I am not a climate scientist

Reader “Deltaeus” expressed his frustration about many aspects of the “debate” about climate change, including the fact that there are shallow arguments all over the place. I’d like to respond to some of his comments.


First let me say that I admire the motive to learn for yourself, and to do so in some depth. Few can be expected to acquire genuine expertise, but we all want to know as many of the details as we can handle, and we all rebel against bullshit while admiring deep and/or penetrating thought.

He mentions that “Non-denier sites can also present facile arguments.” This is true, and frankly, when they do it makes me cringe. But I contend that they do so far less often than climate denier sites, and when I say “far less” I mean so much so that the difference isn’t a fluke, a random fluctuation. The dominance of facile arguments by climate deniers indicates that they are much more strongly influenced by motivated reasoning, or in some cases, by genuine dishonesty — using an argument which they know full well is wrong or irrelevant, but which will be persuasive.

The second aspect (using arguments which they themselves know to be misleading) is argument in bad faith; they’re not trying to get at, or communicate, the truth, they’re trying to increase the level of uncertainty and doubt. I’m not saying that most do, but I find that while facile arguments are more common in climate denial sites, bad-faith arguments are vastly more common in climate denial sites.

I’ve also noted that facile arguments, claims which betray naiveté rather than expertise, are astoundingly rare from climate scientists. They’re not unheard-of, but most of the naive claims from climate activist sites come from those with insufficient knowledge to speak authoritatively, those with an activist agenda, and from members of the media. The media is especially culpable in this regard, because while it’s not their job to become experts in science, it is their job to consult experts — and not just the ones who might agree with their particular political/social leanings (Fox News).

I will also mention that sometimes it is appropriate to simplify things for general understanding.

To Deltaeus, I recommend that you seek out sites that will give high-quality information with little or no oversimplification, and absolutely no claims or arguments made in bad faith. In my opinion, the best source by far is the website RealClimate. Their banner says “Climate science from climate scientists,” and it’s true. I don’t know of a single case in which they have ever made any bad-faith arguments, or even simplified explanations for any reason other than making them accessible to a wider audience. That website is a treasure.

I also recommend staying away from bad-faith and horrible-quality websites. That of Tony Heller/Steve Goddard is one of the worst, but perhaps worst of all is “Watts Up With That” because it’s a firehose spewing forth the largest possible volume of misiniformation, some of it in bad faith, much of it facile. I have, on very rare occasions, seen good quality posts there — but wading through a gigaton of crap to reach a mustard seed of thoughtful critique isn’t worthwhile, it’s actually counterproductive.

Another resource for those wanting to learn more is online courses. Yes, the subject is science so it behooves those who want to learn in depth to learn some science. Just as an example, one can find an online course in the basics from Penn State University. I haven’t done anything like an exhaustive search of such resources, perhaps other readers can recommend further resources along those lines.

I also wish to address Deltaeus’ comment that “I’m sure we’ve all read an article that basically boiled down to “97% of scientists say it is so“.” I suggest that this is not a facile argument, it’s one of the most important. There really is such a thing as expertise, and for most questions about atmospheric physics and meteorology I don’t have that expertise. I’m pretty well educated in physics, but not in the specifics applicable to climate science. I will sometimes speculate, and I consider my speculations educated but I suspect that I don’t often enough clarify when my speculations aren’t genuine expertise. My expertise is statistics, which is why I’m often able to see through some of the bullshit arguments from deniers (and why my peer-reviewed publications in climate science are limited to the analysis of data rather than physical theory).

In any case, expertise is something real, not just a “talking point” and not a facile argument. If you had cancer, you could find a great many websites which would offer alternative treatments, you could even find those which would dispute the cancer diagnosis. You could even find medical doctors who would dispute the diagnosis and/or recommended treatment. But if 97% of M.D.s, heck if 97% of oncologists, confirmed a diagnosis and reached a consensus on the best recommended treatment … don’t you think their opinion is much more reliable — much — than that of the host of alternatives?

In closing, I’ll say to Deltaeus that when I first started this blog (over 10 years ago) you were my target audience. My goal was to provide information for those who were educted, intelligent, curious, and willing to invest the effort to move beyond the 5-second soundbite, as well as to refute much of the crap I saw on the internet. But my goal now is different. In the last decade I’ve seen temperatures rise, ice melt, sea level rise, USA wildfire explode, coastal cities flood with no storm or wind, heatwaves kill by the thousands, drought and flooding expand, all the while American politics has recently taken the worst possible turn.

At the start I was concerned, but even more I was curious. Now I am genuinely worried, not just about the broad future, but about the near future. As much as I enjoy helping folks acquire a more sophisticated knowledge of the science and especially statistics, these days I’m mainly interested in helping the teenagers who are marching for climate action secure a better life. One of the adjectives climate deniers most often apply to people like me is “alarmist.” I am, truly, alarmed.


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37 responses to “I am not a climate scientist

  1. Thank you Tamino for inspiring a younger generation of data and earth scientists. As a high latitude resident I have lived through these changes and am alarmed when the older generation comes to me and asks why is everything different, and these are folks who’ve lived through multiple cycles of internal variability. Here in Alaska the anthropocentric signal is clear and doesn’t hide in the noise.

  2. Your summary sounds familiar; not so dissimilar to my evolution as an interested hobbyist. I’m an engineer, with a strong math and physics background, specializing in non-contact temperature measurement methods (pyrometry and phosphor thermometry.) My own segue was around 1986, with the then recent admission by NASA that a software program “masked” earlier recognition of a developing problem with stratospheric ozone depletion (mostly nearer the poles where frozen oxides of nitrogen catalytically enhanced the effects of released, free halides and their effects shifting partial pressures of O3 and monatomic oxygen towards O2.)

    But this narrow focus of mine was soon expanded to climate by Dr. Hansen’s testimony a couple of years later, in the summer of 1988. Another two years later, I purchased Jonathan Weiner’s excellent book, “The Next 100 Years,” and read it carefully in 1990. (He would later earn a Pulitzer prize in 1995 for non-fiction book, “The Beak of the Finch.”) I also wrote to him and we exchanged a few thoughts. I learned a lot and I was quite impressed with him and his book’s breadth and research.

    I think these five years, those from about 1986 through 1990, where I was just dipping my toes in the water, became an abiding interest as I slowly accumulated more understanding of details. In 1990, I also decided to get and read Rasool & Schneider’s July 1971 paper, “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate.” At the time, it was already known to be wrong on the CO2 conclusion. But it did also introduce (at least to me) the ideas of particulate matter in the atmosphere. And I think that was an important addition. It took a very simplified, 1D approach on the CO2 and failed to account for details which are now well-known. There were a number of nearly immediate criticisms of this paper in Letters, including in fact two critical errors that the authors themselves would soon identify and write about, as well. So by 1972, their conclusion on CO2 was already “put to bed.” But the paper itself provided me with the perfect segue to begin my own learning of the physics. It was simple and could be understood readily. Which then allowed me to understand better the criticisms. Which then formed a better basis for me to move forward. So I very much value that paper despite the problems with it.

    Since then, I’ve gone from a “Hmm, this might be serious in a century or two,” back in 1990, to “I might yet live to see entire civilizations and the very tapestry of life on Earth struggling very significantly,” now. The urgency as well as the importance has only tended to increase as I’ve gradually accumulated a broader and deeper (but not a comprehensive) view and as improved results and broadened understandings have developed over time.

    In the last dozen years, my family and I have worked to reduce our consumption and waste. But we are also currently in the middle of another process, working towards still lower consumption and waste through building a community that grows and creates much of what it needs and will include people of varying ages and interests. (Not an easy process in the US, for myriad reasons.) I have a modest amount of relevant experience, having co-founded and operated a business with 45 employees. But that doesn’t really prepare me for what I’m facing. This is probably the most difficult business plan I’ve undertaken and surviving the first five years is where I’m focused. If we survive that long (no plan ever looks like the reality five years later, so continual review and adaptation skills will be critical) I think the rest can follow more easily. I can at least hope for this small droplet added into a huge planet-sized bucket of need for individual and collective change.

    As a final note, I’ve been helping fund legal support for the Eugene, Oregon based group called “Our Children’s Trust.” It’s where some of our children and grandchildren are suing for better from our government in Juliana v. U.S.

  3. One of the factoids that I used when I was teaching climate change is that roughly half of the fossil-fuel CO2 that has accumulated in earth’s atmosphere has accumulated since 1985 (see keeling curve: https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/) .

    If we had gotten serious about CO2 emissions in the 90’s we would be well on our way to solving the problem. Still, it is better late than never since the final temperature anomaly will depend on our cumulative emissions.

  4. I can think of a few useful resources for someone looking to become better informed (in addition to this website and realclimate.org).

    First, I would suggest a course that I took some years ago, taught by David Archer (one of the climate scientists at RealClimate.org). Offered by Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/learn/global-warming. This goes into the basic science. Some math is necessary — at the level of middle school algebra.

    Then there was a course offered by John Cook of the University of Queensland, Australia, called Denial101x. The videos of the course are available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/denial101x. This covers the approaches taken by climate science denialists in some detail, and responds to them.

    Another suggestion would be the website Skeptical Science: https://skepticalscience.com. This was put together by a group of collaborators, including John Cook and others. It addresses most of the arguments against the conclusions of climate scientists put forward by denialists.

    There are others, but these should keep someone interested in the subject busy for a while.

  5. Hi Tamino,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful reply :-)

  6. rhymeswithgoalie

    From my perspective, the most problematic non-denier arguments:

    (1) Looking at record floods rather than RECORD RAINFALL. Some flooding is made worse by common man-made changes in terrain. There’s plenty enough scary rainfall nowadays without blaming pavement and deforestation-based floods on AGW, too.

    (2) Looking at lake freeze dates rather than area temperature histories, without taking into account chemical or thermal pollution (like the Charles River Basin in the 1970s).

    (3) Conflating Global Mean SLR (which is only useful as a metric of planetwide ocean increase in volume) with local sea level behavior, which is highly variable due to slumping, erosion, uplift, proximity to ice cap gravity, etc. It doesn’t help when a reporter is standing on a subsiding coastline and talks about GMSLR.

    (4) Talking up expensive community adaptation where people should seriously consider abandonment. Here’s Richard Alley’s discussion of AGW economics:

  7. Many thanks for your blog, Tamino.

  8. The 97% argument is not a claim that because they are the overwhelming majority those scientists must be correct, but rather, is a legitimate response to false claims that there is widespread and fundamental disagreement amongst them. I suggest the US National Academy of Sciences as a reliable and non-partisan source of accurate information, and/or the UK’s Royal Society.

    These organisations draw on the world’s most accomplished and respected scientists, across every kind of discipline – reviewing and making sense of complex science in order to advise governments and public has been a key role for them. Their reputations for promoting excellence in science has been thoroughly earned, as has their reputation for probity. In a real sense, the essential scientific scepticism – taking no one’s word for it – is done on behalf of non-expert people by them. Doing it personally is always welcomed, but a complex, multi-faceted area of study like climate change is going to be beyond even most credentialed scientists to thoroughly critique and review.

  9. Okay, I like the point of the post, but, perhaps more than any posts Tamino has written, I disagree with some of his assertions.

    One at a time.

    He mentions that “Non-denier sites can also present facile arguments.” This is true, and frankly, when they do it makes me cringe. But I contend that they do so far less often than climate denier sites, and when I say “far less” I mean so much so that the difference isn’t a fluke, a random fluctuation.

    The degree to which an argument is straightforward or, if you will, facile depends in part upon the depth of knowledge and understanding the audience has. Conservation of Energy is a pretty strong constraint. Given that energy cannot escape systems which are disconnected except by (effective) vacuum means that the mechanism of transmission has to be radiation. Accordingly, unless you really want to entertain Earth or any other object being reduced to a slug of molten rock when subjected to solar radiation, Blackbody Radiation is almost a logical consequence of Conservation of Energy. Given impediments to outgoing radiation, while any amount of jumbling about retaining such energies via “internal variability” and the like might interfere, in the end, if that energy does not escape, it means, on average, that the system warms. Internal variability might very well impede specific predictions of impacts, but, to my mind, it says very very little about the long term energy balance.

    Accordingly, as in most of Physics, there are simple statements, and Mathematics, and these permit one to infer a lot of things in a very powerful way. That’s not being facile. That’s knowing stuff.

    I also wish to address Deltaeus’ comment that “I’m sure we’ve all read an article that basically boiled down to “97% of scientists say it is so“.” I suggest that this is not a facile argument, it’s one of the most important. There really is such a thing as expertise, and for most questions about atmospheric physics and meteorology I don’t have that expertise. I’m pretty well educated in physics, but not in the specifics applicable to climate science.

    Public opinion polls of scientists or anyone else are, in my opinion, next to worthless, apart from the set of people in the world who (a) are either uneducated so that they cannot understand the science involved in climate, or (b) are unwilling to understand it. In the case of “(b)”, I have nothing to say to them, apart from the set of problems you are faced with as voting members of your society demand you understand these issues. Don’t like it? Tough.

    In the case of “(a)”, to be a voting member you ought to get educated.

    I very much disbelieve in surrendering authority to climate scientists, meteorologists, or anyone else in these matters. I think a well-educated citizen should be perfectly able to grasp these things. And when a climate or meteorological scientist embraces superior knowledge, experience, and training to lord over anyone else, I am completely disgusted by it.

    Then there was a course offered by John Cook of the University of Queensland, Australia, called Denial101x. The videos of the course are available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/denial101x. This covers the approaches taken by climate science denialists in some detail, and responds to them.

    I took that course. It was for most part very fine. When they came to part where they were teaching how to hack the human psyche to convey the principles of, oh, I don’t know what to call it, maybe counter denialism, I quit the course. I’m not in any of this to manipulate people’s heads. And I do not care at all if people have chosen to set up a system where the major decisions are made by the dominance of opinion of people, mostly who are not properly educated upon the issues at hand. That, if anything, is simply testimony for the failure such a system to be a good system of governance.

    • I’m not sure what you’re getting at with point #2. Some actual experts–including auto mechanics, physicians, and physicists–may be arrogant and short with obvious ignorance. And that is often wrong–socially, at least–in some ways. But that is not “lording” in the least. Scientists have no power over this group generally to “lord” with.

      The vast majority of the “lording” I’ve seen in science settings over the years involves senior scientists abusing young scientists/students, not ignorant nonscientists.

  10. The “97% of scientists” thing has always seemed to me to possibly be an understatement. I wonder if the percentage is significantly higher when you consider only scientists who are not compromised by large payments from the fossil fuel industry.

    • rhymeswithgoalie

      It may be obvious to readers of this forum, but a large hunk of society (including creationists and AGW deniers) don’t know what scientists are; they’ll conflate physicians, dentists, technicians and engineers with professional researchers. Even using the generic “scientists” is meaningless when talking about expertise, since a microbiologist wouldn’t know a molten planetary core if it hit her in the face.

    • Andy
      Payments from the fossil fuel industry is only one facet of pseudo scientific denial .
      Religious conviction and clinging to the extremes of right wing ideology also has a large part to play.
      I say this as someone who formally identified as at the far right end of the overton window within my country’s political landscape.
      Once I came to terms with the reality of climate change I found I also needed to reject my former politics as it was too often built on lies and misdirection incidentally exposed by my reading of AGW Blogs and material over a number of years.
      I call the 3% pesudo scientific as even from my uneducated perspective persons like Dr Roy reject the well supported conclusions of science for their ideology be it religion of political… in Dr Roys case both .

  11. There is a free introductory course from the UK-based Open University that might be useful for people looking for a solid introduction.
    Climate change – OpenLearn – Open University – S250_3
    http://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/the-environment/climate-change/content-section-0

  12. I suppose it’s worth pointing out, once again, that science *is* in fact based upon consensus–but that that consensus is evidence-based. Not politics-based, not personality-based, not fashion-based.

    And that is not because scientists are more virtuous, on average, than anyone else. It’s because the criteria of the system of publication and discussion is set up that way. And it’s set up that way because fundamentally, scientists are people who really, really want to know stuff, and to a high degree of reliability. Hence a culture and infrastructure have evolved in order to further that desire. (“Evolved” is probably a bit misleading, in that large dollops of intentional design were clearly involved, but let that pass.)

    It is in that degree of driving, obsessive curiosity that scientists differ from the population at large. Most humans are pretty curious, but scientists are willing consistently to take enormous trouble in pursuit of it. People who have that motivation, and who have the necessary level of base ability, self-select into the profession preferentially.

    Or so I see it. (I’m not a scientist myself, but I’ve known quite a few, socially and familially–if that’s a word–over the years.)

    • Doc,
      I think that most people don’t understand what is meant by “scientific consensus”. It is not reflected by a vote or a survey, but rather by the models, ideas and methods one must use to contribute productively to one’s field. A climate scientist may not be comfortable saying humans are more or less exclusively responsible for the warming seen. However, that is an inescapable conclusion if one accepts use of the standard theory of Earth’s climate. It doesn’t matter what the scientist “believes”. If he/she uses the prevailing models, etc., the acceptance is implicit.

      One doesn’t have to like that conclusion. One can protest that one is merely using the model “provisionally,” but in doing so, one is accepting that it is the best model around and that the assumptions underlying it and the conclusions that result from it represent our best scientific understanding of the subject.

      For this reason, I think that the scientific literature–both in terms of publications and citations–reflects the best measure of scientific consensus. Those who are more productive get a greater vote, because their ideas, etc. are most productive. So in this sense, scientific consensus is more than a mere heuristic. It is a direct measure of how good a theory is–if you can’t do without it, consensus is 100%.

      As to heuristics, I like consilience. If a whole bunch of diverse lines of evidence all point toward the same conclusion, it becomes kind of hard to argue against.
      By these criteria, it becomes very hard to argue against the standard model of Earth’s climate in anything at all like a scientific fashion–and that is why the debates degenerate into namecalling. Denialists have neither the law nor the facts, so they pound the table.

    • This is an off-topic side issue which pushed one of my buttons, sorry, but:
      “Hence a culture and infrastructure have evolved in order to further that desire. (“Evolved” is probably a bit misleading, in that large dollops of intentional design were clearly involved, but let that pass.)”

      Who says “design” is not an evolutionary process? Not me, and I worked for 35 years as a design engineer. You’ve seen cars, cameras, computers, etc., evolve over your life time, haven’t you? The first commercial lightbulb used coarse thread with soot embedded in it as the filament. After trying hundreds of other things, Edison came up with his masterpiece: bamboo fiber.

      If by intentional you mean design has a goal, well sure, but ultimately it is the same goal as biological evolution. Designs succeed by survival in the marketplace. Engineers survive and reproduce by finding better designs. Science evolves by the survival of theories in the marketplace of ideas. Scientists …

      Sorry, I dislike it when people seem to assume there is something magic about human design. In fact, bacteria do it better. (About 10-20 years after the first synthetic fiber, nylon, was introduced, a strain of bacteria could digest it. You can bet that they will have a solution to climate change before we do–that works for them.)

      • I appreciate (and enjoyed reading) your thoughts.

        Just to clarify, I personally don’t impute ‘magic’ to human design (though sometimes really good design does feel a bit ‘magical.’) My comment was proceeding from the perspective that ‘true’ (ie., biological) evolution is at bottom driven by random variation, which is then winnowed by natural selection. (Years ago I wrote a program to generate musical ear-training exercises by a precisely analogous process–but ironically, the design process didn’t feel in the least random!)

        So my qualificatory clause was meant mostly to acknowledge the immense effort that went into creating the culture phenomenon we call science; coming from the perspective just described, it would have been possible to have viewed ‘evolve’ as a bit of a slight. (Clearly you wouldn’t have taken it that way.)

  13. I think that the most important point you make is about the expertise of climate scientists being actually important. The view that ‘science doesn’t care about consensus’ is something that I hear a lot from ‘skeptics’ and it is something that might sound convincing to people. Of course science isn’t decided by consensus though, but we are talking about arguments for the laymen who are not participating in the science. Luckily, however, it is not necessary for a laymen to understand the science to still feel confident in holding a positive belief on it.

    Deltaeus’s example conversation is a perfect example of the pitfalls someone falls in when they choose to hold their own scientific opinion on a subject. And I have had this conversation as well with people who ask me questions about climate science. Since I work in climate science family and friends who are skeptical about climate change will come up to me with something they read on one of those skeptic blogs. And of course I’m always happy to talk about the science with them and I can explain where that blog was going wrong. But that person can then simply take my answer back to google and find the skeptic response to what I just said. And then I have to back up my answer because I was simplifying a complex idea into something understandable. I can fill in the gaps in my answer that will cover the response, but then again the person can go back to their skeptic sources and find a response. This could go back and forth *forever*. Is this going to go back and forth until I have filled in every gap in their knowledge about climate science? No, that’s impractical and actually unnecessary.

    We all believe things we can’t prove scientifically. I believe in evolution theory but I bet if I were in a debate with a creationist ‘scientist’ I would be destroyed. Because although I know generally about the theory I don’t nearly have enough knowledge to hold my own scientific opinion on it. I would be destroyed in that debate but I would come out of it believing in evolution just the same because I never believed in evolution based on the scientific evidence. This would be a cardinal sin in science but I’m a laymen. I believe in evolution based on my knowledge of the expert consensus that has formed based on the ~150 years of research. Everything I have read suggests that people who know the most about (by far more than I do) believe that evolution is true.

    Trusting in scientific consensus is a value that we have held since the Enlightenment, and I think it is well earned. It is not in itself a direct evidence for a theory but it is a kind of evidence which is clearly based in reason and logic. Based on the values that underlie it of evidence based research, reproducibility, peer review … , we know it has value. Also, with theories like climate change the consensus is massive and, due to the way that science works, it is decentralized making it very difficult for outside forces to influence it. It also has continued success rate for finding truth. By educating ourselves in school about how scientific consensus is formed we can be confident in identifying what and why we believe all these theories.

    Also, I just want to expand on your example using medical science since I think this value is easiest seen there. If your friend were diagnosed with cancer and then coming out of the doctors office where they were just told the best route of action was chemotherapy, they were approached by someone who convinced them that their ‘holistic’ approach would heal them. Your first instinct probably would not be that you had to convince them of the *science* of chemotherapy but would be to convince them that medical science again and again produces the best chance at survival. The root problem would not be that they had lost their understanding of how chemotherapy works but they had lost their trust in medical science to heal them.

    This loss of trust in the scientific community/experts generally, I think is really concerning. I think we need to push the idea of worth in scientific consensus a lot more. Scientific journalism could help a lot with this, but unfortunately things are getting more and more muddled and it seems reasonable to people for them to grapple with the science themselves.

    • @Nicholas,

      And of course I’m always happy to talk about the science with them and I can explain where that blog was going wrong. But that person can then simply take my answer back to google and find the skeptic response to what I just said. And then I have to back up my answer because I was simplifying a complex idea into something understandable. I can fill in the gaps in my answer that will cover the response, but then again the person can go back to their skeptic sources and find a response. This could go back and forth *forever*. Is this going to go back and forth until I have filled in every gap in their knowledge about climate science? No, that’s impractical and actually unnecessary.

      This is why I decided that debating someone who is a denier in front of an general audience is a losing proposition. The audience doesn’t understand the science, so to parry a claim by a denier, you need to teach the audience some stuff, and this takes time and risks losing them. Deniers can make strongly sounding assertions all they want.

      This loss of trust in the scientific community/experts generally, I think is really concerning. I think we need to push the idea of worth in scientific consensus a lot more. Scientific journalism could help a lot with this, but unfortunately things are getting more and more muddled and it seems reasonable to people for them to grapple with the science themselves.

      This is accompanied and sometimes caused by a loss of trust in central authority, notably government authority. In the end, such a failure to trust causes lossage, not only of property and wealth, but ultimately lives, often those of the people lacking the trust, such as individuals told to evacuate from storm flooding areas who choose not to do so. There might be some Kahneman-and-Twersky fast thinking going on there, too, which is independent of whether or not there is a loss of trust.

      In the end, people are slow to learn, but they’ll come around. (Trains cause cows to miscarry, don’t you know that?) Trouble is, and as always we don’t control the natural clock.

  14. We want to be open minded – so I tried reading blogs that turned out to be conspiracy theorists.

    I stopped reading things like Wattsupwiththat because I can’t remember the last time it taught me anything. It once did something useful with its surface stations project:
    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2010JD015146

    But ~6 years after its founding, Watts announced a new paper with amazing results on US surface station data. They were wrong because it didn’t account for the time of day that measurements were taken.

    So after attacking temperature measurement experts, after SIX YEARS he hadn’t worked out that the afternoon tends to be warmer than the early morning. The blog was literally that dumb, and your articles Tamino show that even after more than a decade the conspiracy blogosphere hasn’t learned how to do the most basic tests to see if their ideas are supported or not.

    It’s faster to get a physics masters and a climate science PhD than it has been for the conspiracy blogosphere to start testing their ideas properly. Hundreds of pages of logical fallacies and conspiracy theories is just not worth your time if your aim is to learn about how the world really works.

    It can be kind of fun in the same way that learning from other people’s mistakes is always entertaining, though. We also have this blog for that.

    • Philippe Chantreau

      MarkR hits it on the head. It took six years for Watts to come up with something that was not even wrong, while the correct work that his ideas could have led to had already been done by NOAA. That’s why I always recommend to not waste a single minute reading his nonsense. Any time spent on Watts BS is wasted.

      As someone else said above, the consensus argument on SkS stemmed from a denier’s argument: that there was disagreement in the science community. A quick examination showed that there isn’t. Then deniers proceed on attacking the basis of their own prior argument. If consensus doesn’t mean then why would you argue that there isn’t one?

      The truth is that deniers have zero valid argument not already well investigated by the science. They have nothing, absolutely nothing. Consequently, the mind manipulators from think tanks with fanatical socio-economic ideologies try all the tricks in the books to manipulate public opinion, with great success.

    • “…if your aim is to learn about how the world really works.” That’s the critical piece. With WUWT et al, that is not the real agenda at all. If it was, endless regurgitation of discredited viewpoints wouldn’t be such a feature.

    • I think it’s a hard thing to teach people how to distinguish between serious opinion and bullshit. One thing I think you can point to though, in a case like Wattsupwiththat, is the strategy of throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. There is no quality control and no consistency, it just goes out if in some way it casts shade on climate science and mitigation. So you get random cherry-picked graphs, claims to overthrow accepted physics, conspiracy theories about scientists and politicians, snarky jabs at celebrities who ever said anything about climate change, paraphrased quotes from small studies that may or may not have any credence in the larger community, analysis from “experts” in random fields who never worked on climate science, etc. If one has to pull a “serious” critique from all that mess, the odds are that it isn’t actually serious.

      Contrast that with a blog like this, or realclimate.org, where one can see that the content-creators are consistently serious and detail-minded.

  15. I believe (perhaps wrongly) that the 97% meme originally arose from an analysis of a large number of peer-reviewed scientific papers published during a defined period pertaining to climate science in which it could be determined, based on the content of the paper, what position they took on the issue of AGW. It was not, therefore, a public opinion poll of scientists generally. The percentage (97%) referred to the fraction of reviewed papers agreeing with the consensus that humans are causing global warming.
    Link: https://skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm
    This analysis was published in 2013. I’m inclined to agree with AndyM that the percentage of climate scientists that agree with this consensus has risen since then (although I have no data to support that suggestion).

  16. I think many people believe science is debated by sophists, and whoever puts forth the cleverest rhetorical argument must be right. Too often a politician (I won’t mention my congressman, Scott Perry’s, name) will say he has listened “to both sides” of the issue. I’ve seen an awful lot of this done by Creationists.

  17. Tamino, you suggested we provide other sources that might be helpful – Spencer Weart’s history of climate science is very useful – here’s the summary link https://history.aip.org/climate/summary.htm The bibliography is good, too, to show the unconvinced that this isn’t new stuff invented by Al Gore.

    But I like books – they don’t pop up ads or other distractions – they just provide information with a minimum of fuss. So:

    “The Warming Papers: The Scientific Foundation for the Climate Change Forecast” edited by Archer and Pierrehumbert collects and introduces milestone papers going back to Fourier’s “On the Temperatures of the Terrestrial Sphere and Interplanetary Space” from 1824. A quick search showed e-book is available but pricey – paper copies are out there but I’m keeping mine.

    The Princeton Press series “Primers in Climate” are good reviews of different components of the systems that produce a climate on a water planet. The sun, ocean, bio/and/cryosphere and other topics reviewed, each in a couple hundred pages or so. I recommend them all (and look forward to these pending titles).
    Natural Climate Change – Mark Cane
    Abrupt Climate Change – Jonathan Overpeck
    Terrestrial Hydrology and the Climate System – Eric F. Wood
    https://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/series/date/princeton-primers-in-climate.html

    “A Vast Machine – Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming” by Paul Edwards was an interesting history of the international cooperation that went into creating global weather observation and reporting, also touching on some of the competition for computer and other resources that might explain a bit of why some meteorologists tend to dismiss or resent climate science. Also mention of staggering quantities of punch cards that was part of the staggering amount of observations that pile weather into climate.

  18. “A Vast Machine – Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming” by Paul Edwards was an interesting history of the international cooperation that went into creating global weather observation and reporting, also touching on some of the competition for computer and other resources that might explain a bit of why some meteorologists tend to dismiss or resent climate science.

    I also think this is an important (and unique) book for those of us who aren’t privy to the details. It’s an exceptional piece of work and consumed perhaps two decades of the author’s life in preparing it. It’s one of the higher-valued work products and I learned a great deal from it that I hadn’t appreciated well, earlier.

    I was so impressed by the work, in fact, that I had to write the author and offer my heartfelt thanks for all that it took to produce and create, so that folks like me could understand this aspect better. I’m deeply in his debt for what he gave of himself to create it.

    So add yet another recommendation to yours. This is a highly readable, yet very, very informative book.

  19. I’ll take the opportunity to plug the mediocrity principle, which states that humans aren’t “special” in the universe. Once you accept that, you realize there’s no a priori reason to assume that our material prosperity has no hidden or deferred costs. It thus becomes easier to acknowledge AGW as the biggest ‘free market’ externality since the loss of global biodiversity resulting from the spread of agriculture.

    • @Mal Adapted,

      I like this logic.

      • Thanks hyperg. AFAICT the fundamental hurdle many AGW-deniers can’t get over is the belief that their material prosperity is divine providence. It’s explicitly what motivates some of the 3% of climate scientists, e.g. Roy Spencer and John Christy, who reject the peer consensus. In 1966, in one of the modern environmental movement’s founding documents, historian Lynn White identified theistic entitlement as The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis:

        Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all-powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image.

        Not all climate scientists who are devout Christians interpret the book of Genesis that way, rather taking a more humble view of humans as stewards of God’s creation. Katherine Hayhoe, for example, sees no conflict between her religious faith and her scientific commitment to not fooling herself about the threat of AGW.

      • All species go extinct. Perhaps this segment of the hominid tree will do so because of their self-importance.

      • Yes, there is actually a strain of Christian thought competing with “Dominionism”*, called “stewardship theology.” It is held by both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Christians, and has strong Scriptural foundations. Similar views exist in other religions as well:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewardship_(theology)

        *Note that the emphasis of Dominionism tends to be more political, in the extreme amounting to pure theocracy. But Dominionists tend to use Genesis 1:18 as a foundational text, and have in general not been slow (AFAICT) to adopt what they see as the environmental corollary of this familiar quote, which after all is put in the mouth of God himself:

        “”Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

        Emphasis often seems to fall on the ‘subdue’ part. And of course when the holders of these beliefs also think that the Rapture is due soon–some do, quite a few probably don’t (or at least recall that Scripture warned against trying to ‘time the market’ in this regard)–there’s little reason to be concerned about long-term consequences.

      • @Doc Snow,

        Betcha the original Hebrew in Torah for 1:18 reads differently. Christians often think their English versions are authoritative. Some don’t: The original Pilgrims, for instance, studied Hebrew because they understood this translational conundrum.

        First of all, 1:18 gets moved to 1:26 in Bereshi’it. Rashi remarks “… if he is worthy he dominates over the beasts and cattle, if he is not worthy he will sink lower than them, and the beast will rule over him ….”

        There is a reference to Genesis Rabbah 8:12 which reads

        “And dominate /ur’du the fish of the sea”—said R’ Chanina: If [a person] merited, “dominate! /ur’du” [the animals]; and if not, “they will be dominated /yeiradu” [by the animals]. Said R’ Yaakov of K’far Chanan: The one that is “in our image as our likeness” – “dominate! /ur’du”; the one that is not in our image and in our likeness – “they will be dominated /yeiradu”.

        Another source reports, even if it has an emphasis upon sustainable living:

        Maimonides understands our verse about dominion as teaching us that humans have a disposition to dominate, but that is not the purpose for which G-d created us. He writes, “The Torah tells man, “And rule over the fish of the sea etc.” – this does not mean that he was created for this purpose, but rather it informs us of the nature that the Holy One implanted in him.”[10]

        The Toldot Yitzhak addresses the following question: why does G-d state that human beings are only permitted a vegetarian diet after G-d tells them to rule over the fish, fowl, and animals? His answer teaches that the ruling over these creatures does not involve killing them for human food.[11]

        A further question: why does the Torah (here in Genesis 1:26 and 1:28) use the order fish– birds– animals?[12] The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, Prague,1550-1619) explains,[13]