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Solid rock

Yesterday Michael Shermer, the founder of the Skeptics Society, issued one of those mildly irritating calls for global warming sceptics to run up the white flag:

Libertarians, tea partyers, & free market advocates: you're on the wrong side of the climate issue. The science is rock solid. Follow data.

Being a global warming sceptic who falls into more than one of the categories mentioned, I asked Shermer whether he wanted to discuss the issue or whether he was in broadcast mode. As he didn't reply I proceeded to press him to explain exactly what was the science was that he felt was "rock solid" - was it cloud feedbacks, uniform priors in ECS, deep ocean heat transport, climate models? Libertarian sceptics wanted to know.

Eventually he seems to have felt obliged to come up with something to support his view and he pointed to an article on the eSkeptic site by a geologist called Donald Prothero. I have a vague feeling I discussed this at the time of publication a year or so back, but suffice it to say that it's awe-inspiringly pathetic stuff.

Shermer seems to feel that the science that we should all accept as "rock solid" includes, for example, the millennial temperature reconstructions. I kid you not. Prothero's article cites the Moberg study, which is far from the worst in the corpus, but does include the use of bristlecones. This presumably means that Shermer also feels that the use of bristlecone pines in temperature reconstructions is "rock solid", despite the world and his wife - including the National Academy of Sciences! - agreeing that they are unsuitable for such applications. And slapping the instrumental temperature record on top of the reconstruction is not a "rock solid" procedure in my book either.

Also in Shermer's "rock solid" files are melting polar ice caps, despite a 30-year increase in Antarctic sea ice extent, and melting glaciers. It seems that neither Prothero or Shermer have heard of sublimation. And what about Prothero's claim that the population of India are are all going to die because they rely on meltwater from the Himalayas for irrigating their crops? Have neither he nor Shermer heard of the monsoon?

If this is the "rock solid" science, I hate to think what the "slightly dicky" science is like.

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Reader Comments (70)

For what it is worth, I have made several comments which I have subsequently deleted before posting, out of respect for this site. Even now, I have deleted several further sentences to be replaced by this one.

Jan 25, 2014 at 9:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Your Grace is quite rightly "irritated" by this matter to the extent — I regret to point out — where a wee bit of proof-reading would not come amiss!
But like SC I have, for the moment, refrained from other comment while I too calm down a little!

Jan 25, 2014 at 9:35 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It feels like a Sisyphos's task. Don't give up.

Jan 25, 2014 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurious George

Solid rock is in denial.

Jan 25, 2014 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

I have a simple message for Michael Shermer.

There is no "F" in Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Libertarians, tea partyers, & free market advocates: you're on the wrong side of the climate issue.

Sweet! I'm none of those things, being vaguely left-centrist and not opposed to state monopoly of health, education etc.

So does that mean I'm on the right side of the climate issue? Which is the opposite side to Shermer, as it happens.

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

Rather than run up the white flag, I can think of far a more constructive use for the rope ^.^

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Registered CommenterDung

This may help cheer everyone up:

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterKatabasis

In the 1980s and 1990s I was a proud card carrying member of CSICOP now I am embarrassed by what the organized Skeptic movement has become.

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterL Nettles

Just in from a Burns Night, so in a genial mood, well-disposed to my brother man and a'that. But not to this Shermer chump. What a disgrace his words are to the very idea of scepticism as an element of scientific method, nullius in verba and a'that. Because he cannot mean 'follow data'. He can only mean 'believe what you are being told to believe'.

Jan 25, 2014 at 10:55 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

This is the same Michael Shermer who uses the 97% argument in a recent Scientific-American article
- Good article to take into your local high school so the kids can pick over the logical fallacies.
- How the mighty have fallen. (Shermer & Un-Scientific GreenDogmaLovin American Magazine)

Jan 25, 2014 at 11:02 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Isn't "Skeptics Society" always going conform with whatever established dogma you have. Purely Orwellian name.

Jan 25, 2014 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDirkH

If stranger told you that the world was going to end you’d assume they were a nutter.

If someone respectable told you the same, you’d demand proof and if that proof was flimsy or full of holes you’d assume they were deluded or poor thinkers.

If that person made predictions and they failed, you’d tell them to go away until they had real proof.

If he or she made excuses why their predictions didn’t come to pass, you’d suspect they were a charlatan.

If that person joined together with others saying the same flawed things, you might label them a cult.

If they took your money for their schemes, you’d call them thieves.

The Skeptics Society prides itself in debunking the fraudulent like psychic powers or homeopathy but the real skill is in spotting the next con, not those that have long been exposed.

Jan 25, 2014 at 11:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Yet another SS outfit digging deeper and weaving more rope! Back when the DeBeers cartel who had discovered tons of diamonds in Africa defrauded the public with artificial scarcity and a massive PR campaign that included bribing movie producers with free diamonds, the fine art world took the story of lowly and locally peasant-spurned Van Gogh and spun it into a tale of Emperor's New Clothes proportions that demonized all skeptics of mere scribble “art” that was also not actually scarce. Recently they tried it on science too, all pegged to the weather. Oops! But will now the whole house of cards fall? The lies of Obamacare were a great gift to skepticism, since it exposes bad character in general just as Fox News steals the last few viewers of alarmist networks. But! The resulting Tea Party rebellion is a threat to the right wing establishment as much as it is to the left wing, so inertia sets in.

Jan 25, 2014 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterNikFromNYC

I used to read lots of skeptic stuff, and to be fair, when James Randi is on the trail of paranormal charlatans and faith healers he is a great performer. The trouble is that these skeptic societies attract too many people who are devotees of the mythical scientific method. They worship the men in white coats and get defensive when their religion is challenged. If the name 'scientologist' hadn't already been taken it would have been perfect for this new religion. It's just like Ben Goldacre squared. You wish that they could have some sort of principles in terms of which bad science gets challenged and which good science gets revered. The fact that there is nothing discernible seems to suggest a lack of something between the ears.

Jan 26, 2014 at 12:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

Shermer is the author of several books that attempt to explain the ubiquity of irrational or poorly substantiated beliefs

Is that irony?

Jan 26, 2014 at 12:42 AM | Registered Commentertomo

"Libertarians, tea partyers, & free market advocates: you're on the wrong side of the climate issue."

"Climate issue"?

They tried the hyperbole.



Then, patently as the earth's climate was refusing to do what Hansen and GISS had predicted - AND overnight 'global warming' changed to 'climate change' and storms an' stuff; pestilence, plagues, mosquitos and locusts will cause aids - all caused by >MMCO2!. Biodiversity was being wiped off the face of the earth and seas become lifeless through acidification - not over fishing, tourism and storm outflow river silt.


Then it was psychology, they tried the Lewandowsky route, Obama and Brown have gone down that road - "realists are flat earthers and/or mental retards".


Al Gore, tried to appeal to an army of children and students to drown out the dissenters and that didn't work either.


...........what is left?

Another tack?

An Appeal to reason and our better nature?

It's rock "Solid" alright and it floats.

Even a vague perusal, without bursting into paroxysms of laughter - I find that reading this type of stuff is hard work to take seriously. It causes me to reminisce, it is like reading fifth form remove fantasy fiction. Referencing this guff and a brief period spent in countering the the wishy washy and scant facts coupled with outrageous extrapolation used to 'validate' said 'science' exposes the utter heap of "man made climate catastrophe" tripe Prothero 'expounds'. Gadzooks, Prothero, he is just a lowly sedimentologist - what do they know of aught.

Further amusement ensues at the irony of it all - it never ceases to amaze me, by using Prothero - colleague Shermer another alarmist fruitcake knowing that the great scam is being exposed for what it actually is, hand wringing, imploring, desperately he appeals to 'our' reason!

Game's over, CAGW is a politically woven fiction - get over it.

Now - for the politicians and the bankers: who are the real enemies of the people.

Jan 26, 2014 at 1:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Randi & Shermer = Obelix and Dogmatix.

Jan 26, 2014 at 2:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Shermer fails to understand, perhaps, that the reason some of us are 'libertarian' and/or whatever else is that we believe ourselves able to 'follow data' and in doing so we conclude for ourselves that if there's anything 'rock solid' about warmist science it's the stones some of its practicioners ought to be breaking while imprisoned at hard labor.

Jan 26, 2014 at 4:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

Randi & Shermer = Obelix and Dogmatix.

Not so sure about Randi. I was a frequent visitor at the JREF blog when he announced his sceptism of global warming fears. The outrage that followed was wondrous to behold, and he was forced to make an apology that didn't convince me at all. I strongly suspect that he is one of life's real sceptics.

His followers like Shermer, however, not so much. As pointed out above, they are really fans of modern science, not actually that sceptical of things that are hard decisions forcing one to go against the common science flow. CAGW is one, but compulsory fluoridation is another (I support fluoridation personally, but some of its critics are not without a point or two). Try suggesting anything really sceptical -- say that teaching science to anyone under 15 is child minding by another name, and you soon find out those who can challenge the current line.

Jan 26, 2014 at 4:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

This post doesn't say where or have a link to where Shermer said this.

Jan 26, 2014 at 4:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterCanman

These people have spent their lives being sceptical of pseudo-science (like spoon benders and clairvoyants) and of religious dogma. Basically pretty easy and uncontroversial targets for someone on the left.
Now that they are dealing with blatantly leftist scam-science they have suddenly come up against a huge dilemma - their science is in direct opposition to their politics.
At the moment for most of them their politics is taking the leading position.

Jan 26, 2014 at 7:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith L

"That's no use, your Grace. Its Sceptics, Sceptics, Sceptics, all the way down!"

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

> This post doesn't say where or have a link to where Shermer said this.

See his twitter feed for 24th Jan

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

All the commentators here seem to be asking for proof. As far as most of our politicians and opinion formers are concerned, what matters is not whether the science is provable but whether it is green.

In their world green science is automatically good. Who cares if it is right?

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Go down to the bottom of the Prothero article and read the comments.
Most of them point to obvious mistakes in his analysis.
What a lame defence of the AWG conjecture the Prothero post turned out to be.

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Shermer said it on Twitter at 7:28 AM on 25 Jan 2014

Looking at his other tweets he is a bog-standard campus leftie: totally predictable opinions on ... guns (evil) ... plastic bags (evil) .... obama (saintly) ... abortion (yummy) ... zzz

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

come on - time to read the recent literature
these guys have done some great work updating and re-assessing the BP sites

Jan 26, 2014 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilson

Michael Shermer may well speak unintelligently about the climate debate, but he is too much of a coward to face a public debate.

As the very shakey evidence that CAGW is based on becomes more exposed, we can expect more stupid comments from the ill-informed zealots!

Jan 26, 2014 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

His Wiki entry reminds me of that of the famous explorer/psyentist Chris Turney - birds of a feather?

Jan 26, 2014 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterGummerMustGo

These are chapters from a new book written by Prothero

1) Cryptozoology: Real science or pseudoscience
2) Bigfoot The Sasquatch
3) Yeti The Abominable Snowman
4) Nessie The Loch Ness Monster
5) The Evolution of the Sea Serpent From Hippocamp to Cadborosauraus
6) Mokele Mbembe The Congo Dinosaur
7) Why do people believe in monsters? The complexity of cryptozoology

I haven't read the book but there is no mention of Pseudonovibos spiralis, the snake-eating cow that slept by hanging on trees from its horns. Status: it is on the IUCN's red list of endangered species.

"The existence and systematic position of Pseudonovibos spiralis is currently being debated. There are undoubtedly manufactured trophies ("fakes") in circulation, but the precautionary principle requires us to assume that the species did exist and may still exist.""

Prothero's skepticism extends only insofar as the mythical creatures are believed by common people but not by bureaucrats and environmentalists.

Jan 26, 2014 at 10:18 AM | Registered Commentershub

You Brits. Rock solid? Actually rocks in their heads. And no mention of those great phrases from the UK of barking mad, knuckle dragging and all that. Perhaps the discussion is moving to polite discourse after all.

Jan 26, 2014 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

Melting Himalayan Glaciers - this is a subject that has puzzled and amused me for a while. Melting glaciers provide water to India which appears to be viewed as a benefit. When they stop melting, i.e. begin to freeze up again then the volumes of melt water will decline. Warm is good, cold is bad, I'm confused;-)

Ice balance is controlled by the balance between snowfall, ice formation and summer melt. It seems that cold temperatures are more important than high snow fall in creating a positive balance.

Jan 26, 2014 at 11:04 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

knuckle dragging and all that.
Jan 26, 2014 at 10:46 AM cedarhill

I always thought 'knuckle dragging' was a Merkan expression.

Jan 26, 2014 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

"Libertarians, tea partyers, & free market advocates" - the thing they have in common being individualistic, free thinking; preferring to make their own minds up from the evidence rather than having their minds made up for them by people in authority.

That is why we are on the 'wrong' side of the climate issue... if we were on the 'right' side we would be good little sheep trotting obediently and unaware to the dinner table.

Jan 26, 2014 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

If anyone disagrees, let them tell me exactly where they think I have gone wrong.

Answers on a postcard please!
Jan 26, 2014 at 11:33 AM Mydogsgotnonose

MDGNN - you have been posting essentially the same comment for years now. Some of us have even tried to understand what you are banging on about but you don't give us enough explanation to work out whether you are talking good sense or whether you are talking nonsense in the Dragon Slayer category.

It would be a great service to everyone, perhaps not least yourself, if you were to do the following:

- Write up what you are trying to say in language that, say, a 1st year physics student could understand.

- Get someone who understands basic physics to review it for comprehensibility, update it in the light of their comments and, when they confirm that it should make sense to anyone, post it here on BH for all to see and make use of.

If you were to do that then BH readers might pay some attention to what you are saying rather than skating over your comments as we now do.

Jan 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin A

MDGNN has been snipped as O/T.

Jan 26, 2014 at 12:36 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Martin A
I have been saying much the same thing for a couple of years. MydogSpartAlec (as I call him, to give him his composite name) appears to have a hypothesis that at first sight looks to make a bit of sense — at least to the extent that he is accusing some people of a misunderstanding of basic physics several decades ago which is not beyond the bounds of possibility and if correct would answer several questions.
Like you I would like to see the paper that he keeps promising but which never seems to materialise. I'm sure a Discussion thread on the subject would be most welcome.

Jan 26, 2014 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I wonder what study Michael Shermer is taking about from 18.35 - 19.45 here:

It's funny how he sees himself as a front line soldier against junk science.

Jan 26, 2014 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterpax

Rather than run up the white flag, I can think of far a more constructive use for the rope ^.^
Jan 25, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I can think of another use for the flagpole, having first turned it sideways.

I've not heard of this Shermer person before but he's not the first who demonstrates breathtaking ignorance about both the issues, and his presumed opponents.

Jan 26, 2014 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

- Shermer/Mooney poisoning the wells Fallacy
- From the UK this "climate skepticism comes from a liberal right wing" thing espoused by Chris Mooney and championed by Shermer is a very strange idea. Surely it's just the poisoning of the wells fallacy ? (It's trying to say "since all arguments from the right are wrong, so climate skepticism must be wrong"
- which is bunk from 3 angles)
1. It's up to the advicate of CAGW to prove their case, rather than someone disprove.
2. Logical argument stands on its own merits, not who is making it.
3. It's sounds like an UNEVIDENCED conspiracy theory "oh, the reason the public don't believe CAGW is cos there is a liberal conspiracy supported by Big Oil"

- I'm sorry I've been a "proper" skeptic for a long time and at no other time have skeptics used the "you are on the wrong side" line.
- It's an ad-hom when All you need to do is show proper scientific evidence to counter a negative claim (cos you prove a positive). e.g. to counter the Earth is flat
- or for a positive claim like "vaccines cause autism or Big Foot and UFOs exist", you point out the weakness of their evidence.

- Yep apart from James Randi/Penn & Teller the "pop-skeptic cool people" are unscientific about bits of science which are their pet causes (giving them a free-pass from the normal rigor)

Jan 26, 2014 at 2:35 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

" appears to have a hypothesis that at first sight looks to make a bit of sense — at least to the extent that he is accusing some people of a misunderstanding of basic physics "

Yeah, kinda like global warming theory.

Jan 26, 2014 at 2:37 PM | Registered Commentershub

Rock-solid libel:

"Richard Lindzen, is a notorious global warming denier who also denies that smoking causes cancer."

Prothero better get a good lawyer. John B Williams, the guy who successfully defended the Joe Camel character on charges of proselytizing nicotine to children, might be free. No—hang on—looks like he's currently defending some guy called Michael Mann.

Jan 26, 2014 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

MartinA, Mike Jackson - yes, I'm over MDGNN, AlecM et al. If it's basic physics then let's hear it. Even better produce a complete package with some written explanations around some established statistical mechanics (does this site allow LaTeX?) and let us pore over it. It's 30 years since my PhD in physics and I've barely used any of it since but I'll dig out my Huang and Landau and Lifshitz and have a stab at understanding it if he ever comes up with something concrete rather than a never-ending sequence of tangential snippets.

Jan 26, 2014 at 3:05 PM | Registered CommenterGrantB

L. Nettles: I have never been a proud card carrying member of CSICOP. They always choose easy targets, like boys beating up the little boys on the school yard. What's so nice about debunking a faith healer? What does this contribute to our knowledge? We now see that they don't have a scientific attitude. They fell like bricks for the AGW hoax.

Jan 26, 2014 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

Melting Himalayan Glaciers - this is a subject that has puzzled and amused me for a while.

A Glacier is just a Dam, it does not make water it only stores it, as you rightly say when melting the ware is released when its freezing it storing water. But Glaciers grow and recede not just through temps, lack of snow at the top slows the glacier which appears to recede at the bottom but its not receding just not moving as fast.

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:05 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

If a glacier is growing, it's not melting, so how would that help quench the thirst of those below? Beware global cooling.

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

OK, I take your point and when it comes to physics I am a layman. But we need to be careful not to fall into the same trap as the climate scientists of assuming that we have some sort of a monopoly on wisdom.
I get a bit peeved on occasion at some of the language used towards those who are challenging the AGW meme by challenging some aspects of the science especially the dismissive "we already know all there is to know about CO2".
We do? The "other side" thought the same and it is beginning to look as if they might be wrong. Let's not engage in our own hubris.

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:35 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Michael Shermer and Skeptic Magazine will not take on serious scientific debates, such as climate science and human nutrition. They will only take on easy targets like paranormal claims and other easy debunking targets. Likewise for most other skeptical print publications. Same for many popular science bloggers from other fields. If they publish anything on the difficult subjects, it is just to cheerlead for the mainstream. Hence the popularity of blogs which take on the tough issues.

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterShrunn

Crock Solid what Shermer meant, he just mistyped the tweet

- Ah yes it does look like on Twitter he has ran away afraid to debate .. as per the normal warmist modus operandi of slinging mud and then hiding saying "we can't debate a skeptic, cos that will give them credibility"

.. Good on warmist Bill Nye for showing up to debate Morano on Stossel show on Fox News

Jan 26, 2014 at 6:52 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

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