Science wars, science crises, and wars on science?

There have been a number of recent articles (that I’ve noticed, at least) about science wars, the war on science, and a crisis in science. Judith Curry covered one, there was a comment about an unprecedented crisis in science in a Guardian article, and there have been a number of articles in The Conversation.

I’ve been thinking a bit about this recently and have been a little unsure as to what to say, mostly because I’m largely unimpressed by the articles I’ve read. I discovered, however, that an earlier post mostly says what I wanted to say. I’ll say some of it again, because it is worth repeating. There are certainly some issues that we should be addressing within academia and within the general research community. There are problems related to diversity that we’re not dealing with very well, or at all. There’s harassment and bullying that we’re either not addressing, or doing so very badly. Universities have become much more corporate, which means that what they value may not be what will lead to high quality, carefully done research. There’s a definite publish or perish mentality, which means we probably publish too many poor papers, rather than publishing fewer, higher-quality papers. There’s also a tendency to over-hype research in order to make it seem more interesting than it maybe is, and a reluctance to undertake replication studies, or to publish negative results.

Even though these are all things that we could, and should, address, it doesn’t really mean that there is some kind of major crisis. In many respects, our understanding of the world around us is quite remarkable. In a sense, this might be one of the problems; we’re often trying to understand details of a complex system, the basics of which we understand quite well. This is challenging and it’s maybe not surprising that some of what is done won’t stand the test of time; research doesn’t require every step be correct, or that we don’t head down dead ends every now and again. We learn both from our mistakes and from our successes; it can be messy but it appears to, by and large, have been remarkably successful. Most of those who suggest some kind of major crisis appear to completely ignore this aspect of the process.

My sense is that although there clearly are aspect of the scientific endeavour that could be improved, the real problem is more how science is perceived by those who observe it, rather than there being serious problems with science itself. In fact, one of the key problems – in my view – is with those who claim to be experts at the science-policy/science-society interface. Their conclusions about science, and the problems with science, appear to either be anecdotal, or are based on selected examples that they then use to draw incredibly strong conclusions about all of science (which they never really clearly define). I’ve seen no real indication that what they present is based on any actual research and the certainty with which they present it would maybe suggest that it is not, or that they don’t really understand how to do it. The irony, which they rarely seem to recognise, is that the very criticisms that they direct at others, applies equally to themselves; they’re not independent, and this is one reason why I see little value in the whole idea of there being a group of researchers who study other researchers (at least in the sense of observing them from afar).

Okay, this has got rather long, so I’ll try to wrap up. I see little indication for there being some kind of science crisis (while acknowledging some serious issues that we currently aren’t addressing very effectively) and if there is a war on science it appears to be more a war on the public understanding of science, than on science itself. The latter is not, in my view, helped by those who present themselves as experts on science and society, and yet seem incapable of recognising the limitation of their own research, while over-hyping the limitations of research/science in general.

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108 Responses to Science wars, science crises, and wars on science?

  1. I should probably add that I’m not suggesting that there aren’t those who are trying to undermine science, or who are actively trying to influence what science is funded, or undertaken. This still, however, seems more to do with an attack on how it is perceived publicly, than something that I would regard as some kind of war on science itself. Others may, of course, disagree.

  2. The points you make are valid, but I feel there are many who do not have the interests of science at heart who love to perpetuate a sense of crisis. But looked at in terms of objective measures, one has to say: crisis, what crisis?

    A few random examples: in the field of genomic research and applications to health, the last decade has seen phenomenal advances and this is probably only a foretaste of what will follow; through a combination of the core 100 year old theory, computer modelling and phenomenal engineering and experimentation, gravity waves have been detected, providing a further confirmation of General Relativity, but also the power of incremental, and sustained scientific advances; etc.; etc.; …

    Scientific endeavour embodies so much that the right hate: pan-global multi-cultural co-operation (no border, no xenophobia); true sceptical enquiry and a culture that openly but politely challenges each others ideas; providing evidence that often undermines political prejudices (especially in social sciences, but as we have seen, in climate science too); etc.

    I did my PhD at Darwin College, Cambridge and the thing that I loved most was its eclectic, mulit-disciplinary, multi-cultural feel with contemparies that included historians, metallurgists, biologists, physicists, and more, from every continent on Earth. That was not just of science but of a world without borders: a world that the right hate so very much, they want to tear down.

    Einstein once said something along the lines that science may have its problems but it is the most precious thing we have (I need to dig it the exact quote – maybe in his book Ideas And Opinions).

    Those that seek to undermine science do so at their peril. We only have to see the harm that Lysenko did to Soviet science. Building programmes can take decades, but they can be greatky damaged in a mere few years. I believe the US institutions are too strong to be similarly undermined even by a Trump administration (that is also the Gavin Schmidt perspective), but that is not to say they cannot damage science, if not directly, by changing the atmosphere and by starving programmes.

    So far as ‘Making America Great Again’ that would be like shooting the US in the foot – the message it would send to aspiring American scientists is difficult to measure but could do long term harm to the US’s reputation and capabilities.

    Mind you, assuming we can avoid building a Farage-like wall around the UK, scientists from US or anywhere are very welcome here. They have always, and always will, enrich our knowledge and culture.

  3. But looked at in terms of objective measures, one has to say: crisis, what crisis?

    Exactly. I don’t want to ignore what are some serious issues that should be addressed, but it is quite remarkable what we’ve achieved and how well we now understand the world around us.

  4. JCH says:

    China has funded a huge science initiative. We can either compete or just had them the leadership baton.

  5. verytallguy says:

    Science rocks.

    Came across this today.

    Derived from the laws of gravity and the ability to measure change in distance between two satellites 200k apart to an accuracy of 10 microns !

    Incredible.

  6. That gravity map, which I saw posted on Twitter, came with the hashtag, ‘#thanksNASA’. It’s a stunning testament to scientific achievement.

    How short-sighted it would be to ban NASA from allowing its satellites to look back towards Earth. The stupidity of the suggestion beggars belief. That it should come from a future President of the USA’s Chief Scientific Advisor—rather than say a WUWT commenter—makes one despair at humanity’s tendency for self-destructive urges .

  7. russellseitz says:

    The cycle of politicization and political revenge rose with the decay of perceptions of science as a non-partisan institution to which nations and parties could turn for disinterested advice- Eisenhower had great regard for his largely Democratic science advisors because they had sense enough to check their politics at the White House door

    In contrast , when the AAAS embraces the progressive agenda as it own ( its recent fundraising letters make that identity explicit) collides with the idea that the political neutrality of scientidfic institutions must first exist in order to be respected.

  8. Magma says:

    @ Richard Erskine, the quote you are looking for is probably One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.

    Given the number of fake or misattributed Einstein quotes floating around, it should be noted this one is probably legitimate, or at worst a paraphase. It’s not found in his writings, but appeared in a biography published 15 years after his death that was co-authored by a colleague of Einstein and Einstein’s long-time secretary.

  9. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Even though these are all things that we could, and should, address, it doesn’t really mean that there is some kind of major crisis.”

    Completely agree.

    I have noticed that there are some naturally contrary people, who seem to like the idea that experts have got it all wrong, on any topic, and this is fed by the hyperbole about the problems in science, for instance viewing the replication and statistical problems in medical studies as saying something about e.g. climate science, when in fact the issues are very different. A lot of the talk of war on science is just feeding that sort of misconception/cognitive bias.

    With regard to “publish or perish”, this seems to be one of the things that the U.K.’s RAE/REF gets at least partialy right in assessing a researchers best four papers over the last 4 years or so, so there is little or no reward for publishing lots of low quality work, and we are encouraged to get four top quality papers. The impact studies that form another part of the assessment is another matter, as that seems to encourage hyperbolic presentation of work in order to give demonstrable “impact on society”, IMHO it should be based more strongly on the quality of the work, regardless of the nature of the work.

  10. russell,

    The cycle of politicization and political revenge rose with the decay of perceptions of science

    Possibly, but that still means that it’s a perception issue. It doesn’t mean that, collectively, science is politicised (in the sense that our overall understanding is significantly influenced by the politics of those doing science).

  11. izen says:

    There are two fields of battle.
    One is the way scientific findings are communicated to the public.
    The sides exemplified by theses recent articles

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3970082/How-Captain-Robert-Scott-s-log-book-expedition-Antarctica-100-years-ago-raises-troubling-new-doubts-global-warming.html
    “How Captain Robert Scott’s log book from his expedition of Antarctica more than 100 years ago raises troubling new doubts about global warming”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/25/arctic-ice-melt-trigger-uncontrollable-climate-change-global-level
    “Arctic ice melt could trigger uncontrollable climate change at global level”

    There is little direct effect on the underlying science, the sound and fury are designed to engage with the lay public, not the informed participant.

    The other arena of battle is the conflict between government and science.
    Control of funding and communication can be used to shape science to political preferences.
    The extreme example would be Lysenko.
    But Canada has just endured what many scientists claimed to be war on science under Harper. The battles and skirmishes are well documented.

    http://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2013/05/20/the-canadian-war-on-science-a-long-unexaggerated-devastating-chronological-indictment/

    The historical benefits of governments supporting science are well shown by the German investment in the Chemical sciences around the same time Russia was ‘investing’ in Lysenko.

    I suspect the Chinese will be rather better at learning that lesson of history than the incoming Trump and GOP ideologues.

    The first field of battle is largely dominated by special interests and tribal virtue signalling. It main importance is providing the background that government can use to justify which side it its on in the war on science.

  12. Fergus Brown says:

    I don’t think the problem is with science, but with society, especially as modulated through media. On the surface, science is just one form of knowledge which is undervalued, discounted or bypassed in favour of sound bytes, fashion or abusive polemical ranting (with optional kittens).
    But this is just the surface. Beyond this, the work goes on, things get done, new stuff happens. Often this is defined by what has potential commercial value, but not invariably.
    Problem being that our media and its consumers are fixated by the shiny surface and don’t have time for the depth.
    There is no ‘war on science’ except the ‘war’ conducted by those with vested interests and their media cronies who understand the power of ignorance and knowledge. There may, though, be an underground war on reason itself, which worries me more.

  13. Fergus,

    I don’t think the problem is with science, but with society, especially as modulated through media.

    Yes, that’s largely what I was getting at. There are clearly problems that we could be resolving, but – overall – it is quite remarkable how well we understand the world around, even if we don’t yet understand all the details. The real issue appears to be how it is perceived, probably because of how it is portrayed in the media. Of course, there are those who are trying to undermine how science is received by the public and trying to make it more difficult to effectively inform policy, but none of this really feels that some kind of war on science itself, or some kind of scienrtific crisis.

  14. In many ways the conflict between science and special or ideological interests is no surprise (thus was it ever so), as the latter wish to to massage facts to fit their agenda or world view, whereas science is about a transparent process to reveal the truth. This has been true in smoking, human reproduction, climate, and more. As science impacts more areas of life and society, don’t expect this to get less.

    It is interesting in UK that despite Government often seeming to resist an effective response to AGW – and their friends in the media (Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail) totally dismissive of change – on the ground, businesses often reveal that they respect the science and its implications for business.

    The JLR boss warned Britain will lose investment to other countries, such as Germany, if the government did not act.

    “This is a race ladies and gentlemen, it’s really a race and either we win or we lose. The government must be the enabler,” he said. “Our opportunity is nothing less then to lead the world in smart cities, smart economy and smart mobility.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/nov/25/electric-vehicles-greg-clark-jaguar-land-rover

    And the big beasts of the built environment fully accept the need to adapt building development to make building more sustainable – just look at the Better Building Partnership – who are driving low carbon development, as a long-term investment imperative.
    http://www.betterbuildingspartnership.co.uk

    It may be that Government relaxed building standards, but many in contruction are ignoring them. E.g. EcoTown Bicester, under a Conservative district authority, is pushing ahead with zero carbon development.

    Similarly, States and Cities in US cannot somehow hold back the tide.

    But that does not mean that the Trump administration cannot do a lot of damage. Beyond the naive woo hoo ‘lone genius’ image of science many cling to, the reality is there are large teams and programmes that take decades to mature. This is true in complex ares like genomics, particle physics and climate and undermining these can be very disruptive, especially in cases like NASA where they have capabilities and assets (e.g. GRACE) that are unique.

    The next four years will be a huge test for the resilience of US institutions and their ability to challenge the Executive, and speak loud and clear to citizens about what they do and what value they bring (and on that count, I always felt that NASA did a pretty good job at doing that). NASA is widely loved in US and globally, and I would hope that gives them a lot of power to resist interference in what they do, and mobilize that goodwill.

  15. Marco says:

    Allow me to point out the most obvious problem of “society” as opposed to “science”: bullying and sexual harassment. I certainly can see the problem with both, but not how it is supposed to say something about “science”. Since science is done by humans, we can expect human frailties to be present in the scientific world. We can maybe hope that the scientific world is better at handling those frailties than society as a whole, but whether this is the case remains a major question.

  16. russellseitz says:

    ATTP

    The problem is that objective as the scientific method may be , it remains an object of ideological abuse and subordination to political agendas public and private.

    Those turning to science as an arsenal will generally find political weapons and polemic ammunition to suit their taste, PR strategists to direct their fire. and mercenaries and true believers to wield them. It does not greatly signify to the factoid mongering classes right and left if the underlying science ends up in the crossfire, or on the wrong side of a firing squad,

  17. Russell,
    Yes, but that’s kind of my point. The issue isn’t so much science itself, but how it is manipulated in the public domain.

  18. RickA says:

    I don’t think the issue is science – but science advocates.

    Once a person ventures out from finding out something (science) to opining on what we should do about something, based on their values, their opinion is worth no more than the next person.

    However, some scientists seem to think their values are worth more just because they are scientists.

    This is an error.

    The 97% appeal to authority is such an error (if it were even accurate).

    Science could cure all disease and allow everybody to live forever someday.

    However, a scientists opinion about whether we should do that (or not) is worth no more than mine on that issue.

    Why even religious people might weigh in on such an issue.

    And who is to say that policymakers shouldn’t weigh all opinions on immortality (or climate change), rather than give undue weight to a scientist who advocates their opinion as to what their values say ought to be done.

  19. BBD says:

    I don’t think the issue is science – but science advocates.

    Sound like Russell but with less polish. You just don’t like to hear anyone saying that we can’t carry on like this without running the risk of severe climate impacts down the line. Which is hardly ‘advocacy’; it’s just re-statement of the scientific position.

  20. BBD says:

    However, some scientists seem to think their values are worth more just because they are scientists.

    This is an error.

    That is a false claim.

  21. guthrie says:

    I think there is a broader issue of the lack of good faith discussions, as well as a decrease in the use and appreciation of evidence and reality in such discussions. This is right across all cultures and suchlike, and the damage to the public appreciation of science and it’s place in understanding the world is actually a byproduct of it.

  22. russellseitz says:

    ATTP:
    “The issue isn’t so much science itself, but how it is manipulated in the public domain.”

    Pardon my idealism, but just as the medical and legal professions were justified in their once strong ethical aversion to advertising, rendering political manipulation socially acceptable by rebranding propaganda as ‘science communication’ remains a bad idea as well.

  23. BBD says: “Sound like Russell but with less polish.

    I think the word you were looking for was less cryptic. Less cryptic is good, that makes it easier to see the value of the ideas.

  24. BBD says:

    Russell S

    rendering political manipulation socially acceptable by rebranding propaganda as ‘science communication’ remains a bad idea as well.

    C’mon, you just don’t like people telling you what you don’t want to hear.

  25. russellseitz says:

    No, BBD, as a bandwidth conservationist, I dislike people telling me only what they want me to hear

  26. BBD says:

    The truth is a bitter pill, but it will out.

  27. Harry Twinotter says:

    RickA.

    “The 97% appeal to authority is such an error (if it were even accurate).”

    The 97% consensus survey result is not an appeal to authority. This is because there is adequate evidence that the “authorities” in question know what they are talking about.

  28. entropicman says:

    I was debating with a sceptic on BH who claimed that the greenhouse effect was due to gravity.

    In an attempt to refute him I proposed this thought experiment.

    Imagine two enormous balloons, floating in Earth orbit in sunlight. Both are transparant to visible and longwave radiation.

    In the centre of each balloon a smaller black balloon is anchored to act as an energy absorber mimicking Earth,s surface

    Balloon A contains air of normal composition, including greenhouse gases. Balloon B contains a nitrogen/oxygen mix at the same pressure, without greenhouse gases.

    The effects of gravity, including pressure gradient and convection, has been removed.

    I reasoned that Balloon A would warm beyond the black body temperature and show a temperature gradient as the centre warmed and the outer surface cooled by radiation of longwave radiation from CO2.

    Balloon B would absorb and radiate from the centre. Without greenhouse gases the gas would warm to the the black body temperature by diffusion but there would be no radial temperature gradient.

    ‘m a biologist by trade, but would welcome the opinion of a physicist

  29. russellseitz says:

    Has Harry looked at what happens when climate wars stakeholders deploy new jargon to raise the stakes ?

  30. Ken Fabian says:

    RickA – “However, some scientists seem to think their values are worth more just because they are scientists.
    This is an error.”

    Personal values are one thing, but accurately communicating the significance of their own work and that of their professional colleagues – for example that raising GHG levels from large scale fossil fuel burning is very likely to have enduring and irreversible effects on climate upon which agriculture and other economic activities as well as remnant natural ecosystems depend, looks to be both a professional and civic duty. It doesn’t prevent them having and expressing personal values – and if their professional understanding shows continuing, unconstrained fossil fuel burning is likely to lead to damaging consequences it should be no surprise that many personally choose to advocate politically for policies that are in line with that understanding.

    Scientists work within professional codes of conduct; within the areas of their expertise their professional opinions and advice, which are generally open for review and critique of competent peers, usually are worth more than that of non-experts. They have – or should have – an obligation to represent the mainstream consensus accurately and make clear in their advice if and where their own conclusions differ significantly from it. This is important for professional scientists at any time but when they are called upon to report and give advice governments and other people in positions of trust and responsibility it can become a clear legal obligation. Just as those in positions of trust and responsibility usually have a legal obligation to take such advice seriously in their actions and decisions.

    Expert opinion is worth more than non-expert opinion and this is both formally and informally recognised within the institutions and conventions of most nations.

  31. izen says:

    @-RickA
    “Science could cure all disease and allow everybody to live forever someday.”

    Or it could provide evidence that such a fantasy is inherently impossible due to entropy.

    @-“However, a scientists opinion about whether we should do that (or not) is worth no more than mine on that issue.”

    Wrong. Evidence that informs an opinion increases its value. Uninformed opinions are worthless.

    @-“Why even religious people might weigh in on such an issue.”

    And wrong beliefs positively harmful.

    @-“And who is to say that policymakers shouldn’t weigh all opinions on immortality (or climate change), rather than give undue weight to a scientist who advocates their opinion as to what their values say ought to be done.”

    Historical evidence provides the ‘who’ that says ignoring evidence based opinion, or giving weight to uninformed values, is damaging to the environment and the society that depends upon it. Reality has a habit of imposing unavoidable costs if you attempt to ignore it.
    (Lysenko, Canada, Sugar, Lead, CFCs, Asbestos, Tobacco, SOx…)

    There are deep authoritarian assumptions embedded in your comments.
    Who are these lofty ‘policymakers’ who get to decide whether to give due weight to informed opinion, or reject it in favour of all opinions and values however demonstrably wrong they may be?

    The energy businesses have poured almost as much money into politics as big Pharma to shape the discourse and ensure undue weight is given to their values. How do you feel about the level of advocacy practised by that faction bending the ear of the policymakers?

  32. Russell,

    rendering political manipulation socially acceptable by rebranding propaganda as ‘science communication’ remains a bad idea as well.

    I wasn’t suggesting that it should be. In fact, one of my frustrations with those who criticise the failure of the deficit model is that science communication should simply be about communicating science; it shouldn’t really be a means to convince, or influence, people. Also, even if some are using what they call “science communication” as a form of “propsganda” doesn’t suddenly justify claims that all of our scientific understanding is tainted, or that there is some kind of crisis.

  33. Rick,

    I don’t think the issue is science – but science advocates.

    And my point is that just because some people choose to advocate things with which you disagree doesn’t justify claims about all of science.

    Once a person ventures out from finding out something (science) to opining on what we should do about something, based on their values, their opinion is worth no more than the next person.

    Of course, but we – fortunately – live in countries where people are free to express their opinions.

    The 97% appeal to authority is such an error (if it were even accurate).

    Pointing out that a large fraction of relevant scientists/papers agree about a fundamental aspect of this issue is a perfectly fine thing to do. How others use this information doesn’t suddenly invalidate this information. In fact, this is maybe a key issue. Policy advocates and policy makers will, of course, justify their views/decisions by appealing to some kind of evidence. Them doing so doesn’t somehow invalidate that evidence.

  34. Rick – to remind you of what Sherwood Rowland said

    “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

    I rather think having someone who actually knows the science of the ozone layer is rather a good person to keep the rest of us (including politicians) on the straight and narrow, because we all know that ‘we’ can play fast and loose with the science. So no, your opinion and mine is not worth the equal to someone like Rowland’s.

    That is not to say that the science is the same as our response to the science, that is solutions. And of course here there are many voices. As often rehearsed on ATTP, the key thing is to separate the “Is” (science) from our values (the “Ought”) before we arrive at the actions we take (the “Should”). But unless we start from a level playing playing field of the “Is” all that folows is a wasted debate; which is why of course the ‘contrarians’ divert discussion from solution by continually trying to undermine the science, the “Is”.

    Without those who understand the science keeping the policy-makers informed and keeping them ‘honest’, we are bound to have a dysfunctional policy environment. The US used to accept that truism. Let’s be clear, the poisonois right in US are 100% responsible for poisoning that well.

  35. RickA says:

    Saying we only have 10 years to take action isn’t science – but advocacy based on values:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14834318/ns/us_news-environment/t/warming-expert-only-decade-left-act-time/#.WDrxsfkrKUk

    Ditto for 4 years:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jan/18/obama-climate-change

    Everybody is entitled to their opinion.

    At least Hanson isn’t anti-nuke – which is a values opinion and not a science opinion.

    Many people have values which tell them to solve this issue using only renewables.

    But that isn’t science – that is a values thing.

    Personally, I happen to think the solution is going to be 75% nuclear and 25% other – but I admit that is an opinion based on my values.

    Shutting down all coal power plants isn’t a science position – it is a values position.

    The biggest problem with science advocates is that they often tweak what IS to bolster there arguments about what we OUGHT to do. Make the problem seem worse than perhaps it actually IS to bolster their argument for action.

    That is a science problem.

    Sooner or later more science will come out and show the science tweakers for what they are – and that will be bad for science.

    It already is.

  36. Magma says:

    Everybody is entitled to their opinion. — RickA

    And some of those carry far more weight and value than others, particularly in reality-based fields such as the sciences.

    The scientific community is a meritocracy based on expertise, and the idea that the opinions of, let’s say, Michael Mann and Mark Steyn on climate change should carry comparable weight is absurd.

  37. RickA – you make the common mistake of confounding the science with personal opinion/values. Scientists have just as much right to hold an opinion and voice it as any other citizen. Given their deeper knowledge in their areas of expertise a wise citizen should give more weight to the opinion of a scientist than an uneducated opinion when forming their own.

    Your citations are always to *personal* opinions — and never to science. Science is politicized when the the published science ignores the facts and gives more weight to these personal values/opinions. That is a hurdle neither you nor the typical “science is politicized” crew have ever shown with anything approaching credibility.

    Meanwhile, the actual politicization of science – whether it be the Bush administration, the Harper administration, et al — has almost always come from those that disagree with the science.

  38. Willard says:

    > I don’t think the issue is science – but science advocates.

    Don’t be so harsh on yourself, RickA.

    Do you think we should close down Judy’s?

  39. RickA says:

    willard asks “Do you think we should close down Judy’s?”

    No.

  40. BBD says:

    RickA – you make the common mistake of confounding the science with personal opinion/values.

    Despite being reminded *many* times elsewhere that his untutored opinion carries no weight, RickA persists in pushing his invisible peanut.

  41. BBD says:

    whoops!

    Do you think we should close down Judy’s?

    I don’t think RickA quite got the point there, willard.

  42. Willard says:

    > No.

    I thought you said we had a science problem, RickA.

    And that science advocates were the cause of it.

    So what should we do about Judy’s?

    ***

    Sooner or later more science will come out.

    It will show the science tweakers.

    For what they are – tweakers.

    And that will be bad.

    For science.

    Already

    It is.

  43. izen says:

    @-Richard Erskine
    “Without those who understand the science keeping the policy-makers informed and keeping them ‘honest’, we are bound to have a dysfunctional policy environment.”

    We have a dysfunctional policy environment.
    Regulatory capture is the close companion of government regulation. Both governments and those with the power to influence them select the science they want to hear, or be heard. I find it difficult to think of a policy or regulation acted upon by a government that was NOT denied, doubted and delayed by interests inside and those outside with the power to affect government actions.

    @-“The US used to accept that truism.”

    Perhaps briefly after Sputnik when there was a threat of scientific parity with military implications. Then the Jasons got listened too more than the other sources of influence. Peilke does a good job of delineating the way that status of science advice got relegated. Without any reference to why.

    @-” Let’s be clear, the poisonois right in US are 100% responsible for poisoning that well.”

    I think you are mistaking commerce for politics. Although given the Koch’s use Randian ideology to justify their attempts at regulatory capture for commercial interests, you may have a point. But the opposition and delay to political action on tobacco, DDT CFCs Sugar, Lead… was not primarily motivated by a malicious political ideology. The power companies that engineer to get their own representatives on boards advising/making policy are not driven by adherence to Alt-Right dogma.

  44. RickA – you seem to imply that because Hansen is pro-nuclear (power) he is thereby not allowing values to interfer with the science whereas those who do not favour nuclear, must be. That reflects your confirmation bias.

    I try to judge them on the strength of their arguments. I believe nuclear can be part of the answer, but not the dominant one, for practical and economic reasons. Its a debate worth having.

    Interestingly, someone like Gavin Schmidt gets a lot of stick from contrarians but yet I am not aware of what is views are on nuclear power; whether he supports Kevin Anderson’s call for focus on demand in immediate future; his views on renewables; etc. In other words, Gavin Schmidt mostly sticks to the science, but gets not thanks for it from the contrarians.

    But to repeat, if he wanted to express view on these things, why not? So long as he clearly made the separation which you seem to struggle to understand.

    Einstein put his name to a letter that led to the Manhatten project but subsequently campaigned with other scientists to limit nuclear weapons. A few, like Joseph Rotblat, left the Manhatten Project before it delivered, because it was clear to them that Germany was not going to succeed in developing an A-bomb. Einstein, Rotblat and others were very strong advocates for nuclear disarmament. Being scientists did not disqualify them from expressing these views, and certainly had zero impact on the veracity of their scientific work.

    The same is true of climatologists, glaciologists, oceanographers, biologists, and all the others who are observing the impact of global warming. Those who tell them not to speak up says more about their bias than any that might come from the scientists.

  45. RickA says:

    Richard Erskine:

    I am not telling anyone not to speak up.

    Everybody gets an opinion and should offer it if they want.

    However, when a scientist ventures into politics by advocating what we OUGHT to do and WHEN we need to do it by, they create the danger of tweaking their own science to help make their case better. Confirmation bias affects us all.

    This is what Dr. Mann has done (just one example).

    His papers were created for messaging – namely the hockeystick and that warming is unprecedented in the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years.

    He was very worried about certain papers and didn’t want to offer up any science which would hurt what he thought had to be done – namely reducing CO2 emissions.

    This in turn biased his science.

    He tweaked his science to improve his “message”.

    This in turn caused his science to be doubted – why? Because he has an axe to grind.

    Dr. Mann is not just trying to figure out what IS – but is tweaking what IS in order to help him with his message of what he thinks OUGHT to happen.

    It is my belief that eventually science will correct itself, and is currently in the process of doing so.

    However, a lot of science has been exaggerated and spun to help science advocates make their case for action.

    This is bad for science.

    Whether to mitigate and/or adapt or even whether to do anything at all is really not for science to decide.

    But some scientists are indeed advocating for mitigation – and want it started immediately.

    Scientists should continue figuring out what IS and leave what OUGHT to happen to Congress (at the Federal level) or the States (in the USA of course).

    After all the messaging, the climate is still at the bottom of issues the public was concerned about.

    This is because people know to take opinions of people who have an axe to grind with a grain of salt – and did and do.

    Let scientists advocate – they should just be aware of the damage they do to their own credibility when they do so.

    Speaking for myself – I believe that ECS will come in much less than 3C, probably less than 2C – if we can ever really even measure ECS. I say that because in 25 or 50 years, if more science starts to confirm Nic Lewis et al’s hypothesis – I am sure people will say the ECS number is too low because we haven’t reached equilibrium yet (and can never reach equilibrium). We will see if I am right about that prediction. I also believe that the sea will rise much less than 1 meter by 2100. Maybe 11 inches or less for the entire 21st century. Again – we will see by waiting and actually measuring.

    But by all means lets keep gathering data and reevaluating.

    Lets keep improving the models.

    In the meantime, why not replace coal power plants as they age out with nuclear power plants?

    That is a no regrets course of action.

    The power plants will have to be replaced anyway.

    It seems renewables cause more CO2 than they prevent – and nuclear is baseload, emits far less CO2 and takes much less space.

    That is my opinion (for what it is worth).

    Everybody is free to ignore it – but I do appreciate this blog and my chance to express it.

    Thank you.

  46. Russell says:

    ATTP:

    Having known Sin at Hiroshima, science was bound to run into Advertising sooner or later.

  47. Willard says:

    > (just one example).

    Why take MikeM again, and not Judy or NicL, RickA?

    You think they don’t tweak their science because they have an axe to grind?

    And why would a libertarian preach for nukes?

  48. Marco says:

    “His papers were created for messaging – namely the hockeystick and that warming is unprecedented in the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years.”

    RickA, I am pretty sure you said this (or similar) before, and I am pretty sure I asked you to provide evidence for this claim. I am also pretty sure you offered none. No surprise, of course, because there is no evidence whatsoever that Mike Mann “created” his papers for “messaging”.

    That *you* massage facts to fit your predetermined message (which is what a lawyer does for a living) does not mean everyone else does, RickA.

  49. Rick,

    This is bad for science.

    How is this bad for science? Do you have some actual evidence that the public behaviour of some scientists has actually had a measureable impact on our scientific understanding. Or, do you just mean that it is perceived poorly by some who then argue that it must be bad for science?

  50. Marco says:

    “And why would a libertarian preach for nukes?”

    Probably because RickA wants to derail/divert the discussion.

  51. izen says:

    @-RickA
    “This is what Dr. Mann has done (just one example).
    His papers were created for messaging – namely the hockeystick and that warming is unprecedented in the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years.”

    There was a team Mann Bradley and Hughes who worked on paleoclimate records. They were early in a new field but their results were rapidly replicated by many others using different proxies and different methods. As far as I am aware no other reconstruction of temperatures over the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years have produced temperatures outside the error range in the original MBH papers.

    Within the scientific field there has never been anything particularly controversial about the MBH papers. The pattern of results was expected and confirmed. The papers were not created for messaging, but the graph did get recruited for that purpose. It is prime example of the war on science that is purely about the public communication and perception of the problem, not the underlying science.

    @-“He tweaked his science to improve his “message”.”

    Apparently not given the reproducability of his results from all subsequent research. Unless you are willing to go down the road of accusing Cowtan and Way, the PAges2K project and all other paleoclimate research of ‘tweaking’.

    @-“This in turn caused his science to be doubted – why? Because he has an axe to grind.”

    No, Mann was not involved in the way the hockey stick became an ‘icon’ under attack.
    It was first adopted by the IPCC and then many others as a simple bit of visual rhetoric to convey the exceptional nature of the recent global temperature changes. It does so MUCH more powerfully than a thousand words describing the same phenomena would. Note that this has nothing to do with the science, it is in the field of communicating the science to the public.

    Because it is such a powerful way of communicating the historical reality it invited attack by those that had an axe to grind. Those commercial interests started pouring big money into Institutes, Foundations and a range of Astroturf organisations casting doubt on the science with special emphasis on the most powerful item in the public communication of AGW, the hockey stick graph.

    @-“However, a lot of science has been exaggerated and spun to help science advocates make their case for action.”

    However, a lot MORE science has been exaggerated and spun to help commercial advocates make their case for INaction.

    However this is all in the field of public communication. Those advocating doubt and inaction on the basis of claims that the scientists have exaggerated the dangers of AGW are not developing alternative credible scientific explanations, or even trying to refute at the scientific level, it is all PR.

    It provides the public smokescreen for political action like that taken under GWB and Harper in Canada where the actual science is under attack by de-funding and preventing scientists from freely giving their informed opinion.

    @-“Whether to mitigate and/or adapt or even whether to do anything at all is really not for science to decide.”

    But accurate science must inform the decision. If your doctor tells you you are grossly overweight and will develop diabetes without mitigation and adaption, it is for the patient to decide…
    Choosing to believe a fringe crank (funded by the sugar industry) who will tell you that it is not serious and can be cured with peach pits is not an optimal response.

  52. BBD says:

    Not fake controversy about Mann again… And then mythology about a nuclear powered decarbonisation and the evils of renewables…

    You are peddling fit to bust, RickA, and I, at least, have been through every bit of this with you before, and recently at that. Is your memory failing you? Or are you just tr0lling?

  53. verytallguy says:

    RickA

    I believe that ECS will come in much less than 3C, probably less than 2C.

    Ah, the Nicene creed for True Unbelievers. To be chanted daily to build group cohesion.

    if we can ever really even measure ECS.

    ECS is a model metric. It cannot be directly measured. Ever.

    It is defined as what an equilibrium temperature change would be, if only certain feedbacks, defined as “fast”, existed, and if CO2 was held constant once doubled. Unfortunately, other feedbacks do in fact exist, and CO2 will not suddenly plateau at a doubling.

    It can only be estimated, using a model.

  54. lerpo says:

    Within the scientific field there has never been anything particularly controversial about the MBH papers. The pattern of results was expected….

    Maybe not entirely. He initially was looking into how natural variability may explain recent trends.

    “My Ph.D. thesis was about natural climate variability. It was specifically about understanding the role of natural oscillations in the climate system that might explain some recent trends. Our foray into analyzing proxy data was to give us a longer data set with which we could explore the persistence of these long-term oscillations. One of my earlier papers showed that in the proxy data was evidence for a 50-70 year time scale oscillation that ended up getting named the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. It’s the interest in these natural oscillations and what impact they may have on things like hurricanes that led us to investigate these proxy data. But as we started to try to piece together the puzzle of what those data were telling us, they also were telling us about natural variations in temperature in the past and how they compared to the warming trends of the past century. What our reconstruction of temperatures showed was that the recent warming was outside the range of the natural variations that we saw, eventually that we were able to extend back to 1,000 years– that there was no precedent in our entire 1,000 year reconstruction for the warming of the past century. It was clear at that point, once we put together this curve depicting that finding, and it became featured in the IPCC summary for policy makers. It got a name, the Hockey Stick, then it sort of took on a life of its own, and we found ourselves in the middle of the climate change debate.” – http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/a-students-conversation-with-michael-mann-on-climate-science-and-climate-wars/?_r=0

    Either way, certainly not marketing.

  55. BBD has a good case that MikaA is just trolling and knows the answers already, but for any innocent bystander let me add that we have good reason to believe that the climate sensitivity estimates of Nic Lewis are too low and that if done well his method leads to above average sensitivities.

    http://variable-variability.blogspot.com/2016/07/climate-sensitivity-energy-balance-models.html

  56. Mark B says:

    “This is what Dr. Mann has done (just one example).

    His papers were created for messaging – namely the hockeystick and that warming is unprecedented in the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years.”

    This statement seems absurd on the face of it. Certainly it has been used for messaging but there’s no reason to suspect it was created to that end.

    The. Cook etal 97% consensus paper would be a plausible example of a paper intended for messaging as they essentially admit in the paper. Even so, that doesn’t invalidate the result.

  57. RickA says: “However, when a scientist ventures into politics by advocating what we OUGHT to do and WHEN we need to do it by, they create the danger of tweaking their own science to help make their case better. Confirmation bias affects us all.

    This is what Dr. Mann has done (just one example).

    His papers were created for messaging – namely the hockeystick and that warming is unprecedented in the last 400, 1000 and 2000 years.

    Wrong. When Mann published his “hockeystick” paper he was an unknown starting scientist. Because of the political attacks on his work, he got into the public eye. So, Rick, already your chronology is wrong.

  58. Russell says:

    ““And why would a libertarian preach for nukes?”

    A preacher doesn’t have to be a libertarian to be impressed by a factor of a million improvement in energy provided per unit fuel mass.

  59. a reluctance to undertake replication studies, and a tendency to attack those who do

  60. Richard,

    a reluctance to undertake replication studies, and a tendency to attack those who do

    Examples? I assume that you aren’t referring to the criticism of your own work, since one of the main ones is that you have done no such thing.

  61. Richard,
    Out of interest, how recent is this working paper in which you suggest that

    Thus, 3°C global warming appears as a critical threshold above which climate change is dangerous.

    I don’t necessarily disagree, but I’m interested under what circumstances you regard it as acceptable to say things that would often be regarded as “alarmist” and when not to say such things. My guess (although this might be wrong) is that you regard it as acceptable when you say them, and as not acceptable when others – with whom you often disagree – say them.

  62. @wotts
    I didn’t say that. I designed a model, put the numbers in, and 3K came out. I just wrote up what I found. If you read between the lines, I was quite surprised.

  63. “I didn’t say that. I designed a model, put the numbers in, and 3K came out. I just wrote up what I found. If you read between the lines, I was quite surprise”

    not a good approach to science, a bit of critical analysis of assumptions of models etc is required as otherwise people assume that the 3K figure is meaningful and that you stand by it (do you?).

  64. Richard,

    I didn’t say that.

    It’s the last line of the abstract, so you wrote it, even if you didn’t say it.

    I designed a model, put the numbers in, and 3K came out.

    Okay, but you still have to define the term “dangerous”; it can’t just come out of a model. So, what was your definition and what happened at 3K so that above 3K is dangerous and below is not?

  65. BTW bad replication/reanalysis studies (e.g. using a marginal assumption when the conditionals are obviously required, performing “null ritual” NHSTs for quantities nobody would expect to be identical etc.) deserve all the criticism they get.

  66. izen says:

    There is something almost endearing in having such faith in mathematical formalism to produce ‘Truth’.
    Epistemic closure must be much easier when after designing a model you can without reflection write up the results as credible even when surprising. As if once the design was done anything that came out of the model was blessed with legitimacy independent of the design. Or designer.

    Would it have been more surprising, or less, if the model had indicated NO damage/danger at 3K?

    Perhaps such a result might have finally prompted some doubts about how the beauty of the mathematical model may obscure some ugly facts.

  67. Fergus Brown says:

    Richard: since you seem to be about, I was curious to know your response to the latest from Hansen, Sato, et al here: http://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2016-42/ , where they conclude that ‘cleaning up later’ will cost $100-600 trillion, otherwise impacts will be very ugly. The scale of this cost seems to be in contradiction to your evaluation of risk/cost?

  68. @wotts
    “I didn’t say that” = “My model said that, not I”

    the definition of “danger” is a non-zero chance of a total loss of income

  69. ““I didn’t say that” = “My model said that, not I”

    pretty much the point I was making, you need to make it clear whether you stand by your model or not. “Not” is fine, but you do need to say so.

    “the definition of “danger” is a non-zero chance of a total loss of income”

    sounds like a pretty arbitrary (i.e. not very useful) definition. A bit like saying there is no danger from ocean acidification unless there is a chance of a complete loss of all coral reefs.

  70. Richard,
    Dikran’s already made the one point; clearly the definition of “dangerous” is arbitrary. Since you don’t have a mandate to define it, others could define it differently. Given how loaded the term is in this context, I’m somewhat surprised that you’ve used it so glibly. It’s also a little surprising given that it’s unlikely to be “above 3K – dangerous, below 3K – everything fine”.

    “I didn’t say that” = “My model said that, not I”

    Your model didn’t really say anything; it produce a result that you interpreted in some way. You may have defined “dangerous” in advance, but that still wouldn’t really imply that your model said it.

    However, in the interests of being constructive, how will this result influence your advice to the GWPF. Given that you’ve concluded that there is a level of warming above which climate change will be dangerous, will you advise them that to avoid dangerous climate change (assuming that we should do so) that they should support policies to reduce emissions?

  71. russellseitz says:

    ATTP:
    “Also, even if some are using what they call “science communication” as a form of “propaganda” doesn’t suddenly justify claims that all of our scientific understanding is tainted, or that there is some kind of crisis.”

    The problem is the temptation to render statements of concern self perpetuating by inflating them into declarations of crisis at the outset . Shortly after Hansen put the Climateball in play, I wrote :

    As a window for laymen to peer through, Global Change and Our Common Future, published in 1989 by National Academy Press, affords a startling contrast. At one end of the spectrum lies the rhetoric of uncertainty that dominates the hard sciences in the study of global change.

    … As one participant in the forum, which produced Global Change, J.D. Mahlman, noted, “Until such decadal-scale fluctuations are understood or are predictable, it will remain difficult to diagnose the specific signals of permanent climate change as they evolve. ”

    At the other end of the spectrum lies the rhetoric of extinction- life scientists confidently predicting the climate-driven disappearance of species over the next fifty years…

    By the volume’s end, it is clear on which side Senator Albert Gore has enlisted: “My purpose is to sound an alarm, loudly and clearly, of imminent and grave danger, and to describe a strategy for confronting this crisis … the horrendous prospect of an ecological collapse. ” He delivered himself of this fine sermon on May Day 1989-the day before the forum started. So much for uncertainty.

    The scientific progress made in the decades since speaks for itself to those who read the literature, but that unfortunately includes neither laymen or politicians , and sustaining ” this crisis” has lead to a crisis of interpretation. For a full generation laymen and politicians have been shaped less by science itself than the views of those motivated to communicate it- a risky business given the political sociology of both the social construction of science and what the French shrewdly term vulgarisation scientifique.

    Today’s larger than life climate science communication too often vindicates McLuhan’s observation that with the avent of television, advertising has become more important than products.

  72. Any definition of danger is arbitrary, but mine is uncontroversial.

    And no, the model is not discontinuous at 3K; it is non-smooth. C(0) actually.

  73. Any definition of danger is arbitrary, but mine is uncontroversial.

    Again, others could claim the same.

    And no, the model is not discontinuous at 3K; it is non-smooth. C(0) actually.

    So, the first derivative is not continuous?

  74. Willard says:

    > As one participant in the forum […] At the other end of the spectrum lies the rhetoric of extinction […]

    And thus RussellS recreated the Goldilock myth all by himself.

    It’s as if libertarians never indulged into any kind of rhetoric.

  75. “Any definition of danger is arbitrary, but mine is uncontroversial.”

    rubbish, as I already pointed out it is useless as total loss of income is not the only danger (as I pointed out). It seems to me designed to cause controversy by igniting a discussion over 2K or 3K (that in the media is unlikely to mention that the 3K is based on a daft definition).

  76. Russell,

    The scientific progress made in the decades since speaks for itself to those who read the literature, but that unfortunately includes neither laymen or politicians , and sustaining ” this crisis” has lead to a crisis of interpretation.

    I don’t get what you mean by “sustaining this crisis” but the first part of what you say is largely what I’m trying to say; the actual science is not in crisis; if there is a problem it is how it is being interpreted (and maybe manipulated) in the public/policy sphere.

  77. It seems to me designed to cause controversy by igniting a discussion over 2K or 3K

    Maybe, but given that what we’re doing now is probably insufficient to avoid either 2K, or 3K, it’s not really clear why it should make much difference whether the “dangerous” limit is taken to be 2K, or taken to be 3K. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t cause controversy, just that it shouldn’t.

  78. @dikran
    Uncontroversial in that all agree that a total loss of income is bad.

  79. Richard,
    Suggesting/implying that the boundary between “dangerous” and “not dangerous” is a total loss of income might, however, be controversial.

  80. Richard,
    Figure 3 in Richard’s paper is interesting. It’ seems to be suggesting that, for example, for global warming of 8K, there is 10% chance that about 3% of the world’s population would be living in a country in which the welfare impact of climate change would be a total loss of income. Seems a little low to me, but maybe I misunderstand what the figure is actually suggesting.

  81. Okay, Figure 5 seems to be suggesting that – under some scenarios – there is something like a 5% chance that after about 8K of warming, everyone would live in countries in which the welfare impact of climate change would be a total loss of income.

  82. Eli Rabett says:

    Tol claims that he did not bite anybody, but his dog did.

  83. Eli Rabett says:

    If you have a problem with that talk to the dog

  84. Willard says:

    Richie’s dog doesn’t bite, Eli.

  85. izen says:

    Must be Gremlins….

  86. Richard wrote “Uncontroversial in that all agree that a total loss of income is bad.”

    which of course is ignoring the point that it is such an uncontraversial point that the resulting study is entirely pointless as we know we want to avoid losses that fall well short of total loss of income. However it does provide an opportunity for your chums at the GWPF etc. to cast false doubt on the 2K target by not mentioning this little caveat.

    It is a shame that Richard engages in such pedantry, rather than address the actual criticism, still, it is your academic reputation that is tarnished by the evasion, not mine.

  87. @dikran, wotts
    Sure. This is a very conservative definition of danger. That said, it has traction.

    @wotts
    I see that the figures and captions are not as clear as they could be.

    Figure 3 shows that, for static vulnerability, for 8K warming, there is a 1% chance that 10% of the world population live in countries that suffer a total economic wipe-out.

    Figure 5 shows that, for dynamic vulnerability, 100% of world population do.

  88. “Sure. This is a very conservative definition of danger.”

    yes, to the point of a complete lack of utility. I note that you have not explained why it is a useful definition, depsite the fact I have pointed out four times already that it is useless/pointless.

    “That said, it has traction.”

    yes, as I said, I’m sure it is very effective at stirring up discussion, especially amongst those wanting to avoid action to prevent exceeding the 2K threshold. That isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    Do you stand by the 3K figure as being the threshold that we should actually try to avoid exceeding, or do you think in practice we should aim for a lower threshold? A direct answer would be appreciated.

  89. russellseitz says:

    Richard , is :
    ” for static vulnerability, for 8K warming, there is a 1% chance that 10% of the world population live in countries that suffer a total economic wipe-out … for dynamic vulnerability, 100% of world population do.”

    a statement reflecting the amplification of atmospheric radiative forcing at high latitudes ?

    As i’s rather hard to imagine the Scando-Siberian economy going to zero under the stress of a Mediterranean climate, please do explain.

  90. @dikran
    No, I don’t think there is any point in setting global, long-term targets (unless you’re a bureaucrat).

  91. So what is the point in deciding the threshold at which climate change becomes “dangerous” (a value judgement implying that something should be done to avoid it)?

    You still haven’t explained why the definition is not useless, suggesting that there isn’t any point setting global long term targets seems to reinforce that.

  92. Amusingly, what I asked was “Do you stand by the 3K figure as being the threshold that we should actually try to avoid exceeding, “, Richard answers “No”, which implies that Richard doesn’t think that we should try to avoid exceeding a threshold that he himself defines “dangerous”. LOL.

  93. @dikran
    Policy proceeds by government intervention, rather than by target setting.

  94. Richard,

    Policy proceeds by government intervention, rather than by target setting.

    I’m not quite sure what the distinction is, but – presumably – if a policy maker came to you and asked what level of warming would be “dangerous” you would respond with something like “my model suggests that above 3K would be dangerous”. They might then need to talk with others as to what would be required to avoid 3K of warming, but once that requirement was specified you could – presumably – provide information as to what policy might satisfy those requirements. What might you suggest?

  95. Eli Rabett says:

    Tol: Policy proceeds by government intervention, rather than by target setting.

    You might have a word with the Fed, the ECB and the Bank of England on that

  96. @wotts
    I’d say what I always say: Impose a carbon tax. Retract all other climate policy.

  97. Richard,
    So, in your view, that along could keep warming below 3K?

  98. Willard says:

    In the alternative, Richie’s dog was tied up that night.

  99. Richard wrote “Policy proceeds by government intervention, rather than by target setting.”

    Richard is evading the question (as usual), I asked “Do you stand by the 3K figure as being the threshold that we should actually try to avoid exceeding, or do you think in practice we should aim for a lower threshold?”. I didn’t mention policy, or how this should be achieved, I was asking about what it is we should achieve (it seems pretty stupid to form a policy without knowing what it is you are trying to achieve).

    I’ll try and rephrase the question. Do you think that a cost-benefit analysis of mitigation/adaption favours stabilizing on a climate change of 3K or a lower figure, such as 2K?

    I note that Richard has again refused to address the question of the utility of his definition of “dangerous” (and the response above again suggests there is none), which I will take to be a tacit admission that knows its utility is negligible.

  100. Andrew Dodds says:

    We have practical experience of carbon taxes, in the form of UK (and EU) fuel duty.

    What we observe is a reduction in use (perhaps 50% over the USA) based on driving less and in cars with better fuel economy; but some of this may be to to the smaller starting size of EU cities and commutes. So a swinging carbon tax (~£300/tonne CO2) causes a reduction in use, but not a cessation in use.

    And the market in cars is characterized by depth, choice and transparency, compared to (for example) electricity and home heating. Indeed, it’s hard to see how market forces would even operate there, given the paucity of options for reducing use significantly. I can cook with gas, or gas-fired electricity.

    So to reduce emissions to the level where 3K of warming was unlikely would take an immediate imposition of a carbon tax at levels much greater than normally mooted. Which would then be in the position of attracting strong political opposition whilst having no constituency to defend it. (Fee and dividend may help there ).

    Now, the Pavlovian response here is for our economist to claim that he doesn’t care about actual temperature targets, just paying for the cost of carbon emissions. Of course, this also has multiple problems; these costs extend out thousands of years into the future whereas the time horizon of the tax collected is decades at best; and there is significant uncertainty of what the costs will be and who will bear them.

    The overall impression is that a carbon tax is proposed precisely because it is unlikely to be set at a level that has a significant effect, but allows other policy to be discarded, thus being a win for Business as Usual. A serious attempt to avoid dangerous levels of global warming it isn’t.

  101. Andrew hits the nail squarely on the head. Richard says “Impose a carbon tax.”, the question then is “how high do we set the carbon tax?” and the answer is “it depends what you want to achieve (i.e. your target).”. So would avoiding the 3K “dangerous” climate change be a suitable criterion to set the carbon tax, or would it be better to use the existing 2K figure. Of course Richard apparently doesn’t want to answer that, presumably because he is aware that it would be irrational not to consider losses short of a total loss if income (i.e. his criterion is devoid of all utility).

  102. Of course, this also has multiple problems; these costs extend out thousands of years into the future whereas the time horizon of the tax collected is decades at best; and there is significant uncertainty of what the costs will be and who will bear them.

    Indeed, this is something I’ve tried to understand better. It seems to me that those who emit could choose to pay a carbon tax based on estimates of damages done mostly to the descendants of those who are not emitting. So, potentially, the rich could just decide to pay now so as to do something that will lead to damages imposed on the poor, in the future.

    To be clear, I do think a carbon tax is a policy instrument that should be used. I’m just not clear that it is sufficient, nor clear that it is necessarily a morally appropriate response. If it is better than any alternative, this may all be moot, but I’m not yet convinced that it is.

  103. Andrew Dodds says:

    Yes, a Carbon Tax acts as a multiplier for other measures..

    As per cars/fuel duty; on it’s own it is modestly effective, but combined with a government backed drive to electric cars it is very effective.

    Perhaps domestically; if the government is driving serious efforts to decarbonise the electric grid, a carbon tax pushes people away from natural gas for heating/cooking to electricity.

    So you can always see how a carbon tax will help, it’s just that it is not sufficient on its own.

  104. -1=e^iπ says:

    @ Andrew –
    “So a swinging carbon tax (~£300/tonne CO2) causes a reduction in use, but not a cessation in use.”

    For every level of CO2 emissions less than business as usual, there is a level of tax that will give such a level of CO2 emissions. If one were to set the tax to $1 trillion / ton CO2, do you really think anyone would be able to afford to emit CO2?

    With respect to the cessation in use, yes you could have a tax high enough to achieve that.
    But there is going to be disagreement in the desirability of the level of cessation of use and thus the desirability of such a high tax.

    “The overall impression is that a carbon tax is proposed precisely because it is unlikely to be set at a level that has a significant effect”

    People support taxing CO2 emissions because it is the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions. Even people like James Hansen and David Suzuki agree. For a similar reason, many people support pigouvian taxes on other things, such as alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and smog.

  105. Willard says:

    I don’t believe you really got bit by Richie’s dog.

  106. pete best says:

    http://www.alphr.com/science/1004830/this-might-be-why-peer-review-is-struggling

    Peer review is potentially struggling as only so many scientists actually do it

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