Global Warming

Climate Wars and the Damage Done to the Credibility of Science

Matt Ridley explains how he lost trust in climate science

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Over at the Quadrant, my friend science journalist Matt Ridley has a fantastic article, "The Climate Wars' Damage to Science" in which he despairingly explains how he lost trust in climate science. Even worse, Ridley also fears that the top-to-bottom of politicization of climate science will comprehensively undermine the public's trust in the whole scientific enterprise with huge consequences for the future.

Ridley is a "lukewarmer." He writes:

These [green advocacy] scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it's real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it's not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it's real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the "lukewarmer" school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.

I find that very few people even know of this. Most ordinary people who do not follow climate debates assume that either it's not happening or it's dangerous. This suits those with vested interests in renewable energy, since it implies that the only way you would be against their boondoggles is if you "didn't believe" in climate change.

I, too, think that man-made warming is a happening, but am a bit more concerned than Ridley about the possibility of significant harm over the course of this century. However, the castrophists' sweeping policy prescriptions that would require massive economic sacrifice and the forfeiture of liberty to address climate change are certainly wrong. Ridley points out that the "consensus" of U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change actually encompasses the lukewarm position:

The IPCC actually admits the possibility of lukewarming within its consensus, because it gives a range of possible future temperatures: it thinks the world will be between about 1.5 and four degrees warmer on average by the end of the century. That's a huge range, from marginally beneficial to terrifyingly harmful, so it is hardly a consensus of danger, and if you look at the "probability density functions" of climate sensitivity, they always cluster towards the lower end.

What is more, in the small print describing the assumptions of the "representative concentration pathways", it admits that the top of the range will only be reached if sensitivity to carbon dioxide is high (which is doubtful); if world population growth re-accelerates (which is unlikely); if carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans slows down (which is improbable); and if the world economy goes in a very odd direction, giving up gas but increasing coal use tenfold (which is implausible).

But the commentators ignore all these caveats and babble on about warming of "up to" four degrees (or even more), then castigate as a "denier" anybody who says, as I do, the lower end of the scale looks much more likely given the actual data. This is a deliberate tactic. Following what the psychologist Philip Tetlock called the "psychology of taboo", there has been a systematic and thorough campaign to rule out the middle ground as heretical: not just wrong, but mistaken, immoral and beyond the pale. That's what the word denier with its deliberate connotations of Holocaust denial is intended to do. For reasons I do not fully understand, journalists have been shamefully happy to go along with this fundamentally religious project.

In any case, Ridley is right to worry that the shenanigans of certain prominent climate change catastrophists could comprehensively undermine science as an institution. Ridley quotes Australian climate scientist Garth Paltridge:

We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society's respect for scientific endeavour.

Just so. Ridley also goes through the various scandals of climate data manipulation and celebrates the critics who are trying to hold the climate science establishment to account. The whole article is well worth your attention.

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  1. If your hypothesis is false, you must discard it and start over. (paraphrasing)

  2. Cool story, bro

  3. All observed warming so far is on the very low end of predictions, and they didn’t predict the last 15 years.

    The alarmists aren’t just wrong. Their position is untenable.

    The politicization of science is inevitable. Through the last century the proclamations of science have taken on a religious nature and that is naturally going to be co-opted by politicians who now also control the purse strings for much of the scientific community.

  4. Doesn’t this argument really go back to the Milgram experiments and the like? Experiments which are no longer allowed under the auspices of “ethical” science?

    http://mentalfloss.com/article…..ppen-today

    1. It’s a natural result of trying to maintain the status quo in the face of change. Think of IBM when PCs came out. Think of Detroit when Japanese cars met different demands and were more reliable.

      The difference is that when government is part of the status quo, they use their coercion and funding to fix the game, whereas private businesses with blinders go out of business or at least lose market share.

      Climate change is just another over-hyped Pet Rock or Beanie Baby, but its backer literally cannot go out of business.

  5. And it needs to be said – scientists have been wrong in masses and in small custers as well as the individual level a lot. Nor is identifying a problem the same as knowing the solution and all of the unintended consequences of said solution. We’ve seen that a lot, as well.

    Science co-opted for politics is not new. There’s boat loads of history that demonstrates that fact.

  6. Ridley also fears that the top-to-bottom of politicization of climate science will comprehensively undermine the public’s trust in the whole scientific enterprise with huge consequences for the future.

    Ummmmm, Michael Crichton wrote about this more than ten years ago!

    Welcome to the party dude. What took you so long?

  7. That was a nice career Matt Ridley had.

    1. That’s right, bub. Hands over the sheepskin and nobody gets hurt too much. Break his kneecaps, boys.

    2. He’s been saying this for years, I think.

  8. There is nothing really we can do to stop it (if it’s bad) short of killing off 50% of the human population. There are two billion Chinese and Indians clamoring to reach the middle class and the comforts of 24-hour electricity and personal automobiles and that’ll wipe out any decrease the Western countries can do.

    1. You have correctly identified both the problem and the solution, according to the AGW crowd. A dramatic reduction in human population is what they want and the warming crisis is just a means to that end.

  9. Judith Curry’s blog is a good example of lukewarmers. There’s quite a few out there but you never hear about the ones who aren’t claiming the sky is falling.

    1. Claims of consensus are bullshit. There are a range of scientific views on the issue, and then there’s a whole possible range of solutions that is a whole separate thing altogether.

      1. Consensus is an amazingly stupid word for science. The correct words are things like “replicable results,” “falsifiability,” “strong evidence for X, with the following potential errors.” And so on.

        We could all get together and agree, every single one of us, that gravity is a fictional construct, and jump into the Grand Canyon. Consensus is that we’d fly, reality is that we’d die.

        Speaking of gravity, we don’t claim to full understand that phenomenon, despite amazing levels of experimentation and investigation of it.

        1. You are exactly right ProL. Anyone appealing to consensus in Science does not know what Science is and they should be immediately discounted.

  10. Even if it is real, man-made, and dangerous, the only solution is to address it with technology.

    Think about it: If we somehow managed to deindustrialize to the extent required to drastically reduce carbon emissions to an acceptable level, we’d have to forego a lot of the scientific research and development that would be required not just to combat it, but to understand it in context, and to even determine if our efforts had been successful.

    It’s like saying in order to keep the balloon from crashing, we need to reduce weight, therefore let’s throw out the burner.

  11. Ron’s right; this is a must read article.

    A couple of things to add.

    Back when the ClimateGate 2.0 emails were released, I wrote a summary which I think has held up quite well in the intervening years and gives people a good flavor of how corruptly the cimate science establishment has behaved

    I’ve long called for the separation of Science and State, which I recognize is a pipe dream. In the absence of this, it is time for people to cease trusting the organizations that permitted the misconduct above to continue. The efforts to mitigate climate change are interfering with economic development that is needed to bring much of humanity out of the misery of poverty, increasing the cost of living for most people living in the developing world and is creating crony-capitalistic institutions that are ripe for corruption. To steal from Dr Covey’s analogy about cutting a road through the jungle, we are probably cutting a road through the wrong jungle, and there is no point in proceeding until we figure out which jungle we should be seeking out.

    As far as catastrophe goes, I encourage everyone to read this account of a presentation by an IPCC lead author. It will open your eyes.

    1. I remember the second email release came and went with little noise. What was in them that was special?

  12. If we can make some sacrifices, our grandkids won’t hate us for destroying the planet. instead the little ingrates will just hate us for all the debt we plan on sticking them with.

  13. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school

    There’s a fourth school – the room temps: we don’t yet know if it’s real, man’s influence is likely miniscule at most, and “dangerous” only in human terms since it would very much be beneficial to some existing life forms, and other life forms that do not exist yet.

  14. another position is that the climate changes naturally all the time, computer models can’t possibly reflect all the information and are not actual science, some of that change may or may not be partly man-made, man’s contribution is nominal, at best, man is part of nature, the changes are not dangerous and it’s really a huge waste of time and resources trying to stop it. Plus, never trust big government liberals, socialists and communists when they tell they have a solution.

  15. The ‘denier’ label is another way the progressive fascists control the language. Even on ‘denier’ (skeptic) pages like Anthony Watt’s, most don’t ‘deny’ climate is changing. Only an idiot would think that earth has a static climate.

    ” xxx- denier” is another language control tool like ” xxx-phobic” and the strange twisting of pronouns.

    This is why progressives/statists kick libertarian and conservatives asses routinely. They understand that the majority of the public is 1)stupid 2)not paying attention 3)both. So they know if they can control the language/argument they will win.

    They also understand that, for most of the population, if you convince them “everybody believes this” then they’ll just fall in line with the rest of the lemmings.

  16. I, too, think that man-made warming is a happening, but am a bit more concerned than Ridley about the possibility of significant harm over the course of this century

    Based on what? The 1.5-degree increase or the 4-degree increase?

    Also, how do you define “harm”? And how could you tell this “harm” is due to global warming and not some other naturally-occurring phenomenon? In other words: How can you tell a burning bush is not just a burning bush if you and I know that bushes DO burn?

  17. The thing is that the absolutists – on both sides – act as if there is only one question: Is there global warming? (or “climate change”, if you prefer) and once that’s answered, everything else is closed. But there are really a bunch of independent questions.
    Is there global warming?
    Is it man-made?
    Can we do anything about it?
    Should we do anything about it?
    But we’re not, mostly, asking those questions, because it’s become a political issue in which you have to declare your allegiance to TEAM WARMING or TEAM NOT.

    1. Re: JD the elder,

      Is there global warming? (or “climate change”, if you prefer)

      But there lies the trap everybody steps on, JD: the semantic little game that conflates a real, measurable phenomenon ?global warming? with a loaded term, i.e. Climate Change. The warmists conflate the two issues for two reasons: there hasn’t been any significant warming and it is easier to put the blame on GW for certain extraordinary climatic events that end up not being that extraordinary.

      I do believe the current process of global warming is the result of human activity, to which I ask: So fucking what? Higher temps do NOT translate inevitably to catastrophic climate change. There are OTHER mechanisms at play that affect climate besides atmospheric heat and there is NO GOOD reason to believe that higher temps cannot mean a GOOD THING in the long run, in absolute terms. So far the warmists have pushed the narrative that there is NO way warmer temps can be a good thing. They must’ve all seen the future, somehow.

  18. We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem […] in its effort to promote the cause.

    What in user car-sales is known as “Puffing.”

  19. Until there is a cheaper, better energy source, humans will happily burn every ounce of hydrocarbons that they can pump out of the ground. Whether this is going to Doom Us All or not, it’s foolish to believe any amount of laws or nagging can stop it.

    1. They aren’t trying to stop it. They are just trying to milk as many dollars as they can out of it for themselves.

      No matter how convoluted a scam is if you get to the heart of it they are all the same. They all have the same anatomy and end in the same place. Grifter gets paid.

      1. Yep, they’re just shilling for Big Regulation.

  20. “In any case, Ridley is right to worry that the shenanigans of certain prominent climate change catastrophists could comprehensively undermine science as an institution.”

    We’re two generations past Ehrlich’s heyday and about five generations deep into Keynesian neo-fallacies. If “science” hasn’t been undermined yet by a bunch of non-experimental pursuits that can’t even touch the Stanford Prison Experiment for scientific rigor or predictive capacity, it won’t be undermined anytime soon. “Science” gets funding for the same reason that every other special interest gets funded, and it’s not because of public confidence in the institution.

    Also worth noting that it’s mostly educated Americans of above-average intelligence who are falling prey to pseudoscience in the reign of the Ehrlichs. You can only imagine what all the people who believe that the universe is younger than the Egyptian and Chinese empires, not to mention a handful of giant redwoods, must think about the matter.

    1. Even ‘good’ science fields are going to shit. Remember the article about half of preclinical science being unreplicable?

  21. Holy shitballs! So, are you guys trying to tell me that it is possible for people to hold views other than those representing the two extreme, polar opposites? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Whats next? More than two political parties? People who support choice, but don’t throw parties to celebrate killing a fetus? People who want to keep their own money, but don’t simply want the poor to die of starvation? People who think rapist murderers don’t deserve to live, but also don’t trust the judicial system to correctly identify those people?

    That’s insanity. These dangerous non-conformists must be identified and assimilated immediately.

    1. Holy shitballs! So, are you guys trying to tell me that it is possible for people to hold views other than those representing the two extreme, polar opposites? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

      This applies every bit as much to foreign policy debate as anything else here.

      1. We don’t have to nuke the whole middle east, we just have to funnel in weapons and drone strikes every now and then to make sure that it stays disfunctional! Wait, that is our goal, right?

        1. Thanks for so efficiently demonstrating my point.

  22. Over at the Quadrant, my friend science journalist Matt Ridley has a fantastic article

    Does it talk about wood chippers?

  23. I just wanted to say the recent ‘study’ ‘disproving’ the ‘pause’ in warming is a farce. NO ONE uses a 0.1 confidence interval.

    1. Unpossible. Chicken Little would never cook his numbers to disprove that the sky is in fact not falling.

      Denier!

  24. Fortunately, none of this is important to me. I identify as a Giraffe-American, so my head will stay well above the rising oceans.

  25. The overarching problem is the idea that public policy should be decided by the (self-appointed) scientific elite themselves. If the “peer reviewed experts” have a “consensus”, then everyone should just fall in line and go along with whatever they recommend without any sort of independent judgement regarding cost-benefit analysis, etc.

  26. This is exactly what Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech. Right after the part of his speech that mentioned the military industrial complex (the part that gets 99.9% of the attention), there was this:

    “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present ? and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

  27. Even worse, Ridley also fears that the top-to-bottom of politicization of climate science will comprehensively undermine the public’s trust in the whole scientific enterprise with huge consequences for the future.

    No shit?

  28. Bailey, thanks very much for bringing this article to my attention. I have been a firm skeptic of AGW all along. Ridley’s article just grouted up all the cracks in my position.

  29. “It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavor.”

    I think someone has commented to this effect many times. That person has been saying this since they first started commenting here.

    I am firmly in the lukewarmer camp and I still maintain that the catastophists are running a scam. They are straight-up grifters.

    Thank you very much Ron. Best article of the week, and there have been some doozies. Not just the best of yours, the best of all of them.

  30. Well, it’s not Climate Change anymore, now it’s another Mass Extinction Event

    http://www.livescience.com/512…..-here.html

    1. Or the catchier “Accelerated modern human?induced species losses”

      http://advances.sciencemag.org…..5/e1400253

  31. This is what scares the crap out of me; when the global warming / climate change bubble bursts and the public realizes that they have been played for fools they are going to sour on science in general. The nuance of the difference between science driven policy and science justified policy will be lost on them. There will be yet another of the US’s “great awakening”s (religious surges), and woe be to anyone associated with science at that point.

  32. Mixing science and politics is as dangerous as mixing religion and politics.

  33. Many climate scientists have known for a decade or more that many claims by activists, particularly Al Gore, were demonstrably false. But almost all of them believed such lies were for a good cause, so never disputed them. Now their silence has gone from willful to fearful, and their whole field faces popular discrediting. They let their progressive social philosophy trump their philosophy of science. Big mistake.

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