Matt Ridley has a recent article in Quadrant Magazine called The Climate Wars’s Damage to Science. Interestingly, he doesn’t appear to discuss his own role. I have no great interest in discussing the article in depth. My main suggestion to Matt would be that he consider that the bad ideas [that] can persist in science for decades, are simply ideas he doesn’t understand. What really struck me, though, was that it would be fantastic article for playing something like Climate Wars Bingo. I’d only read the first few paragraphs before encountering a discussion of Lysenkoism. There’s the obligatory mention of Green funding. There’s Greenpeace. There’s alarmism. I haven’t waded my way through the whole article, but it seems to cover all possible bases. Is anything missing?
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He seems to be totally uncritical of everyone who’s in denial: from Plimer to Watts and Delingpole to Tol, “probably the world’s leading climate economist”, they’re all his heroes fighting a war against scientists suffering from confirmation bias.
The article is in fact one long advert for ‘Climate Change: The Facts’. As one wag pointed out, better called, ‘Climate: Change The Facts’.
It is rather bizarre. About 6 months ago, I thought Ridley was getting tired of constantly being told he was wrong and thought he might try to move slightly closer to the mainstream position. Instead, he seems to have doubled down and gone full conspiracy theory. And to think he sits of the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee.
I missed the Tol reference which also includes the “97% has been demolished” claim. So, it really does cover all bases. Of course, he does ignore that Tol doesn’t disute the strong level of consensus.
It’s difficult to choose a highlight (or, more accurately, lowlight), but this was the one that broke me:
Okay, yes that is a classic.
Some more names that Ridley drops: Andrew Bolt, Mark Steyn, Bjorn Lomborg, James Delingpole, Willie Soon, Bob Carter, Donna Laframboise, Harrison Schmitt, Joanne Nova, Jennifer Marohasy.
OPatrick’s quote is even better when including the part just before:
“There is, however, one good thing that has happened to science as a result of the climate debate: the democratisation of science by sceptic bloggers. It is no accident that sceptic sites keep winning the “Bloggies” awards. There is nothing quite like them for massive traffic, rich debate and genuinely open peer review. Following Steven McIntyre on tree rings, Anthony Watts or Paul Homewood on temperature records, Judith Curry on uncertainty, Willis Eschenbach on clouds or ice cores, or Andrew Montford on media coverage has been one of the delights of recent years for those interested in science. Papers that had passed formal peer review and been published in journals have nonetheless been torn apart in minutes on the blogs. “
…the democratisation of science by sceptic bloggers.
Crowd-sourcing money, that can work. Crowd-sourcing scientific expertise from the DK-inflicted masses… not so much. And we also get a good idea of the echo chamber Ridley and his ilk inhabit. It’s all perfectly self-contained pseudoscience, with no place for actual science to infiltrate and burst their little bubble. Nice one.
“It is no accident that sceptic sites keep winning the “Bloggies” awards.”
I can’t thing of one commonly found “skeptic” argument that has been left out.
There’s an awful lot of fawning going on – distinguished geologist/climate scientist/ecologist. When he writes ‘distinguished’, does he mean ‘retired’?
Sorry, also meant to say: and the “Bloggies”, more self-reinforcing behaviour. Only the fake skeptics care about whether their sites are more popular than the mainstream sites, so they encourage their readers to game the Bloggies. There is a good reason why a pseudoscience/political site like WUWT has a PageRank of 3/10 while an actual science-based site like realclimate has 7/10: relevance. WUWT is primarily visited by people that only visit a small circle of like-minded sites. No one else links to them, as that blog network analysis last year showed:
Papers that had passed formal peer review and been published in journals have nonetheless been torn apart in minutes on the blogs. “
That might have been something he’d better not have stressed. A bit of care has never hurt science.
“Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”..” opines he.
References please, Matt.
“The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science”.
Well Ridley should know, he is a combatant against science. I guess I will have to read the article, even though the name dropping is probably an attempt to get people’s internet name word count up.
The title “The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science” is self-referential.
The bingo is played on a matrix:
If there’s an argument missing, please let me know.
It is interesting that as someone who has always championed science, [paraphrasing, I don’t feel like tracking down the exact quote]…. Ridley went down a list of many arguments without noting conflicting viewpoints, let alone engaging with those views, on ANY of them. That’s impressive.
No, I think it’s even simpler than that. I think it just means “someone who says something I agree with”.
==> “I think it just means “someone who says something I agree with”.”
Jim Steele is distinguished. Oppenheimer is just a dude “of Princeton University.”
If you havn’t read it all it seems arrogant to dismiss
You really don’t need to read it all.
“WUWT is primarily visited by people that only visit a small circle of like-minded sites. No one else links to them, as that blog network analysis last year showed:”
Yes. Its actually endemic to conservative web sites in general. Not only are they echo chambers, but they don’t link to much else. i.e. art, music, you name it.
I read it all.
It is an unskeptical article in that it presents a very one-sided perspective on a long series of issues – the most obvious example (to me) is that it ignores the politicization, tribalism and personally-directed polemics that come from the people he praises for scientific input: Willis, Donna, Andrew, Anthony, Paul, etc.
What do you think about that, Paul?
And the Bingo article is an enormous Gish Gallop. Would someone take the time to refute everything, it would become a huge report, which conveniently assures that hardly anyone would read it.
The Gish Gallop echoes the entire book, ‘Climate: Change The Facts’, @Victor. The hubris of this collection of journalists, economists, TV weathermen, politicians and a few scientists from other disciplines thrown in, knows no bounds. That they can claim to be the keepers of ‘The Facts’—with the implication that climate scientists are not being straight—is incredibly arrogant.
That Matt Ridley slavers all over it is par for the course.
OTOH, Cheerleaders for Alarm is a pretty good line.
Only if you find “Cheerleaders for denial” a pretty good line too.
“My main suggestion to Matt would be that he consider that the bad ideas [that] can persist in science for decades, are simply ideas he doesn’t understand. ”
Interestingly enough it was even cited ( a paper in nature ) after it was debunked.
Rather than deny that some bad ideas persist, or rather than personalize it by attributing it to Matt,
it would be more scientific to identify clear cases and then ascertain whether there were something
that could be improved.
What is the life span of a bad idea and what contributes to its longevity?
‘f there’s an argument missing, please let me know.’
Im gunna take credit for ‘lots of theories’ and ‘no best practices’
the question is can you map these onto classical skeptical tropes
As you probably realise, my point was that the ideas that Matt was referring to (i.e., those in climate science) are ones he doesn’t understand, not that no bad ideas can persist. Clearly Matt is using that some bad ideas can persist to argue that other ideas are bad ideas that are persisting. It’s clearly a poor argument.
==> “Rather than deny that some bad ideas persist, or rather than personalize it by attributing it to Matt,”
Rather than deny that some men are built of straw, or rather than personalize the flawed arguments that Matt keeps presenting for public consumption by noting the flaws in the arguments he presents for public consumption…
it would be more scientific to do something that you consistently do, which is to point out the logical inconsistencies in Matt’s arguments that underpin his “lukewarmerism.”
You already do that.
Implies fraud. Whereas MBH99 was groundbreaking and unsurprisingly, not perfect. But a ‘bad idea’? That, I think is too strong.
Well Marcott et al has a number of issues – particularly over the recent period. And the Mann et al. reconstruction you’re citing is the 2008 not the 1998/1999 version. Not sure how either of those relate to your discussion point.
Yes, but there’s a vast difference between having a number of issues, and explicit fraud – which, I think, was BBD’s point.
First, yes, that’s Mann 08 and I should have made that clear, sorry. Second, let’s go back to the original point of not fraud, not a bad idea, just a work in progress. As science always is, of course.
Third, Marcott13 and the spurious uptick (in figure above) has been done to death, so just briefly to revisit what they said in the well-thumbed FAQ at RC:
The only ‘idea’ that Ridley identifies as ‘bad’ is
“…that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses.”
Bad as it purportedly is, no substance or support is offered. Unless you count reputational fluffing as useful.
Marcott didn’t just say that in the FAQ, BBD. It was in the paper itself. Referring to the period from 1890 to 1950, they wrote:
I’ve never figured out why people who complain ignore that.
Let me correct that: “unless you count the manufacturing of reputability as useful”
As you probably realise, my point was that the ideas that Matt was referring to (i.e., those in climate science) are ones he doesn’t understand, not that no bad ideas can persist. Clearly Matt is using that some bad ideas can persist to argue that other ideas are bad ideas that are persisting. It’s clearly a poor argument.”
I didnt read what he wrote:
“You really don’t need to read it all.”
But I remain fascinated how old ideas and old data and bad ideas and bad data persist…
recompiling science is hard. deprecating science is hard.
There are times when I read skeptical stuff and I tear my hair out because the internet has allowed old bad stuff to persist.
Think about that stupid Lamb diagram..
So I look at the question a bit more broadly.. not only how do bad ideas persist in the science but how do they persist is the blogosphere. is it the same process?
one more bit.. since we are talking about PNS on judith’s it reminding me of something ravetz said
“we have no theory of error” that is how do errors happen.
today we just blame individuals.
It’s probably too late here for me to do much justice to this, but I suspect there is still a difference between bad ideas in science and bad ideas in the blogosphere. I suspect that most bad ideas that persisted in science are only perceived to be bad in retrospect. I suspect that many bad ideas in the blogosphere are pretty obviously bad if you actually have the expertise to make some kind of judgement.
I noticed that. What is PNS?
What bad ideas? Where’s the Piltdown hoax equivalent in the current scientific position?
My guess is Post Normal Science…
==> “deprecating science is hard.”
Judging by the blogosphere, it doesn’t seem difficult in the least.
Okay, PNS = Post Normal Science. Essentially what some STS people seem to think is something?
Persistence of a bad idea?
SM “America’s political landscape is infested with many zombie ideas — beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die.” Paul Krugman
Krugman has used the term ‘zombie idea’ since the mid-2000s. I don’t know if Krugman coined the phrase, but Australian economist John Quiggin wrote a book called Zombie Economics.
The book’s cover blurb says, “< In Zombie Economics, John Quiggin explains how dead ideas still walk among us, in Australia and abroad – and why we must find a way to kill them once and for all if we are to avoid an even bigger crisis in the future.“
“Rather than deny that some men are built of straw, or rather than personalize the flawed arguments that Matt keeps presenting for public consumption by noting the flaws in the arguments he presents for public consumption…”
My text presents no claims one way or the other on strawmen. Also, one can point out flaws without personalizing.
Start by schematizing his argument. its easy.
” “deprecating science is hard.”
Judging by the blogosphere, it doesn’t seem difficult in the least.”
sorry bad metaphor. I was comparing the process in software to the process in science.
In software suppose I built my code on top of some other code. Then somebody changed
the base code. Simple I recompile. But in science it’s not so easy. Suppose I built my science
on a TSI reconstruction, take Lean for example. I run my GCM based on this and I compare it to hadcrut4. Then ( as will soon happen ) Svalgaard publishes and entirely revamped TSI
series.. and cowtan and Way have a new temperature series. Its not so easy to just
recompile the science. So you will see fights like “That doesnt use the best data” Now out of the public eye these kinds of dsicussions happen and everybody understands that it takes time
for the science to be “rebuilt” and we never really rebuild it from scratch. Deprecation
IN THIS METAPHORICAL context.. refers to the process of taking a bunch of code and saying “dont use this stuff” But in science that is harder because stuff is always laying around.. and even more so on the internet. One of the unintended consequences of demanding data
is that people retain old stuff that nobody should use. You’lll see skeptics still using GHVN v2!
or you’ll see them still using that old Lamb diagram. So its hard to deprecate science. To some extent you want the old data around to check things, but you want to prevent people from building new science with it.
“Okay, PNS = Post Normal Science. Essentially what some STS people seem to think is something?”
bad name for a all too familar situation in applied sciences.
Think of it like this
1. In applied science youre solving a problem for someone who has power
( the boss demands a solution )
2. Your science product must have a use: things that have uses typically have value assigned to them.
3. You have a deadline. They want their science YESTERDAY
ravetz didnt frame it this way ( cause he is a philosopher) but the situation he identified was precisely this. a situation where facts were uncertain ( science needs to be done)
where values were in conflict ( usually over the USE of your applied science ) and where action was deamed to be urgent ( a deadline). the last requirement was stakes were high.
So.. PNS happens in situations where human interest ( take the climate) or social interest is HIGH and where the science aims to supply an answer that will have a use . The question is
how do you do science under deadline and how do you do it where there are large social concerns?
The answer is NOT ( as people assume) to abandon truth. ravetz had a couple of suggestions.
that would take things far off topic.
Steven Mosher, you mention that Jerome Ravetz has said “we have no theory of error”. I’d be very interested to see where he writes that, but I don’t have a record of that remark in my notes on him. Please, would you kindly point to the source?
…or is this what you are thinking of?
“…the climate science debate is one where all the features that make natural science different from sociology, or indeed from politics, are weakened or absent. And in the course of that debate we have discovered a serious flaw in the prevailing philosophy of science: there is no explanation of honest error.”
As one example of bad ideas persisting in science Ridley uses the Dietary fats advice since the 1950s.
Matt Ridley describes this inertia, instead of adopting a better evidence-based approach to diet as;- ” opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.”
Simplistically wrong, but which side of the science is being threatened with reduced funding?
“one more bit.. since we are talking about PNS on judith’s it reminding me of something ravetz said
“we have no theory of error” that is how do errors happen.”
There are lots of theories, but once you get into the epistemology…
The Fat in the diet causes heart disease example above derives from vested interests, but also from simplistic concepts of causation when applied to contingent systems with multiple factors. When you measure just ONE dietary variable, you are really measuring a complex array of other diverse influences.
But AGW is a threat to the optimum climate for our agricultural system just as surely as smoking is bad for individual health.
Take a card
Steve, the problem is that Ravetz was without clue. What he described is PRE normal science, but it was, of course, to his advantage to pretend that the situation goes on forever.
ATTP says: “My main suggestion to Matt would be that he consider that the bad ideas [that] can persist in science for decades, are simply ideas he doesn’t understand. ”
Matt Ridley says “the non-sceptical side… Its bloggers are almost universally wearily condescending”.
Yep, that seems about right to me.
I wonder if David Mackay is planning a new letter in response to this latest attempt to dismiss climate science? The last one http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/david-mackay's-letter.aspx seemed not to have had the desired effect. Surely it deserves a robust letter in reponse?
With some people, it’s hard not to be (H/T William Connolley).
Seriously, though, it seems like there is no way to win with people like Matt Ridley. If you try to tell him he’s wrong, he whines about people being unpleasant. If you mock him, he whine’s about people being condescending. As far as I can tell, what he really wants is to be able to promote his nonsense without anyone criticising him and, maybe, even getting the odd pat on the back for not being completely absurd. Of course, given his most recent post, even that is getting harder and harder to do.
Its a pretty common patters of behaviour with the gardenshed galileos to expect and even crave respect. Its almost a defining feature of their movement. Dismissing them seems to drive them to distraction. Riddley though should know better. Quoting a few blogger names is not building a scientific argument. He quotes so little text book or peer reviewed science, if someone was to do this to him to dismiss evolution he would also through that out without a thought so why does he think another science should respect him doing the same thing?
What you say at the end of your comment is a good point. I had a run in with someone a while back, who was actually quite well informed about a particular topic, but seemed quite comfortable making ill-founded pronouncements about a topic with which he was unfamiliar. I tried to ask him what he would think if someone was doing the same about the topic that he understood. He didn’t seem to get the point. It was almost as if being informed about one thing was regarded as sufficient to feel informed about everything.
Oh, everybody’s an expert on climate, ATTP, except the silly scientists, of course.
Thanks for that link to that letter from Mackay. It’s excellent, IMO. Did Ridley ever respond?
Considering the kind of vileness that Ridley describes as “rich debate”, his complaints about “the non-sceptical side” (sic) are hard to take seriously.
“Steve, the problem is that Ravetz was without clue. What he described is PRE normal science, but it was, of course, to his advantage to pretend that the situation goes on forever” .
No. What he describes is very normal in applied science
Every day I work in a situation where facts are uncertain where values are in conflict where the stakes are high and where an answer is needed by the close of business.
We basically use aa ravetz approach
What you seem to be describing is the difficulty of making decisions given a certain amount of evidence. Sometimes the evidence is strong and the decision is relatively easy. Sometimes not, but you have to make a decision anyway. However, the fact that you want to make some kind of decision doesn’t – itself – influence the evidence. Of course, you could choose to spend more time collecting evidence, given that you want to make a decision, but that still doesn’t change that the evidence shouldn’t be influence by the desire to make a decision. However, there seem to be some who regard the fact that a decision needs to be made as somehow influencing the evidence itself. I see little evidence to support that, in general. That’s not to say that there aren’t examples where evidence has been selectively applied, or that people have been influenced by those who would like to make a particular decision. However, I still don’t think that there is any real reason to argue that – in general – policy relevant science is fundamentally post-normal.
ATTP:”However, there seem to be some who regard the fact that a decision needs to be made as somehow influencing the evidence itself. I see little evidence to support that, in general.
That some people misuse or mis-state what PNS is, is not an indictment or argument against the proposition of PNS. It’s an indictment of those who misuse it.
However, I still don’t think that there is any real reason to argue that – in general – policy relevant science is fundamentally post-normal.
Again, I don’t think this is the argument. Not *all* decisions are post-normal – just those where science can’t give a definitive answer. This is where ‘zombie ideas’ cloud the issue. Manufacturing fear, uncertainty and doubt creates the impression that science can’t give us an answer – therefor the *correct* policy now becomes just one of several possible policy decisions instead of the obvious policy decision. If you have a vested interest in *not* seeing the correct policy implemented then FUD is the avenue you travel.
Isn’t this the crux of what Nic Lewis is attempting; to make it unclear what the best policy decision vis a vis fossil fuels is? I.e., he wants to make this a policy area where PNS applies.
In this context PNS is just another tool deniers are using to promote delay. It’s not a problem with the theory of PNS, it’s a problem with the people proposing it applies in this instance.
Yes, and it’s certainly possible that I still don’t really understand what it’s all about.
Yes, that’s a good point.
I don’t know. My view would be that Nic Lewis is contributing to an area of research that is policy relevant. If we were to focus only on his research when making policy decisions, we might make a different decision to what would be made were we to consider all the evidence. That, however, is just an argument for considering all the evidence. Whatever Nic Lewis may or may not be doing, doesn’t change that there is more evidence available.
So, you may welll be right. There may well be some who are trying to make something sound like it is PNS, when in fact that is not really the case.
Matt Ridley wrote:
“You would never know from this that the “it’s hiding in the oceans” excuse is just one unproven hypothesis”
There’s more than enough evidence that enough of it is “hiding in the oceans”.
…”and one that implies that natural variation exaggerated the warming in the 1990s, so reinforcing the lukewarm argument.”
It does not reinforce the lukewarm argument. It reinforces mainstream climate science. It’s about the nature of cyclic functions tracking upward with and oscillating around positively accelerating functions. He needs to see the graph of a 60 year running mean, which makes it very easy to see that the atmospheric global warming that exists underneath the large (up to 60 year) oscillations (which can be seen in the graph of a 30 year running mean) has been positively accelerating since the 1800s – and it still is positively accelerating. I gave those graphs and their sources here
along with a graph of the NMO of Steinman, Mann, and Miller (2015). Ridley writes as if he rejects all these types of new studies like this one and the one by Marotzke and Forster (2015) that take into consideration natural variability of up to around 60 years, giving strong mathematical evidence that the models are fine when variability up to around 60 years in length is taken into account.
(From a purely mathematical standpoint, if he cannot understand how a cyclic function can track upward with and around a positively accelerating curve, then he needs to realize that he’s missing some things. He’s making a mistake if he thinks that the oscillations of an oscillating function necessarily implies slower long-term growth – it does not, not even close.)
Matt Ridley wrote:
“Excusing failed predictions is a staple of astrology; it’s the way pseudoscientists argue…… In science, as Karl Popper….”
Invoking Popper? Actually, one way pseudoscientists argue is to confuse “excusing failed predictions” with affirming and acting on demonstrably false auxiliary hypotheses or, even worse, to not allow for the existence or logical function of auxiliary hypotheses. This article
“Bundle up your hypotheses”
is one of a number of good educational ones that show that a “false prediction” does not even begin to necessarily falsify the target or test hypothesis.
The real question should not be why false ideas persist in science until factually correct alternatives replace them or why not so good or accurate ideas persist in science until better or more accurate ideas replace them, but why there is this absolutely never-ending denial no matter what of scientific facts or scientific assertions whose truth values or probabilities for being true are (even vanishingly) close to 100% (and this denial includes ongoing contradictions of established mathematical facts, as well).
Science cannot give answers to societal problems, just to specific scientific problems.
Science is never definitive, otherwise it would not be science. Even the current understanding always has a confidence interval, what some prefer to call an uncertainty monster.
After so many decades of climate research, I am not sure whether it makes much sense to pretend political decisions on climate change are rushed. Nor do I fail to see more time pressure on climate science than on any other science. (Publish or perish is bad for all sciences, it slows down progress, but I see no reason to expect scientific progress to stop. If you want to use time pressure as argument you will have to explain as well how climatology is different from other sciences that also clearly show progress.)
“However, I still don’t think that there is any real reason to argue that – in general – policy relevant science is fundamentally post-normal.”
Correct. I would not make that statement categorically.
Recall there are 4 elements: 1) uncertainty. 2) conflicting values. 3) high stakes. 4) deadlines.
Note these 2,3 & 4 dont happen in theoretical science .
What I am trying to do is reframe Ravetz work away from his unfortunate naming of post normal.
I am placing it on this framework
For the most part skeptics seem to think rather idealistically about science as if everything where in the theoretical quadrant, where knowledge is the only value. Climate science ( and others as well) seem to belong on the right hand side where the use of that knowledge is more important.
On the left hand side of the diagram there is no deadline. If you havent broken natures code.. oh well leave it for the next generation. On the right hand side there are deadlines. There are uses.
and people (power) who wants to use your answer.
On the right hand side there is a higher chance of conflicting values: I want to build star wars
you do not. Consequently I’m more likely to judge my knowledge “good enough” to build a system
and you might rationally argue that I should do more research and testing…
On the left hand side there are no high stakes: GDP doesnt turn on the existence of the Higgs.
On the right hand side there are high stakes: do I let doctors return from Ebola ravaged countries? Does second hand smoke kill people? Do vaccines lead to autism? will the seas rise 10 meters.
All policy relevant science lives on the right hand side. But with varying degrees of value conflict, varying degrees of high stakes, and varying time deadlines. So not all policy relevant science is going to have all 4 elements of PNS. Some will.
I dont think there are bright lines here, but we ought to recognize a difference between scientific advice given under duress versus science advice given under reasonable time constraints.
many folks have thought that Ravetz wanted to bring politics into science. They are wrong.
the politics IS ALREADY IN THE SCIENCE. By that I mean that the driving force is no longer simply “knowledge” but rather sufficient understanding to make a useful decision. Like it or not your science behavior on the right is influence by power. That doesnt mean your behavior is wrong or your science is bias. It just means that other values besides pure knowledge are contributing to the trajectory of your understanding. You selectively look at things which are relevant to the use of the knowledge. Politics or power is already in the science. it is already shaping the science, it has already set the question of the day. This leads to a couple of reactions. The first is flat out denial. That is the flat denial that power plays a role in shaping the science. The second reaction is puritanical. Complaints that somehow science has been corrupted, or consensus has been manufcatured, or lysenko .You know the drill.
Instead PNS rather embraces the fact that politics is in the science and asks the question.
GIVEN that we are under a deadline to produce our best answer in a complex field where values are conflicting and the stakes are high… what can we ADD to the process of giving science advice? Ravetz makes a couple suggestions: one is roughly quality related and the other targets broader participation, what he calls extended peer review. These are elements he thinks we should add to the process of coming to a conclusion.
The proscriptive part of PNS is really weak. But there are some analogs squishy notions like best practices and red teams and other controls that folks in business put into place ( sometimes) to handle decision making in situations where rapid high stakes decisions need to be made.
Following the tragic killings in USA, an article in Psychology Today suggests that anti-intellectualism is at the root of many issues, including the persistence of fear and prejudice that leads to violence. Whatever one thinks of the piece (it is an opinion piece, not a paper backed up by research), it includes a sentence that highlights the issue they face in the USA:
“In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value.”
How long, I wonder, before Matt Ridley brings a snowball into the House of Lords? Given his latest effort, nothing would surprise me. He presents himself as an intellectual but he attacks science in the guise of defending a strange new discovery: of a science where a vicious blogger Delingpole can tell the Royal Society they are wrong. Citizen science? I don’t think so. What Snow (‘Two Cultures’) would make of this phenomenon, who knows. I expect he would roll his eyes at their pseudo-science masquerading as intellectualism. Less crude and brutal than the US model, but based on the same errors of logic and science.
But then for Matt Ridley, optimism is not merely a value, it is a fundamental law, so that trumps any evidence to the contrary. Bad news is a reason to deny it, minimise it, or simply put faith in free markets to fix it (actually, on the ozone layer, free markets did help fix it, but helped along with global agreements starting with the Montreal Protocol. Commerce was on a level playing field, only a new one, which respected the environmental science). This is a model that can and will be repeated with AGW.
So, actually, I am realistic optimistic. In the UK, on a windy sunny day in June we managed to produce 43% of our electricity from renewables:
UK Renewables are a success story that Ridley and Osborne wish to bury. Given that this has been achieved in the face of a chorus of disdain from the predominantly right wing media, commentators like Ridley, and supercilious attacks from John Humphrys, is no man feat. Imagine what could be achieved with full trotted support.
Come on Matt, where is your optimism?
Come on Osborne, where is you belief in enterprising Britain?
I think one of the most important points about both Ridley’s argument, and Ravetz’s PNS, is that in both frameworks scientific uncertainty is supposed to be a reason to turn away from scientific research communities, and to bring people who are not scientists into the knowledge-building process. For me, the key to PNS is that Ravetz doesn’t just argue the community of stakeholders should be part of working out climate policy, he thinks they should be part of the scientific peer community.
To the extent we can describe this as a theory of how to build reliable knowledge at all (that is, the extent to which it is even partly articulated), it is the notion behind ‘crowd wisdom’, ‘the room is smarter than anyone in it’, and so on. At its heart, this is just a libertarian assumption about knowledge -that if any restrictions and controls are removed, the best ideas will naturally rise to the top, because ‘free markets’ in ideas will function the way ideal economic free markets are supposed to function. I think this is one of the driving assumptions behind Ridley’s recent piece, Ravetz has argued it before, and of course it is ubiquitous at WUWT, Climate etc…etc.
One of the key reasons so many of the opponents of climate scientists like to think our society will be smarter if we make the scientific peer community as wide as possible, is because they start from a confused idea about participation. In mainstream ideas about culture and politics, it is commonplace (and surely valid) to say that a diversity of opinions, beliefs etc is a fundamental right, and a value in itself. This is the idea that people like Ridley, Ravetz, and even Jo Nova, are trying to appeal to when they call for ‘democratisation’ of science and ‘citizen auditing’ – that scientists are just one more community, and scientific culture is just one more culture, access to which should not be denied to any citizen.
But I think to confuse the social activity of building reliable knowledge about the natural world with the social activity of popular participation in culture, is what philosophers call a category mistake. There is always a diversity of views in any scientific community, but of course, science could never progress if it simply piled up ever more diverse opinions indiscriminately. It’s about what you do with your cherries:
Science actually converges towards fewer reliable explanations over time; it prunes the cherry tree as it progresses, and discards most of its cherries.
Politically motivated counter-science piles up all the cherries it can pick, then stands back and says “we’re right! look how many cherries we have!” The reason it does this -and doesn’t seem to mind how many contradictions also accumulate as the pile grows- is because it’s first motivation is against the consensus of climate science. What is ‘auditing’ but a piling up of sour cherries? It build nothing new.
Diversity and piling up -both of ideas and of participants- suits political communities, but is dysfunctional in scientific communities. The ‘democratise science’ argument is constantly used in bad faith as a way to force politically motivated attacks onto the same platform as scientific research, but I think it appeals to many people like Ravetz because it triggers an egalitarian reflex. The reflex is good, but it shouldn’t lead us to confusion about what makes science special.
Mark – excellent!
And to add, using your analogy …
With the skills of the trade built up and accumulated over decades, would citizen science ever create the cherries in the first place on which to start the pruning process? Would they come up with quantum mechanics, the structure of stars, etc. based on ‘the wisdom of the crowds’. It is fanciful to imagine so. We would be thrown back to something quite primitive.
We would have a tree with some rather pathetic cherries to choose from.
It is true that in some types of research (e.g. studying the impact of global warming on flora and fauna) that scientists can co-opt citizen scientists to collect data, but it needs the scientist to design the experiment and guide the process of aggregation, synthesis and analysis.
Yes, I think there is a difference between citizen science, in which the public get involved in a research project, and lone-wolf citizen scientists. The former allows science to do things that are difficult to do in the formal setting, while the latter can easily lead to ideas that aren’t even consistent with the laws of physics (think Bob Tisdale).
“So, actually, I am realistic optimistic. In the UK, on a windy sunny day in June we managed to produce 43% of our electricity from renewables.”
Oh, for goodness’ sake! Talk about cherry picking your statistics. What about a cold, calm sunless day in January, when we need to heat our homes.
I visit both “sceptic” and “scientific” sites and am sad to see on both sets of sites abuse and misunderstanding of “the other side” plus self-congratulatory and self-reinforcing group think on both sides.
I try to keep an open mind on the theories surrounding climate change, though the comments made by many people on both sides of the debate depress me, But do please let’s be realistic about renewables. Whatever their long-term future, they are to date hopelessly inefficient, expensive, and totally dependent on subsidies. Without significant improvements in their technology, they are not currently the answer, and there is not much to be optimistic about, unless you’re a landowner getting rich on the back of the subsidies.
Maybe you can explain something to me. If landowners are really getting rich (rather than wind simply being more expensive) then presumably we could simply drive a harder bargain and reduce the cost of wind power? If, on the other hand, wind power is expensive, how are the landowners getting rich?
“I try to keep an open mind on the theories surrounding climate change”
As Carl Sagan warned, ““It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”
“…plus self-congratulatory and self-reinforcing group think on both sides.”
And thanks for the comment congratulating yourself that you are not one of the group thinkers while simultaneously reciting the now standard & might I say rather dull critique of renewable energy. Apparently self-awareness is not your strong point.,
Mark H – I was clear to caveat that this was one extreme example, not the end point. And for the UK, given our constraints, the ‘mix’ we end up with would not be the same as say the USA or Saudi Arabia. I asked some friends what they thought the ‘peak’ could be (given a windy sunny day) and figures were low. 43% was a surprise, to me also. It is an illustration of how far we have come even with a negative climate of opinion. That was my point. Don’t make it out to be more than that.
ATTP – a thought. Firstly, we have ‘warmest’ as watermelons intent on bringing down capitalism, then secondly, it turns out they are arch capitalists, intent on building a renewables empire. So which is it? Well of course, neither caricature is valid (except in the outliers whom apparently become the norm). As I said, global standards (level playing fields) combined with free markets can solve the issues, whether it be progressively improving cost/power for renewables, smart grids, even new CCS. Are we there yet? No. Is the current state of renewables as bad as the naysayers claim? No. Is there massive room for improvements in base technology and scale-out? Yes.
What is your problem people!
Yes, I agree. Without some form of carbon tax, alternatives will almost always be more expensive than the cheapest fossil fuels. If the full cost of their use is not included in the price, no wonder they outperform renewables on cost grounds. I also agree that there is plenty of room for improvement and advancement.
@ Mark Ryan
Thanks for that pleasingly crisp summary of the nonsense.
“What oft was Thought, but ne’er so well Exprest” and all that.
I think piling up is a characteristic of all political activism. It is present on the ‘warm’ side and the ‘cool’ side of the global warming debate, which is deeply polarised by now -that is the observation in Mark Hodgson’s comment with which I agree.
But we need to separate out the way climate scientists have built up their understanding from the way certain political activists use it. The fact is, no community of activists could have built up a robust scientific consensus. It is no surprise that some of the political activists on the ‘warm’ side will take 2 + 2 and sometimes make 5 -it is the nature of politics, just as the ‘cool’ activists constantly make 2 + 2 into 3. The carry-on over Karl et al is a great case in point, particularly when we consider the sensible response of Gavin Schmidt at RC -which I suggest reflects the normal temperament of the professional scientific community.
The key is duty. If one’s duty is to a tradition of professionalism and rigour (the so-called Mertonian norms of science), and one is part of a community which imposes discipline on itself, then science is progressive, converging towards a tightly pruned cherry tree.
But if one’s duty is to a political ideology, then the whole constellation of scientific information becomes just so much material for the pile. Activists tend to be only as rigorous as is needed to win.
The key distinction in climate science, though, is that one group of activists are closely aligned to reliable knowledge -they take license with it in places, but they don’t need to reinvent it or try and topple it. They pile on top of an already stable body of knowledge. The other side tries to confect a whole alternative science, which will not converge to a deeper understanding. They pile up around a vacant center, except for the big Stop Sign that signals “Anything but the IPCC”
Thanks Richard and BBD!
“Maybe you can explain something to me. If landowners are really getting rich (rather than wind simply being more expensive) then presumably we could simply drive a harder bargain and reduce the cost of wind power? If, on the other hand, wind power is expensive, how are the landowners getting rich?”
No doubt as someone who hasn’t come on this site and simply agreed with everything that everyone else says, I’ll be pilloried too for my next observation, but your above comments are incomprehensible to me. You immediately add the caveat “if” landowners are really getting rich…There’s no “if ” about it. You don’t have to be a Daily Mail reader (I’m not, I hasten to add) to know that David Cameron’s father-in-law, for instance, earns £1,000 a day from wind turbines on his extensive lands. There are many super-rich people like him becoming even richer on the back of these subsidies, while poor people pay more for their energy to add to the wealth of the super-rich. I consider myself to be left wing on most issues, and am constantly surprised that this debate has polarised on left/right lines where it’s the people on the right who express concern at the redistribution of wealth from poor to rich, while people on the left seem very happy to condone it.
We could drive a harder bargain and reduce the cost of wind power. The problem is that we don’t. Your final point is, with respect, a complete non-sequitur. Just because wind power is expensive (it is, as most people on all sides of the debate acknowledge, even if it is one of the cheaper forms of renewable energy), why would that stop landowners getting rich? It doesn’t follow that they won’t make money if they’re been subsidised by the taxpayer and by energy users.
Mike H – thank you for making my point for me. Ad hominem attacks again, rather than engaging in a mature and intelligent debate.
Richard – thank you for making a more measured and reasonable response to my comments. Unfortunately neither the proprietor of the website, nor some of the other contributors make it worthwhile trying to get a debate going, although I would happily have discussed this further with you.
ATTP and your acolytes – I’ve tried, but I won’t be back. Your pack animal response to even the mildest form of debate has confirmed my worst fears. Now I’ll sit back and await the full fury I’ve no doubt unleashed.
Sorry, one last point. I agreed with everything in Mark Ryan’s penultimate post, save for the final paragraph. Apologies Mark R – I exclude you from my criticism of the responses I received. Thank you for your objectivity.
You haven’t really answered my question. Either people are making disproportionate amounts of money, which would imply that the cost of producing the energy isn’t as high as it seems, or they’re not making disproportionate amounts of money, and it’s simply a more expensive way to produce energy. It can’t really be both.
So what? There’s nothing wrong with profiting from providing a service. How much do those involved in providing energy through fossil fuels make? This would only be interesting if this was disproportionate. I have no idea if it is, or isn’t, and you don’t appear to know either. It simply seems that you object to someone profiting from something you don’t like.
No, I’ll ask everyone to simply ignore you.
“No, I’ll ask everyone to simply ignore you.”
You too have made my point for me – thanks. Over and out.
How? You appeared to say that you would never come back and that you expected everyone here to pile on. I was simply pointing out that I was going to ask everyone to simply ignore you. Would you rather everyone piled on? I’d rather they didn’t, as that’s the norm at places like Bishop-Hill and I’d rather this site didn’t sink to that level. However, if you’d find it dissapointing if they don’t, I’ll consider making an exception.
While conceding the possibility that Matt has become abruptly unhinged or utterly venal , , I entertain the additional possibility that he has unleashed an excellent Poe on the closed alternative universe of Quadrant .
Imagine what the comments at BH would be like if Montford charged admission ?
Well, he does have a Tip Jar.
What need has Matt of a Tip Jar when he already owns the most spectacular coal tip in Northumberland?
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I’m gonna just put this here: