policy would benefit all good faith commenters here.”

    The shrinking violet believes a ‘good faith commenter’ is one who is free to spread his ideas wholesale with no opposition, to members who imbibe them in good faith. No BBD, that is not. Stop yourself when you feel the urge to question other’s motives and agendas – you’ll be in good faith. Cannot resist? Start a blog and put out the evidence for the world to see. Cannot do that? Then let it go. Questioning motives weakens your arguments.

    The idea of online criticism is to ask each other questions without (a) questioning motives (b) calling names. If you finding yourself doing one or the other, you are out of place.

  142. You can ask the BBD character to take back his GPWF stuff.

  143. Seriously Shub, do you have no self-awareness? You’ve never questioned motives or called someone else names. Unless my memory serves me wrong, the answer to those questions would be no. At least behave to others as you would like them to behave towards you.

  144. Explain why? He used the term “GWPF man”. Maybe not the best way to put it, but hardly a stinging and personal insult. Richard is indeed an Academic Advisor to the GWPF. The GWPF has a reputation for spreading climate change/global warming mis-information. Getting clarity as to why Richard would choose to make comments that appear similar to those that would typically be spread by an organisation like the GWPF would seem to be something worth clarifying. Richard has indeed done so. I don’t agree with his reasoning, but at least he provided an answer.

  145. We cross-posted. Scientifically, if our snapshot of the paleoclimatic millenial temperatures at a given point of time is informed by studies that possess certain common flaws, it would be wrong. We may not know it at the time, proceeding as we usually do in science where we assume the authors to have done due diligence. It would be strengthened by the number of studies agreeing with each other. A number of studies agreeing with each other is but one meta-heuristic that we employ to check if results are valid. It is a strong one if the studies are independent. It fails if the studies are not.

  146. Indeed, that sounds quite right. Hence why focus mainly on a study from 15 years ago. If there is a fundamental flaw with the methods used in this area, that should be illustrated. If there isn’t (or isn’t one known) we should accept the evidence we have today. That doesn’t mean we should regard it as fixed in stone, but simply that it’s the best evidence we have so far. It doesn’t tell us what to do, but implying that there are (possibly unknown) flaws with this whole area undermines the evidence.

  147. :So what the f_ are you playing at? What is your agenda? GWPF man.

    That’s is what he said. It is not the personal element which is at question. It is the attribution of motive. Secondarily, BBD is trying to draw cordons around Mann et al: criticizing Mann shouldn’t be done because *other contrarians* whom he’s managed to develop unassailable objections about do the same.

  148. Rachel says:

    It’s interesting that people who criticise Mann’s original hockey stick graph as a piece of shoddy work that should not have passed peer review, are happy to accept the work of McIntyre & McKitrick and Soon & Baliunas as quality literature. Mann’s original paper was a seminal paper in my view and I think it’s shameful the way people trash him over and over again.

    But in reality, it really doesn’t matter what people think because the hockey stick stands. The current rate of temperature increase is unprecedented in at least the last 11,000 years.

  149. The problem has evolved. The studies that show the same data as Mann from being sensitive to inclusion of certain data have been shown. The use of methods more robust have shown non-hockey sticks. That is where things stand.

  150. Well, then the question would seem reasonable. It is a typically contrarian view so why is a serious academic repeating it? Does he have a good reason? He provided one. I disagree with it, but he did provide a response. Indeed BBD was clearly implying something by his tone, but asking the question gave Richard the opportunity to respond, which he did. It was also relevant to this thread given that Richard posted his comments here. As I’ve already mentioned, it was strongly worded, but I’ve certainly seen much worse.

  151. Nope. Go back and check. I give myself the same license anyone else gives themselves in language, but I don’t resort to name-calling or the questioning of motives.

  152. Can you provide references? I’m unaware of the published, peer-reviewed studies that show non-hockey sticks. Is it fair to assume that you think there is a good chance that the past temperature history does not have a hockey-stick-like shape and that current temperatures are likely not the highest they’ve been for 1000 years?

  153. It is not the wording. Without the questioning of motive there is nothing else in BBD’s post. Serious academics have asked the same questions ‘contrarians’ have, of Mann. Dismissing criticism as ‘coming from contrarians’ is typically an academic response in those whose case is weak.

  154. I wasn’t referring only to here. Also, I think you referred to BBD as a “conspiracy crackpot” and me as being “dishonest”.

  155. “Want to know what I call people like you?”
    Even without an answer … textbook example of “self-delusionalism”. Well, just another groundhog-day encounter … so predictable *yawn^2*.

  156. Marco says:

    Coherent answer: MBH98 and 99 was the first of its kind, thus by necessity having to do things that had not been tried before. That the short-centered PCA was not ideal does not negate the fact that its impact on the final result was at worst minor. That not all proxies were perfect is part and parcel of novel science: sometimes you have to live with the data you have available. That there are other ways of handling the uncertainty is one that is fun amongst statisticians, since you can easily find several that disagree with MBH’s method, and others who disagree with M&M. There was nothing “poor” in the science, contrary to the memes thrown around by pseudoskeptics. Much the same goes for Rahmstorff’s papers.

    What Richard Tol has done so far is *claim* they have done “poor science”, without *showing* they are poor science. Such behavior is in itself poor science.

    The facts are also that the GWPF is an ideological thinktank, that Richard Tol is part of the Academic Advisory Board, and that this is in direct contradiction to his complaints about “poor science”. You may perhaps say that C does not follow from A&B, but for that you would only need to look at the information the GWPF has been promoting in its reports: loads and loads of bad science; they even link to stuff from “The Hockeyschtick”, home of one John O’Sullivan, who has been caught telling lies so many times, you wonder whether his name even *is* John O’Sullivan, because that would mean he actually has spoken the truth! That is, Richard Tol clearly does not care at all about bad science, or he’d be all over the GWPF and have a day task in debunking the nonsense they have been promoting.

  157. Tom Curtis says:

    Shub claims that he never insults people, nor questions their motives – and yet we have him calling BBD a “nut” (for it was not the members of SkS that did that); and he tries to get around the inconvenient fact that BBD and I reconciled our differences over two years ago by suggesting, “As for your cosying up to BBD now – politics makes strange bedfellows”. That is, he suggests I was not forthright in my response due to “political” motives. (I must have been very foresighted to know that it would be politically convenient for me to bear no animosity to BBD two years in advance.)

    Shub, true to his self designation as the Black Goat with a Thousand Young, Shub will say anything that is convenient without any apparent regard for whether it is true.

  158. Indeed, it is ironic that they never seem to criticise other work that appears very obviously shoddy. I think I may have made that claim in an earlier comment, but it was conveniently ignored. I also agree that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whatever errors earlier work may or may not have made, what matters is our understanding today, not whether or not the earliest work could have been done differently or in a better way (I think Chris’s comment sums it up rather well).

  159. The idea is not that you don’t do it, but that you not employ it as the major or sole form of argument. The debate is rancourous.

  160. BBD says:


    I have had enough of this s**t. Unless you would like me to treat Shub to the verbal horse-whipping he richly deserves, I suggest you block further comments, at least on this thread.

  161. Richard truly seems to believe that MBH98 was some sort of dishonest attempt to play scientific games, rather than a huge (first) step to advance our understanding of past climates. As Richard has not the slightest shred of evidence to back up such claims (and he never will), it merely reflects his own opinion. An unfortunate opinion insofar, as it comes with a noticeable trace of an (entirely unfounded) allegation of misconduct.

  162. No Tom, wrong again. I was merely suggesting people of all stripes get along simply because their politics match.

  163. I’m currently on a train and am using phone as my laptop battery has died. I don’t have any desire to see this get more unpleasant so would indeed prefer that we at least dropped this particular topic.

  164. Tom Curtis says:

    Bullshit, Shub. Such a point would have been entirely irrelevant in context. In context you were trying to evade the embarrassment of your shoddy comments re: BBD by suggesting that I was evading the point whereas my response had been full and accurate; and that my current amicability with BBD was motivated by common political purpose, whereas it was based on his proven ability to admit error and move on.

  165. Given that I’ll be out of contact for a while I intend to try and close comments – using my phone so may fail dismally – here for a while at least. May reopen them later. Get in touch via email if you have anything pressing you’d like to add.

  166. As you can tell, I did fail dismally. Couldn’t work out how, using my phone, to close comments. Then ran out of WiFi credits. Then arrived at the stations. Anyway, you’ve all been well-behaved in my absence. If I can work out how, I’ll close the comments anyway as I can’t see much point in extending this discussion.

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