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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Anthony Watts meets some scientists - "Extraordinary" sez Anthony

Sou | 2:26 PM Go to the first of 21 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts got to meet some real scientists this week. His trip to the UK wasn't a complete waste of his fans money.

(Anthony ostensibly went to the UK to attend talks by John Cook and Michael Mann. He wrote a substance-free "report" of John Cook's talk and so far hasn't written anything about Michael Mann's talk. Nor did he ask either of them any of his "many" questions. Nor has he mentioned anything about any presentations. The people who paid for his trip could be forgiven if they felt diddled.)

Despite my scepticism, I don't want to spoil any goodwill that may have been created this week, so I'll try to be careful. I might not always succeed, so be warned.

The first hint of anything out of the ordinary (for Anthony) was a tweet. Anthony could hardly contain his excitement. "Extraordinary" was how he described it:

Today Anthony writes about the reason for his pleasure. He repeated the word "extraordinary" and wrote about the meeting under the headline:
An extraordinary meeting of climate skeptics and climate scientists in Bath

A meeting of climate skeptics and climate scientists. Following on from John Cook's friendly advance, Anthony must be over the moon. His blog rants are paying off and real scientists are lining up to shake his hand. [Oops, sorry. I said I'd wind back the snark.]

He said his WUWT-reader-funded holiday trip was "on a whim", writing:
Many people wondered why I would travel halfway across the world to attend the Cook and Mann lectures. The answer to that question is: I decided to come on a whim (I also had not visited the UK since I started blogging) hoping that other more valuable meetings could occur. As I pointed out in my posting last Saturday there was little if anything new in the Cook lecture on Friday night and I don’t expect much new in the Mann lecture either. But, I also pointed out the importance of face-to-face communications in overcoming walls that can be built up in electronic communications.

He was writing about how he was invited to dinner by Sarah Lewis and her husband, financier Nic Lewis. In the photograph of people that he posted on his blog, were the following (Anthony's titles with my cross-outs and my additions in square brackets, my links to their webpage if they have one or other info):

As you can see, Anthony is in awe of academics, granting them all the title of Professor whether they have it or not. On the other hand, he is not so in awe of them that he does them the courtesy of looking up their actual title and academic position.

It was a mixed bag. One person, Andrew Montford, was notable for his absence. Maybe he was otherwise engaged.

The gathering doesn't conflict with my notion that it's partly for social reasons that a small clique of UK scientists are so forgiving of fake sceptics. It's not what you know (or what is said), it's who you know. Is it a deliberate strategy of the GWPF? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever, I'll bet the GWPF is very aware of the perks and payoffs of woo-ing climate scientists. It could really only happen in England because of the lingering remnants of class hierarchy/snobbery (and maybe Texas).

That doesn't necessarily apply to everyone there. Ed Hawkins is not afraid to speak his mind on science. Some of the academics may have been encouraged to attend because someone they respected was attending. Some of them might have just been curious to meet an anti-science blogger, to try to figure out what makes these odd specimens tick.  To see if Anthony is really as thick as he pretends to be. I'm also aware that, despite no supporting evidence after all these years, some of the guests genuinely see value in engaging with fake sceptics who mock and defame scientists. Perhaps they live in hope. They might think that getting blogger Anthony Watts to finally talk with real scientists would make a difference to his anti-science activities. We'll see. At best, it might immunise the people who attended the dinner against WUWT defamation and mockery. (Some of Anthony's followers weren't too thrilled at his dining with "the enemy". Others welcomed it.)

The following bit of Anthony's blog article is very out of character. When has he ever respected anyone's privacy? This crowd must really have impressed him. He probably hasn't been within miles of a real live academic since he was at AGU13 and would rarely speak with one. Anthony wrote:
Since the venue was under Chatham House Rule, I am not at liberty to discuss any of the particular conversations that I was involved with nor will I discuss the conversations of others. However, with prior approval of all participants involved we’ve all agreed to bending the rule slightly to show the photo and name the participants. I think it is important to do so, because I cannot recall any similar meeting. Our goal is to lead by example.

Lead by example. Hmmm. Does that mean that Anthony is going to do a complete about face and start respecting science or scientists? I very much doubt it. But let's wait a day or so and see. He added:
More than anything this meeting demonstrated that a group of people with diverse ideas and some levels of distrust due to heightened rhetoric can come together and have an intelligent, polite, and enlightening discussion. I felt it important that this historic meeting be noted and to let it serve as an example of cooperation and hope for more future meetings so that we can understand each other better.

The world of diplomacy and politics (in any sphere) is clearly something quite novel to Anthony. This might be the closest he's ever been to civilised conversation with people who disagree on some things.

The first step forward could be for Anthony Watts and his readers to look at this YouTube by one of the dinner guests, Paul Valdes.

From the WUWT comments

Quite a few commenters were supportive of the meeting. Others were sceptical and others didn't like the idea at all. Some of them were busy looking up Chatham House rules. Here's a sample of the reaction:

A very large number of people shared the sentiments of WillR, who wrote, without qualification:
September 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm
I am happy to hear the meeting took place. I am sure that positive results will be forthcoming.

Charlie Johnson (@SemperBanU)
September 23, 2014 at 4:27 pm
I am old enough to remember the warm glow people would feel after a US-USSR Detente meeting.
It would last a whole week sometimes.

Mike really doesn't like the idea of people speaking freely in private, he says:
September 23, 2014 at 4:10 pm
IMHO: Chatham house rules are the worst atrocity to free speech…they are used to hide bad behavior you should have walked out once this was declared.

Mike on Andrew Montford's absence:
September 23, 2014 at 4:15 pm
I noticed that Andrew Montford wasn’t there…no surprise since he has voiced his opposition to CH rules in multiple blog posts. 

I checked and found this at Bishop Hill. In which case, I'd say Mike is incorrect that this was the reason for his absence.

September 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm
There really isn’t that much common ground, we are right they are wrong, and that is the end of that. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice dinner with people who are totally wrong, I had two ex-wives so I have done that many times.

JohnWho wonders...
September 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm
I suspect those on the skeptical side didn’t really learn anything new other than to put a face to a name, even though Anthony is gracious enough to mention the meeting in a praiseworthy tone, but those on the CAGW side may have been a bit surprised there is so much common ground.
Wonder if any of them still feel that the debate is over or do any of them recognize that the skeptical position is not one of abject denial but is mainly open, honest, proper science skepticism?
Otherwise, congrats to all that attended – maybe, just maybe, it is a step in the right direction.

Ed Hawkins found it fascinating and enjoyable:
September 23, 2014 at 4:03 pm
Agreed – was a fascinating and enjoyable evening. More thanks to Nic & Sarah for being such fabulous hosts.
Richard Betts found it interesting:
September 23, 2014 at 3:51 pm
Hi Anthony
It was good to meet you and those who I’d not met before, and to catch up with those I already knew. It was a very interesting evening. Thanks very much to Nic and Sarah for their kind hospitality.
Otter – I’m intrigued about what you imagined I looked like. Maybe I shouldn’t ask….!
Anthony replies to Richard that he has corrected Richard's title appropriately.
Reply Anthony Watts  September 23, 2014 at 3:54 pm
Likewise Richard, and I’ve corrected your title appropriately.

Tom in Florida asks:
September 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm
Anthony, my question, without quoting or identifying who said what, is this: did you come away with a sense that perhaps there is now a better understanding of the skeptic position, namely that the so called d*n**rs understand that there has been warming, that man is responsible for some of the increase and that the real disagreement is about magnitude?

Only to be immediately contradicted by Pamela Gray, who wrote:
September 23, 2014 at 7:49 pm
Tom, I don’t believe that the anthropogenic CO2 portion of total atmospheric CO2 can be tagged as responsible for any part of measured warming. 1) The warming is within natural variation. 2) The tiny increase in CO2 does not have the chops to increase global air column temperatures nor increase ocean temperatures. The additional downwelling heat from just the anthropogenic CO2 increase would not be enough to change global temperatures in a significant way. Longwave infrared cannot be responsible for sea surface temperature rise. The second that weak source of warming hits the surface (not enough energy to penetrate to depth) of the water, it is evaporated away. And if the air is heated over land by this tiny portion, night time radiative cooling would send it packing.
There must be a stronger source of increasing temperatures. I think Bob Tisdale is on the right track and has identified a very large player in this game.

After seven years, Doug Allen's looking finally paid off, short-lived though I suspect it will be:
September 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm
Thank you Nicholas Lewis for hosting and the 11 others for attending. Almost every day I look to WUWT and other climate blogs for some good news about genuine conversation and civil dialogue between those with points of view that can’t possibly be as polarized as the media describe and promote. Hooray for some good news! Discussing the topic of climate sensitivity will, IMO, bring the two sides much closer and help return climate science to science. 


  1. Methinks Anthony will develop a rather short-term memory once he gets home.

  2. "Since the venue was under Chatham House Rule, I am not at liberty to discuss any of the particular conversations that I was involved with nor will I discuss the conversations of others. However, with prior approval of all participants involved we’ve all agreed to bending the rule slightly to show the photo and name the participants."

    the CHR allows you to report anything that was said except the identities and/or affiliations of those participating. Watts has got it completely arse-backwards.

    i also don't get the commenters' complaints: the rule is actually conducive to free speech and information sharing, since it gives people the ability to voice ideas that they normally couldn't due to their job or party affiliation.

    1. Whatever the exact definition of CHR, isn't not plastering over the internet views which people have expressed to you at a private dinner party just good manners?

    2. Anthony isn't like normal people. He wouldn't know manners from Emily Post :)

      Remember, he figures none of his mates are too sure about acceptable social behaviour either.

  3. He'll dump his bags in the hall, walk straight to his basement
    i-Defame Pro and start his character attacks on those whose hands he warmly shook 24 hours ago.

    Richard Betts will not be in the least bit surprised - which makes his show of respect to AW all the more honourable.

  4. "Anthony Watts got to meet some real scientists this week."

    Well he certainly didn't meet any at the Cook or Mann lectures did he?

    1. I think Anthony spoke with Richard Betts at the Mann lecture. And I know that John Cook went up and introduced himself to Anthony at his lecture.

      Otherwise you're spot on. For the most part, Anthony stayed huddled with his denier friends, I'm told. He didn't allow himself to become any more contaminated with science than he could help.

  5. As the dinner party was under Chatham House rules, I suspect Watts and his fellow pseudo-sceptics were better served by this event that the climate scientists present. He gets a nice dose of credibility; they get, just...what?

    1. Exactly, John. That's just one reason why I see little value in olive branches from scientists to deniers. If it were the other way around - well, that'll never happen so why speculate.

      The other reason is that all evidence points to the fact that it makes not one iota of difference. At least not in the behaviour or opinions of deniers and disinformers.

      It's just occurred to me that it might make a difference to lurkers/onlookers. That might be worth a study. That could be where the value lies. Especially when onlookers see deniers rewarding the scientists with ongoing bad behaviour.

    2. Sou,

      Yes, in online discussion, it's the lurkers who are the real audience.

      People often seem to misunderstand my motivations for talking about climate science with non-scientists. I am not particularly trying to motivate behaviour change - plenty of other people doing that (with varying degrees of effectiveness IMHO, but that's another story). My main reasons are:

      (i) I like discussing science because it's interesting to do so, particularly with people who *don't* agree with my own views because that's when it's most interesting (it can also get frustrating at times, although not on Sunday evening). Talking with people who agree can be boring for a scientists...

      (ii) I also like to try to understand where people are coming from, particularly when their opinions are very different from my own. This is much easier face to face, so I was very happy to accept Nic Lewis's invitation.

      The food was great too…. ;-)

      If you've ever in this part of the world then I'd love to buy you a drink and have a chat.

    3. Thanks, Richard, for filling us in. I know what you mean. I spent many years commenting on a denier website (not WUWT) for some of the same reasons. I learnt a lot about human behaviour. I learnt even more about climate science, researching what was the real story behind the denier myths.

      I have to agree that discussions are much more interesting when people have different points of view. On the other hand, I don't suffer fools well, so am intolerant of intolerance and stubborn denial; and these days, if I didn't ridicule it, deniers would bore me stupid (with their stupid).

      I will take you up on your offer if I'm ever back your way again. Thank you kindly. I know we disagree on some things so we could enjoy a robust discussion and, who knows, I might even shift my thinking :)

    4. If you are ever this way, Sou (I live in Devon not so far from the Met Office), I'll happily buy the drinks. It would be a fascinating discussion to witness.

  6. Marcel Crok is not the intitiator of ClimateDialogue was initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment:

    Crok is the editor in chief. I think he got that job because the real scientists in the organization are just too busy doing science...

  7. I attended a conference a few weeks ago and then traveled with a group for about a week. I didn't realize all those dinners were so extraordinary! (They were very, very good. Not a bad meal among them.)

    I did read Watt's post and its becoming clear that he only confronts science from the safety of his computer. It seems he really does not have the male attachments to go toe-to-toe in public with Mann or Cook. If I'd spent money helping him get to the UK or to fund his new society/journal, I would be very disappointed.

  8. "Hey, these guys (and ladies) are really smart and hard working, and they put together a really convincing picture about climate change. Maybe I was wrong about everything." - Anthony Watts

    Yeah... I'm kidding.

  9. "I think it is important to do so, because I cannot recall any similar meeting."

    What, scientists coming together to discuss and resolve points of dissention? Yeah that'd never happen.

    And they didn't bother with the niceties of Chatham House anonymity...

    1. He's got a point you must admit, Frank. When was the last time astrophysicists sat down and had a meal with a member of the Flat Earth Society hosted by a merchant banker?

      Nobel scientists thrashing out quantum physics isn't really comparable.

  10. Sou, just one correction. Nic Lewis has written 2 peer-reviewed papers by himself and he's the co-author of 3 peer-reviewed papers.

    1. Thanks. I'll fix it. They are all on the same thing, aren't they? Trying to get the lowest number he can for climate sensitivity (without calling on paleoclimateology or climate models.) Or did he get his name pinned on that Antarctic paper too. I can't remember.

  11. He was on one for Antarctica, one with Otto and now with Curry.


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