Challenge to Anthony Watts — and to myself

I’m going to try a new policy. We’ll see how it works out.

It’s this: stick to the science. No baseless ad hominem. No “demonizing” others. That goes for comments here as well. If you honestly believe that someone is deliberately lying, or has been “bought” by big money from the fossil-fuel industry, you’d better point to a lot of evidence; simply asserting that won’t pass muster.

Even if you have lots of evidence, if I allow such a comment you will be directed to take the discussion elsewhere. That’s not what I want this blog to be about; I want it to be the science, so if you regard accusations of deliberate misconduct so egregious as to need discussion, the follow-up discussion will have to happen some other place. If your accusation doesn’t pass my (very high) standard of evidence, your comment goes into the trash can. And even if it’s that important to accuse someone of deliberate misdeeds, there’s probably a much better place to do that than here.

If you contribute a remarkably insightful comment about the science, but it includes one sentence calling someone a “liar” or “murderer” or “tool of fossil fuel money,” that too will find the trash can.

Feel free to insult someone’s idea, or relevant skill; “grossly incompetent analyst” is allowed, but there had better be evidence to back that up too. You can call the idea “stupid,” but not the person. You’ll still have lots of room to rail about someone’s mistakes and foolish ideas — but not the person.

I am not going to let my comment section turn into appeals to emotion, to get people “riled up” and angry, even furious. That’s what turns a heated discussion into a mob eruption. I’m not going to do it in the posts either.

I predict that my current readership will do a fine job adhering to this, and those dust-ups that happen will be a stutter, not a diatribe.

Here’s the challenge to Anthony Watts: make one post about a scientific topic which does not contain accusations of “fraud” or “lying” or “in it for the money.” Stick to the science. Call us fools, even idiots, but accusations not relevant to the science are not allowed.

And now the hard part: Anthony, don’t allow that from any of your readers either. Don’t let your blog perpetuate the demonization of opposing viewpoints. I expect you might be shocked by your readers’ reaction. It’s an opportunity for you to find out where your real support comes from. Will disallowing demonization in the comments reduce your readership? Will your loyal followers lose interest if there are only scientific claims, and if they’re not allowed to incite themselves into a mob? Because, Anthony, if that turns out to be the case — if your “most read climate blog” status depends on the kind of “low road” I’m hoping to avoid, then I’d say you really, really want to find that out.

As for Anthony Watts: I think he’s not competent to do analysis or evaluate climate science. But I do not believe he is doing it for the money. I’ve heard that accusation and I think it’s ridiculous — if he really is “in it for the money,” he’s doing a lousy job of getting rich. I do not believe he wants the third-world poor to suffer so we can still keep burning fossil fuels. Confine your criticisms to the scientific claims.

Anthony, are you willing to try this? One post without the invective I see so much of in your comment section?

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48 responses to “Challenge to Anthony Watts — and to myself

  1. David B. Benson

    I trust that this
    meets your standards for science only.

  2. I predict that if Watts institutes this policy, he will lose 90% of his readership, who will go to other blogs instead. Also, if Watts sticks to “only the science”, he will lose 99% of stuff to write about. There just isn’t any science that backs up his viewpoint.

  3. Good luck with that! I tried this path with chemtrail believers when I had lots of spare time. Beware of the problem called “the bullshit asymmetry”

    Plus, watch out for goal post shifts: force comments to stick to the original point, don’t allow them to wander. Example: if you prove that arctic sea ice is falling, don’t allow comments on Antarctic ice until the commenter hasn’t accepted that he/she was wrong on the Arctic ice.

  4. Fantastic approach. You are setting the example by doing this and I support you one hundred percent. Frustration is understandable. Invective is not. All the best, Andy

  5. [edit]

    [Response: Try again without the insulting and totally unscientific ad hominem “Believers want to change that so that their view is the ‘truth’ and others have to disprove.” Maybe your questions will get through. The answers might surprise you.]

    • [edit]

      [Response: Your protest about the innocence of your statement doesn’t have the ring of truth — not to me. I might be wrong, but if that’s what you want to argue about, I’m not interested. If you really want a proper scientific debate, re-submit without it and your comment will get through. I’ll try to be just as strict with those who respond.

      Really, it’s not that hard.]

  6. The problem I see is that the two sides do not have a basis for conversation. The evidence supporting anthropogenic warming is overwhelming. If you contend that a)there is no warming or b) there is warming, but it is not anthropogenic, the evidence is against you.

    It seems to me that the only viable approaches available to someone in this position are:
    1) argue that the evidence is being misinterpreted–this is a tough path, since it is incumbent on a responsible scientist to propose a better interpretation and to demonstrate that it is better. It is very hard to make such an argument without also arguing that the scientific community is biased and/or incompetent. So far, those who have opted for this approach have failed to come up with a model that makes for better interpretation.
    2) claim the evidence is wrong. But how can there be so damn much evidence that is wrong. Very hard to make this claim unless those gathering the evidence are biased, incompetent or dishonest.

    Thus, the scientific community is forced on the defensive from the get go, and the argument becomes more about personal integrity than about data or analysis.

    And this presumes that the dissenters stick to the scientific method and don’t resort to “alternative facts”. If we don’t even agree about what the facts are, there can be no basis for civil discussion.

    • You’ve hit on just about all the points I was going to bring up, so I’ll simply note that and save time.

    • Ditto from me. Well said, snakrates.

      • Michel,
        If you claim that a significant portion of observed warming is not due to anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, the evidence is against you. Indeed, most known drivers of temperature would be cooling the planet just now. It is in fact likely that the net forcing due to anthropogenic greenhouse gasses is >100% of observed warming.

        Is it alarming? Well, only if you’ve been paying attention. Rising sea levels threaten some very valuable real estate–and not just in the long term. Himalayan glaciers, which provide the main water source for over 1 billion people are melting rapidly. These trends will turn aquifers salty and deplete aquifers as people are forced to look elsewhere for water. Once an aquifer is depleted or polluted, it’s done. It cannot be salvaged.

        Yields for most critical crops (e.g. rice, corn…) are expected to be affected negatively. Losses due to severe weather are rising rapidly–a rise not reflected in non-weather related disasters. Melting permafrost is expected to release pathogens that have been frozen there for 10s of thousands of years. On the positive side of the ledger, the only convincing argument I’ve seen is that an ice-free Arctic will lower some transport costs and there will likely be a lot of cool woolly mammoth and saber-tooth cat fossils available.

        And all of these negative effects will peak as global population crests (hopefully) at about 10 billion hungry souls. If that does not alarm you, then you either have no heart or–as I am giving you the benefit of the doubt–you aren’t paying attention.

    • Two things.

      “The evidence supporting anthropogenic warming is overwhelming. If you contend that a)there is no warming or b) there is warming, but it is not anthropogenic, the evidence is against you. ”

      Are those the only two alternatives? What if you claim that there is warming, some of it is anthropogenic, but that it is not alarming?

      Its common to encounter this in climate blogs – a very weak thesis is established, one almost no-one would disagree with. Then the writer usually goes on to behave as if he has shown a consensus on a much stronger one. When speaking of overwhelming evidence, its helpful to say what specifically it is proving.

      As to the scientific community, when you try to account for a mistaken consensus, if you think there is one, the most usual explanation is from the pressure to conform. It is a real factor and it has happened in our lifetime in other fields, with contrary evidence eventually emerging and strongly modifying the previous consensus.

      I am thinking particularly of diet – it was not too long ago that we officially abandoned the view that dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol. We are now in the throes of backing off from the saturated fat – high cholesterol – CHD theory. But I don’t think the previous consensus formed as a result of bad faith or venality. Nor however was it entirely in all cases due to the objective strength of the evidence. Social pressures can be enormous, even when no explicit coercion is involved.

      Lots of peer reviewed evidence on this, and on the mechanisms.

      • Two things:

        1. Science has been wrong before. Weirdly, those who love to use this example almost invariably assume that current science overestimates the risk, and completely ignore the possibility that current science *under*estimates the risk. Where are you in this scheme, Michel? Do you accept the possibility that current climate science actually *under*estimates the risks?

        2. Climate science is a major synthesis science, with many different areas where observations only make sense in the view of greenhouse gases having a major impact on the earth’s climate. Any rival theory will have to have at least as much predictive power. Good luck finding one.

      • Michel says, “As to the scientific community, when you try to account for a mistaken consensus, if you think there is one, the most usual explanation is from the pressure to conform.”

        Michel, have you ever known any scientists? Ever hear of Claude Shannon? He invented the concept of entropy in communications. He was also known for riding a unicycle down the corridors at Bell Labs. Now there was a conformist. How about Paul Erdos? Never had a home or a real academic position. He’d just show up on somebody’s doorstep and say he wanted to collaborate with them. One of the most prolific mathematicians of all time. There’s a game scientists and mathematicians play–count the number of degrees of separation between you and Erdos in the scientific literature. (Note: a similar idea is applied in show biz with Kevin Bacon, and the sum of the Bacon number and the Erdos number is called the Erdos Bacon number–which can be as small as 2 for some researchers. Natalie Portman and Colin Firth have E-B numbers of 5.) There’s a follower!

        Scientists are not known for being particularly cooperative. If they are, they don’t last long as scientists. Every scientist’s dream is to sink their teeth into a nice, juicy wrong theory and tear it to shreds.

        [Response: I think my own Erdos number is 4 or 5 (not bad, but not bragging rights either). There’s also the “Sabbath number,” one’s degree of separation from Black Sabbath within the music industry. This gives rise to the “Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number,” and I believe the world leader is none other than Stephen Hawking.]

      • I’m going to go away now and think hard about the implications of a possible “May number.” ;-)

  7. Great proposal. But I expect ‘crickets.’ The whole identity of WUWT is the venom in the comments section. That’s why I very rarely comment there.

    [Response: Let’s not draw that conclusion, before the fact.]

  8. Just one little nit to pick, tamino: “bought by fossil fuel money” is something those who side with the science would accuse a perceived science denier as. Iin it for the money” is something a perceived science denier would accuse a scientist of.

    Along the lines of what snarkrates said earlier (and sorry, I typed that moniker wrong earlier), those two things are not equivalent, though I will respect your wishes to keep the unsubstantiated/emotive stuff out of future discussions.

  9. It’s 2017. We’ve been presenting the data for decades, and at each point it is responded to with vexatious sophistry. At no point have any of the major figures of denialism responded to the data put in front of them with scientific honesty. At what point do we get to assume bad faith?

    [Response: You get to decide for yourself. But I want discussion of the science to be without discussion of bad faith.

    I might post about “bad faith” sometimes — then you can discuss it here. But for now, let’s actually *try* to keep it off this blog. There’s no guarantee of success, but I’m gonna try.]

    • Well, as it says in Matthew: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

      I would note that however, that one has only two cheeks, and after being slapped twice, I think even Jesus might be thinking about doing a little damage. The most liberal interpretation might be that once one has been slapped twice across the face, one could turn around, drop trou, and give them two more opportunities. Then, I think the opportunities for tolerance have been exhausted and bad faith might be a reasonable assumption.

  10. I think this is sensible, and is something I try to do myself. This is partly because I don’t particularly like the invective, but partly because I think ranting about others is largley ineffective. It may well be that trying to stick to the science will also be ineffective, but I do think it is worth trying.

  11. Like lots of people over the years, been there, done that. Good luck, but I’d give the chance of the challenge being taken up lies somewhere between Buckley’s and none.

  12. I would lend an echo to Sou’s comment. For more than a decade I’ve varied from applying in my posts tempered reason to frustrated and bad-tempered impatience. Once or twice I might even have let slip a little snark. I’ve witnessed many others here and elsewhere variously apply the same spectrum of approaches, and I have to say that I’m struggling to recall more than a handful of occasions in all of the many thousands of threads where the engaged deniers of science have actually ceded to the data irrepsective of the tenor of the conversation. The (possible) beneficiaries are usually the lurkers, and unfortunately not only are they unquantifiable, the strategies that caught their attention and lent weight to the forming of their opinons are equally as unidentifiable. Whether any of all of the corpus of our efforts has actually made a substantive change to the progress of society, I really don’t know – I strongly doubt that it has, because humanity still appears to be standing on the starting block and the laws of physics are about to push through the ribbon on the finishing line…

    That said, I do hope that something might come of this. A reasoned discussion allows far more room for objectivity than does one encumbered by invective. I’d add though that respondents should also be required to exercise due logic and recourse only to relevant and evidenced data. More than emotion I think that illogic and ignorance are responsible for the straw men, red herrings, and other distractions that derail an analysis of the science. This is not surprising as most denialism immediately falls flat if it’s exposed to evidence so the best strategy for the deniers, delayers and distracters is to lead folk down various garden paths, and to disguise the dissembling with as much hollering as possible. It works even better if the science supporters holler back. So, if fallacy is permitted to encroach on any discussion that thread will be as effectively derailed as if both sides had gone full Godwin.

    Further, I’d add that if any poster engages in overt fallacy at any point in a thread all of their prior posts should be deleted, otherwise one can end up with the Groundhog Day scenario such as has occurred at Greg Laden’s recently, where habitual deniers repost the same debunked claims again and again and pretend that they haven’t been previously refuted. Permitting such repetitous posting in bad faith grants an element of validity to their arguments: they should defend a proposition of fallacy or cede their error before being permitted to continue discussion.

    I’ll finish with some general questions for the thread. Why are we still discussing these issues, decades after the conversations first started, and with little to no substantive results to show for the effort after all this time? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be pushing these issues, but what is the aim? Are we going to change the minds of the deniers where we haven’t in the past? Are we attempting to? Are we going to realise an education of the somnolent Joes and Janes Public, which will result in a sudden societal shift? Are we going to convince the leaders of the countries that have until now held off acknowledging the need for action?

    The game is different now to what it was at the beginning of the 21st century, and it’s very different to the first time I heard David Suzuki give a lecture in the early 90s, when he said that we had until the end of the 20th century to make substantial changes that would permit us to avoid the impacts of climate change. Suzuki’s boat sailed a long time ago, and the hoped-for scenarios for change as anticipated by ARs 4 and 5 are forlorn pipe dreams whose last hurrah is the fast-evaporating targets of the Paris agreement… which are even now heeding the last call to Aman.

    It’s good (and necessary) that we keep at this, but we should acknowledge why we are doing so, and what we hope to achieve (and what we can no longer achieve), otherwise it’s like conducting an experiment without an hypothesis.

  13. I would stop worrying about Watts so much, and worry about yourself. I stopped visiting and commenting here because of the atmosphere. I read this thread with interest to see if anything had changed. Not much. The comments contain more of, more of same. Then I read the next post, and there is this long tired lament about deniers and abuse. Really, who wants to read yet more of this stuff under the guise of a change of heart?

    You will never make any progress with this until you inwardly accept and really believe that people may differ from you about both what has been established with reasonable certainty, scientifically, and what policies are justified in the light of the scientific evidence.

    They may differ from you while being informed, of sound mind, disinterested, intelligent. The science is not settled, but more important what is the right policy is not settled, nor is its implementation.

    Pay attention to the global scene. Look at what evidence there is that in the world outside the US anyone really believes there is a real problem, or is contemplating doing anything effective about it.

    And perhaps turn to policy advocacy. Working out what you want who to do, and why, and what effect it will have if they do, that is harder to cover with rhetoric. To do that the subject really will tie you down to objective discussion.

    Start with the auto industry. How big is it, globally? Where do you want it to go? By when? Which countries? How to persuade them?

    And simply ban the word ‘denier’ while you are at it. That is a symptom of your problem.

    [Response: Denial exists, it’s not a fiction. Denying that it exists is not just useless, it’s counterproductive.

    As for those who disagree with consensus in good faith, I welcome them. Any suggestion that we shouldn’t identify who is acting in good faith and who isn’t, is naive almost beyond belief.

    I will continue to call deniers deniers.

    I’ve insisted that criticisms be fact-based, with evidence to back them up. I insist on avoiding names that only demonize. Your insistence that I avoid names that are the most correct description, seems to me to be utterly foolish.

    Notice that I called your *ideas* naive and foolish and your *suggestion* counterproductive. If you insist on taking that insult as personal, I suggest that is your problem, not mine.]

    • Auto industry? Big globally. US share is down to about 14%. And globally, it’s pretty clear the auto industry is going to migrate to electric cars in the coming decades for starters.

    • Michel:

      You will never make any progress with this until you inwardly accept and really believe that people may differ from you about both what has been established with reasonable certainty, scientifically,

      Here’s my best shot at staying within Tamino’s guidelines:

      We won’t make any progress if we do “inwardly accept and really believe” that, either. The certainty, or lack thereof, on the part of people who aren’t climate scientists has no effect on the radiative properties of atmospheric CO2.

      Among working climate scientists, whose certainty is always within quantifiable confidence limits, there’s a lopsided consensus that: 1) the Earth is warming; 2) the warming is anthropogenic; and 3) the global cost, in money and tragedy, won’t mount as long as humans keep transferring fossil carbon to the climatically active pool. Anyone with a basic grasp of economics recognizes that AGW is a Drama of the Commons, a result of the freedom we enjoy on the ‘free’ market to privatize the full marginal benefit of the energy in fossil carbon, while socializing the marginal climate-change cost out our private tailpipes.

      Therefore, any reasonable individual would agree there’s more than enough scientific certainty to inform a collective, i.e. political, decision to decarbonize our shared economy. In the US, progress in that arena depends on achieving a governing plurality of voters. The rest can differ all they like, but their objections are political, not scientific.

      And heading off pseudo-skeptical objections that ‘consensus isn’t science’: consensus isn’t probative for a working specialist, but it is for everybody else. Science is a way of trying not to fool ourselves (“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” -R. Feynman). Full-time scientists are trained in competitive skepticism, and they work hard at it. By definition, experts are specialists in their sub-disciplines, they know who their peers are, and their aggregate expertise is greater than that of any one of them. In the culture and practice of Science, peers don’t let their peers fool themselves. Science as a cultural institution is fundamentally a collective enterprise by skeptical individuals for accumulating justified knowledge, and without expert consensus there can be no scientific progress.

      Yes, it’s possible the consensus is substantively wrong, and the few climate scientists who ‘differ’ with the consensus of their peers are right. It’s far more likely, though, that the holdouts are fooling themselves, and you.

    • one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Sigh!

      OK, so here are some facts, Michel. The US is now the only nation not to sign on to the Paris agreement. The science that CO2 is warming the planet IS settled. The data overwhelmingly support the contention that the warming is due to a well mixed, long lived greenhouse gas. No other explanation comes close to explaining the data. That this will affect aspects of the environment that our current society depends on is well established.

      These are simply facts. If you deny any of those facts, you are a denialist.

      I agree that the best mitigation strategy remains to be determined, but not acting is not an option once the credibility of the threat is established.

      • To say the same thing more concisely: Reality is not a matter of opinion.

      • Gotta disagree with snarkrates a bit. Reality is what it is, I guess. But the truth of the matter is we have no absolutely direct access to it only inductive access. Therefore, so far as human understanding goes, reality is, in practice, a matter of informed, educated, well researched judgement. Or opinion, if you will. Opinion of those qualified to have one, that is.

        There are denier types who try to misuse this fact of life to misinform, disinform, confuse, and obfuscate, I agree. But the fact that we have no direct access to reality is what gives them their room in which to work. And as we have seen many times over many issues–e.g.acid rain, HFCs, asbestos, etc., etc, etc.–they will work that area if there is some sort of personal/emotional/tribal gain in it.

        Further, this is why the “elitism” argument is always a winner for some who promote denialism. When something takes decades of individual work and study to understand, it really _is_ only a small “elite” who can really make the informed, educated, well researched inductions needed to best describe an area of reality. And a only a larger, but still circumscribed, elite who can at least follow the inductive reasoning used by the real experts.

        I wish I had some sort of better answer to all this.

      • jgnfld, sorry, but the fact that we don’t have “direct access” to reality does not invalidate the use of science to determine what reality is. There are simply some things for which the evidence is so strong that we “know” them. That gravity (that is, a force between masses) exists is simply a fact. That light is a type of energy is simply a fact. And so on. That the epistemology by which we know these facts is complicated does not imply that they are not facts. Experts have a better and deeper understanding of the facts, including the limitations of that understanding, but that does not change the reality that we are dealing with facts.

        I think we have to get away from all the postmodern crap where naive realism is the only philosophy that recognizes objective reality. Complicated does not mean subjective.

      • I completely agree the scientific method _over the long term_ provides the best available avenue to come to grips with reality. I can certainly envision no better one.

        That does not in the least invalidate or even alleviate the problems I mention that denier types constantly take advantage of, unfortunately.

        The most basic problem with scientific induction is that we are forced to use induction in the first place. This leaves openings for both honest inquiry into things and for dishonest obfuscation/outright lies about things for some ulterior motive.

        Re. gravity, when I listen to/read from the cutting edge experts about the fundamental nature of gravity, I have no sweet clue if what they say is objectively true or some Chinese hoax. And it would take me a couple of decades to acquire the knowledge, skills, and access to instruments and data to make my own direct, informed judgments. That’s a fact, not philosophic garbage.

        I accept their statements because I accept–and can make some surface checks–they and their peers are following the scientific method. But this really is a more distant induction. That is a fact here too.

        The generally nonscientifically educated public is in a far more precarious place. A large portion don’t even understand the principles that we use to accept things. Their scientific inductions are extremely distant and unfortunately amount to blind faith that we are speaking the truth about reality. That’s not philosophic post modern garbage. It’s the observed fact on the ground. And it is the fact that deniers and demagogues of all sorts use.

      • It’s funny that I agree with both snarkrates and jgnfld :-)

        If we recall Popper, we can say that science will never be settled, because if it were, it wouldn’t be science. Then again, there is this meme with Dawkins inviting to jump out of the window since gravity “is only a theory”.

        As an engineer, I’m used to get a number, based on theory, and then rely on it, sometimes so much so that lives depend on it. As an astonished observer of the universe, I may wonder sometimes on epistemological issues, but at the end of the day, choices must be made, based on our limited, yet verified, knowledge.

      • jgnfld,
        Ultimately, the problem with Science is that it is Bayesian–which is the probability of induction. One of the problems with Bayesian probability is that if you assign a proposition a zero Prior probability, then no amount of evidence can give you a nonzero posterior probability.

        However, I am quite comfortable assigning a zero probability to the existence of Leprechauns. And this does not mean that if a leprechaun came up and introduced himself and showed me his pot of gold and all that crap that I would tell him he didn’t exist and go about my business. Likewise, the existence of gravity–that is, of a force between masses that is a very harsh mistress when one is riding a bicycle, climbing rocks, etc. is pretty much beyond question. Its existence opens up a whole lot of new and interesting questions, and even its inverse square dependence on distance is still and interesting question if you get down to levels of sufficient precision. None of this calls into question whether the force we call gravity exists.

        Bayesian probability works very well for simple propositions, even for multivariate systems. However, there comes a point where so much evidence has amassed for or against an entity/proposition from so many different fields, lines of evidence and disparate inquiries that it becomes virtually inconceivable that the informed consensus on said proposition could be wrong. It isn’t worth the effort of specifically testing that proposition. At that point, I would contend that one can simply accept that proposition as true or dismiss it as false.

        And meanwhile, science continues around that hypothesis, pulling on the individual threads of the tapestry of truth. If enough of those threads come undone, our tapestry will unravel, and we’ll build a new one. In Bayesian terms, this means our Prior changes, and we reinterpret all the evidence again in light of the new prior. Bayesian probability doesn’t allow for this, but it is what happens when you have a scientific revolution (when Kuhn beats Popper). These are rare. Exciting, but rare. And science knows how to deal with them.

        So, in reality, science is more than Bayesian probability, more than induction. It does allow us to say that some propositions are true and some are false. And it allows those conclusions to change when the evidence demands. But it demands to be shown the evidence first.

      • “The science that CO2 is warming the planet IS settled. ”

        Yes. And is it settled how much?

        “The data overwhelmingly support the contention that the warming is due to a well mixed, long lived greenhouse gas. No other explanation comes close to explaining the data.”

        Here you are moving to claim what sound like all warming, or all warming over a certain level, or all warming since a certain date, is due to CO2. Dunno, hard to say whether reasonable disagreement with this is possible, because its so unspecific.

        “That this will affect aspects of the environment that our current society depends on is well established. ”

        This is the debate, isn’t it? I am not saying it will or will not, but I am saying that reasonable informed disagreement on the extent of this is certainly possible. One can agree that it “will affect aspects”, but this doesn’t really lead to any conclusions unless you go on and say which aspects and how much. And then you will find yourself in a debate in which the use of the term ‘denier’ is not helpful.

      • michel (Nov 12 9:17PM)
        I think the example of one of the grand old daddy’s of climate denial is required here. I speak of Richard Lindzen.
        In 2012 Dicky presented his denialist message to an audience in the Palace of Westminster (part of ‘UK’s Campaign to Repeal the Climate Change Act’. The film of his presentation is available here.) I see three considerations are well illustrated by Lindzen’s presentation.
        These are (1) What constitutes settled science. (2) What constitutes acceptable denial. (3) What constitutes acceptable denialist argument.

        (1) If you watch at the Lindzen talk Part 1, 11:15 where he talks of AGW being settled science. He presents a list (on the left of the screen) and at 13:00 you will hear him say

        “You will have people who are denying the things on the left . … This is a real diversion of the actual debate. … If the warmisters could pay for people who deny the left, they couldn’t do better in terms of public argumentation.”

        (WARNING – He is actually wrong in some of this. Yes there are such people. Yes it is a real diversion of the actual debate which is the scientific debate not the public one he is mentioning. No, warmisters would be better off whithout it as it would both strip denial of its clothes showing how barren the arguments of Lindzen et al are in reality, and prevent it feeding the denial within the public sphere which it undoubtedly does massively.)
        So that list of Lindzen’s settled science is ♥ CO2 is rising, ♥ contributing to a greenhouse effect. ♥ CO2(eq) has doubled in the last 150 years (an exaggeration) ♥ And very probably there was a warming of 0.8ºC over the same period (he misses a few ‘very’s) ♥ And a CO2 doubling would of itself result in an increase of 1ºC.
        If a denier like Lindzen brands those who cannot acccept these as settled science, they have to be denialists first-class with fig leaves.
        Thus the legitimate debate Lindzen sees concerns only two areas although he dwells scientifically only on one and fails to see he doesn’t on the other. These two areas are (A) Climate sensitivity when feedbacks are factored in. (B) The impact of AGW if it comprised 1ºC or 2ºC. Such areas also have limits. So can we add to Lindzen’s little list. ♥ Climate sensitivity lies within the range 1.5ºC to 4.5ºC. ♥ A global temperature rise of 4ºC would transform the global climate so any AGW has to be restricted to a minority of that value.

        As this comment is getting a bit wordier that I intended, I will return to the rest of it (2) & (3) in a later comment.

      • ….continuing from my comment above,
        (2) What constitutes acceptable denial.
        Denialists insist “Science is never settled!!!!” Some even make a big thing out of this idea, worthy of its own website (with an AGW flavour, of course). But when you do define something as settled (which means you can present it without scientific support in a scientific paper and if you did look, you would find no work addressing the subject, at least no work of any merit), this does not mean it is entirely off-limits to challenge it, because it is correct to say – “Science is never settled!!!!” But if you do stray off-limits (re-visiting the foundations of the settled science), you do need a reason or your work will lack legitimacy. I see perhaps three reasons. (2a) Exceptional evidence. (2b1) Legacy work. (2b2)Legacy worker.

        (2a) Exceptional evidence.
        Let us consider an example of legitamate off-limit work outside the settled AGW, legitimate because it provides exceptional evidence.
        While the consensus will point to various levels of warming by AD2100, this off-limits work legitimately points to levels of cooling by AD2100. This work was very poorly supported by evidence when it was first set out (although temperature was not its prime message) and I was strongly critical of it because the global cooling was not demonstrated and the humongous energy requirements of the proposed mechanisms went unmentioned. Yet it was subsequently set out and published properly in 2016 [PDF] (The cooling is shown graphically in the bottom row of Fig 6 and the red trace of Fig7a.) I consider this is legitimate work outside the settled AGW view such that the settled view will have to take note. There are not many such works.
        (To be continued…)

      • Continued from above…..
        (2) What constitutes acceptable denial
        (2b1) Legacy work.
        It is of course possible to stray off-limits if there is unfinished business there or if the trail of evidence leads there. Yet it is possible to see fresh work inexorably over-stepping the mark to set up beyond these limits. The denial is apparent in there being an eagerness to break the limits and no acknowledgement that limits have been broken.
        So consider & contrast two papers on wobblology (as I call it), a fertile ground for denialists. This paper from 1998 is is all about identifying those big natural wobbles, suggesting future work will allow wobblology to place better constraints on “the importance of natural … factors which will no doubt continue to affect the climate variability in the future.” It sits within a mass of work on the subject. It does not forget anthropogenic factors. It is indeed the antithesis of denialism.
        Conversely, this denialist work of 2011 sets out its own blue-sky research, developing a grand theory with minimal ‘legacy’ within earlier work. The Wyatt Unified Wave Theory (WUWT) already has “implications for climate-change attribution and prediction” before the ink is even dry on these prelimenary findings. A few years on and we find it is being cited more by its own authors that anybody else. Denialism does not build on ‘legacy’ work and has itself no ‘legacy’ because it doesn’t stand the test of time.
        (2b2) Legacy worker.
        So where does Dicky Lindzen fit in here? There actually is a role for scientists who have found themselves on the wrong side of a scientific debate. That is to be hyper-critical of the new established findings: to leave no stone unturned, to go into the dark places others would not think to look.
        So has Lindzen & his ilk established any amendments to the consensus they have been bad-mouthing for so long? Have they, as they claim, got one inch towards overturning the dreaded consensus? Do pigs fly?
        Reviews of denialism usually dwell on their failed theories, their bankrupt argument, their egregious misinformation. Perhaps we should be more considerate of all their successes (or the total absence of them) when demonstrating their actual contribution to the science.

        (3) What constitutes acceptable denialist argument.
        The problem with Lindzen is that he is no longer useful within the scientific arena, and began straying into public debate many years ago. In the public arena, he continues with the same old broken arguments as though it was still the 1970s. I remember him from the telly back in 1990 – The Greenhouse Conspiracy” is what convinced me (and a few others who watched it with me) that AGW was real and dangerous, not exactly the message Lindzen hoped to impart. In the 2012 Westminster presentation we find the deluded old man telling us (Part 2 21:30) that the DMI 80N data shows “summer temperatures in the Arctic have not changed in decades. In winter you see these huge fluctuations, they’re kinda random. … Nothing dramatic seems to be going on.” His illustration would be better put if the silly old fool hadn’t shuffled the data he presents so no trend is ever going to be seen. (His first slide shows 2004, 2009, 1958, 2000.) And if he had plotted the annual data series (see here – usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’), the trend in Arctic temperature is plainly dramatic (+4ºC over 40 years, not something a climatologist should be ignoring) and the dramatic extent of Lindzen’s denial is made plain.
        Scientists should know that the place for setting out controversial work is in properly peer-reviewed literature. Denialists dodge proper peer-reviewed scientific literature. They dodge away from the literature. They dodge away from science itself.

  14. Pay attention to the global scene. Look at what evidence there is that in the world outside the US anyone really believes there is a real problem, or is contemplating doing anything effective about it.

    Here’s one ‘straw in the wind’:

    Here’s another:

    And a third:

  15. Paris does nothing. Those who are most enthusiastic have no commitments to reduce or even freeze under it. To find the real state of affairs read the UN Gap report. To find what China is doing with coal look at the Urgewald report. To find what China is saying look at the Telegraph report

    Look at table ES.2 in the Gap Report.

    But my point, and this is where I bow out, is that if the commenters and Tamino himself want to tackle the poisonous atmosphere on this site, you are going to have to admit that informed, disinterested, good faith dissent is possible.

    As long as you keep up the chorus of ‘denial, denialist’ you will change nothing. You will just keep on running a tiny echo chamber. Which is fine with me, I won’t be back, because I don’t need to be the object of it.

    No, I am not this mysterious beast you call a denialist. They don’t exist, at least not in the way you mean. Until you realise that you will not change.

    [Response: My opinion: your approach is the worst possible. Denying that denial exists, and failing to discriminate between those who express informed, disinterested, good faith dissent and those who don’t, not only helps the deniers sway public opinion with dishonesty, it sabotages, and is supremely insulting to, those who *do* express good-faith dissent.

    And by the way, your claim that I deny the existence of informed, disinterested, good faith dissent is wrong. Unfortunately, it’s also rare. Your strategy will only make it harder for their voices to be heard, let alone taken seriously.

    I won’t call you a “climate denier” because I have no evidence of that. I do have evidence that you’re a “denial denier.”]

    • Michel,
      First, whether Paris accomplishes anything is irrelevant to the question of whether anthropogenic climate change is a reality or what should be done about it. Second, to contend that because Paris does not put us across the finish line that it is worthless simply absurd! Paris is a first step–perhaps a baby step, but a first step that is essential if we are to reach the goal. Third, to discard any step that doesn’t “solve” the problem is a recipe for inaction–indeed, I would contend that that is its purpose. Even if we cannot hold warming to 2 degrees, it is simply folly to say that it therefore does not matter whether we reach 4 degrees. We are going to suffer some serious adverse effects due to climate change. Our actions can either make those effects better or worse–therefore our actions–any actions–matter.

  16. OK, lets keep an open mind, if you really do believe informed disinterested good faith dissent exists, cite some examples which meet your criteria.

    [Response: Here’s one: Friis-Christensen and Lassen proposed that global temperature is driven by solar cycle length, more than greenhouse gases. To me, the idea makes no sense, but it also seems to be good-faith dissent. Incidentally, the idea has since been discredited. In my opinoin, those who discredited the *men* are out of line, those who discredited the idea were doing science.

    And now, here’s one for you: Friis-Christensen’s and Lassen’s idea was promoted in Martin Durkin’s film “The Great Global Warming Swindle.” In doing so, he simply left out (of his graphs) the more recent data which discredits the idea. He also used a graph from their original work which of course didn’t have solar cycle data from 1610 to 1710, because there weren’t any to use. Durkin’s film, however, displays data for the entire period. Where did they get it? According to none other than Friis-Christensen himself, they

    “… made up this break with fabricated data that made it appear as if temperatures and solar cycles had followed one another very closely for the entire 400-year period.

    “We have reason to believe that parts of the graph were made up of fabricated data that were presented as genuine. The inclusion of the artificial data is both misleading and pointless.”

    Now here’s my question for you: should I refer to Martin Durkin’s behavior as “good faith dissent”? Should I call it “denial”? What term would you propose?

    • Michel,

      Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. Scientists are rigorously trained to record empirical evidence without being fooled, but even a trained scientist can still fool himself. That’s what ‘peer review’ is for. Peers don’t let their peers fool themselves!

      Friis-Christensen and Lassen, the two scientists Tamino mentions in his inline response, think they’re right and the lopsided consensus of their peers is wrong. Occam’s Razor, however, makes it more reasonable to suspect that Friis-Christensen and Lassen are fooling themselves. They evince an embarrassing lack of humility at best. Actually accusing their peers of conspiracy to fabricate data is hardly good faith dissent; I, for one, am quite willing to call that “denial”.

      [Response: I shouldn’t have let this comment through in the first place. This blog is not about Friis-Christensen’s and Lassen’s “denial” status. He asked me for an example which I believed was good-faith dissent, so I gave one. Without potent evidence, I will continue to presume good faith.]

  17. Very curious, michel. You say, flatly, “Paris does nothing,” and you cite the Gap Report as authority–despite the fact that Paris sets the terms for the Gap Report. One might think that’s ‘something.’

    Further, the Report also says, in discussion of figure ES.1, that:

    There is increasing evidence that these emissions have remained more or less stable for the past three years, reversing the
    previous tendency of increases each year.This may indicate a decoupling of energy- and industry-related CO2 emissions from economic growth during these years, in which global Gross Domestic Product increased by between 2 and 3 percent annually. The main drivers have been reduced growth in coal use since 2011, primarily in China and secondarily in the United States, growing renewable power capacity and generation, especially in China and India, combined with enhanced energy efficiency and structural changes in the global economy.

    One might think that’s ‘something.’ Admittedly, one can’t attribute that to “Paris”, since the latter obviously wasn’t signed in 2014, but one can, I think reasonably assume that there is a strong connection to the whole COP process under the UNFCCC framework–the latest iteration of which is the Paris Accord.

    One should also consider this:

    I’m not sure what is specifically meant by the statement that ” Those who are most enthusiastic have no commitments to reduce or even freeze under it.” For starters, who is “most enthusiastic”? And what are you counting as a “freeze”? Do you mean an instant freeze, or would a commitment to peak at a later date, in the manner of China’s pledge to do so by 2030 (or if possible, earlier) count?

    There’s a pretty good summary of NDCs available (link below), and I would say that most–in fact almost all–include ‘commitments to reduce or even freeze’. But let’s agree on definitions first.

    Finally, I think that there’s a widespread misconception about Paris. That is that because targets are nationally determined and because there is no mechanism to ‘punish’ laggards directly, that the process has no effect. However, I think that idea proceeds from an unexamined assumption that there is no intrinsic punishment for failure. If one is in denial about the consequences of climate change, one will of course believe that cheating is quasi-rational, because there is no cost to cheaters as a result of the failure of the process, whereas there may be economic advantage. (That is, of course, the Trumpian view.)

    If, however, one understands that this is a survival situation, then one realizes that failure to further the process does have a very high potential cost. Actually, it has two: the direct consequence of failure, and the consequences as a group member of being seen to shirk. As an analogy, imagine a group of castaways building and provisioning a raft in order to escape from an otherwise uninhabited island. From any individual’s point
    of view, if the raft doesn’t get built, he or she remains stuck on the island (group consequence). And further, if one doesn’t contribute to the project, there is the risk that one will be excluded from the project and still remain stuck.

    Ah, you might say, that’s an extrinsic consequence of precisely the sort that Paris does not include. Fair enough–but recall that Paris does two things. First, every country included has made a pledge specifying what their contribution to the project is to be. Thereby they are made accountable because there is a specific, agreed metric for action. Second, there is a ongoing process established for delivering accountability by examining and reporting actual progress toward the agreed goal–and one which is explicitly geared toward increasing the ambition of the commitments, because all parties realize that that is required. It’s a truism that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. In this sense, Paris goes a long way toward meeting the ‘measurement’ requirement at the least.

    Again, one might think that that is ‘something.’

    As a final point on this, consider the following questions. What extrinsic consequence could or should be imposed on a ‘climate laggard’ nation? How could it be imposed on states as disparate as the US and China on one hand, or on Guatemala or Kiribati on the other? And how severe is that consequence in comparison with the intrinsic consequences of failure to mitigate climate change?

    To put that last a little differently, let’s imagine ourselves as leaders of a hypothetical country. Would we prefer to accept a regime of trade and administrative sanctions that might inconvenience some of our elites and cost our economy some small fraction of its growth potential for a few years? Or would we prefer to accept the permanent degradation of our economic potential, public health, ecological and economic infrastructure?

    • “I’m not sure what is specifically meant by the statement that ” Those who are most enthusiastic have no commitments to reduce or even freeze under it.” For starters, who is “most enthusiastic”? And what are you counting as a “freeze”? Do you mean an instant freeze, or would a commitment to peak at a later date, in the manner of China’s pledge to do so by 2030 (or if possible, earlier) count?”

      Yes, fair enough, China, India and the developing world have no quantitative targets on emissions, but they were not especially enthusiastic about Paris. Carelessly written.

      • Michel, it strongly appears to me that you have been badly misinformed about the Paris agreement. In the agreement ALL (yes, ALL) parties will prepare quantitative targets: the so-called NDC (nationally determined contributions).

        Guess what, those of India are publicly available, as well as those of many other countries (many of those from the developing world):

      • Following up with excerpts from the Chinese NDC, as a convenience for those who don’t want to link to it.

        1) Historical background:

        In 2009, China announced internationally that by 2020 it will lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40% to 45% from the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to about 15% and increase the forested area by 40 million hectares and the forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters compared to the 2005 levels. In this connection, China has enacted and implemented [a longish list of specific official policy documents follows.]

        China has [a longish list of specific actions follows]. By 2014 the following has been achieved:
        • Carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP is 33.8% lower than the 2005 level;
        • The share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption is 11.2%;
        • The forested area and forest stock volume are increased respectively by 21.6 million hectares and 2.188 billion cubic meters compared to the 2005 levels;
        • The installed capacity of hydro power is 300 gigawatts(2.57 times of that for 2005);
        • The installed capacity of on-grid wind power is 95.81 gigawatts (90 times of that for 2005);
        • The installed capacity of solar power is 28.05 gigawatts (400 times of that for 2005); and
        • The installed capacity of nuclear power is 19.88 gigawatts (2.9 times of that for 2005).

        2) Current policy

        Resource conservation and environmental protection have become the cardinal national policy, placing mitigation and adaptation on equal footing, promoting innovation in science and technology and putting in place the necessary management and regulatory mechanisms and systems. China will accelerate the transformation of energy production and consumption and continue to restructure its economy, optimize the energy mix, improve energy efficiency and increase its forest carbon sinks, with a view to efficiently mitigating greenhouse gasemissions. China ismaking efforts to embark on a sustainable development path that is in line with its national circumstances and leads to multiple wins in terms of economic development, social progress and combating climate change.

        Yes, I know; words are cheap. But this is clearly not intended to communicate lack of enthusiasm. If one maintains that this is purely ‘for show’, then the question arises, ‘Why, if China is so anxious about public image, doesn’t it give a damn about what everyone thinks when it comes, for instance, to the ‘nine-dash line’? Or, to put it another way, why ruin one’s credibility by making a pledge that one doesn’t intend to act on? It’s one thing to make one and fail egregiously, as Canada for instance did; one presumes that the intention was genuine, but not robust enough to stand up to the temptation of petrodollars when the tarsands became ‘big’. It’s another to decide to ruin one’s credibility cold-bloodedly and in advance. To be sure, it has happened in the past, and probably will again. (Somehow, the word “Sudetenland” is coming to mind here–but although Hitler was willing to ‘go there’–pun intended–note that he ultimately did pay a fatal price for exposing himself as a premeditated liar.)

        3) NDC commitments

        China has nationally determined its actions by 2030 as follows:

        • To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early;
        • To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level;
        • To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and
        • To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.

        So, we have:

        1) A pledge quantified in terms of time but not magnitude–but note that it does mean absolute emissions reductions, a ‘first’ in the context of developing nations in the COP process. That concession ends a major, longstanding sticking point in UNFCCC negotiations–and one long-sought by the US.

        2) A pledge quantified in terms of carbon *intensity*, albeit not in absolute terms. Yet the latter will still be constrained by this pledge, since one can make reasonable assumptions about future economic growth, which would allow one to derive a range of emissions.

        3) A specific quantified pledge on land use, amounting to a commitment to increase carbon sinks in China.

        There follows a list of policy areas, A (“Implementing Proactive National Strategies on Climate Change”) through O (“Promoting International Cooperation on Climate Change”), each of which offers more or less actions in particular spheres, and incorporating several more quantitative target–for example, the most substantive one (IMO) is “To phase down the production and consumption of HCFC-22 for controlled uses, with its production to be reduced by 35% from the 2010 level by 2020,
        nd by 67.5% by 2025 and to achieve effective control on emissions of HFC-23 by 2020.”

        It may or may not be sincere; but if one wishes to assume it is not, one should at least consider the record of past performance as described in the ‘historical background’ section.

      • A further observation that just came across my transom:

        Summarizing: India set very ambitious goals for solar power a few years ago; it was observed at the time that they would be hard to meet. Several years later, they have added a *lot* of capacity, but still lag their targets. But rather than giving up, they seem to be trying a ‘hail Mary’ pass–though maybe that simile has unduly pessimistic connotations; I mean mostly that this measure tries to bite off a large chunk at once.

        My take on it is that it does demonstrate considerable seriousness of purpose. To be sure, it’s not all about climate change. As the story states, one motivation is to nurture Indian solar manufacturing capabilities; and others include addressing the horrific air pollution problem (even worse than China’s) and furthering economic development (since solar is now cheaper than new coal capacity–it’s probably cheaper than operating existing coal capacity, actually, though I don’t know that to be a fact in the Indian context.) The same is true of much Chinese policy, too.

        But I don’t insist on ‘pure’ motivations for mitigating carbon emissions. I’ll take ’em anyway.

  18. … did Mr Watts answer?