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Scientific heresy

I'm grateful to Matt Ridley for allowing me to post the text of his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh. [Update: I have prepared a PDF version of the talk, which has the important slides as well.]

It is a great honour to be asked to deliver the Angus Millar lecture.

I have no idea whether Angus Millar ever saw himself as a heretic, but I have a soft spot for heresy. One of my ancestral relations, Nicholas Ridley* the Oxford martyr, was burned at the stake for heresy.

My topic today is scientific heresy. When are scientific heretics right and when are they mad? How do you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?

Let us run through some issues, starting with the easy ones.

Astronomy is a science; astrology is a pseudoscience.

Evolution is science; creationism is pseudoscience.

Molecular biology is science; homeopathy is pseudoscience.

Vaccination is science; the MMR scare is pseudoscience.

Oxygen is science; phlogiston was pseudoscience.

Chemistry is science; alchemy was pseudoscience.

Are you with me so far?

A few more examples. That the earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare is pseudoscience. So are the beliefs that Elvis is still alive, Diana was killed by MI5, JFK was killed by the CIA, 911 was an inside job. So are ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, the Loch Ness monster and pretty well everything to do with the paranormal. Sorry to say that on Halloween, but that’s my opinion.

Three more controversial ones. In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.

So is quite a lot, though not all, of the argument for organic farming.

So, in a sense by definition, is religious faith. It explicitly claims that there are truths that can be found by other means than observation and experiment.

Now comes one that gave me an epiphany. Crop circles*.

It was blindingly obvious to me that crop circles were likely to be man-made when I first starting investigating this phenomenon. I made some myself to prove it was easy to do*.

This was long before Doug Bower and Dave Chorley fessed up to having started the whole craze after a night at the pub.

Every other explanation – ley lines, alien spacecraft, plasma vortices, ball lightning – was balderdash. The entire field of “cereology” was pseudoscience, as the slightest brush with its bizarre practitioners easily demonstrated.

Imagine my surprise then when I found I was the heretic and that serious journalists working not for tabloids but for Science Magazine, and for a Channel 4 documentary team, swallowed the argument of the cereologists that it was highly implausible that crop circles were all man-made.

So I learnt lesson number 1: the stunning gullibility of the media. Put an “ology” after your pseudoscience and you can get journalists to be your propagandists.

A Channel 4 team did the obvious thing – they got a group of students to make some crop circles and then asked the cereologist if they were “genuine” or “hoaxed” – ie, man made. He assured them they could not have been made by people. So they told him they had been made the night before. The man was poleaxed. It made great television. Yet the producer, who later became a government minister under Tony Blair, ended the segment of the programme by taking the cereologist’s side: “of course, not all crop circles are hoaxes”. What? The same happened when Doug and Dave owned up*; everybody just went on believing. They still do.

Lesson number 2: debunking is like water off a duck’s back to pseudoscience.

In medicine, I began to realize, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is not always easy.  This is beautifully illustrated in an extraordinary novel by Rebecca Abrams, called Touching Distance*, based on the real story of an eighteenth century medical heretic, Alec Gordon of Aberdeen.

Gordon was a true pioneer of the idea that childbed fever was spread by medical folk like himself and that hygiene was the solution to it. He hit upon this discovery long before Semelweiss and Lister. But he was ignored. Yet Abrams’s novel does not paint him purely as a rational hero, but as a flawed human being, a neglectful husband and a crank with some odd ideas – such as a dangerous obsession with bleeding his sick patients. He was a pseudoscientist one minute and scientist the next.

Lesson number 3. We can all be both. Newton was an alchemist.

Like antisepsis, many scientific truths began as heresies and fought long battles for acceptance against entrenched establishment wisdom that now appears irrational: continental drift, for example. Barry Marshall* was not just ignored but vilified when he first argued that stomach ulcers are caused by a particular bacterium. Antacid drugs were very profitable for the drug industry. Eventually he won the Nobel prize.

Just this month Daniel Shechtman* won the Nobel prize for quasi crystals, having spent much of his career being vilified and exiled as a crank. “I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying.”

That’s lesson number 4: the heretic is sometimes right.

What sustains pseudoscience is confirmation bias. We look for and welcome the evidence that fits our pet theory; we ignore or question the evidence that contradicts it. We all do this all the time. It’s not, as we often assume, something that only our opponents indulge in. I do it, you do it, it takes a superhuman effort not to do it. That is what keeps myths alive, sustains conspiracy theories and keeps whole populations in thrall to strange superstitions.

Bertrand Russell* pointed this out many years ago: “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”

Lesson no 5: keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others.

There have been some very good books on this recently. Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain”, Dan Gardner’s “Future Babble” and Tim Harford’s “Adapt”* are explorations of the power of confirmation bias. And what I find most unsettling of all is Gardner’s conclusion that knowledge is no defence against it; indeed, the more you know, the more you fall for confirmation bias. Expertise gives you the tools to seek out the confirmations you need to buttress your beliefs.

Experts are worse at forecasting the future than non-experts.

Philip Tetlock did the definitive experiment. He gathered a sample of 284 experts – political scientists, economists and journalists – and harvested 27,450 different specific judgments from them about the future then waited to see if they came true. The results were terrible. The experts were no better than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.

Here’s what the Club of Rome said on the rear cover of the massive best-seller Limits to Growth in 1972*:

“Will this be the world that your grandchildren will thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts.”

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts", said Richard Feynman.

Lesson 6. Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. Experts are worth listening to about the past, but not the future. Futurology is pseudoscience.

Using these six lessons, I am now going to plunge into an issue on which almost all the experts are not only confident they can predict the future, but absolutely certain their opponents are pseudoscientists. It is an issue on which I am now a heretic. I think the establishment view is infested with pseudoscience. The issue is climate change.

Now before you all rush for the exits, and I know it is traditional to walk out on speakers who do not toe the line on climate at the RSA – I saw it happen to Bjorn Lomborg last year when he gave the Prince Philip lecture – let me be quite clear. I am not a “denier”. I fully accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the climate has been warming and that man is very likely to be at least partly responsible. When a study was published recently saying that 98% of scientists “believe” in global warming, I looked at the questions they had been asked and realized I was in the 98%, too, by that definition, though I never use the word “believe” about myself. Likewise the recent study from Berkeley, which concluded that the land surface of the continents has indeed been warming at about the rate people thought, changed nothing.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be. Or as I put it once, we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.

I also think the climate debate is a massive distraction from much more urgent environmental problems like invasive species and overfishing.

I was not always such a “lukewarmer”. In the mid 2000s one image in particular played a big role in making me abandon my doubts about dangerous man-made climate change: the hockey stick*. It clearly showed that something unprecedented was happening. I can remember where I first saw it at a conference and how I thought: aha, now there at last is some really clear data showing that today’s temperatures are unprecedented in both magnitude and rate of change – and it has been published in Nature magazine.

Yet it has been utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. I urge you to read Andrew Montford’s careful and highly readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion*. Here is not the place to go into detail, but briefly the problem is both mathematical and empirical. The graph relies heavily on some flawed data – strip-bark tree rings from bristlecone pines -- and on a particular method of principal component analysis, called short centering, that heavily weights any hockey-stick shaped sample at the expense of any other sample. When I say heavily – I mean 390 times.

This had a big impact on me. This was the moment somebody told me they had made the crop circle the night before.

For, apart from the hockey stick, there is no evidence that climate is changing dangerously or faster than in the past, when it changed naturally.

It was warmer in the Middle ages* and medieval climate change in Greenland was much faster.

Stalagmites*, tree lines and ice cores all confirm that it was significantly warmer 7000 years ago. Evidence from Greenland suggests that the Arctic ocean was probably ice free for part of the late summer at that time.

Sea level* is rising at the unthreatening rate about a foot per century and decelerating.

Greenland is losing ice at the rate of about 150 gigatonnes a year, which is 0.6% per century.

There has been no significant warming in Antarctica*, with the exception of the peninsula.

Methane* has largely stopped increasing.

Tropical storm* intensity and frequency have gone down, not up, in the last 20 years.

Your probability* of dying as a result of a drought, a flood or a storm is 98% lower globally than it was in the 1920s.

Malaria* has retreated not expanded as the world has warmed.

And so on. I’ve looked and looked but I cannot find one piece of data – as opposed to a model – that shows either unprecedented change or change is that is anywhere close to causing real harm.

No doubt, there will be plenty of people thinking “what about x?” Well, if you have an X that persuades you that rapid and dangerous climate change is on the way, tell me about it. When I asked a senior government scientist this question, he replied with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That is to say, a poorly understood hot episode, 55 million years ago, of uncertain duration, uncertain magnitude and uncertain cause.

Meanwhile, I see confirmation bias everywhere in the climate debate. Hurricane Katrina, Mount Kilimanjaro, the extinction of golden toads – all cited wrongly as evidence of climate change. A snowy December, the BBC lectures us, is “just weather”; a flood in Pakistan or a drought in Texas is “the sort of weather we can expect more of”. A theory so flexible it can rationalize any outcome is a pseudoscientific theory.

To see confirmation bias in action, you only have to read the climategate emails, documents that have undermined my faith in this country’s scientific institutions. It is bad enough that the emails unambiguously showed scientists plotting to cherry-pick data, subvert peer review, bully editors and evade freedom of information requests. What’s worse, to a science groupie like me, is that so much of the rest of the scientific community seemed OK with that. They essentially shrugged their shoulders and said, yeh, big deal, boys will be boys.

Nor is there even any theoretical support for a dangerous future. The central issue is “sensitivity”: the amount of warming that you can expect from a doubling of carbon dioxide levels. On this, there is something close to consensus – at first. It is 1.2 degrees centigrade. Here’s* how the IPCC put it in its latest report.

“In the idealised situation that the climate response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 consisted of a uniform temperature change only, with no feedbacks operating…the global warming from GCMs would be around 1.2°C.” Paragraph

Now the paragraph goes on to argue that large, net positive feedbacks, mostly from water vapour, are likely to amplify this. But whereas there is good consensus about the 1.2 C, there is absolutely no consensus about the net positive feedback, as the IPCC also admits. Water vapour forms clouds and whether clouds in practice amplify or dampen any greenhouse warming remains in doubt.

So to say there is a consensus about some global warming is true; to say there is a consensus about dangerous global warming is false.

The sensitivity of the climate could be a harmless 1.2C, half of which has already been experienced, or it could be less if feedbacks are negative or it could be more if feedbacks are positive. What does the empirical evidence say? Since 1960 we have had roughly one-third of a doubling, so we must have had almost half of the greenhouse warming expected from a doubling – that’s elementary arithmetic, given that the curve is agreed to be logarithmic. Yet if you believe the surface thermometers* (the red and green lines), we have had about 0.6C of warming in that time, at the rate of less than 0.13C per decade – somewhat less if you believe the satellite thermometers (the blue and purple lines).

So we are on track for 1.2C*.  We are on the blue line, not the red line*.

Remember Jim Hansen of NASA told us in 1988 to expect 2-4 degrees in 25 years. We are experiencing about one-tenth of that.

We are below even the zero-emission path expected by the IPCC in 1990*.

Ah, says the consensus, sulphur pollution has reduced the warming, delaying the impact, or the ocean has absorbed the extra heat. Neither of these post-hoc rationalisations fit the data: the southern hemisphere has warmed about half as fast as the northern* in the last 30 years, yet the majority of the sulphur emissions were in the northern hemisphere.

And ocean heat content has decelerated, if not flattened, in the past decade*.

By contrast, many heretical arguments seem to me to be paragons of science as it should be done: transparent, questioning and testable.

For instance, earlier this year, a tenacious British mathematician named Nic Lewis started looking into the question of sensitivity and found* that the only wholly empirical estimate of sensitivity cited by the IPCC had been put through an illegitimate statistical procedure which effectively fattened its tail on the upward end – it hugely increased the apparent probability of high warming at the expense of low warming. 

When this is corrected, the theoretical probability of warming greater than 2.3C is very low indeed.

Like all the other errors in the IPCC report, including the infamous suggestion that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 rather than 2350, this mistake exaggerates the potential warming. It is beyond coincidence that all these errors should be in the same direction. The source for the Himalayan glacier mistake was a non-peer reviewed WWF report and it occurred in a chapter, two of whose coordinating lead authors and a review editor were on WWF’s climate witness scientific advisory panel. Remember too that the glacier error was pointed out by reviewers, who were ignored, and that Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, dismissed the objectors as practitioners of “voodoo science”.

Journalists are fond of saying that the IPCC report is based solely on the peer-reviewed literature. Rajendra Pachauri himself made that claim in 2008, saying*:

“we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don't settle for anything less than that.”

That’s a voodoo claim. The glacier claim was not peer reviewed; nor was the alteration to the sensitivity function Lewis spotted. The journalist Donna Laframboise got volunteers all over the world to help her count the times the IPCC used non-peer reviewed literature. Her conclusion is that*: “Of the 18,531 references in the 2007 Climate Bible we found 5,587 - a full 30% - to be non peer-reviewed.”

Yet even to say things like this is to commit heresy. To stand up and say, within a university or within the BBC, that you do not think global warming is dangerous gets you the sort of reaction that standing up in the Vatican and saying you don’t think God is good would get. Believe me, I have tried it.

Does it matter? Suppose I am right that much of what passes for mainstream climate science is now infested with pseudoscience, buttressed by a bad case of confirmation bias, reliant on wishful thinking, given a free pass by biased reporting and dogmatically intolerant of dissent. So what?

After all there’s pseudoscience and confirmation bias among the climate heretics too.

Well here’s why it matters. The alarmists have been handed power over our lives; the heretics have not. Remember Britain’s unilateral climate act is officially expected to cost the hard-pressed UK economy £18.3 billion a year for the next 39 years and achieve an unmeasurably small change in carbon dioxide levels.

At least* sceptics do not cover the hills of Scotland with useless, expensive, duke-subsidising wind turbines whose manufacture causes pollution in Inner Mongolia and which kill rare raptors such as this griffon vulture.

At least crop circle believers cannot almost double your electricity bills and increase fuel poverty while driving jobs to Asia, to support their fetish.

At least creationists have not persuaded the BBC that balanced reporting is no longer necessary.

At least homeopaths have not made expensive condensing boilers, which shut down in cold weather, compulsory, as John Prescott did in 2005.

At least astrologers have not driven millions of people into real hunger, perhaps killing 192,000 last year according to one conservative estimate, by diverting 5% of the world’s grain crop into motor fuel*.

That’s why it matters. We’ve been asked to take some very painful cures. So we need to be sure the patient has a brain tumour rather than a nosebleed.

Handing the reins of power to pseudoscience has an unhappy history. Remember eugenics. Around 1910 the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals agreed that nationalizing reproductive decisions so as to stop poor, disabled and stupid people from having babies was not just a practical but a moral imperative of great urgency.

“There is now no reasonable excuse for refusing to face the fact,” said George Bernard Shaw*, “that nothing but a eugenics religion can save our civilization from the fate that has overtaken all previous civilizations.’’ By the skin of its teeth, mainly because of a brave Liberal MP called Josiah Wedgwood, Britain never handed legal power to the eugenics movement. Germany did.

Or remember Trofim Lysenko*, a pseudoscientific crank with a strange idea that crops could be trained to do what you wanted and that Mendelian genetics was bunk. His ideas became the official scientific religion of the Soviet Union and killed millions; his critics, such as the geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, ended up dead in prison.

Am I going too far in making these comparisons? I don’t think so. James Hansen of NASA says oil firm executives should be tried for crimes against humanity.  (Remember this is the man who is in charge of one of the supposedly impartial data sets about global temperatures.) John Beddington, Britain's chief scientific adviser, said this year that just as we are "grossly intolerant of racism", so we should also be "grossly intolerant of pseudoscience", in which he included all forms of climate-change scepticism.

The irony of course is that much of the green movement began as heretical dissent. Greenpeace went from demanding that the orthodox view of genetically modified crops be challenged, and that the Royal Society was not to be trusted, to demanding that heresy on climate change be ignored and the Royal Society could not be wrong.

Talking of Greenpeace, did you know that the collective annual budget of Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth was more than a billion dollars globally last year? People sometimes ask me what’s the incentive for scientists to exaggerate climate change. But look at the sums of money available to those who do so, from the pressure groups, from governments and from big companies. It was not the sceptics who hired an ex News of the World deputy editor as a spin doctor after climategate, it was the University of East Anglia.

By contrast scientists and most mainstream journalists risk their careers if they take a skeptical line, so dogmatic is the consensus view. It is left to the blogosphere to keep the flame of heresy alive and do the investigative reporting the media has forgotten how to do. In America*, Anthony Watts who crowd-sourced the errors in the siting of thermometers and runs;

In Canada*, Steve McIntyre, the mathematician who bit by bit exposed the shocking story of the hockey stick and runs

Here in Britain,* Andrew Montford, who dissected the shenanigans behind the climategate whitewash enquiries and runs

In Australia*, Joanne Nova, the former television science presenter who has pieced together the enormous sums of money that go to support vested interests in alarm, and runs

The remarkable thing about the heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.

In conclusion, I’ve spent a lot of time on climate, but it could have been dietary fat, or nature and nurture. My argument is that like religion, science as an institution is and always has been plagued by the temptations of confirmation bias. With alarming ease it morphs into pseudoscience even – perhaps especially – in the hands of elite experts and especially when predicting the future and when there’s lavish funding at stake. It needs heretics.

Thank you very much for listening.

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References (9)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: Heretic
    - Bishop Hill blog - Scientific heresy Matt Ridley's text of his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh. That is all for this morning, it is more than enough....
  • Response
    So I learnt lesson number 1: the stunning gullibility of the media. Put an ?ology? after your pseudoscience and you can get journalists to be your propagandists. You're going to love it, and you're going to send it to...
  • Response
    Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts. - Richard Feynman, quoted by Matt Ridley in his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh, the entire text of which you an read at Bishop Hill....
  • Response
    Response: Climate of here
    'Is a conservative climate consensus possible ?'
  • Response
    Response: Politics
    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - Scientific heresy[...]
  • Response
    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - Scientific heresy[...]
  • Response
    Response: gaspreisvergleich
    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - Scientific heresy[...]
  • Response
    Response: E-juice
    So this is what I must conclude in 2 lines, If I want to protect my belongings, I can choose a policy. But nobody is making me buy it. Thanks
  • Response
    The ultimate fat-burning cardio routine....

Reader Comments (364)

Just want to add one more thing on the oh so rosy and cozy "warm period" 7,000 years ago. There's some pretty good evidence that that time-frame corresponded to the largest flood in recorded history. The flood on which the story that Noah was based. Lets be a little bit careful what we praise as "good" - when entire nations went from fertile farm land to under water in a relatively quick period of time.

Maybe we should listen once in a while to the extremists, or, we could always build another ark?

Nov 4, 2011 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterEd

- Confirmation bias helps explain "green mathematics", whereby any negative is "certain to be the worst" i.e. temperature rise, sea-level rise etc. And any positive also is certain to be at the extreme end.. apparently windfarms and PV solar are incredibly efficient and will make us lots of money.

Nov 4, 2011 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterstewgreen

Not a word from Diogenes, Matt or Dellers on why, if denialists are not trafficing in pseudoscience, they have bothered to found and, with the help of PR firms and lobbyists, subsidize, an assortment of vanity press journals beyond the pale of peer review?

With literally tens of thousands of D-list science journals to choose from, the fact-checking bar to alloying data and opinion is set very low indeed. Yet despite editors clamoring for submissions to journals so countless it is hard to imagine an article title unfit for one or another, scarce one in a thousand of the 31,000 erstwhile 'scientists' whose signatures grace the Oregon Petition has troubled to add his ten cents worth to the actual technical debate the old fashioned way. By publishing it.

But it is not their failure to publish in the scientific literature that damns them. It is their refusal, manifestly evident in what they blog, to give it a catholic reading in the first place.
That failure resultsin the semiotic comedy of manners that renders sites like this and WUWT so perversely enjoyable. The downside is the intellectual disrepute this extended Pseuds Corner brings down on the adjacent neighborhood of free market economics.

Nov 4, 2011 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

I think there is degree of agreement across the breadth of the debate that the scientific literature is largely closed to sceptics - clearly the members of the Hockey Team believed so, as demonstrated by the Climategate emails.

Along a similar line I was just reading the review of Burger and Cubasch's paper on COPD.

They're not even sceptics.

Tell me about these journals set up by PR firms and lobbyists though. I haven't heard about these. What are the titles?

Nov 4, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Russell, if you are indeed its author, your article in the Wall Street journal decrying attempts to refuse funding to sceptics is very honourable. But not everyone agrees with you, and in practice, the pursuit (and publication, as the Bishop notes) of non-consensus science is very difficult. This helps in large part to explain why many sceptics do not publish very much.

Nov 4, 2011 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Harvey

I thought, "Oh, great-- a Dissentient Afflicted with the Malady of Thought-- right up my alley", but no, you lost me right away, which is a shame. Maybe you should take a cue from your early ancestor, Ridley, about Creation over & against Darwinism, who gave his life for his faith in Christ.

It's been said by Pascal, that an argument cannot be made for Creation over this other mindset, so then, neither can the opposite be true. What proves Creation are Yeshua's own words about the Beginning and the atonement He made for our own wretchedness and the corruption of nature generally. The Bible has never been proven wrong by modern "science", though it is not a book of science, but one of law.

Nov 4, 2011 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterstilo

Magnificent to witness the articulation of a gathering momentum of science, common sense, perspective and wisdom against the New Age pseudoscience of 'save the world' (read: 'my electoral seat') policy funded climate prediction that leads only to impoverishment, primitivisation and totalitarianism.

I have no doubt that a clamour of footfall will be heard as the opportunistic dullards often known as democratic representatives or MP's finally understand the writing on the wall. THEY ABSOLUTELY MUST BE HELD TO ACCOUNT.

Nov 4, 2011 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commentermanfred

" there is degree of agreement across the breadth of the debate that the scientific literature is largely closed to sceptics - clearly the members of the Hockey Team believed so, as demonstrated by the Climategate emails."

Do you imagine a few dozen tree ring researchers to be the editorial gatekeepers of several thousand geophysical journals?

Corollary to your readers generic unfamiliarity with what's in the literature ( starting with the textbooks that underpin it ) is a lack of awareness of its sheer interdisciplinary scope.

As to your question about journals created to furnish polemic ammunition , the confessedly partisan editors of Energy & Environment have indulged in levels of peer review porosity Spongebob Squarepants might admire, and the better to root for his team, that paragon of climate statisticians, Doctor Wegman , has set himself up as editor of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Computational Statistics

You really ought to get out more - I addressed this disturbing development several years ago :

Nov 4, 2011 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

Here, hopefully is an active link to

Nov 4, 2011 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

Please activate the Takimag link- something appears amiss with the allowed HTML navigation

Nov 4, 2011 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

But it is not their failure to publish in the scientific literature that damns them. It is their refusal, manifestly evident in what they blog, to give it a catholic reading in the first place.
That failure resultsin the semiotic comedy of manners that renders sites like this and WUWT so perversely enjoyable. The downside is the intellectual disrepute this extended Pseuds Corner brings down on the adjacent neighborhood of free market economics.

Russell Seitz...wake up and smell the coffee. Did you read any of the climategate emails where Phil Jones and Mann arranged it so that the peer-reviewed lichurchur would exclude dissentient opinions? Did you see the obstacles that were put in the way of O'Donnell and co by an interested and intellectually -challenged party called Eric Steig, to stop them showing that his account of the temperature changes in the Antarctic, so enthusiastically presented by Nature, was in fact a statristical crock of shit? Have you noticed that all the predictions of the CAGW crowd - Hansen et al - have been invalidated by inconvenient facts? How nmuch more proof do you need?

Nov 4, 2011 at 9:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

JFK was killed by the CIA, and 911 was an inside job, are documented facts. And the author of this article is using his pseudoscience rhetoric to either try to make us doubt reality or to protect the Criminals in Washington DC. What a Junk article.

Nov 4, 2011 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterDominic

@diogenes... Have you noticed that 3 independent inquiries have cleared East Anglia of any wrongdoing with regard to the data.No attempt to manipulate anything. How many inquiries do you need 300? [snip]

[BH adds. I have edited your comment to remove foul language. Next time I will delete the whole comment]

Nov 4, 2011 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon


those enquiries did nothing of the fact they covered their eyes in order to prevent them from noticing evidence of illegal behaviour. Wake up

Nov 4, 2011 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

" the semiotic comedy of manners that renders sites like this and WUWT so perversely enjoyable."

Vide supra

Nov 4, 2011 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

Russell Seitz

Amusing, acerbic and informed. Thank you.

Nov 5, 2011 at 12:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

In this case 'dissentient' pertains most to 'diogenes' persistent failure to acknowledge that Nature's editors immediately compelled Mann et al to publish a corrigendum.

Peer review is a bruising sport in action, but the wishful thinking of slighted authors no more endows them with a capacity to censor the literature at large than Horner & Cuccinelli's strawfooted barratry translates into a concern for the facts or the science of the law.

Nov 5, 2011 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

seriously dude, could you please clean up,...its like...flying all over the place.

Nov 5, 2011 at 1:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub


So you have come up with two journals, one of which is nothing to do with climate. In essence your "assortment" of journals is one journal. You have presented no evidence to support your claim about "PR firms and lobbyists". So let me ask again. Are there any other journals and do you have any evidence to support your claim about them being set up by lobbyists?

Nov 5, 2011 at 8:09 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Russell again

I don't really understand why you are bringing up Mann's corrigendum. As far as I can see it has nothing to do with anything anyone has been discussing before. However, I think it is worth recording the fact that after McIntyre's review of the draft corrigendum was complete, Nature allowed Mann to insert a claim that none of the errors in his paper affected the results. This was not true. They also refused to make Mann reveal the fact that his PC algorithm was not, as he claimed in the paper, "conventional". He was not required to explain his various truncations and infillings of data or to assess their effect on the results.

Nov 5, 2011 at 8:26 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


The Russell panel found that the hide the decline episode was misleading.

Allegations of subversion of peer review were not investigated in any meaningful way.

Nov 5, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Russell again

I would advise someone with a literary style like yours and someone who is, moreover, given to appending Latin phrases into their blog comments to be a little cautious about accusing others of being "pseuds".

Nov 5, 2011 at 8:30 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Contrarians have long celebrated statistical critiques of climate science, from McIntyre's on through those in the Wegman Report, which enjoyed a very very warm reception here- as you remarked here last Ocriober 9th, :

" Nobody is suggesting that the principal findings of the Wegman report - on the incorrect centring used by Mann - are incorrect, are they? (sic)"

If the publications of Edward Wegman and those working under him have not ceased to figure in your position the climate debate because their authors have been discovered to be serial plagiarists,( c.f. "Copy and paste". Nature 473 (7348): 419–420. 2011. ) why begrudge a climate contrarian so eminent in Congressional testimony his fifteen minutes of fame as founding editor of a captive review journal publishing his own work and that of his follow defendants ( e.g. Yasmin Said).

As to your last charge, conservative Bishops imputing climatological expertise to Horace-spouting viscounts are in no position to criticize ordinary bits of scholarly apparatus, i.e. the vide supra seen above.As a fellow tory I hope your pseudoepiscopal snit subsides, lest it pass peer review at Private Eye, and earn a tenner for Mann's defense fund, which really wouldn't do.

In any event , my congratulations on discovering sense in The Ecologist- working your way further up the peer-reviewed food chain cannot but improve your scientific digestion

Nov 5, 2011 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz

I agree with the Bishop. The word 'pseud' has already come to mind.
Russell, do you have a problem with statistical critiques — of climate science or anything else? If the climate research community had been a bit more prepared to allow the statisticians access to their data and methodology perhaps the science would have moved forward a little and left less room for the catastrophic tendency to belabour us with its prognostications of gloom and doom — mostly without any scientific basis at all.
Or maybe you are one of those who believes that climate technicians (I hesitate to call them scientists since their approach is anything but scientific in too many instances) ought to be allowed complete licence to behave as they wish without any oversight as to the reliability of their pronouncements.
I'm afraid that when those pronouncements are the result of research funded by the taxpayer and if accepted will involve the spending of very large further sums of taxpayers' money then, as a taxpayer, I am entitled to expect their work to be properly audited. If they are not competent to do that themselves then we must be grateful for people like McIntyre who do it for us — and for free!
Incidentally, if Wegman is the best you can do, come back when you've learnt better technique. Unless, of course, you can actually fault his conclusions. Nobody seems to have done so yet. I'm afraid that waving his name around is (and always was) a fairly desperate ploy to distract from the science.

Nov 5, 2011 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson


Anyone with a modicum of intelligence, (and not just an axe to grind) would not bring Wegman's alleged plagiarism, as in any way indicting the criticism of the hockey stick.

The fact that you do so, hidden the flowery folds of prose, says that you have mere straws to clutch.

Whether or not anyone mythologizes McIntyre or Watts, something that so irks you, the narrative has carried the day. On the other hand, the behind-the-scenes scripting the hockey shadowmeisters tried to hoist has fallen apart. That narrative is over and finished.

The ecologist and scientific in the same sentence? Some believe, as ever, that scientific credibility can be accrued to their discipline, by kicking up a lot of dirt, shouting, throwing pies on peoples' faces, and that last resort of failed political science graduates, a diarrheal stream of eco-ebullience. I wait for the day the discipline will get the students it deserves.

Nov 5, 2011 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

To what science does Mike refer? It is one thing to complain about media hype, overwrought policy conclusions and the polemic abuse of global systems models- I for one have been doing so on all three fronts for fully a quarter century, in peer reviewed science and policy journals as well as the usual op-ed pages . It is altogether another to resort to statistical casuistry when the mere facts do not suffice to dismiss the existence of such problems as give rise to polarization severe enough to launch ( you guessed it) media hype , overwrought policy conclusions and the polemic abuse of global systems models.

Resorting to dubious statistical practices attracts the vigilance of the statistically competent , and the editors or nature thanked McIntyre for his trouble. But his being first in line does not mean that the others would not have raised the same issues, and i remain more underwhelmed by the entire enterprise of ( necessary) data splicing under the rubric of palaeoclimatology than impressed by the salience to so broad a policy debate of one bad splice, quickly detected and corrected.

Instead of a scientific counterestablishment orchestrating its own interdisciplinary case, this site , like WUWT is a bibliographic wasteland, an intellectual cottage industry catering to the politically incensed and science hobbyists ill equipped to fathom or sort out the good the bad and the ugly in the voluminous literature this subject produces.

Despite an heroic investment of time 90% of professional efforts to add to it end up being glanced at and deservedly forgotten, so it does not much signify that the amateur batting average here in contrarian blogland is some orders of magnitude worse.

If you can think of a reason that justifies dropping the pursuit of new science in order to argue interminably with folks who focus with manic intensity on the statistical deficiencies of one out 12,000 of the peer reviewed papers that went into the IPCC report , please keep it to yourself.

It was never needed to engender ample skepticism as to the exponentiality of radiative forcing, because it tells us next to nothing about how to reckon climate sensitivity to begin with.


Nov 5, 2011 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell Seitz


Excellent. You seem to be admitting that you are unable to back up your claim about an "assortment" of journals and you are unable to back up your claim about the involvement of PR people and lobbyists. I think readers here will conclude that you just made those bits up.

You don't seem to be disputing the facts of the Mann corrigendum either, so that's fine too. Again, I think people will conclude that you are just venting without being desperately well informed.

Now in your latest comment you have made a fool of yourself again by referring to a splice in Mann's hockey stick. There is no splice. You just haven't a clue what you are talking about. Again.

I must say, there's no "snit" on my part. I'm just amused by your antics. You are barely coherent and barely informed and yet you seem to be on the faculty at Harvard. I must say I wonder if you are a sockpuppet of some sort - I find it hard to believe that a real Harvard physicist could behave the way you do.

It's hilarious.

Nov 5, 2011 at 5:08 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

That last post had a Flesch Reading Ease factor of 22.9 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 19.9! It's the sort of thing that makes my brain hurt and I'm supposedly reasonably intelligent and comfortable with the English language.
Just in case you aren't acquainted with either of these systems, the Harvard Law Review normally comes in about the low 30s on the Reading scale and, to quote Wikipedia:

The "Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula" translates the 0–100 score to a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10.
I was always taught to aim for 60+ on the reading scale and under 10 on the grade scale.
If I actually wanted people to undersatand what I was saying. that is. And, yes, I was writing for university graduates amongst others.

Nov 5, 2011 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

This Russell chap is some strange choice out of central casting, and a rather weak one. Pompous language is inadequate here as a means of hiding intellectual deficiencies. On this site, it draws attention to them. Is there anyone, anywhere who is both admirable AND pushing climate alarmism? I have searched in vain for prominent people in that intersection, and yet I still suppose they may well exist lower down in the publicity hierarchy. After all, saving the planet is on the face of it a noble calling. So why does it attact so many ignoble, ill-informed, ill-mannered people?

Nov 5, 2011 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

The big difference between buying insurance and doing something about climate change is that if your home burns down or you get in a car accident, insurance pays out. None of the efforts to reduce emissions do enough to reduce warming.

Nov 5, 2011 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSaulius Muliolis

@Saulius Muliolis. Come on....Seriously, you have absolutely no way of knowing that. None at all. We know why the climate is warning, so we can only hope we can reverse it by doing the opposite. Honestly some people say the most incredibly rediculous things during these discussions. I mean you might well be right, but you say it like you have the definitive answer. It really is just a case of being realistic and taking the best option in the circumstances. Doing nothing is not the way to go from here. I have no intention of telling my grandkids I was given all the information, but I chose to ignore it because I was going to be taxed more.

Nov 6, 2011 at 7:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon

This post has made me feel like Zaphod Beeblebrox walkin' out of the Total Perspective Vortex!

"What's the big deal? Agreed with everything I suspected and have previously said."

No disrespect to the author. I could not have put it nearly as eloquently - not in a pink fit.

***Related story. The orator talks of a "moment of epiphany." I had a similar experience almost a decade ago with the fake photos-of-British-soldiers-torturing-an-Iraqi scandal. I pegged 'em as fake straight away [eg. no sand? no sand?!] and posted my thoughts on a highly respected - but left-leaning - forum. Crikey! Didn't I cop it when I refused to back down.

This was a forum that did science well, that is multi-listed in Time magazine's annual "most influential link aggregator forums" type thing... for what it's worth. People whose opinions I previously respected, where I was but an unworthy interloper. Boy, talk about a paradigm shift.

[And you could hear crickets chirping when it came time for apologies when it turned out they were fake.]

The other thing that Matt Ridley touches on... When it comes time to trulypay the Piper, it's never gonna happen. Evarr. We've all become too soft. Most of the climate change cheerleaders are never gonna sweat out a stinkin' hot summer when there's an aircon on/off button within tempting reach.

Nov 6, 2011 at 7:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBig Ramifications

Evolution is science; creationism is pseudoscience.

No, you got that one wrong. It should read:

Biology is science; Evolution and creationism are pseudoscience.

Nov 6, 2011 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Adamson

"taxed more" doesn't begin to touch it. The only way, as proven by all data and experience and logic, to cut CO2 emissions is to dial back the economy. I.E., global depression, no relief. The effects of slashing energy availability and rocketing its cost penetrate everywhere, with deadly results.


Nov 6, 2011 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H

Great job. Enjoyed this.

Nov 6, 2011 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMathias Nagy

I intend to read the entire article, but initially you made a grave error: evolution in NOT science, any more than creationism is. Evolution, if it happened as is assumed, cannot be duplicated (neither in a lab nor anywhere else), and so it is not science. Very simple!

Nov 6, 2011 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered Commenterdoug priore

You also mention that stalagmites, tree lines, and ice cores all confirm that the world was warmer 7000 years ago. Apparently you have not bothered to check out the other side of the argument, since you seem to have an a priori worldview. Not very balanced writing, from my point of view

Nov 6, 2011 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterdoug priore

Super lecture on the whole, but from my personal perspective spoiled by trite references to eolian installations on Scottish estates, rare earth mining in China and misguided griffon vultures.

For all the arguments about global warming and the production of CO2 the core reason we should consider moving from fossil fuels to renewables is that the former are irreplaceable in human measures of time, and renewables are always available.

Proponents of fossil fuel and nuclear energy all too conveniently overlook the fact that without hidden tax subsidies their solutions would in fact be far more costly than wind or hydro power. Solar is a bit more difficult to justify easily.

Far more Inner Mongolian rare earths are used in weapons manufacture than wind turbine generators. Far more birds are slaughtered by next door's tabby than the average turbine. Over its average lifespan of 25 years, the oils and consumables required to operate a wind turbine are less than your local garage sells in a year.

So for me Mr Ridley's little sidestep into the political trap of comparing energy sources was a major disappointment in an otherwise well-argued piece.

Nov 6, 2011 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDismanirie

Great article, captures my thoughts on the subject well (but articulated far better than I could have).
I live in California where the damage done by the alarmism is very apparent. Unemployment and over-regulation is rampant here. Arnold Schwarzenegger sold out to the alarmists and his replacement is no better. Industries that were once here, are in other countries (China, India) where there is little or no regulation. And as a result, <font ="bold">real</f> pollutants are being released into the environment. The B.S.has backfired!

Nov 6, 2011 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Degrood

Dogma preached as science..Sound familiar?

Nov 6, 2011 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorod

Very well done EXCEPT when he stated "Evolution is Science..Creationism is Pseudoscience". Guess he never read the Bible and has pushed all the real information under the carpet. Read some of the REAL science published by the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas and be informed! !

Nov 6, 2011 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterCC in SC

In researching my upcoming spyfi thriller, The Carbon Trap, I've come to see CO2 as just a means to an end. Debunking CO2 as causing global warming is fine but the real threat is the de-development of Earth, and the control over humanity. The Malthusians have been wresting control for 100 years and desire to cut the population by 3/4.

Nov 6, 2011 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterRandy Dutton

Overall, well done. However, I see some holes in the argument.

First of all, 7000 years ago, during the last major warming, there were only about 5 million people on the whole planet competing for space and resources, adding greenhouse gases with their campfires, etc. They didn't even know about oil and gas back then, so they just burned wood. The population has increased exponentially over time, and every one of us (7 billion currently -- well more than 1000 times the total number of people back then) contributes to the increase in greenhouse gases by trying to keep warm, by the pollutants involved in the manufacture of goods we consume, ditto for factory farms that provide us with food, etc., etc. So even if global warming is only a minor increase in temperature, a minor perturbation of global climate will have fairly dire effects on our global ability to produce food, goods and warmth.

Second, a 1.2 degree centrigrade increase in the average temperature worldwide translates to 34 degrees Fahrenheit. I add this for those of us in the U.S. who have traditionally measured temperatures in Fahrenheit, so those folks can get an intuitive idea how much extra heat we're really talking about. Think of your average summer day, add 34 degrees F. No big deal. Really??

Globally, climate patterns are likely to change, turning croplands, deserts, tundras, forests, savannahs and jungles to something else. Not to mention that worldwide coastlines, where many people live and much commerce takes place, will become part of the ocean. This is a problem because our culture worldwide dictates that every piece of ground is owned by somebody. Those that own pieces of ground along our current coastlines are going to be out of luck, but they still have to go somewhere, make a living somewhere, raise their kids somewhere. Individual property lines and national boundaries will not allow for a gradual shifting away from current coastlines, or any other area that no longer supports human life. Even if they did, this planet is rapidly running out of habitable space that isn't already occupied. Recipe for war.

Third, I refer you to the paragraph that says “In the idealised situation that the climate response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 consisted of a uniform temperature change only, with no feedbacks operating…the global warming from GCMs would be around 1.2°C.” Paragraph

This idealized situation that does not account for feedbacks operating is not realistic. The global ecology is such that there will without doubt be plenty of feedbacks's a very, very complex system. And just because the IPCC can't come to concensus about what those feedbacks will be and how they will affect temperature worldwide, doesn't mean we should just throw out the entire concept. Not having all the answers does not excuse us from being aware that there's an impending problem and trying to take steps to ameliorate it.

"Malaria has retreated not expanded as the world has warmed". Well, at least you admit the world has warmed. But do you happen to know that malaria is being actively battled worldwide with vaccines, anti-malarial drugs and mosquito control measures? Of course you do.

The reference to tropical storm frequency and intensity falling during the last 20 years is bogus. Twenty years is hardly a statistically significant sampling. Worldwide weather pattern changes are generally much, much longer. How long did that last Ice Age last again??

"Methane has largely stopped increasing." Of course it has. The problem was recognized decades ago and little by little the worst offenders, cars and power plants, have been mandated by law to allow less and less methane to escape into the atmosphere. Duh!

The reference to sea level rise being only a foot per century may sound like it's no big deal, but keep in mind that with population increasing over time, that will probably remain steady or increase. It's currently decelerating because practices have been implemented to control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet and melt the icecaps (see the methane example above). Continually increasing population pressures will produce greater demand so that in the future we will, at best, only remain stuck with a one foot per century rise. That may not be your problem or mine, but our descendants will deal with it, that's a fact. So if you don't care about yours, go ahead and stick your head into the sand.

Just a couple more things:

I agree wholeheartedly that confirmation bias is rampant, on both sides of the argument. It is a feature of the human brain. We must all guard against indulging in it.

A few decades ago the proponents of global warming were the heretics. Think about that.

The real solution is zero population growth worldwide, and we now have the means to achieve it. This planet will only support so many people in a comfortable manor. And I understand Mars is cold as Hell.

Nov 6, 2011 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered Commenternancy

Brilliant piece! And why do we not hear more about overfishing and invasive species? Not to mention, associated with the latter, the illegal trade in animals and plants?

Nov 6, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Mozen

If you claim that science should determine issues such as global warming then you should have also applied that to Kennedy assassination (pristine bullet found on stretcher that supposedly went through 2 people and crushed one of their wrists) and 9/11 where two skyscrapers... no three buildings collapse at free fall rate from "fire"- never before happened. If you are interested in science and want to ridicule theories that points to obvious accepted fallacies then you had better do more homework.

Nov 6, 2011 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterquantumthink

Very well said and thought provoking. I hope it will be on Youtube soon? I hate to go on a tangent, yet I'm curious to know your response...

No one was here to observe the origin of the universe. As such, we can never know with 100% scientific certainty its origins. The creationist and evolutionist both must have some faith in their belief. Of course, the one thinks the other must have more faith because they each have seen different facts or reach different conclusions. Unless we make a time machine, we can never observe our origins. My point is not to regurgitate some pile of evidence to sway your belief in one view or the other. I just think its foolish to lump one set of believers in the science camp and the other in the pseudoscience camp. What say you?

Nov 6, 2011 at 8:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterScott

Nancy -

"Second, a 1.2 degree centrigrade increase in the average temperature worldwide translates to 34 degrees Fahrenheit."

Really? While a temperature reading of 1.2 C may roughly equal an equivalent Fahrenheit reading of 34 degrees on a thermometer it only means a 2 degree F change (as 0C equals 32F - the freezing point of water at one atmosphere of pressure). If your 'fuzzy math' is an example of how climate alarmists arrive at supporting their positions then it speaks loudly as to why Al Gore is mistakenly given credibility by them.

Nov 6, 2011 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerry

Just a related comment on ethanol. Here are a few facts. 1. Ethanol only gets about 80% the mpg as normal gasoline. (There goes the carbon reduction.) 2. The fuel needed to generate ethanol has about the same energy (perhaps more.) than the energy in the fuel ready ethanol. 3. Sixty perecent of the energy in ethanol is consumed in just separating the water. Source: University of California, Berkeley. 4. Since ethanol contains oxygen the emissions from burning it are far more toxic than burning something like natural gas or normal gasoline. One is Formic Acid. Source EPA.

Nov 6, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGary Davis

Well, maybe we need to explore more in the vast world of the sciences to know the best ways to optimize the resources, improve our lives and preserve our planet for the future generations.

Nov 6, 2011 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonatan


Your equating 1.2 degrees centigrade difference to a 34 degrees Fahrenheit difference is a big, big problem. I hope not too many people who don't know better read that.

Nov 6, 2011 at 11:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterscott

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