A very convenient network?

Posted by TonyN on 13/08/2010 at 8:40 pm Politics Add comments
Aug 132010


(Click for larger image)


This diagram is concerned with the following issues: is it in the interests of any of the parties concerned to question the science of anthropogenic climate change, or to dissent from the view that global warming is without doubt a major threat that can only be averted by urgent action.

I came across this the other day when I was clearing some files. It was drafted in January 2007, shortly before the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report was published.References to a New Labour government, that at that time seemed likely to cling to power indefinitely, may be a little passé now, but I have not updated what I wrote then  because the main thesis has not changed. At that time I was beginning to wonder whether the campaign against global warming really had much to do with scientific evidence, and I think that it is still possible to make a case that it does not.

If I was revising the diagram today, and there are many minor changes that could be made, it might also be necessary to make a distinction between the mainstream media and the web-based media; particularly blogs.

Until the interrelationships between the six elements illustrated in the diagram begin to break down, it would seem unlikely that there can be any real curtailment of climate change alarmism. Although the diagram does not reveal any kind of conspiracy – but rather a symbiotic network that very effectively drives forward an agenda that benefits all concerned – it does imply a level of uncritical, perhaps even cynical, collusion.

Key to the Diagram:

A.      Government benefits from the Media.

Favourable media coverage is crucial if any democratic government is to stay in power. By appearing to lead the fight against global warming, our the New Labour administration can present a green, caring image to the electorate, promoting the idea that it is a major player on the world stage attempting to protect not just its own people, but all humans everywhere. At a time when most news coverage of the Blair administration is concerned with the debacle in Iraq, failure to deliver improvements in public services, and scandals involving ministers, global warming presents a quite irresistible opportunity to improve the government’s very tarnished image. The scope for spinning tax increases as a noble effort to combat the threat of climate change is also obvious. Whatever Tony Blair’s merits as a prime minister may be, he is undoubtedly an exceptionally skilful publicity manager who understands that the press like to be thrown some red meat from time to time. For journalists, authoritative prophecies of doom, backed by the government no less, are something that they can really make a meal of and still appear to be acting responsibly.

B.      The Media benefits from Government

If the government needs the media, there is no doubt that the media also need the government. Dramatic news stories are every editor’s stock in trade, and there is no more eye-catching headline than ‘the end of the world is nigh’. If government press departments issue press releases predicting global disaster, then the media can publish sensational stories without the risk of being accused of sensationalism. They are conscientiously reporting what our rulers are telling them, and the source of the information enhances its credibility. Even if an editor has doubts about the robustness of the underlying evidence, expressing them would only undermine a good story.

C.      Government benefits from Climate Science

A naturally sceptical public may be reluctant to believe politician’s prophecies of global catastrophe. They are used to news being manipulated. On the other hand, scientists command a high level of respect based on the assumption that they are dedicated and impartial seekers after truth. These credentials can give government policy initiatives on global warming a degree of credibility that they would not otherwise posses. Politicians who seek to save the world need the support of scientific evidence which confirms that they are doing the right things for the right reasons; they are simply acting on the basis of what responsible scientists are telling them, and scientists are not political, are they?

D.      Climate Science benefits from the Government

In order that research scientists can practice their craft, funding is required, and so far as climate science is concerned this is most likely to come from the public purse. Expenditure can best be justified if scientists are seen to be addressing a high profile problem. It would be wrong to suggest that researchers in this field routinely distort their findings to please their paymasters. On the other hand there can be no doubt that research which may confirm the wisdom and importance of government policy is more likely to receive funding than research which might challenge the orthodoxy on which that policy is based. He who pays the piper calls the tune, even in the ivory towers of academia, and every research department knows it. This must influence decisions when plans for future research projects are being considered.

E.       Government benefits from the Green Activists

Although the government may resent accusations by the green movement that they are not doing enough to prevent climate change, this is a small price to pay for the opportunity that they now have to harvest the votes of people who were formerly their opponents. The potential for gaining electoral advantage by earning the endorsement of the Green Activists is confirmed by the extraordinary prospect of the Tories risking the wrath of their core voters in an attempt to portray themselves as being green at heart.

F.       Green Activists benefit from Government

Until quite recently, the public perception of green pressure groups was that they represented earnest and well meaning relics of the hippie generation who were in thrall to their own apocalyptic visions. The emergence of global warming as a government priority has allowed the greens to move from the political fringe to become mainstream players in the development of public policy. This has not only provided them with undreamed of influence on decision making, but also with a level of public interest which will continue to increase their membership, their revenues and their credibility for as long as the government choose to keep global warming at the forefront of their agenda.

G.     Green Activists benefit from the Media

Like any proselytising movement, the greens need to maximise their exposure in the media in order to spread their message and increase donations and membership. Without high profile coverage of their campaigns, their influence would be negligible. Public concern about global warming has made the task of their highly skilled and well funded public relations departments far easier. The media has become conditioned to publishing apocalyptic headlines about climate change on their front pages. Press releases that would formerly have been discarded by editors with a yawn are now mainstream news.

H.      The Media benefits from the Green Activists

If the green activists are eager for publicity, no one can blame the media for being ready and willing to provide it at the present time. Global warming is a hot topic and organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are expert at serving up topical press releases from which dramatic front page stories can quickly, cheaply and easily be made. This is a journalist’s vision of heaven, and there is little incentive for them to resist, or even question, what may be blatant attempts at manipulation.

I.        Green Activists benefit from Climate Science

In the global warming debate, scientific research is the preferred authority for all but the most outrageous claims of impending catastrophe. By selectively quoting findings which seem to confirm the green mantra that ‘humans are destroying the planet’, green activists can make claims that would otherwise be ignored as extremist ranting.  If their political objectives are to be achieved they need to be supported by scientific evidence, and it is very easy to cherrypick the most convenient research without revealing to the public, who know little about climate science, that there are massive contradictions and uncertainties as well. So many scary news stories are backed up with phrases like, ‘Recently published research shows that ……’

J.        Climate Science benefits from the Green Activists

In a perfect world, all scientist’s would approach their work with a single-minded determination to advance human knowledge through purely objective analysis of facts. Politics, religious beliefs, preconceptions, or the desire to fit in with the orthodoxy of their peers would play no part in their deliberations. We do not live in a perfect world; although there are undoubtedly many scientists who conscientiously strive to maintain the highest standards of impartiality, all are human. Anyone who surfs the websites of leading climate scientists cannot fail to notice how many of them exhibit overtly green political credentials. In some cases, it is clear that environmental concerns have led them to their chosen profession. However hard they may strive to leave political commitment at the laboratory door, the risk of unconscious bias is very real. Indeed at times it is hard not to suspect that green activists are acting as unpaid publicity officers for climate researchers who are politically sound and produce the kind of predictions that they want to hear. Such assistance can take science into the political arena and make a researchers reputation.

K.      Climate Research benefits from the Media

Climate scientists are no different to any other professionals who work in a highly competitive environment. In order to progress in the hierarchy of their profession they must not only shine, but must also be seen to shine. Although consistently reliable findings published in peer reviewed journals may slowly create a reputation that leads to ever more exalted posts, there is also a short cut to fame, and some degree of fortune too. With the media eager to publish sensational global warming stories, it only requires one well placed press release for a formerly unknown scientist to become famous within his or her discipline and far beyond. World-wide publicity may not confer any increased credibility on findings, but it is certainly a shrewd career move that may attract more funding and better chances of promotion. Then there is the ever present problem of finance. In general terms, the more publicity that global warming receives, the greater the pressure on governments to fund climate research. Securing funding is the priority of all researchers; without it they cannot work. And what journalist is going to spoil a good story by asking too many questions if a dramatic press release seems to ‘sex up’ new research?

L.       The Media benefits from Climate Research

The media has good reason to be enthusiastic about publishing global warming stories as we have seen already. If stories arrive ready made in the form of press releases from scientists at the cutting edge of the global warming debate, so much the better; surely these people must know what they are talking about. So scientists get the publicity that they crave and journalists get eye catching stories. All would be well with this cosy arrangement except that there is a tendency for climate scientists to underplay uncertainties in their research, let alone mention contradictory findings by others in their field. A research department that alerts the media to their latest work is under no obligation to do journalists’ work for them by giving a balanced account of what it means. At the same time, editors may feel that there is no need, and certainly no incentive, no  to question what they are being told by acknowledged experts when it makes a good story anyway.

M.    Administrators benefit from Climate Science

In order to implement government policy on climate change, administrative structures must be put in place. For the the civil service this means bigger budgets, more jobs, new departments and the extension of their authority into new areas. Quangos and task forces must be set up and supervised, action plans drafted and reports commissioned, published, and sometimes even acted on. Administrators do not complain about their empires being expanded. The fight against climate change must be implemented and co-ordinated;  they are just the people for the job.

N.     Industry benefits from Climate Science

Until quite recently, proponents for anthropogenic climate change saw big business as the enemy; ruthless and irresponsible exploiters of the earth’s precious resources who uncaringly pollute the atmosphere. This is now changing. The opportunity to build highly subsidises wind farms, use exhausted oil wells for carbon sequestration and sell the public expensive mini-generation equipment improves corporate balance sheets. If you fly somewhere sunny and warm for your holiday, there is even a man in Wales who will, for a consideration, plant a tree to soak up the Co2 released into the atmosphere by your aircraft. And this is just the tip of one iceberg that definitely is not melting. According to Environment Minister David Milliband, measures to combat global warming will be worth £40 billion to the UK economy over the next decade. Industry can and will benefit from the fight against climate change.

O.     Industry benefits from the Media

Power generation company advertisements now show wind turbines rather than the coal and gas fired plants that actually provide most of the nation’s electricity. The chairman of Shell has headed a delegation of business leaders at a well publicised climate change ‘summit’ in Downing Street and has addressed the Royal Society about what his company can do to help. Wind turbines are even appearing on the rooves of supermarkets. Climate change provides endless opportunities to polish up tarnished images and the press welcomes stories about climate change. Even a small investment in the fight against global warming can yield a vast return in the form of good publicity.

P.      Government benefits from Industry

Any left-of-centre government has an image problem when it comes to dealing with industry; funding from the trade unions movement together with ingrained hostility to big business makes this inevitable. New Labour has shown itself to be obsessed with its image, and it is acutely aware of longstanding public scepticism about its ability to run the economy successfully. Opportunities to show ministers working hand in had with industry to combat the threat of global warming, even when this involves more regulation and increased taxes, are hardly likely to be neglected by the spin doctors.

Q.     Industry benefits from Government

What chief executive could resist the opportunity of selling a profitable commodity in a rigged market? Renewable energy allows multinationals to build hopelessly inefficient generators with the aid of government grants and then sell all the electricity they produce at a price fixed by the Renewables Obligation. This is roughly twice the going rate of conventionally generated power. The electricity distributors are bound by government regulation to buy all the renewable energy that is produced, at a price that is not determined by market forces, and the consumer has no alternative but to pay. So long as the government chooses to whip up fear of global warming, any company that has a product that can be portrayed as green, however hare-brained and expensive it may be, can rely on a ready made market.

R.      Administrators benefit from the Media

Bureaucracy has an image problem; no one likes faceless officials in offices telling them what to do. Governments that increase the size, and the cost, of bureaucracy are not likely to find that this makes them popular with the voters. Any media coverage that shows these despised and undervalued toilers at the administrative coalface in a better light has to be a comfort for them. Fortunately, the struggle against a warming climate allows at least some administrators to appear to be dedicated eco-warriors who are doing something useful, rather than frowzy pen pushers. A constant stream of press releases drawing the public’s attention to the importance and urgency of fighting climate change can certainly work wonders for the administration’s image. It also helps the government justify the expense of keeping them in public employment.

S.       Administrators benefit from Government

Government pays the administrators, directly or indirectly. New policies, such as curbing Co2 emissions, require more personnel, larger departments, more regulations and more. This is music to the ear of any civil servant.


50 Responses to “A very convenient network?”

  1. PeterM

    Read what I wrote again:

    I’d even go a step further and say that whatever any nation or all nations in this world do on ‘climate change mitigation’ it will not have one iota of impact on our planet’s future climate.

    Then ask yourself: what specific actionable proposals can you recommend for “all nations to do”?

    We all know that a direct or indirect carbon tax will not result in any change in our planet’s temperature – no tax ever did.

    So lets look at a very ambitious actionable proposal made by your favorite AGW hypster, James E. Hansen:

    1. Stop all new construction of coal-fired power plants in USA (the second largest CO2 producer with number one coal reserves) after 2010.

    2. Shut down half of all existing coal-fired plants by 2050.

    Hansen’s “proposal 1” would end up reducing the increase in global atmospheric CO2 by around 3 ppmv. Using IPCC’s exaggerated climate sensitivity assumption, this reduction in atmospheric CO2 would result in a temperature reduction of 0.03°C. This proposal would involve an investment of roughly $430 billion over the next 40 years, assuming the replacement plants would be conventional nuclear plants (the added investment would be considerably higher if the replacement plants were wind or solar plants).

    Hansen’s “proposal 2” would end up reducing the increase in global atmospheric CO2 by around 2 ppmv. Using IPCC’s exaggerated climate sensitivity assumption, this reduction in atmospheric CO2 would result in a temperature reduction of 0.02°C. This proposal would involve an investment of roughly $630 billion over the next 40 years, assuming the replacement plants would be conventional nuclear plants (the added investment would be considerably higher if the replacement plants were wind or solar plants).

    So we have an investment of $1 trillion to reduce the temperature by 0.05C.

    This is a major and very costly “actionable proposal” that has no measurable impact on our climate, so is a complete waste of money, as I am sure you would agree.

    I have posted the calculations and references involved earlier on the NS thread, but will be glad to repeat, if you have forgotten

    Bring specific actionable proposals, Peter, and we’ll see if my statement is correct or not.

    By “actionable proposals” I do not mean vague goals for reduction of CO2 emissions to X% of year Y (these are meaningless, because they are not “actionable”).

    I also do not mean levying direct or indirect carbon taxes: these have no impact on our climate as you, as a scientist, must know.

    Awaiting your specific actionable proposals with an estimate of resulting reduction in atmospheric CO2 plus future temperature by a defined year, plus an estimate of the investment cost involved.

    The ball is in your court, Peter.


  2. PeterM

    Not to get too deeply buried in the vagaries of English semantics, but geoff has given one good philosophical “definition” of an “iota”.

    The online dictionary defines it as “a tiny or undetectable amount”.

    I’d say that a temperature reduction of 0.05C (as would result from Hansen’s $1 trillion proposal on coal-fired power plants) is “a tiny or undetectable amount”.

    Now let’s hear those specific actionable proposals that “all nations” should take in order to have a detectable impact on our planet’s climate.

    Awaiting your specific reply as requested in 26.


  3. The diagram was constructed at a time when I was trying to work out what was driving AGW alarmism in the UK, and it was never really intended for publication. I posted it now more as a historic curiosity than anything else.

    It would be a mistake to try and apply all the relationships it suggests too rigorously to present day circumstances. However, supposing that the diagram still holds good in a general way, then it shows, as Geoff suggests, that interfering with one of the relationships could have a catastrophic knock-on effect for the robust nature of the structure as a whole. And one of the things that impressed me when I drew it was that in graphic terms it is a very robust structure indeed.

    What I think it shows fairly well is that research findings are only significant as a driver after they have been assessed, filtered and interpreted by other players and that none of those players can be entirely disinterested about the outcome. This relegates scientific research, in the true sense of trying to discover how the climate system works, to a secondary role or worse.

  4. TonyN

    This is all getting a bit philosophical, but I do not believe you have to apologize at all for your 3-year old analysis of the interrelations and symbiosis between the powerful interest groups, which created climate change hysteria.

    It is still very valid today.

    It shows the static picture as it was in 2007 (and essentially still is today, although we all see that the hysteria is starting to crumble).

    What cannot be shown in such a diagram are the internal and external factors, which are leading to the “crumbling” of the hysteria today: the dynamic impact of revelations of fudging and other impropriety in the “climate science”, the increasing number of “scientists” who are speaking out against the hysteria, the resulting loss of confidence in the “science” supporting hysteria, the increasing public awareness of the potential costs and futility of proposed policy actions, the effect on public opinion and the ensuing pressure on politicians, etc.

    I would suggest that these are factors, which will effect the future static picture.

    Maybe someone will draw a similar diagram (including “the public” as a separate “power group”) a few years from now entitled:

    “Was This Network Instrumental in Ending Climate Change Hysteria?”

    But, as part of “the public”, we all have to understand how and why the hysteria was even created, before we can (1) proactively fight against this hysteria by insisting on clarity, openness and unbiased reporting and (2) finally analyze how the hysteria was destroyed.


  5. Geoffchambers,

    You ask “Now what about answering TonyN’s interesting question about how his diagram applies (or not) in Australia?”

    Where has he asked that? I don’t think TonyN is talking to me these days! :-)

    But I’d say that the Australian situation parallels pretty closely the US situation. Prior to the Nov 2007 the Australian government adopted a denialist position. Any Govt pressure on organisations like the CSIRO would have been to oppose rather than support the international consensus.

    The idea that World science has been pushed into its present position on AGW by governments eager to find ever more ways of imposing taxation just doesn’t stack up.

  6. PeterM#30
    see TonyN#22, and thanks for the information about Australia.
    You say: “The idea that World science has been pushed into its present position on AGW by governments eager to find ever more ways of imposing taxation just doesn’t stack up”.
    Fair enough. TonyN’s diagram shows that there are mutually reinforcing pressures coming from a variety of directions. It’s usefulness lies in the fact that it counters the common accusation that we sceptics believe in a conspiracy, and it demonstrates how pressures from different players in the complex social scheme can sometimes reinforce each other in surprising ways.
    To take your point about world science being pushed by governments: of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the great mass of scientists can be persuaded to falsify data by simply dangling fat government contracts in front of them. But a very slight unconscious tendency to please their paymasters, reinforced by a number of other slight pressures coming from peers, the media, their own political and social beliefs – any number of sources – may produce the results we’re talking about – a gentle boffin in a beige pullover exulting over the death of a colleague and rival. It’s terrible, but at the same time normal.
    The fact that TonyN’s diagram “works” – i.e. demonstrates the peculiar stability of the AGW edifice – is due I think to the absence of the normal “checks and balances” present in a complex society. If you think of the diagram as a chart of ocean currents, you’d expect areas of turbulence, sudden changes of direction, a chaotic system, in other words. Just as, in the case in question, you’d expect to have to factor in government and opposition, left and right wing media, etc.
    We sceptics have an unfortunate tendency to compare the AGW movement with other far more perverse movements in history, referring to religious fundamentalism, eco-fascism etc. There may be some justification in this, in that a totalitarian society typically exhibits the tendencies manifested in TonyN’s diagram. Possibly totalitarian tendencies arise when the different players exhibit the kind of convergence of interests we see here. Which is not to say that environmentalism is ecofascism, simply that we critics perceive vaguely the similar roots of “one-way thinking” present in the two cases.

  7. Geoffchambers,

    You say “it would be ridiculous to suggest that the great mass of scientists can be persuaded to falsify data by simply dangling fat government contracts in front of them.”

    You should be saying “It is ridiculous to…” Whenever that line of argument is put forward as it often is on this blog too.

    Furthermore have you any evidence that “fat government contracts have ever been dangled”?

    Its not the defence industry. Fat government contracts? You’ve got to be joking.

    Incidentally, it is worth comparing the justification for the many billions of dollars which are spent on “defence” on the off-chance that someone might actually invade, with the costs of doing something serious about AGW when all the scientific evidence is that the risks are orders of magnitudes higher.

  8. geoffchambers

    In your excellent post to PeterM, you mention:

    The fact that TonyN’s diagram “works” – i.e. demonstrates the peculiar stability of the AGW edifice – is due I think to the absence of the normal “checks and balances” present in a complex society

    This is correct, as it shows in a static snapshot how the “network was able to create climate change hysteria” (as seen from the UK standpoint in 2007).

    And the “AGW edifice” has been remarkably “stable”, so far.

    But I would argue that, on a longer-term dynamic basis, the “checks and balances” do exist in our “complex society”.

    These result from the “pubic” (a separate, slow-moving, but extremely powerful force, not shown in the diagram).

    Initially, the “public” is influenced by the “media” (disaster predictions), with input coming from “climate science” (model projections, etc.) , “green activists” (imminent extinctions and inundations, etc.), “industry” (“green” opportunities) and “government” (PR for “policy changes”, “immediate action”).

    But (all of the) “public” cannot be “fooled all of the time”, and this is where the “checks and balances” slowly come in.

    Some “scientists” do not go along with the wave of “climate hysteria”, and these bring scientific arguments that counter the “mainstream message” (of hysteria) and, in particular the more absurd predictions by opportunistic “politicians” turned “environmentalists” (Gore) or “scientists” turned “environmentalists” on the hysterical fringe (such as Hansen).

    The past predictions made do not occur as projected and this is pointed out to the “public”.

    Examples of data manipulation and exaggeration, collusion and other malfeasance by “scientists” are exposed, further eroding the “public” confidence in (and blind acceptance of) “climate science”.

    The “public” also slowly becomes aware of the costs it must bear if the mitigation steps proposed by the “government” are really undertaken; at the same time the “public” becomes skeptical that these mitigation steps will have any real impact on our climate, as no one can show the “public” what this specific impact will be.

    And then comes the fact that our climate has not really warmed for almost a full decade now, despite record CO2 levels, as has been pointed out in reports, which the “public” has seen.

    This fact is only corroborated by the record cold winters over the past few years in the populated areas of North America and northern Europe (and most recently South America, as well), which the “public” has witnessed directly.

    As the polls show an ever increasing “public” skepticism of the “climate change hysteria”, a backlash of pressure on the politicians (“government”) is starting.

    In a democratic society it is this pressure that can gradually change the picture and provide the “checks and balances” needed for the pendulum to swing back on “climate hysteria”.

    This may take longer this time than it has with earlier “doomsday hysterias” due to the obscene amounts of taxpayer money involved, the stubborn and elitist “we know better what’s good for you” attitude among many of those in government power and the symbiosis between the powerful, entrenched interest groups (Tony’s diagram), but it will inevitably come.

    And the world will have a new “fad”, with all of Tony’s powerful interest groups scrambling to become part of the action.

    Plus ça change…


  9. Geoffchambers,

    I’m sure that I could draw a diagram with green elipses and lines joining them up to each other which would “work”, as you put it, just as well.

    But it’s hardly necessary. What about the simplest explanation of all? That climate scientists have identified a problem and people like yourself are having a hard time accepting it at face value.

  10. PeterM

    You tend to oversimplify (and, in so doing, miss the point) when you write:

    What about the simplest explanation of all? That climate scientists have identified a problem and people like yourself are having a hard time accepting it at face value.

    This could just as easily have been worded (another oversimplification):

    Politicians have used taxpayer money to purchase a scientific opinion to gain popular support for their agenda of levying a carbon tax to increase tax revenues

    Neither oversimplification tells the real story of the interrelated symbiosis between the various power groups in creating the hysteria surrounding climate change nearly as well as Tony’s chart.

    You say you could draw a better chart: please do so.


  11. These entities range from symbiotic to parasitic in relation to society at large. The network has passed a tipping point and is now capable of killing the host.

  12. jorgekafkazar

    Great post (36)!

    Can you explain exactly what you were talking about? (It’s not too clear.)



  13. jorgekafkazar #36
    I agree with Manacker, your post is intriguing, if confusing. The “entities” in the diagram are simply the active agents in a society. I don’t see how they can be described as “parasitic”, even if I may personally be critical of some of their actions.
    I agree, however, that the diagram gives the impression of a “tipping point” because the multiple positive feedback loops suggest a snowball effect which is unsustainable and must break down. The question is – which part of the diagram willl give way? Which agent will fail in its effort to increase its own importance? Will the public lose faith in what they read in the media? Will the media drop their fascination with Green activism? Or will the government reduce funding to scientists because of their perceived failings?
    In normal circumstances, the diagram should be dynamic, due to the internal tensions within each entity (government v opposition, economic considerations v environmental, leftwing v rightwing media etc). It’s the consensus promulgated by scientists, politicians and environmental editors whiich leads to the positive feedbacks, and a diagram which suggests cancerous growth of some malignant entity, rather than simple treatment of a possible problem.
    I realise my meanderings rest at the level of analogy. I was hoping someone could give this fascinating diagram a more concrete, scientific treatment.

  14. Geoff:

    You are right, it would be very interesting to know what a social anthropologist would make of all those interactions.

    I think it was you who posed the question some time ago; where are the social scientists when such an obviously fascinating field of research (AGW alarm) has developed over the last few years?

    Perhaps it’s a combination of peer pressure and getting funding from bodies that would find the ‘wrong’ answer very embarrassing. Or is it that scientific curiosity is now confined to ‘safe’ subjects?

  15. TonyN, Geoff, I too have been very interested for a while now about the role that the social scientists should be playing in all this, but clearly aren’t. I read Scared to Death by Booker and North earlier this month; the book has its flaws, I think, but the authors are right to address the phenomenon of scares, and why and how they occur. Where, though, are the comparable books written by anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists – Leon Festinger’s heirs, as it were?

    Google “social scientists” together with “climate change”, and the results are illuminating. From SciDev Net (“Natural and social scientists must work together to build public support for action against climate change”) to Seed Magazine (“If natural scientists know what we should be doing, only social scientists can determine how we’ll get it done.” – I recommend reading this article, by the way), to Nature.com (“Climate change is the ultimate collective-action problem,” says Steven Brechin, a sociologist at Syracuse University in New York. “How do you get people to agree in the short term to solutions for a long-term problem?”)

    There appears to be an almost total lack of doubt as to whether a) science has determined that significant man-made global warming has been occurring (the default assumption is that it has) or whether b) the worst-case scenarios offered by IPCC and the media are likely (the default assumption is that they are very likely indeed, probably inevitable) or c) what should be done about it (the default proposition is that everyone should cut their energy use to the bone in the shortest time possible, reduce consumption to a minimum, and in all ways comply with the voice of authority, said authority being the State with the support of its scientific institutions.)

    Why this absolute certainty, though? One theory I’m playing with at the moment is that it could be a result of the inferiority complex suffered by many social scientists where their work is viewed in the context of their natural-science colleagues (which is misplaced, I think – human beings are as much “things in the world” as electrons or oak trees, ergo are legitimate subjects for scientific enquiry). Refusal to defer to the natural-science “consensus”, in other words, would be to challenge their relatively low position in the pecking order, and would mark them out for professional criticism, ridicule even. Thus the confining of their scientific curiosity, Tony as you say, to “safe” subjects.

    This theory still probably has quite a few holes – it’s a work in progress, let’s say.

  16. Alex
    I’m sure you’re right about the inferiority complex of social scientists (and – I’d add – almost everyone else) with respect to “real” scientists. The eagerness of social scientists to do authority’s bidding figured largely in Chomsky’s criticism of American imperialism, I seem to remember. So it’s not a question of left versus right.
    To the question: where are the social scientists? I’d add: Where are the comedians, the novelists, the performance artists? All the social commentators you’d expect to stand out against the “pensée unique”, the one-way thinking, are as rigidly “on-side” as Soviet intellectuals under Stalin. It’s baffling.

  17. The social science angle is very interesting. It has occurred to me that in a rational world any of the people in the nodes on this network would be very grateful if they were told that new data showed that AGW was not as catastrophic as they first thought – as sceptics do to them constantly. In fact, though the opposite happens, they get annoyed – to say the least. I think that this says something about the strength of the ties that bind those nodes together but I suspect it says a lot of other things as well. Is there some clue here as to how this network might be broken into to make it more dynamic and creative?

  18. Stuart Huggett:

    You’ve obviously given this some thought and it would be interesting to hear more. The same thing puzzles me.

  19. Stuart Huggett

    You ask:

    Is there some clue here as to how this network might be broken into to make it more dynamic and creative?

    I believe this process is occurring before our very eyes.

    The network still exists, and the powerful economic and political forces binding it are still strong, but they are beginning to weaken.

    How is this occurring? And why?

    It is being threatened by a process of rational skepticism, by the democratic participation of another un-mentioned “power group” (i.e. the “public”) and by the free and open flow of information.

    As Judith Curry has acknowledged, the blogosphere has been instrumental in allowing this free flow.

    And the blogosphere is slowly gaining importance vis-à-vis the mainstream media, which has, in general, elected to present the politically correct “mainstream view” on AGW unskeptically.

    The blogosphere, on the other hand, has, in general, allowed the free exchange of alternate ideas, in debates between proponents of different viewpoints, where each is free to present his own logic and rational conclusions. (Note: some blogs have been specifically set up to promote the “mainstream” message; these often simply censor out “non-mainstream” views; but I would suggest that these sites are “the exception that proves the rule” of a generally open blogosphere.)

    These exchanges, in turn, give bystanders (“lurkers”) the chance to hear different viewpoints, to do some checking on their own of the data out there and to come to their own rational conclusions.

    The argument has been made (almost exclusively by those supporting the so-called “mainstream” view on AGW) that only qualified climate scientists should be allowed to enter this debate.

    This argument misses the point entirely, for several reasons.

    The debate surrounding AGW is not only a purely scientific one, it also involves major political and economic issues affecting everyone. The “science” itself is not so abstract and complicated that it can only be understood by highly trained theoreticians. And finally, “climate science” is still in its infancy and the “unknowns” surrounding our planet’s climate are still much greater than the “knowns”.

    Most of us here live in democratic societies with representative governments. It is the public, which will eventually decide on major policy issues through the election processes in their nations, with the vote of a climate scientist counting no more than anyone else’s vote. The notion that the politicians in power “know better what is good for their electorates” than the voters themselves do is a self-serving myth of the politicians, and those politicians who fail to listen to their electorates will eventually lose political office.

    As to the question of how this process can be accelerated, I think the answer is by active participation in the debate and by letting your elected representatives know your wishes.


  20. The argument goes that will Obama wants to contact a demographic that wouldn’t ordinarily vote in midterm elections with regard to the candidates performed screeching, off-key handles of Whitney Houston sounds. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the media appeared to be slamming Obama for “demeaning” the office with the President of north america by appearing on that Daily Show? I can’t wait to hear what the pearl-clutchers inside media have to say using this latest GOTV effort by the President.

  21. There is a post by Judith Curry that no one should miss here:


    This is a carefully argued and thoughtful account of how climate hysteria took over from climate science by someone on the inside who was in a position to watch it happening.

    Much of what Curry says confirms parts at least of the diagram at the head of this post and views that have been expressed elsewhere on this blog. Let’s hope that there are some people other than climate sceptics who will listen.

  22. TonyN #46
    I thought of your diagram and this thread as soon as I read the Curry article, wich was recommended at Bishop Hill, so I’ve posted a comment at Curry’s site linking to here.

  23. TonyN

    The blog article by Dr. Curry you cited (46) is very much to the point in describing the process that led to the current credibility gap of the IPCC in particular and “climate science” in general. It is receiving a good number of comments, a good portion of which seem to agree with Curry.

    Interestingly I just read an article by Michael Lemonick in the November Scientific American entitled “Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues”. The on-line version is here:

    The author is a member of Climate Central Inc., an environmental policy activist group; we read from its website:

    Climate Central is a nonprofit, collaborative group of scientists and communicators. Our mission is to create a bridge between the scientific community and the public, providing clear, honest, nonpartisan, and up-to-date information to help people make sound decisions about climate and energy.


    our communications professionals work hand-in-hand with Climate Central’s Ph.D.-level experts in the sciences, technology and public policy, and with an extended network that includes the world’s leading thinkers on climate science and policy.

    Scientific American has previously endorsed the IPCC position on climate change, so there is little surprise that this article does not directly question its validity.

    In his article Lemonick questions whether or not Dr. Curry has acted as a “peacemaker” (between the “mainstream” group and those who are skeptical of this group’s conclusions) or rather as a “dupe” (of the vested interests behind the skeptics). He leaves little doubt that, while Curry may have intended to be the former, it is likely that she became the latter.

    He expresses concern that Curry has made statements about IPCC such as that it is “torquing the science” and has been guilty of “corruption”. He also believes that it has been a mistake for her to express such views on ClimateAudit, a climate skeptic site.

    Interestingly Lemonick states on one hand

    So it is important to emphasize that nothing she encountered led her to question the science.

    Yet further down he makes the contradictory statements:

    Curry asserts that scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations and don’t even know with precision what’s arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2 – that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without any amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.

    Things get worse, she argues, when you try to add in those feedbacks to project likely temperature increases over the next century, because the feedbacks are rife with uncertainty as well: “There’s a whole host of unknown unknowns that we don’t even know how to quantify but that should be factored into our confidence level.”

    Contrary to what Lemonick has written, it appears to me that Curry is directly questioning the very basics of the “science” supporting the premise that AGW is a potential serious threat, namely the 2xCO2 temperature impact , both with and without feedbacks.

    Lemonick states

    What scientists worry is that …Curry has the power to do damage to a consensus that has been building for the past 20 years.

    The concept of “consensus” is a “political” one, not one of “science” (where it has no meaning and only empirical scientific evidence counts)..

    Lemonick continues:

    They see little point in trying to win over skeptics, even if they could be won over. Says Gavin A. Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and proprietor of the RealClimate blog: “Science is not a political campaign. We’re not trying to be everybody’s best friend, kiss everyone’s baby.”

    But wait: “consensus” is “political”, not “science”, and that’s what the concerned scientists are worrying that Curry is damaging – so their objection to Curry is clearly political and not scientific, after all, despite the word parsing of the author.

    Lemonick concludes:

    it is crucial to focus on the science itself and not the noise

    I would fully agree with this statement. It’s just too bad that Lemonick (plus the scientists worrying about Curry) are not following this advice.


  24. geoffchambers, #47:

    Many thanks. By coincidence, I think, Barry Woods has just asked for permission to use the diagram in a post at WUWT, so perhaps it’s beginning to get some mor traction.

    Max, #48:

    I’ll come back to you when I have had a chance to look at your refs.

  25. Max, #48:

    I was actually quite pleased to see Lemonick’s hatchet job in Scientific American; the worst fate a whistle blower like Curry can face is being ignored. I have great admiration for the courage and integrity that she is displaying, and those who are attacking her seem like pygmies by comparison.

    What kind of scientist makes a statement like this one from Lemonick’s article, where a conclusion is built into the proposition?

    The public at large wants to know whether or not climate is warming, by how much and when, and they want to know how bad the effects are going to be.


    Lemonick seems not to have understood anything that Curry is saying, and this is not the kind of fatuous mistake that she would make.

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