Lewandowsky says we must fear uncertainty, and act on it, because, science

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Photo: Martin Koser of Denmark

Photo: Martin Koser of Denmark

Stephan Lewandowsky (of retracted Recursive Fury fame ) has just released a paper supporting the “precautionary principle” (h/t JoNova). According to Lewandowsky, the more uncertain you are about risk, the more you should spend to contain the risk.

Lewandowsky of course applies this principle to climate sensitivity – he suggests uncertainty increases the high end risk.

But now that Lewandosky has opened our eyes, let’s try applying his principle to other issues.

Witch burning. Just as there has never been a clear anthropogenic climate signal, so there has never been a clear demonstration of supernatural power. Yet can we be absolutely certain? Lewandowsky teaches us that the less you know about something, the more worried you should be. So for the sake of the children, we had better dust off those old witch finding books.

Flying saucers. There has never been a verified case of human contact with aliens. But there have been plenty of anecdotal accounts of alien encounters, many of which sound rather unpleasant. Lewandowsky teaches us that uncertainty is risk – can we be absolutely certain Earth is not being observed by malevolent alien beings? Better step up efforts to keep us all safe from the unknown.

I’m sure readers can think of other examples – chemtrails, rains of frogs, strange wart like pimples… it’s a long list.

Thank you Lewandowsky, for opening our eyes to what is really important.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

spontaneous human combustion

Chris B

What about the uncertainty around an unprecedented Sharknado attack.


“According to Lewandowsky, the more uncertain you are about risk, the more you should spend to contain the risk.”
The Aztec insurance policy.

Pamela Gray

To be exact we should be wirried about only the anthropogenic portion of atmospheric CO2 which has failed in a head to head match with climate variability at all levels. If this were a prediction of stock market futures no one would take it seriously excet those who wished to lose their shirts. Apparently Obama wishes to lose a country, let alone his shirt.

Pamela Gray

I hate typing on a phone screen.

The Precautionary Principle is surely best stated ‘First, Do No Harm’.
On that basis, and with the examples of Ethanol pushing up food prices, windfarms costing millions and killing rare birds and bats, Drax creating more pollution by burning wood pellets imported from the USA to the UK instead of coal, 29,000 excess deaths in the UK winter (compared to summer) etc. etc. it is the Greens (you cannot, in all conscience, call them ‘Environmentalists’) who should be observing that principle a little more carefully.
As usual, Lew has discharged both barrels into his own feet.

“Lewandowsky says we must fear uncertainty, and act on it”

As aliens have been mentioned, this chap not one of Darth Sidious’ lesser known Padawans by chance?

Ian W

Does the converse hold true?
You are CERTAIN about a particular risk that will lead to a real life threatening occurrence, therefore spend less on it than something that you only have suspicion about but very little information?
No I thought not.
But it does explain why we are repeatedly told to worry about our grandchildren by multimillion dollar grant seeking academics like Lewandowsky, while there is a child dying every 5 seconds from hunger and one dollar could save their lives.


If the more uncertain you are about a risk the more you should spend to contain then the opposite must also be true.
Therefore the more certain you are about a risk the less you should spend to contain it. So once we become certain about climate change risks we can stop spending any money on it.

Uh, it sounds like Lewandowsky is applying the “I’m scared of the dark” principle.
He’s uncertain about what is out there in the dark so now we should do whatever is possible to prevent night time.
Oh, and don’t forget those monsters under the bed.
And the alligators in the sewer.

john robertson

Impalement by unicorn.
Suffocation in Lew Paper.
What a moron, be very very frightened, man the barricades and hide in the bunker cause we do not know what tomorrow will bring.
The projection by this fellow is most revealing.
He is a genuine government expert.
I have no doubt of this observation.
A classic social parasite.
Too thick to see his own stupidity, he insists upon imposing his help on all others.
It is the likes of Lew and his ilk who will overcome the general publics restraint and resistance to rioting.
Help like this is a precursor to violence.
As I know of no sane method of driving such loons away from your private space, they are relentless is their stupidity.The 5 laws of human stupidity describe the Lew’s as occupying the lower lefthand quadrant, at the extreme corner.
More evidence CAGW is an intelligence test.
One that is revealing our bureaucracies to be in very sorry shape, Filled with fools and bandits..and then there are the Lews.

Beware of werewolves & vampires

Wait, if we must act if we are uncertain, then is the reverse true:
The more certain one is, the less one must act.
So, since Lew is certain we are causing “climate change”, he is implying we should do nothing!
Works for me.


Borg attack and subsequent assimilation. I’ve seen it on TV and it looks pretty scary. We better get ready, or else it’ll be worse than we think…

I think Bigfoot snuck into my house and hid my car keys last night.
I want us to fund an anti-BIgfoot home invasion force, STAT!

He must be terrified by Zombies. And cooties. And that thing under his bed. It’s hard not to feel very sorry for him. We take care of our mentally-challenged here in the States.


It is uncertain if Dr. Lewandowsky is suffering from schizophrenia, so treatment must started, asap.
First a round of Haldol and Clozaril. And since there is still uncertainty, electroconvulsive therapy is called for. And for good measure, since lobotomy was the scientific consensus for the treatment of mental disorders, and since uncertainty may still persist, a srgeon should be found who is willing to perform this consensus apporved procedure, stat.
This paper of the Dr. Lewandwosky’s really remarkable. It is an academic version of Captain Queeg’s testimony:

Bernd Palmer

john robertson says:
April 8, 2014 at 7:17 am
Suffocation in Lew Paper.
Typo? Loo paper!


Fear the unknown? Yes, let’s prey on society’s most basic fears.


How uncertain are we about whether suppressing CO2 enrichment of the atmosphere will adversely affect crop yields and cause more hunger? Let’s impose a tax on CO2-enrichment suppression.. (Tax time makes me stoop to shooting fish in a barrel.)

I saw this the other day. I thought for sure it was a joke.

Rud Istvan

When this first came to notice, I assumed it was an elaborate April Fools joke. Turns out it was just fools in April.


Hey that’s the same argument Nick Fury mistakenly had in the latest Captain America movie.
Hail Hydra.

Funny that ..alarmists shout “you can’t speak you are not a climate scientist !”
..and this paper is purely about Lew’s speciality of psychology ? ..or is he excluded lfrom that rule ? (just like geneticist Steve Jones)


1. This information is so important that we are required to pay $39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95 (plus VAT where applicable) for part one and another $39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95 (plus VAT where applicable) for part two to get the inside scoop.
2. In the published promotional materials the word “cost” does not appear … as in the cost to avoid/mitigate the looming disaster is projected to be $XX.XX / €YY.YY / £ ZZ.ZZ (plus VAT where applicable). If the cost of buying insurance is great relative to the risk, insurance is not bought.
3. I await part three where the authors will project the costs of avoidance/mitigation. I’m sure it will cost another $39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95 (plus VAT where applicable).

From Lewandowsky’s page, an obvious piece of illogic right up front:
“Co-author, Dr James Risbey of Australia’s CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said: “Some point to uncertainty as a way to minimize the climate change problem, when in fact it means that the problem is more likely to be worse than expected in the absence of that uncertainty. This result is robust to a range of assumptions and shows that uncertainty does not excuse inaction.”
In terms of logic, the uncertainty makes it just as likely that the problem is likely to be much less than expected in the absence of the uncertainty which is our entire point. But that rather simple thought seems to have never occurred to these geniuses.
And an entire response paper could be written on the opportunity cost aspects of the situation, another thought that seems to have never occurred to them. Wikipedia actually has a fairly decent explanation of the concept, to quote a single line: “The notion of opportunity cost plays a crucial part in ensuring that scarce resources are used efficiently.”
Ignoring opportunity cost is only valid if resources are infinite, which means of course it can only be ignored in academia.


oh and how the Holywood than thou elite are acting,
1st class travel and hotels around the world.
When the agw scientists run out of make believe scenarios send in the actors to make up.


The so-called “precautionary principle” is just another version of the fallacy better known as Pascal’s Wager. It has no basis in science, philosophy, logic nor even plain common sense. Giving claptrap a spuriously technical-sounding name doesn’t make up for it being claptrap.

Alan Robertson

Lucky me. The sky might fall, but I have a hard hat.


what about fear of the precautionary principle? after all, we have no conclusive evidence that it is true, meaning that it, itself, is highly uncertain (pretty much by definition) so should we not also take extreme precautions in applying the precautionary principle?
of course, one must also take extreme precautions about taking extreme precautions about taking extreme precautions about the uncertainty principle.
that way madness lies.


Of course Lew’s hypothesis is ludicrous. However, I don’t like the way this post attempts to show it.
There is after all, solid physics behind the notion that Co2 will warm the climate.The parallels drawn between witchcraft and UFO’s, and something that does in fact have a scientific basis is imvho, off the mark.
There are an abundance of good, solid arguments against climate change alarmism. We only weaken our position with this kind of stuff, no matter how entertaining.


Pascal’s wager anyone? The parallels between religion and AGW dogma are uncanny.

Jeff Alberts

Just as there has never been a clear anthropogenic climate signal, so there has never been a clear demonstration of supernatural power.

Correction, there has never been a demonstration of supernatural power, period. There’s been plenty of sleight of hand, and outright flim-flammery, but no supernatural powers at all.

Roy Spencer

the logical absurdity of the Precautionary Principle (PP) is apparently lost on the educated class. As I believe I said in my book Climate Confusion, the PP is doo-doo…flush it and forget it.

The less you know, the more you should fear. That is a giant step backwards into the Medieval days! The burning witches analogy is spot on!
But then that is what some alarmists have already advocated.

The Iraqi War of 2003 was launched on the basis of the Precautionary Principle and it shows.


Pamela Gray says:
April 8, 2014 at 7:09 am
I hate typing on a phone screen.
Oh how I agree.

Frank Cook

I expect that Dr. Lewandowsky will eagerly join me in supporting the “let’s forcibly transplant the entire population of the US east coast to somewhere west of the Allegheny Mountains in order to protect them from the unknown risk of a future asteroid impact in the Atlantic Ocean causing mass devastation” effort.

Gary Hladik

It’s absolutely certain that the Earth will be hit by another asteroid some time in the future, so we should spend absolutely no money finding such potential planet killers and planning how to divert them.
Tsunamis are inevitable, so we should spend no more money on early warning; we should build our nuclear power plants and hotels as close to the water’s edge as possible.
Another earthquake on the San Andreas Fault is certain, so we should stop spending extra money on earthquake-resistant buildings and early warning research.
Hurricanes…tornadoes…locusts…politicians…but I repeat myself.

“I’m sure readers can think of other examples – chemtrails, rains of frogs, strange wart like pimples… it’s a long list.”
Secondhand smoke.

It is interesting to note that the lead author is a psychologist. 😛
I’ve been reeling ever since I saw this. The guy is clearly a complete crank. How or why such a thing past peer-review is unfathomable.

Rob Ricket

The abstract from part II:
“In public debate surrounding climate change, scientific uncertainty is often cited in connection with arguments against mitigative action. This article examines the role of uncertainty about future climate change in determining the likely success or failure of mitigative action. We show by Monte Carlo simulation that greater uncertainty translates into a greater likelihood that mitigation efforts will fail to limit global warming to a target (e.g., 2 °C). The effect of uncertainty can be reduced by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together with the fact that greater uncertainty also increases the potential damages arising from unabated emissions (Lewandowsky et al. 2014), any appeal to uncertainty implies a stronger, rather than weaker, need to cut greenhouse gas emissions than in the absence of uncertainty”
This is speculative circuitous logic at best. If sensitivity is the issue (as mentioned in part I abstract) reduction of CO2 emissions does absolutely nothing to address other potential causes of climate variation. Additionally, mitigation does not solve the sensitivity riddle.
Both papers are pay-walled, but it is axiomatic (however inconvenient) that the probability of monetary waste increases in proportion to expenditures in mitigation strategies that fail to assign probability ranges to climate sensitivity. This is a crude attempt to skirt the sensitivity question.

Apparently I was sleeping during Risk Management training. Apparently now you don’t need to worry about quantifying the likelihood of a risk occurring, the impact of it occurring, the costs if it does occur, potential mitigating actions, cost of those mitigating actions,the residual risk remaining after mitigation and all that dull stuff.
You just need to identify a vague unmeasurable risk, then spend an unquantified and unlimited amount of money on “mitigations” – that may or not actually address the risk, may or may not cost more than the impact of the risk if it happened or, even, may have worse consequences than the original risk. Nice.
I also have a vague recollection of a general principle along the lines of “IF (cost to mitigate) > (quantified cost of risk) THEN (forget about it and bugger off to the pub)”.

My wife, after reading these comments, said something about worrying Bigfoot would take the car keys to the Aztec kingdom and hook up with Dora the Explorer. Perhaps I should worry… 🙂


“…the researchers investigated the mathematics of uncertainty in the climate system and showed that increased scientific uncertainty necessitates even greater action to mitigate climate change.”
Okay! What actions has Lew taken to reduce his carbon footprint? When Lew and Gore and all the AGW advocates reduce their footprints to less than that of the average human inhabitant of Earth, I’ll start listening to them.

Generic Geologist

Manbearpig. Definitely. Oh wait, Manbearpig already was paid $200 million. This proves Lew’s thesis. Carry on.

It’s as if he thinks uncertainty is just a buzz word fed to the media and has no real meaning. Like noise simply doesn’t exist! Data is all crystal clear, and only “pretend” noise and uncertainty are fed to the media to … keep them on their toes or something?


Isn’t this just a reiteration of the post normal science approach that only enjoys any credence in the most desperate reaches of climate prediction as it is?

Gary Hladik

I just realized that Lew has been watching too many commercials:

Mike M

Cooking your meat kills potentially harmful bacteria but there’s always a risk that – you didn’t kill them ALL. Lewandowsky’s solution to deal with this pesky uncertainty – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_nAmQLWq7QRI/SH56xEluFUI/AAAAAAAABuw/-uqalmisU2c/s400/burnt.jpg