the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

AGW: Restoring courtesy to the debate

Posted by Jeff Id on February 9, 2010

Guest post – Lucy Skywalker aka Anne Stallybrass.


AGW: Restoring courtesy to the debate

When a situation has become so fraught, so polarized, that communication between opposing sides breaks down, “mediators” can be called in to set up a process that can enable and allow all parties to feel that they have been heard fairly. Recent engagement at WUWT with Roger Harrabin of the BBC suggests clearly to me a breakdown in communication, with all sides feeling misrepresented. I want to take the line among skeptics that Roger and the BBC are “innocent until proven guilty”, but to do so, I would ask for some conditions for courtesy’s sake. For not only does extra care with courtesy enable disputes to be resolved; I have discovered a surprise: courtesy is the best facilitator for scientific understanding itself to develop. In addition, many of the best scientists suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome (as did Einstein and Newton). Classically, this condition gives passion for Truth to the point of obsession with a narrow field of interest, and difficulty with “normal” human interactions and communicating skills. Thus the Aspies are likely to do the most brilliant science, but they seldom end up as heads of departments, let alone media reporters. They are the ones who understand crucial details that reporters fail to grasp or even to recognize as significant. I know because I had the condition, and still retain many habits developed to cope with that experience.

(1) First, I am going to look at some historical issues that I think are crucial – so please hear me out. This may do three things: (a) it may exonerate the BBC, well, as nearly completely as one can hope for (b) it may give the BBC, in particular, Roger Harrabin and Richard Black, a way out, to salvage their reputation among skeptics, give them a future, and go a long way towards resolving the AGW issues (c) it may suggest future good practice (which may need to be enshrined by legislation, in order to protect the future integrity of Science).

(2) Second, I ask for special courtesy in responses, in order to give all sides a fair chance. I believe that the best skeptics blogs practice far higher standards of courtesy than are seen in the equivalent “warmist” blogs; I know that many became skeptics because of the difference in the levels of courtesy. Nevertheless, because of the deep breakdown of communication, it is easy for both sides to see insults even where none are intended. So I would like to see factual responses, evidence relevant to the core issues, as far as possible. Emotions are an important part of our nature, they are often the gut-reaction clues we get as to whether material is truth or rubbish. But in the driving-seat, they can precipitate divides. Good practice in rebuilding trust is to ask participants to “own” their feelings rather than give them “objective” status. So as Steve McIntyre says repeatedly: no “piling-on” of emotional response please. All this will help to isolate, distil, clarify, and agree the root issues, as if this blog were a science laboratory, or an awareness-raising workshop, and the issues required the same care of handling as one would apply to tiny but significant quantities, and delicate instruments which also includes human beings.

The communication problem has been building up for so long that we can hardly hope to resolve all conflict instantly. Much mischief is the result of unchecked “group think” by special interest groups, which the best of us do frequently and for the best of reasons. An agreement from all sides, that progress has been made, will, I think, be an excellent achievement.

This picture shows every email link found in the UEA emails, grouped into institutions and individuals.


I’ve been scanning responses on WUWT’s post about Roger Harrabin’s request for “tenured academic sceptics”. Many skeptics feel this is already an impossible request, a request that already loads the dice, because these people, who should be the ones most able to put the skeptical scientific position, are actually the ones least able to speak out, owing to pressure from the scientific “consensus”. I’ve had a productive exchange with Roger, and I’ve looked at some of Richard Black’s material, and all this has left me with the feeling that both of them, and the BBC behind them, may have far more genuine intention to stay fair and open than their reporting suggests to most people here. But we have to go very carefully, and be wary of pitfalls, to open up this possible understanding.

First, let’s look at the BBC policy regarding climate science reporting, as quoted by Robert Christopher on the WUWT Harrabin post:

“Climate change is another subject where dissenters can be unpopular. There may be now a broad scientific consensus that climate change is definitely happening, and that it is at least predominantly man-made. But the second part of that consensus still has some intelligent and articulate opponents, even if a small minority… The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus… But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate. They cannot be simply dismissed as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘deniers’, who ‘should not be given a platform’ by the BBC. Impartiality always requires a breadth of view: for as long as minority opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space.”

See that small phrase “some of the best scientific experts”. Let me raise the volume a little. SOME OF THE BEST SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS. Not my personal opinion, but it’s the opinion of the BBC, and it may well have been an honest opinion.

But skeptics here can imagine who these experts could have been. How about Bob Ward, “Senior manager, policy communication” for the Royal Society until September 2006??? We can see something of his provenance and character here. Now it is no more than a possibility that Ward was one of the “experts”. But Prof Lindzen’s paper (Climate Science: is it currently designed to answer questions) demonstrates the infiltration of activists by back-door methods into influential positions in key scientific bodies, over the last twenty years or so. These are people with an agenda – even if the agenda appears to be important, like “saving the planet”. Paradoxically, emotionally-based campaigns for a green, sustainable future, in becoming special-interest groups, developing “groupthink”, relaxing traditional good standards of Scientific Method and Practice, and losing sight of Truth itself, in exaggerating claims of danger, attacking and defaming fair challengers, and ignoring basic sanity checks, have themselves become a danger to our future, and an easy way for those like Al Gore to grab power and make money.

Innocent reasons for the present situation

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am observing powerful, innocent reasons that even the “best scientific experts” may be misguided, and may have given the BBC misguided advice. The world have seen an unparalleled rate of material change, as well as material growth of population, that has happened due to the material benefits of modern Science. But much of this still depends on material and resources that are ultimately limited, even if they are far more plentiful than some fearmongers maintain; it is still important to consider issues of longterm sustainability. With powerful evidence of our ability to change the environment, it is natural to be concerned about whether our activities may be having effects on the climate. And we cannot omit the religious, spiritual and experiential dimensions, in these issues. Often the material changes overwhelm and confuse; traditional religions seem inadequate, or else God is sought with fundamentalist ardour to shut out all doubts; there is often a gap in the soul, that feels it is unscientific to embrace spiritual reality, but still experiences apocalyptic fear for the future and obsessive activity, supposedly to build a “sustainable future” but in reality to avoid facing the naked fear. However, one thing we need as a foundation is a science and understanding of reality itself that we can trust. And herein lies a big problem for Climate Science.

Science has grown out of all recognition in both extent and complexity. But as specializations proliferate, the number of experts in each specialization grows smaller. Traditionally, the peer-review system depends on unprejudiced review; but the Climategate emails have shown a corruption of the whole peer-review process, where a tiny cabal of experts took it over, to promote their own secondrate “science” and exclude anything that challenged the validity of that “science”, whether or not the challenge was sound. IT DIDN’T USE TO BE LIKE THIS!! The science I studied at school was the soul of trustworthiness, which one breathed in every time one entered the labs and the classrooms, because it was built on Scientific Method and human courtesy; experts couldn’t possibly lie over serious issues, because their results had to be reproduceable and auditable; their colleagues would disbar them for lying, because humankind needs foundations of truth. With complexification, the situation in Science has changed.

Not-so-innocent origins

Much goes back to 1988 when James Hansen delivered a warning speech in a stage-managed heat trap for the US Senate, and the IPCC was established by the U.N. to assess “the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.” IPCC was formed to assess risks and recommend an appropriate response. But in practice, it bypasses the very basis of Science by assuming that AGW is an already-proven fact.

The IPCC is not Science, it is a lookalike, and as recent events are increasingly showing the public, it has become a fraudulent usurper. Openness to objective truth in Science is utterly essential, and, unlike what the BBC directive says, mere numbers of believers, or even 2500 IPCC “scientists”, is actually completely irrelevant; just one piece of contradictory evidence is enough to overturn a century of scientific hypotheses on the AGW in which millions now believe. And unlike what IPCC and “top scientific experts” suggest, there are not just a few, but thousands of scientific pieces of evidence challenging every single part of the AGW thesis.

A significant historical factor is Maggie Thatcher. She knew her science degree was unusual for a politician, and she used it to gain power over the miners by taking hold of, and magnifying, the AGW threat that had appeared like a tiny blip in Science. She gave research grants in any discipline that promised to look for evidence upholding AGW; she decreased all other research grants; she founded the Hadley Centre. I think her legacy was slowly cumulative, like that of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Researchers learned to get grants by promising to research more and more alarming climate issues; apocalyptic research caught on and became multinational business and the darling of the media.

The current challenge

The current challenge is to demonstrate, to such as Roger Harrabin (degree in English) and Richard Black (PhD in economics), that the most fundamental scientific propositions in AGW, and indeed, Scientific Method itself, the very foundations of Science, are what the issue is about. Orthodox science institutions now say that the existence of dangerous AGW has long been agreed by the “consensus” of scientists and doesn’t need further discussion because “time is short” if we are to take “action” to “prevent” it. And with “evidence” by the bucketful from the scientific establishment, people believe [note: believe] the proofs without further check, become “activists”, and harrass those who challenge the basics of AGW into silence. I have been there myself. Those who should be most free and able to investigate and report the real science are now the ones who have been most threatened into silence or drilled into conformity – tenured academics. The WUWT thread is already evidence of this key group of witnesses.

Therefore, what is needed for these disenfranchised experts to speak up is a written promise from the BBC that such scientists will have the right to the final approval of what (of their statements) goes out in any programme. Plus, they should be granted the chance to answer others’ objections to their statements on the programme, as is sine qua non (or is certainly supposed to be) in science journals.

The “drilling into conformity” often happened for the best of reasons, as detailed earlier. Most public dissenters are retired, or from other disciplines, or have somehow reached a point of “nothing to lose by speaking the truth”. The very basis of Scientific Method, namely reproduceability and auditability, has been compromised; and there are many scientists of high standing and expertise, as well as many others who have studied the relevant science, who know that AGW is essentially flawed, not once but over and over, holed under the water line by a monumental iceberg of hidden evidence, as surely as was the Titanic.

The real science

It is true that the Earth has been warming over the last century; it is true that this warming cannot be explained by “total solar irradiance” changes; it is true that the level of CO2 has risen; it is true that CO2 is an important greenhouse gas; it is true that the annual rise in CO2 is comparable in size to (about half the size of) our annual emissions; it is true that even at the beginning of the twentieth century there were scientists concerned at the possible effects of our CO2 emissions. But further than that, we find nothing more than amazing coincidences and correlations, with zero proof of causation. Every single one of these statements can be challenged on many fronts, shown to be misleading, and in no way constitute a proof, or even the slightest quantity of evidence, of AGW. Moreover, there are many further complications that are rooted in poor, misleading, and sometimes downright fraudulent science; the Urban Heat Island effect is one such issue; temperature records themselves are under question; the “proxy” reconstruction of earlier times is seriously under fire; all the “alarmist” prognoses of extreme weather, and of computer models, are belied by the actual records.

Reflections – how to protect the integrity of science

Currently we have an unbelievable, unfortunate situation. But it would not be the first time that humankind has been overtaken by mass delusions. You have only to read about Tulip-mania, or the South Sea Bubble, or the Crusades to find others who have said in effect “we cannot all be wrong”. Much of AGW is a strange combination of sheer coincidence in natural climate cycles, as well as lack of “back to basics” in checking the science. At first it grew innocently, slowly, and apparently usefully, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s broom. Only later did corruption take a greater hold.

The real questions now are, how best to re-establish and protect integrity in Science, how best to rescue the passengers still on the Titanic, and how best to uphold justice and deal fairly with the key offenders, many of whom have been motivated, at least in part, by genuine concern.

Scientific Practice needs rethinking regarding how to keep it truly open, and how to protect Science’s integrity from corruption in the future. Paradoxically, we need to re-include human values to safeguard this integrity – coming from the very same inner realm of experiences that was originally, and with justification, excluded from Scientific Method. Now the humanity has to be rebuilt, not just touchy-feelie-post-modern, but through the great key of Scientific Method itself, applied to our inner realms. This embraces much of what we know today as good psychology, and more. Science needs to rediscover its “citizen science” roots and reclaim this for the future, and become truly transparent, checkable, and open to challenge, by people of ordinary intelligence. Before implementing horrendously expensive policy, scientific truth and open verifiability are essential. This back-to-basics check is the only Precautionary Principle worth its salt. All this work is being achieved by the skeptics blogs who are most ably pointing the way forward. I taught myself the science and then wrote it up as a Primer (click my name) Many readers at the Times Higher Educational supplement have appreciated it, so perhaps our two BBC reporters might consider studying my Primer as well.

Anne Stallybrass aka Lucy Skywalker

40 Responses to “AGW: Restoring courtesy to the debate”

  1. PhilJourdan said

    Excellent article. I think the problem with the BBC was they were sucked in by a mergence with their philosophy, and then had to stick with it as they could not admit the possibility they were wrong. The latter is a powerful motivator for those who try to maintain an appearance of infalibility.

  2. Eric said

    Wow. Perfect. Amen.

  3. BarryW said

    I’ve pointed this out elsewhere. If AGW mitigation required dismantling of authority, implementation of libertarian concepts, and less governmental controls, there would be no interest in AGW among the intelligentsia. Not even Greenpeace would support it. It would be considered a capitalistic, conservative plot.

    Look at the major eco disaster scenarios that have been promulgated : Club of Rome, Population Bomb, AGW, even health care. All of them “require” expanded governmental authority. And of course that means the ‘elites’. Who else could manage things but them? You can even see it in the Climategate emails. Look at what they do not what they say. If the UN and the governments promoting AGW mitigation were serious what thing could they do? How about banning private and corporate jets and government travel? What do they actually do? Fly off to Copenhagen en mass.

    AGW is just a lever to gain more power. Take the power out of the equation and AGW would magically disappear from the political world.

  4. Anthony said

    Ya got two izzes in that graphic.

  5. PhilJourdan said

    BarryW said
    February 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm
    If AGW mitigation required dismantling of authority, implementation of libertarian concepts, and less governmental controls, there would be no interest in AGW among the intelligentsia

    In addition to my point, there is your point as well. And yours is probably stronger as it encompasses more of those blindly following one side.

  6. Mark T said

    Ya got two izzes in that graphic.

    That depends on what the definition of is is.


  7. RomanM said

    It is is it. 😉

  8. Phillip Bratby said

    Lucy, you can see more about Bob ward at

    That article reveals all you need to know about him. He’s a geologist, failed PhD, who understands climate change: “simple physics – greenhouse gasses trap heat”. Says it all really. Problem solved.

  9. David S said

    I particularly like this quote from Mr Ward:
    “If you are building in London with a 50-year design lifespan, you will have to cope with London’s climate today, but Lisbon’s climate in the future. Structures will need the flexibility to cope.”
    Lisbon’s average temperature is approximately 17C compared with London’s 11C. 6 degrees in 50 years, now that’s really scary.

  10. Harrywr2 said

    Excellent article,

    I will nitpick in the interest of an Old Cold Warrior that got to play ‘Cold War’ in a place called the ‘Middle East’ in the last 1970’s.

    “A significant historical factor is Maggie Thatcher. She knew her science degree was unusual for a politician, and she used it to gain power over the miners by taking hold of, and magnifying, the AGW threat”

    The above statement is an interpretation looking thru a lens. Maggie Thatcher was the Ultimate Cold Warrior.

    The biggest Achilles Heal the ‘West’ had in the Cold War was our Dependence on Fossil Fuels. Our primary energy fossil fuel supplies tend to come from places the Soviet Army could drive to. Even if the Soviet Army couldn’t drive to such a place, the suppliers invariably were ‘kindred spirits’ to the ‘Marxist Cause’.

    If Maggie invented AGW for a political reason it would almost have certainly invented to sell the “Left” on the need to eschew fossil fuels.

    If we look at the Coal, Natural Gas and Oil reserves of Eurasia, the vast majority are located in what was once known as ‘The Soviet Union’, the vast majority is still located in ‘Mother Russia’.

    In relatively recent news we’ve seen Mr Putin play with natural gas supplies for ‘political’ reasons. A country that is completely dependent on another for a supply of a critical resource has no choice but to become a ‘puppet state’. EU Dependence on ‘The Former Soviet Union’ for critical supplies of Energy will make it a ‘Puppet State’ in the not too distant future.

    Now for my ‘Tin Foil Hat Time’

    There has only been one serious nuclear accident in the West involving a nuclear power plant..the Three Mile Island Incident which occurred on March 28th, 1979.

    The film The China Syndrome which depicted a meltdown of a American Nuclear Power Reactor had been released 12 days earlier on March 16th 1979. The movie starred Jane Fonda..who was at the time was considered to be a ‘Communist Sympathizer’. There have been 13951 reactor years of commercial nuclear power plant operation and only 2 major accidents. One of those accidents occurred within 12 days of the release of the movie ‘The China Syndrome’. I think in science this is called ‘correlation’.

    In any case..we still have a significant portion of the West who would choose to be dependent on either ‘Mother Russia’ or countries with close ties to ‘Mother Russia’ then embrace nuclear power.

    Like I said…I’m an old cold warrior…and my glasses are obviously clouded by the experience.

  11. xyzlatin said

    Lucy, a good summary. I found it interesting that you mentioned Asperger’s (AS) as a factor in the debate, quote:
    In addition, many of the best scientists suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome (as did Einstein and Newton). Classically, this condition gives passion for Truth to the point of obsession with a narrow field of interest, and difficulty with “normal” human interactions and communicating skills. Thus the Aspies are likely to do the most brilliant science, but they seldom end up as heads of departments, let alone media reporters. They are the ones who understand crucial details that reporters fail to grasp or even to recognize as significant. I know because I had the condition, and still retain many habits developed to cope with that experience. unquote.
    For those who have not heard of the condition, although first described by Hans Asperger 1944, Asperger’s Syndrome has been clinically diagnosed widely only since the 1980’s, and usually only in children, so there are many adults who have missed being diagnosed.
    However, I dispute your statement that they seldom end up as heads of departments, let alone media reporters. Aspies are not only in science, but in all walks of life, including politicians, NGO heads, greenies, reporters etc who also are As.
    By the way, being an Aspie is a lifelong condition Lucy, you don’t lose it, you just learn to adapt better ( quote -I had the condition -unquote) .
    One of the defining traits is an inability to admit to being wrong, (owing to a reduced ability to see others point of view (called Theory of Mind)) combined with an enormous capacity for detailed argument!

    So although your post describes quite rightly what is needed, given the personalities, egos, reputations on the line, and more importantly, the political aims of many, and throw in AS, I do not see it ever happening.
    This is a fight that will only be resolved by the electorate ultimately at the ballot boxes, which is why the media is so important, and the internet.

    See The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome by Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley

  12. DeWitt Payne said

    Um, fearmonger? Can you say semantically loaded ad hominem.

  13. vjones said

    Lucy, good article!

    You mention the (non-science) qualifications of Roger Harabin and Richard Black. How much part does this play? Are non-scientists better to understand and represent science simply to the public, or would a journalist with a scientific background make more of an effort to understand issues? (I have no answer to this, but your site is a good example of the former)

    Surely one of the reasons for the success in promotion of AGW issues is the support it has had indeveloping easy-to-understand concepts and iconic images, all of which which appeal to the sensitivities of the public (remember Futerra Communications’
    Rules of the Game?). Any criticism can be rapidly quashed with the old mantra referring to ‘Peer review’ etc.

    The skeptics have been much less media savvy in this sense and it has made ‘the other side’ harder to present. I don’t so much mean to be critical here (of anyone); I mean that the skeptical side could make it easy for the media (although I suppose the caveat is – if there was the funding to do so).

  14. Non scientists are key to the issue. In listening to a lot of the material produced by the BBC (e.g. the In Our Time series) it is very clear that the non-scientific academic community has a very different view of science than scientists do. There are big issues with weight of evidence, semantic discussion regarding what it published, incorruptibility of proof/evidence and so on. These are, like it or not, the people who make up the majority of the media. If they don’t see that the details are important, an honest debate is impossible and we become mired in the false arguments and beliefs. The way to make progress is to examine the questions carefully and accurately, and understand why the questions are being asked.

  15. Thanks everyone. DeWitt Payne, agreed.

    Xyzlatin – I think I need to write a full article about Asperger’s, I’d like to get the word out re what I’ve learned. I was only ever borderline, suffered all my life, self-diagnosed ten years ago. It’s going to take too long to explain exactly why I (and friends) know that the condition, for me, is basically in the past. It deserves an article because others might get the same help I got.

  16. Yarmy said

    From the BBC report:

    “There may be now a broad scientific consensus that climate change is definitely happening,…”

    Here’s part of the problem. It’s a fundamental misconception that climate sceptics (whatever that means) don’t think climate change is happening, or even that humans are influencing it. Climate change has always been happening. Does anyone really believe we have no influence at all? (Not just CO2, but land use change, deforestation, atmospheric aerosols, etc).

    ” and that it is at least predominantly man-made.”

    The implication being that it might well be entirely man-made, which is plainly nonsense.

  17. Espen said

    Lucy: Thank you for an excellent article.

    But as specializations proliferate, the number of experts in each specialization grows smaller. Traditionally, the peer-review system depends on unprejudiced review; but the Climategate emails have shown a corruption of the whole peer-review process, where a tiny cabal of experts took it over, to promote their own secondrate “science” and exclude anything that challenged the validity of that “science”, whether or not the challenge was sound.

    Do you think this “fragmentation” of Science can explain why the climatologists could continue to use their unsound statistical methods? Or was it scientific courtesy – that experts in other fields (most notably statisticians) who saw that these flaws didn’t want to intrude into another scientific branch? Or (and this is worse) was it because most of them believed in the conclusions, and didn’t want to “damage the cause”? Or – were there more scientists, also from academic institutions, speaking out than we actually noticed, but they didn’t have as much time to devote as e.g. Jeff or Steve McIntyre, or a good medium (like to publish their concerns?

  18. Captain Cosmic said

    I agree – wonderful article. Two sides becoming more and more entrenched and reduced to silly bickering and nit-picking all the time. It’s enough to make you glaze over sometimes. I think less hostility would allow the opportunity for a dignified ‘exit strategy’ for individuals feeling trapped in either camp. I’m sceptical of the science but I’m not a Sceptic – I don’t want to be in a mindless big gang waving sticks at the other lot!

    PS I’m an Aspie too.

  19. See that small phrase “some of the best scientific experts”. Let me raise the volume a little. SOME OF THE BEST SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS. Not my personal opinion, but it’s the opinion of the BBC, and it may well have been an honest opinion.

    By odd coincidence, TonyN of the Harmless Sky blog and I have been digging into this claim for a couple of years, but have met with resistance from the BBC and other public bodies. We have been able to establish that there were not many scientists at the meeting, perhaps as few as one.

    So it may well not have been an honest opinion.

  20. Bishop Hill, very interesting. I’m deliberately giving the benefit of the doubt, to help lower the insults and help raise the possibility of debate. I think you should think about an FOI request – or put the word out for someone to make this request. Then AFAICS we take the high moral ground – trying to reopen debate, but also recognizing the importance of data relevant to public policy issues, that these should be in the public domain.

    Xyzlatin, I’m drafting an article. You will be amazed. well I hope.

  21. Lucy

    I’m onto about my sixth FoI request on this. The last one, which should prove the point is currently on appeal with the Information Commissioner. There are potential breaches of the Act involved.

  22. Chuckles said

    Espen, I don’t think specialisation per se has too much to do with it, or at least not from the ‘superscience’ perspective.

    Lucias ‘the blackboard’ has a post on an extended interaction with Michael Tobis over relating to the general public, and the mysteries thereof.
    It is a huge thread (and has follow up threads), but well worth mining for a lot of very surprising insights into many mindsets.
    I am not going to even try to summarise, but I commend it for anyone who wishes a better understanding of the whole spectrum of opinions in this debate. (Lucy, you may want to do the same?).
    I mention it because there was one insight that I think is pertinent to your question, which was a part of a comment by Michael Tobis, describing climate science and the disinclination to share code and data(32107):

    “You will find these behaviors do not exist in medicine or engineering, from which quarters many of the complaints we get emerge. This makes perfect sense. The culture of climate science emerged as a pure science, mostly curiosity-driven. As far as the culture at large was concerned, it was an affordable eccentricity, not an important branch of research. When this field discovered matters of serious importance, it became an applied and controversial discipline with the traditions of a modest and collegial scientific backwater. “

  23. Espen said

    Chuckles, thank you for that quote. That’s reasonable enough, but I’m still puzzled about what happened to this scientific subculture when it suddenly “moved into the limelight”. Why didn’t scientists from other disciplines cry out louder about the abuse of statistics? As a student, I assisted a professor in zoology in a biometric project (using several methods, not PCA, but e.g. stepwise regression and cluster analysis). There are enough biologists who know how to do statistics properly, and there are zillions of books and journals describing methods for dealing with data that is quite similar to what the hockey stick team works with. Why did so few of the statistically savvy biologists cry out? Maybe too few cared to notice, because they were happy with the political consequences of the IPCC work? Or maybe it simply didn’t occur to them that it could be that wrong, so they didn’t care to look closer at it.?
    One thing which strikes me, is that quite a few of those who did “smell a rat” here, are software developers (I’m too) and some do work related to the stock market (I do – and the whole voodo of techical analysis etc. has probably made me quite aware of the pitfalls of applied statistics).

  24. Ruhroh said

    I got a great book for Christmas;

    ‘Look Me In The Eye’

    about the life of a late-diagnosed aspie.

    More than a few ‘wow, that’s just like me’ moments…
    but enough ‘no way would I ever do that’ to be comforting.
    I’ve got enough syndrome-labels already thanks…

    BTW, the folks with DID (formerly multipersonality disorder)
    refer to non-DID persons as “Singletons”…


  25. Jimchip said


    I’m going to violate a CA policy and pile on…Excellent post!

    I want to add that introverts and aspies share a lot of the same ‘traits’, perhaps with the notion that with introverts it’s a preference and aspies don’t have a choice wrt to some issues. One could consider something like the Meyers-Briggs assessment (regardless of its scientific value) and see that INTJ is a hook that Asperger scientists and introvert scientists can both hang on. Aspies may be more sensitive to some issues. Introverts don’t want 1000 meetings, either, and might have ‘stage fright’ before a presentation, too. Introverts also don’t prefer to be Department Chair (heck, let the extro go to the meetings and report back). There is always an issue of trust in the myriad of social interactions (I’ve always liked that email/social netowrking graphic.) Regardless, there are a lot of introverts in science.

    I want to move ahead and get beyond the situation that you aptly describe. However, there is one CRUtape email that helps to fill out some recent history . I mention that as an exmaple of the attitudes expressed by some and why some others might get upset. Steve and Anthony are fully capable of dealing with stuff like that but others need to deal with it, too. Anyway, I say to everyone, “Get over it, just like Lucy says” 🙂

    What has been shown to have happened in an area of climate science has happened before in other disciplines. Sometimes it’s not a scandal so the ‘climategate scandal’ may have more public scrutiny. Two specific cases are Peter Duesenberg and a recent group of stem cell scientists. A few brief comments on those specifics:

    “Those who should be most free and able to investigate and report the real science are now the ones who have been most threatened into silence or drilled into conformity – tenured academics.”

    Peter H. Duesberg, Ph.D, Professor at Berkeley, is a virologist and invented an oncogene theory for cancer origins and has current opinions regarding HIV/AIDS. Peter didn’t need to retract anything but after years of more research he changed his opinion on his own oncogene theory of cancer. Maybe think aneuriploidy now. The response: NIH and a bunch of the $50 Billion cancer-gene industry yanked his funding and he will never get another dime from them. BTW, he’s doing OK.

    There was a recent letter to a journal by reputable stem-cell researchers claiming that a small group have been ‘managing’ to keep different opinions out of the literature.

    Lastly, “Reflections – how to protect the integrity of science” may use issues like ‘climategate’ as a good core example but all disciplines and agencies need to think about the issues of transparency and civility…Just like Lucy says.

  26. […] Great post, here’s the rest: AGW: Restoring courtesy to the debate […]

  27. Chuckles, can you give me the Lucia url?

    Bishop, commiserations. I’ve just emailed someone else who asked Richard Black to amend an article of his on Steig, in the light of CA posts… and suggested he try again, in the light of recent events.

    Ha! I’m going to email Roger Harrabin, tell him about this thread at tAV, invite him to comment if he wishes, and request notice of anything he writes elsewhere as follow-up.

  28. Jimchip, thanks, I value your comments. I’ve sent my stuff off to Parliament, whether it will be binned I don’t know, but amongst other things I wrote that I perceived there was a need for legislation to protect the integrity of science. Your example of Prof Duesberg is a classic of this IMO. Having said which, I wish they would /could research the holistic approaches to cancer, from the holistic approach’s own best evidence.

  29. Chuckles said

    @Lucy S,

    Here you go:


    No idea quite frankly. I would imagine a likely answer would be that the field suddenly went from nothing to everything in a very short space of time and no-one really knew what hit them.
    People suddenly needed e.g. a global temperature, and someone cobbled one together. It seemed to work and that was that. Get on with the next thing.
    6 months or two years later no one has any idea how it was done, but yup, it works, and that’s how we’ve always done it…..
    Repeat as necessary.

    Plausible? Sure. Correct? Who knows.

    As Stan Kelly Bootle said of One-Off Programs – They’re what you call a Standard Utility before you run it the second time.

  30. comdenom said

    Great article! If the capitalist plot doesn’t work, this debate can all be put to rest by following my Plan “B”, its a short read but demonstrates how they can put up or shut up.

  31. Espen said


    I finally managed to at least glance through most of that monster thread, and I’m left with the impression that what Michael Tobis and is doing, isn’t really science. I mean, he didn’t really fully withdraw his statement that “Science is not data. We are not collecting fingerprints. We are describing what is actually happening. The data are of course a consistency check, but this isn’t a question of data at all.”. Wow! That last sentence could just as well be rewritten as “we know our AGW god is right, and the data just confirms our gospel”.

    Also, he seems to be completely ignorant to the quite easy to understand problems with the Mann upside-down proxies. This man doesn’t make the impression of a scientist, he makes the impression of a priest in new age quasi church. His rude comments on mothers and giving birth to more than his recommended number of children makes me furious. It’s very interesting to see one of these “scientists” reveal himself as an extremist, anti-humanist green. As a young man, I was quite interested in the “deep ecology”. Nowadays I think that it’s really dangerous stuff, in its anti-humanism it’s just a small step away from pure nihilism.

  32. TonyN said


    You might like to browse through some of the 23 posts listed in this category on my blog. They all concern the BBC’s coverage of AGW, and most of them are about my attempts over the last three years to find out who the ‘best scientific experts’ who their climate change seminar and helped define their editorial policy on this matter were.

    or for a quick summary, just try this one:

    You may then realise why Bishop Hill and I have come to rather different conclusions about the BBC to yours. Attempting to bring dialogue instead of discord to the climate debate is laudable, but in this case I fear that it is most unlikely to achieve anything. The problem at the BBC is not confined to one or two reporters.

    There appears to be a deeply embedded prejudice against any kind of AGW scepticism that extends not only to the highest levels of the executive but to the BBC Trust as well. That is not a situation which is likely to be changed by dialogue or any time soon.

    Because one reporter is conducting a charm offensive at the moment that does not mean that attitudes have changed. Sooner or later the BBC will have to fall into line with the rest of the MSM and public opinion in the way that they report AGW, otherwise they will risk undermining confidence in their news and current affairs output still further and look foolish at the same time.

    I am not surprised that their staff at the sharp end are already attempting to woo those who until recently they have been prepared to brand as climate deniers and flatearthers. With the MSM now willing to print stories culled from the sceptical bogosphere on a wholesale basis, sceptics need the ear of the BBC far less than BBC needs to be on the sceptics list of outlets for breaking news.

  33. Tonyb said


    Nice post, but I tend to side with TonyN in #32 and indeed have contributed to his thread. The BBC have in my opinion deliberately sidelined any alternative view, and more than that have deliberately taken a position far beyond their remit.

    My post here;

    mentions the BBC’s culpability in promoting the AGW proposition, which seems to have been part of a deliberate policy to cosy up to the Governments position i.e. the BBC has taken up a political position.

    So the BBC not knowing enough to take a view and therefore siding with ‘informed scientific opinion’ is one thing, but delberately setting out to take a political/environmentalist viewpoint is quite another.


  34. Very good contribution; I’ve learned a lot; thanks.
    Your point about courtesy reminds me of something Galileo said, about the Copernicans being courteous and open about problems, and the anti-Copernicans intolerant; that was important for him.
    It is all part of ‘demeanour of the witness’, and it had its effect in the Wakefield case. I am reluctant to put it all down to personality types; there are very strong institutional factors as well that encourage selfishness and intolerance. Maybe what Scientific Method needs most urgently now is to to take lessons from Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication.
    This will be especially important if we do move towards ‘science by the people’ and raise up a crop of demogogues. I’ll deal with as many of these issues as I can in my brief piece in The Guardian next week.

  35. Chuckles said

    @31 Espen,

    Although it’s very heavy going, that thread is one of the only ones I’ve found where one can get a range of viewpoints and attitudes. The ‘See you an ad-hominem, and raise you an appeal to authority’ threads are not very useful.Others like the analyses at, I simply find disturbing.

    As to what it all means, I’m an engineer, not a sociologist, and I was raised to treat people the way I’d like to be treated.

    I think the original quote I posted can cover a lot of it, the academic ‘small town’ effect can be quite strong, or this might be useful to you:

  36. actually thoughtful said

    I like the name of this thread – but I think the actual discussion moved too far away from title – courtesy in the debate.

    I have been on AGW proponent sites and seen people with legitimate questions get crushed and dismissed. I can’t imagine that person feels like they now understand the issues any better. I have also seen some excellent discussions, presentations of points that argue AGAINST the AGW position and/or strengthen particular aspects of the total position.

    I have been on skeptic sites and seen people with legitimate questions get crushed and dismissed. I can’t imagine that person feels like they now understand the issues any better. I have also seen some excellent discussions, presentations of points that argue AGAINST the the skeptic position and/or strengthen particular aspects of the total position.

    So I humbly (ha!) submit the following suggestions for civil and courteous posts:

    [Before I lose folks who know not everyone will follow these suggestions – you can either ignore someone who doesn’t “play by the rules” – or link to the “rules” and point out which rule you think they have violated – then ignore them ;)]

    1. Assume the person you are talking to is intelligent enough to take in your point. Specifically address their counter point. If you agree or have no counter – SAY SO!

    2. If you disagree, say exactly what you disagree with and why.

    3. Agree to a common set of data and/or first principles

    4. Avoid attacking the person – focus on the argument.

    5. If someone counters your point with facts, data and logic – tell them exactly where you thing their logic chain breaks down.

    6. Use terms of (at least) minimal respect. I believe “AGW proponent” and “skeptic” are reasonably descriptive, non-pejorative terms. As opposed to “warmist” or “anti-science” or whatever. This extends to all aspects of the argument.

    7. Use the most charitable interpretation of the argument presented. You are not in a debate – you are trying to persuade and/or learn about an important issue. So if someone says “CO2 is 97% man made” you could respond by saying “your facts are wrong” – or you could say “I think you meant 97% natural causes” and respond to that (of course they might actually believe what they wrote – that is covered by suggestion 3).

    8. Both sides of the issue should have a common arguments page – to save the typing and the endless repeating of the basic points. I know the AGW side has a site ( that presents many skeptic claims and the AGW proponent response. Can someone point out the equivalent for the AGW claims and skeptic response?

    9. Anyone who brings up an old issue can be directed to those two sites and then more time can be spent on reasonably interesting discussion of where the argument breaks down or new data and perspectives – rather then endlessly starting at ground zero on solar minimums, water vapor, statistical methods, El Nino/La Nina cycles, etc.

    10. Minimize appeals to logical fallacies – yes if we all start with the same (hopefully correct) data and use valid logic we should all come to the same conclusions. But rather than endless pages of “you have constructed a strawman”, “the fallacy of appeal to authority”, “you moved the goal post”, “correlation does not equal causality” – just refer them to the common arguments site and the argument they need to be familiar with – it is just more efficient, to save nothing of all the time and aggravation of correcting their blatant ignorance (yes, tongue is firmly in cheek).

    So how about it – can we come up with a list of ground rules that both keep the debate civil AND move the discussion forward? I would like to think that the 10 rules I’ve suggested would solve all the worlds problems, but (as I sadly live in the real world…) how about some discussion and revisions so we have a communally accepted set of ground rules?

    or [sheepishly – (suddenly realizing this has probably already been done – can you point them out to me)]

    Note – civil discussions are not as FUN as ripping someone a new orifice for presenting something so STUPID in public. But pretend that you actually care about the issue and want people to understand the truth – isn’t that worth giving up the visceral satisfaction of trashing intellectual bozos?


  37. PhilJourdan said

    Actually Thoughtful- the problem with the answer page you link for the AGW side is it is mostly composed of strawmen (so that they can easily debunk them). I am sure there are a few out there where that would be helpful, but for most, the questions asked and answered on that site are what the AGW side would LIKE the skeptic side to believe, not what they actually do believe.

    I think that is the reason the Skeptic side does not have a similar page – they are not bothering to contruct strawmen so they can easily debunk them.

  38. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: PhilJourdan (Feb 12 16:11),

    Back in the dim reaches of the past when the author known as Robert Jordan was still alive, there was (and likely still is) a USENET newsgroup (rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan) devoted specifically to those books. Associated with that group was a FAQ (see here) (this was also pre-Wiki) that was a marvel to me. Every unresolved plot line that anybody cared about was presented and answers that had been suggested were presented with arguments for and against until there was definitive evidence published in a later book in the series to resolve it. What that did for the newsgroup was to save bandwidth (back in the dial-up days when it mattered) by allowing one to point any n00b bringing up a question that had already been discussed to death to the relevant chapter and verse (not to mention raining fire on his head for not reading the FAQ in the first place).

    There is a need for this sort of thing in climate science. Wikipedia could have fulfilled this need but for William Connolly. He ruthlessly edits out any challenge rather than allowing it to be listed and then provide a rebuttal with the opportunity for both sides to refine and rephrase. So no such animal exists, unfortunately. The current response to any challenge is either to censor, ridicule or say Read The @#^& Literature (RTFL), which is rather pointless when a lot of that literature is not freely available and written at a level that is not accessible to the general public. There’s lots of information out there, but it’s so scattered that it’s not very easy to find and the signal to noise ratio for when using search engines is low. As I’ve said before, it’s a lot easier to find a well-written, accessible and affordable book on String Theory (Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, e.g.) than it is to find one on Climate Science.

  39. DeWitt Payne said

    I think the spam filter ate my comment.

  40. Hello! I hadn’t seen your essay – so much out there! It seems that you anticipated my Guardian piece! You may have seen how I have been demonized for Post-Normal Science as the root of all the corruption. Some time ago I made a suggestion for dialogue, and circulated it among influential friends. It got nowhere, but a friend in Denmark is trying for the same sort of thing. I have a more general interest in ‘non-violent science’ (??a contradiction in terms??). I don’t know anything about you, unless you are the actress; but if you are interested we might discuss this. Anyway, thanks for providing that voice of sanity.

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