May 172010

While catching up on things this morning, a link at Bishop Hill took me to one of the most penetrating and concise commentaries on the Hockey Stick controversy that I have seen, and it comes from a rather surprising source.

I’m not going to attempt to summarise what it says, mainly because if I did so it would probably give the impression that the author - Sam Norton, a philosopher and country parson - is reiterating arguments that most of us have often heard before, and to some extent this is the case. The power of his post comes not from covering new ground, but from the clarity and rigour with which it brings together issues that are often discussed in isolation: the political influences that contaminate climate science, reliance on arguments from authority, and the insights that applying dispassionate philosophical analysis to a scientific controversy can provide.

If you are commenting here on what Sam has to say then please, please, lets not have yet another discussion of what Michael Mann’s work may or may not tell us about climate over the last millennium. That is not what the article is about. The Hockey Stick saga has far more interesting things to tell us about the relationship between politics, science and belief at the beginning of the 21st century than whether the 1990′s were the warmest decade for a thousand years - if that matters - and that 1998 was the warmest year.

If you consider commenting at Sam Norton’s blog, then I advise you to get all your ducks in a row first. He seems to be a very pleasant and courteous chap, but note his reply to ‘Tess’, third comment down.

Kudos to Andrew Montford (aka Bishop Hill) whose book The Hockey Stick Illusion is helping to bring what appears to be a rather grubby scandal to the attention of a far wider circle of people whose views are valuable.

176 Responses to “The Hockey Stick – what would Martin Luther do?”

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  1. 101
    Robin Guenier Says:

    I just caught the end of another interview with Roger Harrabin on the BBC’s PM programme. It seems that the RS is trying to back pedal somewhat on the story being reported this morning. He said that, in his Reith Lecture shortly, the RS President Lord Rees will choose measured language – specifically referring to “poorly understood feedback”. Harrabin went on to interview Bob Ward (previously responsible for RS public communications) who is far from being an objective commentator. Ward assured Harrabin that all the computer projections were clear: increased GHGs meant the world would get warmer. He agreed there was some uncertainty about the amount of warming, effectively saying that it ranged from dangerous to catastrophic. When Harrabin suggested that some scientists thought warming would be slight, Ward said that, yes, there were such extreme views (at both ends of the spectrum) but the RS, in advising policymakers had to strike a sensible balance – after all, it’s all about risk. And that was it: no contribution from a sceptic of course.

  2. 102
    tempterrain Says:

    So the Royal Society haven’t changed anything yet but 43 fellows think they should? A quick look on there website tells me that they have over 1400 fellows – so that’s about 3% of the total? I’d expect a few more sceptics than that.

    Robin obviously doesn’t read my comments on the politics and psychology of the AGW issue. Unless he was in the business of deliberate misrepresentation he wouldn’t say things like “PeterM would doubtless claim that the 43 Fellows [who] complained that it had oversimplified its messages were obviously evil deniers in the pay of big oil”

    Human psychology in this respect is quite predictable – people will argue the case as it best fits their existing world view. For example, a well known Australian Liberal politician argued recently that the Labor government was wrong to accuse the Israelis of forging Australian passports. She said there was “no proof” that they had done it. She sounded quite sincere and probably does believe that to be the case. In a way she is correct, there isn’t any absolute proof but there is certainly a lot of evidence. Maybe she just requires a higher standard of proof than most people? Maybe if she were on a jury she would be arguing for an acquittal when faced with a similar level of evidence. Maybe it’s nothing to do with her being a strong supporter of Israel and she would be saying exactly the same thing if it were the Chinese who were being accused.

    I don’t think so. And its the same process with AGW. These 43 fellows, incidentally almost certainly not climate scientists themselves, aren’t immune from a human tendency to decide on issues according to a pre-existing world view. Difficult political implications arise, especially for those of a right-wing viewpoint, with an acceptance of the science of AGW. It’s just so much easier to pretend that AGW is incorrect, or ‘unproven’, and therefore reject it.

  3. 103
    Bob_FJ Says:

    Over at RealClimate, I’ve made three on-topic hockey-stick enquiries that were deleted in moderation without any footprint or explanation. The thread was: “What can we learn from the last millennium…?”
    My screen copies from that thread follow.
    Not wishing to be naughty, but can anyone offer an opinion as to why they were deleted?

    [1] BobFJ says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    23 May 2010 at 8:04 PM
    I’ve joined the discussion late, but upon a quick look through, I notice that Mike [Mann] and others here have stressed that whilst the MWP/MCA is said to exhibit regional warm and cold periods, the net claim is that the MWP was flat.
    However, this calls into question any millennial proxy study based on tree rings, since as I understand it, the regions in which MOST trees were sampled were in the high latitudes and/or altitudes in the NH. (where presumably it is assumed that snow cover and a few other things were constant over the millennia)
    It could hardly be more regional than that, like not many people live there, so if regionality is important and that issue is not resolved, what is the point in drawing any conclusions from it?

    [2] BobFJ says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    24 May 2010 at 8:04 PM
    [Same text as above]

    [3] BobFJ says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    28 May 2010 at 5:22 PM
    There were comments earlier that the MWP/MCA exhibits regional warm and cold periods, and the consequence was that the so-called MWP was flat.
    However, as I understand it, the regions in which most trees have been proxy-sampled were in the high latitudes and/or altitudes in the NH.
    If this is so, why does this not pose a regionality issue of its own?

  4. 104
    tempterrain Says:


    You say “43 Fellows complained that it [the Royal Society] had oversimplified its messages.”

    I wonder how many fellows might be thinking just the opposite? That the Royal Society had undersimplified its messages. Especially when they were aimed at ‘cimate sceptics? And even more especially at mid-western American climate sceptics :-) ?

  5. 105
    tempterrain Says:


    Instead of saying there is no “empirical evidence” to support the theory that AGW exists you might want to use the term “attribution”.

    There is a timely article, it’s just appeared, on the Realclimate website.

    You could perhaps give us the benefit of your uninformed opinion afterwards.

    Incidentally, if I so have one slight criticism to make about Realclimate, it is that they too tend to undersimplify their arguments. However, I can well understand that, with your great intellect, you may not agree, and will fully comprehend every sentence at the first reading!

  6. 106
    geoffchambers Says:

    BobFJ #103
    On the subject of measuring historial temperatures at the tree-line, I’ve got a question which I’d never dare to raise on the specialist blogs. Maybe you or someone else here can answer it.
    I understand why tree ring data is collected at the upper limit (in terms of altitude or latitude) of the region where the trees are found, since it’s at the extremity of their survival possibility that tree rings are thought to measure temperature.
    But if temperatures change, so will the position of the tree line, so how can you know where the treeline was centuries ago, unless you know what the temperature was centuries ago?
    To give a concrete example, a longterm cold spell in the past will have killed off all the trees at the original treeline, leaving none to be sampled in the present, so no record of the cold spell.
    So isn’t the reasoning circular (more circular than the average bristlecone pine tree ring, at least)? And doesn’t that explain the millenium-long flat handle of thehockeystick?

  7. 107
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (105):

    You say, “Instead of saying there is no “empirical evidence” to support the theory that AGW exists you might want to use the term “attribution””.

    No, I wouldn’t: the words have different meanings – and the difference is critical. Thus, if an art expert says that a painting is “attributed” to Leonardo, he means that he is not sure who was the artist, but it might have been Leonardo. Were he sure – from, say, an analysis of the signature or brushwork, documented provenance, etc. (i.e. empirical evidence)- he would have said that it was “by” Leonardo. See the difference?

    Nonetheless, I read the RealClimate article with interest. You’re right, it does rather oversimplify the arguments but I suggest that’s acceptable for a blog as opposed to a scientific paper. But, even so, it’s well presented and makes an important contribution to understanding the construction of climate models and the problems associated with their interpretation. So thanks for the reference.

    There are two problems about the article however. The first (and least important) is that it’s published on RealClimate which, as many here know from personal experience, can be intolerant of conflicting views (see e.g. Bob_FJ at 103). Therefore, it’s impossible to be sure that the follow-up comments are properly representative of alternative takes on the issues being considered. The second problem is that it’s concerned with computer models.

    Now I don’t intend yet again to set out why computer models are no substitute for empirical evidence. Nor should I have to remind you that, in any case, the models used are subject to considerable uncertainty. Only yesterday, we had Roger Harrabin telling the BBC’s Today programme that there was “massive, massive uncertainty” about climate models and Lord Rees (the Royal Society’s President) talking of the “poorly understood feedback” assumptions used for the models. And you might also wish to refer again to IPCC AR4 WG I, chapter 8 (see especially 8.6.3 and 8.6.4) where we learn, for example, that ” … a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed.”

    So, yes, the RS article is interesting. But, as it’s concerned with attribution and with models, it doesn’t help you a great deal.

  8. 108
    tempterrain Says:


    If you had been ‘paying attention’, you would have noticed that I wrote that Realclimate tended to undersimplify the argument!

    Your argument about attribution of paintings is an interesting one, but one which doesn’t really support your case at all. If an expert was 90% confident that a particular painting was ‘largely’ ( at least 90%) the work of Da Vinci, who would have had many apprentices or assistants who would have applied at least some of the paint, how would he call it? If just an ‘attribution’, what level of certainty would he need to be ‘sure’? Don’t tell me 100%! That is just impossible.

  9. 109
    Robin Guenier Says:


    Well, I’m pleased you read my post: you’re right, you did say undersimplify. Sorry about that – but I stick by my comment even so. BTW, unlike “oversimplify” which is a commonly used word, “undersimplify” is very unusual. I don’t think I’ve encountered it before. Presumably you meant that the article had been made too complicated – see this. Is that what you meant?

    But you’re wrong about “attribution”. Roget’s Thesaurus gives “theory, hypothesis, assumption, conjecture” as synonyms. Er … says it all really: evidence is a different concept entirely.

  10. 110
    Robin Guenier Says:


    Hold on – I’ve just read your 104 and see you’ve used “undersimplify” there too! You love that word don’t you? Incidentally, re the 43 RS Fellows (there may well be more who are sceptical – these are merely those who were asked), I see you assume that they are “almost certainly not climate scientists themselves”. Three questions:

    1. What’s your basis for making that assumption?

    2. Do you consider the views of Fellows who are not “climate scientists” to be of no account?

    3. How do you define a “climate scientist”?

    BTW, one of the 43 is Sir Alan Rudge, who is an engineer. That’s interesting. In engineering, the standard of evidence required is far higher than would seem to be the case in “climate science”. Even for an engineering project that was unlikely to kill anyone if things went wrong, an engineer would not consider results from unvalidated computer models as an adequate basis for proceeding with a project. Real world testing to verify the model would be expected first. Engineering is a particularly demanding and practical discipline.

  11. 111
    manacker Says:


    With all your twisting and turning about the 43 RS fellows who are skeptical of the official political stance of the RS on AGW, I think you missed the part where I predicted that the RS would be unlikely to make any drastic changes, as long as the “big bucks” still support the AGW premise.

    So don’t look for any drastic changes.

    BTW: 43 fellows who took the effort (and risk) to challenge the society, while over 1,000 did not proves nothing.

    Maybe the 1,000+ were cowards, maybe they were lazy, maybe they were not in the “climate” business and felt they were not qualified to comment, maybe they were in the “climate” business and benefiting from a AGW government grant, or maybe they simply did not think of adding their names to the list of challengers.

    Who knows?

    But I think the safe thing to do is “follow the money trail” for an answer.


  12. 112
    manacker Says:


    As an engineer, myself, I can fully agree with your assessment.

    Scientists involved in basic research often lose touch with reality, while engineers (or applied scientists) cannot afford to do so.

    For the computer scientists who are developing and running GCMs, the computer model outputs begin to sound like “absolute truth”, and, of course, the GIGO temptation is also great. Engineers always have to face actual observed reality. This is humbling.

    I believe that this may be a reason why many of those who are skeptical of the dangerous AGW premise are engineers (or applied scientists), rather than climatologists, computer modelers or theoretical scientists.


  13. 113
    tempterrain Says:


    There is really no difference if you look at the AGW problem from an engineering or scientific perspective. If there were such a position as “Earth Chief Engineer” he would look at rising CO2 levels with some concern and have to make an engineering call on how high and at what rate they should be allowed to rise.

    Scotty’s (the engineer) catch phrase from Star Trek was “The engines just won’t take it, Captain”. He was always concerned that the more Gung-Ho members of the crew shouldn’t test the Star Ship to destruction. You wouldn’t hear him say “Sure just do what you like Captain. She’ll be right”.

  14. 114
    tempterrain Says:


    Are you saying that there is no evidence at all that Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper” These and other paintings have just been ‘attributed’ to him? You seem to know a bit about this – how is authenticity measured in the artistic world on a scale of 1-10?

  15. 115
    manacker Says:


    Again you come with fiction (this time Star Trek).

    But to use your fictive analogy: I’m sure that Scotty, once he observed an event like the Copenhagen fiasco, would say:

    Beam me up, there’s no intelligent life down here.


  16. 116
    manacker Says:


    Seriously (leaving Scotty aside), there is a major difference whether one looks at AGW from a purely hypothetical scientific standpoint using theoretical deliberations and modeling techniques to arrive at postulated projections for the future or a more engineering-minded standpoint of insisting on empirical data from actual physical observations (for example to support design calculations).

    One skeptic has stated that the “drudge work” of gathering actual data has taken second place to the more exciting “model manipulation” efforts in climate science, and this appears to be true. Physical observations are even cast in doubt or rejected outright when they do not support the theoretical model outputs.

    This lack of supporting empirical evidence is one of the key weaknesses of the dangerous AGW postulation, as both Robin and I have pointed out to you repeatedly.

    And it may be one of the key reasons that several engineers (and applied scientists) are rationally skeptical of the dangerous AGW premise.


  17. 117
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (114):

    What I am saying is that “attribution”, synonymous with “theory, hypothesis, assumption, conjecture”, is an entirely different concept from “evidence”. The latter is needed to verify/validate the former.

    Now please answer the three questions I asked you at 110. Thanks.

    BTW, Max, my understanding is that the organisers of the request that the RS reconsider its position on AGW only approached these 43. There may well be other Fellows who are equally unhappy about it.

  18. 118
    Bob_FJ Says:

    Geoff Chambers Reur 106;
    On the subject of measuring historical temperatures at the tree-line etc

    I can’t really help much in the can of worms that you open. I suspect that the sampling of tree rings is probably not at the upper limit of the current tree-line, but is more cautious and driven by an assumption that at the latitude/altitudes selected the conditions there (other than temperature) will have remained constant over the millennia. (ho hum). Whilst the recent living tree samples will display an apparently valid chronology, because they have survived say some hundreds of years, the situation for deceased trees that are required to extend the time series may be a bit more sus’. They have to have partly overlapping matching chronology patterns, which I suspect is more of an art to establish, rather than any precise correlation. Bear in mind that no two trees yield identical results. Furthermore, where do the older dead tree samples come from? We know for instance that such well preserved specimens can be found above the current tree-lines, especially in the mountains where snow and ice have receded, but that may not be relevant.

    I was amused when back around 2000, Bradley or Hughes, one of those guys from MBH 99 wrote a letter to Nature or Science, (I’ve lost the details), positing that the convergence problem, (hide the decline), was caused by recent prolonged snow seasons reducing summer growth. How silly can you get? These were Manna-Man’s co-authors. They suggested culprit recent extended snow seasons, but not at any time in the past millennia? Sheez!

    Of course the silliest part about it, (on top of the regionality problem, if that is not silly enough), is that as far as I’m aware, there is no chlorophyll-photosynthesis growth in tree-rings at nighttime and during the winter. Global average T’s should of course include these rather important temporal periods!

    I actually feel that although Mc & Mc did excellent work on debunking the methodology etc of MBH 99, it is so complicated that few people really understand it, and it has become a distraction. It would have been much simpler and understandable to debunk it on issues such as the above, but there is much even more if one cares to look at the basics. Bugger the statistics etc.

  19. 119
    geoffchambers Says:

    Thanks Bob #118
    There are a lot of related questions one might ask, and I could no doubt find some of the answers on Wikipaedia. I wondered if anyone else had been thinking about the obvious problems with dendrothermometry, beyond the extremely abstruse statistical shenagigans used by Mann et al, revealed by McIntyre, and explained by Mountford. Your point about growth being limited to summer is a good example. I see points like this mentioned on blogs, but no scientifically respectable criticism. I suspect that there’s a gentlemen’s agreement among dendros not to rock the boat and thus deprive this obscure branch of science of its best client. (Until recently, dendrochronology was used essentially by archaeologists for dating wooden artefacts, I believe).
    On Tony N’s original question, I’m not at all sure that the Luther comparison is useful, paticularly as McIntyre clearly hates being labelled as any kind of rebel (he even refuses the label ‘sceptic’). The most interesting point in Norton’s article, I found, was his partial acceptance of the argument from authority, which, though it has no logical validity, is a useful rule of thumb in everyday life: if you know nothing about a subject, ask someone who does.
    It’s odd I should find this persuasive, since I’m continually being challenged on global warming threads with questions like “So you think you’re clever than the Royal Society, do you?” To which I answer modestly “In some ways, yes”. I’m uncomfortable with this state of affairs, since my natural tendency is to listen to experts, whether the subject is the origin or the universe or how to grow tomatoes.
    The fact that all the scientific societies in the world, plus almost all the political parties, have forfeited their legitimacy on the subject of global warming is to me a source of amazement. When you announce your opposition to the consensus view, the first reaction is often that you’re unbelievably big-headed, and the second that you’re accusing the whole politico-scientific establishment of being part of a conspiracy. The latter accusation is certainly not true.
    If a Luther does appear to lead some kind of crusade against global warming, I suspect that he or she will be a social scientist rather than a statistician, since what we need is some indication of how we (scientists, politicians and voters) got into this mess.

  20. 120
    Alex Cull Says:

    A couple of extra pertinent quotes from Star Trek’s Scotty.

    On self-defeating complexity (could he have been thinking about computer models??): “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

    And: “A good Engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper.”

  21. 121
    tempterrain Says:


    You aren’t correct in saying that “attribution” is synonymous with “theory, hypothesis, assumption, conjecture”. Certainly, in the scientific sense, ‘theory’ has quite a different meaning to ‘conjecture’. You don’t get Darwin’s Conjecture of Evolution for instance! Although the Creationists do play on the looser popular meaning of the word ‘theory’ for their own purposes.

    Neither are you correct in saying that the usage of the word ‘attribution’ implies a lack of evidence. In this case, the scientific, artistic and popular meanings of the word are synonymous. For example, there may be a certain amount of evidence, which may be more or less conclusive, on both subjective and scientific levels, that a particular work should be attributed to a particular artist. It could range from a mere ‘probably the work of’, which would mean that the chances are just slightly more than 50% to ‘almost certainly the work of’ which would imply close to , but not equal to, 100% certainty.

    Its exactly the same in science. The 20th century warming has been attributed to anthropogenic causes to at least a 90% level of certainty.

    Alex Cull,

    I agree that engineers should be conservative. It doesn’t look good when bridges fall down and, in may case, smoke starts to appear from a PCB!

    However, it is curious that the Conservatives (in the political sense) are not being conservative with the atmosphere and climate. Its not them who are saying “You’ve got to hold back on those CO2 and other GHG emissions, Captain! The atmosphere just won’t take it!”

  22. 122
    Robin Guenier Says:


    I am wholly correct in saying that “attribution” is synonymous with “theory, hypothesis, assumption, conjecture”. Once again, you are demonstrating an inadequate understanding of the English language. “Synonymous” does not simply mean “the same as”. It means having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or being closely associated with or suggestive of something. Therefore, the words with which one word is synonymous do not necessarily have exactly the same meaning as each other, as you appear to think from your reference to Darwin.

    Nor did I say, “the usage of the word ‘attribution’ implies a lack of evidence”. Read my post again: I said it is “an entirely different concept from “evidence”. The latter is needed to verify/validate the former”. That’s true whether that former be a theory, a hypothesis, an assumption or a conjecture. Thus, although you are right to say that “20th century warming has been attributed to anthropogenic causes to at least a 90% level of certainty”, your problem is that there is insufficient empirical evidence to validate that attribution. And it’s such validation that is required by the Scientific Method.

    Get it now?

  23. 123
    Robin Guenier Says:

    And PeterM:

    Now please answer the three questions I asked you at 110. Thanks.

  24. 124
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Regarding the Royal Society, I was amused by the relevance of these observations of William Hazlitt (1778-1830):

    Public bodies are so far worse than the individuals composing them, because the official takes place of the moral sense.

    Age does not improve the morality of public bodies. They grow more and more tenacious of their idle privileges and senseless self-consequence. They get weak and obstinate at the same time. Those who belong to them have all the upstart pride and pettifogging spirit of their present character ingrafted on the venerableness and superstitious sanctity of ancient institutions.

    Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor goodwill. The principle of private or natural conscience is extinguished in each individual (we have no moral sense in the breasts of others), and nothing is considered but how the united efforts of the whole (released from idle scruples) may be best directed to the obtaining of political advantages and privileges to be shared as common spoil.

  25. 125
    tempterrain Says:


    You now say that there is “insufficient empirical evidence to validate that attribution” whereas before you were claiming a “failure to produce any empirical evidence to support…”

    Its a slow process but I do seem to be getting you slightly closer to some sort of logical argument. You aren’t quite there yet though. We can never get to 100% certainty, that is synonymous with proof and, at least, we both agree that science doesn’t work on absolute proofs. So if, as you say, we have enough for the 90% level, how much do we need for ‘validation’?

  26. 126
    manacker Says:


    Some advice.

    DO NOT get into arguments about semantics with Robin.

    I did so some years ago on another thread, and learned (to my dismay) that his grasp of the English language is vastly superior to that of most English speakers (most likely due to a “déformation professionelle”).

    You (or I) may be better at plotting an Excel graph with trend lines, etc. than he is, but he has us both beat hands down when it comes to the fine points of the English language.


  27. 127
    manacker Says:


    To go back to your exchange with Robin and the apparent “disconnects” in comprehension and semantics:

    Robin writes:

    Thus, although you are right to say that “20th century warming has been attributed to anthropogenic causes to at least a 90% level of certainty”, your problem is that there is insufficient empirical evidence to validate that attribution. And it’s such validation that is required by the Scientific Method.

    IOW Robin is saying that “attribution certainty” may be at 90%, but that this does not provide any level of scientific “validation”, as this requires totally different standards of evidence than simple “attribution”.

    You miss this point entirely when you respond with:

    So if, as you say, we have enough for the 90% level, how much do we need for ‘validation’?

    Scientific validation of a premise requires empirical data based on actual physical observations as support, while attribution requires, at best, an educated guess based on theoretical deliberations as determined (for example) by computer model simulations.

    A “90% certain educated guess” is a long way from a “100% validation”.

    Do you get the difference here, Peter?


    PS Robin, I may have “oversimplified” here (at least I am not guilty of “undersimplifying”).

  28. 128
    tempterrain Says:


    To answer your 3 questions in 110 which I hope you won’t use as an opportunity to avoid the ‘validation’issue.

    1) I must admit I don’t know who the 43 are. I could be wrong in my prediction that they won’t turn out be climate scientists themselves. We’ll see.

    2) Are their views of “no account”? I wouldn’t say no account. Each will, no doubt, have their own speciality. I’d just ask the question of how much account they themselves would be willing to allow, if publicly challenged by others outside that speciality?

    3) How do I define a climate scientist? Everyone on this blog has used the term so many times, including yourself, and so it seems a bit late to start quibbling about definitions. I seem to remember that you once said that “Few if any climate scientists” support the view that the early 20th century warming was largely anthropogenic. Who did you have in mind yourself?

  29. 129
    manacker Says:


    Back to the RS survey.

    43 RS members responded that they do not support the RS official policy stand on AGW.

    There are over 1000 members.

    How many members were asked for their opinion? Were these members specifically asked to give an opinion or was this simply an anonymous opinion poll?

    If only 43 were asked, then one could say that the respondents unanimously rejected the official policy stand on GW.

    If it was 172, then one could conclude that a significant minority (25%) of those questioned rejected the official policy stand on AGW.

    Does anyone really know how many were asked?

    On the other hand how many respondents specifically stated that they endorse the official policy stand on AGW?

    A meaningful survey would list:

    a) the number of respondents who stated that they specifically reject the RS policy position

    b) the number of respondents who stated that they specifically endorse the RS policy position

    c) the number of respondents who did not state a position or did not return the survey form

    If a) is greater than b), one could conclude that a greater number of members reject rather than endorse the official policy position on AGW.

    Does anyone know how this poll was conducted and what it really means?


  30. 130
    Alex Cull Says:

    Peter M, re your #121, I think I know what you mean about the PCBs; no personal experience in my case, but widely reported PCB failure is one of the reasons why I’m still hesitating to buy an energy-saving gas boiler – the technology isn’t exactly at Star Trek levels yet!

    Back on the subject of physics (as in “ye cannae change the laws of”) I’d be curious to know your reactions (and those of anyone else here, come to that) to a recent article (link here) regarding the Stefan-Boltzmann formula and the greenhouse effect. As far as I know, the authors have just published this on the internet, rather than via Nature or a similar journal, so whether it passes muster, scientifically speaking, I’m not sure at all. I’ve forgotten much of my secondary-school physics, so don’t have much to say about it that would be useful. (TonyN, please shift this comment to the main thread, if you consider it belongs there instead.)

  31. 131
    tempterrain Says:


    Yes maybe Robin is good at playing with words but he doesn’t clearly understand the scientific, or even the artistic, meaning of ‘attribution’.

    An art historian, or scientist might say that it is “just possible” that object, or event X, was caused by person or influence Y.

    Level of certainty – Less than about 25%

    “possible” – Between 25% and 50%
    “probable” – Between 50% and 75%
    “very probable” – Between 75% and 90%
    “very likely” -90% and 95%
    “almost certain” above 95%

    The word “attribution” would also start to be used withe the word “probable”. At first tentatively but then with increasing confidence.
    Robin is implying that “validation” is also necessary and requires nearly, if not actually, 100% certainty. That’s a requirement for absolute proof! And you can’t have that with any historical art-work or over the science of historical climate, which of course is crucially important for the understanding of future climate, either.

  32. 132
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (#125):

    It’s strange that, after all this time and despite all your professed focus on the science, you still seem not to understand how the Scientific Method works. Here’s a simple summary:

    A problem is identified, a testable (i.e. refutable) hypothesis explaining it is published and the hypothesis is thoroughly tested against empirical (physically observed, not theoretical) evidence. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, the hypothesis is validated. But even that validation fails if the hypothesis is subsequently proved (usually by independent scientists) to be false: as Popper (and Einstein) showed, a scientific theory can never be finally confirmed by experimental testing whereas a single counterexample (commonly a failure to make accurate prediction) is logically decisive, showing the hypothesis to be false.

    So you see, “proof” is never possible – as you acknowledge. But what you fail to understand is that, because proof is never possible, the concept of 90% certainty is meaningless in the context of the Scientific Method: evidence either survives the process outlined above or it doesn’t. And, even if it survives, new evidence may subsequently show the hypothesis to be false.

    (In #127, Max explains clearly how “attribution certainty” differs from “scientific validation”: it’s the difference between an educated guess and actual physical observation. He neither oversimplified nor, wait for it … “undersimplified”.)

    So “sufficient evidence” is, quite simply, evidence that has successfully survived the process outlined above, thereby verifying the hypothesis. “Insufficient evidence” is evidence that has failed to survive that process. And obviously not producing any evidence doesn’t even get to the starting block. Both are failures.

  33. 133
    Robin Guenier Says:


    My #132 applies as much to your #131 as your #125: for the reasons explained, percentages are meaningless in the context of the Scientific Method.

  34. 134
    manacker Says:


    You are missing the point.

    It is not about “playing with words”.

    It is about “understanding” them.

    I think I explained the difference between “attribution” and “validation” (127).

    Your discussion of “levels of certainty” is interesting, but these are totally subjective. Richard Lindzen might assign a totally different “level of certainty” to a projected future climate event than, for example James E. Hansen. Whose “level of certainty” is correct, and why?

    IPCC uses this type of categorization, calling it the “assumed likelihood, using expert judgment, of an outcome or a result”, and assigning numerical “probability” estimates (in percentages) to different past or projected events.

    In its assessment of “human influence on past weather phenomena and trends and on projections for future extreme weather events” (Table SPM.2, SPM 2007), IPCC lists the assumed “likelihoods” for these, with the footnote that the “magnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed” and “attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgment rather than formal attribution studies”.

    This boils down to qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) “attribution” by “educated guess”.

    In science, “validation” of a hypothesis is something totally different. It is not based on “expert judgment”, “educated guess”, “theoretical deliberations supported by model simulations”, etc., but on “empirical data, derived from actual physical observations”.

    This is what is lacking for the premise that AGW has caused most of the past warming and represents a serious potential threat.

    And no matter how much you beat around the bush, you have so far been unable to refute this by citing such empirical evidence.


  35. 135
    geoffchambers Says:

    Max #129
    The RS survey wasn’t a “poll”. It was just a number of members asking around among their acquaintances. About a third of those asked refused to sign.
    Information from a commentator at Bishop Hill (I think)

  36. 136
    manacker Says:

    Robin and PeterM

    Looks like Robin’s posts and mine crossed, so may be a bit repetitive.

    Are we thus “undersimplifying”?

    (I hope not.)


    PS I personally like the word “undercomplicating” (with opposite meaning, of course, better.

  37. 137
    manacker Says:

    geoffchambers (135)

    Thanks for clearing up the RS survey.

    Looks like 43 members (who actually went out of their way to state opposition to the official RS “party line”) is a pretty strong indicator.

    Had there been significantly more that 43, who specifically endorsed in writing the RS policy statement, this would have indicated that the 43 were just a (possibly disgruntled) minority.

    But since there were no specific “pro” votes, and the abstainers may have had all sorts of reasons for abstaining, it appears that the 43 “nay” votes to the RS “party line” will have to be taken seriously by RS management.

    Let’s see how they revise the official RS blurb on AGW (if at all).


  38. 138
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Max (re your #129 – BTW arguably this, the “validation” discussion and Alex’s comment should be on the main thread):

    I understand (from Harrabin’s article) that there was no survey involved in the RS development. Harrabin quotes one Fellow as saying:

    We sent an e-mail round our friends, mainly in physical sciences. Then when we had got 43 names we approached the Council in January asking for the website entry on climate to be re-written. I don’t think they were very pleased. I don’t think this sort of thing has been done before in the history of the Society. But we won the day, and the work is under way to re-write it. I am very hopeful that we will find a form of words on which we can agree.

    So it would seem to be impossible, at this stage, to answer your questions. It’s interesting however that, according to this report, “a third of those [approached] declined to sign the petition”. But I don’t think it’s possible to draw any useful conclusion from that.

  39. 139
    manacker Says:


    In your 128 you questioned whether the 43 RS members who stated that they did not endorse the official RS “party line” on AGW were “climate scientists”.

    I do not believe that this makes any difference, Peter. There may actually be a better chance of getting an objective opinion from scientists who are not “climatologists”.

    The study entitled “Seductive Simulations”, by Myanna Lahsen,, which I cited on the other thread, “challenges the assumption that knowledge producers always are the best judges of the accuracy of their models”, in other words the climate scientists who produce model simulations may actually be worse judges of how accurate or meaningful their model results actually are than others, who use or analyze the model results.

    This phenomenon has been explained earlier (in a more general sense) by Thomas Kuhn, in his treatise on paradigms in science. Data points lying outside the prevailing paradigm are ignored or rejected. In some cases, they are actually physically not seen, according to Kuhn.

    Lahsen does not go into a discussion of “agenda driven science”, a second reason why climate scientists might be less objective than others is assessing the accuracy or validity of model-based climate projections. I personally believe that the many recent revelations (Climategate, IPCC exaggerations and fabrications on glacier loss, African droughts, etc.) show that this reason is just as important as the ones discussed by Lahsen.


  40. 140
    Robin Guenier Says:

    geoffchambers (135):

    Sorry Geoff – you got there first.

    And, Max, it seems from Harrabin’s article (see my extract above) that RS management are indeed taking it seriously.

  41. 141
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (#128):

    Re the three questions:

    1. Yes, your prediction may be wrong. It seems (see #138) that they are “mainly in physical sciences”. But it rather depends on the definition of “climate scientist” – see 3. below.

    2. I would expect that, whatever their specialty, they would be open to reasonable and courteous criticism from colleagues outside that specialty. That’s how good scientists operate: as Max points out, it can be possible to get a more objective view from someone outside the field in question.

    3. “Quibble” is the wrong word. I’m really interested to know what you mean when you refer to a “climate scientist”. Let me know and I’ll comment – referring no doubt to my view of the matter. I look forward to your answer. Thanks.

  42. 142
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Further to my #124 it seems that, for most of its history, the Royal Society may have tried to avoid the characteristics of a public body identified by Hazlitt. Its Philosophical Transactions (the Society’s journal) used to forbid pronouncements by the Society as a whole on any scientific or practical matter:

    … it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.

    In my view, it would have been wise to stick to that. As it would have been wise to stick its original motto, Nullius in verba – usually defined as “Take no one’s word for it”. (And not, as once suggested, “never put anything in writing”.)

  43. 143
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Er – I didn’t mean “stick its original motto” (that’s what it did). I meant “stick to its original motto”.

  44. 144
    temperature Says:


    I seem to remember pointing out to before that there isn’t a single scientific method. For example, experimentation is of course desirable and should be included in the method wherever possible, but sometimes, and not just with climate science, it isn’t.

    You brought up the comparison between climate science and art attribution which is a good one. But, are you saying that there is a fundamental difference in methodology between a 90% attribution from a climate scientist and an art historian? Yes/No answer please?

  45. 145
    manacker Says:


    Sorry. There is a single scientific method, regardless of what you may have “pointed out” previously.

    “Attribution” is fundamentally not equal to “validation”.


  46. 146
    Bob_FJ Says:

    Alex, Reur 130, part 2 on S-B law.
    I’m about to make a comment on the NS thread

  47. 147
    tempterrain Says:


    Of course there isn’t a single scientific method. A major difference would involve experimentation. This is clearly sometimes possible and sometimes not.

    Can’t you see that?

    If you can’t you might want to read in the sceptics dictionary (where better?)

    “There is no single scientific method. Some of the methods of science involve logic, e.g., drawing inferences or deductions from hypotheses, or thinking out the logical implications of causal relationships in terms of necessary…..”

  48. 148
    tempterrain Says:

    Link to sceptics dictionary

  49. 149
    manacker Says:


    Not everything done in science is done following exactly the same methodology or procedures, of course.

    But the “scientific method” has a fairly restricted definition. This is one of the key differentiators between “science” and “pseudo-science” (or as Carl Sagan called it: “bamboozle”).

    Wiki gives a fairly good summary of the “Scientific Method”:

    Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

    Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable in order to dependably predict any future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently-derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. This in turn may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

    Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce biased interpretations of the results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of th reliability of these data to be established.

    A key point is expressed in the sentences repeated here:

    To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

    It seems pretty clear to me, Peter.


  50. 150
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (your #144 and #147):

    In my #132, I set out a summary of the Scientific Method. Note the word “summary”: the practice of the Method is complex and varies depending on the field of investigation (e.g. Darwin observes the natural world and particle physicists set up the complex experiment at CERN) – perhaps that’s what “the sceptics dictionary” had in mind. Thus Wikipedia refers to “a body of techniques”. It goes on to say:

    To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. … procedures vary from one field of enquiry to another

    [My emphasis.]

    Hmm … no reference here to “attribution”, I see. It does, however, add something that some “climate scientists” seem to have forgotten – i.e. that there is a

    basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established

    You ask me about art historians. Well, it may be regrettable but, so far as I can see, they do not pursue a code as rigorous as do scientists – indeed the Scientific Method is a factor that differentiates science from other fields of enquiry. Or at least it does when science is properly conducted. Re your question – as already pointed out by Max and myself – for a “climate scientist” to make an attribution is essentially meaningless (see in particular Max’s #134). Therefore, so is your question.

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