the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Winning and Losing

Posted by Jeff Id on October 21, 2010

I need a break from reading model papers.  Tom fuller recently made the point that skeptics are winning the AGW discussion, at least temporarily.  It’s an interesting concept, victory in science by those who question.

__What is won?

__What was lost?

I’m sure that some will agree, that on average through history skeptics never win,

Or is it that on average skeptics always win?

As each scientifically contested point is demonstrated by reason,

_____and people become convinced,

___________is that a win for a skeptic or someone else?

Is it just the nature of humanity or is it the nature of logical biology?

What if models are perfect, then who won?  What if they have error, who won then?

What if the theory of relativity is proven, or what if it is dis-proven, who won?, the one who believed from the beginning or the one who asked a question?

Jeff, you’re boring me,  if nothing can be won or lost then who ever loses the questions.

the altruist.

Maybe Tom is right……..

35 Responses to “Winning and Losing”

  1. Jeff,

    In my mind, the AGW debate exposed a threat to our basic freedom that is more important than the usual ego battle between scientists.

    Czech President Vaclav Klaus seemed to agreein his address before The Global Warming Policy Foundation on Monday.

    According to the news report in the Prague Daily Monitor, Klaus said:

    1. “Massive propaganda on global warming” had been launched by the U.N. summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

    2. Environmentalists had managed to discover a new “brave cause,” but they were trying to limit human freedom on behalf of “something” that was more important and more brave than very earthly lives.

    3. “For someone who spent most of his life in the ‘brave’ era of the Communist regime, this is impossible to accept.”

    4. “The general acceptation of global warming dogma is one of the costliest and least democratic mistakes of recent time. Communism was the previous mistake of this kind.”

    5. “This coalition of powerful special interests is threatening all of us.”

  2. Mark said

    Science is not about winning or losing. It is about advancing knowledge.

    As I recall, a scientific hypothesis is a statement of what you hope to prove,or disprove, by observation.
    A scientific theory is a scientific hypothesis that has withstood repeated challenges, and has not been, as yet, dis-proven.
    A scientific fact is, to my knowledge, unknown. It should be able to explain all the observations, and predict the results of controlled observations (“experiments”), or uncontrolled observations.

    Science is never won or lost. It is only advanced.

  3. Rick Bradford said

    Science may not be about winning or losing, but politics is all about winning and losing, and this is a political battle being fought, as Klaus points out.

  4. Sam said

    Skeptics throughout history have usually won (been correct), but that’s the very reason you haven’t heard of their victory. Who remembers every idea that was proven wrong? History remembers the ideas which were eventually proven right. I’m sure that innumerable false theories have been proposed then proven false, and subsequently forgotten entirely.

  5. Mark said

    Sam said
    October 22, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Skeptics throughout history have usually won (been correct), but that’s the very reason you haven’t heard of their victory. Who remembers every idea that was proven wrong? History remembers the ideas which were eventually proven right. I’m sure that innumerable false theories have been proposed then proven false, and subsequently forgotten entirely.

    We are talking about science, aren’t we?
    If we are not, then I can only think that you are crazy.
    In science, not being able to be falsified is a good thing.
    In science, not being able to be falsified doesn’t mean you are right. It just means you may not be wrong.

    What you are arguing, is that you are right, no matter what.
    It is also good that you are arguing for a hypothesis that through observation, controlled or otherwise, through many decades, can’t explain, or predict, anything. The reason it is forgotten is because it can’t explain or predict, anything.

    It sounds to me like you are saying that you can predict the weather using chicken entrails.
    Personally, I prefer crow entrails.
    You are a heretic.

  6. Pat Moffitt said

    Before any celebrations begin – take a stroll back to the pre-internet days and acid rain. Skeptics “won” that one too. The final NAPAP report said most of the claims were overblown– EPA suppressed the report until the smoke had cleared– Congress didn’t care to read or talk about the findings- and passed the legislation anyway. The lead scientist Ed Krug was smeared by EPA and blacklisted. (Try to find the final NAPAP report). The joke at the end of acid rain was that there would be no NAPAP for climate change– it wasn’t a joke- we farmed it out to the UN– Gore fired Happer and declared the debate over.

    Go back further- DDT the issue that started the environmental movement and the issue debated in months of hearings. The CDC testified:
    “A decision to ban the production of DDT in the U.S, would result in a denial of the use of DDT to most of the malarious areas of the world. The available evidence on the very slight risks, if any, does not justify the U.S. making a unilateral decision that would so
    adversely affect the future economic and social well-being of so many other nations of the world”

    The judge agreed:
    “DDT is not a carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenichazard to man. The uses of DDT do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds, or other wildlife. The evidence in this proceeding supports the conclusion that there is a present need for the essential uses of DDT” Judge Edmund Sweeney
    April 26, 1972 40 CFR 164.32

    Despite DDT being cleared EPA chief Rucklehauss overturned the decision on an administrative ruling without having attended the hearing or reading the transcript. Rucklehauss refused to give a reason. Scientists were smeared after this one as well (Dr Jukes)

    Understand that even if the AGW paradigm “loses” it has already spun off programs within the regulatory agencies that will not go away— the reason for the programs will simply change from climate to energy efficiency. And the ideology that dreamed up AGW will remain entrenched in the regulatory decision making apparatus. And there will be skeptics that will be punished.

  7. Greg. Cavanagh said

    The argument may be won or lost, the theory remains untouched.

    But as Pat Moffit points out, moving goal posts make a true win pretty much impossible.

  8. ArndB said

    # Tom fuller recently made the point that skeptics are winning.

    My doubt is high in this respect. It is not the machinery the AGW science has, but much more the aspect that skeptics questions are widely confined to a mere reflection to mainstream climate science.
    That could and needs to be changed. At WUWT ( The Thomas Fuller post on 20.Oct.)
    Jeff Id says: October 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm, i.a.
    ____“The ocean thermal mass will save us from anything severe, and toss us under the proverbial bus when it experiences something severe.”, which I like, in principle, as it applies only in the case of a warming world. Over the last millions of years the average warming never succeeded a few degrees higher.

    The real danger, and which can come extreme quickly, is the very low average temperature of the oceans with lower than 4°C. As long as we do not acknowledge that “CLIMATE is the continuation of the oceans by other means”,, and try to understand, which human activities may induce changes in the ocean structure that has an impact on the short term weather and longer weather (climate), the surprise may be one day big but to late. At that time there is nothing to reveres a cooling trend.

    Good questions are not those the questioned believes that he has already answered them (e.g. Thomas Fuller), but those which the questioned has not seen, although he should have, for example, explaining the two only climatic shifts since the end of the LIA, namely:
    The continuous rise of temperatures since about 1850 had been only interrupted twice, namely:
    ___by the first Arctic warming from 1919 to 1940 affecting the whole Northern Hemisphere (that originated from the ocean , discussed at: and
    ___the a period of three decades global cooling from 1940 to the mid 1970s, which started with three extreme winters in Europe (1939/40 to 1941/42)
    (that originated from the regional seas (1939-1942) with possible further contribution by the NH oceans since Pearl Harbor since December 1941, discussed at: .
    In both cases the timing with the two World Wars was very, very close, and some ocean and seas saw a lot of devastating naval activities .

  9. Mike S. said

    Jeff, after reading that and trying to follow it, I’d suggest you get some more sleep. Turn off your alarm clock and sleep in. Your world will be more coherent in the morning.

  10. Jeff Id said

    Just having a little fun Mike.

    You can only pound so much math into your head at one time. I’ve been doing math at work all day followed by math at night.

    When people say ‘skeptics are winning’ I imagine something different than what Tom may. Doesn’t everyone win when understanding is clarified – except the altruist?

    If it is religion, as some say we are fighting with, then yeah skeptics are winning. But that just means that skeptics include all the open minded scientists as well.

  11. Hoi Polloi said

    Well, another couple of harsh winters, increase of Arctic sea ice extent, another low hurricane summer, no big floods and nobody talks about AGW anymore, I guess…

  12. stan said

    Skeptics are winning. See e.g. Judith Curry. The overwhelming majority of Skeptics (despite all kinds of differences on the science) rally around the idea that the certainty represented by the IPCC consensus is greatly overstated. In a nutshell, that’s the essence of the argument. The alarmists are saying “science is settled” and skeptics are saying “it’s not”.

    In the last year, a whole lot of scientists have come to recognize that the IPCC and the rest of the alarmist assessments and published papers are a whole lot weaker than they realized. Millions of citizens are getting the same message. Exposure is a great disinfectant. Incompetence and corruption abounds. Exaggeration and outright dishonesty is far too prevalent from the alarmist camp.

    I suspect that there are a whole lot of people who becoming increasingly embarassed that they bought the Algore hype without questioning it. There’s a backlash building. Skeptics — those arguing that the science is very uncertain — are winning the argument, inside science and outside with the public.

  13. kim said

    A. Why did the chicken lay entrails in the road?
    B. Was he afraid?
    A. No, it was to feel what was coming down the road. Do you see it?
    B. No, how would that help rather than hurt?
    A. Here, let me disembowel you; we’ll find out the truth.

  14. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Science is not about winning or losing. It is about advancing knowledge.

    A big amen to Mark on that comment. I come to these blogs to learn and find evidence for the truth. I could care less about someone(s) out there considering which “side” is or has won or lost. It is that caring that gets us into those meaningless discussions with partisan overtones that, in my opinion, take away from the learning experience that these blogs have the potential to be.

    Sorry, Mark, that I took your profound comment and turned it into a sermon, but I have strong feelings on this matter.

  15. Bad Andrew said

    A battle may be won or lost, but the war has no end that we can establish. If the Global Warming front dissolves, another will take it’s place. Now, I’m not saying that cease-fires cannot occur sometimes. I’m saying “The price of freedom is ETERNAL vigilance.”


  16. Don B said

    #2 “Science is never won or lost. It is only advanced.” The advancement is seldom in a straight line, or quickly. The continental drift – plate tectonics ideas took a few decades to be accepted and refined, for example.

    AGW has been a special case. The IPCC’s mission was to accumulate evidence that mankind’s activities caused climate change. They began with a conclusion and sought to justify it. Herding, job and career security, observation bias, the desire to save the planet, etc kept the momentum going.

    Science will win, and advance, and I believe the tide is turning.

  17. Charlie A said

    Political debates are won or lost.

    Scientific debates may temporarily appear to be won or lost, but eventually science moves forward and “truth” wins, making the debates just interesting footnotes in the history of science.

    I’m an optimist regarding the science. The science will improve over the long term. Not smoothly, not without conflict, not without errors along the way. But it will progress.

    I’m not so optimistic about the politics of climate science.

  18. Beth Cooper said

    Science is NEVER settled. As Karl Popper said, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps,discarding our falsified theories,or models:-),along the way.

  19. Gary said

    Winning and losing is about politics and who gets to rule. Discovery of scientific truth can be helped or hampered by the winners. In the end, though, the truth will out, but often after much bruising and abuse.

  20. Sean said

    The winning or losing of public support for climate change legislation these days has less to do with arguments and more to do with tactics. When support was strong in the public, AGW promoters took the position that the science was settled, the debate was over and that it was time to railroad a bill through congress. That tactic, while I think it was wrong, at least made sense if you have peoples hearts and minds on your side. However the public moved on to more pressing issues and relevations come forward everyday that the settled science is not settled yet the AGW promoters continue with the same tactic against a more skeptic public. The presumption that climate theory is correct so no point to debate is now backfiring. The refusal to debate by the AGW promoters is seen by the public as an indefensible position. This leads to even greater public skepticism of the “consensus” position.

  21. thomaswfuller said

    Science is what it is. I was referring to more mundane political battles. Note that I believe the political battle will last another 30 years, and the balance of power will change repeatedly during that time.

    I too am curious (in a layman-like way) about the timing of the shifts in temperature trends. In 1945 there were 5 million automobiles on the road. Today there are more than 800 million. Who has looked carefully at impacts of nuclear testing on the climate, and have they published? Everybody keeps saying that aerosols are poorly understood in terms of quantity. Is someone trying to figure that out? The explosion of aviation is also convenient temporally…

    Skeptics are winning political and media battles this season. They should be careful–Al Gore’s replacement is liable to be much better, as is James Hansen’s.

  22. Brian H said

    Re: thomaswfuller (Oct 22 15:00),
    Are there much better than Gore and Hansen on the CAGW side? Judging from Mann and Jones, I’m inclined to doubt it.

  23. Howard said

    Skeptics have influenced climate research. Some of it for the better (cleaning up data and statistics), some of it for the worse (political hardball). Climate science is at a stage where it is too early to make any meaningful predictions for the future and a comprehensive theory of natural and anthropogenic forcings and feedbacks.

    In that sense, victory is still a long way off. Seeing Gavin posting here without emotional and infantile jibes back and forth is a great sign that the skeptic influence is having an overall positive effect. If it turns out that Gavin was right about everything afterall and the skeptics are convinced, that will be a victory as well.

  24. Pat Moffitt said

    Science does not operate outside of policy in the environmental field (funding realities). It is also possible to advance political ideologies by nothing other than careful framing via funding controls over what scientific questions are asked. Science is important to public policy issues only to the extent that it influences public opinion. There are numerous scientific mythhs spun by NGOs that are flat out wrong – science is useless if scientists don’t stand up and say its myth—- and in large part they don’t. It won’t happen until it is seen as safe or advantageous and it hasn’t been for decades.

    A battle over string theory can make or break a career but is limited to a small academic circle. Say the wrong thing in the environmental field and you run the risk of concentrated attacks of interests with billions of dollars of cash flow and staff trained in the arts of ritual defamation.

    Claims were recently made that a warming world would bring malaria into the US. Every public health scientist and entomologist knows that the disease was endemic in the US up til 1940 and the mosquito that carries it survives quite well to the sub arctic. The silence when NGOs made thses claims was deafening.

    Many see climate scientist as a new phenomena. This type of science has been occurring for 40 years– just the internet is new.

  25. Jeff Id said

    Tom your original post was well taken, it just inspired some writing.

  26. John Norris said

    You are a skeptic if you don’t buy into the conventional wisdom. Once the conventional wisdom changes, you win. Of course your reward is you lose your skeptic credentials; you become part of the mainstream. Example: The first round earthers were skeptical of the flat earth story. When everyone else came around the skeptics won their war; but they lost their target.

  27. Mike S. said

    Just having a little fun Mike.

    Me too, but I see I forgot to put in the smiley. Oops. 🙂

  28. AnyColourYouLike said

    Over and above what may have been won and lost specifically in the climate debate, an important development is surely the critical influence of the blogosphere on the idea of elite scientific “consensus”. The public perception of a super-smart cabal of researchers, who’s theories are too arcane to be challenged by anyone working outside their own small field of expertise and accepted practice, has been fractured by the work of talented “amateurs” like McKintyre and Watts. Also holding the suspect editorial policies of prestigious journals such as Nature and Science to account has disseminated more widely than ever before a debate about the meaning of “settled science”.

    If this serves to focus the mind of lazy scientists and clean up sloppy practice in university departments, it is a significant and “democratising” addition to the “peer” review process. In itself, this is a kind of victory, especially given the tendency of most main-stream media science commentators to be mere echo-chambers for the consensus.

    Sorry if all this seems to be stating the obvious, but I see the implications of this “blog review” process as potentially very far-reaching for scientific advancement.

  29. Brian H said

    Re: AnyColourYouLike (Oct 23 11:24),
    Paricularly relevant, given the ongoing exposé of medical “science”, including “gold standard double-blind” studies.

    hough scientists and science journalists are constantly talking up the value of the peer-review process, researchers admit among themselves that biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through it. Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.” What’s more, the peer-review process often pressures researchers to shy away from striking out in genuinely new directions, and instead to build on the findings of their colleagues (that is, their potential reviewers) in ways that only seem like breakthroughs—as with the exciting-sounding gene linkages (autism genes identified!) and nutritional findings (olive oil lowers blood pressure!) that are really just dubious and conflicting variations on a theme.

    Most journal editors don’t even claim to protect against the problems that plague these studies. University and government research overseers rarely step in to directly enforce research quality, and when they do, the science community goes ballistic over the outside interference. The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly retest each other’s results—except they don’t. Only the most prominent findings are likely to be put to the test, because there’s likely to be publication payoff in firming up the proof, or contradicting it.

    But even for medicine’s most influential studies, the evidence sometimes remains surprisingly narrow. Of those 45 super-cited studies that Ioannidis focused on, 11 had never been retested. Perhaps worse, Ioannidis found that even when a research error is outed, it typically persists for years or even decades. He looked at three prominent health studies from the 1980s and 1990s that were each later soundly refuted, and discovered that researchers continued to cite the original results as correct more often than as flawed—in one case for at least 12 years after the results were discredited.

    The “Scientific Method” works, but you have to do ALL the steps, and lay yourself open to–indeed, invite and welcome–challenge at every step. There is little sign of this among the Consensualists.

  30. Brian H said

    Corr: “Though …”
    More pertinent excerpts:

    Medical research is not especially plagued with wrongness. Other meta-research experts have confirmed that similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics (where the highly regarded economists J. Bradford DeLong and Kevin Lang once showed how a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right). And needless to say, things only get worse when it comes to the pop expertise that endlessly spews at us from diet, relationship, investment, and parenting gurus and pundits. But we expect more of scientists, and especially of medical scientists, given that we believe we are staking our lives on their results. The public hardly recognizes how bad a bet this is. The medical community itself might still be largely oblivious to the scope of the problem, if Ioannidis hadn’t forced a confrontation when he published his studies in 2005.

    In fact, the question of whether the problems with medical research should be broadcast to the public is a sticky one in the meta-research community. Already feeling that they’re fighting to keep patients from turning to alternative medical treatments such as homeopathy, or misdiagnosing themselves on the Internet, or simply neglecting medical treatment altogether, many researchers and physicians aren’t eager to provide even more reason to be skeptical of what doctors do—not to mention how public disenchantment with medicine could affect research funding. Ioannidis dismisses these concerns. “If we don’t tell the public about these problems, then we’re no better than nonscientists who falsely claim they can heal,” he says. “If the drugs don’t work and we’re not sure how to treat something, why should we claim differently? Some fear that there may be less funding because we stop claiming we can prove we have miraculous treatments. But if we can’t really provide those miracles, how long will we be able to fool the public anyway? The scientific enterprise is probably the most fantastic achievement in human history, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to overstate what we’re accomplishing.”

    Of course, in “Climate Science” might = right, so the issue doesn’t arise. LOL

  31. AnyColourYouLike said

    Brian H

    Wow! Thanks for posting that. I suppose we’ve all had our suspicions about the big drugs corporations, but it’s pretty scary to see how contaminated with confirmation bias and outright scientific (and moral)corruption the whole field may have become. When the big bucks (or just your present employer) want you to say something eye-catching and helpful, the consciences of many researchers must be tested to the limit, and I can empathise with that. But what we have then of course is a slow, creeping erosion of real science, and it’s replacement with a culture of advocacy based on half-truths, and sometimes outright fraud.

    My personal view is that climate scientists pretty much believe in what they say, though I think confirmation-bias is rife. And, as we saw from the emails, a sort of clubbish group-think inevitably led to the dubious rationalisation that it was ok (at least to threaten) to destroy data rather than let it be challenged by “outsiders”: a very slippery ethical slope indeed!

    Some lines from The Atlantic caught my eye in this regard, “Not surprisingly, the studies that tend to make the grade are those with eye-catching findings. But while coming up with eye-catching theories is relatively easy, getting reality to bear them out is another matter.” It strikes me that this might well serve as an epitaph to the careers of one or two well-known paleo-climatologists!

  32. Brian H said

    A quibble: your qualification “(at least to threaten)” is way too squishy. These were internal communications within the Team, never intended for other eyes. No “threatening” is involved, just CYA planning.

  33. Brian H said

    And I’m posting this everywhere:

    “Oh, beautiful!
    In an SA article subtly dissing Judith Curry, “Iconoclast”

    Please read it and copy it. An original IPCC reviewer calls it and climate science a fraud. “

  34. Charlie A said

    In Jeff Id’s recent post on the Scientific American article about Judith Curry he used the phrase “Discussions like our recent threads here remind me of university hallways, labs.”

    Who wins and who loses in hallway and lab conversations between colleagues?

    One argument or point of view may win out over another, but all of the participants end up as winners.

  35. As several others have noted above, this is a political battle not a scientific battle.

    Science is advanced by open debate; Hidden political agendas are not!

    The upcoming elections may reveal public opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: