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« Crok interviews Vahrenholt | Main | Richard Bean in Melbourne »
Friday
May042012

Wunsch on Nature

This from a reader:

I saw a talk by Carl Wunsch at Wolfson College, Oxford this evening.  He's probably best known outside of his field (oceanography) for disagreeing with how his views were represented in "The Great Global Swindle".  He's somewhat equivocal on the certainty of AGW, maintaining that anyone who claims to be able to forecast the climate even a decade or two ahead doesn't know what they're talking about.  Of course that cuts both ways so "deniers" (he included the quotation marks) can take no comfort in such ignorance and certainly not use it as the basis for inaction.  He's broadly in favour of precautionary measures.

Anyway, that was fairly general ho-hum.  The money-quotes came late on when he talked about "the Nature-Science problem".  He seemed faintly disgusted by the lengths to which some climate scientists will go to get published in Nature or Science with the attendant publicity, media appearances and so on.  He sometimes found it difficult to tell which of the Daily Mail and Nature was the peer-reviewed journal and which the tabloid.  Nonetheless, he said, his colleagues  reassure him that just because something appears in Nature doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

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Reader Comments (104)

"Nonetheless, he said, his colleagues reassure him that just because something appears in Nature doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong."


I think that says it all.

May 4, 2012 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisM

yes, such a high standard set by Nature.....

"just because we publish this article doesn't mean it's wrong"

so impressive!

As for a "precautionary principle" .... well of course there are many possible versions for such a principle. I'd say the burdens of evidence fall far more heavily upon claims that multi-billion, multi-trillion dollar/euro commitments are required NOW.

Lots more study and research, for sure, urgent and ongoing. But vast UN/EU boondoggles and govts interfering ever more aggressively in every area of energy and economics? There the bar should be very high for each and every proposal.

May 4, 2012 at 7:52 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Steig and the spurious ant-arctic warming was a nature calamity wasnt it?

But what a strange statement...surely it cuts both was, just because its in Nature doesnt mean its right!

This guy though seems a bit strange, one the one hand he's saying he is digusted in how climate scientists work YET he wants to continue to believe in the creationism of Mann Made Global Warming (tm)!

Mailman

May 4, 2012 at 8:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Yeah, ocean cycles are the largest factor for me, and I think one that would impress anyone, that the obsession by all sides that we going to see short term temperature and CO2 tracking each other in a meaningful way is quite silly.

I think that is why the fuss over TGWS was quite significant. At the time Wunsch was heavily prodded to get involved in the public retraction, making out that the primary objection was the misrepresentation of Wunsch's views, but I think his large plank of understanding about ocean effects over time was not wanted in the public mind and Wunsch was apologetic and complicit in backing out of pushing that knowledge, maybe he is shy, he sounds more forthright here though.

I wonder. Now that the high profile Bish has kicked this off, will Wunsch get some prodding again? ;)

May 4, 2012 at 8:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Precautionary principle = We'll do it our way even though it's not supported by the evidence.

May 4, 2012 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

I only heard about this seminar yesterday: it was the second in a series with two more to come

10 May: Thomas Stocker ‘Climate change: making the best use of scientific information’

17 May: Myles Allen ‘Climate change and two concepts of liberty’

I think they are open to the general public.

May 4, 2012 at 8:21 AM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Another poke at the ruins of Nature, ruined by campaigners inside and out. I've added a link to this post to one I did on this magazine last month, and which begins: How many teachers teach what they teach on climate because their bosses tell them to stick to the curricula? How many climate curricula creators create what they create because government tells them to? How many governments insist on what they insist upon on climate because their trusted authorities tell them to? Authorities such as Nature magazine.
(http://climatelessons.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/another-climate-authority-with-badly.html)

May 4, 2012 at 8:31 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

If it is not possible to predict the climate ten or twenty years on, how can you possibly know that the "precautionary measures" you advocate will not make matters worse? It seems an incoherent position to me.

May 4, 2012 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"anyone who claims to be able to forecast the climate even a decade or two ahead doesn't know what they're talking about"

For me, this is the critical starting point, and everything that follows is risk analysis, which is an entirely separate subject. If there could be some consensus on the statement above it would be a major step forward.

May 4, 2012 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Actually, I reckon that you could predict the climate in 10yrs time. Very generally.
The models that the Alarmists use are invalid before they start,
But by looking at past trends, ENSOs and predictable solar activity. You could have a pretty good stab at it.

May 4, 2012 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

Well I think that the comments above have nailed the ridiculous idea of applying the precautionary principle in a situation when there is no way of predicting outcomes.

In any case if you substitute "attack by giant mutant star goat" for "climate change" and substitute "wearing of beards and sandals" for "emitting CO2" then the precautionary principle gives you pretty much the same result!

May 4, 2012 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterLew Skannen

Wunsch is on sabbatical in Oxford for the moment - he also came to give a talk in Bristol, which I attended, and I posted some comments on the thread about Andrew's visit to the Met Office. I think it is fair to say that Wunsch has a sophisticated scientific understanding of the uncertainties in projections of future climate ;-). But the fact that he is nevertheless broadly in favour of precautionary measures is hardly unusual. Consider what Steve McIntyre has said on this subject a number of times (these quotes taken from here):

"As I’ve said on many occasions, serious scientists think that it is a problem and their concerns have not been disproven. [...] Regardless of this, as I’ve often said, if I were a policy maker, I’d proceed on advice from properly constituted institutions, [...]

Note that I chopped a major caveat from that quote: "Regardless of this, as I’ve often said, if I were a policy maker, I’d proceed on advice from properly constituted institutions, but, on a personal basis, I would be frustrated at the apparent lack of clarity in their thinking and their excessive reliance on clerical-style declarations and would have private concerns that this lack of clarity might be a symptom of some deeper issue."

May 4, 2012 at 9:17 AM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

The Precautionary Principle is a modern form of Pascal's Wager and subject to the same decisive objections. Nevertheless it continues to plague almost every aspect of modern life, spuriously justifying risk-averse action no matter how small the risk or how onerous the action.

May 4, 2012 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

The downside of the Precautionary Principle is the Law of Unintended Consequences


And/or throwing the baby out with the bathwater

May 4, 2012 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterCatch 22

From reading the comments I should expand on Wunsch's " equivocal position. I suppressed the details just because I think people here are probably familiar with them. However, here are his reasons for equivocation (this is from memory, so subject to the usual lack of total recall). The talk BTW was called "Why is Climate Change so hard to understand".

On historical reconstructions, he didn't mention Mann's work or anything else on hockey sticks. He talked about temperature derived from ice cores. He was less than overwhelming in support of their reliability saying that they were "something to do with temperature". He highlighted the modern record, showing how short it was and how small the variation in measured temperature compared to the reconstructed "temperatures".

He showed the correlation of CO2 and temperature and said that it showed that CO2 and temperature interact but didn't show a simple causal relationship.

Then he showed how easy it was to see trends in random data via a bet in which I get a £ for every heads on a coin toss and you get a £ for every tails. For a time it seems as though heads is winning as a solid trend pushes my winnings higher, before it reverses into a "definite" tails win, before (as it happened) finally settling back around a draw.

His point was that, if one sees a time series of this kind which is produced by a physical process (temperature, say), which seems to be heading in a definite direction, we (in the general, human, sense) have no choice but to look for an associated cause. But if the series is produced by a random process, there is no such cause. It's only by study of very long time series that we will be able to understand whether the process is random. Unfortunately there are no very reliable long term time series of relevance to climate change.

Likewise climate models are hugely complicated, running to millions of lines of code. Again, no one fully understands them or how reliable their predictions are.

Climate science in its entirety is so complicated (more so than any other science) and is affected by so many different factors and disciplines that no one understands it fully.

So the reason for his equivocal position is that there is very little in climate science of which one can be certain.

I had the impression that he missed "the old days" when, as he said, only 40-odd people in the world were interested in his papers whereas nowadays he and his colleagues find their work being broadcast around the world. He was scathing about the press, and the BBC, for having "the attention span of a fruit fly" (he attributed the quote to a BBC employee) so that the correction to a prior sensational but wrong article never gets published.

Again, he seemed to feel that climate science was highly uncertain in its predictions but that, due to scientists building careers (he said they, like everyone else, were subject to financial and institutional pressures) and "fruit fly" journalists the uncertainty had got lost.

Finally, yes, despite or because of his uncertainties he does espouse the precautionary principle. However, he didn't specify what that meant in practice (in general, who could object to "proportionate" precautions, but of course that begs the question). There wasn't much time for questions (I'd have liked to know whether he felt that precautions should also be taken against it getting colder, just in case) but, when asked what he'd spend say 1% of the world's GDP on, he suggested population reduction. The figure of 3 billion people was mentioned as being a suitable figure but no time-scale or measures were discussed.

May 4, 2012 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

Precautionary principle = When you want to do something but lack the facts?

May 4, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

I'd have liked to know whether he felt that precautions should also be taken against it getting colder, just in case

Precisely.

@Simon Anthony, thanks for the clarifications.

May 4, 2012 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

I don't know which is worse, an alarmist who says the science of doom is settled so we should reduce population, or an alarmist who says the science of doom is useless for predictions, and we should reduce population.

There was a video floating about this week from Aus, someone worked out we could cram the global population into Australia, give them a 1/4 acre plot of land each, and still have half of Queensland and the rest of the world left over.

May 4, 2012 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I agree Frosty, but at least they ARE starting to back away from the arrogant certainty. This is just a holding pattern for ex-alarmists, where they adjust their position in small increments. In ten years time they will be telling us they thought CAGW was rubbishg all along.

Let them, I say.

May 4, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

For many years now I have been dismayed by occasional quotes from "leading" scientists about where they will publish certain results [most often citing Science or Nature], in advance of the work actually being completed.

They appeared totally secure in the knowledge that they could essentially publish it wherever they chose, without any problems. That is not a good advert for the peer-review system.

May 4, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Simon Anthony said:

I'd have liked to know whether he felt that precautions should also be taken against it getting colder, just in case

I'd like him to also detail what precautions should be taken against the precautionary measures being either ineffective or damaging.

If we don't know the future and the consequences of our actions and inactions it *isn't* precautionary to have substantial upheavals in the way our lives work, make wealthier people poorer, get poorer people hooked on subsidies and mis-allocate huge amounts of resources making us all less able to adapt to a changing world. Nor is it absolute that warming = bad but that position does seem to inform much of the activism and policy decisions.

May 4, 2012 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Gareth - you have stated the logic perfectly, IMO.

May 4, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

I wonder does he accept the precautionary principle as good enough level of evidenced for students who are studying his own area or would he expect a higher standard of evidenced to be used ?
Once again are we seeing the 'professionals ' in climate science failing to meet the standards of evidenced set for science undergraduates in there essays . Was there must have been a time when PHD’s were handing out if you collected so many bottle tops , for that would help explain why the ‘best ‘ of the science has such low academic standards .

May 4, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

My problem with the precautionary principle as used by the faithful is it is based on our worst imaginings of the future and that is not a good starting point ! fear of this and that is rarely rational and inhibits actions you should take say like feeding the world or getting clean water cheap power for all but instead they are transfixed by imaginary threats like kids at night in a grave yard !

May 4, 2012 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered Commentermat

Not knowing the man but from the prelude he sounds like someone I'd like:) This sort of thinking allows diologue. I am a skeptic.

May 4, 2012 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMichael

I detect a pattern emerging in the thinking of leading scientists in disciplines outside climatology.

It seems they cannot bring themselves to entertain the notion that climate alarmism was originated by dodgy scientists using dodgy data, dodgy methods, dodgy statistics, and a system of pal review to establish their scientific authority.

To admit such is simply unthinkable to them. They are the true "deniers."

May 4, 2012 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

In response to various comments...

I don't think Prof Wunsch said anything that could be remotely construed as being "alarmist". If I've written anything of the kind, then it's my mistake, although I can't see where I've made it.

He also clearly lamented what had happened to climate science over recent years (I think he said 15 years, which sounded oddly precise). He struck me as a decent man who understood how little he knows (even about a subject he understands better than most people in the world) and was stunned and rather revolted by the unjustified certainty and shock tactics with which some of his colleagues had captured media and political attention.

He's one of the least alarming people one could imagine. In Dad's Army terms, rather than Jones (Don't panic! Don't panic!) or Frazer (doomed, we're all doomed), he's more Godfrey (what about a nice cup of tea?) or Wilson (I say, do you think we could all just sit down and talk about it?).

May 4, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

Gareth - you have stated the logic perfectly, IMO.
May 4, 2012 at 10:30 AM | rRoger Longstaff

I agree.

Sandy Sinclair

May 4, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

I get exasperated when intelligent people cite the Precautionary Principle as a justification for limiting CO2 emissions as a means of combating perceived catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming. They implicitly assume that there is no downside to such policies other than a moderate increase in energy prices and some modifications to lifestyle.

We do not know whether increased GHGs cause more frequent or more severe extreme weather events, resulting in more loss of life and property than would otherwise be the case. Empirical evidence to date suggests that they don’t. We do not know whether increased GHGs will produce dangerous temperature rises and/or take us over any tipping point. The evidence of previous warm periods and periods of high CO2 suggest that there is no cause for concern. Climate models hugely exaggerate the sensitivity of the climate to CO2.

We do know that the pursuit of renewable energy policies is putting the future provision of baseload electricity supply in grave jeopardy, not to mention forcing people into fuel poverty. We do know that the switch of arable land from food production to biofuels has increased worldwide deaths from starvation: Indur Goklany estimates this at just under 200,000 additional deaths in 2010. We do know that the lack of cheap and abundant energy in the third world ensures that their people can never break out of poverty. Renewable energy cannot address this issue.

Arguing that we should follow policies to limit GHGs to be “on the safe side” is a cop-out. There is no safe side. We can sit here in a developed country wearing the hair shirt of higher energy prices and basking in the warm glow of the belief that we are saving the world. But where is the morality of “taking out insurance” against a risk which only seems to exist in the virtual world of computer models when the premium is paid by other people in the third world with their lives ?

There is no morally acceptable alternative to getting the science right and then basing policy on the correct science. Policies to limit CO2 emissions should be suspended until there is empirical evidence that we have a problem which is actually worse than the proposed solution.

May 4, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Lilley

Sorry if someone has said this already but if this accurately reflects Wunsch's premise:

He's somewhat equivocal on the certainty of AGW, maintaining that anyone who claims to be able to forecast the climate even a decade or two ahead doesn't know what they're talking about.

then I question this conclusion:

Of course that cuts both ways so "deniers" (he included the quotation marks) can take no comfort in such ignorance and certainly not use it as the basis for inaction. He's broadly in favour of precautionary measures.

Because of course it doesn't just cut both ways, it cuts all four ways:

1. warmists don't know how much it's going to warm (or cool) and when
2. "deniers" don't know how much it's going to warm (or cool) and when
3. warmists don't know to what extent emission controls will reduce warming (or increase cooling) and when
4. "deniers" don't know to what extent emission controls will reduce warming (or increase cooling) and when

From this reason, and for the reasons of cost to the poorest and serious loss of freedom for everyone, the "deniers", aka those with common sense, have given the so-called precautionary measure of global emissions control a major thumbs down.

It's vital to put the uncertainties in 3 & 4 to people. This is a knob, based on Wunch's premise, that however we turn it (however the Chinese and Indians let us turn it) we have no idea what it will do. "We have to do something" has never been less apposite.

May 4, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

@ Simon Anthony

Climate science in its entirety is so complicated (more so than any other science) and is affected by so many different factors and disciplines that no one understands it fully.

I'm unconvinced that climate psyence is more complicated than any other kind. Off the top of my head, I'd say the sciences of naval architecture, civil engineering, petrogeology and quantum physics were all very likely more complicated.

No, the reason climate psyentists find it difficult is that they find all science difficult. You can get into UEA to read for a BSc Climate Psyence with 300 UCAS points. This is just three Bs at A-Level, none of which need be in Maths or Physics. Bs are awarded to the top 53% or so of A-Level candidates, so you can be in the bottom half of the class, with A-Levels in geography, biology and D&T, and you'd still meet the exacting academic demands of a climate psyence undergraduate degree. IQ-wise it's about like sociology, and will go the same way when the extent of the charlatanry becomes generally understood.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that's all that climate psyentists have. They're not desperately thick, but neither are they very bright. The whole CAGW thing is a catastrophile scare got up by the rent-seeking bottom half of the A-Level geography class of the 1970s.

An analogy is with the HR function in most workplaces. Those people are all pretty average too. You might get the odd smart one, the HR equivalent of someone with a climate psyence doctorate. You usually find that the genuinely smart person who works in HR does so because they can blag and wing their way along and have quite a cosily idle career without working very hard. The rest tend to be idlers and nosy parkers who don't care if they get on or not as long as they needn't work very hard.

Climate psyentists are slightly informed, they are of average A-Level calibre intellectually, they are often green activists, and all the available employment is in the recession-proof public sector. This offers a complete explanation for the quality and content of their output. Asking a climate psyentist if climate study is important is exactly like asking a roofer if your roof needs work, or a damp-proofing company if your house is damp, or a dentist if you need fillings.

The markedly intelligent ones among them, and indeed scientifically impressive people generally, tend to be sceptics. This is why, when ecofascists first faked their 97% consensus figure, they had to process out of their sample all the people who studied any form of hard science. And, of course, it's also why they thought that consensus was ever a good argument anyway: only an anti-science anti-intellectual Luddite would consider such an argument worth making in the first place.

May 4, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

"...his colleagues reassure him that just because something appears in Nature doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong."

I think he should advise his colleagues first, to use the precautionary principle and say:

"Something appears in Nature means it's probably wrong."

May 4, 2012 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

May 4, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

"I don't think Prof Wunsch said anything that could be remotely construed as being "alarmist"."

"he does espouse the precautionary principle..... he suggested population reduction."

Why take (presumably only warmist) precautions, and reduce population if there is nothing to be alarmed about?

What should we call someone who says we can't forecast climate, yet still advocates precautionary action up to and including population reduction?

An Uncertaintist with eugenicist tenancy?

May 4, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Simon, you need not fear you have made a mistake.

You describe exactly the sort of scientist who needs to speak up now. I know many of what might be termed the scientific "rank and file" who feel similarly and they need some leadership from the senior blokes like Wunsch.

Thanks for the account... I will be passing it on!

May 4, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered Commentermct

@ Richard Drake and others

I think you're in danger of caricaturing the "precautionary principle" as a necessarily extreme view. For example, Prof Wensch suggested that it's a good idea, as a precaution, not to build houses in flood plains. I'm sure you agree (or rather, acknowledging my uncertainty, I think it's highly likely you agree); I'd even suggest that you strongly agree. So at least this far you agree with the PP.

On reflection I think that there are other "precautions" you might also agree with: don't build on eroding coasts, research into solar power, methods of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere (just in case), how to respond to rapid changes (up or down) in global temperatures... You might argue, quite reasonably, that these things happen in any case. They do: we take precautions all the time as matter of course.

Despite its name, I'd say the debate about the precautionary principle is detail rather than principle. Better to find where agreement exists and build on that rather than concentrate on extreme views which, almost necessarily, provokes equally extreme reactions.

@ Frosty

I think that most people would agree that limitless population growth is likely to be a bad thing. But there's no need to invoke the spectre of eugenics to curb such growth. it can be argued quite persuasively that the best "precaution" against continued population growth is increased wealth with the increased security and education that come along with it.

May 4, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

It is surely not "precautionary " not to build on flood plains, when you know they will flood because they have done so before and that, after all, is why they are called flood plains. That is common sense.

It is not the same as the ludicrously expensive precautions being taken against the phantom of global warming, when it might in fact get colder. That is not common sense.

May 4, 2012 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Simon Anthony,

I don't think Prof Wunsch is an alarmist either. He sounds pragmatic about the limits of present knowledge and future projections and cautious of the slide into activism that has gripped climate science for years.

It is in a more general sense that it bothers me to see the precautionary principle skewed in a similar fashion to Funtowicz and Ravetz's post normal science method. It is impossible to use either process without introducing some kind of bias but with climate alarmism it is quite blatant in the discounting of benefits from a warmer world and the discounting of the damaging effects of some policy decisions.

Roger, Sandy,

Thanks!

May 4, 2012 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

I thought Wunsch's talk in Bristol was great (so did the rest of the audience). He called Nature and Science "scientific pornography"...several times...

T

May 4, 2012 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

Simon Anthony -
Thanks for the excellent description of Dr Wunsch's presentation.

Justice4Rinka -
I really dislike such disparaging generalisations such as "climate scientists aren't the brightest." In the first place, it's a rather mean-spirited tone. I don't think it's particularly accurate; I suspect that one can find climate scientists with a background from any major university that you can name. And most importantly, my experience has been that a person can do brilliant work regardless of what university he/she attended or the grades received there. It's far more important how they focus in their career, than during their formal education. As with any field, there is a wide range of skills among the practitioners. Far better to concentrate on the solidity of the evidence and chains of reasoning, than to make such comments.

May 4, 2012 at 1:44 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

One problem I have with the precautionary principle, setting aside the illogic of taking precautions against what we know not, is that one man's idea of the precautionary principle is not necessarily another's. I can see one man arguing for global measures, under the auspices of the UN, huge costs to be borne by the taxpayers of the 'rich' and 'guilty' Western world, etc etc; I can see another man arguing for a few bob more for sea defences here and there. So whose precautions would we get, were we to accept the validity of the principle?

May 4, 2012 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

May 4, 2012 at 9:41 AM Simon Anthony

Likewise climate models are hugely complicated, running to millions of lines of code. Again, no one fully understands them or how reliable their predictions are.

I have some experience of modelling physical systems whose dynamics are reasonably well understood. From this experience, I think I understand precisely how accurate are the predictions of climate models.

May 4, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Tamsin -
I smiled at your mention of Wunsch's "scientific pornography." As with the US Supreme Court, it may difficult to create a bright-line definition of the term, but "I know it when I see it." That said, I find more examples in PNAS than at Nature or Science.

May 4, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

@ messenger

Well, you think not building on floodplains is common sense, Prof Wunsch thinks it's an application of the PP. But, whatever you call it, the fact is that you agree that building on floodplains is a bad idea.

By all means disagree with extreme views and show them up for what they are. But it's counter-productive to respond with equally strong or ill-considered views in the opposite direction.

For example, I seem to remember the 1010 organisation came up with a spectacularly ill-judged ad campaign involving children's heads exploding, which was somehow supposed to persuade people to produce less CO2. Now, according to the Guardian, the Heartland Institute has matched that with its own foot-shooting exercise... http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/may/04/heartland-institute-global-warming-murder ... in which you are invited to think that because the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden were both apparently concerned about AGW, it's a dodgy proposition.

I sometimes wonder whether the more extreme people on either end of the spectrum have somehow taken control of each other's groups and are doing their very best to undermine any fragile credibility they have.

May 4, 2012 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

Nicholas Hallam

"If it is not possible to predict the climate ten or twenty years on, how can you possibly know that the "precautionary measures" you advocate will not make matters worse? It seems an incoherent position to me."

That's easy given that the 1970's "the next Ice Age is coming" meme had exactly the same precautionary measures. - only the overwhelming scare changes, the remedy is always the same -

http://thegwpf.org/opinion-pros-a-cons/4883-the-coming-of-the-new-ice-age-end-of-the-global-warming-era.html

May 4, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

How about adopting the precautionary principle of 'first do no harm'?

May 4, 2012 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that's all that climate psyentists have. They're not desperately thick, but neither are they very bright. The whole CAGW thing is a catastrophile scare got up by the rent-seeking bottom half of the A-Level geography class of the 1970s. "

The above quote is from the hot polemic by Justice4Rinka (May 4, 2012 at 11:58 AM).

Talk of 'Science' and 'Nature' as 'scientific pornography (as did Wunsch, see Tamsin's comment at 1@36PM) is also polemical.

There is food for thought in both. There have been other references to 'climate porn' elsewhere, used to refer to visual or other materials designed to catch attention and shock, and that has been used by seasoned polemicists such as Al Gore. That is surely a part of the explanation for his political success.

I think the influence of ambitious geographers is also well worth investigating to clarify their contribution to the astonishing success of climate alarmism. The development of 'radical geography', or 'Marxist geography' seems to coincide with the development of CO2-based scaremongering. It certainly brings not just grandeur but also power to this erstwhile orphan of a subject. Here is a quote from a book review about it:
"Second, Marxist geography has added greatly to an appreciation of the relationship between society and nature, and thus suggested important underpinnings to the new Marxist ecology. This conception recognises that all impending history will be the history of the Anthropocene. A new epoch has commenced, in which humankind is foregrounded as an environmental agent. Carbon emissions from two centuries have destroyed the climate equilibrium of the Holocene, the interglacial span of unusually stable climate that has allowed the rapid evolution of agriculture and urban civilisation. For Gibson-Graham and Roelvink, it is as if evolution itself has been forced into a new trajectory. "
For more of this portentous prose, see: http://www.workersliberty.org/blogs/paulhampton/2010/09/26/new-marxist-geography

[So, the Holocene was a period of 'climate equilibrium'? Who knew? I had thought it was an example of the temperature etc excursions which occur during ice ages, which themselves are less common than non-ice ages during which, for example, the poles do not have 'permanent' ice cover. In this view, the Holocene is essentially temporary, quite brief, and nearly over if it unfolds like other inter-glacials. And during this Holocene, there have been quite marked variations in climate. So not 'unusually stable', but rather unusually pleasant and productive given the big picture which puts us in an ice-age. Mostly because most of the Holocene has been warmer than we have been in recent centuries, and it has most definitely not been in ‘equilibrium’ over timescales of thousands of years during which trends may be discerned (See http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/GW_Part1_PreHistoricalRecord.htm)]

To watch radical geography in action, see: http://climatelessons.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/classroom-climate-conditioning-at-work.html, a video of three men plotting to create 'little climate activists' in a school.

It will behove us to look behind the polemics if we are to understand the current madness (e.g. the UK's Climate Change Act), but we can recognise that polemics have played an important part in getting us to this state. And it may be that polemics will help get us out of it too!

May 4, 2012 at 3:18 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

@ Tamsin

The prospect of the Michael Mann Nature centrefold is indeed chilling

May 4, 2012 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Anthony

I actually think there are two lots of climate scientists, one lot is rather average and dresses up rudimentary data collection and summary as though it were rocket science. This lot tend to inhabit CRU/UEA and make worthy but dodgy temperature averages. They are in constant awe of the other lot. The other lot are very, very bright but also possessed of large egos and a holier than thou attitude. Too clever for their own good, they have a very high opinion of themselves, don't suffer fools gladly and never admit when they are wrong. Their natural habitat is RealClimate. You can probably guess their names.

As for UEA, I put it on my university application (for 1981) as last choice and got an offer of two grade E's including General Studies (for a science degree!). Given A level grade inflation I understand that 2 B's now could be thought of as poor as 2 D's back in the 1980's, so maybe they have raised their standards.

Oh, I didn't go to UEA by the way, I did a little better than two E's and went straight to my first choice without passing Go.

May 4, 2012 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Simon Anthony said:

"Despite its name, I'd say the debate about the precautionary principle is detail rather than principle. Better to find where agreement exists and build on that rather than concentrate on extreme views which, almost necessarily, provokes equally extreme reactions."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Simon, the precautionary principle is based on the absurd notion that we should only ever do or allow anything if it is proved to be safe - which, by definition, is impossible. It is not about sensible risk management, in fact it is the opposite.

Good examples of the precautionary principle at work are the restriction or banning of chemicals because a bunch of activists get people worried about them, like the atrazine wars in the US and the bisphenol-A junk science panic. The argument that is used is that "you can't prove it is safe, and we think it might not be" - QED.

This is not risk management or rational mitigation, but its antithesis.

May 4, 2012 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

May 4, 2012 at 1:44 PM HaroldW

I really dislike such disparaging generalisations such as "climate scientists aren't the brightest." In the first place, it's a rather mean-spirited tone.(...) Far better to concentrate on the solidity of the evidence and chains of reasoning, than to make such comments.


I agree it sounds mean spirited - maybe there is a better way to express it.

There are undoubtedly some very bright people involved in climate science. But don't forget that Phil Jones - a leading light in the subject - has to get someone to do regressions in Excel for him because he does not himself know how to. And Phil, as someone said, appears to have regarded Mann as a statistical and computing genius.

May 4, 2012 at 3:52 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

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