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St Andrews debate

John Shade, of Climate Lessons blog, sends this report on my debate at St Andrews.

On a wet and windy day, off to St Andrews, where the School of Geography and Geosciences was holding a discussion meeting on climate as one of its World Series Seminars. Speakers: Andrew Montford, and Tom Crowley, a recently retired professor of paleoclimatology. Chaired by Dr Robert Wilson, who said that he was a great believer in discussion where there was discord, and that there was discord in the climate world. He gave Andrew a pleasant and welcoming introduction, noting that he had been quoted in one newspaper report as believing that CO2, all things being equal, will make things warmer.

Before Andrew’s presentation Dr Wilson, tried a quick straw poll of the roughly 60 or 70 people present (my guess, and I also guess that most were undergraduate or graduate students). He asked who believed there had been global warming, and that man had contributed to it – which was a disappointing note since the crucial areas of debate are not on those beliefs, but on the magnitude and other details of climate change over the next 50 to 100 years or so. Then he asked who saw themselves as sceptical. I raised my hand both times, albeit a bit hesitantly the first time. Not many raised their hands the second time – a ‘few’ was how Robert described it.

Andrew’s topic was ‘The Global Warming Debate After Climategate’. He recapped the basic details of Climategate, and of the serious allegations that were raised about climate scientists as a result. He talked through each of the three enquiries and demonstrated that they were all inadequate and had failed to directly address the allegations, thereby earning Andrew’s epithet of ‘whitewashes’. He said people have noticed that these were not serious attempts to get at the truth, and this destroyed trust. He returned again to this theme of lost or damaged trust, noting the IPCC standing by the hockey stick plot even when it knew it was wrong, and of the sleight of graph involved in splicing instrumental readings on to a time series plots of reconstructed temperatures when the reconstructed values turned sharply down instead of up. He noted the curious amount, and direction, of adjustments to temperature records – always to make the present warmer and the past cooler. He did not know whether or not the adjustments were justified, but merely noted that they made him uneasy.

He maintained that trust needs to be rebuilt in climatology, noting that he did not believe all climatologists were corrupt, but that there were some bad eggs in there. He welcomed the willingness of some to discuss issues in a civilised way, and said that both sides need to work very hard to be nice to each other. As more recent development, he noted the facile claim of accelerating warming by doing successive straight-line fits to sections of the temperature record, showing the illustration (due to Paul Matthews) of how this worked in a similar way when done to a simple sine wave. Why did some talk of acceleration based on this?, he asked and noted it as an example of the sort of thing that has to stop. He recalled being told by one climatologist who had posted a 5* review of HSI on Amazon, that he had done so anonymously to avoid repercussions. Turning to recent global temperature reports, he noted that the lack of warming was catching the attention of such as Phil Jones, and of people he had met in the Met Office recently. He noted that climate models had not been working well at the global level, and at the regional level were even worse, and showed a plot contrasting predictions made through the IPCC in the year 2000 diverging up and away from the actuals which were fluctuating about an approximately horizontal trend (chart due to Lucia on the Blackboard blog). He asked if these such models were fit tools for government policy, and said he though not. In winding up, he reiterated that trust has been destroyed, and that the phrase ‘Trust Me, I’m a Scientist’ doesn’t hold water anymore.

Recently retired, Professor Tom Crowley was the other speaker, and his subject was ‘Progress in Understanding Climate of the Last Millenium’. He started by saying he was feeling as bit wrong-footed by Andrew’s talk being different from what he had expected, an observation he was to make again a couple of other times. I think he had been expecting Andrew to be talking mostly about the hockey stick plot.

His introductory slide was of a roadside sign for the ‘Chaos Café’, and this stayed up for quite a while until he got into his main materials. Before then, he invited us to be concerned about the recent high temperatures being reported in the States, with averages in March being 8.6F above normal. He said this was a colossal warming.

He spoke very highly of the IPCC reports, and returned several times to this later. He had used the 1st and 2nd assessment reports as core material for classes he had taught back then on climate. He said virtually nobody has disputed what they have said, and noted that some 50,000 comments on drafts have been responded to. He noted that government representatives had voted sentence by sentence on the Summary Reports.

He showed showed a new plot (not yet published) which had the hockey stick shape using tree rings from 1801 to 1984, constructed using simple averaging of the reconstructions used. He noted that while individual records may be flawed, this averaging helped produce a more reliable result. He talked to some of the major features on the earlier part of the plot, generally referring to volcanic eruptions as likely causes, and then later, from about 1900 onwards by aerosols due to industrial pollution. He showed a plot of sulphate depositions found in Greenland ice – in the flight path of the prevailing winds from the US. These showed a drop in the 1930s which he associated with the Depression of those years, a drop which was not recovered from on the plot until 1954, roughly following a similar performance in the Dow Jones Index. The Clean Air Act in the 1970s led to improvements, but before that there was a surge of readings from abour 30ppb to 200ppb at their peak. This he described as great wads of sulphur, having earlier asked any gardeners present if they would deliberately pack sulphuric acid powder around the base of their valued plants.

He showed another plot with global temperatures (mostly as per Hadcrut means as I recall) , with CO2 growth almost perfectly superimposed from about 1800 to the present, and once again invited our concern. A further, yet to published plot due to Levitus, showed substantial heating in the upper ocean. All this he described as rock solid.

He said the IPCC view was that doubling of CO2 would lead to global mean temperatures rises of 2 to 3C in 30 years from now, and these would be the highest in a very long time (I cannot decipher my notes on the actual time period). He repeated the assurance of the IPCC about continued warming, and his confidence in the IPCC.

My notes are a bit scrappy for the question and answer session which followed, and which was ably handled by Dr Wilson, since I was from time to time formulating questions or comments of my own.

An early question concerned differences in variability displayed on different sections of plots shown by Tom – described by the questioner as ‘huge differences in uncertainty’. Another questioner argued that a detailed re-analysis of tree-ring data was called for in general. The question of how much longer a period without warming would cause people to say something was wrong with the models and/or the claims of a warming threat. Tom suggested that if warming not resumed by 2020, that would cause concern. A questioner noted that there were massive leaps being made from projected temperature rises to talk about climate impact in general – impacts that have not been remotely justified e.g. talk of floods and droughts and famines and so on.

The excess winter deaths in Scotland were raised to illustrate more harm from cooling than warming here. An audience member claimed that climate scientists were intrinsically sceptical – that was part of science, and that it was very misleading to think of a simple divide between climate sceptics and true believers. The same person also praised peer review as one of the strengths of climate science, and urged sceptics to get engaged and try to get published. There was some mention of Arctic ice thinning, the high variability Arctic sea ice and thickness so that even a dramatic summer melt at the pole would not be unprecedented even in the last 100 years, of sub-tropical drought forecasts and poor guidance to the Australian government about permanent drought down there (with desalination plants build not long before floods due to very heavy rains appeared and the plants were mothballed).

The Clausius-Clapeyron relationship was raised to note airborne water vapour would increase with rising surface temperatures, and that led to questions about negative feedbacks involving clouds tending to counter such rises). Someone noted that economic models also needed a lot more examination. What should be done? Bets were bandied about about temperature rises in the near future. It was noted that the self-interest of developing states such as India and China may not coincide with greenhouse gas reduction. Tom said it would be in the self-interest of the States to reduce dependence on imported oil, and that in general people should try to do what benefits their own country. A questioner had asked if it seemed that global governance was the only way to go if greenhouse gas reductions were to be addressed.

The climategate scandal was mentioned, and Tom said that it had nto affected the science, and that anyway, scientists were human beings. He felt that if there was 1 dodgy paper out of 100, that one would be blown up out of all proportion by the blogosphere. A suggestion of massive oil funding by an audience member was greeted with derision by the ‘sceptics’ present, and when Tom started to talk of Exxon in particular, there was a remark from the audience to the effect that going down that line would make ‘us’ no better than the sceptics, and that produced an approving murmur in the audience and the topic was dropped. A questioner asked what would it take to change a sceptic’s mind – for example, if they saw there was only a 1 in 20 chance that the projections were right about CO2, what would they do? The case of the resigning editor and reviewers at the Remote Sensing journal was raised, by Andrew I think, as an example of something wrong with the science – if a weak paper gets through, why not simply print a rebuttal, why resign, and why, in particular, apologise to Trenberth – a man not in the speciality in question. Andrew raised the question as to whether peer review was adequate in climate science, and the politicised situation. I think there was consensus that peer review is not perfect and that moves to open peer review were a good development. Several people pointed out that both sides of the debate had been politicised.

The discussion had been, as they say, wide-ranging and often lively. But always temperate, and my impression was that everyone would have felt they had some opportunity to be heard. Dr Wilson helped keep an even keel, and invited us all to another room nearby for refreshments and further discussion. All in all, a worthwhile event with some good communication of perspectives and bits and pieces of ‘facts’. Would that such events, in such an open and courteous atmosphere, could be held far and wide. They weren’t in the past, and we were told by some that the debate was over. I think for most of us, it has in fact scarcely begun. Back to the car park to find some of the West Sands had been spread there by the wind to give a slightly Saharan look to the place."

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Reader Comments (365)

Good post, John,

I was there too and one of the things that surprised me in the later conversations was that the scientists there do not appear to pay any attention to the climate blogs, although one scientist I spoke to said he used to read Steve McIntyre at CA until SM began to concentrate on Climategate, when he gave it up.

IT seems odd to criticise the opposition without wanting to find out something about them and the arguments they are putting forward. If the only information they have about sceptics comes from the likes of the Guardian, I feel they may be missing something.

Apr 27, 2012 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Messenger - Reading your comment brought one thought to my mind – institutionalisation.

Now I’m off down the pub to stop thoughts like that as it’s the weekend so no words long than 2 syllables.

Apr 27, 2012 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

I, too, was at the St Andrews debate and I can say that John's account is a fair summary of the proceedings (particularly the effect of the golf course bunkers on an extremely blustery day!)

I would like to make some observations of my own. The first is, courteous and urbane though he is, Professor Crowson has an almost hagiographic belief in the virtues of IPCC reports. The term "Climate Bible" springs to mind. His opinion, indeed, might be accurate, but it pays no heed to the many doubts expressed by others, concerning the selection and quality of the scientists involved, abuses of the peer review system, distortion of scientific conclusions in the Summary for Policymakers and the ideological "green" leanings of a number of IPCC contributors. These are best summarised in Donna La Framboise's book "The Delinquent Teenager". These criticisms might well be challenged. That is the nature of debate, but they should at least be acknowledged.

Another observation is the use of proxy data as absolute truth. The Professor showed a number of graphs using this kind of data, which, he concluded, proved with absolute certainty that "something was going on" and that he could not state the case any more clearly. The more reasonable sceptics and believers alike do not claim that proxy data, by their very nature, can prove with certainty anything about temperature, since thier function is not to measure heat. They might imply certain conclusions, but they cannot stand alone.

A final point is the fact that Andrew's comments about the widespread distrust of science were never really addressed. When this issue was raised with the professor, he implied, and I apologise in advance if I have misinterpreted him, that what policy makers did with scientific findings were not the scientist's concern. This reminds me of a Tom Lehrer song, written back in the 1960s;

When rockets go up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department, said Wehrner von Braun.

It is the duty of all scientists to take responsibility for their findings. Above all, it is their ultimate moral responsibility to expose those of their fellows, or those who claim to be their fellows, who betray or prostitute scientific principles on behalf of "the cause", thereby bringing the entire sector into disrepute. When this happens, the baby of legitimate scientific concern is thrown away with the bathwater of activism, alarmism and advocacy.

Apr 27, 2012 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Pyne

Good to hear that my report was found by others to be a reasonable one - thank you for those confirmations. But I see it has a few typos, and one error which are all due to me of course since this, being of topical interest, went straight through to 'printing', much like a WWF press release might at the Daily Telegraph or The Scotsman. The error is in the 4th last paragraph where 'be unprecedented' should read 'not be unprecedented'.

Apr 27, 2012 at 2:53 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

John Shade: Thank you for taking the time and trouble to present this report. It was very welcome, showing as it did, just how much these debates are needed - if only to educate those who in the near future will be running the (science) world.

I was taken by the line from Tom Crowley that: "A further, yet to published plot due to Levitus, showed substantial heating in the upper ocean. All this (he) described as rock solid." I think that in light of the exposure of this plot by Willis Eschenbach over at WUWT, it's as rock solid as the sea water on which it is based - where average sea temperatures are supposed to be measured to two thou of a degree.

Finally, I wonder if the Bish, in his report to the audience on the climategate whitewashes (sorry, inquiries), managed to explain to the grads etc how Prof Jones had never been interviewed nor the science ever questioned. And if he did, what their reaction to such a lack of inquiry was.

Apr 27, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

To the extent there will ever be a breakthrough in the never-ending debate, it will come when the public becomes aware of how really, truly horrible the quality of science is. Generally. And particularly in climate science. The Amgen and Bayer revelations should be hammered home repeatedly. Science is broken.

Crowley's child-like faith is almost cute. Really damaging to his credibility, but cute. Did someone think to ask him what Santa brought him last Christmas?

Apr 27, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

I think I can easily answer the question of what does it take to convince a skeptic. First of all, there is really nothing climate scientists can do other than continue to monitor the data. Mother nature on the other hand may settle this and the answer was alluded to in the dicsussion. If the plateau in temperature continues to the end of this decade, a re-evaluation of the models is in order. As one who believe the oceans drive the weather, the cool state of the PDO and the weak solar cycle would argue that global temperature may actually decline a bit over the next decade. If that happens, the strength of natural cycles over the climate would have to be acknowledge. On the other had, with all the natural factors just mentioned that lead to cooling trends is overwelmed by GHG's and it warms by 0.25 C by 2025, then the anthroprogenic factors may be dominating. So a cooling or a warming trend over the next 10-12 years could settle this (or at least tell us where to place emphasis.).

Apr 27, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean


"If the plateau in temperature continues to the end of this decade, a re-evaluation of the models is in order."

Surely a re-evaluation would be in order a tad sooner than that. Or what's the point in indicating confidence levels on graphs like this?:

P.S. Am I allowed to write "?:". I need advice from the punctuation Nazis.

Apr 27, 2012 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

Attendance for last week's World Series Seminar was 87 including the speakers. Of these, about 15 were visitors. Thanks for making the trip, and sorry about the weather...! About 20 were St Andrews staff across a handful of research areas: Sustainable Development, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Earth Sciences, Marine Biology. The remaining fraction was somewhat heavier tilted toward postgraduates than undergraduates.

I think Tom Crowley took a video of the 2.5 hours of talks and discussion. Perhaps if asked he would be willing to share it to an upload site.

Apr 27, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterInfo

As the convenor, I thought I should add my quick 10 pence worth. I enjoyed the session very much. In my mind I cannot say “debate”, as for me, there is no debate w.r.t. the AGW hypothesis. However, I hope the discussion came across as balanced. If for nothing else, the session simply highlighted that scientists need to communicate more clearly. There are no black and white answers to many of the issues. A good case in point is northern hemisphere mean annual temperatures which have levelled off in recent years. There was much discussion about this. Yes – we could wait 10-20 years and see what happens. However, this would be foolish. We need to attribute the causes of this flattening and this can only come from model experimentation.

So let’s step back a little and try and understand the issue. According to the AGW hypothesis temperature will increase by a certain amount as CO2 levels increase. There are also all sorts of positive/negative feedbacks that can modulate the sensitivity of the system to the anthropogenic forcing as well as, of course, changes in external forcing from the sun and volcanoes. Embedded also in all of this are internal climate dynamics – features such as ENSO, North Atlantic Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Variability etc. Models often struggle in “real time” to model these internal modes – many of them not really truly period but maybe quasi-periodic in nature. Instrumental data and palaeoclimate reconstructions can provide information on how these internal modes behaved in the past, but there are many uncertainties.

So this is the crux of the problem w.r.t. future scenarios. The internal dynamics are difficult to model, we don’t really know what the sun and volcanoes are going to do. BUT, we do however know that population, consumption and anthropogenic emissions will increase. The palaeoclimate and modelling communities are struggling with the tricky issue of constraining model predictions and uncertainties for the future. There are hundreds of papers detailing many analyses and model experiments. Feel free to dig them out and read them.

Some people in the audience expressed their frustration that they could not access relevant articles. Well, all academics have websites with their contact details and I know of no researcher who would not gladly send a PDF copy of one of their articles. As a start, feel free to peruse through mine:

I look forward to the continued discussion.

PS. I have a 14GB video for the session, with non-optimal sound and am looking into options for some sort of web upload. Any advice would be welcome.

Apr 27, 2012 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilson

"He talked to some of the major features on the earlier part of the plot, generally referring to volcanic eruptions as likely causes"

Can someone tell me, is this the conventional wisdom for the 1910-40 temperature rise, or is there a different explanation?

Apr 27, 2012 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterMrPotarto

Rob Wilson:

"In my mind I cannot say “debate”, as for me, there is no debate w.r.t. the AGW hypothesis."

Excellent. The very epitome of the scientific process.

"We need to attribute the causes of this flattening and this can only come from model experimentation."

Oh. My. God.

All the best,

James Evans

Apr 27, 2012 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

Rob Wilson, scientists do need to communicate better. And having every phrase get right up the nose of the sceptic reader is not really the way to do it. I don't trust your models. Why do you think that is? I don't trust all the scientists involved. I think that the ones who have been caught cheating need have no further part in the debate. Yet there they are. I think debunked items like the Mann hockey stick should never be seen again, yet it is recycled with the persistence of the moaning teenager. I find that warmists do not know what sceptics think or how well they are informed. Show us. Don't give us the old homework line of 'there are lots of papers, go and read them'. We have jobs, we are not your undergrads.

Apr 27, 2012 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

It's disappointing, but not surprising at all, that a "School of Geography and Geosciences" would yield such a bias in support of the climate orthodoxy. Isn't that rather like asking for a show of hands from students in a department of sociology whether they support the notion of the welfare state?

Is it plausible that a powerful tool in the marketing of courses within the School of Geography and Geosciences is the fact that "climate change" - with the significant media attention global warming gets - attracts vast numbers of potential students that then provide the revenue on which the school depends.
An army of ready-made advocates already proselytized by a system that delivered a decade of education for sustainable development. Screened at the admissions level, it is highly unlikely that an applicant would willingly admit to scepticism - even if that were the case - for fear of a rejection.
"And why, young lady, have you chosen to apply for our interdisciplinary Undergraduate Course in Sustainable Development, here at the School of Geography and Geosciences at St Andrews?"
"Througout my education, I have been encouraged to develop a passion for "the rapidly expanding field of sustainability science", and see this course as the best way to promote sustainable development."
"Thank you. Your unconditional offer will be in the post today, I am sure you will fit right in, Ms Polly Green."

Apr 27, 2012 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ert

Dear Dr Wilson,

Thank you for joining the discussion here. I will take up one point that you make, of a non-technical nature. You write that you "know of no researcher who would not gladly send a PDF copy of one of their articles.". While this might be true of published articles, in many cases - and in some cases crucial to the IPCC thesis of AGW - it is clearly not true of the data on which those articles are based. As you will readily appreciate the absence of raw data, plus explanation of how the data was treated, makes replication - and, in consequence, the possibility of falsification - impossible.

Our host here can testify to that in the case of Professor Jones and colleagues at the CRU in Norwich. Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit has been especially tireless in pressing recalcitrant - and often hostile - academics to share their data with the taxpayers who have funded their research. The most recent post on Climate Audit alluding to this kind of problem (by a contributor rather than the estimable Steve Mc himself) is only a few days old -

If you are not familiar with Climate Audit, I urge you to search back through the many posts that relate such episodes (hint: start with "Mann" and "Jones").

I trust that you agree that refusal to make public data that is used in published papers, which have been funded by taxpayers, is reprehensible and not acceptable.

Apr 27, 2012 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterCassio

@Rob Wilson Minds, like parachutes, need to be open if they are to work properly.

Basically you are saying the science is "settled". No room for debate.

Just look at history to find out just how wrong you are.

You remind me of the Englishman abroad. If the natives don't understand all you need do is repeat what you have said, but louder.

Apr 27, 2012 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

"In my mind I cannot say “debate”, as for me, there is no debate w.r.t. the AGW hypothesis."

Rob Wilson
Thanks for the effort in arranging the discussion.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered Commentershub

Step back a little,
But no debate.
'I don't know',
But act we must.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

@ Rob Wilson.
First off thank you for your post and in facilitating the “debate”.
I am writing because your response is troublesome. You make clear that from the start you were unwilling to consider questioning AGW. Are not universities, such as yours, places where people debate ideas such as these? Ask yourself whether you made that opening statement partially as a defense against criticism from your peers for even allowing this discussion to occur in the first place. If so, would you consider that antithetical to the very idea of a university?
The substance of your reply was so spluttering. Your view of why the truth of AGW is not obvious is internal dynamics, the effects of the sun, volcanoes, the “tricky issues” of modeling and so forth. As you so freely admit, your lack of curiosity to debate apparently does not allow you to consider the possibility that these natural variables dominate or the fallibility of numerical simulations may actually be the issue. Stop and think about this Rob, I know your mind is made up, but just this once, consider the possibility that our climate is actually more variable, more noisy, more complicated that simply CO2 concentrations.
Given the history of accessing data within the AGW debate, I found your suggestion that you know no researcher who would not send a pdf of their research laughable. If you have spent just a small amount of time reviewing issues uncovered by Climategate, you would see the organized effort by academics and government researchers to deny interested outsiders access to data associated with published papers. The issue remains access to data used to support the claims in published papers. Data collected with public funds, performed by researchers at public institutions and used to shape public policy at both national and transnational levels.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commenternvw

However, this would be foolish. We need to attribute the causes of this flattening and this can only come from model experimentation.


If the cause isn't known, it can't be modeled. Waiting isn't foolish in any case, because there is no good evidence that any conceivable warming is catastrophic.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGilbert

Dear Dr Wilson,

the foundation stone on which your stance is set appears to be:

"BUT, we do however know that population, consumption and anthropogenic emissions will increase"

BUT we don't know very much about climate sensitivity to human emissions, which is the REAL crux of the matter.

Please, take your finger off the panic button and listen to the debate on climate sensitivity.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeary

Mr. Shade,

Thank you for this summary.

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

Dr Wilson
Thanks from me also for organisng this seminar and for coming into this lion's den to discuss.
Like nvw I wonder whether it wouldn't be a good idea if you took the scientific approach and asked yourself whether it is just possible that you could be mistaken. The idea that there is any subject about which there can be no debate is anathema to me and I would have hoped was anathema to anyone claiming to be a scientist.
Let me pick up two of the comments from your post (I've done a wee bit of tinkering with the actual text but I don't think I've changed the meaning at all):

There was much discussion about [northern hemisphere mean annual temperatures having levelled off in recent years] ... We need to attribute the causes of this flattening ...
According to the AGW hypothesis temperature will increase by a certain amount as CO2 levels increase.

How about if the AGW hypothesis is simply wrong? Since temperatures and CO2 have pointedly refused to move in lock-step over the last century is it perhaps time to consider that there might not be the level of causation that AGW supporters would like there to be and to put forward another hypothesis instead of flogging this one to (and beyond) death?
Why is there a "need" to attribute the causes of the flattening temperatures over the last 10 years? When I look at the temperature pattern for the last 150 years I would have expected that by about 2005 temperatures would start to turn down again. In about 25 or 30 years they will turn up again (absent a severe solar minimum). I see natural variation and nothing to waste millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on. Where is the empirical evidence that this flattening is anything other than temperature doing what it always does?

Apr 27, 2012 at 7:59 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The trouble with Rob is that he's forgotten the roots of communication, and I'll leave finding out the etymology as an exercise to the reader. So I don't think there is any point to write anything to Dr Wilson, as he's just not listening.

Apr 27, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Dear Dr Wilson,

In fact the most convincing reading of the last 15 years of climate data is that climate is steadily LESS sensitive to human emissions as these rise, something entirely predicted by the laws of chemistry.

All those scary positive feedback effects just don't seem to be kicking in. So, time to open ears and open debates, I's say.


Apr 27, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeary

Rob Wilson
It is appreciated that you have posted, and especially that you have the video. But please be aware that many, maybe most of us of a sceptical leaning are intimately familiar with all of the technical issues you describe, are also technically qualified ( many of us have spent careers in the pertinent Earth Science scientific disciplines - many from industry it is true but also some academics), and have been led to the sceptical view for no other reason than in depth evaluation of evidence and realisation of how this evidence has been torqued to support a political ambition.

Apr 27, 2012 at 8:05 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Rob Wilson: Is there not something about the word 'hypothesis' that makes you pause? Like, where's the proof? Or does it equate to 'theory' in your world? Then again, it seems that the word 'debate' challenges you as well.

And BTW, w.r.t. models: they are not 'experiments', are they?

But hey, if I understand you correctly, on the basis of your belief in a 'hypothesis' you would have us spend £trillions - for absolutely SFA.

Apr 27, 2012 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

@Rob Wilson
I also thank you for your work on arranging this discussion.

I hope that you have some understanding of why skeptics are reluctant to accept computer models without something more.

In most fields, computer programs that haven't been tested and proven aren't done yet, and nobody will depend on them. You calmly expect this of other workers' systems that run your traffic signals, your power stations, and your air traffic. We likewise calmly expect it of climate models that supply our climate predictions.

That does not mean the models have to be final. But they have to pass some tests to show what they do well and what they don't do well. And if the model isn't finished yet, it has to be re-tested regularly to prove the new work hasn't broken the old, trusted parts. This is all a standard part of any system acceptance process.

I can't imagine a computer professional in any field not knowing this and living this. So can somebody please explain how these all-important models have been validated, other than "some of their output shows realistic features."

Apr 27, 2012 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

Attributed to von Neumann by Enrico Fermi, as quoted by Freeman Dyson in "A meeting with Enrico Fermi" in Nature 427 (22 January 2004) p. 297

Apr 27, 2012 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I am afraid many of you sort of fell into my trap.
I purposely posted a goading statement to test the waters. I got what I expected which was a pity.
If you actually took the time to read some of my papers you might be happily surprised that I do not follow any dogma and am actually rather sceptical. It is the problems in climate science that interest me, not the so-called consensus. The Medieval period being a good case in point. The large scale proxy composite reconstructions and models (as I brought up in the “debate”) actually do not agree well at all. Therefore, as stated in some of my papers, if we fail to model the last warm period, then perhaps we need to be cautious with the current warm period and projections for the future.

Happy Debating from the Englishman abroad (well – half English actually).

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilson

'The Climategate scandal was mentioned, and Tom said that it had not affected the science, and that anyway, scientists were human beings.'

Such is the spin. The actuality, as penned by Graham Stringer MP, the most qualified scientist on the HoC final inquiry, but voted down:

'There are proposals to increase worldwide taxation by up to a trillion dollars on the basis of climate science predictions. This is an area where strong and opposing views are held. The release of the emails from CRU at the University of East Anglia and the accusations that followed demanded independent and objective scrutiny by independent panels. This has not happened. The composition of the two panels has been criticised for having members who were over-identified with the views of CRU. Lord Oxburgh as President of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and Chairman of Falck Renewable appeared to have a conflict of interest. Lord Oxburgh himself was aware that this might lead to criticism. Similarly Professor Boulton as an ex-colleague of CRU seemed wholly inappropriate to be a member of the Russell panel.
No reputable scientist who was critical of CRU’s work was on the panel, and prominent and distinguished critics were not interviewed. The Oxburgh panel did not do as our predecessor committee had been promised, investigate the science, but only looked at the integrity of the researchers. With the exception of Professor Kelly’s notes, other notes taken by members of the panel have not been published. This leaves a question mark against whether CRU science is reliable. The Oxburgh panel also did not look at CRU’s controversial work on the IPPC, which is what has attracted most serious allegations. Russell did not investigate the deletion of emails. We are now left after three investigations without a clear understanding of whether or not the CRU science is compromised.'

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:17 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Oh dear, a deafening silence from the direction of Dr Wilson then became apparent to all those present. Indigestion perhaps?

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:25 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

Rob Wilson "We need to attribute the causes of this flattening and this can only come from model experimentation."

The hypothesis is that positive feedbacks increase direct CO2 heating taking around 1C warming to about 3.5C.

The answer is that when you take away the direct CO2 heating, rather finding that the temperature is higher than the direct CO2 heating, we find that the temperature rise is lower than the direct CO2 heating would produce.

In other words, the theory predicts that direct CO2 heating is increased, the data shows temperatures increase is less than expected. I.e. there is cooling rather than heating.

It is almost impossible to describe this as anything other than conclusive proof the theory of positive feedbacks is at least incompatible with current data if not completely falsified given the huge discrepancy.

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler

"If for nothing else, the session simply highlighted that scientists need to communicate more clearly."


"I am afraid many of you sort of fell into my trap.
I purposely posted a goading statement to test the waters. I got what I expected which was a pity."

Yup, it sure was a pity but not I suspect in the way you think.But don't worry it ireally is of no concern it is just yet another example of what we have all too often been subjected to.

Thank you for supplying ongoing confirmation that whilst you are convinced that you have the ability to dictate from authority that there really is no intention to communicate

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:34 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

First this "In my mind I cannot say “debate”, as for me, there is no debate w.r.t. the AGW hypothesis." and then this "So this is the crux of the problem w.r.t. future scenarios. The internal dynamics are difficult to model, we don’t really know what the sun and volcanoes are going to do. BUT, we do however know that population, consumption and anthropogenic emissions will increase. The palaeoclimate and modelling communities are struggling with the tricky issue of constraining model predictions and uncertainties for the future. There are hundreds of papers detailing many analyses and model experiments. Feel free to dig them out and read them."
I wonder why Dr Robert Wilson cannot see the contradiction in the two statements. Quote two would indicate to me there is a lot to be debated and the volume of papers would indicate there is a lot of debate going on. " struggling with the tricky issue of constraining model predictions and uncertainties for the future." would certainly also indicate to me that there is plenty to debate. Give me Judith Curry any time rather than Dr Robert Wilson and those of the same ilk.

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

setting traps, goading statements.. what sort of response do you expect.

sounds like someone that seeks to atagonise, shows zero respect and an unwillingness to discuss..
comes across as wanting to score points.. and very patronising

May I ask, if Robert has read 'The Hockey Stick Illusion' (all the way through)

I hope Rob did not mean to come across like that, but he does to me

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I purposely posted a goading statement to test the waters. I got what I expected which was a pity.

Now you've tested the waters and got what you expected any chance of a constructive discussion.

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

All this shows is a lack of respect on both sides, credit to Dr Wilson for responding, if any of you read CA he used to respond on there too. From what I have seen, by and large when the scientists do try to engage in these skeptical arenas, they get shot down. Indeed some of the responses on here have done nothing to help. Rather than engage in a proper discussion people have resorted to what amounts to a personal attack judging the people not the science.

The same is of course true on the whole of the skeptical community trying to get engaged in the consensus scientific one - shot down, personal attacks and attempts to discredit people.

A better arena is needed for these debated/discussions, if both sides are to engage in a meaningful manner we need an impartial environment. This might go someway to re-establishing trust and bettering understanding of what is - no matter what side you are looking at it from - a complex issue.

These blog based skirmishes do nothing but polarize the people on either side of the debate.

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterLizzie

" as in all other branches of science, we can stick to the published peer-reviewed papers, not random internet blogs and books from non-scientists."

You stick to your peer-reviewed charlatans and we'll watch the world get colder.

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandy

Although there are people on two 'sides' of this thing, there is nothing on one side, except some government money.

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered Commentershub

Ah, Dr Wilson was just toying with the sceptics, being playful. In fact Dr Wilson was himself a sceptic all along. The Medieval warm period a bit of a problem possibly though. LIA? Roman warm period? The Minoan Warming? The other preceding Holocene maxima? The intervening minima? The apparently complete disconnect between CO2 and climate back as far as the pre-Cambrian? Falling sea levels when the coasts should by rights be experiencing a 20m sea level rise? Or more recently, cooling from the forties to the seventies? Data creep as previously recorded values mysteriously gradually morph gently upwards on an annual basis - not a problem? Complete absence of the tropical troposphere warm spot? Hockey sticks not a problem?

In fact is there even the flimsiest piece of evidence anywhere to support a CO2 hypothesis based "Climate Science", let alone the gargantuan religious edifice costing billions if not trillions which has been erected on the basis of that improbable, unsubstantiated notion, the word hypothesis being entirely too grand a description.

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

"These blog based skirmishes do nothing but polarize the people on either side of the debate."

Not true Lizzie, but they will if people supposedly speaking from authority appear to be gaming the situation.

Debate only works if there is some basis of trust; there have been numerous instances on this blog of both sides of "the divide" resolving issues through resultant mutual understanding. I am especially thankful to Richard Betts and his associates for their efforts, maybe because they did not feel the need to set traps? They actually understand the basic scientific principle that others do have the ability contribute.

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:40 PM | John Peter

John, unless we spell out exactly what we mean in extraordinary detail there is always room for ambiguity and misunderstanding.

I don't see any necessary contradiction between Dr. Wilson's statements. The "AGW hypothesis" is largely beyond debate. We know the greenhouse effect exists, we know CO2 is the dominant independently-variable greenhouse gas, we know that massive enhancement of atmospheric CO2 results in a large radiative imbalance at the top of the atmosphere that results in a warming contribution.

Empirical observation strongly supports this (large 20th century, especially late 20th century and contemporary warming; Arctic ice melt; sea level rise; enhanced tropospheric water vapour concentration; delayed Antarctic warming; stratospheric cooling; raised tropopause; altered precipitation patterns, and so on...broadly as predicted). Anthropogenic global warming is beyond serious scientific dispute.

Future events and consequences are nevertheless difficult to predict. As Dr.Wilson states we don't know what stochastic contributions (volcanoes, solar, ENSO) will bring. They're unpredictable by definition, even if we're confident that ENSO effects are largely neutral on multidecadal timescales. We don't know what human population, economic development, timescale of conversion to sustainable energy production and greenhouse gas emissions will be.

So we can only model the future within bounds of greater or lesser certainty within particular greenhouse gas emission scenarios. There's no necessary incompatibility between statements of what we know with confidence and what we are less able to predict/project.

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Nobel prize winner and Fellow of the Royal Society, biologist Sir John Sulston

[Snip - manners] He just loves himself. Why are the RS entertaining political people like this?

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterTucker

Dr. Wilson,

I spent some time to write my response to you and I stand by every word. If I have been caught in a trap, pray tell what it is?

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered Commenternvw

Apr 27, 2012 at 9:55 PM | Lizzie

"These blog based skirmishes do nothing but polarize the people on either side of the debate."

Yes, pretty much Lizzie. That's why, warts and all, the peer-reviewed scientific literature is the best way for science, and the realities of knowledge of the natural world, to grind forward. Scientists publish, by and large, in good faith when they have something productive to say. Other scientists provide evidence that supports this, or otherwise. As time passes we come to conclusion about aspects of the natural world that we have increasing confidence in. Note that I'm using the term "scientist" in the most general sense of anyone that has something interesting to say with a supporting evidence-base.

If scientific enquiry becomes a free-for-all in which every polarized view, often held for reasons rhat have little to do with science, becomes equivalent, then we're pretty much at the mercy of the bullies. Perhaps the most pressing change required is to make the scientfic literature more accessible...

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Chris - what do you have to say about the lack of expected warming in the first decade of the 21st century?

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

This is the way to communicate if you already have a trust issue?

Apr 27, 2012 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

"I am afraid many of you sort of fell into my trap." Apr 27, 2012 at 9:14 PM Rob Wilson

Yes very funny. Have you any idea how many people have suffered because of the arrogance of people like you who say "there is no debate"?

I know several sceptics who daren't let anyone know they are sceptics because they risk loosing their jobs. I personally stopped working in the wind industry when I realised it was totally corrupt. I know many scientists whose careers progression has been destroyed because they took the courageous step of standing up for truth.

These are real people whose lives have been deeply affected and you think it is a joke?

I used to set up wind monitoring stations ... one day I accidentally let on to a farmer that a wind farm was going to be built just above them. I have never seen someone so upset ... their whole face dropped. That was bad enough, but last year I heard a doctor giving the medical evidence of long term health damage to many people living much further away than that person.

I have to live with the knowledge that I was partly responsible for wrecking that person's home.

I once went to the Isle of Lewis to plan some wind monitoring sites. It was a glorious day,so I sat having lunch just soaking in the fantastic scenery and watching the eagles. I suddenly realised that what I was doing was going to destroy that scenery and likely kill all those eagles and many more.

I have to live with part of the responsible of destroying that landscape, killing those eagles and causing the loss of tourism to an area where I think 50% of jobs rely on it.

I once sat in a Taxi speaking to the head of the civil servant in charge of the energy department. Like everyone else I thought this global warming stuff was backed by real science and I lobbied for bio-fuels. I later learnt that many people had died when food prices rocketed world-wide because of the massive swop to biol-fuels.

Again, I have to admit I was wrong to lobby for biofuels.

I attended the Scottish Parliamentary Renewable Energy Group when a civil servant literally asked us what level of subsidy we want for wind energy. The businessman in me said "everthing we can get". The democrat in me said: "this is a corrupt thing to do in a democracy". At the present rate, 2.3million people will die in Britain due to the cold. Most of those are the old and poor who are suffering most because of increased utility bills directly as a result of people like me who stood in that room and voted for a massive £1billion/year handout to companies. I saw the people who got this money. And I saw the way people were lied to about getting jobs. I swallowed these lies because ...

I took it on good faith that there was real science behind this manmade global warming The truth I found when I finally bothered to do what every good scientist should do and examined the evidence was that only a very small part of it had any scientific credibility. Worse, there was wholesale fraud, people have been clearly adjusting data, results have been hidden, there has been a closed mind set and a vindictive and wholly unwarranted crusade against anyone who dares to question the "holy writ".

I know this is a con. I've combed through hundreds of papers, I've listened and read as much evidence as I can .... and whilst it has been sickening to find me personally under constant attack, I still have an open mind.... I still actively seek out papers which contradict my own views.

My utter contempt for this subject boils down to one simple thing. It is provably and overwhelmingly biased. It should have been blatantly obvious something was wrong even when I was a believer. But like you I believed this lie about "evil sceptics in the pay of big oil" Finally I worked our a very simple way to test its impartiality: If this were proper science, if there was any hint of unbiased impartial analysis, then it would treat all the evidence impartially and the clear known harm of cold would be present in a large number of papers examining the effects of warming. Indeed, more than that, when I read papers I would come across benefits of warming that were not immediately obvious.

I think I looked through some 100 papers examining effects selected from Universities. Eventually the penny dropped and I realised that the only one I found (a brief mention) was the only one I was going to find. I not sure it is possible to describe my disgust. I felt completely betrayed by people like you. Every one of them was biased, 98% I would describe as wholly and completely biased.

I've never seen a subject which is so dishonest as this.

This isn't a laughing matter. Just before climategate, there were frequent calls for people like me to be locked up in concentration camps for daring to question YOUR ORTHODOXY.

I have been insulted in every way possible. I have been called an oil lackey a denier. I personally have twice been threatened with legal action.

I have spent a good proportion of my own time in the last 10 years doing what I think is right for Scotland and trying stand up for scientific integrity. I have received no money for that.

I was the person who instigated the petition against the behaviour seen in climategate. I can only describe the inquires as fraudulent: e.g. there is no way an inquiry which intentionally sets out to deceive, which falsely selects papers which are not being criticised and ignores those that are, can be described as honest.

We have tried every legal way possible and the people we trusted to do something responded to us with fraud and insults.

And you still think this is a joke?

Apr 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler


He will think it is a joke. He never gets to meet people.

Apr 27, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

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