"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, July 9, 2010


I call your attention to Jerry Steffens' comment at RC (#403 on the linked article):

“... comments are almost Kafkaesque; he appears to represent a group that believes that scientific matters can be decided in the same way that cases are settled in a courtroom, i.e., that the side that can argue most persuasively wins. What he doesn’t seem to fully grasp is that there is an underlying physical reality that is being discussed. Using his technique, a group of people in a speeding bus on a dark, rain-slick road might argue about whether or not the bridge up ahead has been washed out. Presumably, if those arguing against the “wash-out theory” win the debate by, say, undermining the credibility of those on the other side of the argument (perhaps two of them were seen to be improperly conferring in the restroom) then the passengers can rest easy.

This is exactly the problem.

There is more than one lesson to be gleaned from this parable. I think the intended one is that arguing to win the argument is different from arguing to find the truest result and in fact is less adaptive.

Another lesson is this: It is not rude, stubborn, arrogant or unreasonable to refuse to compromise on a question of fact. “Maybe the bridge will be out next week, so we should come back some other way.” You compromise on strategies; sometimes you even compromise on principles; you cannot compromise on facts. Sometimes you know stuff the other folks don’t know, and when it's important, you have to say so, whatever they end up thinking of you. Which sometimes won't be very flattering. After all you seem so stubborn and uncompromising. But truth is the dominant ethic of the scientific world view. Without honest pursuit of truth you have nothing.

Formerly a comment at Kloor's.


Anonymous said...

I've been finding myself recently getting more and more irritated with a large group on the blogs who treat climate science like a spectator sport. So much discussion about "sides" etc. It's completely idiotic and not how the science is done.
In one comment listen recently, there were a couple people attacking the author in this way and so I made the point about science not working in this nature and gave some clear evidence (and references) as to why it's not an opinion, but reasoning based on a lot of research and observations. I tried to explain this, which had me disregarded as bombastic.
The loudest in opposition to the science refuse to use scientific rigor to there argument which means that they often appear to win the argument.

Pete Ridley said...


Hi Michael, as you seem to have chosen to ignore my most recent comment on your “There are two more camps” thread (Note 1) I have solicited help from relevant associates of yours on the GMD Editorial Board. You may be interested in the E-mail contents below.

Recently I have been chatting with two GMD Editorial Board associates of yours, Michael Tobis and James Annan on their blogs (http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/06/there-are-more-than-two-camps.html, http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2010/07/its-end-of-world-as-we-know-it.html#comments and
about climate change. Two aspects of particular interest to me are:
- the extent of involvement of expert statisticians in analysing and auditing palaeoclimate research results and conclusions,
- the validity of attempts to reconstruct past climates from air “trapped” in ice cores,

Little useful information has been forthcoming so I wonder if any of you can help me on these. As you will be aware the recent “whitewash” enquiries into the Climategate revelations (and the related enquiries in 2006 under Wegman and North) all indicate the importance of involvement of expert statisticians during the analysis of climate research, rather than depending upon the analyses to the scientists themselves. With the IPCC presently establishing its teams of experts to be involved in its 5th assessment report I had hoped that it would have recognised the importance of including expert statisticans but I see no evidence of this, although I may have missed it.

The cryospere specialists among you should also be able to advise about which expert statisiticians have been, are or will be involved in what Richard Alley refers to as the “Gold Standard” for reconstructing past atmospheric CO2 concentrations. My specific concern here is that processes identified by Jaworowski as having the potential to distort the results have not been thoroughly researched, particularly regarding the preferential diffusion of CO2 over N2 and O2 both in firn and in the “solid” ice after close-off due to its smaller kenetic molecular diameter. Despite clams that Jaworowski has been refuted by various researchers I have not found any convincing evidence that this is the case. More details of my concerns can be found at http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/a-glorious-defeat/ and http://chriscolose.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/richard-alley-at-agu-2009-the-biggest-control-knob/

Both of these topics are significant in the debate between sceptics and supporters of The (significant human-made global climate change) Hypothesis so I would appreciate any assistance that you can give in resolving the uncertainties surrounding them, which of course are only two such areas within that extremely complex subject known as climate science.

Pete Ridley said...


Hi again Tim. I’ve just been reading “Silent Spring” by Rachael Carson (I think that I told you I’d had it as a birthday present from my daughter). I was around your age in the 50s/60s but have no recollection of hearing anything significant of that horrific activity, which was going on in the UK at the same time. Doing a Google today I find that in 2003 concerns were expressed about illnesses in Kent, UK (Note 2) possibly due to crop spraying, with ministers promising an investigation. I don’t know what the outcome was of that investigation (if any took place) but the same campaigner took the UK government to court in 2008. Although the High Court found ( Note 4) that QUOTE: .. she had produced "solid evidence that residents have suffered harm to their health" and that the Government was unlawfully not following a European safety directive. .. the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal. UNQUOTE.

Prompted by that action, an investigation is underway at present by DEFRA (Note 3). Once again I have noticed nothing in the mainstream media about this even though this is a real and recognised threat to the human and other species. The media is full of the nonsense about humans causing potentially catastrophic global climate change through using fossil fuels yet hardly mentions the real threat from pesticides, weed killers and other chemicals poured onto the globe’s inhabitants.

I have challenged what I understood to be your support for the position of the IPCC regarding human-made global climate change but if (as I suspect) you support the position of Miss Downs and other campaigners on this issue I see no reason at this stage to challenge it. (Of course I may change that opinion if I decide to research the subject as carefully as I have the hypothesis that our use of fossil fuels is causing significant global climate change.)

1) see http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/06/there-are-more-than-two-camps.html
2) see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2952177.stm
3) see http://www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk/ (see first entry).
4) see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/5768293/Environmental-campaigner-loses-legal-battle-over-crop-spraying.html

Best regards, Pete Ridley

Michael Tobis said...

I'm no longer an editor at GMD. I had best review my web presence to see if the claim is being made.

Ridley illustrates the problem perfectly well.

Jaworowski, when I looked back in the 1990s, had exactly one citation, a prominent review of ice cores, which dismissed his work in one or two sentences. As far as I know he has had no rebuttal. This is fine for denialist science. Being refuted doesn't prevent someone (in this case an MD with a specialty in radiation exposure) from making a denialist career out of one bad paper.

As for statisticians, well that is a long story. The short version is, tell it to the funding agencies, not the scientists.

Does Mr. Ridley really expect that the editorial board of GMD will feel obligated to reply to his standard issue denialism? On what grounds?

Perhaps Ridley believes that editors are in the employ of the journals rather than volunteers. In that case what he is doing is an attempt at harrassment, but a rather ill-founded one.

Moderation is back on. Mr. Ridley is not welcome.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you brought all that up here.
"The media is full of the nonsense about humans causing potentially catastrophic global climate change through using fossil fuels."
I've explained myself throughout my Innovation series and since I've also extended on some points when addressing Nova's response to John's scientific guide to her handbook.
Climate change is occurring and our greenhouse gas contributions are playing a significant role.
I don't want to be held responsible for engaging in irrelevant discussions on MT's blog and you've made it clear on mine that you are happy to disregard any literature I offer. There is therefore no reason to continue as we're not on the same page.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

For a good example of this style of argument see this thread at Climate Audit. Of course the charges made here have nothing at all to do with reality. IN fact the first term of the remit was:

Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and
any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence
of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable
scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research

Given the actual contents of the report it seems rather odd to level this charge since at every turn the committee cites the emails relevant to the associated accusation. I especially like the proposed lawyerly question "Dr. Jones, did delete any emails?" To which the answer would have to be "yes" since people who receive a lot of emails delete dozens every day.

This particular post has to be one of the stupidest criticisms of the Muir Russell report I have seen. But of course it was from the now thoroughly discredited Climate Audit, so what can you expect.

Martin Vermeer said...

This is a very typical delusion amongst political types... they even gave it a name: 'post-normal science'. It's the idea that reality is a political resource, that the physical Earth system is somehow embedded in, or exists on the terms of, politics.

Some economists suffer from something similar: the belief that the physical Earth system is a subsystem of the global economy.

These inside-out fallacies are fascinating... I am reminded of a cartoon by a famous Finnish cartoonist. Two philosophers are sitting on opposing chairs, heatedly debating the existence of God. The second frame zooms out and we see the philosophers sitting in the palm of God's hand...

Martin Vermeer said...

> Hi again Tim.

Pete, Tim's name is Michael :-)

Anonymous said...

Martin > I think Pete was talking to me - Moth = tiMOTHy... he tends to call me Tim.