"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, January 29, 2010

More Fullerenes

I just had a wonderful afternoon with Steve Easterbrook and his students, and am very pleased to see that this was on the same day that his excellent essay (with the concluding paragraph quoted as the quote of the weekoid at the top of the blog) appeared on Climate Progress.

Meanwhile, I find I have stepped into the tar at Tom Fuller's, and I find that a couple of bits of tar are sticking to me. Steve's points in his article are very much relevant to those issues.

First, there is the question of journalistic responsibility. Tom is, I believe, a dyed in the wool liberal, as am I myself, so some may find it peculiar how much we are at odds.

Tom's liberalism is essentially classical journalist-liberalism. That is, it accepts the contemporary Overton window and is most comfortable with positions directly in the center of that window, while being somewhat oblivious to the organized efforts to shift the window, (in practice, these days, mostly by the Murdoch press). In choosing climate science as his beat, Tom tries to wend a path between dismissing climate science entirely on the one hand, and treating it as hopelessly corrupt and empty on the other, by presuming that it is more or less half corrupt and perhaps half of it is worthless. With friends like this...

My form of liberalism is formed by Pierre Trudeau and is in line with Obama's. It is fundamentally non-ideological and pragmatic, but it favors vigorous action in line with the best available evidence. Climate science is my beat too. And here I see the efforts of Fuller and his crowd as profoundly anti-liberal, in essentially driving their opinion of science by an ideological shortcut.

It makes sense, of course, to pick a neutral position, halfway in between the extremes you have heard, on a topic on which you know little or nothing. But you should write very little about such a topic, and what you write should begin "Here is what confuses me about X". Or "I can't decide whether to trust the X camp or the not-X camp; do you think there might be a middle ground or does that make no sense at all?"

But you cannot responsibly build a career or a substantial fraction of one writing about X until you learn about it. In a recent article of Fuller's that showed up in one of my feeds, he woefully confused carbon concentration and carbon emissions. I called him on it, stating that this was the class of error that did not indicate a reporter who takes his responsibilities seriously. That is, I claim that while most non-specialists do make this mistake, a specialist should know better. Indeed correcting this common confusion should be a very important part of journalistic work in this area.

In response there has been some modest backtracking from Tom Fuller, and some sputtering of outrage from his followers.

Fuller came up with a secondary defense, asking me to critique Nicholas Stern's projection of a global population of 15 billion by 2100 as ardently as I criticize his confusion of emissions and concentrations.

This is the Sister Souljah strategy (as I recently learned from Eli). It cuts both ways. When somebody "on your side" says something "my side" finds stupid, you are challenged to either agree or disagree.

Now I find it absolutely ludicrous that I am perceived to be "on the same side" as the Stern report. I have absolutely no confidence in the methods of that report and have never said otherwise. A slight exaggeration of demographics is the least of its problems as far as I am concerned.

But there's another question.

I do conclude based on the evidence as I understand it, that it is past time that we get in gear and actually start moving off carbon. That said, many times, I disagree on various specifics (nuclear power, cap and trade, political strategy) with other people who think the same.

There is a good question as to whether I am obligated to respond to it. I think I am no more required to address it than McIntyre is to defend everything Motl or Monckton blurts out.

When I look at the prominent naysayer sites (CA, McIntyre, even Watts) they are not entirely without merit or reason, though their focus is sadly and irredeemably wrong. But they are tolerant of the most absurd lunacy. They err on the side of silence. This is probably good for building traffic.

Yet their folk will come over here and constantly play the Sister Souljah game. One AMac is obsessed with getting people to admit that Michael Mann is in a league with Bernie Madoff as a con artist. He bases this on some technical disagreement about a particular tree ring record that seems highly unlikely to shake the foundations of science. And he comes by, feigning interest, trying to get me to "denounce" Mann, about whom I know essentially nothing, either regarding himself as an individual or about his work. It turns out that AMac is expert at dragging out conversations about tree rings to exhaustion, never yielding any ground. I decided not to get into it and carefully stated agnosticism on the point. Interestingly, not another peep from AMac has appeared here. It's almost as if he is the designated Mann-tarnisher.

So we see that they are playing a different game. In the search for truth, we scientists are happy to debate any assertion we don't find plausible. So debatable points are constantly dangled.

What the McIntyre squad is proposing is ultimately far more radical than they think. They suggest we change the nature of scientific debate. I'm very sympathetic to a radical opening and democratization of science, myself. One problem is that they fail to see how extreme the proposed changes in scientific practice would be, but that's another topic. The immediate problem is that science and politics are so entangled, so that any genuine scientific controversy will get spun into a "darwinism disproved" sort of foolishness by the extremist press.

We should take a tip from the bad guys here. If someone claims to agree with us, we are under no obligation to state whether or not we agree with them. We should focus on the things we find interesting or relevant. Our job in explaining things to the public is to focus on the aspects that are most revealing of the facts, not on the aspects that can most easily be used to obfuscate.

I think a big part of the solution is to move away from yes/no questions and toward quantitative questions in public discourse. If we stick as much as possible to questions where there is a genuine middle, (what is the tolerable maximum CO2 concentration? what is the tolerable asymptotic net emissions rate?) we get back to a civilized tug of war and away from, well, actual war.

Journalists should be helping science convey these quantitative ideas to the public. The public is capable of understanding them to the same extent they understand their favorite sports league, and at present, they don't.

I myself know very little about sports. I am, consequently, not trying to set myself up as a sports reporter. Someone who knows very little about climate science should not be setting himself up as a climate science reporter.

If this is too much to ask, then scientists need to act as reporters.

Image: Wikipedia. Apologies to the memory of old Bucky.


Tom said...

Well, I hope you understand climate science better than you understand me. And I hope you're a more careful reader of science than you are of what I have written.

Be specific, or be quiet. If I write a post about emissions, it doesn't mean I'm ignoring concentrations. As five minutes on my site would convince anyone. Well, anyone sane.

And I'm not backtracking at all, so you can give up on that.

The complete intellectual dishonesty of your post is transparent by the way you flat out lie about my bringing up the population error in response to your point. The point of my original article was the huge error in population. Don't say I brought it up in response to your trash talk. It was there first. You showed up on my site and were completely ignorant of it. As you are of so much of what your comrades in arms write, apparently.

I have never dismissed climate science. I certainly have dismissed some climate scientists. But every time, I make it clear that I believe global warming is real, a threat and that we should respond. But you get to vaguely say that I don't understand the science--without ever being specific--and prattle on about Overton windows and how I am being some sort of Clintonian triangulator.

Cheap trash talk. I chose my point of view because that's where my interpretation of the data took me.

Steve Bloom said...

Tom, various of your errors on the science have been detailed on this blog a number of times and your response has been a cloud of ink. Get real.

Michael seems to disagree, but your "liberal" act seems a bit thin as well, rather like Lomborg's claim to being an environmentalist (and for a similar purpose). You are, to all appearances, a pure propagandist masquerading as a journalist.

Dol said...

MT: "Our job in explaining things to the public is to focus on the aspects that are most revealing of the facts, not on the aspects that can most easily be used to obfuscate."

I constantly forget this: it's so easy to end up thinking arguments about CRU emails and hockey sticks is actually very important. Most people know nothing about it, and don't care. It may be that all the bad ectoplasm from it has been tainting the image of the science in the public mind - but that won't be changed by getting stuck arguing debating points defined by people with no interest in the science. (And I do believe that the e.g. the author of the Hockey Stick Illusion has no interest in the science. As the one open-minded amazon reviewer points out, if you want to read a good analysis of bad science, get hold of something by Ben Goldacre.)

I was reading Peter Hadfield/potholer54 over at the Guardian: the science needs to be explained - 'no need for condescention, insult, or appeals to emotion.' (Which has been the UK govts approach to the public thus far.) Absolutely. People aren't stupid (which is, I think, another difference about Obama-style liberalism - he also seems to believe people aren't stupid, and that we should always appeal to our better nature.)

Dol said...

A possibly relevant quote from an old Ben Goldacre blog entry on the Telegraph: "People make mistakes. What distinguishes you from the morons is what you do when the mistakes get pointed out."

Steve Bloom said...

Oh, here's a fresh one, not a science error per se but showing a fundamental confusion about science and economics:

TF to MT: "If you don't really know what IPCC SRES AR2 says, and if you don't really know what the Stern report used for its assumptions, what are you basing your pessimistic conclusions on?"

This is because, Tom, Michael is a physical climate scientist, and the WG1 report contains all the evidence needed to be convinced that the world's present trajectory is headed over the climatic cliff.

BTW, Tom, I'd give you more respect on your SRES point if there were any appearance that you'd taken a thorough look at the issue. There isn't. For example, quoting from Section 8.1 of the SRES SPM:

"Global population ranges between seven and 15 billion people by 2100 across the scenarios, depending on the rate and extent of the demographic transition."

That took me all of three minutes to locate.

And while I'm at it, what about Stern? As far as I can tell, he relies on the IEA for emissions projections and the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN for population, and the latter is stated to have high and low projections.

Hmm. Sources for your claims, Tom?

Deech56 said...

Tom: "...that's where my interpretation of the data took me." What qualifications do you have that allows you to "interpret the data" better than, say, scientific authors or journal editors?

Steve Bloom said...

I waste more time:

It turns out that the UN population report I mentioned above is the same one Tom cited and linked. So he and Nick are dancing cheek-to-cheek, as it were!

Well, not exactly. It turns out that the report has high, medium and low scenarios for 2100, for 14 billion, 9.1 billion and 5.5 billion respectively. So:

Did Tom cherry-pick the middle scenario from the UN report, accuse Stern of using only the SRES high end, and then incorrectly dump on the SRES both for being Stern's source and projecting a maximum scenario way out of synch with the UN report? I think he did.

Unknown said...

Tom, I can't quite trust the chronology and Tobis's comment seems to have disappeared from your article, but I believe he is refering to this comment made by you on your "There is an end game" article at 12:09am:

"Michael, I assume you feel just as strongly about the IPCC's and Nicholas Stern's continuing usage of a population of 15 billion by the end of this century. Right? I assume you've sent them an email similar to your comment here. Right?"

Is this quote what Michael was thinking of in his post? If so, is an apology in order for calling him a liar, or am I confused?

Marion Delgado said...

Why on Earth do you imagine Tom Fuller is anything other than a denialist troll, swotting for hits on the fake Examiner.com? Seriously, where is the evidence outside his disingenuous blog COMMENTS as opposed to his scurrilous public op-eds? Genuinely and very much baffled.

I assure you, with his dictum that you don't check with sources for accuracy of quotes - or anything else in your story - which he's expressed even in comments, the one thing he's not is any form of journalist.

And yes, if he brings it up, I'll cite where he said precisely that.

Aaron said...

Scientists are reporters. We ask Mother Nature questions, and report her answers. Sometime we do opinion columns on what she might say if we asked her such and such a question. Sometimes we do retrospective pieces on everything Mother Nature has said on such and such a topic, but our regular job is asking Mother Nature questions and reporting her answers.

Everything else that scientists do is hubris and ego.

Hank Roberts said...

The political spectrum, as explained to me in 1966 when I started college:


Yes, Tom Fuller is a liberal.
MT is at very least a moderate.

MT also doesn't confabulate and cherrypick in the interest of arguing for desired policy.

Yep, they're far apart.

Tom said...

Mr. Tobis, I think perhaps it would be best if you stayed away from my site.

This has been a typical post for you. You tell complete untruths:

1. Tom tries to wend a path between dismissing climate science entirely on the one hand and treating it as hopelessly corrupt and empty on the other. (I do not do that, and there is plenty of evidence supporting this on my website.)

2. You say I confused carbon emissions and concentrations. (I did not. The article in question is about emissions, not concentrations, which I have dealt with before and will again.)

3. You have now changed your post to reflect my previous criticism about your remarks regarding what the Stern report. (It is now slightly less ludicrous, but it is, I believe, accepted blog practice to use strikethroughs and a note that the post has been updated.)

You have written that the science needs to be communicated more effectively. But you don't write about the science. You don't write about its effects. You claim that we are trying to rewrite the rules of scientific debate--but you don't debate the science. You just whine about what others write and psychoanalyze deniers as having an anxiety disorder.

I find it amusing that you would engage in amateur psychoanalysis yourself while objecting so strenuously to non-scientists writing about science. Maybe your wife can characterize that for you.

I've said good-bye to you before--I hope I don't have to again. You're a liar and a hypocrite. Go whine about someone else. Or--write about the science, instead of the personalities of those who don't fall into lock-step behind you.

DirkD said...


As much as I applaud your (and Bart's) attempt to have some semblance of constructive dialogue with Tom Fuller, I have to ask you whether there is a productive point to this.

It's already clear as day - from evidence in this blog and others - that Fuller has no intention to understand climate science or how it works, despite your best efforts.

It's also telling that (i.) when anyone points this out to him, he refuses to directly answer and pulls out the bait-and-switch, and (ii.) Fuller almost always replies with often misleading, irrelevant and false statements - like his first reply to this thread.

Lets face it. Fuller is not going to change his contrarian stance on the basis of the science. His only goal is to generate a cloud of faux controversy, ostensibly as it helps with his bottom line given the Examiner's economic model.

So, when you (and Bart) discuss his antics, you give him a platform to say that he "engages" (in the loosest possible sense) with climate scientists, thus giving him a veneer of "balance" which his Examiner readers would misinterpret as objectivity. Add this with his newspaper's poor editorial management, and you get someone who is an uncontrolled agent of misinformation and confusion.

PS: Fuller's rhetorical tactics are very common in internet journalism and are the mark of someone who know's that he/she has lost the plot. Indeed, Johann Hari of the UK Independent has a brilliant piece on this.

William T said...

I read a few of Tom's posts when he first started, but my interest in his views quickly waned when his underlying agenda of promoting delay became apparent. Tom, you say that you "believe global warming is real, a threat and that we should respond". However, your posts and your comments promote the opposite. So sorry, I can't be bothered wasting time reading opinions based on such a disjunction of beliefs.

Steve Bloom said...

And so we find ourselves looking at another cloud of ink. Eh.

Out of curiosity, Michael, did you change anything in the post and if so what?

Tom said...

If you'd like to talk about understanding the science, explain this from the hated foe who actually spoke before the Fraser Institute. yes, I speak of Ross Mckitrick. He writes, "The paper I have talked about makes the case that the IPCC used false evidence to conceal an important
problem with the surface temperature data on which most of their conclusions rest. In principle, one
might argue that my analysis was wrong (though most reviewers didn’t), but it would be implausible to
say that the issue is unimportant or irrelevant.
Altogether I sent the paper to seven journals before it went to SP&P. From those seven journals I
received seven reviews, of which six accepted the findings and supported publication. The one that
rejected my findings contained some basic technical errors, but the journal editor would not respond to
my letter pointing them out. Nature, Science and Geophysical Research Letters would not even review
the paper, while the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society never acknowledged the presubmission
inquiry. Global and Planetary Change received one review recommending publication,
blocked another reviewer before he could submit a report and then turned the paper down."

You can read the whole sordid tale here: http://sites.google.com/site/rossmckitrick/gatekeeping.pdf?attredirects=0

After reading the entire article, please feel free to tell me what part of climate science I don't understand. Because I would submit it's the behaviour of individuals and institutions that I do not understand, not the science.

Steve Bloom said...

Wow, talk about your short goodbyes. Anyway, it seems like just the other day that you were upset at Michael for not addressing the main topic of the post of yours that started this whole exchange. Well, as noted above, I went to the trouble of checking your work only to find out that it was entirely slipshod if not simply dishonest, and now rather than defend it you want to change the subject? You're nothing if not inconsistent.

Re McKitrick's article, I'm no subject matter expert but I would point out that there are multiple threads of evidence demonstrating that his idea is physically implausible. That plus his reputation more than adequately explains the treatment he got. Anyway, good for Ross for finally finding a friend to publish his paper rather than having to resort to Princess Denial.

Michael Tobis said...

I've been traveling and had barely enough time to moderate comments. I have not changed the contents of this entry.

It has been some months since I changed the meaning of an article without noting it, as I now understand that is bad form.

I occasionally fix typos and clarify clumsy wording without noting it but I don't make substantive changes after posting.

The purpose of bringing Fuller into focus is not to engage in debate with him. It is to point out the nature of the problem.

I think Fuller really thinks he is competent to make judgments on climate science. It's quite absurd; all the other absurdities follow pretty much directly.

It's only interesting as a particularly extreme and relatively obvious example of the hubris of the critics of our field.

Tom said...

Hi Tobis,

Once again you hand wave with vague accusations of what I don't understand about climate science. As I said, be specific or be silent.

You're really free with your oracular and authoritative pronouncements about market research, which you know nothing about, journalism, which you know nothing about, and now mental health sciences, which you know nothing about.

So I'm willing to believe you speak from experience about writing on an issue you know nothing about.

But what, specifically, do you claim I do not understand?

I'll provide a list--you can, if lazy or tired from travel, just say all of the above if you wish.

1. The greenhouse theory
2. What is a greenhouse gas
3. CO2 being a greenhouse gas
4. Human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
5. The difference between emissions and concentrations
6. The sensitivity of the earth's atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations
7. The urban heat island effect
8. Other forcings
9. Feedbacks
10. Carbon sinks
11. Lifespan of CO2 and how it should be measured
12. GCMs
13. Role of the IPCC
14. Differences between SRES
15. Sea level rise
16. Warming
17. LU / LC
18. Solar variability, cosmic rays, solar cycles, etc.
19. Orbital cycles
20. Role of polar icecaps

Or whatever else you want. Be specific or be quiet--feel free to tell me not to darken your door again. This is your forum. But quit with the 'he don't know jack' stuff. You sound like the guy at the end of the bar that spends the evening insulting everyone who comes in and then wonders why he's going home alone.

Unknown said...

"I think Fuller really thinks he is competent to make judgments on climate science. It's quite absurd; all the other absurdities follow pretty much directly.

"It's only interesting as a particularly extreme and relatively obvious example of the hubris of the critics of our field."

Agreed, Michael. Dunning-Kruger effect in play.

Michael Tobis said...

OK, Tom, you can list a bunch of topics. You can probably talk about them at length. Conceded.

The question is whether you have some understanding of the topics and how they interact.

With the posting that caught my attention you attempted some original thought, and as far as I could tell you ended up in a position that made no sense. That is, you focused on emission rates, rather than on cumulative emissions.

This is a common error, as it is a reasonable position to take for most pollutants. There are some pollutants, however, that are persistent on economic time scales, and cannot usefully be discussed that way.

Now, I admit I have no more formal education on journalism than you have in the climate sciences, and only one semester of economics. And I admit that I do try to innovate on these topics.

So clearly I can't claim it's just a matter of formal education.

What I do claim is that when I say something outside of the conventional wisdom in those fields I generally know that I am doing so.

I have some grasp of the actual achievements and actual failures of those traditions, and it's very clear that the terrain we discuss here falls into both, which is what piqued my interest in the first place.

If I were to quiz you, then, I'd ask for things that can;t easily be cribbed. Like this: name the greatest meteorologists and oceanographers of the period 1945-1985 and explain their achievements in the context of further developments in the field.

I am not so concerned about who you choose; that is debatable. I am interested in whom you admire among the founders of the field, and how you how you would describe the further development of ideas.

This is not a question I expect a random reader to have an answer for, but it is something I would expect a specialist writer on the topic to be able to address.

Tom said...

Great, Tobis! An amazing feat of mental hocus pocus and legerdemain. You can speak on market research, journalism and mental health, but I still have to pass your test on climate science. And your test is... on subjects other than climate science! And your first nomination is... oceanography! Because how the oceans interact with other forces affecting our climate is one of the best understood of all, I'm sure.

Unless this is an elaborate April Fool's joke, I have to say that at some point you just quit thinking.

You have post after post here complaining about the current state of science communications. And yet you have zero posts communicating about science.

You have effectively become a media critic. But you understand nothing about media criticism. So you kind of step in it every time you do something like this.

If you want to communicate about the science, communicate about the science. I tried several times to give you the opportunity. Your response is to try and make it contingent on my reading of the history of meteorologists and oceanographers, as if that's a primary qualification for discussion. How many people speaking intelligently on climate change would pass that test?

However, just for your amusement, I will be posting on the history of meteorology in the next couple of days--and I actually will be talking about people like Fujita and events such as the invention of the cavity magnetron. Sadly, it's a coincidence and not related to your offer. The reason I won't be responding to it is that it would only be followed up by a demand for me to show expertise on medieval scribes or the phlogiston, or something.

You know nothing of journalism, market research or mental health, and yet you write as if you were an expert. So you project your own misbehaviour on to me. Just remembe I gave you the chance to communicate about science. But you were more interested in scoring points.

So, I won't be back. I've said that before, but you came over and bothered me at my place of business, so I thought I would give it another go. Pity it didn't work out. Just remember:

I offered you an interview.
I offered you a guest post.
I offered to show that I did understand climate science.

You demanded that I show understanding of the history of oceanography.


Michael Tobis said...

Et voila. Climate science has nothing to do with oceanography, quoth the expert. Case closed, indeed.

Tom said...

Saw that one coming a mile away, Mr. Science Communicator. I didn't say oceanography wasn't important. I said the history of oceanographers should not be a prequalification for a discussion of climate science.


Ian Forrester said...

Is Mosher and Fuller's book "Climategate: The Crutape Letters" a final exam paper on their climate science education programme?

If so they both get a resounding "F" grade.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, Michael, he didn't put atmospheric and oceanic circulation on his list, so apparently he doesn't think those areas of knowledge are important to climate. Amusing but sad.

Unknown said...

Your last comment is a really cheap shot, Tobis. I would ask as a professional courtesy that you either post my reply or delete my preceding post that prompted your mischaracterisation.

Playing games with the comments is one of the reasons people don't like conversing on consensus weblogs.

Anonymous said...


Why does this blog keep giving Fuller space to post his inactivist nonsense? Every time you ask him about his understanding of the science, he squirms and waffles, or simply throws out the usual linkspam. What purpose is served exactly by giving him space?

He has exercised his 'right' of reply -- which, by the way, is not a right -- more than enough times already.

If part of the problem of science communication is injection of anti-science noise, then why are we continually giving people the opportunity to inject even more noise?

Michael Tobis said...

Sometimes I moderate immediately and sometimes not. It happens I'm not at my desk much this week. If you choose to get paranoid about that I suggest you post elsewhere or else avoid saying things you later wish you hadn't.

TB like it or not Fuller has achieved some prominence. I think he is sincere actually, though I'm not sure which case is more alarming. His recent article is revealing of the gap between his beliefs about his knowledge and the actual extent of such knowledge. It's worth keeping in mind when he shows up.

Tom you have a point that I haven't done much science communication lately. It is not easy to do a good job of it
; of late I have not had time for it. This blog never had any pretensions to be a science outreach site.

Tom said...

Okay, one more probably futile attempt. Who in your opinion is doing a good job as a journalist in covering climate issues?

Steve Bloom said...

Well, Tom certainly has a lot of... buckyballs to keep coming back after using such nasty language.

The journalist question is changing the topic, but I'll answer anyway (no particular order): Dan Borenstein, Doug Fischer, Stephen Leahy, Heidi Cullen, David Adams, Juliet Eilperin, John Fleck, James Hrynyshyn, David Appell, Janet Raloff, and a pretty long list of science magazine staffers. That's off the top of my head, and I could come up with more given a little time. Revkin isn't on the list.

But anyway, what happened to the science issues? Let's try this since it seems to be at the heart of your arguments: What is climate sensitivity to CO2, and what climate conditions will accompany doubled CO2? Frame your answer with regard to the physics, the models, paleoclimate and current observations.

Michael's point regarding oceanography and meteorology is that you don't have the background to be able to so. If you don't know the names you're not going to know how the science developed, and if you don't know that you don't know the science well enough to disagree with it. This is your chance to prove him wrong. Go for it.

Deech56 said...

"Who in your opinion is doing a good job as a journalist in covering climate issues?"

Elizabeth Kolbert

Richard Kerr

Chris Mooney

Carl Zimmer doesn't write a lot about climate, but he's an excellent science journalist, particularly for topics dealing with evolution.

Scientists get a lot of their science news from the general interest journals, Science and Nature.

It's not just the subject matter, though. What is apparently not appreciated is an understanding of how articles are published. Lots of articles sent to Science and Nature don't even get sent out for review; that's happened to just about all of us from time to time. Rejection letters are all part of the business of doing science.

Michael Tobis said...

Elizabeth Kolbert, without any close competition that I know of, is the best.

John Fleck is good in his corner of the woods, without being quite as brilliant a writer as Kolbert.

Revkin, if he ever developed even a little bit of a spine, would be pretty good in the same way Fleck is, but what he has been doing is not really excusable.

There are several other excellent science writers less focused on climate. I am particularly impressed by Stephen B. Johnson. Mooney is also very impressive when he buckles down.

Tom said...

Tobis, Kolbert writes really, really well. But hey--I grew up in the Bronx, too and I've been rejected by the New Yorker...

Is that Fleck from Inkstain? I like his reporting, too. I liked his bit about no consensus in the 70s. I actually like his blog better.

I don't think you get it about Revkin. He needed big brass ones to do what he did. Right or wrong, it took guts.

Gotta say I think you're judging them to some extent because you agree with the end product. Not completely--I would love to write as well as Kolbert (and to have Revkin's institutional access of the NYT and a steady paycheck and the freedom to not publish every day and 20 years in the position) but look how quickly you soured on Revkin when he 'showed some spine.'

I think both Revkin and Kolbert were 'embedded' to a certain extent within the consensus establishment, which is why I think Revkin showed courage (without getting into whether he was right or wrong--I'm certain we disagree on that, but it's not the point). I don't see Kolbert as having studied climate change before she started writing on it--her background was political reporting and she said her first experience was visiting an ice sheet before writing a global warming story. And she has your side of the story down pat, no question. FWIW, I agree with her about the dangers of global engineering (and quite a few other things as well). But I think you're evaluating political agreement more than scientific chops.

Which brings me back to the question I have posed repeatedly: What specifically do you think I do not understand about climate science? I am not a scientist, but I believe I understand what you, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Richard Lindzen, John Christy et al all write. Not perfectly, not by any means, but I follow your arguments. What is it that you think I don't understand?

And, while I'm at it, since we live in a world without Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Isaac Asimov and the like (and they wrote books, not newspaper articles, in any event), what do you think a journalist should understand about climate science?

Tim Lambert said...

Fuller claimed that Foster, Annan, Jones, Mann, Mullan, Renwick, Salinger, Schmidt and Trenberth's Comment on McLean, de Freitas and Carter was a "phony critique" and that Foster et al "lied about the science it was trying to defeat, all for the greater glory of global warming".

Fuller's understanding of the science is apparently so poor that he thinks that if don't find a long term trend after removing any long-term trend it shows that there is no long term trend.

Anonymous said...


"TB like it or not Fuller has achieved some prominence."

I don't see how you get from this, to the conclusion that we should therefore keep giving Fuller blog commenting space.

Steve Bloom said...

Kolbert, of course, and Mooney. Anyway, the good news is that it's a longer list than I would have guessed at the start.

Fuller is back at it in a fresh post, opening with an assertion that "the IPCC assumes a stabilization of temperature and population shortly after 2100." Really? I don't think so.

Back in the original thread, raypierre appears and calls Fuller an idiot. Fuller fails to take it as a teaching moment. Earth to Tom: If raypierre calls you an idiot, you *are* an idiot. The guy's a waste of oxygen.

Deech56 said...

Oh, and what Steve Bloom said about climate sensitivity.

Deech56 said...

Tom, if you are truly interested in good climate science journalism, read Kolbert's "The Climate of Man" series or her book Field Notes from a Catastrophe. She knows her subject, she understands how science is done and she tells a compelling story.

She describes the science and doesn't treat scientists as the enemy. She covers the real, and not the faux, story.

For good science journalism, read Carl Zimmer's book At the Water's Edge.

Michael Tobis said...

I should also have mentioned James Hrynyshyn, proprietor of Island of Doubt.

Michael Tobis said...

TB, I am not trying to dismiss your question. It is a good one.

I simply thought it worth raising that Fuller's understanding is something he grossly overestimates. In short, he is a fine example of Dunning-Kruger.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, it is not about politics. That's the point. It is about evidence, and scratching the surface indicates that you don't understand the evidence.

Lots of people have spent lots of effort trying to present the evidence this way and that. People like yourself choose to ignore that evidence and latch on to whatever silliness the Heartland crowd comes up with at any given moment.

In science, there is not really such a thing as proof of a hypothesis, but there is such a thing as refutation. The stuff these guys come up with is all refuted, pretty much without exception. This is not a matter of bias or politics. It is a matter of them tenaciously seeking to defend a position which is wrong.

Your writing is lacking in physical insight. It is an ethical responsibility for those who lack deep understanding about a subject and yet choose to write about it to understand and respect their limitations.

This is a problem.

Tom said...

Okay Tobis, I give up. I think 5 times asking the same question without receiving an answer is pretty good evidence that you're just playing the slimeball game. I believe that you neither know nor care what I understand or don't understand about the science of climate change. It's just a convenient club to beat me with. Which makes you just like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

Tom, you asked:

"what do you think a journalist should understand about climate science?"

Steve Bloom already supplied one answer:

"Fuller is back at it in a fresh post, opening with an assertion that 'the IPCC assumes a stabilization of temperature and population shortly after 2100.' Really? I don't think so."

Tim Lambert has also given another answer:

"Fuller's understanding of the science is apparently so poor that he thinks that if don't find a long term trend after removing any long-term trend it shows that there is no long term trend."

MT has also supplied one answer, probably the most important one:

"it is not about politics. That's the point. It is about evidence"

Lots of answers to your question, and you ignored all of them.

* * *

And you were saying...?

"But every time, I make it clear that I believe global warming is real, a threat and that we should respond."


"I chose my point of view because that's where my interpretation of the data took me."


"I think 5 times asking the same question without receiving an answer is pretty good evidence that you're just playing the slimeball game."

Wow... perfectly grammatical sentences with big long phrases and complex word inflections! Except, well, after a few permutations of

'you don't know what I know, I'm open-minded, you're persecuting me, you don't know what I know, I'm open-minded, you're persecuting me, you don't know what I know, I'm open-minded, you're persecuting me,'


'answer my question! la la la! answer my question! la la la! answer my question! la la la! answer my question! la la la!'

it starts getting, you know, a bit obvious.

Anonymous said...


"I simply thought it worth raising that Fuller's understanding is something he grossly overestimates. In short, he is a fine example of Dunning-Kruger."

Well, whatever. So what's your plan here? Is the idea here to help him see the light by giving him the space to post drivel?

Haven't we been through this enough times already? Even as we continually give inactivists more, more, and yet more blog comment space to post their nonsense in some vain hope that we may help change their minds, the inactivists with their oil-funded megaphones are doing every thing they can to control their message, both on their own 'news' outlets and in the mainstream news.

And yet we wonder why science is losing.

Deech56 said...

Tom writes, "And [Kolbert} has your side of the story down pat, no question."

Again, you are not understanding. Kolbert is well respected among scientists because she gets what is reported in the scientific literature right. A bad journalist would give greater weight to information that is not published in scientific journals.

"What specifically do you think I do not understand about climate science?" Two things: how science operates, and climate sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

I think a climate scientist can defend himself when there is a general attack on climate scientists. Hence the lack of science posts. And this hasn't been a "learn climate science basics" blog anyway. It's been about the bigger picture.

About the positive examples among journalists (a good question!), at least George Monbiot has investigated and written something about the bigger picture - a rare thing in mainstream media! Although he has had his stumblings as well.

There are other examples too of good articles, but I forget them.

Paul said...

Way back up the thread, Fuller made me look at McKitrick's latest whine. Fuller says this sums up his problem with the climate scientists and institutions. Peilke and all the usual suspects are all over it. I have encouraged Deep Climate to look into it as part of his ongoing investigation of his fellow countrymen. Fuller is not worth a lot of time but McKitrick is. DC says McKitrick is tedious but he will take on at least a couple of the more egregious parts. Visit his great blog and encourage him.


Paul Middents

Anonymous said...

Regarding science journalism, it's a hard art. I think to satisfy a scientist or an engineer, say, watching some popular science news, the reporter would essentially have to be a scientist themselves so that they really understand what they're talking about.

Think Carl Sagan.

And of course you have to be a good performer, communicator, writer.

Probably very few people have a lot of talent and / or interest in both of these matters to be truly great. But I assume some scientist and engineer types could do it quite well, and better than what it is now where usually the person who is doing the writing has very little understanding of the underlying matter.

Sometimes there are good interviews where the interviewer doesn't know everything but still has some grasp of the subject matter - and they let the interviewee (who is a decent performer) talk and don't interrupt constantly.

This is a nice interview and presentation that made an impression on me:

So, something similar for a climate conference, where a climatologist with general knowledge about the issue can interview some poster presenters? It's a bit stretched for an analogy...

John F. Pittman said...

Well MT, TF and others, a strange but interesting thread. It appears to be a reflection of the general disagreements and position staking. A shame, IMO, since I think MT and TF could have an interesting conversation on just what communications would work best and why. Even an exploration of why the staked positions are as they are without demonizing opponents. I think it could be insightful. My $0.02.

Anonymous said...

John F. Pittman:

"It appears to be a reflection of the general disagreements and position staking."

Oh, of course... but only if you ignore the whole ideas of fact-checking, logic, and evidence.

Anonymous said...


"the reporter would essentially have to be a scientist themselves so that they really understand what they're talking about."

I think the problem can be fixed -- to some degree -- if reporters can run their stories through climatologists to at least make sure that the stories aren't too wrong. I guess the better reporters already do that.

John Mashey said...

1) TF lives in the SF Bay Area, which has a large number of good climate scientists and many public lectures. For example, he could easily visit Stanford, hear a talk by a good scientist, stand up and say "I'm Tom Fuller of the Examiner, and you are wrong..." in person. When he starts doing this regularly, and convincingly, I might start listening. A lot of people are very strong on blogs... not so strong in person.

2) He (and anyone else handy) has a good opportunity coming. (Nobel physicist) Burt Richter is giving a talk May 5, 4:15PM-5:15pm at the regular Energy Seminar (a terrific series).

I heard Burt give this talk a few years ago. Of course, he is not a climate scientist, but knows enough about it to give a good talk and answer questions.

His book Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century will be out and he'll be doing signings.

2) I note from Amazon rummaging in TF's new book that he writes well of Wegman...

Michael Tobis said...

There is a point to leaving all the purveyors of confusion alone. I think if the press did it we should happily do so as well.

As long as the press takes the nonsense as meaningful, as long as there is a partisan divide on matters of objective fact, the way to respond is not obvious.

Unknown said...

Michael, you have said that more and once. But you keep coming over to my site and commenting. Is there some cognitive dissonance here? If you want to engage, I will engage. If you want me to leave you alone, I will leave you alone. You're not bringing that much to the party, so I'm happy to abide by your wishes.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, as long as you are reasonably polite (and I've been pretty tolerant in your case) and not hopelessly redundant, you can post here, noting that you aren't especially part of the target audience.

I do plan to resume writing more public-oriented science articles fairly soon, probably in a different venue. I'm not sure what the moderation policy will be. (You can see some of my earlier efforts here.)

I read lots of climate related postings and will occasionally comment on ones I disagree with (as well as ones I agree with).

I don't feel obligated to come up with a consistent policy of where I comment and where I don't. Do you think I should?

Tom said...

Whatever. You can lie about me here and refuse to back it up, but you're being 'tolerant' of me because I am upset about it.

You're acting like scum, Tobis. Putting out the Big Lie and then walking away from the scen. You can hide behind your grabbed-from-Wikipedia references to Overton windows and Dunning Kruger, but the fact of the matter is you attack me with a bald-faced lie, refuse to back it up or retract it, and laugh about it with your pinheaded commenters.

I stuck around in the vain hope that you would at least address the lie you told about me. But you've got your Brown Shirt and your Lone Star beer, so you don't need to defend the garbage you spew out here.

So you stay away from my site and I'll stay away from yours.

Michael Tobis said...

What lie?

Michael Tobis said...

http://www.youtube.com/v/-JgvSaqDWek for an explanation of why to focus on total emissions, not emission rates.

Steve Bloom said...

For the record:

TF refers in his first comment to a "flat out lie about my bringing up the population error in response to your point."

This refers to this passage in the post:

"Fuller came up with a secondary defense, asking me to critique Nicholas Stern's projection of a global population of 15 billion by 2100 as ardently as I criticize his confusion of emissions and concentrations."

This use of "defense" can only refer to Fuller's having raised it to Michael rather than dealing with his emissions error (which would have been a *primary* defense).

TF's specific response (quoted above by commenter A):

"Michael, I assume you feel just as strongly about the IPCC's and Nicholas Stern's continuing usage of a population of 15 billion by the end of this century. Right? I assume you've sent them an email similar to your comment here. Right?"

There's no contradiction between it having been both the main subject of TF's post and a secondary defense as described by Michael.

So, Michael's representation is accurate. There was no lie.

Also for the record, Fuller never did respond after I pointed out that some of the premises of his post were simply wrong. That's not a lie as such, but it is very, very dishonest. Tch.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Steve. I get it now.

Tom Fuller brought up Stern's 15 billion himself, before I showed up, not as a response to me

He did LATER demand that I repudiate it, which I felt was beside the point.

I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

Even if I had done so, it would surely only have been in error, not in dishonesty. I don't understand Fuller's concern about this point because it doesn't constitute an accusation. Casting me in the most malicious possible light, what sort of "lie" would that be? The hypothetical evil mt would get nothing out of it.

Fuller has also shown that, despite what it clearly says above the comment box, ("moderation delays are not consistent and come with no guarantee of service") I have delayed moderation as a hostile tactic directed at him personally. It has never crossed my mind.

If Fuller is going to participate in tarring the reputation of an entire discipline he ought to develop a thicker skin of his own.

Tom said...

As usual, Bloom is mistaken. The lie is about my understanding of climate science.

As for you, you show the same level of comprehension of my book as you do of market research, journalism and mental health--none to speak of:

"We have taken sides in this analysis. Our critics will say that we took sides before we started, and although we are confident we have approached this objectively, there may be a little truth to that.
But—and it’s a big but—although we are harsh in our criticism of the actions of this group of climate scientists and paleoclimatologists known as The Team, readers need to understand two things:
1. Our criticism does not extend to criticism of the theory of global warming. Both your authors believe global warming exists, is a problem and needs to be addressed. We just don’t think it poses a catastrophic threat to civilization. We explain in detail below.
2. Our criticism should not be construed as criticism of the majority of scientists investigating our climate, its effects and possible changes to it in the future. We have communicated with a large number of climate scientists, and they are not at all like The Team in either attitude or behavior.
We are tough on the scientists we call The Team, and we think deservedly so. But we want to stress from the outset that we do not for one minute believe there is any evidence of a long-term conspiracy to defraud the public about global warming, by The Team or anyone else. What we find evidence of on a much smaller scale is a small group of scientists too close to each other, protecting themselves and their careers, and unintentionally having a dramatic, if unintended, effect on a global debate."

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, I haven't read your book and don't intend to buy it, though if someone lends me a copy I will probably read it.

Regardless of what you say your intent is, there is no doubt that the whole field is being tarred by suspicions like yours. Your caveat does help your case, but it doesn't help enough to let you off the hook as far as I am concerned.

A good deal of damage has been done by the crime, by its celebration in quarters that really ought to think better of it, and by its absurd misintrepretation by yourself and others like you. The fact that you have profited by it does not endear you to those of us who see this as a great and vulgar distraction intended to derail serious conversation about serious matters.

Tom said...

I don't really care about your hooks. I'm glad that you understand that it was a crime. We didn't celebrate it. We sought to memorialise it before it got 'disappeared.'

The field is undoubtedly being tarred by suspicions. But one would have to be in a straight jacket not to understand that the real culpability for this lies in those who violated the Freedom of Information Act, sought to unduly influence the academic review process, and attempted to conceal the level of uncertainty in a presentation of the temperature record to policy makers.

I am in no way trying to conflate the two stories, but I hear that Nixon blamed his resignation on Woodward and Bernstein, rather than his own behaviour.

As for making a profit, Mosher and I put in several hundred hours of work in a 30 day timespan with no pay, producing a book that we hoped would be an addition to the public record (and it actually was--the Parliamentary inquiry used it), and we hoped it would sell a few copies. Ooh, what rapacious, scheming capitalists we are. We predicted that we would sell a couple of hundred copies and end up working for 50 cents an hour. We have been pleasantly surprised.

I'll leave you with some quotes from the book, just so you'll know that those pesky skeptics haven't been inventing all this stuff.

Keith Briffa: I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.
Malcolm Hughes writes, I tried to imply in my e-mail, but will now say it directly, that although a direct carbon dioxide effect is still the best candidate to explain this effect, it is far from proven. In any case, the relevant point is that there is no meaningful correlation with local temperature.
Ed Cook: I have growing doubts about the validity and use of error estimates that are being applied to reconstructions.
Tom Wigley: I have just read the M&M stuff critcizing MBH. A lot of it seems valid to me. At the very least MBH is a very sloppy piece of work -- an opinion I have held for some time.
Tom Wigley: A word of warning. I would be careful about using other, independent paleoclimatology … work as supporting your work. I am attaching my version of a comparison of the bulk of these other results. Although these all show the “hockey stick” shape, the differences between them prior to 1850 make me very nervous. If I were on the greenhouse deniers’ side, I would be inclined to focus on the wide range of paleoclimatology results and the differences between them as an argument for dismissing them all.

Tom said...

And isn't it just like you to say our book has tarred the reputation of an entire discipline--without reading it.

So we can add media criticism to market research, journalism and mental health to the topics that you know nothing about but are happy to pontificate on, especially if you can lie about me or someone like me in the process.

Michael Tobis said...

Again with the "lying".

I do not ordinarily lie. Really. I'm very bad at it. If you have some basis for your accusation please be clear about it.

Your context free quotations don't impress me all that much. I see nothing heinous there.

That all sounds like scientists talking science to me. Your point is what? That there are some uncertainties and disagreements? Agreed. That would seem to argue against the conspiracy theory view.

Anyway, feel free to go away.

If you would like to post here, please tone down the accusations directed at me, and for that matter, at my colleagues.

I will explain your technical misunderstanding if you like, presuming the posting I objected to is substantially unaltered. Or we can just drop it. Your call.

Tom said...

Lie #1: "In a recent article of Fuller's that showed up in one of my feeds, he woefully confused carbon concentration and carbon emissions."

Lie #2: I simply thought it worth raising that Fuller's understanding is something he grossly overestimates.

Lie #3: Fuller came up with a secondary defense, asking me to critique Nicholas Stern's projection of a global population of 15 billion by 2100 as ardently as I criticize his confusion of emissions and concentrations.

Lie #4: It is unethical to be wrong about science, make no significant effort to determine whether your position is incoherent with science, and write and publicize articles as if you knew the material.

You never spoke to me about my understanding and indeed never replied to my 5 requests asking for specifications.

You never read the book that you say 'tarred a discipline.'

You say I confused emissions and concentrations. I did not. I focused on emissions in that article to make a valid point.

You have no concern at all for the truth. You made no attempt to find out if any of your assertions were true. They are not. You lied.

You drone on and on about subjects you know nothing about, criticising books you haven't read, and attacking people because you don't like what they write. You never write about climate science--what function do you serve, other than to lie about people?

As for context-free assertions, they are direct quotes, and they are worse in context. But you would actually have to get your blinkers removed to ever be exposed to other material.

Steve Bloom said...

Gee, Tom, whyever would it be hard for someone else to keep track of which of your accusations you're referring to at any particular time?

Since sloppily misrepresenting Stern, the SRES and the IPCC doesn't bother you in the slightest, by all means let's talk science. You don't seem to be writing much about it lately, but in a post from a week ago you make a couple of statements we can sink our teeth into.

First you assert:

"When our solar system passes through the spiral arm of our galaxy--or someone else's--it changes conditions that affect our climate."

Sorry, wrong. Extinction events maybe, but not climate change. Also, someone else's galaxy? Say what?

Then you conclude:

"I personally believe that our emissions of CO2 are a one-time event that will lead to a steady state result--higher temperatures. I think adding this into the mix of other cyclical and one time events that affect our climate is taking a risk. As I've written countless times in this space, I think CO2 is likely to produce a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. What I sometimes forget to add is, I sure hope nothing else happens during that timeframe."

OK, could be worse. You're at the low end of the IPCC range for 2100, you obliquely admit to a degree of concern about abrupt events, and you agree that overall we're taking a risk.

Where you go off the rails is with the steady-state business. Sorry, that's wrong too. There's no such thing as a long-term climatic steady state, and a 2C pulse over 150 years isn't bloody likely to result in even a short-term one. Where in the world did you get such an idea?

Michael Tobis said...

OK, lies 1, 2 and 4 are the same thing, and lie 3 was a triviality and surely not a lie because what would be the point.

So, do you want to discuss why your posting was wrong or not?

Tom said...

Concentrations vs. emissions.

As I have explained repeatedly in articles at my website, it is concentrations of CO2 that affect temperatures. A lot of CO2 gets absorbed by oceans and plant life. The part that does not stays in the atmosphere and delays the repatriation of energy back out of the atmosphere.

Sadly, we don't really understand thoroughly how oceans serve as CO2 sinks--we know that when they're warmer they absorb less CO2. But we don't know a lot of things about oceans in general.

There is animated discussion of this in the literature. See Khatiwala et al: "Our results indicate that ocean uptake of anthropogenic CO2 has increased sharply since the 1950s, with a small decline in the rate of increase in the last few decades. We estimate the inventory and uptake rate of anthropogenic CO2 in 2008 at 140 ± 25 Pg C and 2.3 ± 0.6 Pg C yr-1, respectively."

As this issue is still being pertinently discussed in the scientific literature, in a popular article, the focus of which was on a potentially lower population towards the end of this century, as a writer I had the choice of tripling the size of the article to make clear that although concentrations are what really matters, we don't really know how to measure it, or to use vague language that stated that lower emissions were overall a good thing, and if the thesis of the article is correct, that we would have substantially lower emissions towards the end of the century than previously thought.

The Stern report does indeed show the various projections from differing SRES. It then performs its calculations using the most pessimistic to inform its assumptions. The review selects IPCC scenario A2 as its base case (Box 6.1, p. 154).

As Stern, the IPCC, and indeed everyone who looks at the issue acknowledge, the developing world will on average have the same wealth (and presumably the same energy requirements) as we in the developed world have today. Hence, having 6 billion fewer people will reduce emissions by approximately 54 billion tonnes (UK) per annum.

If we had a magic box that would do that today, we would all sing Hallelujah for hours before returning to the sobering thought that concentrations would not fall off immediately. I chose to sing Hallelujah for those living at the end of the century.

I know--and my most faithful readers will remember me writing--that concentrations are key. But emissions are the tool we have to limit them, and seeing the potential for much lower emissions is worth writing about.

Tom said...

I don't think your repeated lies are the same thing. I don't think any of them are trivial. I think you are waving your hands.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

And now I'm done with you.

Michael Tobis said...

"delays the repatriation"...

"to make clear that although concentrations are what really matters, we don't really know how to measure it"...

"having 6 billion fewer people will reduce emissions by approximately 54 billion tonnes"...

OK. You win, Tom. You've run rings round me logically.

I apologize for suggesting you were a Dunning-Kruger case. You obviously know lots of stuff very few other people have even heard of.

Thread is closed.