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Scientists show us why the climate campaign failed – ‘Tribal, defensive, discussion by invective, dismissive of contrary data’

Summary: Why has the vast investment over 30 years produced little action in the campaign for policy action to fight climate change? Listen to climate scientists to learn one reason for this failure. Here is one day on Twitter, typical conversations in the decayed wreckage of a once great but still vital science. It’s a sad story, with no signs of getting better. But it’s not over yet.

“First, science places the burden of proof on the claimant. Second, the proof for a claim must in some sense be commensurate with the character of the claim. Thus, an extraordinary claim requires ‘extraordinary’ (meaning stronger than usual) proof.”
— Marcello Truzzi in Zetetic Scholar, August 1987 (text here).

How to Save the World

Example #1 of climate science in action.

Thirty Years On, How Well Do Global Warming Predictions Stand Up?

An op-ed in the WSJ by Pat Michaels and Ryan Maue.
“James Hansen issued dire warnings in the summer of 1988. Today earth is only modestly warmer.”

This op-ed attracted a lot of attention from scientists. Such as this tweet.

An eminent climate scientists replied, as so many have replied to such unprofessional attacks.

Roger A. Pielke Sr@RogerAPielkeSr

Please debate the subject, not demean one of our colleagues. @CatoMichaels I have know Pat for decades and always respect his views, even on those occasions where I disagree. He adds significant robust substance to the climate issue.

Bio: Kevin Anchukaitis is an associate professor at the University of Arizona (see his University profile page).

A reminder from the past

“In response to a request for supporting data, Philip Jones, a prominent researcher {U of East Anglia} said ‘We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?’”

– Testimony of Stephen McIntyre before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (the July 2006 hearings which produced the Wegman Report). Jones has not publicly denied it, so far as I see.

Example #2 of climate science in action

Another tweet about that WSJ op-ed.

Nick Coweren tweet to Roger Pielke Sr.

That seemed an odd claim. It does not agree with the NOAA data, and short-term climate changes are almost impossible to attribute to human action. So I sent a Tweet showing NOAA’s global surface temperature.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.)@FabiusMaximus01

NOAA disagrees with you. Trend of 2000 – 2014 was 0.12C/decade, statistically insignificant. The El Nino spike is fading fast, with global surface temp now back to the 2015 level.

Cowern blocked me – for showing NOAA data that contradicted his tweet. See the offensive graph below from NOAA’s excellent Climate At A Glance website. Note they calculate the 2000-2014 trend as 0.12°C per decade (probably statistically insignificant, and within the instrument network’s margin of error). The graph shows the El Nino spike – and its fall, perhaps returning to the 2000-2014 trendline.

Global Surface Temperature graph from NOAA

Bio: Nick Cowern is a professor emeritus of atmospheric science at Newcastle University. See LinkedIn.

Another reminder from the past

“The time for debate has ended”
— Marcia McNutt (then editor-in-Chief of Science, now President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

Declaring that the debate is over: it is a favorite tactic of climate advocates (see more about this pitiful article). After thirty years, it had not worked. But they keep trying.


Example #3 of climate science in action

Anthony Purcell was acrimoniously attacking Roger Pielke Sr. about the role of CO2 in climate dynamics. Here are two of his salvos.

Anthony Purcell tweet to Roger Pielke Sr.

That is an odd. tweet. That a CO2 increase was detected in the 1930s does not mean that it had a significant effect on the climate (the IPCC’s reports make no such claim). The melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets in the 1850s was a retreat from their expansion during the Little Ice Age (whose causes are still debated, but it wasn’t CO2). This other tweet is also material, asking an important question.

Anthony Purcell tweet to Roger Pielke Sr.

Pielke Sr. is too modest to give an adequate reply. Hence my two tweets answering Purcell’s question.

In one sentence, Purcell’s reply shows the essence of the climate science policy debate – and why most the US public still ranks climate change as a low priority vs. our other problems.

Anthony Purcell@Tony_Purc

Now I’m not sure what your background is or what your technical qualifications might be – but if you are nothing more than @RogerAPielkeSr’s lick-spittle You’re not bringing a lot to the conversation

Citing a climate scientist’s publications and professional record – in response to Purcell’s question – gets a schoolyard insult. And, in the fashion of climate sciences, he blocked me.

Bio: Purcell is a research fellow at the School of Earth Science at Australian National University. Bio here.

System Failure

The last word on these sad stories

“Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.”
— Karl Popper in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963).

This is the public face of climate science today: tribal, defensive, discussion by invective, dismissive of contrary data. More like a priesthood than a community of scientists. Having corresponded or worked with many climate scientists during the past decade, I found that most are diligent, responsive to inquiries, and open about their work. But a large fraction – including many of the field’s leaders – are not. Their responses to inquiries and responses is the opposite of what the public expects in public policy debates about the fate of the world, especially when proposing solutions requiring vast resources and perhaps restructuring of the world economy.

For thirty years this has been the nature of the climate science advocacy. Naturally, they have little to show for it. Mike Bastasch (reporter for the Daily Caller) gave the last word on this sad story.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.)@FabiusMaximus01

The last act was the best in this play, showing why 30 years of climate policy advocacy has produced little action. And how so many climate scientists have learned so little from this history.

Mike Bastasch


Well, it’s hard to learn when you don’t listen

Arrogance and pride. It makes fools of even the smartest people. This was the flaw at the very start of the climate policy campaign. Mistakes at the start often put a project on the wrong path, and are often fatal. Here’s a post-mortem, and a path to a better future: How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.

“In an age of spreading pseudoscience and anti-rationalism, it behooves those of us who believe in the good of science and engineering to be above reproach whenever possible.“
— P. J. Roach, Computing in Science and Engineering, Sept-Oct 2004 — Gated.

Frontiers of science

Advice about fixing climate science

After 30 years, climate science probably cannot find its way back to normal. They can find inspiration from outside sources.

  1. Thomas Kuhn tells us what we need to know about climate science.
  2. Daniel Davies’ insights about predictions can unlock the climate change debate.
  3. Karl Popper explains how to open the deadlocked climate policy debate.
  4. Paul Krugman talks about economics. Climate scientists can learn from his insights.
  5. Milton Friedman’s advice about restarting the climate policy debate.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see this about the keys to understanding climate change and especially these posts …

  1. Important: Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. We can end the climate policy wars: demand a test of the models.
  3. Focusing on worst case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
  4. Manichean paranoia has poisoned the climate debate.
  5. Paul Krugman shows why the climate campaign failed.
  6. A new paper shows why the climate policy debate is broken.
  7. The irresistible foe preventing action to fight climate change.