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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)

After a quiet personal “hindcast” I am quite sure that last night’s opening gambit by Dr Wilson was not directed at BH readers and contributors as a whole but in actual fact placed for a very specific and transient section of readership, namely:-

"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 could of course be doing the good Doctor a disservice and therefore stand to be corrected.

Apr 28, 2012 at 9:26 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

on the "balls carry more" side:

h/t Tom Nelson

Apr 28, 2012 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterneill

chris (Colose): "A scientist like Dr. Mann with a whole bunch of highly-cited papers (his h-index is over 40, which is pretty spectacular, I'm sure you agree), is clearly publishing papers that are influential."

Nauseatingly sycophantic, young man. Angling for a plum job at PennState, are you?

Paul Butler: "Chris is speaking (as far as I'm concerned) from a position of authority."

So a graduate student, by definition still learning and developing insight, speaks form authority? You sir, are full of it.

Apr 28, 2012 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

Apr 28, 2012 at 6:48 PM | Salopian

Careful Salopian...

My example of smoking and the predictive nature of our understanding was in response to Andy's question of how we know our models might not be right but for the wrong reasons. The answer, of course, is that our knowledge and understanding has "depth". So we know our models that allow confidence in predicting smoking-related morbidity/mortaility are not "right for the wrong reasons" since we understand the nature of the causality, and this can be further tested empirically. Similar empirical testing of predictions can be done with climate models as inicated in my post you responded to (Apr 28, 2012 at 6:11 PM).

Apr 28, 2012 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Apr 28, 2012 at 6:31 PM | geronimo

"chris have you any notion of how daft you sound? Let's assume that models can model the climate. Then let's look at weather forecasts, (maybe you don't) are they accurate over 2 days?"

I'm really surprised with that geronimo. Climate isn't the progressive accumulation of day to day weather events. The weather is the day to day variation of parameters (temperature, rainfall, wind speed and direction, air pressure etc.) within a particular climate regime. Even 'though we can't predict what the weather will be in two weeks, we can make strong predictions about what the average monthly temperature will be (in Helsinki say!) in July. We don't come to this conclusion by attempting to predict day to day progression of weather over the next 3 months. The broad seasonal changes are broadly predictable in terms of well-understood physics relating to the Earth's tilt and solar insolation, day length, seasonal wind patterns and so on.

Of course we could simulate the July temperature in Helsinki using a weather model in which the parameters relating to seasonal-dependent solar insolation were ramped up accordingly. We'd likely do quite well in simulating the broad features of summer weather in Helsinki in July. On the other hand we'd be foolish to think we could predict what the temperature would be on July 14th, and whether it will be raining on that day!

That's pretty much like the difference between weather simulations and climate simulations. In a world with enhanced greenhouse warming, and within a defined greenhouse gas emission scenario, we're likely to have a reasonable chance of predicting a plausible range of global temperature for the decade 2070-2080 (climate); however I wouldn't be making a bet on whether we should be taking our umbrellas to work in St. Andrews on October 17th, 2073 (that's weather).

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Well chris, what the IPCC is trying to do is predict the weather of the climate.

What is "two weeks" for the weather is a "hundred years" for the climate.

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub


You say: "The broad seasonal changes are broadly predictable in terms of well-understood physics relating to the Earth's tilt and solar insolation, day length, seasonal wind patterns and so on."

This is complete rubbish. The broad seasonal changes are predictable because they have been observed over centuries and we assume that the future will be like the past.

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

Interesting post on Dr Roger Pielke Snr's blog entitled "E-Mail Interaction With Chris Colose Of The University Of Albany (SUNY)". All very polite and civilised.

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJockdownsouth

Don't be such a scaredy-cat on behalf of poor science practitioners, Andy! Of course bad papers get into the scientific literature. They're either "shot-down" by robust rebuttal or left to moulder unnoticed and un-loved.

So all those decades of papers on stomach ulcers being stress induced were shot down immediately?

"Bad" papers are not the problem. The problem is "good" papers that are completely wrong. People who have researched a topic with integrity and dedication, and then had their results reviewed by similar people, but whose conclusions are totally incorrect.

When a field is totally wrong but is accepted by the bulk of the scientific community, there is no easy way for the lock they have to be broken. Outsider papers are termed "bad" and ignored even if completely right.

For example, the field of Freudian psychoanalysis continues to exist today, with learned journals and seminars etc. I could write a well researched and argued paper that totally rebutted Freud, and it would never get published in their journals. They are not interested in being refuted.

Every scientific field has loads of total nonsense published. When Physics finally works out the quantum gravity problem they will be lucky if 5% of the material published on it is even remotely on the right track. Papers are lucky if they are just wrong. Anyone who works extensively in any field will know that the more they know about it, the less they agree with the others in their field.

Yet apparently Climate Science alone is capable of distinguishing good from bad on the basis of a couple of peer reviewers? Spare me!

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

Apr 28, 2012 at 8:42 PM | Foxgoose

re: ""Dr Wegman's appalling paper"

"Dr Linzen's horribly flawed paper"

"John Christy's embarrassing statistical flaws"

Foxgoose, there is a real problem if one cannot make straightforward statements concerning scientific validity and quality. Wegman's paper was appalling. It was so bad that it was retracted by the publisher. That's not an ad hominem argument or an unjustified criticism. It was an appalling paper.

Lindzen's paper with Yong-Sang Choi in Geophys. Res. Lett. in 2009 was horribly flawed. The conclusions about low climate sensitivity from the rapid response of top of the atmosphere radiative flux to changes in surface temperature (see their Figure 1) arose only through the careful selection of start and end measurement periods. The authors gave no reason or argument for selecting those periods and it is easy to show that you can get more or less any value of the rapid response sensitivity you want by cherry-picking measurement time periods [see Trenberth et al (2010) Geophys. Res. Lett 37, L03702].

Likewise with Christy's flawed statistical analysis (we could go through this and the straightforward published critique too).

Part of the point of scientific publishing is to sort out the quality from flawed science. We don't have to be mealy-mouthed about calling a shovel a shovel. In fact these episodes, although a little concerning, highlight the value of the scientific literature. Flawed notions can be published, but you'd better be prepared to be strongly critiqued in subsequent papers that bear a strong light on shoddy or flawed work. But far better to put the stuff out into the scientific literature where it can addressed quickly and concisely once and for all.... then to spend interminable years bitching about decade old papers on blogs!

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Oh no Chris, science is very much to my taste but I'm also capable of thinking, which it seems you are not. Given the tens of thousands of journals out there, clearly an awful lot of science is going nowhere and is merely there to bulk up CVs.
No a H index impresses me very little, citations not a jot and awards even less. Given the clear evidence of gate keeping in the field it is hardly surprising that few published papers criticise Mann, even his friends only do it behind his back.

I doubt very much that modern citation tarts are comparable previous generations scientific successes. Have you ever considered what has not been published?

You are quite right that there is a deep understanding of the natural world, but sadly not when a model is created where most of the natural world is ignored and conclusions drawn from the model thinking it is real. No amount of knowledge can correct that. Does it form useful knowledge as a guide to the future? No. predicting the future of the climate or of cancer patients is very difficult.

Weather is not climate? Remove all the weather.....what do you have left? Oh it's now 2070 that this warming will occur......lucky you....just until you retire.

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

so maybe we should discuss "sensitivity". But the problem with that is that if sensitivity is meanignful it would have been measured by now. So there would be nothing to discuss.

Instead it is a number that rationalises a number of heat-transfer4 processes that we are currently unable to model with any accuracy. The CO2 enters the atmosphere. it gets passed around and exchanged etc and fi9nally it changes the temperature by....some number, according to the theory.

It is rather like me observing that I put 1 gallon of petrol into my car and travelled 40 miles before needing to refuel. Therefore my car's sensitivity is 40. Except that it is not. Tomorrow, I might get stuck in traffic or have to travel uphill with a trunk full of luggage etc etc, which will reduce the mpg to 30 or 35.

The question I have is whether "sensitivity" is as meaningless a number as average mpg?

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Was Mann et al 1999 'flawed'?

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Apr 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Mooloo

Good examples Mooloo. You're absolutely right that things can go haywire-scientifically-speaking, for a while. Incidentally, I'd leave out psychoanalytic "theory" (which tends to reflect the fashions of the age), in discussions of the physical sciences like climatology or physics or chemistry.

I was talking about rather more explicitly bad papers (I gave some examples, and reiterated some of the "why's" in my post just above in response to Foxgoose). Some papers are bad because they're submitted in bad faith. Some are simply shoddy. If it's considered to be useful to rebut these, then they're rebutted. Some papers are even retracted. A whole lot of pretty poor papers are simply ignored..

But I couldn't agree more that lots of poor and unnecessary stuff is published - it's difficult to see the value in the vast multitude of new journal titles, for example. Hardly a day goes past that I'm not invited to submit a paper to some journal that bears no relation to my research area.

But yes whole fields can be induced up the wrong path occasionally. A characteristic of the papers in fields that get things incorrect (pre-heliobacter pylori stomach ulcer research is a good example) is that the practioners in those fields (like the vast majority of scientists) published their work predominantly in good faith. There were simply aspects of the subject that they hadn't divined. It's difficult to escape the conclusion that some of the truly dismal papers that occasionally find their way into the literature aren't submitted in good faith, but are attempts to misrepresent the science for less enlightened purposes!

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

" It's difficult to escape the conclusion that some of the truly dismal papers that occasionally find their way into the literature aren't submitted in good faith, but are attempts to misrepresent the science for less enlightened purposes!"

Damn right about that, you are!

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Chris, I admire your persistence. Laudable indeed. But perhaps wasted effort.
I cannot believe the closed minds in this blog – and they criticise use for being on an ivory tower.
As far as I can tell, the “consensus” of most individuals on this blog is not to believe anything.
I had felt guilty about kicking the hornets nest, but they were in turmoil before I popped by.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilson

Diplomacy personified

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Apr 28, 2012 at 8:42 PM | Foxgoose

re: ""Dr Wegman's appalling paper"

"Dr Linzen's horribly flawed paper"

"John Christy's embarrassing statistical flaws"

Foxgoose, there is a real problem if one cannot make straightforward statements concerning scientific validity and quality. Wegman's paper was appalling. It was so bad that it was retracted by the publisher.

I think everybody here understands that the validity of the substance of Wegman's paper was never an issue. One of his students copy pasted some background from public sources without acknowledgement - an error which was blown up into a "plagiarism'' issue by activists like yourself.

You're a troll Chris and I think we're wasting our time with you.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:35 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Dr. Wilson,

Why is it the average of the 2 surface and 2 satellite measurements over 30+ years is +0.3C -- less than that directly attributable to CO2 by itself, without any accompanying positive feedbacks? As opposed to, say, predictions of +0.3C per decade?

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterneill

The mode of a skeptic is to be skeptical of everything except data and it also should be the starting point for scientific discourse. This is what is lacking in your writings here and in the statements from proponents of AGW generally. I am a skeptic about AGW because of a lack of data supporting it. By the way, models are not data. What is the data supporting AGW? A rise in temperature alone is not sufficient. Nor is a rise in CO2. Nor both occurring together. When they do not occur together, however that is data against one being the primary cause of the other.
Skeptically yours,

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorley Sutter

Dr. Wilson,

Our minds are wide open -- and waiting for a credible formulation.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterneill

"Chris, I admire your persistence. Laudable indeed. But perhaps wasted effort.
I cannot believe the closed minds in this blog – and they criticise use for being on an ivory tower.
As far as I can tell, the “consensus” of most individuals on this blog is not to believe anything.
I had felt guilty about kicking the hornets nest, but they were in turmoil before I popped by.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM | Rob Wilson "

My goodness me Dr Wilson. You must fall in love every time you shave.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterTucker

Do these two simply not see that there is something wrong with their construct?

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Dear Dr Wilson,

Since you have returned to this thread would you kindly respond to the post that I addressed to you, in reply to a point that you made here, as copied below (and written before I read here that you were once a frequent contributor to Climate Audit, and indeed know Mr McIntyre).

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 | Cassio

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterCassio

WHY did you kick the "hornet's nest"? There's the tale.

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterneill

Chris, I admire your persistence. Laudable indeed. But perhaps wasted effort.
I cannot believe the closed minds in this blog – and they criticise use for being on an ivory tower......

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM Rob Wilson

I think aligning yourself with an obvious troll like Chris has just destroyed any vestige of credibility that Bish's endorsement might have given you Rob.

I notice also that you share his modus operandi of never answering a direct question.

You're not really cut out for this outreach activity are you?

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:49 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Part of the point of scientific publishing is to sort out the quality from flawed science.

The main point of scientific publishing is to 1) make money, if it is a commercial publisher, 2) push a particular interest, if a vanity journal, or 3) establish your credentials, if a scientific journal.

People who merely wish their information to be known, especially in a field like Climate, could put all their work on-line for the cost of a few dollars. You only "publish" in a journal for reasons that have almost nothing to do with science.

That's fair enough, as everyone should be able to earn as much as their work will bring them (either in money or fame). But let's not pretend that there is any other reason for the current system.

The journal system is a way for peers to review and establish a pecking order based, as these thing are, on some more or less established criteria. That criteria may value truth well below toeing the line and promoting others above you in the pecking order. Most especially in fields where the impact of the work is directly important in the real world (economics, climate science).

I have had people decline to pass me copies of their work, which I wanted to publish on-line to an appreciative audience, because there was a faint chance it might be published in a journal or book. It was clear those people valued the small chance of "publishing" far more than they valued actually having readers. (Note this was not in science, but the values are the same.)

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:35 PM | Foxgoose

Yup, it was plagiarism Foxgoose and therefore the paper was retracted. That's what happens to plagiarised papers, even one's where one dumps the blame on a graduate student. Not very edifying...Wegman was the corresponding author and so should take full responsibility for plagiarism in his submission.

As for the "substance" of the paper, there wasn't any scientific substance was there? The identification of collaboration networks is a rather a non-issue, and creating interpretations of potential wrong-doing from these is pretty non-scientific and hum-drum. There more concerning aspect (other than the plagiarism, and other examples of serious plagiarism in Wegman's work which was brushed under the carpet), is the manner in which Wegmans plagiarised paper was ushered into publication.

Scientifically-speaking ''though, we recognise the rubbish and the poor editorial practice, acknowledge the retraction (feel a little queasy at the dreary things that go on, perhaps), and move on to issues of more interest, in which scientists publish work of value. Yes? Since our aim after all is to find out stuff about the natural world...

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris


Why is it the average of the 2 surface and 2 satellite measurements over 30+ years is +0.3C -- less than that directly attributable to CO2 by itself, without any accompanying positive feedbacks? As opposed to, say, predictions of +0.3C per decade?

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterneill

Chris - what is your opinion of the NAS report's conclusions about Mann 's work?

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:14 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

EVENT : A reminder book now! 1 May 6pm for a 6.30pm start at Policy Exchange, Westminster. Peter Lilley MP one of the three wise MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act will be speaking.

Book for a free place via email:

"A Greener Shade of Blue? Communicating Climate Change on the Right"

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterFay Tuncay

Apr 28, 2012 at 11:52 PM | Mooloo

That seems a pretty jaundiced view Mooloo, though I recognise some elements of it! It is an interesting question of how the scientific publication/scientific dissemination procedures are going to realign in our new electronic age. I suspect a free-for-all in which stuff is just posted on web-sites is not going to be particulalry useful since there really does need to be a system for addressing quality and reliability in the dissemination of research outcomes, that doesn't involve huge amounts of wasted effort.

I have quite a different view of scientific publication. Persoanlly-speaking publishing papers forces one to focus down on research goals and results, to properly address the data, to assess whether the data are sufficient as they stand or whether more experiments are required to substantiate evidence and interpretations. The peer-review process in my experience works well enough in ensuring that work is of an acceptable quality.

There is a large element of good faith involved in the whole process, of course, which is actually a pretty creditable aspect if one thinks about it!... in my opinion the vast majority of scientists adhere to this for lots of reasons some of which involve self-interest. It's not perfect but it works pretty well. Good stuff gets published and scientific fields progress. We know that because we can see it with our own eyes! Pretty much anything that is publishable can be published given sufficient effort...

You're right that there is an element of vanity in publishing one's science. That's O.K. isn't it? it's human nature to be rather admiring of our well-honed efforts and we love to see our papers cited and to be invited to scientific meetings and so on...

Anyhow, the true value of the current systems for disseminating research is that progression of knowledge in any field is incrementally updated in a manner that everyone can inspect and critique. It helps to establish what pressing questions might be adressed, and provides the methodologies and background to data deposited in electronic repositories. It allows for a continual assessment of quality and reliability.

If we can come up with another way of retaining these important aspects of dissemination of scientific research that will be just great! I suspect it's not going to be science by blogging!

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterchris

neill I don't really understand your question...can you reformulate it?

not-banned-yet, I'm not sure I can answer that without reading the report and I'm not that interested to do so. I'm in bed with flu yesterday and today and thought I would take the opportunity to see what this blog is all about! I'm more interested in what the published science says. I remember that the NAS report was pretty O.K with Dr. Mann's work, 'though they suggested greater collaboration with statisticians...something like that? It doesn't really matter that much now since the whole field of paleoclimatology has ground a few years forwards and it's more interesting to see how new stuff is progressing..

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Thanks for your contributions to this thread. You clearly know what you know and are not afraid to tell us.
May I ask a favour. I've recently watched 3 short videos by David Evans, on Jo Nova's site, that seemingly explains why many informed sceptics of CAGW are just that - sceptical!
Ignoring video three, that deals with political issues, would it be possible for you to view these videos and produce your arguments to counter their conclusions.
Dr Evans explanation made total sense to me. I couldn't find fault with his logic. What am I missing?
The link is:
Thank you in anticipation

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

"As far as I can tell, the “consensus” of most individuals on this blog is not to believe anything. "

Very true. Nullius in verba.

There are lots of people here, including those who participate, who are familiar with the workings of science. Maybe they even have a better grasp on things than the pastel picture you paint. Please do not patronize.

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

PS - Get well soon Chris.

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Chris - If you aren't up to reading the actual source report I repeat the recommendation to read Steve McIntyre's post for the salient points. It will inform you on the validity of Wegman's critique of Mann's method's.

Also I recommend you read the published scientific works of Demetris Koutsoyiannis who makes a strong argument against the reliability of current climate model projections:

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

If Rob would allow himself the luxury of reading any of this, I would tell him that conflating people in predefined categories is a particularly stupid way to conduct oneself. Not that he would understand my point.

Anyway...he won't ever listen. I blame the people who keep trying to engage with such a nonsensical character. Likewise for the "discussion" with Chris Colose. He believes physics and data are on his side.

By that I don't simply mean he "has developed an opinion" about physics and data. Chris really BELIEVES that (1) he's right and (2) anybody questioning how much warming there will be and if it might be beneficial, is "anti-climate", whatever that means. End of story.

As for myself, this truly bizarre thread has reinforced my opinion that it is beyond pointless to communicate with people that don't.

Apr 29, 2012 at 12:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

When it is said that a plastic bag is forever, what is meant by forever? I defy anyone to find a plastic bag dumped in the hedgerow 5 years ago let alone forever.

Apr 29, 2012 at 1:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterCarl

"Likewise for the "discussion" with Chris Colose. He believes physics and data are on his side"
What's wrong with that Maurizio? He's engaging in the 'Lion's Den' and putting forward his arguments politely and concisely. He's engaging in debate and in my book I think that's a 'Good Thing'
I've asked him for a response to David Evan's videos and fully expect him to do so. He's that kind of guy, I believe.
PS - When I first read that he was in bed with Flu, I misread. Thought he had said that he was in bed with Flo! Couldn't work out whether he was bragging or complaining:)

Apr 29, 2012 at 1:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Chris - I notice you did not respond to my questions in my comment at Apr 28, 2012 at 6:28 PM.

So I will ask the last question again. Can you please identify the CO2 signal in the following graph?

wood for trees

Rob, you can have a go also.

Apr 29, 2012 at 1:54 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

"I had felt guilty about kicking the hornets nest, but they were in turmoil before I popped by."

But Dr Wilson surely that was the reaction you expected following your declared transition from "sapiens" to "superbus"?

Get used to it, now you have left the wise, knowing, enquiring life and transposed into the all knowing “superbus – arrogant” man, you and you alone are responsible, no longer can you ask the knowing man to help with the load.

Enjoy your solitary role!

Apr 29, 2012 at 1:55 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

"neill I don't really understand your question...can you reformulate it?"

Ah, there you go revealing yerself Dodger. Pathetic. And you associate yerself with this trash, Dr.? Oy, you all are beyond repair. Begone.

Apr 29, 2012 at 2:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterneill

Thank you, chris. You are the third person "speaking from authority" to confirm the absolute intellectual bankruptcy of the Warmists Savor your "decline".

Apr 29, 2012 at 2:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterneill

Poor Bish. It now seems that one of Rob Wilson's motivations for convening the seminar was to give himself a bit of a laugh, and then to snigger at the plebs from on high. For shame, Dr Wilson! It may be a joke to you in rarefied academia, but in the real world social and economic disruption is the price others pay for alarmist policy. Although you may not be an alarmist yourself, your acquiescence with the AGW bandwagon makes you equally responsible for the adverse effects. This issue is far from a joke!

Apr 29, 2012 at 2:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

This is the end, my dear old friend.

Apr 29, 2012 at 3:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterneill

chris said:

"But yes whole fields can be induced up the wrong path occasionally. A characteristic of the papers in fields that get things incorrect (pre-heliobacter pylori stomach ulcer research is a good example) is that the practioners in those fields (like the vast majority of scientists) published their work predominantly in good faith. There were simply aspects of the subject that they hadn't divined."
The problem with this Pollyanna-ish view is that, like model-based climatology, the theories were strongly defended in the face of empirical evidence. The treatments didn't work, the patient profiles didn't match the supposed causes. But, the notion that the stress of modern living was making people sick was a powerful social meme which fitted perfectly with flimsy scientific evidence in a mutually reinforcing way. Sound familiar?

Any scientific theory which neatly fits with current social anxieties (a lot of the pseudoscience peddled about food and nutrition comes to mind) needs repeated examination under a electron microscope by skeptics. But very often, just the naked eye will do the trick It's mostly junk, but junk which people cling to with extraordinary stubborness because it fulfils an emotional need.

As for Rob Wilson, in an environment where trust, integrity and respectful communication is badly needed, he is behaving like a primary school kid. Tactics like "nyah, nyah, tricked ya!" and "ha! ha! stirred you up and made you angry!" are regarded as the height of sophisticated wit by 10 year olds, but are correctly perceived among adults as hostile and defensive barriers to communication.

Apr 29, 2012 at 4:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Paul Ehrlich has been wrong in every one of his predictions. Yet, his H-index is 51 and he was recently chosen by the Royal Society as a Fellow.

And then they say the reason public has lost trust in scientists is because of failure of communication or a coordinated campaign to discredit scientists.

That public lose trust in scientists and scientific institutions for the same reason that they lose faith in religion when dodgy priests are embraced and protected by the Church is a possibility that is not discussed by the pro-CAGW scientific community.

Personally, the huge reservoir of respect and trust I had for scientists is now almost depleted. Once upon a time the scientific community could consider me, a mere layman, as a staunch grassroots friend and ally.

Today, I can guarantee that I'd be delighted, absolutely delighted, if the governments cut the funding for what passes as climate science by more than half.

As far as I am concerned a scientist's worth isn't defined by his H-index but by whether his predictions have come true. What separates a scientist from a fortune-teller, an astrologer, a shaman or a seer is the ability of the scientist to make reliable predictions.

For example, when NASA says "we shot an arrow into the sky and it'll be near Pluto in 2016 and send us pictures from there", I'd believe that to be good, credible, science based on sound computer models and hopefully good engineering too. They have already proven their skill in predicting the movement of objects in space. It's basic physics now and it has been so since Newton.

When NASA says "we emit CO2 and if we don't stop doing it we're going to have a climate catastrophe in 100 years", I'll ask, "how do they know that? What is their track record in making reliable climate predictions?" No amount of bleating out that climate science being basic physics or it is centuries old, or the fact that it is supported by consensus of scientists everywhere between here and Pluto, yada yada yada, is going to move me an iota on that point. We can't predict weather, we can't predict ENSO, why should we believe anyone who says they can predict 100 years ahead.

Apr 29, 2012 at 5:37 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Chris, I admire your persistence. Laudable indeed. But perhaps wasted effort.
I cannot believe the closed minds in this blog – and they criticise use for being on an ivory tower.
As far as I can tell, the “consensus” of most individuals on this blog is not to believe anything.
I had felt guilty about kicking the hornets nest, but they were in turmoil before I popped by.
Apr 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilson

Watch out, Chris, that's a trap.

Apr 29, 2012 at 6:08 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Rob Wilson

I am a physicist with 40 year's experience in modelling complex phenomena, in a safety critical discipline. Your juvenile behaviour in such an area simply would not have been tolerated. It worries me greatly that in the academic world in which you operate , your complete contempt to, and rejection of, opposing views is allowed to flourish. That you attach such importance to models which are demonstrably incomplete is simply naive and that you presumably propagate your views to your students with no allowance for argument appalls me.

Apr 29, 2012 at 6:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRonaldo

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