Three Facts Most Sceptics Don’t Seem to Understand

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9) in Las Vegas. If you ever doubted scepticism towards man-made global warming as a growing social movement, well, you couldn’t after attending that conference with hundreds of enthusiastic doubters in attendance and some 6,000 watching online.

Joseph Bast addresses ICCC9

Joseph Bast addresses ICCC9

But I came away wondering about the culture that is developing around the movement, and whether it is truly one of enlightenment.

Most of us share enlightenment values. And skepticism is historically associated with the Enlightenment. But it should be skepticism of entrenched dogmas, not an automatic opposition to every new big idea. Indeed the enlightenment saw big ideas progress; ideas that once realized, dramatically improved the human condition.

Many sceptics apparently think that we have won the scientific argument, and that our next objective should be the dismantling of climate policies and climate research. But they are wrong. We have not won the scientific argument and we won’t, if we continue down the current path of suggesting that we can’t forecast weather or climate. This suggestion, that we can’t forecast, was often made at the conference and made again just last week by Jo Nova quoting Don Aitkin.

The history of science suggests that paradigms are never disproven, they are only ever replaced. Physicist and philosopher, the late Thomas S. Kuhn, also explained that competition within segments of the scientific community is the only historical process that ever actually results in the rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another.

In short, if our movement really wants to see the overthrow of the man-made global warming paradigm, it needs to back alternatives and promote new research.

Assuming we are indeed a movement with a desire to contribute in a tangible way to climate science, and a movement looking for viable alternative paradigms, then we need a way of sorting through incommensurable perspectives, and also a way of ensuring that the most promising research is promoted.

Let me make these points in a bit more detail:

1. We have not won the scientific argument.

It was repeatedly suggested at the ICCC9 conference that those sceptical of man-made global warming have some how won the scientific argument. This is nonsense.

On my arrival back in Australia I was forwarded yet another letter from an Australian government official reiterating that: “The Australian Government accepts the science of climate change and takes its primary advice on climate change from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. This advice aligns with information provided by the IPCC and national and international organisations such as the Australian Academy of Science, World Meteorological Organisation, the Royal Society in the United Kingdom, and the National Academy of Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States.”

The letter goes on to state that, “The world’s leading scientific organisations have found that the Earth’s climate is changing and that humans are primarily responsible…”

Not only do these esteemed organisations accept anthropogenic global warming theory (AGW), they also work actively with the mainstream media to crush, ridicule or quarantine any criticism of AGW.

If those sceptical of man-made global warming can be accused of denial, it is of this fact. We might be having some impact on the political process, even achieving repeal of the carbon tax in Australia, but the science of anthropogenic global warming remains as firmly entrenched as ever especially amongst the media, academics and legislators.

2. Rebuttals don’t overthrow established paradigms.

Anthropogenic global warming is a fully functional, well-funded scientific paradigm that is having a major impact on social and economic policy in every western democracy.

As I explained in session 13 at the conference: Scientific disciplines are always underpinned by theories that collectively define the dominant paradigm. In the case of modern climate science that paradigm is AGW. It defines the research questions asked, and dictates the methodology employed by the majority of climate scientists most of the time. AGW may be a paradigm with little practical utility and tremendous political value, but it’s a paradigm none-the-less. The world’s most powerful and influential leaders also endorse AGW.

In a lecture to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in September 2003 Michael Crichton said: “The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.”

Scientists are meant to know the difference between fact and fiction and as a first check of the reliability of a source of information they will often ask if it has been “peer-reviewed”. Peer-review means that research findings are conducted and presented to a standard that other scientists working within that field consider acceptable. This is normally achieved through publication in a scientific journal and involves the editor of the journal asking for comment on the validity, significance and originality of the work from other scientists before publication. In short, the system of peer-review means scientific research is subject to independent scrutiny but it doesn’t guarantee the truth of the research finding.

In theory rebuttals play an equal or more important role than peer review in guaranteeing the integrity of science. By rebuttals I mean articles, also in peer-reviewed journals, that show by means of contrary evidence and argument, that an earlier claim was false. By pointing out flaws in scientific papers that have passed peer-review, rebuttals, at least theoretically, enable scientific research programs to self-correct. But in reality most rebuttals are totally ignored and so fashionable ideas often persist even when they have been disproven.

Consider, for example, a paper published in 2006 by marine biologist, Boris Worm, and coworkers, in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science. The study was based on the meta-analysis of published fisheries data and predicted the collapse of the world’s fisheries by 2048. Publication of the article by Worm et al. was accompanied by a media release entitled “Accelerated loss of ocean species threatens human well-being” with the subtitle “Current trend projects collapse of all currently fished seafoods before 2050”.

Not surprisingly, given the importance of the finding, the article attracted widespread attention in the mainstream media and also within the scientific community. But not everyone agreed with the methodology used in the Worm study. Eleven rebuttals soon appeared, many within the same journal Science, and within months of the original article.

The rebuttals, however, scarcely altered the scientific perception of the original article.

In a comprehensive study of this, and six other high-profile original articles and their rebuttals, Jeannette Banobi, Trevor Branch and Ray Hilborn, found that at least in marine biology and fishery science rebuttals are for the most part ignored.

They found that original articles were cited on average 17 times more than rebuttals and that annual citation numbers were unaffected by rebuttals. On the occasions when rebuttals were cited, the citing papers on average had neutral views on the original article, and incredibly 8 percent actually believed that the rebuttal agreed with the original article.

Dr Banobi and coworkers commented that: “We had anticipated that as time passed, citations of the original articles would become more negative, and these articles would be less cited than other articles published in the same journal and year. In fact, support for the original articles remained undiminished over time and perhaps even increased, and we found no evidence of a decline in citations for any of the original articles following publication of the rebuttals…
“Thus the pattern we observed follows most closely the hypothesis of competing research programs espoused by Lakatos (1978): in practice, research programs producing and supporting the views in the original papers remained unswayed by the publication of rebuttals, thus significant changes in these ideas will tend to occur only if these research programs decay and dwindle over time while rival research programs (sponsored by the rebuttal authors) gain strength.”

Indeed it is the naive view that scientific communities learn from obvious mistakes. And as past failures become more entrenched it can only become increasingly difficult to distinguish truth from propaganda, including in the peer-reviewed literature.

3. Paradigms are never disproven: they are only ever replaced.

Since my return from the conference, it has been suggested to me that the ‘new paradigm’ for climate science is the one described in the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) reports, in particular the ‘null hypothesis paradigm’ that according to many skeptics, is far better at accounting for climate phenomena than are the General Circulation Models. I disagree.

The null hypothesis refers to the general statement or default position that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena. In the case of NIPCC the claim is that “nature not human activity rules the climate”. But this tells us almost nothing. In many ways it’s a cop-out. It’s like a theory of electricity without any explanation of charge, voltage or magnetism.

A good test of the value of any scientific theory to those external to the discipline is its utility. For example the calendars that were developed based on Nicolas Copernicus’ Heliocentric Theory of the Universe were better calendars than those based on Ptolemy’s Handy Tables. The new calendars, based on a new theoretical approach, more precisely predicted the position of the sun and the planets and thus the seasons, which, of course, influence the weather. In the same way, those who want to see AGW theory discarded need to increase their expectations of climate science and in particular demand some practical benefits. The most obvious would be better weather and climate forecasts.

Last year, aversion to a new theory attributing solar variability to gravitational and inertial effects on the sun from the planets and their satellites, not only resulted in the premature termination of a much-needed new journal (Pattern Recognition in Physics), but was also mocked by leading skeptical bloggers. More recently leading skeptical bloggers, Willis Eschenbach and Lubos Motl, were far too quick to attack a new notch-delay solar model that David Evans and Jo Nova developed in an attempt to quantify the difference between total solar irradiance and global temperatures and in the process forecast future climate.

In attempting to understand Dr Motl’s issues with Evans and Nova’s model, I was told that my work with John Abbot forecasting rainfall was also no better than “a sort of magic” because, like Evans and Nova, I was describing relationships “without a proper understanding of which variables are really driving things”. To the layman the few paragraphs of relevant jargon that Motl posted at his blog may have given the impression of some special knowledge, but in reality he was just repeating prejudices including the popular claim that climate is essentially chaotic.

Over the last few years my main focus of research has been on medium-term monthly rainfall forecasts. Not using General Circulation Models (GCMs) that attempt to simulate the climate from first principles, but rather using artificial neural networks (ANNs), which are a form of artificial intelligence and a state-of-the-art statistical modeling technique. John Abbot and I very quickly established that our method – which relies on mining historical climate data for patterns and then projecting forward – could produce a much more skillful medium term rainfall forecast than the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s best GCM.

Of course the use of statistical models for forecasting is not new, nor is pattern analysis. Many long-range weather forecasters and astrophysicists rely on lunar, solar and planetary cycles to forecast both weather and climate.

So, I was somewhat surprised to hear so many big names at the conference claim from the podium that it would never be possible to forecast weather more than a few days in advance, some going as far to suggest, like Lubos Motl, that climate is essentially a chaotic system.

Such claims are demonstrably false. Indeed that our ANNs (see Atmospheric Research 138, 166-178) can generate skillful monthly rainfall forecast up to three months in advance, is evidence that we are not dealing with a chaotic system.

Until skeptics start thinking about these issues and the need to back something, rather than perhaps always being too keen to knock the next big idea, we won’t truly make progress towards replacing the current dominant paradigm in climate science.

46 Responses to Three Facts Most Sceptics Don’t Seem to Understand

  1. Jo Nova July 26, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Since we are putting forward a model that we believe might predict the climate, obviously we think it might be possible to estimate global temperature in advance. :- )

    I do think we’ve won the scientific argument — “winning a science argument” is not decided by what the associations or government departments say. In a science debate if one side has observational evidence while the other doesn’t, the others have lost. We asked the leading modelers. They can’t empirically back up their assumptions on upper tropospheric water vapor feedbacks and 98% of their models didn’t predict the pause. My 2c worth:

    But we definitely haven’t won the political battle, nor the communications battle.

    Though we are not doing too tragically in the public sphere. Latest polls show between 40-60% of the population agree with skeptics. A lot of people do know.

  2. Beth Cooper July 27, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    All the best in your rainfall forecasting,with John Abbot Jennifer.

    Re statements that ‘it would never be possible tp predict weather more than
    a few days in advance,’ this seems an over certain statement coming from a
    sceptic. Re paradigms and their falsification, well there are these.

    beth the serf.

  3. Sean July 27, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    An interesting and insightful post about how science evolves and the madness of crowds.

    Unlike you, I do not work in the climate field, I only follow the discussion. But like you, I work in a field where the crowds follows a particular path, most interested in their standing relative to one another while problems that limit the utility of their technical field lie festering awaiting resolution. Hence you find folks in agriculture, water resource planners & municipal managers asking questions about short and long range precipitation forecasts so they can plan their resources accordingly and they get crickets chirping for answers (if their lucky). Worse they might get some 12 years smoothed average extrapolated out a hundred years (and more than likely incorrect) that tell them nothing about how they need to manage resources in the next few weeks, months or years.

    Big dollar government programs are notorious for creating imbalances that result in too much funding in high visibility items while the important but mundane programs get starved for resources. NASA spent enormous amounts of money on the space shuttle program at the expense of its unmanned science missions. They created an extraordinary expensive (and hazardous) way to get to people into space that in its heyday consumed half their budget creating an opportunity for the European Ariane rocket launcher.

    As frustrating as this might be,the NASA example shows an unmet need represents an opportunity going forward to someone who recognizes that need and addresses it. So you come along with a neural network model that allow predictions to be that if accurate have real value to a lot of people. To folks that are wrapped up in the science / politics of climate change, the big picture has obscured and crowded out the need for proper seasonal or multi-year precipitation forecasting so I am not surprised that what you do matters little to them. However, since there is a lot of people for whom it does matter, is there a way your forecasting can be packaged and sold as either a software product or service? If it is, having those arguing the big issues will be a wonderful distraction for your competition and a blessing to your business.

  4. Pat Frank July 27, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    Jennifer, “The history of science suggests that paradigms are never disproven, they are only ever replaced. Physicist and philosopher, the late Thomas S. Kuhn, also explained that competition within segments of the scientific community is the only historical process that ever actually results in the rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another.

    Quantum phenomena definitely and definitively refuted Maxwell’s Laws of electromagnetism. Observations of relativistic motion refuted Newtonian mechanics. Rutherford’s scattering experiments led to nuclear atomic theory and refuted the “raisin bun” theory of atoms.

    The observation of tectonic spreading centers refuted the theory of static continents. Darwin’s observations upon inherited characteristics produced evolutionary theory and refuted the Lamarkian theory of somatic inheritance, the notion of a chain of being, and every version of Biblical creation. Charles Lyell’s observations on uniformitarian geology refuted the theory of flood geology.

    All those refutations of previously prevailing scientific theory arose from the countervailing facts of experiment and observation.

    Replacement of theory in science has never been based upon generational change or the fading out of popularity, but upon hard falsifying data.

    Thomas Kuhn was wrong, and honestly Jennifer you do no favor to science promoting the idea that theory replaces theory based upon some generational popularity contest. The idea of science as a mere social process is a favorite of lit-crit skeptics and post-modernists hostile to every notion of objective knowledge.

    That said, I support your idea that research into climate and weather prediction should be encouraged. But that research will not happen while the AGW idea dominates and skews meteorology and climatology. If skepticism is to serve climate science, it will work to clear away the thorny brush of AGW.

    This is where I see my responsibility as a scientist and a skeptic of AGW climatology — to help drain the corrupt swamp that AGW has made of climate science.

    Your letter from the Australian Government states that, “The world’s leading scientific organisations have found … that humans are primarily responsible [for Earth’s currently changing climate]…

    The world’s leading organizations have found no such thing. Nor has the IPCC, nor the community of consensus climate scientists. The Australian governmental statement merely references the worst case of collective incompetence, ever.

    I have a manuscript presently under review showing analytically that climate models are completely unreliable. The poster I presented on this work at the AGU conference in San Francisco December last year, can be downloaded here (2.9 mb pdf). See for yourself.

    In a month, I’ll be giving a talk at the WFS conference in Erice on neglected systematic sensor measurement error in the global air temperature record. Standard error analysis shows the global air temperature is not known to better than (+/-)0.5 C.

    The entire AGW paradigm is grounded in the neglect of standard scientific practice, and has actively engaged corruption of science itself. The AGW consensus represents exactly the fashionable musings Kuhn offered as paradigmatic science; rapturously embraced by academic culture-studies intellectuals and opportunistic social-change activists everywhere.

    A social-cultural phenomenon is at work in the acceptance of AGW at so many institutions, it’s true. But in so-accepting, the scientists at those institutions have set aside their critical faculties. They have stopped doing science and are doing Kuhnian paradigmatics instead. That bizarrely widespread phenomenon is worthy itself of dispassionate investigation.

  5. Larry Fields July 27, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Hi Jennifer,
    I’m really glad that you’re pursuing this line of research. When you finally nail down medium-term rainfall forecasting in Queensland, you may want to shift your focus to California. We’re in the worst drought since the late 1800s.

    Commenters at WUWT have pointed out that it was far worse during the Little Ice Age. Fallen Leaf Lake (just West of Tahoe) has submerged trees at the very bottom. This indicates much drier conditions whenever it was that these trees were growing.

    If California returns to the conditions of the LIA within the next few decades, our almond farmers will be in big trouble. That reminds me of a terrible joke.

    Q: Why do California almond farmers refer to their crop as “ammonds.”

    A: Because when these nuts fall out of the trees, it knocks the L out of them!

    BTW, I couldn’t help but notice one apparent inconsistency in your post.

    “But in reality most rebuttals are totally ignored and so fashionable ideas often persist even when they have been disproven.”

    [ . . . ]

    “3. Paradigms are never disproven: they are only ever replaced.”

  6. jennifer July 27, 2014 at 7:29 am #


    Always appreciate your comments. However, I don’t think there is real inconsistency as you suggest.
    1. Rebuttals tend to be ignored, so fashionable ideas persist…
    2. In the absence of a new paradigm!
    3. In short, we can throw stones at AGW, but it will persist… until a viable alternative paradigm is promoted that can replace AGW.

    I’ve suggested the alternative begins with the elucidation of natural climate cycles using Artificial Intelligence.

    Evans and Nova should be congratulated for attempting to achieve something similar, but on a different scale and using a different tool.

    New paradigms tend to have their own tools. Be gone with GCMs!


    Thanks for such a neat summary – and for caring.

    You write, “To folks that are wrapped up in the science / politics of climate change, the big picture has obscured and crowded out the need for proper seasonal or multi-year precipitation forecasting so I am not surprised that what you do matters little to them. However, since there is a lot of people for whom it does matter, is there a way your forecasting can be packaged and sold as either a software product or service? If it is, having those arguing the big issues will be a wonderful distraction for your competition and a blessing to your business.”

    We could attempt to commercialize our concept that can already produce significantly more skill full monthly forecasts. But, we think we can make significant improvements on what we have… there are so many exciting areas of potential improvement that we want to pursue. Indeed as long as we have dollars for our computers, food on the table, a roof over the head and a warm bed – our interests are in research, not money.

    Thanks to the B. Macfie Family Foundation for funding support so far.

    Pat Frank,

    To quote you, “replacement of theory in science has never been based upon generational change or the fading out of popularity, but upon hard falsifying data.”

    But also note, each new theory had to be hard fought for, and it represented an alternative. For example, Darwin provided a new theory to replace the theory of creation. Thomas Huxley went in and fought hard for this new theory. He didn’t just ridicule creation… he had an alternative!

    Indeed your examples tend to support the point that I make, building on my understanding of the history of science which has been very much coloured by the reading of one of my favourite books… Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’.

    I shall download your poster… thanks for sharing.

  7. Bob Tisdale July 27, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Thanks, Jennifer.

  8. Pat Frank July 27, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Jennifer, your point was, “The history of science suggests that paradigms are never disproven, they are only ever replaced.

    That point is refuted by the examples given; not supported by them.

    If your point was correct, physical understanding would be absent. There would be only a change of opinions.

    The vigorous debate that follows from introduction of a more complete theory is no sign of the social construction of science. It is, at most, only a sign of the social construction of human mentation, and even then to only a variably limited extent.

    The increasing explanatory power of science and the irrefutable fact of the increasingly effective technology that follows from it are evidence of an objective knowledge that thoroughly refutes Kuhn and the view of science you have taken from him.

  9. jennifer July 27, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Hey Pat

    Kuhn agrees that science is special and objective… and I do too.

    However, there is also a real political dimension to the history of science.

    Physical understanding may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to result in the replacement of a paradigm. There must also be an alternative.

    To use AGW (man-made global warming) as the example. Accepting Jo Nova’s proposition that it has been disproven. Then why hasn’t it gone away?

  10. Reaburn Reynolds July 27, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Thank you for a very thought producing discussion. Particularly impressed with the idea of valuing rebuttal and the search for evidence which replaces rather than just destructs, though in the process of replacement there is always some destruction, hopefully in a civil and respectful manner.

  11. Beth Cooper July 27, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    Scientists are likely to be subject to the problem of confirmation
    bias like all of us, as you read in the battle by ‘the establishment’
    adherents of the young Earth view to the opposing theory of great
    geological age of the Earth by gentleman farmer James Hutton.

    Hutton discovered evidence that Earth was much older than biblical
    claims.After Hutton’s death his theory was supported by Charles
    Lyell who became acquainted with Hutton’s writings and came up
    with his own dramatic proof of uplift of stratified rocks. Ref the
    detailed account in ‘The Man Who Found Time’ by Jack Repcheck.

    In the end it’s the criticism and refutation that matters in science,
    which is about predicting real world phenomena, not defensive
    consensus behavior. ‘Paradigms Regained’ by John Casti examines
    the methodologies of the philosophers sociologists and historians
    known as the Edinburgh school of science whose forerunner is
    Thomas Kuhn. (Ch 1 )’The Truth the Whole Truth and the Scientific

  12. Don Aitkin July 27, 2014 at 2:46 pm #


    Thanks for sending an alert to me. I think your paper is an important one, and I’ll make it the subject of tomorrow’s post — in which I’ll deal with your reference to what I wrote.




  13. Debbie July 27, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    I think the AGW debate/dilemma has been a classic case of science & statistical analysis being hijacked and abused by politics.
    I agree with Beth that scientists are vulnerable to confirmation bias just like all of us mere mortals.

  14. Paul Titze July 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm #


    Interesting article, Question on climate change:

    The climate on Earth has gone through many cycles in the past, even if the planet is on average warming up _because_ of man made emissions, I think it’s a case of putting up with the new temperatures and deal with it, our reliance on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future gives us no choice. Cars, trucks, planes, ships, coal fired power stations etc all rely on it and don’t see this changing for the next 30 years at least. Renewable energy schemes just don’t cut it or are very expensive to install and I don’t see everyone switching to nuclear power plants anytime soon especially after the Japan disaster. I think most people are all for renewables, clean energy etc however as long as it doesn’t affect their bank balance or doesn’t mean an increase in tax etc.

    The only real option is to downsize the human population to have any real effect on emissions? (Not a popular option of course).

    Another option is (this is far into the future), find another Earth-like planet and colonize that planet when Earth’s population gets too great.

    Cheers, Paul.

  15. Don B July 28, 2014 at 3:31 am #

    Larry Filelds writes about California’s drought, and how it was much drier during the LIA.

    Twenty years ago, the NY Times noted how dry it was during earlier centuries, but one would not expect them to write this today, as it would be in conflict with the claim that AGW is responsible for the current drought.

    “BEGINNING about 1,100 years ago, what is now California baked in two droughts, the first lasting 220 years and the second 140 years. Each was much more intense than the mere six-year dry spells that afflict modern California from time to time, new studies of past climates show. The findings suggest, in fact, that relatively wet periods like the 20th century have been the exception rather than the rule in California for at least the last 3,500 years, and that mega-droughts are likely to recur.”

  16. Pat Frank July 28, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks for your patient replies, Jennifer.

    It’s very important to distinguish between science and the behavior of scientists. Science is the body of methodology, falsifiable theory, and replicable results.

    The history of science shows that theories are abandoned only after they are both disproven and a viable alternative is in view.

    In the absence of the latter, a working theory that has problems is kept to the extent it is useful. Utility is judged by the ability of the theory to produce falsifiable predictions apart from known problem areas.

    Cosmological theory is one example known through the 20th century to be incomplete, and therefore undoubtedly wrong. Nevertheless it was useful for what it could explain and as a road-map to where research should focus.

    The hi-jinks of certain scientists who love their theory to such distraction as to dismiss criticism or to falsify data have no bearing on the content or meaning of science itself.

    Confounding the meaning of science with the behavior of scientists is a common error of sociologists, lit-crit relativists (who make that mistake the center-piece of their “theory”) and even of some historians of science. In many cases, the error is disingenuous and tendentious.

    Science has produced the only reliable knowledge we have.

    Many in the subjective studies are jealous of this standing, and frustrated by it. Science stands in the way of their doctrine. They look therefore to delegitimize science in order to make a specious claim of equal knowledge-status for their own politicized theorizing. Their program is dangerous and false.

    As scientists we need to be clear about the exceptional standing of science as knowledge, and to be very aware of the attempts to reduce science to no more than another cultural text. Citing Kuhn is part of that program

    Defending science requires the courage of one’s convictions; to brave politically-motivated criticisms about elitism and scientism meant to intimidate into silence the defenders of science-as-knowledge.

    Some years ago I co-authored a short article in Free Inquiry, with Thomas H. Ray, about the unique meaning of science, titled “Science is not Philosophy.” I’d be happy to send you a copy.

    I think we can agree that AGW is politically driven. That trait also puts AGW-theorizing definitively apart from science. It should therefore not be expected to exhibit traits characteristic of theories of normal scientific provenance. That is the major reason why it has not gone away, despite being non-viable.

    AGW was disproved as a scientifically defensible idea as long ago as 2001, when Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, et al., published their paper showing the huge errors made by climate models. Those errors proved that no one could possibly know what effect, if any, increased CO2 would have on the climate.

    In any healthy scientific discipline, that paper would have been enough to produce a stampede away from climate modeling as a valid route to conclusions regarding climate.

    But it didn’t. It produced some huffy and dismissive replies published by the usual suspects, that were both vapid and effective. Vapid because they didn’t address the point, effective because they allowed the band-wagon to roll on. I discussed the situation a bit in my Skeptic article and referenced the exchange.

    The part I still don’t understand about AGW is how the physics community so quickly fell into line with it. If they’d been as critical of AGW theory as they were of cold fusion, we’d not be in such trouble today. But they weren’t.

    My suspicion is that the physics establishment is uncritical because AGW theory is perceived to be a child of physicists, as opposed to cold fusion which was produced by uppity chemists.

    That is, I suspect physicists rallied to AGW proponents the way physicians rally to one of their own accused of malpractice. Contrast that diffidence with physicians having zero trouble criticizing chiropractors. Likewise, physicists have no trouble criticizing chemists — not that chemistry has the standing of chiropractic. 🙂

    So there’s your sociology of science, in action.

    Notice, though, that the critical negligence of physicists in no way diminishes the unique and objective knowledge-status of science itself.

  17. spangled drongo July 28, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    “3. Paradigms are never disproven: they are only ever replaced.”

    Here’s one that is being replaced at the moment:

  18. Robert July 28, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    Americans – especially those claiming have an interest in the subject of climate – need to consider how dry the western US was before the 1825 Pluvial. Not to mention all those other long parchings. Hell, even New York’s awful drought of the 1960s was not without remote precedents.

    It’s odd that we need to get people whose field is climate change to at least take a cursory interest in…climate change!

  19. jennifer July 28, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Pat Frank

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And I’d appreciate a copy of that article: ‘Science is not Philosophy’.

    I mostly agree with what you have written… except that you need to actually read Kuhn. His great book on ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ would perhaps even answer your question about why the physicists were so quick to fall into line on AGW.

    Kuhn was writing before the rise of AGW and before the takeover by computer modelling which has given rise to a form of ‘virtual science’… but his following comment is very relevant today and perhaps reiterates the points you have made…

    Kuhn wrote, “Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science.”

  20. Johnathan Wilkes July 28, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    @ Jennifer

    “Then why hasn’t it gone away?”

    Too much political, intellectual and commercial investment.

    Same, in a fashion, applies to every other fields of science even those not directly exploitable commercially.

    Say you endorsed the findings of a published paper and supported it publicly, it’s unlikely that a rebuttal will change your mind in a hurry.

    Only people with a truly open mind will do that, or those who don’t care.

    I think many make a mistake of idolising scientists, having worked with quite a few I can assure you they have the same failings as any other human being, with the added burden of a huge ego.

  21. Don B July 28, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    In 2005 two Australian doctors won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for work they had done in the early 1980s.

    By the mid-1980s they had won the Science Battle, by demonstrating that ulcers were caused by bacteria, not by ulcers as the conventional medical wisdom believed. But it took another decade for the medical community to be convinced.

    “Peura, who met Marshall when both worked at the university and considers him a friend, said Marshall’s perseverance was responsible for the eventual acceptance of the theory. “Any lesser of a person probably would not have been able to withstand some of the ridicule and scorn that was thrown at him initially,” Peura said.” [Has anyone noticed that ridicule and scorn is thrown at scientists who do not believe the climate sky is falling.]

    Even if the global warming pause lasts another ten years, advocates of the AGW disaster storyline like the BBC and the NY Times will still not pay attention to the data, I fear.

  22. spangled drongo July 28, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Yes, JW, and most of all is the political ideology.

    That says straight up that science is only a small part of the argument.

    “Science is not Philosophy”.

    If the world would only believe that.

  23. John Robertson July 28, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Thank you Jennifer. Your contributions are always a delight and point us in the right direction.

    In my opinion one thing that we ‘skeptics’ need to do is to acknowledge that more atmospheric CO2 does raise global temperature – other things being equal. Given the habitual inequality of other things actual temperature response may be more, less or even inverse of theory. Arrhenius predicted that the rise would be around 1.6 C for a doubling – any doubling – of CO2. This modest rise will do nothing but good and the extra CO2 already does massive good for plant production. Perhaps more CO2 should carry some blame for the obesity outbreak?

    Your proposal for actual temperature forecasts for specific places over specific periods well in the future is admirable. Could a prize be offered for accurate predictions of those temperatures? It would focus on better ways of doing things and, a bit like sport, have a score of winners and losers. You will win and the other lot will lose!

  24. Beth Cooper July 28, 2014 at 10:54 am #


    I would love to read Pat Frank’s paper. “Science is not Philosophy’
    as well. Maybe it could be posted here?


  25. karabar July 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    When it comes to forecasting weather a year in advance, the track record of Evelyn Browning-Garris over the past 38 years must indicate that pattern recognition is effective. The Browning Newsletter has been deadly accurate in forecasting weather in the contiguous USA. Whether science or not, it is success that counts.

  26. DaveW July 28, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    This has been one of those rare posts on climate, on any blog I regularly read, where the comments are as interesting as the post – and where’s the invective? Jennifer, your new moderator seems to be doing a sterling job and has my thanks.

    I’m not sure I can add anything constructive, but I do agree that science is not the same as scientist and some of the disagreement comes from confounding the two. Science is not politics either, or at least it shouldn’t be. An activist scientist, however, is by definition promoting a policy, and therefore, indulging in politics, not science.

    AGW has been political and pushed by activists since its very inception. It does not merit the term ‘Climate Science’. So, I disagree that the ‘CO2 climate control knob’ is a scientific paradigm. It is a political position and can be quickly overthrown even if Kuhn’s hypotheses of how science progresses have merit. However, we are nowhere near reversing the AGW belief system anywhere in the world as far as I can see.

    One of the primary reasons for this lack of progress is a dysfunctional mass media. I think another is the now near absolute control that federal governments have on research funding. A third is the lust that academia has for federal funds (driven largely by the increasing bureaucratization of universities). These problems are political, not scientific.

  27. Moderator Ray July 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    DaveW @ 2:18 – thanks for the vote of confidence Dave, but in truth I have not touched a single comment. Not counting the auto-generated sales rubbish that the spam filter sidelines, of course. Maybe Jennifer’s blog mostly attracts thinking people instead of shrill ones? I hope it continues this way.

  28. Pat Frank July 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Thanks, Jennifer — I appreciate the fine and civil conversation. By now you’ve received my thanks by email and a copy of the FI article. And my commitment to re-read Kuhn’s book. 🙂

    I don’t know whether FI retains copyright, and so one might be cautious about posting it here, if that was thought an option.

    However, for anyone who’d like copy, thanks for your interest. If you email me at pfrank830_AT_earthlink_dot_net, I’ll be honored to send you a pdf.

    The Skeptic article is open access, by the way, and never refuted. Updated and formalized v.2 is presently under review at a mainstream journal.

  29. peter azlac July 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Jennifer: I agree with much of what you say in terms of the need to produce an alternative hypothesis to that being promoted by the IPCC that is backed by data in such a way as to cause the shift in the research paradigm such as occurred in the previous paradigms referred to by Pat Frank. However, the IPCC CAGW meme was never about the dangers of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide or even about climate science in general. This whole ´climate science´ enterprise is an exercise in social engineering with the objective of bureacratic control over our lives in the name of social equality, as laid down in the UN Agenda 21 that moves ever forward irrespective of any disproof of alarmist claims over the imapcts of carbon dioxide. This whole enterprise predates the Rio Conference as the brainchild of Maurice Strong who understood the power of enabling bureacrats to bypass democracy, just as has occurred in the EU. The origins of this enteprise have been well documented by Tim Ball and by the IPCC itself in their continuing Agenda 21 proposals:

    Since this enterprise is in the interests of bureacrats, politicians,ngos, bankers and industrialists it is unstopable until it has run its course with disastrous consequences, much like communism and other prior fascist enterprises.

    The best that those interested in real climate science can do is to work to develop theories that are based on real data not models that are applicable in areas most at risk of climate change, be it the consequences of warming or cooling as both are likely to occur at the same time in different parts of the globe.

  30. jennifer July 28, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    Peter Azlac

    I don’t disagree that the Anthropogenic Global Warming Paradigm has tremendous political utility.

    But its underpinned with some physics and chemistry nonetheless? Isn’t it?

    Even if it keeps a lot of scientists employed producing science of very little utility?

  31. Don Aitkin July 29, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    As the Trackback entry above makes clear, I did respond to Jen’s essay, and you can read it at

    I am glad to say that the comments on my website are also generally free of invective, and certainly in this case.

  32. DaveW July 29, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    Hi Jennifer,
    I think it is a mistake to assume that AGW is underpinned by physics. It is my understanding that the proportion of the increase in atmospheric CO2 attributable to humans is unknown, climate sensitivity cannot be calculated (only guessed at), and the only physically supported temperature effect of a doubling of C02 is in the 0.8-1.2 C range. That does not add up to CAGW and does not even make a strong case for any AGW.

    I think that rather than a scientific paradigm, the belief that anthropogenic CO2 emissions control the climate of the Earth is best compared to Lysenkoism. According to Wikipedia (at least this morning): “Lysenkoism is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.” That really seems to fit to a T.

    Lysenko claimed his pseudoscience was based on the discoveries of Michurin, but that doesn’t make his claim true. Nor does McClintock’s discovery of transposition provide any theoretical support for vernalization. Presumably Lysenko was a true believer, but the reason he was so successful was not that his beliefs led to a massive increase in Soviet grain production (they didn’t), but that Stalin found his ideas useful. When Khrushchev was disposed, so were the last vestiges of Lysenkoism. Interestingly, Lysenkoism never thrived outside of the Soviet Union: even though it was strongly supported by East Bloc governments it was resisted by geneticists and largely gone after Stalin’s death.

    CAGW is not a scientific paradigm but a manipulation of the scientific process for political goals. I haven’t read Kuhn for a long time, but his ideas do not seem to be directly applicable here.

  33. jennifer July 29, 2014 at 6:09 pm #


    I guess I was simply pointing out that AGW is meant to have a scientific underpinning. Central to the paradigm is that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that causes some warming. Of course even this is disputed.

    In fact there was a large contingent of engineers at the Heartland conference, many with experience in heat and mass transfer, who are dismissive of the potential of carbon dioxide to contribute in any way to global warming.

    But such is the nature of a failed paradigm in science… it can be disputed and refuted, but it stays put until a better theory comes along to which a majority of practicing scientists in the discipline can reattach themselves.

    So contrary to the perception that science normally progresses through incremental increases in knowledge (as suggested in the text books), science tends to progress in leaps and bounds, followed by long periods of stasis. This is a point Kuhn makes repeatedly in his book.

    I guess a key difference is that most of the theories Kuhn uses as examples, did make some positive contribution to our understanding of the natural world, before being replaced by something superior. While AGW theory has very much lead us up a dry gully … so to speak.

  34. jennifer July 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Early today I received a thoughtful email from the Canadian based scientist Madhav Khandekar. He suggests that the climate science community has become so “stuck” in this human-induced carbon dioxide syndrome that there has been no progress towards improved seasonal weather forecasting for 30 years.

    In particular, I think he agrees that we need to get back to trying to understand phenomena in the context of what might contribute to improved medium term forecasts.

    This potentially anchors us in something real world, as opposed to a continued focus on the politics of AGW.

    He suggested I read the following essay by Richard Lindzen… Climate Science: Is it Currently Designed to Answer Questions?

    I note Lindzen suggests… This paper will deal with the origin of the cultural changes and with specific examples of the operation and interaction of these factors. In particular, we will show how political bodies act to control scientific institutions, how scientists adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions, and how opposition to these positions is disposed of.

  35. spangled drongo July 29, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    When this is the pathetic best the cream of the world’s robots, that are designed to carry out known tasks, can produce, you realise that a computer designed to assess the chaos of climate unknowns is going to be much less capable and much more pathetic.

    While it’s good, it’s still worse than puerile:

  36. Dave Barnes July 29, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    Great piece. It sent me to find the wording of a quote from Max Planck:

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    Seems we have a while to wait.

  37. jennifer July 29, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Hey Spangled,

    What were you thinking when you wrote… “a computer designed to assess the chaos of climate unknowns”?

    Do you really think that climate is chaotic?

    I see weather/climate cycling within fairly limited upper and lower bounds with obvious daily, monthly and yearly cycles. Then there are the inter-decadal and multi-decadal cycles that are so relevant to understanding rainfall patterns in Australia.

    Looking at total rainfall in the Murray Darling its amazing how similar the totals were for 1956 and then about 60 years later 2010?

    So, these cycles can be explained in terms of gravitational effects, including on the sun’s magnetic field. But how can this be quantified, reduced to series of numbers for machine learning? More on artificial intelligence/machine learning here…

    Of course there are some great long range weather forecasters out there who are just studying the patterns and applying them in a qualitative way to generate seasonal forecasts… in the case of Ken Ring even daily forecasts. But what if their knowledge was somehow captured by one of these machines?

  38. Howard Shaw July 29, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    It is obvious that they got their computer models very, very wrong. They wrongly figured that more CO2 could only mean a warming planet. Yes CO2 will warm in the sunlight, just like every other element on earth. WHAT THEY MISSED was that CO2 cools down at night, just like every other element on earth. Thus rendering CO2 completely temperature NEUTRAL, thus causing no climate change at all.

    So what has caused thousands of Ice Ages and Warm Ages over the last few billion years ?????? Our SUN and its own cycles of warming and cooling. Our Huge Thermal Nuclear Solar System Hub, that creates light that gives us warmth.

  39. spangled drongo July 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    “Do you really think that climate is chaotic? ”

    Jen, I don’t think anyone will ever fully detail the multiple overlapping cycles that influence our climate let alone understand them. The natural components of climate — sun, ocean, land, atmosphere, volcanoes, ice & snow, living organisms — all of which appear to be subject to periodic cycling of various types, with potentially chaotic overlap.

    I was thinking of IPCC GCMs which they maintain 95% confidence in when 95% of them are wrong.

  40. Jennifer Marohay July 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm #


    Your choice of example (robotics) was perhaps a poor choice, if you were thinking GCMs. Because GCMs are built on an attempted simulation of real physical processes that are assumed to drive weather. While I think the future for weather and climate forecasting lies in machine learning/artificial intelligence and its capacity to mine for patterns and then learn relationships, which is much closer to robotics.

  41. hunter August 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    Jennifer, this is a great reality check.

  42. Leonard Weinstein August 7, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    Jennifer, I think the point you miss is that most skeptics do not disagree with the basic points of AGW, except the point that we are mainly responsible for the warming, and what that portends. The disagreement is with CAGW, i.e., the extent of the human contribution, and it’s long term effects. This is an issue about sensitivity, feedback, and practical economics. There is no question that the CAGW paradigm has been presently shown to be unsupported, but not yet adequately proven it won’t again rear it’s head if temperature should raise up sharply in the near future. Thus the only facts of consequence for the issue are what is going to happen in the near future. If flat to cooling global temperatures persist for several more years, the story will slowly evolve in a way that lets many of the doomsayers escape with minimal damage. I consider any escape from doomsaying as unfortunate.

  43. Leonard Weinstein August 7, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Jennifer, the point that Lubos and others make, that climate is in the end is a chaotic process, is valid. However, it is true that chaotic systems have different time scales of variation, and can be reasonably modeled or fitted and extrapolated over suitable time scales. An example is our solar system. We know the physics and the equations for gravity, etc., exactly, but there is a finite limit to the accuracy we can measure the masses, locations, and gravity levels, and the interactions are non-linear. In addition, this is not a two body problem, but a many body problem, and we can’t solve even three body problems exactly for large time periods. However, local two body solutions, and numerical multi-body approximations allow a very high degree of accuracy for orbital trajectories and planetary motion of even thousands of years. Nevertheless, over long enough time, even these solution diverge from the real world. Being able to fit data or use ANNs to predict is similar for complex chaotic systems. The only issue is how much farther ahead you get compared to other methods of approximate solution for reasonable predictions. However, in the end, there will be divergence. I think using ANNs vs the present GCMs to get longer lasting and better predictions is useful, but do not go so far as to say that the solution can generally be made very accurate, or that can be made for more that a relatively short time on climate time scales of several decades to centuries or more.

  44. Joseph A Olson, PE August 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Carbon climate forcing is a rigged, three sided debate between the Darth BIG Warmists, the Luke LITTLE Warmists and the Obie NO Warmists. Thermodynamic laws and empirical evidence prove there is NO “magic gas” forcing and NO back radiation warming. Rejecting this false GHE hypothesis, and forecasting using a solar input model, Dr Piers Corbyn has had remarkable long range weather ‘trend’ analysis, but the Earth system is very large, dynamic, chaotic and self buffering to the extent that general trends may be the limits of prediction unless ‘modification’ becomes more of a known reality.

    The reason that Darth and Luke are WRONG is obvious, the atmosphere ‘filters’ more than 30% of the incoming solar energy, thereby COOLING the Earth. Ozone and Oxygen absorb in a few spectral bands each, Carbon Dioxide in three bands, but water vapor absorbs in +50,000 spectral bands. Earth never gets hot enough to emit IR energy in but one of the CO2 absorption bands, the 14.77 micron band which is shared with water vapor. This shared absorption band forced the climate alchemists to include water vapor as a WARMING gas, with Wiki claiming 70% of GHE. For an analysis of this modern flat Earth hypothesis see…

    In a three sided debate, two sides are WRONG, and Obie understands traditional scientific methods and the empirically proven reality. In this case the ‘deniers’ deny an Obie debate, claiming consensus on GHE, only a reduced Luke GHE, when objective analysis verifies NO GHE.


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