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Tom Chivers on trust

Tom Chivers, the Telegraph's science blogger, has written his take on the Muller paper. Coming a day after the initial furore it's somewhat more considered than many of the initial reactions, although not so considered that he has noticed all the argy-bargy going on as to just how sceptical Muller really was in the past. But that aside, there are some interesting questions raised, not least on the questions of authority and trust:

As a non-climate scientist, I have to accept certain things on authority, as I do with all expert knowledge. This is an argument from authority, but we all do it, and it's vital: if I had cancer, I'd accept the authority of the oncologist and the body of knowledge of the oncology community, rather than try to guide my own treatment with information I'd found on the internet. As Ben Goldacre said long ago in a different context: "you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust".

This is quite true; we all have to rely on people we trust. I therefore see nothing particularly objectionable in this position. And Tom is clear about who he is going to trust.

I've decided who to trust, and it's mainstream scientific opinion: the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, Nasa, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Geological Survey, the IPCC, the national science bodies of 30 or so other countries. And that gives me a possible route out of the confirmation-bias trap: I have, in advance, outsourced my judgment to expert bodies. If several of them changed their position, I would change mine. It's far from perfect, but short of becoming a climate scientist myself, it's the only option I have; otherwise my reasonable belief that the climate is changing due to human behaviour becomes an article of faith. As it is, although it is mediated through authority, it's still, I hope, based on empirical data, on the scientific method.

You have to laugh at that list. I'm not sure if Tom noticed there has been a bit of a rumpus over the IPCC in the last few years - something to do with some emails I think. The whole point of Climategate was that it showed that the IPCC is not to be trusted - dissenting authors excluded from the report, fabricated claims  that dissenting findings were statistically insignficant, that sort of thing.

Perhaps he thinks the CRU scientists were exonerated? I can only assume that if this is indeed the case, since he still trusts the IPCC and wants others to do so too. I can only assume therefore that he is also taking the integrity of the inquiries on trust rather than having actually examined any of the facts - a pity because this is a simple matter of procedure rather than an area of science requiring months of research and study. Even a relatively cursory look at what the inquiries did would demonstrate to a moderately intelligent twelve-year old that no meaningful investigation had taken place. Even as eco-friendly a writer as Roger Harrabin describes the inquiries as "inadequate", which I think is just a diplomatic way of saying "thorough floor-to-ceiling whitewash".

Then again, there were all those other problems with the IPCC report - the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, for example, a claim that had been touted by environmentalists long before the IPCC report, had been incorporated in the final text in the face of dissenting review comments, and had then been defended to the hilt by the chairman of the IPCC himself when it was exposed as a preposterous and cynical exaggeration.

Or what about the IPCC's decision to restate an important study of climate sensitivity by Forster and Gregory, putting it on a Bayesian basis and then imposing an inappropriate uniform prior that biased the results so as to increase climate sensitivity from 1.6°C to 2.3°C per doubling of CO2?

And Tom C wants us to trust these guys?

But what about the others - the NAS, the Royal Society and so on? The thing that has to be remembered here is that the reports issued by these august bodies are not representative of the fellows. They are put together mostly by politically minded insiders and a handful of climatologists - the same people who have caused all the trouble at the IPCC. It took a rebellion of dissenting fellows at the Royal Society to get its prognostications on climate to even have the appearance of a scientific rather than a political document. And if you look at the society's post-rebellion climate statement it still carries visible signs that its authors are taking things on trust. Here's what they say on climate sensitivity:

Climate models indicate that the overall climate sensitivity (for a hypothetical doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) is likely to lie in the range 2°C to 4.5°C; this range is mainly due to the difficulties in simulating the overall effect of the response of clouds to climate change mentioned earlier.

Not a word of the observational study by Forster and Gregory, the one that found that climate sensitivity was only 1.6°C, at least until the IPCC rewrote the story. I don't see this as deception - they probably just took the IPCC report on trust and were therefore probably unaware that Forster and Gregory was based on observations rather than climate models and found a lower climate sensitivity.

So the NAS, the Royal Society and all the other academies are simply conduits for the received wisdom coming from the IPCC - whom we know cannot be trusted. There is only the IPCC that assesses the climate literature from beginning to end. That is the dilemma we face: we are being invited to a game of poker by a bunch of known cardsharps.

Tom thinks we should play.

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Reader Comments (103)

BH, you have nailed it. BUT, where do you go from here?. You win some battles, but you are still losing the war. Pachauri still reigns. The RS and the APS etc go on their merry way. The MSM and the pollies rely, as they should, on the authorities. You are a voice in the wilderness. All your effort and then people like the journalist just ignore you. I admire your persistence, but what more can you do?

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Hill

"if I had cancer, I'd accept the authority of the oncologist and the body of knowledge of the oncology community, rather than try to guide my own treatment with information I'd found on the internet."

This really is a terrible analogy.

What if you were told by the experts that you had cancer in the absence of any symptoms. Would you accept their prognosis even though you felt and looked well..
Where is the vidence that we are causing CAGW.
In the absence of that evidence, I reject the medicine.

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

"If I had Cancer...." Exactly Tom. You know you have Cancer, and I'm quite sure that it isn't because someone told you that according to a projection from a computer model fed with little more than your age,weight and hat size that a consensus of doctors thought that you could, maybe have Cancer, that you would put yourself through procedures that are in themselves life-threatening as a precaution. You would want firm, incontrovertible empirical evidence that you were in fact afflicted. In the case of CAGW, that evidence is missing, so why take the pain for no gain?

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

Richard Hill - you sound so eminently reasonable... you don't work at the Met Office do you? no - I'm confusing you with someone else!

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:20 PM | Registered Commentermatthu

This is the bit Tom got wrong:

"you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust".

As a journalist he owed it to his readers to find out for himself. Politicians make the same mistake.
We live in an age of vested interest and corruption and Tom can see it just as easily as I can.

Politicians dont cheat on their expenses do they?
They certainly dont do media bosses any favours do they?
They would not dream of making a policy decision that benefited a relative would they?
Bankers didnt cause a global financial crisis by selling mortgages to people who could not afford them and then selling on those mortgages as assets did they.
Bankers dont cooperate with each other to vote themselves obscene amounts of money do they?
Reputable newspapers would never ever hack into your email or your voice mail to get a story would they?
Rajendra Pachauri, paid by us to head an organisation whose task is to find out if humans are causing climate change, didnt say recently that climate change does not matter and that he would be preaching sustainability to every country he visited did he?

Grow up Tom!
You cant trust anybody these days, if you want to know then find out for yourself.

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Tom Chivers: My Brother-in-law has pancreatic cancer. After a very traumatic Whipple Procedure (look it up you fool. It's not pretty) he had a year's grace. the cancer spread to his liver and he has been given six months to live.

BUT: The specialist hospital gave him MRSA - that nearly killed him; the operation gave him abscesses - that nearly killed him; and after all that, the doctors are arguing over whether he has liver cancer after all or just very bad post-operative abscesses (to go with the post-operative incisional hernia he suffered!!).

OK....go with the flow. Believe the doctors know best. But put it another way: the passengers and crew of the Titanic went with the consensus that it was unsinkable: the iceberg didn't understand consensus.

Go read up on Monckton's article of argument from authority etc. It might give you some more ideas. A*sehole. (with apologies your Grace).

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

A contribution to Chivers by turnedoutnice:

'But there has never been any unambiguous experimental proof of any CO2-AGW and a year ago Hansen claimed the lack of warming was because it is exactly offset by 'aerosol cooling'.

Also, in 2009, Trenberth introduced 0.9 W/m^2 'missing heat' for which there is no evidence or physical explanation.

This 'abysall heat' is to be the Great Scam for AR5; a last desperate move to keep the money rolling in for scientific old rope and Hansenkoism.

If you believe all this you are truly a weapons' grade fool. But that category includes millions of people who have been indoctrinated by 20 years of pi££ poor state scientific education designed to make you into unquestioning consumer units/wage slaves.

Wake up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

In 2007 a couple of doctors told me I had cancer. I didn't believe them, and it turned out they were wrong. So, temper everything with your own judgment. Check up on them ,they are not infallible. Now, why cannot a science correspondent check up on scientists who are known to be cheats?

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Quote: "you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust".

I think this is so wrong.

Anybody seeking only to find a person to trust is a sucker for a con-man come salesman. Is there anybody out there who hasn't been suckered by a sales pitch? I don't care if it’s a doctor or real estate agent, you DO NOT trust the person. Have you forgotten "Trust is earned"?

You have to do both. You first seek reference, meaning you contact a person or three and gain insight to the questions you have. Then you seek information regarding the answers given (books, friends, those who have experienced the situation, yet more doctors ect..). Then you identify which of the original contacts seemed to understand your original questions and gave good answers to them, and you go back to them and start the process of solving the original questions.

I hear on these sites too often, "would you go do a dentist for problem x". It’s a stupid question, and it promotes a wrong answer.

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreg Cavanagh

OK, I had my rant about Chivers and how to believe oncologists. But get it to another level of authority, Chivers: I wonder if you were a great supporter and believer in Johann Hari's works...where did that get you?

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

So, what is the point of writing about science if all he does is uncritically regurgitate the words of whoever he has decided to trust? He is adding no value whatsoever, just sharing his list of Facebook friends and their views with us.

Trust, but verify. Nullius in verba. That kind of thing.

And as others have pointed out, the cancer comparison is totally inappropriate, unless he is volunteering to have his prostate removed now because there is a pretty good chance that it might become cancerous at some stage in his life.

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Andrew, I think you are wrong to accept the false medical analogy, as pointed out by pesadia. We trust doctors because they've successfully treated thousands of people with the same condition before. No analogy whatsoever with climate science.
A better analogy would be that a healthy person goes to the doctor and is told he is fine now, but has a one-off condition that will probably make him ill in 30 years time, according to most computer models.

[BH adds: I don't accept the medical analogy. I accept that for most things, most people have to rely on people they trust. Who you trust and why you trust them are complex questions. One might trust doctors to a large degree, given that their treatments for many conditions have proven successful. But as others have pointed out below, in areas where treatments are less reliable one might trust them less. As to whether one can trust the IPCC's predictions about the future, that is a question that needs to balances questions such as climatology's ability (or lack of it) to make such predicitons, the conduct of IPCC scientists etc etc]

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:51 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Further to my suggestion that Chivers reads Monckton's definitions of argumentative fallacies, it can be found here:

TIA, Your Grace.

Jul 31, 2012 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

"probably make him ill in 30 years time, according to most computer models."

Paul you have missed a bit ...

The person will need to have his or her legs amputated now so that the effects of the illness in 30 years time can be reduced by maybe a couple of per cent.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

Argumentum ad Diagnosticae Quackorum? Ask Christopher Monckton - or Paul Nurse.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

I think that most sensible people from an engineering background use what you might call auditing to calibrate the reliability of what they are told. You do a basic sanity check, verify a few of the claims. If that passes you trust the information unless or until something comes along that casts doubt. If you find anything that doesn't stack up you start to tunnel down into the subject until you know enough to judge whether you are being sold BS or not. For what its worth, in my experience scientists and doctors tend to be rather more trusting than engineers. I've also seen a number of scientists talking complete b******s so even in the absence of other evidence could believe that maybe Mann, Jones, Muller et al might not be 100% sound.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Does Chivers' verbiage have a point? All he has said is that he is predjudiced and some studies, but not all confirm his predjudice.

What about proper investigative journalism?

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRCSaumarez

I think he has just written an essay entitled 'Why I am gullible'.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

This cancer analogy first trotted out by Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society, to help buttress the government's belief in CAGW really makes me angry.

Why? Because twenty five years ago my wife discovered, during a routine self applied breast examination that she had a lump in her left breast. She was upset and naturally visited her local GP. After examination she was told that she was too young to have breast cancer and was reprimanded by this medical expert, her GP, for "wasting NHS time". She went away, but the concern remained and after several weeks revisited the GP demanding a biopsy on the lump. The GP was unhappy with my wife, who can be very assertive, but eventually after many more weeks had passed the biopsy was arranged - its result proved the lump was cancerous. So much for medical expertise of our GP. My wife then underwent the normal treatment for breast cancer.

Twenty years later, she discovered a further lump in the same breast. After three months trying to get an appointment with a specialist in the NHS, and my wife now distraught, I ring around the private hospitals in our county one morning and arrange for her to see a cancer specialist that afternoon. She does, there is a biopsy and after a week the cancer specialist confirmed she has cancer again. After further tests and examinations the diagnosis is bad, this time the lump is considered inoperable.

What do we do? Well listening to Paul Nurse president of our esteemed Royal Society, I guess she ought to have made out her will, based upon the experts opinion. But life is not like that. We sought a second opinion. The cancerous lump could be reduced in size by anti cancer drugs, and then operated upon. This worked. I still have my lovely and assertive wife.

This cancer analogy, is just that, an analogy, would you trust your life to it? Would you accept the views of a single consultant when your life may depend upon it? Our experience demonstrates the obvious, that there are differences of opinion among experts, certainly cancer experts.

I wonder how many people will die unnecessary because of this cancer analogy - but then Paul Nurse is not an expert in Climate Science. He was an expert, might still be, but I only hear the politician in him.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSceptical Me

I think when people use the Doctor/climate authority analogy they should offer up authorities who will stake their careers on their predictions.

Doctors can get struck off, sued or even imprisoned - like say for malpractice whilst narcissistically playing God with people’s lives ;)

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:20 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Setting aside Chivers' decision to echo the recent "skeptics = conspiracy theorists" nonsense from Corner and Lewandowsky in his intro, and his recycling of some very faulty analogies ...

Is he not aware that it is precisely this unquestioning "trust the experts" crutch - which the activist/advocacy motivated media mavens are so quick to grasp - that got us into this mess in the first place?!

Maybe someone needs to send Chivers a copy of Donna's The Delinquent Teenager ... and our host's The Hockey Stick Illusion

Mind you, if he cannot even spot the obvious contradictions in Muller's NYT OpEd - or alternatively if his "confirmation bias" is so strong that he chose to ignore them - then there may not be much hope for him, anyway!

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:22 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Snotrocket - sorry to hear about your brother-in-law. Just to say, my daughter had a Whipple op. straight after she left school and she had complications which required two further emergency operations and further major complications from drains because the pancreatic fluids are so abrasive. 3 months in hospital. But more than 10 years later she is doing very well. Let's hope the doctors are correct in their revised opinions.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:25 PM | Registered Commentermatthu

Billy I'd add " Why I am gullible is because I don't how to ask questions about anything"

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

I'm very disappointed that Andrew takes Chivers seriously.
Not even Chivers takes Chivers seriously.
I sincerely hope he's not going to take Worstall seriously again, either.
They both blog on 'Climate Change' because they know they get a high hit rate.
Neither of them understands it.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

The case for doing something, a post at Collide-a-scape, 7/6/11
comment #14, Tom Scharf-

1. We are warning you of a great catastrophe coming, but you cannot feel it or sense it yet.
2. If we wait until you can sense it, it will be too late to do anything about it.
3. In order to avoid this catastrophe, you must give us great amounts of money to implement solutions and societal change (that we just happen to have supported all along).
4. After we implement our solutions, things will be the same as they are now. We will have saved the world.

The medical analogy-

1. Your doctor warns you of a great medical catastrophe coming, but you cannot feel it or sense it yet. Although no diagnostic evidence exists of this coming catastrophe, your doctor claims that computer models of your body clearly predict it will occur soon.
2. If you wait until you can sense it or detect it with a diagnostic tool, it will be too late to do anything about it.
3. In order to avoid this modeled medical catastrophe, you must give your doctor and your doctor's investment group great amounts of your money to implement treatments provided by companies that they just happen to have invested in all along. If you refuse treatment, your doctor will label you a denier.
4. After your doctor implements the treatments, your health will be the same as it is now. Your doctor will proclaim to have saved your life.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

"if I had cancer, I'd accept the authority of the oncologist and the body of knowledge of the oncology community" ...

If you are pregnant, why on earth wouldn't you want to be in a hospital in the care of the doctors who ensure the best possible outcome (for their own wallet).

In the US, childbirth is an illness, much as natural climate change is now seen as an illness.

In the UK childbirth is seen as a natural process which only need intervention as the exception rather than "care" from rent-seekng medics who will use their "expertise" to rule that those "medical denialists" we call wid-wife's should not be given the time of day.

And of course, the BBC will bow to the expertise of the medical profession and investigate this atrocious denial of the god-given right of medics to force patients to fund their retirements by insisting that each and every birth is accompanied by a consultant.

Except, of course, lots of the BBC staff are mothers ... and they are able to stand up for themselves and tell medics who want to treat them as being ill to f*ck off.

Mother earth on the other hand, can't speak for herself, so she is surrounded by rent-seeking "medics" who treat each and every heartbeat as an illness.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterScottish Sceptic

I suppose he believes everything spouted by government officials by the same logic. This man is a journalist?

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

From a dictionary definition of 'Journalism':

writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing...

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave_G

Frankly Tom's views on the IPCC are delusional , he come across has one willing to take anything from authority as being right with little or no questioning. So the exact opposite of how a journalist is supposed to work . But like Goldcare I guess his simply unwilling to apply the same approach to 'the cause ' as he is with other areas , which tells he is no scientists at all.

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

To compare the scientific literature with what the Bishop's acolytes say it contains is to learn not to vest much trust in their physical intuition .That goes double for psephologists turned haberdashers turned jigsaw designers.

The main impediment to publishing Muller et al. is Nyquist criterion overkill-- they are recapitulating what the literature already contains and re-reconfirming the statistical validity of a quite ample sampling grid.

Even in the absence catastrophe not knowing about the deep past is no reason for ignoring the near future

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Five doctors did handwaving when I was very ill and knew it myself.

Eventually I was rushed to hospital and a nurse sat with me all night in case I needed to go on the lung machine. She wouldn't say why she was there. As if I didn't know.

And there are other stories.

I'd never, never, never register with a doctor with whom I could not discuss as an equal.

Thank God for blogs which allow peer-to-peer discussion. Unlike certain organizations and CiF etc.

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterLucy Skywalker

Russell, are you one of these climate change 'communication' types?

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:49 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Yup! The cancer analogy is far from a good one.

In 1993 I had a surgeon, a GP and a radiologist all agree I had bowel cancer and would not see Christmas. Two weeks later after an emergency op I found the surgeon standing in his bloodied operating gown and mask at the foot of my bed as I surfaced from the anaesthetic. It was not a pretty sight and not one I would reccommend if rather muzzy and feeling like throwing up. He wanted to apologise. They had all made a mistake. I had had appendicitis. Instead of having a simple laparoscopy I had been given a full blown laparotomy with massive bowel disturbance.

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterDr K.A. Rodgers

SNTF: "Russell, are you one of these climate change 'communication' types?" May be Russel is one of those, since he wrote, for instance, that Richard Müller is a Nobel Prize winner.

Aug 1, 2012 at 1:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterSeptember 2011

BH, excellent post. Hats off to you.

(Pardon me but I cannot resist making a point to Chivers - everyone with a brain knows that the gold standard for surgeons is the number of surgeries of that type performed per year or whatever period leading up to your surgery. If you think that you need to trust the testimony of expert surgeons, you are less well informed than the typical American sixth grader. Standards for success exist apart from the technical knowledge deployed by the practitioner.)

Aug 1, 2012 at 1:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Tom Chivers MUST be taking the mickey! Nobody who has reached adult status could possibly be as gullible as he implies that he is.
I am sure their must have been a very large lump in one cheek as he wrote that piece of silliness.
[Snip - manners]

Aug 1, 2012 at 2:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Comparing the scientific literature with what the Bishop's acolytes say it contains creates little trust in their physical intuition or their scientific literacy. That goes double for psephologists turned haberdashers turned jigsaw designers.

Muller et al.'s publication problem is Nyquist criterion overkill-- recapitulating what the literature already contains and re-reconfirming the statistical validity of an ample sampling grid is not the stuff of scientific originality.

As to those deeply commited to ignoring the obvious , even in the absence of catastrophe not knowing about the deep past is no reason for ignoring the near future. What I see here is less a healthy suspicion of the Precautionary Principle than a wholesale failure of the imagination of disaster.

Aug 1, 2012 at 2:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Philip Tetlock is an expert on expert predictions. He says expert predictions are no better than a chimp throwing darts. I'll put my trust in Tetlock that the IPCC predictions are no better than a chimp's. Especially since the IPCC has already demonstrated that it is untrustworthy.

Aug 1, 2012 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

I overflow!

In the corner of the cancer world I know docs routinely treat patients (but not me) with medications that cause many of them to suffer distressing and detrimental side effects. However these meds are expensive and yield great profits of the drug companies. Other cheaper treatments are being developed (particularly in this country with its cash strapped health service) but it has been an uphill battle to get them accepted because the drug companies have used their muscle to discourage publication of the work.

Where have I heard this before?

Clearly those who trust authority should be very cautious particularly where reputations, and, dare I say it, money are involved. IMHO in the medical world – it’s mostly money; in climate science, reputations.

Aug 1, 2012 at 5:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

What Chivers crucially overlooks is motive.

It's all very well being an expert on something, but what is the expert and his funders hoping to achieve in the end ? Your oncologist's aims are probably aligned with your own - by curing you, he too will prosper.
But your government's ? Government will prosper most if everyone believes CAGW, so how can we trust it or the scientists it pays and selects ? Especially given the history of Climategate etc.

Aug 1, 2012 at 6:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomcat


Aug 1, 2012 at 7:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

The statements of Chivers are both a cop out and a form of subtle propaganda. If you are writing on science for a leading 'high-brow' newspaper, you should at least have a science degree. However, this description of him on the Telegraph link is not very encouraging: "Tom Chivers is the Telegraph's assistant comment editor. He writes on science, culture and anything that crosses his mind."

What is particularly irritating is when a non-scientist tells scientists, 'you should just believe the experts'. Climate Change science is a relatively new and primitive science. It seems most of its 'evidence' is based on statistics and modelling. Most science fields rely heavily on these, so that those of other disciplines can follow the main CC arguments, and at least make judgements on how convincing they are.

As a hydrogeologist myself, I have a lot of experience at reviewing historical charts of such things as rainfall, stream flows, flood records, etc. I have also seen many examples of data being plotted in a certain way to show the answer the author wants rather than a 'warts and all' objective presentation (all scientists are only human). You learn to be sceptical and to pick out the obvious cheats.

You do not need to be a 'climate scientist' to see such failings as:
- it is wrong and misleading to splice instrumental data onto proxy data. If you do, you at least need to be explicit about the join, change in frequency, and error bars
- If proxy data do not match instrumental data in the most recent decades (at least without a convincing explanation), they cannot be reliable for the previous 1000 or 2000 years
- warm weather and rising temperatures routinely presented as 'evidence', but cold weather and falling temperatures as 'just weather'
- such an argument as: Rising temperature (that happens to fall within natural variations) - 'if you can't come up with a better explanation than CO2, then it must be CO2'; Steady or falling temperatures (that don't match the CO2 theory) - 'we don't have an explanation, that's just natural variation, or we think it could be aerosols (they work in the models at anyway)'.
- computer models are tools to test a theory, not proof. Most computer models are highly sensitive to the man-made assumptions that go into them. The more complex the model, the more sensitive they are.
- that so much of climate 'science' is based on statistics rather than a niche scientific discipline: for proxy studies, for collating temperature graphs, for data corrections, extreme weather trends, etc
- to see when a scientist is stating his/her case, whether it is based on a solid methodical assessment, or more on supposition, theory and weaselly words.
- If you read thoroughly IPCC reports, you see that their statement "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations" is an OPINION rather than a scientific deduction.
- to see when conclusions are being hyped up
- that evidence for rising temperatures (within natural variations) and their observed consequences (receding glaciers, more high temperature records, rising sea level, etc) is not automatically evidence for (i) that this is due to CO2, or (ii) a catastrophe is coming
- that the analogies with medicine, evolution, gravity, spherical earth, are wrong. That's comparing advanced science with primitive science
- etc, etc

Aug 1, 2012 at 7:38 AM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

A while back I posted on an "believers" website that conduct/trust was the most important issue. (If you don't trust a scientist, you don't know whether you can rely on what he says.)

The response was (to aggressively paraphrase) an overwhelming "no, you're wrong, you don't have to have trust, you have no idea about what the scientific method is, the key thing is to be able to replicate the results".

My reply only partially survived moderation (though to be fair, at least they left some of it in). I said that replication involved trying to prove something wrong, not just prove it right, and that "One of the reasons sceptics hesitate to trust the climate establishment to replicate is because they don't believe the climate community is trying to falsify results."

(I'm not even going to get started with the question of what happens when scientists hide data and results.)

On Tom Chivers himself: I would rate him more highly if he had dug deep enough to notice - before writing his article - that it might not be entirely accurate to call the main inspiration (Muller) 'until recently a professed "climate sceptic"'.

It is true that Muller has called out the climate establishment for its "terrible" and "shameful" behaviour (not that Chivers thinks that is worth letting his readers know) but given that Muller has said so many times in the past that he was not a sceptic, the burden should be on him/Chivers to demonstrate that his professions of scepticism are well founded.

In answer to Chivers' question "what would it take to change your mind?" a start would be people not hiding inconvenient facts - such as the extent of Muller's prior scepticism.

Aug 1, 2012 at 8:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterHK

and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust". Quite right too I have come to an informed conclusion and I have decided not to trust the untrustworthy?
Many above have discussed the Doctor analogy :-
1 "Nice to see you again" said Dr Shipman
2 With the help of th BBC promoting the ideas of a now discredited Dr measles is on the increase?

I don't send my Dr my weight blood pressure etc and he does not sit at a computer using dodgy statistics to diagnose my illness. Instead he observes and examines his patients and has appropriate test carried out then diagnoses the illness?

Aug 1, 2012 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

BH .. something that has been troubling me for a long time:

"increase climate sensitivity from 1.6°C to 2.3°C per doubling of CO2"

I believe it is that case that this is not PER DOUBLING of CO2, but only for the FIRST doubling from preindustrial levels.

Additional doublings would have lower sensitivity as the atmosphere gets to the point that there is already full absorption of IR.

Those who really know should feel free to speak up, but I believe this to be a case of lying by glossing over by activists which is unwittingly echoed by others. On trust.

Aug 1, 2012 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce Hoult

About being "a voice in the wilderness": There is a lot of life in the wilderness, and I think it is unduly pessimistic to dwell on the slow process of getting a rational message accepted by the MSM and politicians.

To me as a non-climatologist (but merited scientist and science policy administrator), the wilderness voices have helped fostering critical thinking about IPCC and its followers (not to say fellow travellers).

Sad that normal self- and cross-criticism has been relegated from the normal scince community to the blogosphere, but more and more of my colleagues have discovered this, and a growing scepticism of the official and poltically sanctioned truths seems to have increased momentum. .

Keep up the good work, there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

Aug 1, 2012 at 8:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrygve Eklund

That is a mindless game of follow the leader. As you point out, Bish, he has made no attempt to think what so ever. Whilst I agree that one bends to the experts for guidance you still have an obligation to thin k for yourself, surely !

Aug 1, 2012 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

There was a relevant post on Spiked a while ago:

Aug 1, 2012 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Ah, the old "if you've got cancer you would not ask a blogger about the best cure" idea, the same one Paul Nurse tried to convince the TV audience with on Horizon and several newspapers have gone with recently - you could conclude someone in PR is advising these people except if they are they are doing it very badly.

As we though the "Chivers" version is not quite the whole story.

Instead we have doctors who stuck needles and sensors on our body only recently. They found that some of them were not working correctly or were not quite in the right place so they added a clever adjustment (basically a wet finger held up in the air) to the readings from those sensors.

Those sensors don't indicate anything wrong just yet but they have put the readings from them over time - adjusted obviously - into very clever computer models which predict that we will have cancer by 2020 if the current trend continues. Oops we didn't say that - make that 2030, nope er 2050 - yep definitely by then. Oh and all our chest hair will disappear by 2030 - oops no make that 2300. Oh and look, you have a cough - thats the cancer starting. And no we weren't predicting your death by heart problems a couple of decades ago, thats just a lie put out by cancer deniers*.

*(TM Chris Mooney)

Either way these models predict we will have cancer so we should act immediately, end of.

What do you mean you had a cough last week too ?

For the period prior to the sensors being in place they have no information, but some jolly clever people have put together other models based on the level of crustiness under our fingernails over time. When put through the magic Mannomatic it suggests that we have never been under so much risk ever in our lives, honest. And you didn't have a cough. So there.

Even though the readings have now started to go the other way and have been doing for quite a while without us smoking or drinking less or even getting of the couch more often these "experts" still have models predicting dire cancer in 2030,40,50...

I think I'd rather see a Witchdoctor, at least the costumes would be nicer.

Aug 1, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

I think that Chivers makes a good point, at least as far as the general public like myself are concerned. Delingpole made it in Watermelons. If you try and argue these matters with someone who is only lightly informed, they are likely to quote David Attenborough at you, or the RS and all the others. What do you say in response - I read it on the internet. Oh well, they'll say, there's all sorts of loonies out there. It's the argument not just of authority but of respectability. We have I think a much better idea of the truth, thanks to the patient and scientific unravelling by people like our host, but you need to go into it in detail before coming to a better understanding. You might say that a journalist should be better informed than the public, which is fair enough. Then I suspect the pressures of proprietors, editors etc. come in, as well as the general "!consensus".

Aug 1, 2012 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

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