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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anthony Watts' bombshell goes pear-shaped. 82% of WUWT-ers aren't interested!

Sou | 7:21 AM Go to the first of 54 comments. Add a comment

In a burst of unfettered excitement, Anthony Watts has uncovered yet another bombshell (archived here,  latest update here). He wrote his shocking headline:

John Cook’s 97% consensus claim is about to go ‘pear-shaped’

About the shape of a pear

Anthony began by spending some time explaining to his readers the meaning and origin of the term "pear-shaped". Or one supposed origin - a military one. There are several other possible origins.

The top-ranked ERL paper of 2013

Most readers will be familiar with Cook13, the 97% consensus paper, which got deniers in such a tizz without them even reading the paper. Many of you will remember how Anthony Watts blew a gasket at the Presidential tweet.

What you may not know is that the 97% consensus paper was the most read of all the papers published in Environment Research Letters last year. And not just last year - it's the most read paper in ERL for all time. In fact it's the most-read paper in all (80+) Institute of Physics Journals - of all time, ever. Or that it was awarded the "Best Article of 2013" by the Editorial Board of ERL.

Is it any wonder that some devious deniers will not stop at anything - not just lying but also stealing - to try to discredit this solid piece of research.

Pears or nuts, anyone?

Anyway, once Anthony got his "pear-shaped" explanation out of the way, he copied part of a blog article by Richard Tol. Richard has been going nuts (acting nuts?) for months trying to find a flaw in the paper he accepts as having correct results, writing in one of his silly and wrong protest drafts (trying to prove the researchers got tired. Yes, really!):
There is no doubt in my mind that the literature on climate change overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that climate change is caused by humans. I have very little reason to doubt that the consensus is indeed correct.

Despite his certainty that there is an overwhelming consensus, Richard said he's finally got someone to publish his "comment" of protest at Cook13.  This is after almost 12 months and four failed attempts with three different journals. And that's somehow going to prove - just what exactly neither Anthony nor Richard say! (Most likely that Richard doesn't know what he's talking about, going by his early attempts at knocking the paper.)

Anthony also quotes Brandon Shollenberger, who apparently lacks ethics (like Anthony) and has no sense of proportion. Brandon, remember, is the same person who buries his long nose in trivia looking for misquotes and tiny glitches and then yells for weeks about it, long after his alleged errors, where they exist, have been corrected or at least acknowledged (where correction is either not possible or seen as too trivial to matter in the slightest). Brandon, being a true blue science denier, bypasses the very real and grievous frauds and deceptions. Disinformation about climate science itself doesn't bother Brandon, the "denier".
According to this latest WUWT article there must have been nefarious activity afoot, or ahand or asomething-or-other. This as yet un-identified nefarious activity is based, not on any analysis of scientific papers, but on a hack of a private forum (where apparently SkS authors discuss blog posts to make sure they are correct and readable before posting them to the main SkepticalScience blog, or whatever).

It's quite possible that Brandon himself hacked his way into the SkS private forum, which is what his tweets suggest, when he writes - "I just made a really cool discovery" and "Too bad there's no way to sell it. That'd be cool" and "I've posted a teaser of my recent discovery. I wonder how many people can figure out what the image is".

On the other hand, Brandon might have just been the willing receiver of stolen property from the thief who hacked the SkS forum in 2012.

Upstaged! (What a shame shambles)

Poor old Richard Tol, having finally attained his moment (half second?) of glory in deniersville, he's been upstaged by Brandon Shollenberger, of all people! With Anthony Watts doing his best to get in on the action, of course.  And all of them completely missing the fact that if they wanted to do their own analysis of scientific papers on climate change they could have done so ten times over in the past twelve months, or at any time.

The deniers could have done their own Web of Science search. If that was too much like hard work (after all, they might get tired), they could have used the data all packaged up for them by the hard (tiring) work of John Cook and his co-authors.  The Cook13 researchers have already provided them with all the data they need in the form of 11,944 papers written by 29,083 authors and published in 1,980 journals from the past 20 years! SkepticalScience even has a tool with which you can rate the abstracts yourself. And anyone interested can download the details and see the researchers ratings as well as download the ratings of the papers' authors by year and rating.

The mugger politely asks his victim for more ...

So who has the nefarious intent?  Brandon Shollenberger, Anthony Watts and Richard Tol are sorely lacking in the ethics department. Anthony Watts quotes Brandon writing quite openly and without a hint of the shame any decent person would feel if they were tempted to steal:
I’ve sent John Cook an e-mail alerting him to what material I have, offering him an opportunity to give me reasons I should refrain from releasing it or particular parts of it. I figure a day or two to address any potential privacy concerns should be enough.
His response will determine how much information I provide. No obligations were placed upon me regarding any of the material I have, but I don’t see any compelling reason to provide information about how I got it either. I’d need a better reason than just satisfying people’s curiosity.

That's a bit like a mugger asking their victim if there is any good reason why the mugger should give her back her wallet. And then graciously offering to not publish her love letters immediately, giving the victim time to dwell on the privacy implications.

Maybe if Brandon got a sharp knock on his door from someone in blue waving a badge, they should be able to give him a very good reason for "providing information" about how he "got it".  Being a thief or a receiver of stolen property is a much better reason than simply "satisfying people's curiosity", don't you think?

What is the startling new information?

There is no new information that would change the results of Cook13.  Brandon says he has information that will show which people rated which papers and how - or at least that's what I think he's saying. This information is going beyond "need to know" and I don't know of any scientific publication that would provide that amount of detail. The most that climate science papers normally show is who did the data collection, who did the analysis and who wrote the paper or similar, not normally the details of who collected which precise tiny bits of information.

In any case, to demonstrate the accuracy or otherwise of the Cook13 findings, you'd have to either categorise scientific papers the Cook13 team used or do another study from scratch. At a pinch, you could ask the authors of the papers to categorise their own papers though I think an independent categorisation is preferable. To my knowledge, no denier has bothered doing any of these options, or if they have they haven't come up with any different results.  (The Cook13 researchers categorised the abstracts and validated their findings by asking authors to categorise their own papers.)

Laughably, Richard Tol, in his befuddled brain apparently thinks that "only" twelve people completing the ratings is somehow or other something or other (archived here). Never mind that it's eleven more people than did the ratings in Naomi Oreske's study published in Science several years ago. And eleven more people than did James Powell's unpublished works, the most recent of which came up with only one out of 2,258 recent articles, written by a total of 9,136 authors, which rejects the human influence of global warming.

Richard Tol's cause clause

What's even sillier (if possible) and shows just how far into conspiracy thinking Richard has gone, is the second part of the sentence where he wrote:
There were only 12 raters (24 at first, but half dropped out), picked for their believe (sic) in the cause

Seriously? He thinks that the ratings were skewed by a belief in "the cause"! What "cause" that would be Richard doesn't say. Remember, he is already on record, as writing that he accepts the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. Not only that, but the Cook13 study showed that the researchers were slightly more conservative than were the scientists who rated their own papers!

From the WUWT comments - how Anthony's bombshell goes pear-shaped

This one is classic. Anthony was in such a rush to print his bombshell (devoid of any bomb) that he spelt Brandon Shollenberger's name three different ways: Brandon Schollenberger, Schollenberg and only writing it correctly in his pastes from Richard Tol as Brandon Shollenberger. At least Brandon now knows how he's regarded (or not regarded) by Anthony. Brandon Shollenberger says:
May 10, 2014 at 9:42 am
My last name was spelled three different ways in this post. I don’t think that’s enough. We should see how many different ways we can spell it.
REPLY: Apologies, fixed. – Anthony

Many people were more interested in colloquial expressions than they were in the boring topic of scientific consensus. Latimer Alder was first cab off the rank and says:
May 10, 2014 at 9:13 am
A rather more lively Brit expression is ‘tits up’. Means the same

Pamela Gray says:
May 10, 2014 at 9:34 am
That would be of USA, not British origin. It is either a vulgar version of “belly up” (most likely), known in the US and first captured in print in 1920, or a reference to WW2 (unlikely) aeroplanes and one of their dials, which when broken, turns upside down. The upside down lettering looks like breasts, and usually means enough damage to the cockpit that you had better bail if you still can.
 And then decides that breasts is a dirty word at WUWT, and corrects it to:
Oops. I should have said tits instead of br***ts.

There were several more comments about colloquialisms, such as from The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley who says:
May 10, 2014 at 10:17 am
I don’t mean to start a pond war, but why do so many Americans think everything was started there? It reminds me of a conversation I heard a few years back. An American woman was talking to an English woman, and remarked on the Peter Rabbit books. “Do you have Beatrix Potter in England?” asked the American lady. The English woman just groaned.

One of the few comments that started off on topic, quickly went off topic and diverted to cricket or soccer or whatever the world cup is for at the moment. Auto says:
May 10, 2014 at 10:50 am
I would agree with Dr. Tol, and our host, that – as many here suspected – John Cook’s number resemble a crock of r*t s**t [no, not suet].
I continue to be disappointed in the media – the BBC today is pushing
“Scorching El Nino event could scupper England’s World Cup ”
Absolutely nothing about England not having enough players who are good enough, unhappily – it might be a degree or three warmer when we play our matches than the long-term average.
I guess that means weather . . . . .
In fact, out of all the comments there were only a few that had anything to do with the 97% consensus.  Yep, I've even just refreshed the page and updated the archive. So far, after around four hours of prime time, there are only 38 comments. Of those:
  • 58% (22 out of 38 comments) were about pear-shaped or tits up or similar
  • 8% (3 comments) were about the spelling of Brandon's name
  • 24% (6 comments) were random off topic comments protesting climate science in general or other meaningless waffle of an unrelated nature
  • 18% (7 comments) were vaguely related to the consensus discussion
Here are six of the seven comments that were more or less on the consensus topic, some at a stretch. The other one, which devoted more words to sport than science, is already listed above. Very deep and incisive commentary as you can see :)

Matthew R Marler says:
May 10, 2014 at 9:39 am
My applause and thanks to Brandon Schollenberger. This should be interesting.

Jimmy Haigh says:
May 10, 2014 at 9:49 am
More proof – were it even needed – that, basically, Warm-mongers are pretty thick.

michael hart says, quoting Richard's meaningless comment:
May 10, 2014 at 10:51 am
Theirs was not a survey of the literature. Rather, it was a survey of the raters.
And they found that they agreed with themselves. It doesn’t usually require a survey.

Mike Maguire talks about the "known law of photosynthesis" and says:
May 10, 2014 at 11:01 am
In a world that gives Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize and an Emmy for his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and brainwashes the known law of photosynthesis out of people, while brainwashing in a theory on paper that has busted in the real world for 15 years……………..the 97% consensus of climate scientists paper fits right in.

John Whitman advocates forgetting ethics and petty things like the law of the land, and going for broke, and says:
May 10, 2014 at 11:13 am
{all bold emphasis mine – JW}
Shollenberger writes in comments at his blog:,
His [Cook's] response will determine how much information I provide. No obligations were placed upon me regarding any of the material I have, but I don’t see any compelling reason to provide information about how I got it either. I’d need a better reason than just satisfying people’s curiosity
- – - – - – - -
Brandon Shollenberger,
That turn of phrasing implies fairly reasonably that you got from a person(s) the “part of the missing data [from Cook’s consensus paper]“. It implies you didn’t just find the data.
After you duly consider any potential harm to the raters by making their names and IDs public, I do think it would be valuable in assessing bias if the names and IDs of the raters in the data you have were made public.

John F. Hultquist starts off with 97% and then launches into some unintelligible ramble about US history and says:
May 10, 2014 at 11:18 am
The 97% story just keeps going on and on and ….
… and speaking of rabbits, Ghost @ 10:17 asks why so many Americans think everything started there.
Many groups of people that become organized (a tribe?) and name themselves use a word or phrase that translates as “the people” and their beginning or origin story starts the history or timeline of what they know. For example, when Gouverneur Morris wrote the words “We the People … do ordain … the United States of America” – history began. It is that simple.

Anthony's big boast that a denier hacker stole private property from SkepticalScience went down like a lead balloon.  His bombshell went pear-shaped!


  1. If Tol can't see how batshit crazy he's looking then something's gone adrift in his head. In my opinion he can't, and something has. Same for Curry.

    The sense of being one El Nino away from the street must be stressful.

    1. A relevant comment from Richard Tol at the "And Then There Is Physics" blog.

      "Published papers that seek to test what caused the climate change over the last century and half, almost unanimously find that humans played a dominant role."

    2. Indeed; this is the kind of comment which makes me question Tol's state of mind. He knows, intellectually, that it's trivially easy to determine the fact but believes, emotionally, that Cook et al chose to go about it in a nefarious manner. Tol's tribalism is more than evident, as is the cognitive dissonance and conspiracist ideation.

      It seems to me there's a widespread crisis of confidence in the AGW denier camp. The future they've always been denying is upon them - which is, of course, why they keep harping back to their glory days of the Hockey Stick, FoI, and SlimeItGate.

    3. When all is said and done the targets of this type of venom actually reveal the fundamental fears of the Denialati.

      Why are they afraid of Mann's hockey stick? It demonstrates that anomalous warming is occurring.

      Why are they afraid of the 97% figure? It demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of informed professionals understand that this warming is caused by humans.

      Why are they afraid of Oreskes? She demonstrates that there is an oragnised response by vested industrial and ideological interests to resist solutions to the most fundamental biological crisis in human history.

      Whenever one looks behind the curtain one sees a coward whose knees are knocking together, and who is desperately pulling the knobs and levers in order to maintain a facade behind which he can hide his (and/or his pay-masters') sociopathic motivations.

    4. Their concerns are all about the PR campaign, and their tactics are all PR techniques. The science never did concern them : image is all. So much so that, having created the image, they come to believe in it.

  2. Christ, are these infants still throwing their toys over Cook et al?

    If they are genuinely concerned, they could have completed their own fastidiously conducted and comprehensive literature surveys several times over by now....are they so oblivious to their own transparency?

    Watts, Trollenburger, Tol....hopeless fools.

  3. It's ironic really how Watts and all the other deniers complained about 'ethics issues' in Prof. Lewandowsky's paper yet appear to have no issue whatsoever with 'naming and shaming' the anonymous raters in the Cook et al. paper.

    1. Yeah, I read thru the comments to see if any of the Wutters had any problem with the ethical horrors in that post. I wonder if these people started out with a complete lack of ethics or if their moral sense has been eroded by years of contact with slimeballs on denialist websites.

  4. Hopeless fools...?

    Not really. The tactic does work. Make a huge, impenetrably technical-sounding fuss and so create an impression that there is some fundamental problem when there isn't.

    Eg. millennial temperature reconstructions and the scientific consensus that CO2 is an efficacious climate forcing.

    But The Market can't be wrong, so the science must be. And so on it goes.

  5. Captain FlashheartMay 11, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    I think you need to be kinder on Tol for his opinions about getting "Tired," sou. After all, he got so tired extracting data from a handful of papers that he made huge errors in his own meta-analysis, and had to publish corrections (after someone woke him up). So he knows what he's talking about!

    Now he's telling Brandon the thief to compare raters using a chi-squared test. This is absolutely not how it's done, and anyone who understands meta-analysis should probably know that. He claimed here once that he is an "expert" on meta-analysis having done "many." I think we now can see that my judgment the other day - that he is an idiot - is closer to the truth. I hope the people who disagreed with me then are slowly coming around to my point of view, and I'll expand my opinion now to include "ignorant" and "incompetent."

    What a pack of fools.

  6. I'd steer well clear of using Cook et al's paper as any kind of defense of climate science if it were me. And of consensus arguments in general for that matter.

    1. Oops. Hey Jim, your tactic is showing. Pull your pants up a little farther.

      The "cut 'em out of the herd and make them unmentionable" method doesn't work. Mann, Hansen, Pachauri, Jones, etc. Notice how every single one of 'em is still your superior?

      If nothing else, please don't bore everybody by repeatedly playing the same worthless, failed gambit.

    2. I would not offer that advice Jim.

      The climate science denier's claim that there is no scientific consensus around the theory of AGW is central to their political strategy of sowing enough doubt to prevent strong mitigation action.

      This is not complicated. And the "doubt" strategy predates climate science - it was used extensively by the tobacco industry.

      You may also want to avoid any attempts to misrepresent what "consensus" means in this context. It does not imply a "settled science" and the argument is **not** that "consensus implies that the science is correct". In fact as SKS's consensus web site specifically points out

      Isn’t science decided by evidence?
      Absolutely! There is a quote by John Reisman that aptly sums up this sentiment:
      “Science isn’t a democracy. It’s a dictatorship. Evidence does the dictating.”
      That humans are causing global warming has already been established by many lines of evidence. A number of independent measurements all find a human fingerprint in climate change. Our study establishes that the scientists agree that humans are causing global warming and that their agreement is expressed in the most robust venue for scientific debate – in the peer-reviewed literature.
      Consensus doesn’t prove human-caused global warming. Instead, the body of evidence supporting human-caused global warming has led to a scientific consensus.

      On the other hand, if you are suggesting that you agree with the meme that "consensus has no place in science", can I suggest you read Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", one of the more influential books written on the philosophy of science.

      This is a summary of his view from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

      "Kuhn describes an immature science, in what he sometimes calls its ‘pre-paradigm’ period, as lacking consensus. Competing schools of thought possess differing procedures, theories, even metaphysical presuppositions. Consequently there is little opportunity for collective progress. Even localized progress by a particular school is made difficult, since much intellectual energy is put into arguing over the fundamentals with other schools instead of developing a research tradition. However, progress is not impossible, and one school may make a breakthrough whereby the shared problems of the competing schools are solved in a particularly impressive fashion. This success draws away adherents from the other schools, and a widespread consensus is formed around the new puzzle-solutions. This widespread consensus now permits agreement on fundamentals."

    3. Captain FlashheartMay 11, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      Consensus arguments are extremely important in science. Can you explain how any of the major branches of the physical sciences could proceed without them?

    4. I am not a huge fan of consensus arguments: but in this case its about showing that there is a fake controversy that has nothing to do with science and everything to do with fossil fuel industry profits.

      The only surprise is how few scientists can be bought by the trillion dollar pollutocrats.

    5. Jim, I've come across another pro-science person who also seems to think that public perception of what climate science evidence shows, doesn't matter. I'd be interested in why you think it not important that:

      1. the average person in the USA thinks that only around 50% of climate scientists have found that adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere makes earth hotter.

      2. A portion of voters think that only about 30% of climate science scientists would agree that the greenhouse effect is real (and adding more GHGs makes the world hotter etc).

      When the reality is that almost all climate scientists agree that the greenhouse effect is real and that human activity is causing global warming, which if it continues down the current path will have significant ramifications (and cost a lot socially and economically as well as environmentally).

      I mean we're not talking frontiers of knowledge here. We're talking about basic climate science that's been well-established for decades. Yet the general public is ignorant of that and a significant proportion of voters aren't aware that it's well-established.

      I've another question as a follow-on if you don't mind. The nature of politics is that many/most politicians will try to attract votes based not on what they know to be the local/national/global imperatives but on what they think their normal voting block (that portion of the general public) think are local/national/global imperatives.

      If you agree with that, I take it from your comment that you don't see a need for politicians to act to mitigate global warming. Yet I find that hard to swallow, knowing your area of interest. (Or maybe it's because of your main area of interest that you'd rather go with the flow as far as political action goes, wherever that may lead.)

      Also, if science is to be communicated, why do you disagree that an important part of that communication is to let people know what science is well-established (in this case the greenhouse effect and how human activity is enhancing that).

      (For example, you have a blog - is part of the reason for your blog to inform people about the work you do, existing accepted knowledge and the new knowledge you create? Or do you keep it for other reasons?)

    6. I've one more question for Jim, if he feels up to it. Does your dislike of informing the public about what is well-established science extend to other fields such as, say, evolution?

    7. The answer is simple: consensus arguments are a double edged sword--you live by them, you die by them. They have no necessary connection to the logic of the scientific arguments themselves and you don't put the ends before the means. It's not something I should even have to explain to rational people. As for Cook's study it has a number of problems and is being over-sold.

      As for the relative "maturities" of climate change and evolution there is no comparison and there never has been. However, it's also irrelevant.

      And doug bostrom, try not to be a jackass if you feel up to that. I know more about Michael Mann and the quality of his science and the way he operates than you will ever dream of, from interacting directly with the guy for 3+ years at RealClimate. But thanks for your opinion.

      Ain't going to waste my time with people who like to twist and distort what's said to fit their viewpoints.

    8. Regarding the "maturities" of climate change and evolution: "The Origin of Species" was published in 1859. Tyndall quantified the radiative properties of the primary greenhouse gases in -- guess when -- 1859.

      Neither field has sewn up all the loose ends; such is the nature of science. But the broad outlines and basic principles of both are well known. In terms of the "maturity" of each field it's a tie, or at least close enough that arguments can be made on either side. In any event say there's "no comparison" is unfounded.

    9. Don, that is EXACTLY my point--I was even going to use that very example. There is NO comparison, in terms of the depth and breadth of the science involved, between what Darwin and Wallace did in '59, and what Tyndall did. Not even remotely on the same scale. The maturity and depth and breadth of evolutionary theory far surpasses that of climate science, it's not even close and it never has been (although I will grant that it's now somewhat closer than it was in 1859).

    10. We'll have to agree to disagree, I suppose. In my view modern sequencing techniques have finally allowed the science of evolution to catch up with the more quantitative physical sciences such as climatology.

      Part of the problem is that the term such as "maturity" are vague enough that that, say, an ecologist could argue one way and a climate scientist could argue the other. Ultimately we're both being a bit silly.

    11. It is silly Don, I agree with that, at least if you don't establish definitions first. I've completely avoided the whole "science maturity" arguments for that reason, but since a number of people are very fond of claiming that climate science is "mature" (usually without defining what they mean), I'm pushing back. You get tired of it after a while.

      It's not the sequencing technology that puts evolution ahead of climate science. That's great and it's increasing the resolution/precision of what we know at the species and sub-species level, but the main difference between the two fields is the much better constrained understanding of cause and effect mechanisms; the theoretical basis for evolution is much stronger.

    12. Fair enough, Jim. Le'ts try it another way: in your own words, why would you "steer well clear of using Cook et al's paper as any kind of defense of climate science?"

      Your remark is so vague as not even to rise to the level of innuendo. Most readers would nonetheless infer that you find some problem with the paper.

      What's the problem with Cook et al, that we should "steer away from it?"

      In your own words?

    13. Captain FlashheartMay 12, 2014 at 4:08 PM

      Jim says
      As for the relative "maturities" of climate change and evolution there is no comparison and there never has been

      Jim, climate science is able to make relatively accurate predictions of future temperature trends. How well is evolution able to predict how species will change due to these temperature trends? Climate scientists are making predictions for when the arctic will be sea ice free. Can evolution science predict when it will be polar bear free? What about krill numbers - do you have good figures on that?

    14. "As for Cook's study it has a number of problems and is being over-sold."

      The Cook's study has not been over-sold - it has been overbought by the pseudoskeptics. It is only their hot-air that has wafted it aloft and generated so much publicity. And, no, it does not have a "number" of problems. Again that is pseudoskeptics desperately trying to undermine it and hope a bit of mud would stick. It was actually a straightforward exercise which did exactly what it said it did. More rational people accept the results for what they are and do not make such a big deal of it.

  7. Captain FlashheartMay 11, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    Millicent, in Brandon S's blog he is told by Richard Tol to do a chi-squared test, so he does. Do you think Shollenberg has ever checked whether the test statistic drawn from a contingency table is actually chi-squared distributed? Do you think he has done the proof? Or do you think he assumes it is chi-squared distributed because there is a consensus of statisticians on this issue?

    Science is riddled with consensus arguments, but some of them are so fundamental to the practice of basic science that no one even realizes they are using them.

    1. Unfortunately the 'consensus' is not always reliable. I am thinking of the experience of Clair Cameron Patterson who spent a lifetime fighting against the 'consensus' opinion that lead pollution was not a serious environmental issue - that being a false consensus created by the lead industry.

    2. Exactly Millicent. Within climatology we have the example of complete unreliability of long term trend estimates from tree rings using existing analytical methods. Hasn't stopped everybody and their brother from making such estimates, because they either don't recognize, or gloss over, the problem, both of which are a no-go.

    3. Clair Cameron Patterson fought against lead industry shills who tried to deny his science in exactly the same way that fossil fuel industry shills try to undermine climate science. It just so happened that so few scientists worked in that field that the lead industry influenced enough of them to create a 'consensus' that was wrong. Now what that has got to do with tree rings is beyond me: I'd have thought the moral of this story as it applies to climate science is that industry shills (and they appear prominently on the denialist side) are best ignored.

    4. The point is that it's not only people with vested economic interests who get things wrong and say and promote same. Scientists sometimes do it also, although they are generally much less frequent and blatant about it, and the process differs. These things are often not so black and white as they appear from a given vantage point. It's a mistake to over-simplify it.

    5. Jim, you've not answered any of my questions, which were simple but not overly simple IMO :) I get it that you're feeling a bit left out here. This is primarily a climate blog, not primarily an ecology blog.

      I also get it that within science and among scientists there is no need to oversimplify, particularly when you are with scientists within your own field. I also get it that Michael Mann isn't equally popular among scientists - as a person. But that's not the point. The point I am talking about is how climate science is communicated to the general public when the world as a whole is causing very rapid climate change.

      Science communicators do need to simplify. There job isn't to communicate to scientists. Their job is to communicate to non-scientists. You seem to be arguing that there is no job for science communicators and the general public don't deserve to know about science because it's too hard for them to understand. It's all to complicated. I don't buy that.

      I'll ask you again. Why do you think it's wrong to correct the misperception in the general public that there is a lot of dispute within science about the greenhouse effect. Why do you think it's wrong to inform the public that there is strong and clear scientific basis for saying that adding huge amounts of greenhouse gases causes global warming. Why do you think its wrong to point out that the scientific evidence is robust and well accepted that mass deforestation effectively adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

      One does need to simplify science for the general public. That's the job of science communicators. So far you seem to be waffling - the opposite of oversimplifying.

      You've probably noticed that Anthony Watts has latched onto your first comment and gloatingly broadcast it to the general public in a tweet. That's the sort of thing that science communicators deal with all the time.

    6. There, their - I'm doing a Bernard J. :(

    7. "The point is that it's not only people with vested economic interests who get things wrong and say and promote same."

      Whose point is that? It is certainly not mine. In the field of climate science it is precisely the people with vested economic interests - the fossil fuel industry shills - who get things wrong, and get things wrong repeatedly, and get things wrong with their errors always trending in the same direction. Dismiss those people from the argument and there's so very few scientists left arguing over the fundamental conclusions of climate science that the description 'consensus' is an understatement.

      But its not the fact that there is a consensus that convinces me. Its the identities of the 'contrarians', their past records, and their affiliations, that makes this issue as plain as day to me.

    8. I can understand a particle physicist wanting six-sigma before making a pronouncement on anything at all (though not with Higgs).

      To get back to Cook13, what I find curious is that an ecologist doesn't want it communicated to the world that virtually all scientific papers that report on the subject find that there is strong, clear irrefutable evidence that global warming is happening because we humans are increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

      After all, it is having an effect on ecology, too. Maybe not as much impact (yet) as land clearing and human land use and the flow-on effects of same, but that will come sooner rather than later.

    9. What we're talking about, in terms of consensus, is best summarized by the NAS:
      "Any scientific theory is thus, in principle, subject to being refined or overturned by new observations. In practical terms, however, scientific uncertainties are not all the same. Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities."

      The consensus argument is in my opinion the only way to convey to non-scientists the fact that there is no question whatsoever in the scientific community that global warming is happening and caused by our activities.

      By using the consensus argument, nobody is arguing that climate science can explain every detail now, nor that it will one day. But rather that the enhanced greenhouse effect is as sure today as, say, evolution or gravity.

    10. "As for Cook's study it has a number of problems and is being over-sold"

      Oversold? You mean it hit the spot with the media and the general public? That it was such an excellent illustration of how little dispute there is that humans are causing climate change, that many more people finally woke up to the fact that science does overwhelmingly show that GHGs are causing global warming?

      You went that route with the agriculture paper in Nature, too, Jim. Once again, that's the sort of throwaway line that I object to, but it's usually from science deniers.

      I have no problem with anyone disputing research findings or methods, but I have a problem with people disputing findings or methods as throwaway comments without explaining why. It's more a feature of blogs like WUWT than HW.

      Similarly, throwaway lines about dendrochronology.

      JIm, agriculture, human nutrition, dendrochronology and scientific communication are not your areas of expertise AFAIK, but you seem to be quite willing to reject or otherwise express disagreement with the findings or methods, without any supporting evidence or explanation. Not a good look.

    11. Jim's written a lot about dendroclimatology and for all I know he may have a point. Exactly how this bears on the physics of radiative transfer within the Earth's atmosphere is less clear.

      Even if there are fundamental issues with dendro proxies, it makes sod-all difference to the bigger picture, which looks like 400ppm CO2 and climbing.

      So why all the fuss?

    12. Sorry, I wasn't aware of that, BBD (and Jim). I still make the point that on HW one doesn't dispute science without giving reasons.

      Dendro and other paleo papers themselves are full of caveats so unless there are additional caveats not covered in the literature already - and moreso if there are - then it's more like WUWT behaviour than HW behaviour to drop these throwaway lines.

    13. Sou

      Pace Jim, but despite his critiques, it's not clear that dendro proxies *have* effed-up the millennial temperature reconstructions and it's irrelevant to the modern problem anyway.

    14. Correction: I've since checked, and found that Anthony didn't tweet Jim's comment to the public at large after all (though he might have intended it, don't know). It would have only appeared in my timeline and those of Michael Mann and Anthony Watts, because it was just sent as a reply to this one from Michael Mann.

    15. Captain FlashheartMay 12, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      Millicent, your argument about lead pollution is tautological: to be successful it depends on an appeal to consensus.

      "Consensus arguments are bad. In the 1970s the consensus was that lead is not poisonous, but everyone knows lead is poisonous."

      Do you see the problem with that line of reasoning?

    16. "There, their - I'm doing a Bernard J. :("

      I do know the difference - honest! Sometimes my fingers forget!

    17. Ha ha Bernard. I just meant that I had to make corrections to my comment (I also missed a "to/too").

      I wasn't suggesting you can't spell - quite the opposite. Just that you're a good "after the event" proof reader :)

    18. "Just that you're a good "after the event" proof reader :)"

      Lamentably, yes. :-)

      I'm a pretty good "before the event" proof reader too, but I have a signficant tendency to avoid it - especially when it means refreshing pages in order to do so

      My inherent laziness is manifested in my typos!

    19. Unbelievable...


    20. You're eyes are significantly sharper than mine, Bernard :)

    21. "Millicent, your argument about lead pollution is tautological: to be successful it depends on an appeal to consensus."

      My argument about lead pollution shows that the consensus was, in that case, remarkably fickle. But yes you do have a point.

    22. Captain FlashheartMay 12, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      Knowledge can only be effectively used in science when it is based in a consensus. Once there is a consensus about a point, it is easy to reference that point for the purpose of further research and policy development - this is what you (implicitly) did when you discussed the lead poisoning case.

      What is relevant is not whether an argument is based on consensus, but whether that consensus is solid or fickle. When denialists waffle on about consensus-based arguments what they really have a problem with is the content of the consensus, not the use of consensus-based arguments - which is why Shollenberg is happy to use a statistical test he has never actually studied in order to cast doubt on the consensus. He used consensus-based knowledge to attack the paper.

      These people are really ignorant of how science works.

  8. Arguments against scientific consensus is not unique to climate science.

    For instance check out this site.

    Notice the name of the site? It's 'evolution news', but it's a ID astroturfer. (Funny isn't it, that those who are against the consensus, be it climate science or evolution, always seem to choose highly misleading names for their organisations/websites.

    Or here is another,

    Did anyone manage to catch the latest episode of the new 'Cosmos'? They started talking about how Alfred Wegener, went against the consensus at the time, and as such was vilified and ridiculed, and that anyone after him who also espoused continental drift would follow the same fate. But as increasing amounts of evidence was collected, he was eventually vindicated, and his 'crackpot' theory, that continents drifted, is NOW the scientific consensus. Science is replete with these sorts of stories. Every scientific theory from evolution to germ theory, has gone through this process, with those who espouse a new theory, often castigated and derided, and climate science is no different. (It's just that there is the same very powerful vested interests, like with lead and tobacco, who seek to muddy the situation) During the 19th century, the consensus was that atmospheric gases had no effect on the climate, but over almost 200 years, extensive evidence has now been gathered to the point where the consensus is now that greenhouse gases DO have an influence. The evidence now, is so overwhelming, that it's now beyond any doubt. The same is true that tiny organisms cause disease, or that evolution has led to the progression of said organisms or that continental drift has moved the continents.

    It's interesting that continental drift (or displacement theory as it was known) was first proposed in 1596 by Abraham Ortelius, refined in 1858 by Antonio Snider-Pellegrini and also later in 1910 by Frank Bursley Taylor. It was almost by chance, as Wegener was convalescing from his war wounds, while he was reading books detailing the similarities of fossils found in South America and Africa, that he concluded that all the land masses formed a super-continent that he called 'Pangaea', but the 'proof' was lacking. In 1934, a worldwide scientific investigation was undertaken, and in 1936 Robert Meldrum Stewart, director of the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa announced that no drift had been detected. (

    It wasn't until the 1950's when Marie Tharp, a drafter at Lamont Geological Laboratory, in collaboration with Bruce Charles Heezen, created the first map of the sea floor using sonar data. When this map was then combined with seismic data of earthquakes, it became clear that sea floor spreading was occurring, and thus provided the mechanism for continental drift and plate tectonics. This was then later refined with magnetometers adapted from World War II submarines detectors, which discovered that the sea floor was magnetically striped, reflecting the regular magnetic polar shifts.

    So with this overwhelming evidence, it has now become clear that continental drift is now a fact, and so has become the current scientific consensus. Anyone who now suggests that continental drift doesn't exist, and still refers to the old 'land bridge' hypothesis would seem like a denier. The same is also now true with climate science. There is now an abundance of evidence, from satellites to sediment cores, that show that greenhouse gases have had an influence on the climate for millions of years, and to suggest otherwise, you look like a denier.

    1. Don't forget that the mechanism Wegener suggested was wrong. He had the continents ploughing through the sea.

    2. Right, Marco ...

      "When this map was then combined with seismic data of earthquakes, it became clear that sea floor spreading was occurring, and thus provided the mechanism for continental drift and plate tectonics."

      No, this is not a mechanism for continental drift. The continents don't drift in the plate tectonics model. They hitchhike upon the tectonic plates as the plates move. No ploughing through the the floor of the sea like ships through the ocean in the plate tectonics model.

      This is why I so love it when Wegener is brought up by denialists. Because explaining the obvious (continents look like a jigsaw puzzle/earth is warming) with a physically impossible mechanism (continents drift through the sea floor like ships drifting through the sea/"anything but CO2 - take your pick"), is a denialist speciality.

      Wegener gets credit for focusing attention on the possibility that continents change positions over time, that's about it. He was far more wrong than, say, the hypothesis of the "ether" to explain the fact that electromagnetic waves can pass through vacuum...

    3. Far from being ridiculed and vilified, Alfred Wegener went on to have a distinguished academic career. The idea that he was vilified is a self-serving invention of clowns who find themselves being deservedly ridiculed for their whackjob theories.

  9. "Ain't going to waste my time with people who like to twist and distort what's said to fit their viewpoints."

    GASP...if this be his bold stance on ethics, how will Jim B. *ever* be able to associate with the "experts" at, or post comments on, WTFiUWT?? :)


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