Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A comfortable truth

A new article in Physics Today wonders why the ordinary dummy folk is at pains accepting the theory of anthropogenic climate change, instead of listening to the glorious infallible science. Steven Sherwood argues that many novel scientific theories in the past - other inconvenient truths - were seldom accepted by a recalcitrant folk from the start. It seems to me that the reasons are much more simple. Scientists like Sherwood are unable to accept that reality is not like they would it to be, and I am not referring precisely to global warming.

 The author is surprised why  it is possible that a scientific theory that has been experimentally corroborated many times, like anthropogenic global warming, is still not accepted by a large portions of the ordinary population. The article, unfortunately,  does not explicitly  explore the reasons  why this could be so, but it  transpires  Sherwood suspects  that a 'science backlash' is under way. Scientist should be prepared and improve their 'communication of science' : 'A first step toward better public communication of science, and the reason we need it, may lie in recognizing why the backlash happens: the frailty of human reason and supremacy of emotional concerns that we humans all share but do not always acknowledge. '

This seems to me a very non-critical  mindset. What is causing the science backlash ? No one is explicitly blamed but I would assume that the author is thinking of the US Republicans, the oil industry, or both. Sherwood spares no single word to  ask himself whether the science community may perhaps, eventually, probably have incurred  some errors, overseen uncertainties, announced wrong predictions, etc. When others can be blamed, why think about our own deficiencies ?  How unscientific.


Oliver said...

Eduardo, have you seen the picture on http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/3984360/image/37512673-an-inconvenient-truth-a-reassuring-lie ?


Werner Krauss said...

Just read this article and I think, Sherwood makes a fair argument. Here on klimazwiebel, we were also regularly searching for historical comparisons when trying to explain scientific climate alarmism. Among others, Lysenkoism, eugenics, or Waldsterben were mentioned. Thus, it is worth a try and only fair, to compare current distrust in climate science to resistance against Copernicus or Einstein respectively heliocentricity and relativity theory. As the author shows, there are similarities to be found. Just consider the absurdity of many arguments against the theory of climate change; some of those also do not believe in evolution, or they fear socialism or a green eco-dictatorship. Not very convincing, but with similarities to opponents of Copernicus such as the Catholic church, for example.

Furthermore, the critics of the alarmists also should not feel themselves immune to critic. Many of them permanently blame alarmists (for good reasons), but in doing so, they uncritically accept the support of those who challenge the theory of global warming fundamentally. Which is either laziness or opportunism; we should not forget that criticism of alarmism here on klimazwiebel generally implies making the theory (and especially the politics) of anthropogenic climate change stronger. Thus, future efforts should focus on the (ontological and epistemological) consequences of climate change instead of simply blaming alarmists.

Having said that, there is indeed lots of room for criticism. Sherwood equals phenomena like heliocentricity, relativity or climate; instead, I would argue, each one of those poses its specific ontological and epistemological problems. In equaling these different phenomena, Sherwood maybe misses the specificities of the climate problem: each statement about anthropogenic climate change contains a social commentary. This is due to the very nature of climate, which is neither natural nor cultural; it is something else. Some theories say that science unconsciously co-constructs a model of society when debating new natural phenomena. The model of society co-constructed by climate science indeed is to be criticized; it is of authoritarian structure, with science telling society in a one-dimensional way what to do. In doing so, science dismisses an important part of anthropogenic climate change. Just as was the case with heliocentricity, we have to re-configure our conception of the globe and the place where people live, the local. The discussion of this problem is still in its infancy. The climate problem is not so much a physical problem (of course, it is one) as it is an intellectual problem. Where do we live when we live inside a (anthropogenic manipulated) climate envelope? The answer to this question is the foundation of effective climate politics. (It’s not the physics alone.)

plazaeme said...

I see a very fundamental and quite common flaw. The use of the word "science" for a particular science. I never saw a meteorologist saying: "Science says we will have a lot of rain in three days".

It looks like a way to avoid a criticism, or a context, for climate change science. But not all sciences are equally mature, nor do they have the same level accomplishments.

Take a look at economics. They do have a great deal of knowledge. They do know many aspects of the system, and are able to predict many partial things about it. But, do the people trust economics as a science with a good general knowledge? No, and for very good reasons. Probably even Sherwood would agree. Why can't he see the problem with climate change science?

Well, we can disagree on the maturity of any particular science. But then, if you try to answer what Sherwood is asking, the first thing you need to bring is a good way to put some context about the science you are talking about.

Galileo, Copernicus? Once again out of context. "Science" didn't have the same meaning or the same prestige as today. And talking about context, Sherwood forgets the examples he doesn't like, where the "scientific consensus" and experts (not the people) was wrong. Ether, continental drift, age of the sun (and earth), and so on.

But it was a good read, thanks. No wonder you can see so many stubborn scientists without due perspective in climate change science.

Harry Dale Huffman said...

One word: Dogma.

stan said...

History tells us that expert predictions of the future are usually wrong. Philip Tetlock's research shows us that 'experts' are "no better than a chimp throwing darts". Examination of the IPCC's work using global climate models shows that the work has a very serious and fundamental flaw in reasoning. A review of the climate models shows that they are inadequate for forecasting.

Venture capitalists and private labs have found that more than half of the time they are unable to replicate groundbreaking published research in the most prestigious academic journals. Estimates of the percentage of flawed studies range as high as 2 out of 3. Yet, these are academics who KNOW that their findings are going to be checked. Even knowing that replication will follow and that they have every reason to check and double check their work before publication, half to two-thirds still publish junk.

In climate science, no one replicates or even audits anything. Transparency is a joke. So we get ridiculous garbage like the famous Briffa study that proved to be dependent on a single tree. I'll bet he never expected anyone would catch him.

Logic would indicate that it is very likely that the error rate for published studies is much higher when the academics have no expectation that anyone will ever check their work. And given how ridiculously bad studies by Mann, Rahmstorf, Briffa, Jones, Steig, Dressler et al have turned out to be when someone knowledgeable checks the statistics, this logical supposition would seem to have some empirical support.

Mix in some ugly ethical misbehavior, strong conflicts of interest, heavy political interference, and a powerful tendency toward a fatal hubris. Why it's a real wonder why anyone would ever question anything the wise and all-knowing experts tell us.

Wender said...

"Thus, it is worth a try and only fair, to compare current distrust in climate science to resistance against Copernicus or Einstein respectively heliocentricity and relativity theory."

I do not think that it is worth a try. Actually I think that it is utter non sense.

In the Copernicus case we had a faith based resistance of a very specific social category (the catholic church) which believed that a heliocentric astronomy was damaging the faith while the earthcentric astronomy was not.
They were obviously wrong because the religion flourishes with both kinds of astronomies. Beyond the priests nobody cared anyway because there were much more important problems in the Middle Age to worry about.

Relativity was a non event. Even today 99,99% and certainly more of the 7 billions people don't even know what it is about. If one asks them, one realizes that in 2011they still didn't realize that there was a huge change of scientific paradigm 100 years ago. Quantum mechanics is another one. There was a short and finally rather unspectacular "resistance" from a handful of scientists who didn't like the idea.
Some still don't like the idea of relativity and/or QM today but nobody cares.

Now climate change is completely different because with the marxism it is the only historical example where a "scientific" (?) theory raises this incredible claim that EVERYBODY on this Earth should change his behaviour to conform to some prescribed "scientific" norm.
So even if one doesn't care (and most people don't), one can't escape the brain washing and the political pressure.
Pay your energy more, stop going on holidays, drive on bicycles, buy this product and not this one, don't use air conditioning etc etc.
And there is some infinitesimally small group which is supposed to dispose of the papal infallibility and dictate to 7 billions people how they should live every day?
And if somebody doesn't obey, then reeducation camp? Apocalypse? End of the Universe?

The lack of trust towards this infinitesimal group of people seems to be a natural immunity reaction against any small group of people who would govern us all.
This has nothing to do with science or even scientists.
It is just that any group of people claiming that they have the right to impose some course of action on everybody must be opposed unless everybody agrees but then the proposal would be a tautology.
Eventually, following personnal experience a larger part of the population (e.g non climate scientists) will find by themselves the interest of this or that action and they will be implemented later.
Or not.

Clearly the opposition to a (any) totalitarian vision of civilisation (e.g everybody must conform)is a matter of principle and has no direct relationship with the trust of Mr Joe towards Mr Hansen or Mr Mann.

So no, Copernic and Einstein don't provide any useful insights into how the general population consders climate change and climate scientists.

eduardo said...


there are portions of you comment with which I would agree but not in its entirety. I do not have a magical recipe, however. I would agree that it is difficult to gauge how much of a science theory really trickles down to the ordinary lay people. I think it depends on the discipline. I have had some encounters with university professors that actually a pre-Newtonian view of the world, let alone any knowledge of relativity. probably a very small portion of the population really understands Newton Laws. In biology the situation may be different, as the concepts are closer to the everyday experience.

I do not agree with you when you retort that a scientific elite tries to impose a style of life upon the population, and you view this from a negative perspective. There are clear example of the contrary in the history of science. When it was clear that infectious diseases were caused by pathogens, the 'scientific elite' tried to convinced the society that a another way of life was necessary, and that lead to big public infrastructure to deliver clean water to all parts of the population, to have sanitation in homes , etc, etc, We now cannot imagine a life without that type of infrastructure.
Now we can argue whether or not there was a demand of scientific solutions to a real problem, or it was the scientist who come forward to tell society what to do. I lack the historical knowledge, but it seems to me that at least in this case, our way of life was over time massively changed because of scientific findings

eduardo said...


from my perspective Sherwood's article is disturbing because it does not admit the possibility that scientists may have incurred own mistakes. But you text is in this sense similar, accepting somewhat uncritically what is being published in many skeptical blogs, but not pausing to think that perhaps those blogs, some of them, sometimes, may be in error as well. Could you also mention some errors brought about by climate skeptics, or do you think they are infallible ?

I think this is what distinguishes science from religion or dogma: a scientist is never sure, there is nothing completely settled forever.

Werner Krauss said...

Here we have an interesting comment by Roger Jones:

he says about Sherwood's paper:
"His argument skewers the contention that the Galileo movement puts up of the climate skeptic being the lone holder of true knowledge persecuted by the all-powerful Church of the Holy Global Warming Consensus."

Werner Krauss said...

I agree with Eduardo:
"I think this is what distinguishes science from religion or dogma: a scientist is never sure, there is nothing completely settled forever."

I read Sherwood's article as a thought experiment. It's an idea with a certain appeal. It's neither dogmatic nor intolerant. It's also not part of a totalitarian conspiracy. I would call this an essay, a genre of its own.
Some comments here show that there are indeed some shortcomings in his argument, and his obvious bias can be questioned, too. But it serves well as a starting point for a scholarly debate.
I have no idea who Mr. Sherwood is, but I think there is a slight chance that he is a respectable and well-educated person. Why not assume that he is not part of a conspiracy? It would make some discussions much more delightful and maybe even more productive.

Wender said...

There are clear example of the contrary in the history of science. When it was clear that infectious diseases were caused by pathogens, the 'scientific elite' tried to convinced the society that a another way of life was necessary, and that lead to big public infrastructure to deliver clean water to all parts of the population, to have sanitation in homes , etc, etc, We now cannot imagine a life without that type of infrastructure.

Eduardo you didn't probably read with attention my post because this example was precisely what I have been thinking about when I mentionned tautology.
Indeed saying "Everybody should do what everybody agrees to do." is a tautology.
The public infrastructures concerning sanitation and, among others, clean water have nothing to do with science or small groups wanting to impose their visions on everybody.

Romans did it already 2 000 years ago and it had nothing to do with science. Besides this is the tautology case - everybody agrees that it is a good thing having clean water brought in and s..t brought out.
It would be a strange vision of history if you think that these and similar IMPROVEMENTS of comfort had anything to do with some "scientific elite" trying to convince the unwashed masses that a room without s..t is better than a room full of it.

Obviously the global warming case is completely different from the above case.
The only valid analogy to the global warming that I see in history is marxism.
1) There is a very small group of scientists who developped a theory which predicts the future of mankind. It is also global and makes predictions on such large time scales that it cannot be easily falsified.
2) From this theory follows a large set of behavioural and economic norms which must be followed by everybody.
3) The small group of theoricians convinces politicians that all of the above must be implemented because the future of mankind is at stake.
4) Anybody who opposes the theory (and/or the norms!) is either mentally ill or a criminal against mankind.

Well the theory has been falsified by experience but it took 100 years and there are still unconvinced scientists (marxists) who continue to believe that it is correct.

But my point is mainly that the science is (almost) irrelevant in both cases.
What is relevant is that a large part of the population spontaneously opposes any kind of theories which basically say "Sacrifice yourself today so that radiant futures may come in a couple of centuries for the next generations" and "The salvation will only work if everybody does what we in our superior wisdom say."

The price asked is simply too big to accept and people instinctively mistrust those who insist that everybody should pay it.

I am a scientist and I have also some technical criticism to the current climate theory. Mainly because I think that the climate can only be described by a dynamical field theory as an example of spatiotemporal chaos, that the averages of the fields are irrelevant to the dynamics and that numerical simulations can't converge to the true solutions of the field equations.
But this is just a technical discussion.

Much more important is that I don't believe at all that all the measures, norms and behaviours justified and imposed by the theory are acceptable or indeed beneficial regardless of its predictive skill which I believe low anyway.

wender said...


For those of the readers who are familiar with economy, what we deal with here is a problem of discount rate.
The discount rate is a tool which quantifies the "preference for the present as compared to the future" for economical decisions.
The problem is that there is not a unique and universal discount rate what would cleanly solve almost all investment decisions.

Alarmists are people with a low "psychological discount rate" (a notion that I just invented).
They don't really see the difference between present and future and they don't care (much) to be paid a € today or in 100 years.

Skeptics are people with a high "psychological discount rate". They see that present and future are very different and they prefer to be paid a € today instead of in 100 years.

For those less familiar with economy, I add that the value of the discount rate is primarily impacted by the risk and incertitude percieved in the future.
An example: imagine a theory predicting a volcano exploding on some island and making a damage of 500 billions of € in 100 years.
The theory also says that by investing 200 billions of € in some contraption today , there is A CHANCE to avoid the damages in 100 years.

The discount rate of a vast majority of people immediately concludes that it makes no sense to invest 200 today to get 500 in 100 years. Especially if there is no absolute certitude that the contraption will work.
A statistical study (to be done :)) would show that only a very small minority would have such a low discount rate that they would see sense in the investment proposal.

Werner Krauss said...


"The only valid analogy to the global warming that I see in history is marxism."

Oh, really? How exciting!

Georg Hoffmann said...

Not convinced, neither by your critique nor by Steven Sherwood's suggestion to solve the problem.

"Sherwood spares no single word to ask himself whether the science community may perhaps, eventually, probably have incurred some errors, overseen uncertainties, announced wrong predictions, etc."

To my opinion that is completely irrelevant in the context of the question here, ie "Is a theory such as the greenhouse effect or ozon depletion by CFCs or, if you like, general relativity accepted by the general public".

Einstein was lousy in vulgarisation of his ideas (Planck once said that Einstein obviously thinks that he becomes pedagogic just by saying "meine lieben Damen und Herren" from time to time). I cant remember any mayor enlightenment campaign on the horrible complicated ice phase chemistry of CFCs before having the theory of ozone hole formation and the role of CFCs in it got generally accepted: measurement uncertainties , bad predictions and communication problems all over the place! However the scientific community got convinced.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution of species is probably the best explained, communicated, graphic and by thousands of experiments "proven" scientific theory on Earth. The scientific community is convinced, the public much less.

Without giving more examples my hypothesis is there is NO LINK AT ALL between the quality of how a scientific theory is communicated and whether this theory is generally accepted. So I am pretty sure that bad communication/bad predictions/arrogance/whatever bad character traits can be associated to scientists is responsible for where we are now in the climate debate. And vice versa I also dont think (as Steven Sherwood seems to think) that any other form of communication or bigger efforts to explain will change anything to the better.

The greenhouse theory is not accepted and will be less and less accepted by the public because probable or at east possible consequences of this theory are against the material well-being of the general public. The craziest argument on climate science will find eager listeners and happy publishers since it is simply more comfortable to think that there might be ambiguities in the interpretation of a particular satellite data set or of a particular climate reconstruction and therefore the entire theory can be dismissed instead of discussing the political consequences of this physical theory.
As more the global economy drifts into difficulties more there is acceptance of supersticion and general refuse of science. Only time of flowering economy give some chance for positivism. Therefore Sherwood is on the right trail when he looks for correlation between coal production and acceptance. Not necessarily because the evil coal industry puts some money in disinformation campaigns (what they do of course) but because the people know what is against their interest.

Werner Krauss said...

@ Georg #14

Georg, your ideas about "the general public" are pure guesswork, right? Or are your assumptions about "the public", their mindset, the correlation between economy and trust in science based on any scholarly research or literature? Or is it just fall depression?

I don't know what to make exactly out of this. What to do with these fantasies about "the public", which sound to me like a flow of mostly unconscious fantasies about the world outside the office or the laboratory. It is a notorious problem in the climate debate. The main problem is not the science, in my opinion; the problem is the simultaneous talk about society. Everybody has an opinion, and many climate scientists don't shy away from expressing their ideas about society with the same authority they talk about their real field of expertise.
I am sure that the scientific part of your greenhouse theory is well worked out, Georg. But I really doubt that this very same theory necessarily implies a reduction of the material well-being of the general public, as you write. I think this is crossing a line between expressing an idea and misusing scientific authority.

Hans von Storch said...

The problem of many climate scientists is that they are caught in this, ja: post-normal setting - which enforces political engagement, but with the firm belief of representing with the authority of science "truth".

In this situation, an analysis of the topology of knowledge claims, not only their validity but also their political utility and cultural consistency would be useful. Or in other words: cultural sciences are needed to allow us others to understand this topology, its making and its dynamics, as much as climate scientists are needed to understand the link of GHG emissions and the statistics of weather.

Of course, we can leave it all on the individual level, all is possible, conditioned by myriads of factors, or we can try to determine simpler structures of this typology and its dynamics, reducing it. [Hasselmann's old concept of Principal Interaction Patterns comes to my mind.] Such a simpler structure may be called theory, which may guide us in our practise.

Werner Krauss said...

Hans, just a few spontaneous remarks:

you write:
"The problem of many climate scientists is that they are caught in this, ja: post-normal setting - which enforces political engagement, but with the firm belief of representing with the authority of science "truth". "

Who forces climate scientists, who puts them in this "post-normal" position? Are climate scientists victims? Let's try it in the active mode:

"The problem of many climate scientists is that they want to engage politically, and that they want to make their partial knowledge appear as overarching truth".

Doesn't this sound more realistic? And doesn't it sound strange? Why do climate scientists want this? Why don't they just tell what they know? Why do they even want to govern the social world with their indeed real partial knowledge?

And the "political utility" and "cultural consistency of knowledge claims" sounds strange to me. Political utility for which political project? That depends pretty much, I guess, which side you are on. And cultural consistency: do you want to know if an opinion or belief is pure German, for example? Makes me shiver, man. You have to explain again.

And finally, I highly recommend to accept complexity. It's a very good exercise in humbleness, modesty, and politeness.

I think requesting a tool to guide the practice of climate scientists is the wrong approach. It is starting the dialog about basic assumptions about truth, culture, nature, the role of science and, most of all, climate. The "cultural" problem is not out only there, it is in here, in climate science and its relation to the outside world.

Hans von Storch said...

Werner, I did not want to say ""The problem of many climate scientists is that they want to engage politically" - the number of old Egyptian language researchers who want to engage politically, is likely equally high. But these are not confronted with the perceived potential of using their specific knowledge for much discussed political issues. They are less tempted.
And who has spoken about a "tool", and who had indicated it would be the utility for a specific political project? You read that, but I did not write it nor did I mean it.

"Culture" - I guess you want to provoke me - you know that the word does not relate to nations, but to different social groups which can be defined in various ways, conditional upon the issue. Also here, some structure must be imposed when analyzing the problem, but not that simple a straucture as you imply when beginning shivering.

So, what you have done is to describe my view as an attempt to reduce a complex issue - true, but you may have to study your object a little better.

"PIPs" are (may be) rather complex, but they attempt to reduce the degrees of freedom of the problem. I would claim that dealing with a complex problem without reduction of degrees of freedom will cut you off from identifying a dynamic with the capability of partial rpedictability. Reduction may lead me to dismiss significant dynamics, in that case the term would be "wrong science".

In case of "climate", the problem is complex but also wicked, i.e., open and not really defined. Then, the reduction becomes impossible, because we can hardly discriminate between "significant" and "insignificant"; when we deal with the sensitivity of the climate system to elevated GHG concentrations, the problem is only complex. -- Something of that sort.

Georg Hoffmann said...

My remarks about the "general public" are as anything else here: opinions on a blogg. Or would you claim for yourself that your writings here are a scientific publication? The expression is meant in a statistical sense, the "majority of the population" etc.. It is the same entity which is targeted by Hans' different opinion polls.

I think it would be helpful if at least once here at Klimazwiebel we could stay at the actual subject of the posting. Why and under what conditions scientific theories are accepted by the general public. I hope it's not again "my fantasy" as you put it that this is really what we are talking about. Scientific theories could encounter different reactions by the wider public. And I think it is helpful to compare different cases in the past as Sherwood did.
It would be interesting if you or Eduardo could give at least some empirical evidence of the supposed impact of “successful” scientific communication (ie auto-critical, modest, humble, neutral, etc etc) making a difference in the public perception and acceptance of a scientific theory.
It seems that the ozone chemistry is a much less disputed scientific theory. Why? Is Paul Crutzen simply a better and more honest communicator? Did he offer more option to politics when he found out that CFCs were responsible for the degradation of Ozone at cold temperatures? Is he a role model of an honest broker and therefore the society accepted the science and acted “reasonably”?
If so, could you give some evidence for this? I like to see positive examples of how scientist’s behavior helped to get a scientific theory wildly accepted. It’s astonishing that in the “Honest Broker” there aren’t hardy any positive examples. If you promote a role model of behavior wouldn’t it be nice to demonstrate that such behavior really makes a difference?
My opinion on the role of scientists of acceptance of a scientific theory: it doesnt make any difference. (and it’s another example of hybris that scientists seem to think that the way they communicate could make such a difference)/
The background of the physical theory of global warming (ie greenhouse gases warm the planet, more gases warm the planet more) is perceived by the general public as a huge investment with uncertain benefits for future generations. Why not at least considering the possibility that society took in fact a decision and all this chitchat about climategate and concerns about scientists being not honest enough is just a way of punishing the messenger for the bad news?
Anyhow, this is what happens with honest brokers when they deliver the policy options a little too open:

Georg Hoffmann said...

"The problem of many climate scientists is that they are caught in this, ja: post-normal setting - which enforces political engagement, but with the firm belief of representing with the authority of science "truth".
I doubt that there is anything particular in this situation or in the role of scientists in political discussions. There are knowledge differences on many levels on many issues in a public debate. A well educated person has often a huge advance in information and in possibilities to promote his/her views in in the public domain. The "advantage" of scientific knowledge on the science background of the greenhouse effect exists of course when it comes to public debates (by "call at authority", by access to "more and better" information etc). But compare this to the advantage a CEO of a leading company or bank has with his first hand knowledge on latest economic developments? Are there any demands of excluding these people from the democratic process just because they have knowledge advantages? In any case the impact on political decisions of our characteristic ideal "advocate climate scientists" in the public domain compared to that is negligible.

Hans von Storch said...

Georg, I did not demand to exclude climate scientists from the political debate, I just demand that they do not invoke the authority for science to support their lay-men opinions, which are of course entirely legitimate.

Also I wanted to express that the situation, CLIMATE scientists find themselves in is special, not of all scientists. This is because we CLIMATE scientists are often asked by our social environment, by media and stakeholders, what to think about the issue of climate and climate policy. Other scientists are not confronted with such a massive interest by lay-people.

The number of scientists, who would like to be confronted with interest by "the" public is likely equally high in all disciplines and fields, but the probability that this wish is met, is much higher in climate sciences than in others, I believe. This is related to the post-normal condition, climate sciences are operating in.

Hans von Storch said...

Ja, Werner, I agree "I think that there is a qualitative difference between the dynamics of knowledge claims and the one between greenhouse gases and average temperature. ". But when we deal with the wicked problem of climate, then both dynamics matter. Because decision on how to deal with the "climate problem" depend on both, maybe more on the dynamics of knowledge claims than on the atmospheric dynamics, which transform GHG concentrations in temperature change. [I am just preparing a talk on Wissensmanagement in our field, an issue closely related to Climate Service.]

Yes, Georg is a Stammtischbruder, and in past days we often shared that table with much fun. Hope to see you in a Kneipe in Hamburg in some time, Georg and Werner. Maybe we should all meet sometimes, and become Stammtischbrüder.

Georg Hoffmann said...

"Other scientists are not confronted with such a massive interest by lay-people."
This is simply not right. WE are asked more than experts on sumerian pre-culture but less than experts on bird flew or traffic control (just switch on the TV before 20:00). All in all I think we are quite in the middle of the science pack.
Just go into a major book shop and check the science corner. Climate science is there and so are dinosaur experts, astronomers, cosmologists, evolutionary biologist (I guess by far the most popular and best sold part of science).
If there is a democratic problem with the way climate scientists use their knwoledge than we have a fundamental problem with democracy in general. There are differences everywhere and everyone uses his/her special knowledge advantage to promote his ideas. This is not a problem, this is just the way how knwoledge is feeded into society.

Georg Hoffmann said...

Yes, here in Sevilla there is a specific Stammtisch-problem. Everyone is just standing at the bar and screems like hell.

Werner Krauss said...

Hans, thank for the answer.
I am afraid you didn't read the first part of my previous post (who said what). Or else, I expressed myself miserably.

I like your definition of culture as distinct social groups - as long as we know who classifies for what purposes. Concerning "nations": see the eurobarometer you posted today.

One last remark: there is a qualitative difference between researching greenhouse gases (natural science) and knowledge claims (social / cultural gases, errr, knowledge claims). Just remember Georg's statement, which was my starting point: is this natural science (greenhouse gas theory) or social science (the general public will reject it because it has consequences for their material well-being)?
That's not a singular example; instead, climate science talks as much about society as it does about climate. The differentiation between natural and social is introduced in retrospect.

Sounds like an epistemological problem, right?

Werner Krauss said...

Hans #22, sorry, I had deleted my previous post #21. So read this one as #21 (I just shortened it for whatever reasosns)

Georg Hoffmann said...

Of course I am talking about society. How could I not? I try to speak about the Sherwood article. The subject is (again): Why are scientific theories accepted differently by the general public?
No chance to speak about this point instead of the question if a possible answer is rather part of cultural or natural sciences?

Werner Krauss said...

Sure, it's only fooling around, it's a blog. I agree. But anyway, I liked to make a case out of your remark: you say that your scientific greenhouse theory implies consequences for the well-being of the general public. I doubt that your scientific theory says that. Your theory only says that greenhouse gases contribute to the rise of average temperature. Period! I took this as an example for a common rhetorical trick of climate scientists, who tend to give their personal world weariness a free ride on the scientific ticket.

But I have to admit, it is an interesting idea that it is completely irrelevant what you folks say. This is indeed confirmed by the latest eurobarometer survey (posted above), which says right in the beginning that "Climate change remains a key concern for the European public." And all the following numbers confirm this.

So climate science has already fully succeeded. This, of course, changes the whole discussion: we can take climate science as an example for a highly successful theory, which in only a short time convinced the majority of the general public of anthropogenic climate change.

Maybe you focus so much on this (admittedly pretty loud but nonetheless irrelevant) minority of climate skeptics in order to keep your science business running. Because once a scientific mission is accomplished, the relevance of the respective science of course diminishes, too. Once put into your place among the other esoteric disciplines, it will be more difficult to have such a big audience for your amateur social theories -:)

Your question when "soft" (humble etc) approaches were successful embarrasses me. I have to think about it; no answer at hand.

Anyway, I guess, mostly there is not a direct transfer from science to the public; instead, technology changes the world. Once scientific knowledge has found its technology, behavior (and worldviews) start to change.

This example came to my mind, because climate change is a technological problem (and only to a lesser degree a scientific one). There is no technology yet which successfully replaced fossil fuels.

I guess you already live completely carbon-free, because you are not as stubborn as the general public -:) But according to reasonable people like Hans this is not the solution. It doesn't change a (climate) thing, according to him, how you live as an individual. Technologies must change on a really large scale.
Wind energy, solar energy are already widely accepted. Carbon free cars, houses, whatever - I think, there is no resistance (and not necessarily a loss in material well-being, because it is a new industry). Not perfect yet, too old-fashioned, not large-scale enough - that's the problem.

But this is question is completely out of reach for climate science; this is a challenge for politicians, activists and, most of all, engineers.

stan said...


I make a number of assertions. Which ones do you dispute? To simply state that some of my assertions have been seen on skeptical blogs and skeptical blogs also make errors is particularly flaccid reasoning. What specifically did I write with which you disagree?

A couple of notes -- 1) even if only one of my assertions were correct, it would give people a good reason to be doubtful of scientists predicting catastrophe. 2) it's an exercise in false equivalence to try to compare errors on skeptical blogs with errors made by scientists who use their work to try to change the world. First, I'm not part of a team such that I have to take responsibility for errors by some blogger I've never met nor agreed with. Second, I'm not trying to use the force of the state to impose anything on anyone. The burden on the alarmists is to prove they are right on the science and prove they are right in that their proposed measures would be effective, economically efficient, more valuable than alternative uses of the resources (e.g. see Lomborg's analysis), and acceptable impositions on human rights.

Georg Hoffmann said...

Our misunderstanding coulndt be larger (probably). I try now really make my points as clear as possible.

"you say that your scientific greenhouse theory implies consequences for the well-being of the general public."

No. I am no experts on impacts of climate change and though it is probable that there are negative effects of climate change for human societies I was not speaking about this.
Here is my argument again:
The general public (see above) PERCEIVES and IDENTIFIES the science of global warming with the demande for a set of major techno-socio-cultural changes. Without entering into the details of theses changes the general public is right at least for one point: These investments/changes will be very expensive and do not provide any advantage for the current generation, possibly not even for the next one.
Therefore they see negative consequences for their material well-being without any personal consequences besides a very mild moral payoff. My interpretation of this dilemma is: 1) The general public is correct about this and 2) they will continue to decide to go on with actual policies (ie some conferences, some appeals for a change, some talk shows etc). Before you say that this is depressive bar talk please consider the evidence:


However not doing anything (the actual situation) about CO2 emissions not only refuses you (ie the general public) the moral payoff it actually makes you feels bad (not everyone, but ..), so the general public is looking for repression which is where the sceptics come into play.

"I guess you already live completely carbon-free, because you are not as stubborn as the general public -:)"

No, rather the contrary. But at least I am like the general public, but at least I am not looking for repression.

"Anyway, I guess, mostly there is not a direct transfer from science to the public; instead, technology changes the world."

That is possible. However science if forming part of our world view. So the question of Sherwood was, why the GHG theory is blended out by more and more people. You have my tentative answer. "Because climate scientists behaved badly" seems to be yours and here again my embarassing question: I f really "bad" behaviour can produce refutation of a scientific theory shouldnt "good" behaviour do the contrary? Where is the evidence?

Georg Hoffmann said...

However there are really bad impacts of climate change


Werner Krauss said...

Georg, thanks for clarifying. Maybe our conversation covers a topic too broad to avoid misunderstandings; anyway, productive misunderstanding is part of the pleasures of bloggin...

Just a few thoughts: You like to ask for evidence. I want to return the question: Is there any evidence that the "general public" really exists? In social sciences, we are pretty aware that we tend to (partially) invent the categories that we analyze. Because they fit well into our concepts of the world. (And then climate scientists fall in love with these terms and hire some social scientists which will find some evidence for it. If they don't find it, they get fired). Once "the general public" disappears, there are institutions, diverse people which form identifiable and temporary groups, politicians, and so on...

Of course, I can follow the logic of your arguments. Makes sense. It's your opinion - not to be confused with any methodological description of reality. Of course, we have to use terms like "society" and "Public", i just want to warn that they easily play tricks on us.

This is banal, and important, too. Because I think that scientific knowledge is successful only when its production is embedded into the structures of society. That's why famous institutes have manager-scientists, press offices, are funded by the tax payer, the results are part of world summits etc...

Maybe you are right and it doesn't matter that much what and how scientists talk in public. The above mentioned factors are much more important.

But it matters in a different way: the separation of science and society - and the permanent insistence on this difference - might lead to bad science. And here I see one of the dilemmas of climate science. The "construction" of the general public, of an image of society, is a vital part of their climate theory and subsequent policy recommendations. And here, the apocalyptic, world-weary tone becomes important and political - because it leads to bad policy recommendations. For example an ineffective Kyoto treaty, failures of world summits and so on.

That is where alternative approaches like the Hartwell paper or others for example by Prins and Rayner "The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy" come into play. They paint a more realistic picture of the relation between climate, science and society.

I don't want to overestimate these approaches - maybe they can't hold what I say here. Anyway, they represent indeed a more modest and humble approach. It's not the "either you follow me or else the world will go down"- sing-a-long of misanthropic regular climate science. Instead, they paint a much more divers picture of what we normally subsume under "general public". In doing so, they open up a diverse picture of climate policies, which for them is not one general plan to save the world, but an effort in multiple locations with different technologies and approaches (or the like...).

I agree with you, there should be much more done. No doubt, it is useless to discuss whether the glass is half full or half empty.

But there are methodological and epistemological aspects ingrained in these discussions which are worth to be identified and to be discussed.

Georg said...

Agreed on the fuzziness of the sociological entity "the general public" and on some other point.

Still I dont get the importance of "NOT seperating natural and cultural sciences". My day by day work has hardly anything to do with the big issues of climate change and with the society absolutely nothing. If (rarely, but http://www.scienceblogs.de/primaklima/2010/09/wie-ich-der-kommunistischen-partei-mal-die-klimasensitivitat-erklarte.php) I give a public presentation of course this is a kind "mixed" act where I typically speak about many things I am not really expert on. But this doenst make me a happy sociologist. So
"The "construction" of the general public, of an image of society, is a vital part of their climate theory and subsequent policy recommendations. "
no idea what that means.

"I agree with you, there should be much more done. No doubt, it is useless to discuss whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Werner look at the figures please. The emissions are slightly above "buiseness as usual", there is no "half full" and no "half empty". Since twenty years there is the "first steps are made" talk. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and (my opinion) will be achieved in future.

Werner Krauss said...

Al Gore, Schellenhuber, Pielke sen., von Storch, or the authors of the Hartwell paper - all have different "images" of how society and climate relate, and what society actually is. For some, climate change is caused by (and affects) "humanity"; others address the nation or "transnational organisations"; for some, climate is affected by the sum of individual behavior; for others, regions, landscapes or specific nations are at the forefront of the climate problem.

Kyoto, CO world summits etc face the challenge via "humanity"; in order to do so, they have to create an image of a humanity inhabiting a common planet. Sounds simple, but it isn't. This "planet / humanity under one climate umbrella" hasn't existed before. There are only weak organizations and structures, for example.
At the other end is for example the idea of regional climates, which are in a direct link with regional populations (cities, landscapes etc). This also leads to a different research agenda, I guess.

Other differences: some climate scientists speak directly truth to power (and the people); others enter into conversation with society about a common problem. Makes a difference, also in the research agenda.

I hope you get the idea of the simultaneous co-construction of climate science and society. Research agendas (and policy advice) are always based on an idea of society, of how people and climate interact.

Thus, the enormous difference between for example the two-degree politics and the Hartwell approach. In the two-degree approach, earth system sciences lead politics; in the Hartwell approach, they are part of a useful instrument in a complex political process, which differs in each place.

This is even true for your last remark: "look at the figures". Sure, they don't lie. I agree. But look at the curve of renewables, which goes straight upwards. Look at the efforts to create a at least partially effective global agenda. Look at the eurobarometer - climate change indeed is a concern.

(I hope I didn't say "NOT separating social and natural sciences" - you must have got me wrong; this doesn't make sense to me).

Sigh, I hope you get the idea. There are limits to blog-conversations in foreign languages across disciplinary boundaries...

Wender said...


""The only valid analogy to the global warming that I see in history is marxism."

Oh, really? How exciting!"

Why would you find that exciting?
I find it rather obvious.
Like Georg, I was trying to answer the question which is topic of the thread - "Climate science and the public reaction to it".
My conclusion in the first post followed in a way by Georg's is that the science itself is largely irrelevant.

My approach to this question was to look if we have an example in the history where a scientific theory asked for LARGE and non trivial behavioural change of the WHOLE mankind.
And if yes, what was the lesson because it just might be likely that the results will be the same for the "climate science" case.
There are several examples based on religious theories but religion is not science so it is excluded.

So as I wrote, I found only one example - the marxism. One could argue whether the deterministic material dialectics are really a science or not but this would be irrelevant. They say that they are and use the scientific method too.

Why do I see a quasi isomorphism there?
This was already explained:
1) There is a very small group of scientists who developped a theory which predicts the future of mankind. It is also global and makes predictions on such large time scales that it cannot be easily falsified.
2) From this theory follows a large set of behavioural and economic norms which must be followed by everybody.
3) The small group of theoricians convinces politicians that all of the above must be implemented because the future of mankind is at stake.
4) Anybody who opposes the theory (and/or the norms!) is either mentally ill or a criminal against mankind.

Well and the lesson of history was that people (public) spontaneously opposed the "package" even if they mostly ignored or didn't care for the scientific content itself.
They opposed it because of the corollaries as they simply were not willing to pay the price.
And this seems again rather trivial to me - if you demand from somebody to do something unpleasant TODAY in order to avoid or promote something uncertain in the FAR FUTURE then the majority says "No".

Of course you are welcome to explain why this seems to be surprising and/or exciting for you.
To the notion of the general public and the propagation of dominating opinions inside, it is not as fuzzy as it seems.
This has been studied, f.ex here:

As it happens I know S.Galam personnaly and his model predicts among others that the CAGW "theory" will fail with the public, broadly for the reasons that I have been trying to explain above.

eduardo said...

I think Werner is quite right when he says that we , natural scientist, tend to generalizations about the public without much 'scientific' basis. I have done this several times here. The reason is, in my opinion, that we feel comfortable in generalizing from a few personal contacts and our innate knowledge about human beings. In some sense, many of the comments about climate in the blogosphere are also prompted by the immediate knowledge every citizen has about climate: every one knows what rain, heat, the sun, the ocean is, and has also heard about the Gulf Stream at least once.

But the point in Sherwoods article was, I think, that the reason why anthropogenic climate has not been accepted by the wider public opinion is because there are powerful anti-science sectors opposed its acceptance . In view of the Eurobarometer, I now doubt that the public opinion really rejects the the of anthropogenic climate change, although I think there is much more behind those opinions that can be grasped by a poll. As Reiner mentioned, probably one should really try to measure that degree of commitment in monetary terms, and I am afraid that then the level of acceptance will be much lower.

I disagree with Sherwood now even in more points than at the beginning of this thread. Actually, I do not think that people really care much about the correctness of a particular scientific theory. Can the ordinary citizen explain the origins of the ozone hole ? I dont think so, but nevertheless policies were quite swiftly implemented to ban a certain type emissions. Did the ordinary citizen feel in any way that this gases had been banned ? I did not . Maybe the price of refrigerators rose a bit - but to be honest I personally did not experience the slightest impact of those policies. Most of us didnt either. This for the public opinion the ozone hole case was rather an academic discussion of some scientist asserting that the rate skin cancers could increase and the problem should be solved, which in view of many it was. I do not hear much about the ozone hole these days.

The discussion about climate change is different not because the theory may be weaker or stronger. The key point is that we all would feel a direct impact of effective policies to curtail emissions. For me the lesson from the ozone hole case is that to underpin the science is of no use. In we want emissions to be cut, we have to find cheap ways to do it, and not present another scary story about extinction of yet another species unknown to 99% of us.

Werner Krauss said...

Sherwood's interpretation of why people reject the theory of climate change also reminds me of Sigmund Freud's theory of the "Three Strands of Narcissism" (Drei Kränkungen der Menschheit). Here they are:

1) earth is not center of the universe
2) man descends from animals
3) free will is an illusion (unconsciousness)
and now we have to add a new one,
4)our human activities affect (hurt) climate (we see our activities reflected in climate, here in mostly negative ways).

Thus Sherwood's argument is in a long tradition of European thinking. But Sherwood himself falls victim of this "narcissistic illness", as he does not see that he himself as a scientist is hurt. Instead, he projects his own confusion on the imaginary "public".
In another post, I once mentioned Georges Devereux famous book, "From anxiety to method in the behavioral sciences", which exactly describes the fear of science to deal with these "illnesses" (Kränkungen).

With Devereux, it is possible to explain the overtly pedagogical approach of science towards the public and the sometimes even childish insistence that "the public" is deficient (or disappointing; or in need of education or even coercion etc).

The humiliation that climate change brings to the "master of nature" scientist is projected on the public. What is left is either the scientist as the super-mind who speaks truth to power, or else the offended genius who projects death-wishes on the public.

Thus Sherwood leads us on an interesting path, even though he stops half-way through.

Werner Krauss said...

@wender #35
Thanks for explaining once more. I think the problem is that this is a conspiracy theory. As such, it may contain a kernel of truth, but the overall setting is based on suspicions which cannot be proved.
I know it's useless to discuss this any further; so we just should leave it at that. Thanks.

Steve Funk said...

We learn the story of The Emperor's New Clothes at a young age. The moral of this story is that you should trust your own eyes and your own understanding, and not trust people who claim to be more perceptive or wise than you are. There is good reason to teach this story. The world is full of snake oil salesmen. Unfortunately, this perspective automatically creates climate change skeptics. In my region, for example, the last two years have had long and snowy winters, and mild summers. You have a scientific theory which is difficult to understand. (I am a reasonably intelligent person, but could understand the equations only when led through them very slowly.) Combine this with a huge set of data which might be totally at odds with the individual's own observations, and a message urging us to drastically reduce our level of consumption, increasing the power of national or international governments to control this consumption, and you have a formula for inevitable skepticism.

Georg Hoffmann said...

"I do not hear much about the ozone hole these days."

If the ozone hole were an example of how to treat environmental issues then CO2 emissions were regulated by law and many many thing, (from the SVU to weekend trips in Miami) forbidden without further discussion. Problem solved.

"I think, that the reason why anthropogenic climate has not been accepted by the wider public opinion is because there are powerful anti-science sectors opposed its acceptance . "

It was convincuingly demonstrated by Oreskes what the personal history, financial support, and strategy of people like Singer, Seitz etc was. It is a posteriori allways difficult to judge what the real contribution of organisations like the Marshall/Heartland etc Institute really is/was. But the actual situation is quite exactly what the merchants of doubts had in mind.


Thus Sherwood's argument is in a long tradition of European thinking. But Sherwood himself falls victim of this "narcissistic illness", as he does not see that he himself as a scientist is hurt. Instead, he projects his own confusion on the imaginary "public". "

This is variation of an argument you find often on sceptics blogs: How could we humans dare to intend to change climate. The reality is ofcourse quite the contrary. We change climate and some scientists made the suggestions that might be a little less would be wise.

"The humiliation that climate change brings to the "master of nature" scientist is projected on the public. What is left is either the scientist as the super-mind who speaks truth to power, or else the offended genius who projects death-wishes on the public."
Quite boldly deduced, at least for someone who is not happy that someone is using the word general public without giving a scientifically precise definition.

In any case neither of your contributions even grazes remotely what Sherwood is talking about: Why scientific theories are sometimes accepted and sometimes not by this completely unknown thing, the general public.

Werner Krauss said...

Georg, just to sum up my previous arguments and to conclude:

- #2 and #10 I saluted Sherwood; I thought his idea is worth a try.

- later on I criticized your (and Sherwood's) idea of a "general public"

(thanks for finally acknowledging that the public is something like an UFO - unknown political object - as long as it is an UFO, it serves well to support every kind of argument)

- further on in this thread, my criticism of the very foundation of your (and Sherwood's) assumption that the majority of the public rejects scientific climate change theory; this assumption is simply wrong. How could I follow Sherwood all too long when the basic assumptions are wrong (see eurobarometer, which clearly states that the majority in Europe is concerned about climate change. Or do you need exactly 100%)?

- nonetheless, quoting Freud I got closer again to Sherwood's "big picture" again; as a new idea, I argued that his "disgust" of the public is a projection of his own fear. Risky argument, for sure, but it makes a lot of sense to me. (As anthropologists, we are used to look into the mirror before we blame "the people".)

And this is an idea also found on skeptics' blogs? Olala, Georg, is this something like secretly watching porn? Unfortunately, you didn't understand the argument. Only because humans alter climate, climate alarmists are not right in all of their arguments. instead, they remain still fallible human beings. Criticizing an alarmist does not mean per se to question anthropogenic climate change.

to conclude: I think Sherwood wrote an interesting article, which is good to think with. For me, his argument didn't stand the test of a longer debate. But he initiated a debate, and that's why it was worth the effort. I appreciated your comments and patience.
Now I really go grazing on other fields.

Werner Krauss said...


Arrrrrgh, I forgot to state that the very general question "Why scientific theories are sometimes accepted and sometimes not by this completely unknown thing, the general public", is for me only interesting in relation to the climate debate. From here, we can compare. As a very general question it does not interest me. There is always something at stake, there are no general rules. That's why it's useless to ask it "naked", out of a context.
Hope that saves my neck...

Georg Hoffmann said...


"Only because humans alter climate, climate alarmists are not right in all of their arguments. instead, they remain still fallible human beingse

But this is obviously the heart of my argument: Alarmist a perfect human beings. facepalm.

You called Sherwwods attitude the hybris of the scientist. I dont quite this this in any case in the sequel of the three strands of narcissism. Doesnt it make humans even "bigger" since they have the power to change the climate of en entire planet? But besides that I am not buying the sequel (the first three point make humans smallern the third mkes him even more powerful), hybris of scientist and "alamists" is in fact mentionned in the climate debate and I knew it from sceptics talking points. POINT. This is why I mentioned it.

Of course you can criticise Sherwwod, but it would be best you critizise him for what he wrote and not for an assumed projection of his distate of mankind. (this kind of psychology reminds me of Robert de Niro and Billy Christal in "Analyze this". At the beginning of his treatment the mobster De Niro told the shrink that he should find out what is wrong with him, but if he find out that he is gay, he will kill him).

I was talking allways about future developpments (I am actually quite sure of) and extrapolations of existing polls. I think shortly the general public will perceive climate sciences on the same level as the every here and then changing recommendations on diets. That's my prediction for Europe.
In the US (and Sherwood is american) this happened allready (and as allways Europe needs a little longer).



But I guess you know how google works so I leave at that.

Anonymous said...


Apropos: Despite EU-Barometer polls, most News, etc. which apparently in large do not destinct in detail or explicitly CO2-AGW(c) from naturally climate change (anthropogenic climate change was even propagandized by the "Bavarian Illuminati" in their "Greater Mysteries" ("Grössere Mysterien")):

AGW(c), according to eduardo for instance, is still a theory or hypothesis, would you agree?


eduardo said...

everything in science is theory and nothing is fact, at least in the meaning that I interpret you may ascribe to theory and fact. Not your fault, because sentences like ' global warming (or evolution) is a fact' have been widely misused. Let me show an example. Sherwood presents Einstein’s theory of relativity as a 'fact', something completely settled where no discussion is possible. This is very far from the real situation. There are indeed alternative theories to the Theory of Relativity, albeit much less popular and may be not confirmed experimentally. The one that better fits the observations is Einstein's theory. But some dew days ago many of us read the news about an experiment at CERN, the particle accelerator located in Geneva, that implied a violation of Einstein's theory. If this experiment were to be confirmed, would this invalidate all application of this theory ?. No. GPS are ubiquitous nowadays and all use the Theory of Relativity for more accurate estimations of positions on the globe (For those curious enough, relativistic corrections are needed because the clocks on the satellites tick at a very slightly different place than those on the Earth surface). In this hypothetical situation that the theory would be proved wrong, it would just mean that it may deliver incorrect predictions in other areas of application, or that it would need to be refined if much more accurate GPS were needed. Would the world want to now wait and suspend the functioning of all GPS until the CERN experiment is refuted or confirmed ? I do not think so.
The 'theory of anthropogenic global warming' is not settled, but so far it is the most coherent theory to explain the observed warming and the one that better fits, though not perfectly, all available observations. By the way, all other alternative explanations are also theories in this sense.

Anonymous said...

Eduardo, your reply starts (and somehow ends) with:

"[E]verything in science is theory and nothing is fact [...]"

AFAIK, that's too simplistic. Sure, e.g. positivism is a theory, and it is abstract by definition.

Medicine is one of the oldest sciences: Blood circulation, e.g., was (at least in the Western world) a theory until the late 17th century.

Astronomy: Galilei has offered facts. Out of a theorized and dogmatic world he opened a window. (Dr. Sherwood presents T. Kuhn's argument about heliocentrism.) While Sherwood stresses "Flat Earthers" he unfortunately does not mention any kind of climate models/modellers... (Aside, see also for instance Kai Helge Wirth's fascinating theory (f.ex. Das Rätsel der Sternbilder - Ein Steinzeitatlas am Firmament [YouTube: link]).).

Materials science (e.g. Crystallography): Dan Shechtman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the discovery of quasicrystals". Nowadays, quasicrystals are facts, even reproducable. Another fact: I've heard that the purest crystals (with the least anomalies in the crystal structure) grow under zero gravity.

Perhaps you remember our discussion here on Klimazwiebel some time ago about theories, confirmation, and falsification[0]. The circulation of blood and a heliocentric solar system aren't "just" theories today, they are robustly confirmed knowledge and they are also somehow falsifiable in a Popperian sense. How can we apply these points to a supposed catastrophy in the theory of rapid AGW? How is e.g. the supposed rapidity of the/a Flood plausible?

Is, if we regard M. Salby's preliminary results, even Sherwood's first "fact" ("the most basic facts, such as [..] human greenhouse gas emissions dominate natural ones [...]") as sound as he tries to suggest?

Sherwood writes in his antepenultimate sentence: "Sadly, some new textbooks in climate and atmospheric physics are being written with long prefaces explaining why students should believe what the textbook says, despite contrary information from their parents, radio talk show hosts, or the internet. Normally a textbook does not have to defend itself."

Nobel laureate Shechtman said a few days ago, translated probably into dozens of languages: “The main lesson that I have learned over time is that a good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he reads in the textbooks.”


[0] Remember A. Huxley's musical interlude at Berkeley (Context: Brave New World: "The Ultimate Revolution: The Scientific Dictatorship"):

Huxley: "Well, it is getting a little warm, isn't it? It seems to be a completely windowless Hall, isn't it?"

Answer: "It is part of the conditioning process, actually."

Now see, although I'm not catholic, the Pope's speech at the Bundestag 09/25/2011: "Die sich exklusiv gebende positivistische Vernunft, die über das Funktionieren hinaus nichts wahrnehmen kann, gleicht den Betonbauten ohne Fenster, in denen wir uns Klima und Licht selber geben [...]. [...] Die Fenster müssen wieder aufgerissen werden, wir müssen wieder die Weite der Welt, den Himmel und die Erde sehen und all dies recht zu gebrauchen lernen."

("Positivist reason, which presents itself in an exclusivist manner and is not able to see anything beyond what is functional, resembles reinforced concrete buildings with no windows, in which we provide ourselves with the climate and light [...]. [...] We must open wide the windows once more, we need to see again the vastness of the world, the heavens and the Earth and learn how to use all of this in the right way." La Stampa)


eduardo said...


you wrote 'Astronomy: Galilei has offered facts....'

This is a nice example. Maybe you refer to a 'heliocentric theory' to explain the observations that there were objects that did not revolve around the Earth. The main statement of the theory would be that the planets revolve around the sun, and that some planets have satellites. This theory would explain the observations, right? well it would explain the observations at that time only. Later, Newton's theory showed that this view not correct: the Earth does not revolve around the Sun. the Sun and the Earth revolve around the common centre of gravity of both, which is very close to the position of the sun due to its very large mass. So, Galilei was in some sense correct, because his theory was simpler and fitted the observations better than the Ptolemaic system, but it was not correct either, because more accurate observations and a better physical theory contradicted it. So Newton was right and Galilei wrong, right?
But later, Einstein's theory and the Eddington measurements of the precession of Mercury showed that Newton was wrong, and his theory of gravitation cannot predict certain phenomena.

This chain of events surrounding the 'theories' that were considered settled for decades and even centuries, just to be later proved incorrect, shows that there are no facts in science. It is just an evolving processes in the search of correctness, for which there is never a guarantee.

To wait for the correct theory before taking some action is therefore futile. Any theory can be wrong. It is a subjective decision to believe that a theory is correct enough to warrant an application of that theory to technology or to solve problems we may face.

Anonymous said...

Yo, eduardo: "Zeit ist relativ"! Fact? Everything goes or/and is relative?

BTW: Although I see that Dr. Sherwood describes the beginnings of the CO2-AGW, I wonder whether the *utopist, scientific, political, enlightened, radical,*... secret order of the “Illuminati“ were perhaps the first organisation which postulated anthropogenic climate change? -- in one (see “Grössere Mysterien“ (“Greater Mysteries“)) of their largely obscure (intransparent, and, e.g., the earth had 6000 ys history) writings by the *inner core* to the initiation (for high ranks only).

Do you know any organisation that joined the climate bandwagon earlier than the "Bavarian Illuminati"?


Anonymous said...

Just for the record and "research": Exemplary ecerpts from the "Greater Mysteries" of the "Bavarian Illuminati" (cf. above)

Adam Weishaupt: Grössere Mysterien
Erste Klasse
Philosophi. Weltweise
(see H. Schüttler (ed.): "J. J. C. Bode, Journal von einer Reise von Weimar nach Frankreich. Im Jahr 1787", Vlg. ars una 1994, p. 370ff.) (my highlights):

"[...] werden Wälder umhauen: ausrotten, und Sümpfe austrocknen: das Clima mildern: [...]"

"Arbeitsame, sorgenfreye, mässige, reinliche, in gehöriger Entfernung wohnende Menschen, geniessen der offenen Himmelsluft häufiger, als die in den faulen Ausdünstungen unsrer Städte gepreßte Menschen, in welchen sich vom menschlichen Unglück, und den Quellen unsrer Krankheiten ganze Stände ernähren, welche sich jeder vernünftigen, auf Verlängerung unsers Lebens abzweckenden Einrichtung, nach allen Kräften widersetzen: zu geschweigen, daß sich mit der, zu einem Garten umgeschaffenen Oberfläche der Erde, auch das Clima verändern muß."

Change and "diluvian scare" -- my apology especially to Dr. Sherwood, since he does not use panic or exaggerated anxieties -- according to Weishaupt:

"Du wirst vielmehr finden, daß diese diluvianischen Schrecken auf diese unsre elende zweyten Stammältern so gewaltig gewirkt, eine so eigene schüchterne, leicht zu bewegende, furchtsame, leichtgläubige, abergläubische Gedenkungsart hervorgebracht, daß sie keine andre, als ähnliche Nachkommen hinterlassen konnten, aus deren meisten Gebräuchen und Einrichtungen noch heut zu Tage der alte diluvianische Schrecken, mittelbar oder unmittelbar, als eine Gedächtnißfeyer hervorleuchtet: die bey jedem Sturmwinde zagen: denen schon Jahrtausende hindurch anfangs täglich mit jedem trüben Himmel, mit jeder niedergehenden Sonne; dann mit jeder Lunation, Woche, Monat, endlich mit jedem Jahre, und sodann mit jeder natürlichen oder künstlichen, selbst fingirten zu Ende gehenden Periode und Cyclus vom abermaligen Untergehen und Zerstörung der Erde träumt: [...]"

Cf., e.g., Herder here. My short version: It seems to me that the "Illuminati", according to their tasks, should try to find unities -- of which some appear to be in some way angst-inducing -- to unite on the one hand but should also try to refuse fearmongering on the other hand:

"Welches andere Factum wäre ein besserer Schlüssel zur alten Weisheit, Theologie, Mythologie, zu den Mysterien, Gebräuchen und Lehren der ältesten Welt, als die, von allen Völkern so allgemein anerkannte, so historisch erwiesene, so sehr durch die Naturgeschichte, auch in Ermangelung aller weitern mündlichen oder schriftlichen Nachrichten, bestättigte Ueberschwemmung der Erde? - Wäre es nicht möglich, das Gepräge dieser Hauptbegebenheit in allen alten Gebräuchen und Lehren der alten Völker sichtbar zu machen? Das Auseinanderentstehen der Gebräuche, Meynungen und Systeme dadurch zu erklären? Zu zeigen, wie stark und verschiedentlich ein einziger lebhafter Eindruck Jahrtausende hindurch, unter verschiedenen Gestalten gewirkt, noch zur Stunde wirkt, so wirkt und noch lange wirken wird, ohne daß wir seines Einflusses bemerken, ja daß sogar die Vermuthung seines Einflusses bey uns Thorheit und Unmöglichkeit scheint? Zu zeigen, daß der wahre Gegenstand der ältern und neuern, und auch der gegenwärtigen Mysterien sey, die Folgen der diluvianischen Schrecken zu vermindern, die Menschen wieder muthig, aufgeklärt zu machen: durch die Entwickelung der veranlassenden Ursachen ihnen Vertrauen auf sich und auf ihre Vernunft zu erwecken? Zu zeigen, daß wir heutige Menschen so denken, so handeln: so denken, so handeln müssen, weil unsre zweyte, vielleicht auch schon dritte, oder zwanzigste Stammältern, durch die Wasser der allgemeinen Erdüberschwemmung so entsetzlich geschreckt wurden?"

There's plenty more.


Anonymous said...

Eduardo (and namenlos), allow me to quote Isaac Asimov:
"when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

Being wrong is also a matter of impact and the direction of "wrong". Take, for example, the current trial in Italy against some geologists, who 'failed' to predict a deadly earthquake. That had quite an impact.


Reiner Grundmann said...

Eduardo #47
I think you exaggerate when you say there 'no facts, just theories'. Maybe this is due to a confusion of facts, truth, and Truth. Let me explain.
Facts are provisional in science but remain facts whilst accepted (a tautology, I know, but still an accurate description of what we see). To deny their fact status only because we anticipate that one day these facts will be superseded and replaced by new facts is not convincing.
So we always have theories and facts, and we know these are likely to be provisional.
Now, sometimes true statements are regarded as facts, not only in the sense of temporarily valid facts but in the sense of eternal Truths. This is what was at the heart of the Galileo case (or so Popper claims in his famous Conjecturers and Refutations): The Church could not live with the claim that science had found access to the Truth. It could well accept science’s instrumental power, i.e. the predictive capacity of the new Copernican theory which was better than the old. But it was violently opposed to the claim that science could claim to have found the Truth.
Bishop Berkeley offered the solution, still widely accepted, that the Church accepts the predictive power of science but no deeper claims to Truth. Popper says that all scientists have fallen for this trick but should have held up a notion of truth (where theories are true until proven false). This is the context where he then develops his falsificationism.
My impression is that many climate scientists would want to claim that their findings are true statements (=true facts & true theories). They are perhaps not comfortable with the notion of Truth, although the dominance of theoretical physicists and their reasoning from first principles (as shown in the Sherwood article) suggests they are close to it. But even Sherwood seems to bemoan the fact that climate science is not being driven by empirical, inductive research.

eduardo said...

your comment leads to more complex terrain into the meaning of the words 'true', 'explanation', 'theory', which I think have been debated and still pretty much debated also among scientist. Anyway, I do not feel much qualified to say anything meaningful.
I was using the word 'fact' as it has been often used and misused in the climate debate: a term to denote something that is not controvertible, is settled, admits no discussion, like 'climate change is a fact, not a theory' or 'evolution is a fact'. In that context it seems to me that 'theory' denotes something that is not proven, whereas 'fact' denotes something that somehow has been proven to be true.
By the same token, the sentence' anthropogenic climate change is a theory , not a fact' , which has been also bandied about, is a meaningless sentence.
I think the difference between science and religion is rather the characteristic that in science everything, without exception, is controvertible, but that the ways to prove something wrong must follow a prescribed scheme. Most of the assertions quoted above are in this sense religious, not scientific.

Reiner Grundmann said...

now you confuse me. Are you saying the sentence 'climate science is a fact' is meaningless, and also the sentence 'climate science is a theory'?