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« Carbonundrums | Main | Culpability »

The big cutoff

Fred Pearce is on the receiving end of the full fury of the warmosphere for his article about the Lisbon conference in New Scientist. Pearce, discussing who had agreed to turn up, said this:

But the leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss.

Schmidt has now said that this is not true and that his decision not to attend was rooted in the premises of the conference:

This is completely made up. My decision not to accept the invitation to this meeting was based entirely on the organiser’s initial diagnosis of the cause of the ‘conflict’ in the climate change debate. I quote from their introductory letter:

“At this stage we are planning to have a workshop where the main scientific issues can be discussed, so that some clarity on points of agreement and disagreement might be reached. We would try to stay off the policy issues, and will also exclude personal arguments.

The issues we have in mind are Medieval Warm Period, ice, climate sensitivity, and temperature data. We would hope to have smaller groups discussing these in some detail, hopefully with scientists who are very familiar with the technical issues to lead the discussion.”

Since, in my opinion, the causes of conflict in the climate change debate relate almost entirely to politics and not the MWP, climate sensitivity or ‘ice’, dismissing this from any discussion did not seem likely to be to help foster any reconciliation.

A letter complaining to New Scientist has duly been issued, with all the usual suspects in the warmosphere flinging brickbats at Pearce. No doubt the big cutoff awaits.

Meanwhile, conference participant and blogger Tallbloke has revealed himself as Fred Pearce's source, and he has some interesting things to say on the subject of Gavin Schmidt's objection.

To set the record straight:

Because I was an ad hoc member of the invite committee I got an email asking my advice on who to invite in lieu of Gavin Schmidt and some other prominent people who had declined. The organisers inadvertantly included Gavin’s response on that email, and when I was asked one evening in Lisbon why certain people weren’t there I gave a quick [precis], including a brief reference to Gavin’s response. This made it’s way to Fred, hence the reference in his blog piece reporting on the conference.

I would just stress at this point that what I said constitutes my opinion and not what Gavin said verbatim. However I would also like to say that Gavin’s complaint to the New Scientist does not include any [precis] of the passage in his original response which gave rise to my brief summary. I therefore reject Gavin’s claim that I ‘made stuff up’, and respectfully suggest that we can lay this one to rest if in a spirit of openness Gavin simply reproduces his response so people can see for themselves what he said.

If I am assailed by accusations that I have wrongfully maligned Gavin with my brief summary comment I may feel obliged to defend myself with a closer paraphrase.

Further down the thread, Gavin invited Tallbloke to publish his email explaining why he didn't want to attend, and Tallbloke has now published it at his own site. Gavin's response was as follows:

I’m a little confused at what conflict you feel you are going to be addressing? The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago. Your proposed restriction against policy discussion removes the whole point. None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions. No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

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Reader Comments (204)

I can confirm Tallbloke was on the invite committee. Looking back now, I think I got the best outcome of the whole deal:

I think if we call got together and did some team racing, we'd "all just get along", 'cept maybe Romm.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Watts

I have spent years of my life trying to refute the arguments of the activist left. Hengist is using a cheap debating trick which is beloved of that section of humanity and has been for decades.
The aim is to implant a strong idea in the mind of the gullible -- in this case a relationship between the Conference and Big Oil as exemplified by the Gulbenkian Foundation. When you interpret (correctly) the idea he is trying to convey he will tell you (as he did) that those are not the words he used and you are putting words into his mouth.
It's dishonest but then to the activist left 'honesty' is only a tool to be used or ignored as necessary. Wrong-footing the opposition is all that counts.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Hello Anthony

I'll pop over for a look in a minute.

Yesterday Joe D'Aleo, today AW...

Steve McI looks in from time to time; Aynsley Kellow's almost a regular these days. Impressive BH, and getting better by the week.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Re Hengist

I only made an observation about oil money , I don't think I went so far as making 'a point', you have done it for me.

Allow me to make a similar observation. Oil money is sponsoring the Carbonundrums session in Norway. Should we therefore ignore anything that comes out of that event as being tainted by 'big oil'?

Or should we stick to focussing on the evidence, and ignore silly rabbits dangling carrots to bait pantomime horses? We can lead a horse to water, but we can't make it think for itself.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer


I know exactly what Hengist is up to, have no fear.

I've been around the block a few times.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Anthony, I am sure you did. The races looked a lot of fun.

Golf - yes a cartoon with suggestions would be a great idea! I will put something up on the site and let you know when I have done so, then you can pile in with your choicest phrases.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Anthony, we would of course have to limit ourselves to the policy of team racing, not the engineering challenges, which are of course, settled.

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

@ Anthony Watts

Yup you sure did and time that can never be taken away! Enjoy

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Atomic...'we can lead a horse to water...'

Very funny! Now where is my pen...

Feb 5, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh


I mentioned the other day - and Crusty reminds us above - that Hengist in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) means 'stallion'.

In Elizabethan English and later, 'stones' are testicles.

So we could transliterate: Stallion McBollocks.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I suspect there's mileage in a pantomime rabbit leading a horse astray. Which has been part of the problem with the debate. There's been a relatively small number of insiders guiding the masses, ie people like Rabbett and I notice MapleLeaf waded into the New Scientist debate. Yet we are the ones who supposedly sock puppet, not the Team. Shame they ducked out of Lisbon and more of their tricks are being exposed.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer


The Royal Society Has just appointed Siân Ede, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK's Deputy Director, to the Michael Faraday Prize Committee. I think you better get on to Sir Paul Nurse straightaway and warn him the Society is being infiltrated by the sinister oil-funded merchants of doubt.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Look chaps let’s face it, at this point in time it’s perfectly clear that Dr Schmidt is absolutely correct: the science IS settled and there’s really NOTHING to discuss!

By applying the most important principle of the Scientific Method (i.e. a valid theory must be able to make predictions that can be verified/falsified by real-world data) it’s undeniable that, at this point in time, CAGW is a theory that cannot make measurable/observable predictions in are in any way unambiguous. As a result, there is nothing of substance to consider and so, until this situation changes, the science is entirely settled.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt


Well spotted.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Breaking news: Tim Lambert has called this "Pearcegate".

I cannot believe that the warmosphere is fighting like cats and dogs, claiming that that the science is not settled.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

John Shade

"the lapse rate is in the warmosphere"


Feb 5, 2011 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

shub says:

I cannot believe that the warmosphere is fighting like cats and dogs, claiming that that the science is not settled.

Yes. Surreal, isn't it?

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Ok the draft cartoon, H/t golf charley, is this one

and on the website, /, and maybe by the time you see it it will be coloured up. I will send in to BH and it can be added to the blog, if he feels that would be a good idea.

Best suggestion wins cartoon on a Tshirt?

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

the end is near..

they are turning on each other....

As Fred is a journo - with access to the media.. best they not annoy him too much...

Imagine if Fred 'turned' !!!!

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Gavin knows very well there is not only a debate, but a fundamental multifacetted one on many aspects of climate interpretation, and not only that, he participated in it very vigorously in a duel with Judith Curry, prior to her starting up her own blog, on Collide-a-Scape. He probably shudders at the thought of again trying to bat away the team's dodgy baggage. But the prime reason for turning down the invitation surely was the prospect of 'legitimising' critical debate. Much easier to proclaim a robust consensus.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Barry Woods

The end is notnigh. I wish it were, but there's no way this is just going to go away, as some seem to believe.

While the scrap is amusing, and the comment even more so, this is just another inch down a long, weary road.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

The science is unsettling.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

When anything truly damaging arises the Team sends out a a sacrificial troll. The troll will use every conceivable inconsistency, alternate definition or perceived hypocrisy to defend the Team. No point will ever be conceded. The troll will just move on to another irrelevant issue and when it finally discovers some tangential issue that cannot be completely disputed then all other issues become unimportant. This serves two purposes. It sharpens the Team defense and it places straw men in the either to cloud the issue. Politicians do this all the time. Send out trial balloons or lower level party members to argue some inane point while the leaders maintain deniability if the point backfires.

The point is the troll wouldn't be here if this was not a damaging issue.

Feb 5, 2011 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterchucker



Some commenters argue that you shouldn't feed the little blighters, but I tend to disagree. They help illustrate where the raw nerves are.

Also, you need to engage in order to expose weaknesses, inconsistencies etc. To make them look silly, even to themselves.

Filthy work, but someone has to do it ;-)

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

BBD, I know, it couldn't be better could it.

The next cartoon, promise.

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh


Thanks ;-)

Makes it all worth while...

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I’m a little confused at what conflict you feel you are going to be addressing? The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago.

Is Gavin confusing weather and climate again?

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris S

I am sure there was an Interview at Collide-a-Scape last year where Gavin opened up in the comments and basically dumped the Hockey Stick and said even if temps did start to drop they had the basic physics of CO2 being a Greenhouse gas to fall back on and thats all that was needed to support AGW. Spent an hour looking for it but can't find it, it was about the time Judith Curry was getting it in the neck for saying on RC they should read HSI. That in my mind would be so close to saying 'The Science is settled' as you could get without actually saying it. Now all I have to do is find it ;( .

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

I'm puzzled as well, because if the "fundamental conflict" is as Gavin describes it this is now a purely political matter in which case several things follow.
First, his opinion is of no more or less value than anyone else's and he cannot claim any special prerogative by virtue of his position as a scientist.
Second, the science has become irrelevant. The matter is now purely one for the people and/or their politicians.
Third, the science is therefore (at least by implication) settled. Further research is unnecessary since we know the situation and now need only to debate what to do about it.
What am I missing?

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic


I seem to remember something like that at KK's.

It is the standard tactic when observations don't strongly support the hypothesis: the radiative physics means there must be warming, so just give it time.

This presupposes a correct understanding of the way the climate system deals with CO2 forcing. In other words, a correct value for climate sensitivity to said forcing.

That's where the black and white turns to grey.

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Ok, its in this post somewhere

comment 96 by Gavin

96.Gavin Says:
August 5th, 2010 at 1:46 am
#93 Look up the references I gave, people were warning of the issue in 1975 and 1979 right at the minimum of the 1940-1970s cooling. Of course, we did not know as much then, and we’ve had 30 years of correct predictions, so it is appropriate that we should be more confident now. Note that our concern as scientists has always been because of the physics of the greenhouse effect – it has not been based on linear extrapolation of temperature trends.


172.Gavin Says:
August 5th, 2010 at 4:04 pm
#170 GaryM

I don’t think you have this right at all. The models are just there to quantify what we think will happen in physically consistent ways. Removing them from the equation doesn’t change any of the reasons why we should be concerned, and indeed increases the bounds of what might happen quite substantially. There’s a good argument to be made that the models actually give a more constrained set of projections than we ought to prudently assume.

The fact of the matter is that we are conducting a massive geophysical experiment on a planet that is known to be sensitive to these kinds of perturbations. Models are used to quantify that sensitivity, they don’t invent it.


Gavin Says:
August 8th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

However, as a general point, having a good understanding of the impacts of CO2 emissions on the climate, an appreciation of the risks of significant climate change, and therefore having concluded that further emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere are not a good idea, do not make climate scientists experts on alternative energy solutions or carbon pricing mechanisms. Nor should a lack of that expertise be used to downplay the domain knowledge that scientists do have.

Can't find much else but as the comments are nearly 600 it could be in there somewhere.

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air


As you define it, you are missing nothing.

The steps necessary to arrive at this position include assumptions about the predictive power of climate science that make it possible for Schmidt to say:

None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions.

In other words:

'The science is settled, but in the process of tidying up the details. If you question this assertion, you are doing so for political, not scientific motives.

And that's obviously silly and wrong.

Never mind about those assumptions about the predictive skill of climate science. Just get with the program. Now.'

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

The irrepressible Maple Leaf has complained to New Scientist - thick wads of printouts and hoary cries of recriminations included. Something will come out of this. Maple's letter will provide Nude Socialist with a way out.

One just hopes they don't hang out Pearce to dry over this frivolous dust-up.

It is funny how they infantilise science reporting on the one hand and yet bemoan its downfall on the other, at the same time.

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub


I seem to remember Gavin saying the hockey stick was not really that important to the science. It was when the stick was getting a kicking, following another rebuttal paper

It made me wonder whether Gavin was getting readiy tp discard the stick and its creator.

Josh, brilliant again, and I am honoured by the h/t!

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley


Thanks for digging up some of the quotes.

This from Schmidt is interesting (emphasis added):

The fact of the matter is that we are conducting a massive geophysical experiment on a planet that is known to be sensitive to these kinds of perturbations. Models are used to quantify that sensitivity, they don’t invent it.

Yes, but how accurately?

Reams have been written on this, but see this for some interesting perspective from IPCC insiders:

Feb 5, 2011 at 6:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

golf charley

Yes, there was a sense a while back that certain commentators were gently distancing themselves from the Hockey Stick debate.

But the defence goes on. The whole thing was so close to the heart of the IPCC process and so indicative of an agenda that it cannot be abandoned.

It would look very bad. As in handing the nightstick to everyone who has ever said: 'but aren't they exaggerating it all a bit?'

Feb 5, 2011 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Breath of fresh air: "I am sure there was an Interview at Collide-a-Scape last year where Gavin opened up in the comments and basically dumped the Hockey Stick..."

RC's views on the hockey stick were noted in this post:

"...they had the basic physics of CO2 being a Greenhouse gas to fall back on and thats all that was needed to support AGW."

The RC view seems to be that paleo-reconstructions are interesting and informative, but not essential to validating AGW. If that was the general thrust of Gavin's comments at Collide-a-Scape, then he was reiterating an established position.

More generally, and not necessarily related to this point, it seems that the more opportunities exist for communication, the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H

I think what Gavin is trying to say is that the "Science Was Settled", but isn't anymore!

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Gavin is trying to spin it so he does not say the science is settled, but really that is what he said albeit using different words.
If he does not do this he looks silly for refusing to attend the conference, to avoid this he spins and now looks silly.

I cannot help but think that someone so daft is hardly someone to tell us about impending doom and what we should do to avoid it.

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterandy

BBD, glad you got the gist despite the long gap between comments. I am getting hold ups due to commenting problems.

Apparently the server is busy which must mean this is a popular blog, right?

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh


If you are still reading this, thank you for your contribution earlier in the thread. I hope you'll continue to offer more of your informed views to BH threads. It would be much appreciated.

In blogosphere, a lot more wisdom can be found in the comments than in the lead post. There is a level playing field and the Chatham House Rule apply. Comments are valued for its content and quality not for who wrote it.

The blogosphere can also be a rough and tumble world. Level of civility is often breached. Trolls come and go without contributing anything substantial and often with the sole intention of disrupting the thread. The general rule is to ignore them. Intervention from blogowners often become necessary but mostly it is undesirable.

Most of the people who read these threads are lurkers, not commenters. So a single unappreciative response to your comment should not be taken as a sign that your comment has gone unappreciated by the silent majority. If everybody expressed gratitude to each other for each useful contribution the thread would become unreadable. The number of people who read such blogs and comment threads is often 5 to 10 times more than the number of comments, if page view statistics are any guide.

Bishop Hill is usually a very calm territory. There is little troll activity and most members of the community get on well with each other. So I'll hope you'll stay longer, enjoy more and contribute more.

Now, if you don't mind the commotion, we have a genuine troll on the loose.

@hengist mcstone

@golf charley

I really don't see how you bringing up the moderation policy on a different website helps to clarify anything. Your statement "That the AGW supporters have tried to stifle debate, with terms such as "consensus", "the debate is over", and "settled science", is clear." is opinion NOT FACT. It is not an opinion I share (obviously , otherwise I wouldn't be here would I ?) so I don't intend to answer your question .

hengist, bringing up the moderation policy in Real Climate and the CAGW cultosphere (dogmasphere?) clarifies a lot.

If you are not going to be so kind as answering a question even with "I don't know", then what the fr@k are you doing here disrupting the thread? Why don't you P O back to your dogmasphere?

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx


Yes, it's busy tonight - possibly the link to WUWT. But I'm glad I got the right end of the stick ;-)

Feb 5, 2011 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Here is a comment I left in Real Climate back in December 2009 and the response from eric (steig?):

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic is evidently not a reader of the Real Climate blog. Perhaps, a climate scientist, preferably Gavin Schmidt, should write to The Atlantic editor and remind them that climate science is unsettled.

Copenhagen: The Science Is Settled; The Policy And Politics Aren’t

[Response: Actually, that's a very good article. One can quibble with the title, as you are doing, but it is clear from the text that he and Gavin would have no disagreement on this. Quote: "However valid one's feeling of exclusion is, it isn't a substitute for what science does: test and try to falsify. The theory of anthropogenic climate change has not been disproven. It is stronger today than ever before." --eric]

I think he meant to say science isn't settled but let's not quibble with "science is settled".

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

I nearly replied to Hengist with "I am sorry you were unable to reply..."

but thought that it might be provocative

Looking back over the last few hours, it would not have made much difference

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

I have a proposal that would end this nonsense once and for all.
Given: CO2 is required in plant growth.
Given: Plants are food for man and other animals.
Given: Without food, man and other animals will die off.
Given: Gavin Schmidt, James Hansen, IPCC AGW supporters etc. term CO2 a threat.
I propose offer the IPCC AGW group a special Biosphere with NO CO2.
The 'denier' science community will carefully monitor this experiment to assure accuracy, safety and authenticity.

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRanger Rick

While Pearce's character of Schmidt's reason for not attending was not wholly made up, it is irresponsible to report second hand information and through he knew it first hand. New Scientist should retract the statement.

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike

Ranger Rick
The Eden project in south west England would be the perfect place to try this out, A set of hermetically sealed biospheres

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley


Steve McIntyre, commenting at Lucia's thread on this subject, has revealed that Tallbloke showed Pearce the email. So it was first hand.

Feb 5, 2011 at 9:59 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

BoFA: But radiative physics only gets you as far as the known (and not particularly disputed) direct warming from CO2. After that you're very much into 'what the blazes is the feedback' territory on which there is precious little agreement, let alone experimental data. If Gavin's nailing his colours to that particular mast then he's already sunk.

SHx/JHeath jheath's contribution was certainly appreciated, and welcome by me, and I'm sure the vast majority of congregants.

Feb 5, 2011 at 10:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

BBD writes:

"Oh God. It's like cats in a sack, isn't it?"

Exactly. No better description of Schmidt has ever been offered. And Schmidt happily confirms in print that he will hear nothing other than his own political position, not science and no unSchmidtian politics. How wonderful for his employer, the US government.

I wonder how Tallbloke and Mosher feel now. They post at WUWT sometimes and, of late, Mosher has seemed willing to endorse the Trenberth "reversal in burden of proof." Having scratch marks all over your body just might cause one to wake up. And poor Pearce. He has been as professional as one could expect throughout the entire ClimateGate affair. I guess he is out of a job at the Guardian.

Feb 5, 2011 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

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