The Bully as Victim, The Real Sceptic as Dogmatist – pointless conversations on Climate

(see if you can spot where I started drinking as I wrote this. Clumsy as usual)

How can you argue with someone who thinks all evidence is a lie or a scam or a conspiracy. You can’t, as you will see…

Like a few of us, I sometimes hold opinions on subjects without holding a phd in them. I have attempted to follow Neil Postman’s advice and cut down my opinions by a third, though I think I should be bolder in my opinion diet and aim for 90% reduction. This is the reason I don’t do political panel shows. I am aware of some of my limitations.
I recently attempted a social media conversation with someone who is less shy and more sure than I when it comes to regular seats in the soft furnishings of a TV studio.
It did not go well. In the past, I have found that some journalists find the slightest questioning approach to be an affront to them tantamount to cyberbullying (I cannot say my skin has not been nano thin at times too). They may use their newspaper platform to deal it out with vigor, but see the amateur as lacking the licence allowing them to publicly oppose.

It was about climate change, so you may have an inkling as to how quickly the descent began.

He is a journalist I am not always in disagreement with. Sometimes I quite like him and many talk of his charm. I noticed a tweet about renewable energy and climate change. I did not, as he accused me, seek it out as I am some climate change doubter heresy hunter. It must have popped up on my timeline as I follow both him and whoever else was in this discussion. I was informed that the internet is awash with barbarous, unmannerly heresy hunters, the Matthew Hopkins of the science community, mercilessly hurling the deniers into ponds and burning twigs at their feet. How anyone has the time, I have no idea. From my experience, I have found quite the opposite, but I would say that, we all notice our bullies and are blind to our bullying. I asked a Met Office worker about the post they received. They said they were hassled from both sides. The “deniers” complain of hysteria, the “warmists” complain at the lack of alarm. The worker did say that the sceptic groups were a little more dipped in vitriol.

I am not an expert on climate change. My position comes from reading a few books (The Weather Makers, The Hot Topic, The Rational Optimist, The Rough Guide to Climate Change etc), meeting a few scientists and Arctic investigators, and sometimes risking an occasional column from one side or the other.

If I am honest, my position, that human output from industrialisation is creating dangerously fast changes to our planet’s climate with carbon dioxide as the prime mover in this, comes from conversations with scientists and my trust in their opinion. Rather than spending many years training to be a climate scientist, I have realised the best I can hope for is by educating myself at least to the point of being able to ask better questions.

The conversation with the journalist and some of his internet companions was an education.

I was naive. I had not known that he had probably written about the lie of climate science before. I tweeted a link that I had quite genuinely found useful when trying to get to grips with climate change.

NASA graphs

I was abruptly met with a graphs prove nothing reply.

I was not trying to prove all of contemporary climate science with some graphs, it was merely that I found these graphs useful as it showed that science has not just said, “we believe CO2 is important in this and we have therefore not thought about any other possibilities”

His main issue at this point was that the climate science position on CO2 was not falsifiable. An interesting question. Here is a blog post that seeks to answer that.

(I sent this to the journalist but he says he has not interest in the ‘warmon’ doctrine. he sees climate science as a dogma yet refuses to read it as he has made his mind up based on, well, you’ll find out)

Remaining naive, I sent this link which is handy in understanding the current comprehension in what is presumed to be going on.

This was deemed patronising, and I was told that he obviously knew it all. I then asked where he had begun on investigating this and what he had found most useful. Answer came there none.

In between, I was told by people that CO2 is good for life on a planet. Indeed it is.
Oxygen is vital too, but 100% is damaging. There are many things that are good for you, but that doesn’t mean that neverending gorging on them won’t have negative effects. (there is talk of plants being healthier and growing seasons longer with increased CO2, though this may also have knock on effects with depletion of water levels and drying of streams)

Some then chipped in with “but there’s always been climate change”.
Again, yes, it seems so, but this is about the speed of change (also, some of the major moments of climate change did not occur when there was a large civilisation of sentient beings. Just because something has happened more than once does not mean I welcome being drowned or burnt or starved). Death is natural, that does not mean that all deaths must be brushed aside as “well, this has always been the way of things”. If your partner is suddenly murdered by a chainsaw wielder would your nonchalance in the naturalness of things dying remain, or would there be a touch of umbrage.

I asked again what the journalists favoured texts in climate change were, and still no answer came.

Another arrived and wrote of the nonsense of climate science. I asked why he believed this.

“some of the brightest minds alive. For every exception you have, I have an email from The University of East Anglia”

I asked who the brightest minds he referred to were and received that odd reply that seems to be used in social media arguments. “why should I tell you, why don’t you find out for yourself”.

A most peculiar way of winning an argument – “oh yeah, you’d like me to tell you how I can prove I’m right wouldn’t you eh? Well, I am not going to. You must prove I’m right”.

Later on, in turned out his great minds were the authors of Superfreakonomics and his argument was based on their one chapter on climate change. I do not deny they are pretty interesting, but why did he say, “great minds” when it would have been quicker to answer, “one chapter of Superfreakonomics”. I asked which emails from East Anglia Climate Change Unit he was referring to. He asked me if I had read them. I replied, “not all, but I did read the ones most referred to in the popular press”. He then wrote that it was up to me to work out which ones somehow destroyed climate science. I explained that I didn’t think any did and he again informed me that it really was my job to prove him right. Later, he used some Latin. This is the faux intellectuals victory cry of defeat. “Haha, bet you don’t know Latin, thus I am right”.

Meanwhile the respected panel show journalist eventually revealed that the reason he knew climate science was bunkum –

“Most persuasive factor has always been the furious heresy-hunting intolerance of the Warmons…..always a sure sign of an argument in difficulty.”

He refuses to read anything about climate change science, but sees that as no hindrance to being enough of an authority to write about it.

This is the strange argument of, “well, the experts are in agreement, so that is fishy.”

I asked for examples of heresy hunting and it turns out, the answer was “you”.

And now I was in an episode of The Prisoner. It was my fault all along.

I found the whole discussion utterly pathetic. I was never rude. I never made a declaration. I just offered some information for him to mull over. Apparently, offering other points of informed opinion is now bullying and cheating and awfully unfair.

I do not consider asking, “why do you believe what you believe?” to someone who is paid to write opinions based on what they believe a gross affront. Seems I am wrong.

This has gone on too long already, so I will cut the rest, and there was much more said that said nothing.

Brian Cox and a huge number of guest musicians, comedians and scientists will be putting on our Christmas Extravaganzas (filled with the usual scientific propaganda), Tickets HERE

I am in Folkestone doing my final solo show of 2015 HERE

And Book Shambles podcast is back. Number one is with Stewart Lee, and Sara Pascoe is up this week. Find it HERE

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30 Responses to The Bully as Victim, The Real Sceptic as Dogmatist – pointless conversations on Climate

  1. ad3r0wb0tham says:

    I once left a simple probing question in the comments section of a (different) Telegraph journalist’s blog post. A post about how he (a confessed non-scientist) was right and 97% of climate scientists are basically either wrong or have some agenda to mislead. My question essentially drew focus to a crack in his argument.

    I also replied to him on Twittter.

    He did three things:
    1. Replied to my tweet with “Blocked!”
    2. Blocked me on Twitter
    3. Deleted (or arranged to have deleted) my blog comment.

    Why, I wonder, do these people get so upset when their ideas are challenged?

  2. Mike Channel says:

    It’s nice for him to be so sure about the truth, and to be so trenchant in his views, and so forthright in defending them.
    If there’s one thing that climate science has taught us it’s that science has said “we thought we were heading one way, so we checked really really hard, and it turns out that the evidence overwhelmingly points the other way. No, really overwhelmingly: it’s quite unexpected even for us terminally-indecisive science types to say this. And, not being funny, we do this for a living.” So there’s no bonus points for anyone like Peter who picks an opinion like a football team and sticks to it. Truth doesn’t work that way. Science doesn’t work that way.
    Perhaps the best thing you can say is that he might also have been drinking, and his irascible views over the last few days could have been founded on that.

  3. geronimo says:

    I do hope this doesn’t seem like bullying, but do you know what the 97% of climate scientists are purported to believe, and how the surveys were done? The first was Doran and Zimmerman (it was here Master’s dissertation). They sent out a questionnaire to 10500, scientists asking to basic questions:

    1. Have temperatures risen since the 1800s
    2. Are humans a minor/major cause of that warming.

    (These are shortened versions of the questions for brevity here, if you dispute them I can provide the slightly longer version)

    Around 3400 scientists responded, quite a number of whom told Ms Zimmerman that you can’t do science by voting it right.. (They’re in here dissertation, and it’s online if you want to plough through it).

    For reasons not clear in the dissertation the 3400 where whittled down to 168 climate scientists, which, again for reasons not known, where whittled down to 79 climate scientists who’d published in the last six months. Of the 79, 77 thought that the temperatures had risen since the 1800s (God only knows how they found 2 publishing climate scientists who believed the temperatures hadn’t risen. For my part I’m assuming they didn’t believe the rise of 0.8C on an average global temperature of 14C was “statistically” significant, but I don’t know). That’s you 97% for the first question 77/79. They ignored the replies of the two scientist for the second question and got 75/77 for their 97%.

    Finally the abstract says: “The objective of our study presented here is to assess the scientific consensus on climate change through an unbiased survey of a large and broad group of Earth scientists.” . Is 79 climate scientists “a large and broad group of Earth scientists”? I don’t think so, but see what they’ve done there? Nobody disagrees with the IPCC that the Earth’s climate is affected by human activities. That’s not the argument and never was, the argument is to what extent it will bring on disasters.

    The most baffling thing about all this is that if you’d asked 100 sceptical scientists (yes there are hundreds) you’d have gotten a 100% response to:

    1. Yes the temperatures have risen
    2. Yes humans must have caused some of this rise.

    I’ll do Cook’s next but leave you with this, temperatures rose throughout the 19th century what could have caused that? While it’s plausible that 5Bn humans beavering away at building things could have put out enough CO2 to raise temperatures it’s not possible for them to have done so in the 19th century. So I wonder what caused that temperature rise? no one knows, no scientists pretend to know.

  4. geronimo says:

    The second 97% report came from the denizens of the SkepticalScience website;

  5. robinince says:

    this month’s Skeptical Inquirer has a breakdown of the climate scientist stats and is far more thorough than the method you have quoted. Seems that is only in print at moment, but should be online soon and I will put a link up as soon as I can.

    • geronimo says:

      The methods I quoted are the ones used to persuade the world, or at least that portion of the world that wants/needs others to believe, that humans are destroying the planet, that they are supported in this belief by 97% of climate scientists. It’s not important to a scientific arguments if 97% believe thet to be true, for these you need “evidence”, usually interpreted as observations/experiments which test the hypothesis.

      If the observations support the hypothesis, either in nature, or in experiment, then it’s “got legs”. It can never be taken as “true” because there are always “unknown unknowns”; science is a balance of probabilities which gives us an approximation of the real world.

      Just recently we’ve been seeing a number of “mainstream” (does that mean not challenging the science as laid out?) scientists waking up to where the fault lines are in the science as seen from the sceptical, or denialist if you’d prefer, perspective. I don’t know, but it seems to me, like much else in life these days, there is a “political” divide, where one side is virtuous and the other are evil – at least from the progressive viewpoint. This gives rise to people making presumptions about the motives of their interlocutors which result in misunderstandings, or assumptions of their actual arguments.

      In this case the “mainstream” scientists appear to have just discovered that sceptics aren’t arguing that CO2 emissions aren’t causing warming, they’re arguing how much the emissions are causing, and the science behind that is, using the technical word “flakey”.

      In other words we can’t separate out the natural warming,which started around 1700, and the warming caused by CO2 which started really after the second world war. The IPCC in AR5 said it was “very likely” that humans caused more than half of the approx 0.5C rise in atmospheric temperature between 1950 and 2000 (there has’t been any statistically important warming since then). But there are no sums we can look at to figure out how they came to that conclusion, (ask your mate Brian Cox, there might be but I can’t find them), it was, like so many things in climate science, an educated guess.

      Another thing the sceptics don’t dispute is that a warming atmosphere will result in more water vapour through ocean degassing. The dispute there is about how much this water vapour will cause temperatures to rise because of what is called “positive” feedback, where increasing water vapour increases the greenhouse effect.

      The IPCC has from day one assessed this increase to be between 1.5C (harmless) and 4.5C (v. bad) with an estimated probability of a temperature rise of 3C (bad). These numbers came from the Charney report of 1979, and were deduced from two computer outputs (remember how powerful computers were in 1979?) one suggested a “sensitivity” (which is used to describe the positive feedback results) of 2C and the other (from James Hansen, the father of the global warming scare, previously scientists like Arrehenius had assumed it would be totally beneficial) estimated the sensitivity at 4C. Charney duly subtract 0.5C from the bottom number and added 0.5C to the top number to come up with the range 1.5C to 4.5C, with a most likely scenario of 3C.

      That range has stood the test of 36 years and £bns spent on climate research. Recent papers, from “mainstream” to “lukewarmers” and through to “deniers” have found through observations that the actual sensitivity may be somewhere in the range between around 1.3C to 2.2C. The IPCC AR5 continued with the range 1.5C to 4.5C but declined to give an estimated probability because there no agreement could be reached.

      Finally, once you get into forecasting the future you’ve moved out of science and into astrology. All the future scenarios from the IPCC are bleak. If there is one definite proof your being bilked it is if people are telling you that the future is always all bad, or all good.

      Nobody knows what the future holds. Malthus’ science was correct, he just failed to understand that human society is an example of a coupled non-linear chaotic system, so we didn’t run out of food because society changed, farming methods improved, the well being of human beings improved, coal drove our trains and ships so more food could be moved around economically, the telegraph, telephone, motor car, improvements in public health and a myriad other parameters of his model changed to make the problem of the production and distribution of food trivial 100 years later (Well trivial compared to 1798). He couldn’t know that, as we can’t know today what changes will happen in the next hundred years.

      We are a little more sophisticated then Malthus in our knowledge of the climate, but not much. I guess we are aware of more parameters, but even a layman can look at climate science and ask questions that can’t answered, except with hand waving.

      I’d like to go on to the policy issues but the life you lead I doubt you’ve got to this paragraph.

      Sceptics are constantly accused of “denying the science” as you can see from the above they’re not denyng the science they disputing some highly disputable scientific hypotheses, while “mainstream” scientist get away with implying they can foretell the state of the climate 50, or even 100, years out. They can’t and they know it and, to be fair, they’ve said so.

      Nobody knows what the future state of the climate is going to be, no one.

      “In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible”

      IPCC TAR WG1

      Nice talking to you hope you don’t feel bullied.

      • jeromedavies says:

        “That range has stood the test of 36 years and £bns spent on climate research. Recent papers, from “mainstream” to “lukewarmers” and through to “deniers” have found through observations that the actual sensitivity may be somewhere in the range between around 1.3C to 2.2C. The IPCC AR5 continued with the range 1.5C to 4.5C but declined to give an estimated probability because there no agreement could be reached.”

        If that is how uninformed you are I won’t bother with the rest.

        There are several more recent papers that all give about 3C.

  6. geronimo says:

    The aptly named “Cook”‘s paper had this abstract:
    “We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.”

    Which broke down to:

    11944 abstracts (1991-2011) were reviewed by Cook et al.
    7930 abstracts were excluded for expressing no opinion. 66%
    3896 abstracts agreed humans caused some warming. 32%
    64 abstracts stated that humans caused most warming 0.5%
    42 abstracts stated humans caused most warming since 1950* 0.3%
    0 abstracts stated there would be man-made catastrophes 0%

    You might want to here what a couple of scientists, one, Professor Richard Tol, an economist who believes in dangerous climate change, and one ‘Mike’ Hulme is Professor of Climate and Culture in the Department of Geography at King’s College London. He was formerly professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, who also is concerned, rather than “alarmed” about climate change.

    “The paper is a treasure trove of how-not-to lessons for a graduate class on survey design and analysis: the sample was not representative, statistical tests were ignored, and the results were misinterpreted.”

    Richard Tol Professor of economics at the University of Sussex and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He has been involved in the IPCC since 1994.

    “The “97% consensus” article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country that the energy minister should cite it.”

    Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

    The 97% papers are political they’re designed to give a soundbite with the authority of “peer reviewed” papers. I don’t doubt that there are a majority of scientists who are concerned about climate change, that’s human nature if there are impending “disasters” but they are no more qualified to tell us the future than those priests who read birds’ entrails in days of your. And they’ve already admitted that. What we are getting from the scientists about the future state of the climate are educated guesses from unvalidated models.

    I hope you believe me, on the 97% that is, but if you don’t go and check what I’ve told you for inaccuracies rather than just dismissing it and continuing to spread false informaton.

    • ad3r0wb0tham says:

      Clearly there is uncertainty in any predictive model. I personally believe (as a non-expert who reads a lot of lay science) that it’s highly likely that humans are having a warming effect on the climate. I would never claim to be 100% certain of it, but it of course depends on ‘how much’ warming. Neither would climate scientists claim to be absolutely certain of some quantifiable effect.

      What troubles me is that the climate sceptics we tend to hear offer up a kind of triumphalist conclusion that they are right, and that any debate is over. And they often appear pleased with this, like it is some sort of competition that they have won.

      I on the other hand would be overjoyed for humans’ effect on the climate to be proven null or insignificant. But the burden of proof should SURELY lie with the climate sceptic here.

      In no other risk situation I can think of would one assume it’s safe until proven otherwise. For example homeowners all have to pay buildings insurance because of the tiny risk that their house will be destroyed beyond affordable repair. Yet those who oppose renewable energy subsidies (for example) tend to get angry about that being a waste of money. “Wrecking our economy” I believe PH said on Twitter.

      Even if there were only a 1% chance that humans are having a significant effect on global warming I would still favour a shift to clean / green energy, just in case. Especially given that the population is set to hit 10bn. Any other policy feels like too much of a gamble.

      • Ian Woolley says:

        But then the question becomes one of economics and poverty reduction. The world bank turning down loans to Africa because they want to dig up their coal is a policy derived from this stance. China has shown coal to be very efficient at raising 100s of millions out of poverty, but Western preoccupation with renewable is denying Africa that option.

        Saying it’s win win (even if climate change turns out to be a scare, we still end up with clean energy! What’s not to like!) ignores these dire consequences happening right now.

      • ad3r0wb0tham says:

        @Ian I wasn’t aware of the extent of this downside to renewables. So this has been a useful exchange for me. Thank you. I will read up more on that.

        Nothing this complex is truly win-win, of course. But also anyone who takes an absolutist stance on *either* side of the argument is almost by definition wrong. What’s right for one country might not be right for another. Yes, fossil fuels are still required where there’s no practical or affordable alternative. And for some time yet. But we should *try* to move away from them in my view. Things that worth doing are often extremely difficult. I wouldn’t claim it’s a simple or easy challenge to solve!

  7. zed says:

    Of course, the correct approach when challenged on the subject of climate change is to reply with “You’re a big daft cock”. I refer you to Martin Durkin’s email

  8. The respected panel show journalist’s brother, author, religious and literary critic, and journalist was known to call him an idiot. I have seen nothing that would prove this wrong.

  9. geronimo says:

    “I on the other hand would be overjoyed for humans’ effect on the climate to be proven null or insignificant. But the burden of proof should SURELY lie with the climate sceptic here.”

    Well no, that’s not the way it works. Think of what you’ve said for a moment, you’ve said that if someone, and I don’t care if it’s the 1000 cleverest people on the planet, makes a prediction it’s for the oicks to prove them wrong. No it isn’t, if I can quote the motto of a once very respected institution, “Nullus in verbia”. Which if you’re not educated in Latin means “take nobody’s word”. So, in science, unlike politics, you, or I, don’t have to take anyone’s word for anything just because one might feel inferior to them, or indeed, if others standing on the sidelines feel your inferior to them.

    I, for one, wish the progressive movement had put as much energy into eliminating poverty and disease today as they’ve put into avoiding unknown dangers 50 to 100 years from now. Because that’s what we’re doing with our insurance money, we’re paying for expensive and useless forms of energy (which look like bringing blackouts to the UK if we get a cold winter) to avoid future disasters which are the figment of someone’s imagination. (I’m not saying that it’s easy to solve today’s problems, but at least they’re real problems and don’t involve the saving the habitats for hunch-backed snails from a putative threat 150 years from now).

    One of the things I’ve wondered about “progressives” (I’m labelling using their own label) is that they seem to be totally out of touch with the real problems of the people they so, patronisingly, purport to represent. AFAICT none of them meet poor, or working people in their daily lives (unless it’s as cleaners or ancillary staff), or have working class people as friends, so unsurprisingly, believe that the working classes are more than prepared to sacrifice a few pounds per week to “save the planet” by paying more for their electricity. Well you know what? a large percentage of the population of our country consist of people who spend their wages on a week by week basis and have difficulty making ends meet (the people our progressive friends are trying to protect from welfare cuts), and they don’t really care about middle class fads on climate. Sorry but it’s true, and the current fad about saving the planet is costing them money, and more importantly, diverting our attention from those a lot worse off, who are blighted by hunger, water shortage, ebola, vitamin A disease, cooking over dung fires and much, much, more that is having our attention taken away from it by middle class climate change hysteria.

    In short we’re diverting funds away from real world problems in order to solve problems 50 -100 years away that we have no real evidence will occur. And it’s a crying shame.

  10. Barry Woods says:

    On a positive note M Zimmerman – co-author of the Doran/Zimmerman EoS ‘97% paper’, seems to have learnt something from the survey, unlike Cook. The Doran Eos paper, actually cites her MSc thesis – The Consensus on the Consensus – this is the actual survey (download it for £1.26)

    Zimmerman wrote in her MSc thesis:

    “This entire process has been an exercise in re-educating myself about the climate debate and, in the process, I can honestly say that I have heard very convincing arguments from all the different sides, and I think I’m actually more neutral on the issue now than I was before I started this project. There is so much gray area when you begin to mix science and politics, environmental issues and social issues, calculated rational thinking with emotions, etc.” – M Zimmermann

    read the appendices for the feedback from the scientists that participated in the Doran survey who appear to have helped to change her mind to be more neutral, she also published her correspondence with them.

    Just a few examples:

    “I feel that the research is skewed. The research is funded almost exclusively to ‘find evidence for’ and ’causes of’ global warming.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “The techniques for determining a global ‘average’ temperature are open to question. Consequently, the actual amount of change is difficult to determine. This has to be considered in regard to: Since we are coming out of the ‘little ice age’ (I will note that Mann’s ‘hockey stick curve’ has been demonstrated to be incorrect)it is difficult to know exactly what factors are driving the slow rise in temperature.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “I fail to see how such a survey could possibly improve our knowledge. Last time I checked science worked on facts/data, not opinions. However, global warming seems to be an exception.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “I do not trust consensus views and bandwagons as they are frequently wrong. It is irresponsible for a scientist to make a judgment without personally conducting a critical analysis of the data and the arguments.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “I’m afraid that your very first question was already ill-posed since it left open what pre 1800’s means. After all, most of the preceding 4.5 billion years of earth history was warmer than the present.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “I am sorry, but I cannot answer some (most actually) of your questions with a simple “Yes” or “No”answer. The area is not clearly black-and-white, I am afraid that it is more complicated than that….I have nothing against the survey, but oversimplified answers can result in distorted outcome….” (zimmerman feedback)

    “I appologize, but as an objective scientist I do not communicate “opinions” or “attitudes”. These donot belong on the scientific adjenda and certainly not in the classroom. Thus I decline to contribute to your survey.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “Personally, I think we are returning to something akin to the Little Optimum (climate regime of
    circa 950-1350)” (zimmermann feedback)

    “I’m afraid I have to bail out of your survey. I find the issue too complex for multiple choice
    answers. As an example, Question 1 (comparing current global temps to “pre-1800″ levels) is openended – and my answer would differ depending on the beginning as well as the ending point of the time frame. Are we talking about only the 18th century (which, of course, included the Little Ice Age)? The 14th through the 18th? Pre-1800 through the beginning of the Wisconsin Glaciation? Or since Pre-Cambrian time? On the average, current global temperatures are definitely cooler than the average over the entire lifespan of the earth.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “Was this designed to be ambiguous with respect to time? What do you mean
    “pre-1800s?” You mean compared to all Earth history prior to industrialization? If you are asking
    geoscientists then you really need to be more specific. Obviously global Earth temperatures are
    colder now than much of Earth history, but warmer compared to Little Ice Age temperatures.
    Surveys with imprecise questions have meaningless results.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “Your first question is a poor one.
    Temperatures have had an overall positive trend since the Little Ice Age of 350 years ago. There
    have been shorter cycles (approximately 32 years) of warming and cooling superimposed on that
    trend. Temperatures now are cooler than 800 years ago and cooler than 5000 years ago. So
    temperature trends largely depend on the starting and ending points.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “In my opinion humans can influence climate change but is it the dominant effect, absolutely not. The geologic time scale shows periods of cooling and heating with out the impact of humans being present.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “Other factors are obviously at play. I have no doubt that humans are influencing global temperatures, but whether we are a ‘major’ contributor is little more than guesswork.” (zimmerman feedback)

    “I find it interesting that geoscientists tend to be influenced by their career position. My friens in academia are almost all convinced of the anthropogenic influence, my friends in the energy and minerals sectors seem to think it is natural” (Zimmerman feedback)

    “Climate proxies from the even more distant past indicate that global climate is
    comparatively cool now, and that many factors besides greenhouse gases contribute to global climate change. When I hear ridiculous suggestions that we build satellites to block out solar radiation or pump CO2 into deep ocean sediments to try to combat anthropogenic global warming I am filled with irritation and trepidation at man’s audacity – to assume we can fix a problem that might not exist, within a system we have only just begun to study. As a scientist I
    neither ‘believe’ nor ‘disbelieve’ in anthropogenic global warming – I am waiting for solid evidence. Mea” (zimmerman feedback)

    “This is a nonsense question because it isn’t black and white. Human activity affecting climate is a hypothesis in need of testing, and what we think is somewhat irrelevant” (zimmerman feedback)

    “the increase in temperature does not correlate with the increase in CO2. It appears more tied to some kind of natural cycle.” (zimmermann feedback)

    “Based on 32 years of geologic experience, I am quite certain that the impact of any anthropogenic increase in Co2 is very minor when compared to geologic and astronomic causes.” (zimmerman feedback)


    please download the actual Doran survey for yourself (cost £1.26 + VAT),& read the appendices

    I wrote about this at a sceptic blog a little while back..

    I showed Mark Lynas (the unnamed enviro journalist I mentioned in the link) this over lunch at Oxford Uni a while back, he had previously not seen it, despite citing 97% and the Doran paper, and was surprised at the very sceptical feedback from actual participants,

  11. ad3r0wb0tham says:


    | “Well no, that’s not the way it works. Think of what you’ve said for a moment, you’ve said that if someone, and I don’t care if it’s the 1000 cleverest people on the planet, makes a prediction it’s for the oicks to prove them wrong.”””

    Yes but my point is that if there is any reasonable doubt *at all* we should surely err on the side of caution. If there was a 1 in 100 chance that I will be hit by a bus if I left my house tomorrow, I would not leave the house. Yet many seem to be happy to take what I would say is a much greater than 1 in 100 risk with the climate.

    | “Middle class climate change hysteria”

    I would readily accept that much of the “green lobby” goes too far and is often very unscientific and indeed uneducated on the matter. Well intentioned, but often misinformed. They don’t help the cause, nor does the lefty echo chamber. I’m not hysterical, and merely think that the matter should be scrutinised intensely with the principle being that we assume there’s a risk until we show otherwise. If I see a conclusive proof that we’re in no danger here then I’ll be among the first to celebrate.

    Problems 50-100 years away are still problems. I for one would like to see the human race thrive for many more thousands of years rather than just for my lifetime and that of my child. But yes there are other pressing problems too of course, such as overpopulation in general.

    | “No real evidence they will occur”

    That, at least, is a simple point of disagreement in our interpretations of the evidence. If you believe there’s zero evidence for man made climate change then that’s an argument that is beside my point and not something I have the facts or energy to argue against. My point was based on the assumption that there is at least some risk that the 7 billion+ of us are affecting our climate.

  12. You asked for an example of heresy hunting.
    There was an instance of this recently which got quite a bit of publicity.
    A US congressman named Grijalva wrote an aggressive fishing letter to 7 academics, see for example

    Google grijalva for more information.

  13. Badgerbod says:

    Hi Robin, I have the impression from your piece that you were hoping to have some reasoning as to why your journalist “friend” had become a sceptic. I cannot speak for him, but I have generally found that, in BBC speak, climate “contrarians” are educated, intelligent and often from a scientific, mathematical or engineering background. They also tend to have started like myself, in acceptance of what became the orthodox “settled science” of climate change. Why? Why do intelligent people take up a position that puts them at odds with the majority opinion? Is it because of evidence or a lack thereof or a general understanding of scientific principles? Probably all.
    I would recommend looking at some papers, opinions and blogs, some I’ll highlight below as requested, but also to discuss with various scientists. I’ve found that Richard Betts and Mark McCarthy of the Met Office are very good at engaging with the public and answering questions as are Ronan Connolly, Judith Curry, Richard Tol, Roy Spencer and many others with a less orthodox view. Many with a stake in climate science are less forthcoming and seem to respond to a genuine question as if it were a challenge to their integrity. Mr Mann and Mr Gore are most guilty and will block on twitter anyone who does ask a difficult question. At least that has been my experience. I find that sceptical tweeters are less likely to block, but I have no evidence that this is a general trend.
    I always check statements, whoever has made them. Of special interest is the situation in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctic as we all know what’s happening there don’t we? You can get up to date data from many sources on that but Anthony Watts puts a lot together without comment here:
    or you can check out:

    Anyway, here are a few links to papers and blogs that I found useful, unfortunately I cannot hyperlink them for you

    A small selection of papers:

    There are 100’s of papers available that explore and research an alternative to the “settled science” but as a non-scientist they are laborious reading. So blogs are useful for the inexpert reader and I recommend the following as an alternate view to the mainstream orthodox climate blogs:

    If you want to look at historical data then has masses but Tony is coming from a point of view that claims a deliberate fraud. That doesn’t detract from the data, it depends whether you interpret it in the same way.

    There are many many more blogs and conference presentations available and it depends on how much interest you have in seeking out all those opinions. It is a real kaleidoscope.

    I think Geronimo’s points above are really important to understand how poorly derived statistics are manipulated into dogma. And he is right to say that sceptics are not denying science nor are sceptics disputing that the earth has warmed and that adding CO2 has an effect.

    In the end, it is up to you if you’re comfortable with exploring further, I understand Professor Cox has a low opinion of climate sceptics but the majority are good scientists trying to understand the natural world. Love “the Cage” by the way, look forward to hearing on R4 again soon


  14. Interesting post. I had a similar exchange with – I think – the same person. After me suggesting that maybe the problem wasn’t that the evidence was missing, but that he simply didn’t understand it, I was greeted with a similar response to what you had (also including the term “warmon”). Given that he clearly objected to me suggesting that he didn’t understand the evidence, I then sent him a link to two papers that are pretty convincing evidence of an enhanced (anthropogenic) greenhouse effect. He then asked me to explain them, at which stage I pointed out that it was 10pm on a Saturday night, it was Twitter, and – given his objection to my tweet suggesting that the problem was his lack of understanding – I had assumed that he could understand this himeself. I was promptly blocked.

  15. jeromedavies says:

    ““Most persuasive factor has always been the furious heresy-hunting intolerance of the Warmons…..always a sure sign of an argument in difficulty.”

    Presumably, he doesn’t believe in “natural selection” either then.

  16. geronimo says:


    “Yes but my point is that if there is any reasonable doubt *at all* we should surely err on the side of caution. If there was a 1 in 100 chance that I will be hit by a bus if I left my house tomorrow, I would not leave the house. Yet many seem to be happy to take what I would say is a much greater than 1 in 100 risk with the climate.”

    Here’s how (my) sceptical mind works. I first became aware of “global warming” as a big issue when I saw a headline in the South China Morning Post in 2006 saying that 2500 scientists were agreed that the world was warming . It smelled immediately of propaganda, and indeed it was. I took a look at the issue and found many problems, not just on the scientific side, because as a boy I’d read the theory that Venus was unbearably hot because of the preponderance of CO2 in the atmosphere, so sure, in theory we could fry if we had CO2 in the atmosphere, but I was also aware that CO2 comprised more than 95% of the atmosphere of Venus but around 0.04% of the atmosphere of the Earth, so it seemed to me, at first blush, that CO2 wasn’t a likely candidate as a cause for impending armageddon. (The atmosphere of Mars is around 90% CO2 and that planet hasn’t had runaway global warming, but that may be for other reasons such as the pressure and density of the Martian atmosphere).

    I put to one side my scepticism of CO2 as a major cause of global warming and assumed that it was, and then, pondered the solution would be. I didn’t have to ponder long to come to the conclusion that the eradication of CO2 emissions in the real world over the timescales demanded by the environmentalists would lead to widespread economic distress and was unlikely to be undertaken by the new developing nations such as India and China, and impossible to implement in the developed world where there is widespread democracy, and politicians are bound by fear (of being voted out) to looking after the interests of the the voters. (In case you’re wondering I dismissed wind and solar as viable generators of energy on scales large enough to supply nations of 50 million souls as preposterously optimistic).

    The only technology that had any hope of replacing coal and gas generators was nuclear and I quickly assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this wouldn’t be an option because of the perceived, and indeed, real, dangers of nuclear plants

    So I was left with nuclear fusion as the only safe option, and for that to be developed, assuming it can be, would require £ bns of research money. I then discovered that instead of pouring money into the development of new generating techniques governments were pouring money into “climate science”, so we can educate ourselves as to how snails in the Siberian Tundra will supposedely develop thinner shells if the Tundra warms by 0.5C, and a myriad of other papers published on the downside of global temperature rises.

    Somewhere along the line I discovered the Club of Rome (Malthusians all), the UN Agenda 21 (make the developed world share it’s money with the rest of the world) and the environmental movement (Mallthsuians, money sharing (not their own),hatred of humans). All mighty agitators for societal changes which would bring about global governance (deprive people of their vote by handing powers over to bureaucracies. It has been proposed that global environmental governance should be given to the UN). In case you think I’m a conspiracy theorist, I’m not, these three arms of the global warming/climate change support group have made their plans and intentions very clear.

    What is more I found that these people didn’t care about the environment, or humans. They flock to meetings all over the world in their tens of thousands, caring as little for the carbon footprint as they do for the plight of the poor in Africa, proposing drastic reductions in industrial output of CO2 knowing that there is no economic solution to reducing CO2 and what’s more the reductions won’t reduce temperature. If the Paris proposals are implemented in full Biorn Lomberg reckons it will reduce the temperature by 0.17C by 2100, he is supported in this by a similar paper from the MIT who reckon the proposals will reduce temperatures by 0.2C. And these proposals will cost £ trillions, which Lomberg reckons, and I agree with him, we should spend on new forms of power generation research if we really would like to stop carbon dioxide emissions.

    I am left to believe that regardless of what the temperatures will do the goal is to de-industrialise the developed world. That’s not a guess on my part, it’s an open objective of the global warming movement.

    So you see the “insurance” you’re suggesting is going to cause you, and your family and friends, economic and social harm, while not in the least reducing the temperature which is going to trigger all these “imaginary” catastrophes, while at the same time diverting money away from real problems that are occurring now.

    • ade says:

      Thanks for your detailed reply. I genuinely am finding the exchange productive. I am with you that we should be spending a lot more on fusion research and development, which could be our get out of jail free card. If it works. I’m also pro-fission in some cases, albeit with LOTS of caveats.

      I also agree with you that wind and solar alone aren’t currently able to power populous nations, but does this mean they should *never* be part of the energy mix? In Denmark 39% of the power now comes from wind ( and on one particularly windy in July of this year they produced 140% of their requirement ( Yes: this is a cherry-picked case study, and yes they have a population of only 5.6 million, and yes some countries are much better suited than others et cetera, et cetera. But it’s a case for optimism.

      I’m also with you on the hypocrisy of the number of Al Gore’s (et al) air miles.

      Photovoltaic cells are getting more efficient ( as the price comes down dramatically. Some countries (not the UK, obviously) get a lot of intense sunlight. I’m not saying for one moment any one source of energy is right for every country or without its downsides. And there are always winners and losers. Every option has its problems.

      I find it hard to see what motive these three groups you mention would have for making all of this up, other than protecting Siberian snails, and so on. It feels more likely that the oil industry would be the ones distorting the truth in all of this. That’s where the real big money is – protecting the oil barrel price.

      Also I would be interested (genuinely, I’m not being dismissive) to see where the ” three arms of the global warming/climate change support group” have made it clear that their intention is to de-industrialise the developed world.

      Also – incidentally – yes I did study Latin, but beyond being able to tell you that Quintus broke a statue’s nose while playing carelessly with his discus in the forum I don’t find it hugely useful on a day-to-day basis.

  17. geronimo says:

    ade: “My point was based on the assumption that there is at least some risk that the 7 billion+ of us are affecting our climate.”

    I can’t address that in the absence of any assumed risks you expecting. I can answer based on the past, we’ve increased our population from 1Bn to 7Bn since 1800 and that increase has been accompanied by continued improvement in the human condition. What makes you believe that we’ve reached a stage where continued population increase will now cause the human condition to deteriorate? Or put better than I will ever be able to do so the question again:

    “On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

    Thomas MacAuly

    “I find it hard to see what motive these three groups you mention would have for making all of this up, other than protecting Siberian snails, and so on.”

    Did I say these three groups “made up” global warming. I doubt it, because they didn’t. James Hansen did, but what these three organisations get out of it is the opportunity to bring about changes they’d like in society through the “big scare”. They can frighten people into doing what they want with the fear of upcoming armageddon should they not change their ways.

    They’re not secretive about what they want. The Club of Rome want to curb population growth, the UN wants to re-distribute the world’s wealth and the environmentalist want to destroy capitalism.

    They are really a venn-diagram in that they all share to a greater or lesser extent all three objectives.

    Club of Rome

    “IIn searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill….All these dangers are caused by human intervention….and thus the “real enemy, then, is humanity itself….believe humanity requires a common motivation, namely a common adversary in order to realize world government. It does not matter if this common enemy is “a real one or….one invented for the purpose.“

    Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution

    “A keen and anxious awareness is evolving to suggest that fundamental changes will have to take place in the world order and its power structures, in the distribution of wealth and income.”

    Club of Rome, Mankind at the Turning Point


    “The developmental and environmental objectives of Agenda 21 will require a substantial flow of new and additional financial resources to developing countries, in order to cover the incremental costs for the actions they have to undertake to deal with global environmental problems and to accelerate sustainable development.”

    UN Agenda 21

    “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for the, at least, 150 years, since the industrial revolution,”

    (I don’t remember getting to vote on changing the economic development model).

    Cristiana Figueres, Head of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

    “The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated.”  

    “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.” 


    Don’t believe what I tell you (Nullus in verb) assume I’m wrong and look at the evidence yourself, you might come to different conclusions based on the same evidence.

    • ade says:

      Thanks for locating and providing those quotations and links.

      I’m very familiar with the notion of the “big scare” (governments use the tactic readily, of course, and I generally distrust them) but I still don’t see a motive for these groups for wanting to perpetuate an idea that they secretly know is false (OK, yes I realise it wasn’t literally them who allegedly made it up, thanks for the correction).

      Nobody’s should be really *scared* of climate change, that would be hysterical, given that it concerns a gradual long-term effects. So it would be in my view a poor choice of message to scare people with. In fact, humans don’t (as individuals at least) naturally think very long-term which appears to be why there’s very little action on this.

      Yes, the human condition right now is generally better than ever. But effects can lag a very long time behind causes. I believe we are sweeping a lot of mess (we certainly have since 1800) under the carpet but am cautiously optimistic that we will continue to solve problems through technology and ongoing behavioural changes.

      We are intelligent enough to think long-term but it feels like many would rather not on certain issues. I don’t “expect nothing but deterioration before us” – far from it, I am optimistic – but believe that the smart move is to mitigate against *possible* future problems. If you’d favour going forward on the quoted Macaulyan principle that everything will be just fine because it has been up to now, then perhaps that is the nub of the disagreement. Which (if so) is actually what I wanted to eke out.

  18. p8mty says:

    The problem with much scientific “debate” in the public is that the press insist on reporting it as a binary issue. You are either a “denier” or a “warmon”. There are no nuances to it. And this is solely down to journalists and they way they report the issue – I don’t know if it is because they have such a low opinion of their readers that they think they can’t cope with complexity beyond the black and white; or if it is a reflection of their own inability; or if it s an agenda issue. Whatever it is they will always strive to polarise the issue.

    But lets take a step back in this. Why is there a “debate”? Scientists, in general, don’t “debate” their research. There is nothing to debate, results are not a matter of opinion in which you can change your mind. They just are. Once a scientist expresses an “opinion” he becomes, effectively, a well informed member of the public.

    That doesn’t mean that scientists don’t change their mind or change how they think about something. But they do so when confronted with evidence, not when harangued by someone with an opinion. And a good scientist will, in the face of contrary evidence, go back to his own research and try and work out where the discrepancies arise. It is through this process that we gain a better understanding of the world.

    As for the particular issue of AGW, then as an ex atmospheric scientist with many friends still “in the business”, then I can tell you that the vast majority of them are of no doubt that Man’s activities have an effect on the atmosphere. But the issue is incredibly complex. There are many different fields involved in climate – from the fundamental reaction kinetics of individual chemical reactions, to the chemistry of the interlinked multi-component reaction schemes, to the physics of the atmosphere, to space physics, to geophysics; not to mention the geopolitical, environmental and economic factors involved. To bring all these disciplines together into one cohesive model of the climate is impossibly complex – even to the level of trying to reconcile the different units that each uses!

    You often see criticisms from those who seek to debate such things that different climate models produce different answers – words such as “how can we believe the scientists if they can’t even agree amongst themselves” are often bandied around. But it’s so frustrating when you try and explain things they just don’t want to know. They don’t want to know about error bars, they don’t want to know about feedback mechanisms, they don’t want to know about uncertainties in input parameters that they themselves are supposed to supply us with, they don’t want to know about simplifications and assumptions to facilitate the production of a result in a finite time, and they certainly don’t want to know about known and unknown unknowns.

    And to bring things back to what this was all about to begin with. If you ask most climate scientists what the extent of Man’s effect on the atmosphere is, then they will be very cagey – the planet is not an ideal scientific laboratory, we don’t have a control Earth to which we can compare things. There are too many variables to give a definitive answer. They can give probabilities and ranges of answers and they will vary depending on their particular speciality. But not a single climate scientist will claim that they are 100% correct.

    The best thing to do is go and find an atmospheric scientist – a real one, not the ones who stick their heads over the parapet – a doctoral student or a post doc, that sort of thing. Go to their laboratory and talk to them about their research – take them to the pub and have a few beers with them, get a feel for their research, because they will be an expert in their field (albeit very narrow). They will tell you all the issues with what they are doing, the problems, the challenges, the successes. Now multiply that up to the whole climate community and you’ll see the problems with producing a definitive answer.

    But in reality you won’t be able to do this, because scientists are so, so wary of journalists and lay people asking about their research because they KNOW that the next day it will be twisted and cherry picked for sound bites that will totally distort what they are actually doing.

    • ramblinriter says:

      Yes exactly. I am a Smart Person. But not an atmospheric or environmental scientist. I do see around me many pieces of evidence that support AGW. Bugs and diseases too far north. Changes to habitats such as excessive acidification of oceans. Too many extreme weather events in too many regions. Forget the modeling problems. Look at the glacier melt patterns. See species struggling to survive. Notice disease patterns changing. Too many of the scientists are becoming hyperfocused on the minutia of a chosen approach. The aggregate is what matters. The earth is warming. Even if it’s not all due to us, something must be done or we face possible extinction. Isn’t that enough?

    • I think this is exactly right

      The best thing to do is go and find an atmospheric scientist – a real one, not the ones who stick their heads over the parapet – a doctoral student or a post doc, that sort of thing. Go to their laboratory and talk to them about their research …

      This I disagree with, though.

      But in reality you won’t be able to do this, because scientists are so, so wary of journalists and lay people asking about their research because they KNOW that the next day it will be twisted and cherry picked for sound bites that will totally distort what they are actually doing.

      I think that if a journalist put some effort in and actually went around to different universities/research institutes and tried to talk to people, they would be welcomed and would have no trouble finding people to discuss this with. What typically happens – from what I’ve seen – is that contrarian journalists simply go to the same small group of scientists who give them the soundbite that suits what they’re trying to write.

  19. This style of attack has several faults. I didn’t say ‘graphs prove nothing’. I said they established correlation, not causation, an important point when causation is precisely the matter under discussion. The contributions of third parties, unrelated to me, cannot be adduced against me. I didn’t ‘refuse to say’ anything, as I was under no obligation to answer this person’s questions. I realised I was dealing with a zealot (which is invariably boring and futile) and sought to disengage, rather than opening up another front on which to be pestered with unjustified certainties. I generally steer clear of this subject because of the clouds of bores and fanatics who immediately appear, and because I don’t have any especially strong views on it (except the one quoted above, that any cause which is so furiously intolerant of dissent is plainly unsure of its own case) . But I have recently been personally distressed to see a major power-station near me, in good condition, recently built and perfectly capable of supplying power to the grid, first rendered useless and then actually demolished with explosives to fulfil the demands of this dogma. I could just about have put up with it being switched off and mothballed, as this would have shown some modesty. But the hubristic, megalomaniac certainty of destroying it with explosives (soon afterwards followed by an entirely predictable overload on the national grid) impelled me to write about the subject, even though i knew I would have to tangle with self-righteous and intolerant people, who cannot bear the existence on the planet of anyone who doesn’t share their belief.

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