Scientists Speak Out on Climate Science and Its Enemies

By Chris Mooney | May 7, 2010 9:52 am

There is a powerful letter, signed by 225 National Academies members, in the latest Science. Not only does it explain why we accept the consensus of mainstream climate science (or mainstream evolutionary science, or planetary science, or cosmology), but it denounces Cuccinelli-style tactics:

We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

Read the whole statement. Bravo to the these scientists for taking such a stand.

UPDATE: I now see that these scientists explicitly state they are not speaking on behalf of the National Academies. So I may have erroneously attributed the existence of the statement to the Academy in an earlier version of this post. It has been modified to remove this unwarranted assumption.

Comments (25)

  1. Michael

    What, absolute, amazing hypocracy! After attempting the most agregious scientific/political scam of all time, these sycophants have the gall to make accusations about the very tactics that they have been using for years…astounding.

    BTW, check out Al Gore’s new mansion by the shoreline…it’s a shame it’s going to be unindated in short order, at least according to him. Maybe it’s just an insurance scam…

  2. moptop

    Time for another two minute hate against Goldberg, I mean Goldman, oh, today it is this guy in VA. Is he breaking some kind of law?

  3. Prof Lil

    Why is it we never see any scientific proof when someone claims the accepted climate science is false. It seems that if you have enough information to claim that any science is a ‘scam’, at least some of that evidence would itself be scientific. Comments like ‘look at Al Gore’s mansion!’ don’t prove anything other than the man has a mansion. Who knew science was so emotional.

  4. Gaythia

    Chris, this is indeed a powerful letter. I appreciate the fact that you have posted a link to it here, to give people who don’t have a subscription to Science an opportunity to read it.

    Some of the comments here, and on the previous threads, are, in my opinion, indications of the threat that the science community faces. The comment at #1 above seems to characterize 225 National Academy of Science members as “sychophants” . In #1 on your previous post the commenter seems to describe scientific peer review as “investigations done by the friends & family of the climate scientists”.

    Our society can not thrive and progress without a vibrant scientific community that feels free to investigate and speak openly about complicated and controversial topics. The public needs to understand this.

  5. ChrisD

    Chris Mooney sez:

    Bravo to the National Academies (I suspect Pres Ralph Cicerone’s hand in this) for taking such a stand.

    As far as I can tell, the NAS had nothing to do with this. It’s signers are all NAS members, but that appears to be the end of it. I haven’t seen anywhere that the NAS itself was involved, and the statement itself explicitly szys that the signers are not speaking on behalf of the NAS.

  6. ChrisD

    @moptop #2:

    today it is this guy in VA. Is he breaking some kind of law?

    Probably not, but he sure as hell is twisting the one he’s apparently using as the excuse for his sad little fishing expedition.

  7. Chris Mooney

    Chris D. You are right and I have modified the post accordingly….

  8. I find it rather unbelievable that this group of thugs and bullies are now trying to play the victim card because one of their own was found to be knee deep in his own BS.

    As for who the real McCarthyites are, lets take a trip down memory lane, shall we.

    Bobby “One more Hit” Kennedy Jr. called AGW skeptics “traitors”
    James Hansen accused AGW skeptics of ‘high crimes against humanity‘ and wants trials for them.
    David Suzuki wants AGW skeptics jailed.
    Joe Romm wanted AGW skeptics strangled in their beds
    TPM’s Marc Morano wonders if we should execute or just jail AGW skeptics.
    Greenpeace “knows” who the AGW skeptics are, where they live and where they work
    Heidi Cullen wants AGW skeptics decertified.

    The AGW mafia can spare me their sanctimonious garbage.

  9. Nullius in Verba

    Prof Lil,

    “Why is it we never see any scientific proof when someone claims the accepted climate science is false.”

    Scientific discussion has been provided, but the next day the same call goes out again – “why has no scientific evidence been provided?”

    Because you won’t look at it, or because you define it away, that’s why.

  10. ChrisD

    @MikeH 8

    Gosh, how strange, I just saw this exact same list of BS elsewhere. You guys sure are good at copy & paste. Too bad you’re not so good at doing your own research. Or your own thinking.

    Let’s look at just a few of them:

    Hansen suggested that the heads of certain polluting industries–not skeptics–might be guilty of crimes against humanity because they know that what they are doing is harmful. Whether you agree with this or not, it’s very, very, very different from what this claim says.

    Heidi Cullen said in a blog post that TV weathermen who want AMS certification really should understand science. Does that sound like your copy & paste claim?

    “Strangle in their beds” was in a comment on Joe Romm’s blog. Romm didn’t make the comment. No, what Romm did was to remove the comment and state that he’s opposed to violence of any kind. This one is pretty close to libel.

    Marc Morano is a skeptic, not a proponent, so you might want to re-think this one.

    I don’t have time for this rest of this ridiculous twaddle. But I know who the real “thugs and bullies” are. They’re the ones who made up these insane lies about individuals.

    And the ones who pass them on without checking to see if they’re actually true.

  11. moptop

    Oh look, more scientific pushback on the IPCC’s disaster scenario. This time based on the data from the new climate satellites, the ones that have been in the air for a few years now. The ones gathering the kind of improved and judgement free climate data that we need.

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/05/strong-negative-feedback-from-the-latest-ceres-radiation-budget-measurements-over-the-global-oceans/

  12. Isn’t publishing this in Science preaching to the choir? Most climate sceptics can’t even read that magazine, unless they accidentally wander int oa university library.

  13. EDIT

    Odd, scientists now find they are in a quandary, and not everyone believes them. How strange. After years of innuendo, secrecy and sometimes outright lies, the public has started to question the IPCC findings. It comes back to some issue – which one I don’t know – the East Anglia emails? The NZ climate lies? The Himalaya mistake? The inability to make a single model that worked? The IPCC ‘errors’ where executive summaries did not match the data inside? Was it the fact that during WWII we had full melt of the Arctic, yet have the ice return. Or was it the threats senior scientists made quite openly against junior colleagues? We will probably never know

    Quite simply, why would you believe the IPCC? I have shortened this list by about 10 items that have been publicly aired, not the least of which is one of our own Geology experts publicly stating the IPCC findings were in error. No wonder you now have public doubt.

    I notice people like me are no longer called climate deniers or skeptics, in aggressive tones. Suddenly almost 50% of some populations are in doubt.

    Let this be a lesson for the future. Admit your mistakes. Tell the truth. Explain your findings without hammering them into peoples foreheads. Listen to constructive criticism. None of these were done, and Al Gore became more a liability than an asset, but you still backed him, even against the English Courts.

    Coming from a scientific background I was ashamed of many examples of hypocrisy and lies. Let this never happen again.

  14. Guy

    I like the opening paragraph.

  15. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.
  16. This says a lot. I do encourage people to read the whole well-written letter.

    Climate deniers can try to politicize the issue, spread disinformation and skew graphs in favor of less CO2 sensitivity. It only does them and everyone else a huge disservice because you can’t wish away the fact that anthropogenic global warming is real.

  • Nullius in Verba

    14.

    In what way is that argument different from Pascal’s Wager?

    Absolute certainty is not demanded. Just a reasonable level of evidence.

  • Guy

    “In what way is that argument different from Pascal’s Wager?”

    What’s wrong with Pascal’s Wager? It’s a simple logical argument. There is more evidence for anthropogenic global warming than there is for belief in God, yet some 95% of the people on the planet believe in a higher power.

    “Absolute certainty is not demanded. Just a reasonable level of evidence.”

    There is plenty of evidence if you’re willing to accept it. Review the scientific literature more on the subject. Put aside any bias or belief and examine it objectively.

    Your main bias from this and other threads is having to give up cheap sources of energy. I’m not sure that’s true. There have been cases where wind energy produced so much they actually paid people to use it. People who put solar panels on their roofs get paid for any excess energy they add to the grid. The potential energy needed is there, without using dirty fuels, we just need open our minds enough to see that it’s possible.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There is plenty of evidence if you’re willing to accept it. Review the scientific literature more on the subject.”

    I have done. I’ve spent several years doing so. And it’s precisely because I’ve done so that I’m a sceptic. I started off with the default acceptance that any scientist would have, until somebody raised some anomalies that led me to investigate further, and that’s when I found out about the state climate science was in, and concluded that there was insufficient evidence.

    You appear to be reasoning backwards – CAGW is true, therefore there must be evidence for it. I prefer to do it the other way round – what is the evidence, and does it imply CAGW? And I have looked. However, evidence so far has proved a will-o-the-wisp. There’s lots of circumstantial evidence for demonstrating various vaguely related claims, but they always leap over one or more steps of logic in reaching the final conclusion.

    And many of those I talk to repeat over and over that there is an “overwhelming mass of evidence”, and yet none of them seem to actually know what it is. They either come up with some mangled version of broken logic, or more often, cite a pile of papers and reports that they themselves have not read or understood. And I wonder what it is that has got them so solidly convinced, that no shred of doubt can enter their minds. “The scientific literature contains plenty of evidence.” Sure; until you actually go and look.

    I asked earlier about the reasoning behind professional bodies endorsing AGW, and you gave me a link to a report that did so. (Which was a good approach. I applaud that.) It stated (correctly) that the only evidence relied upon to attribute causation is the modelling of GCMs. It stated (correctly) that the reliability of these for long term prediction had been challenged. It didn’t go into the details of their problems, but it’s not hard to do so. I’d personally be very interested to know how they get round the issue. And so what answer did this document give to that? None. It just moved on to the next topic – evidence for continued warming, which of course does not confirm or contradict the GCMs, show causality, or contribute to a solution.

    In the end, the entire argument boils down to “We don’t know, there’s no actual empirical evidence, but we’re confident of the conclusion anyway.”

    As for wind power, yes, there have been cases where people get paid for using it, because it’s so unreliable that you can’t use it on any large scale in an electricity grid. You always have to have backup conventional power available, which means that when the wind starts to blow there’s too much to handle, and you have to give it away. Solar is similarly expensive. They’re not yet practical, and only exist because of corrupt subsidies, by means of which customers are forced to pay higher prices for them via taxation.

    Yes, the potential is there, with about another 30 years of research and development. And I look forward to the day when we switch over to solar power naturally – without pressure – because it saves us all money. I’m very much in favour, when it’s ready. Until then, your only large-scale alternative is nuclear. Which is of course, cheap, safe, and clean, but nevertheless politically opposed. (By the very same people, in the main, demanding viable alternatives to oil and coal.)

    It seems mad to me. But it’s been going on for more than a century now, so I don’t expect it to stop any time soon. It’s all a grand application of Pascal’s Wager. I think that just about says it all.

  • Guy

    “I’m a sceptic.”

    We have to accept that there are a group of people who will never be convinced. There will always be those who deny reality. I’m sure all the flatearthers were never fully convinced by by all the observations and calculations. That didn’t keep us from pushing forward though did it? We will overcome the various challenges with regard to wind energy. Of that I have little doubt. If we can develop enough renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in time to prevent catastrophe is anyone’s guess.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’m sure all the flatearthers were never fully convinced by by all the observations and calculations.”

    Are you? How do you know?

    I’m sure most people who believe in a round world have never seen the calculations, would not be able to reproduce them if asked, and would struggle if anybody asked them to prove it themselves. They take it on faith, just like the people who assumed it was flat.

    The difference, though, is that were I to ask an educated man any time after Aristotle, he would have been able to give me the reasons in detail, many of which are directly verifiable with a little travel.

    But I think there would be many people who asked, were told only that “Aristotle said so”, and came away unconvinced. (As they should have done.) I do not think that any who had the calculations and observations explained to them would doubt for long. But in an age of Argument from Authority, calculations and observations are not a part of the argument.

    And it was because of this reliance on authority that the reality of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – was the scientific consensus for a thousand years, attested to by thousands of experts. That, I think, might be a better analogy to CAGW.

  • Guy

    @Nullius #19,

    As a skeptic shouldn’t also have questioned the flatearth theory? What do you think led to the advancement and new discovery that the Earth is round? Shouldn’t you also question the various alternatives to anthropogenic global warming? The AGW skeptics don’t seem to have formed a consensus around any single alternative theory. What’s your poison? Do you think it’s just natural variability? Solar radiance? Cosmic rays from space? Have you cast your skepticism equally at the AGW skeptic’s theories?

  • Re #17:
    For Baysean combination of independent estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling, see this post and linked paper. It was written as a slapdown to alarmists in the scientific community (people who think climate sensitivity is greater than 5 degrees), but functions just as well for denialists* (those who insist that it must be less than one degree).

    The references therein will take you to the independent estimates, most of which are not reliant on GCM’s.

    *Before you get sidetracked, the difference between a denialist and a skeptic is that skeptics, by definition, don’t insist on anything being certain.

  • moptop

    NIV,
    I am assuming here that you are not actually arguing with Guy, but putting his reasoning on display to make a point…

  • Nullius in Verba

    21.

    Thank you. That’s actually a response with content. I like that.

    A few notes in response.

    1. This is a metastudy; a form of analysis that collects a large number of not-very-good studies (in the sense of not giving tight confidence bounds or having only marginal significance) and tries to combine them into a single good study. But unless you have a good understanding of the shapes of the error distributions on those source studies, there is a major risk of grossly underestimating the resulting uncertainty. The Bayesian approach requires that the uncertainty at least be known accurately. Furthermore, the individual studies often are based on different assumptions, are subject to different caveats, and these are often incompatible. Metastudies are well-known in medical epidemiology, and don’t have a very good reputation there.

    2. There is no discussion of the assumption that the error distributions in the source studies are independent, or zero-mean. There is no discussion of how they were selected, either – there is potential for all sorts of selection bias and “bottom-drawer” effects here. Especially in such a politicised topic.

    3. I was a bit surprised to see the ice ages used in this way. As I understand it, the prevailing theory is that it is not changes in the total forcing that causes ice ages, but changes in its global distribution, due to changes in axial tilt and orbit ellipticity. In particular, cooling on the margins of the ice cover can cause it to spread, independently of slightly greater equatorial heating. As changes in CO2 and albedo are caused by the ice age, and are at best feedbacks that amplify it somewhat, trying to determine the proportionality between just the feedback loop and the effect, ignoring the original cause, seems to be getting things backwards somewhat. I haven’t looked at this study in detail, so I can’t say, but I’m dubious.

    4. There was also Idso’s similar approach to the question here. I personally think those calculations are too simplistic, but they show that the problem is that fixing them requires modelling the contributions of other effects, and it is far too easy to pick the same unproven assumptions about aerosols, clouds, and ocean warming that lead to GCMs giving the results they do to get such calculations giving the same results. More modern approaches such as Roy Spencer’s analysis of CERES cloud data are also food for thought. I find it curious that all the source studies mentioned are ones that predict strong feedback, even though I know that studies that don’t do exist. There may be fewer of them, and you may choose to give them less confidence for reasons you can set out, but they don’t seem to be even mentioned. Curious, yes?

    5. The most obvious sensitivity analysis is the warming seen so far. We have seen 0.8C warming for roughly a 40% CO2 rise. If that first number is accurate (which of course it isn’t), and if that rise was entirely due to CO2 (which not even the IPCC thinks it is) then you get a sensitivity of 1.6C/2xCO2, far short of the GCMs’ estimates. So far as I know, all the proposed mechanisms for explaining the difference are either speculative, or (so far) unmeasurable. So given that you can’t estimate it even from the best and most obvious example because of a multitude of unknowns, like natural internal variability, how are these unknowns eliminated from the alternative and more indirect approaches? Should one not suspect that the same speculative hypotheses have been used to ‘interpret’ the data in coming to the estimates?

    6. Looking at the approaches themselves – Wigley’s volcanic cooling estimate uses a climate model (MAGICC), a GCM is used by Annan to model the last glacial maximum, and also Murphy, Knutti, and Piani, the Maunder minimum mentions simulations by Rind and Crowley, and at least one of the sources is another metastudy. Modelling contributes to many of the sources used. Yes, they can only fit observation to the models if they set sensitivity high, which we already knew, but that isn’t exactly a result purely of observation, is it?

    In summary, this metastudy is doing more formally what the piles of existing pro-AGW studies do informally, and using a kind of ‘argument by consensus’. Since I doubted the uncertainty estimates on the original studies here (several of which I know of from the IPCC reports), the mathematical combination of them seems to me a case of “the Emperor of China’s nose”, if you know what that means.

    However, it is a far more serious challenge to my views, for which I thank you. It is evidence, but very weak and still dependent on modelling. You might be able to make progress by picking one or two of the sources and showing them not to be the result of modelling in detail.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Guy,

    “Shouldn’t you also question the various alternatives to anthropogenic global warming?”

    Absolutely, yes. And I don’t consider any alternative hypothesis to have made its case yet, either.

    “I don’t know” is not an allowed answer in religion, but it is in science.

  • moptop

    Oh cripes LL,
    That paper proves nothing of the sort. There is no way to know if all factors are considered, or even most factors are considered. If the peer review process has been torqued in one direction, as climategate shows, then the results of Baysian analysis will be torqued as well. Using the twentieth century as a baseline is subject to obvious problems. The brevity of the record, it is a micro segment of geological time, and the fact that the robustness of the 20th century temp record from the CRU is in doubt, based on ruminations on how to get rid of a warm blip in the forties, for example. The twentieth century data set is now on hold for three years while it is re-assembled and revalidated. It doesn’t exist as an entitiy anymore. Just for starters.

    Bayesian logic cannot create understanding where none exists. It is best used to discover the most likely resolution of a difference of *expert* opinion. If we do not understand the climate yet, no expert in the sense required for Bayesian analysis yet exists.

    Eager to hear your thoughts.

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    About Chris Mooney

    Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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