A case study bearing on the nature of “consensus” in normal science and in the AGW controversy

Guest essay by Rick Wallace


A useful method for gaining an initial understanding of complex social-psychological phenomena is to collect and compare case studies. Despite the humble character of such material (with respect to its role as evidence), it still performs the vital service of grounding discourse in concrete fact, thereby giving it a substantiality that it would otherwise not have. Another benefit is that once a case study has been brought to peoples’ attention, they can make their own assessment after exploring it further for themselves.

In the course of a personal study of evolutionary biology, which includes the phenomenon of speciation, I had occasion to look over a number of papers concerned with the question of how to define what a species is. Although there are now numerous species definitions, the leading one still seems to be the “biological species concept” or BSC, associated with the names Dobzhansky and Mayr. Roughly speaking, under this definition a species is a reproductively isolated population; this implies that the gene flow from outside that population is at most highly restricted and possibly non-existent. This definition is associated with an account of speciation in which the most common scenario is for two populations that once formed a single species to become separated geographically so that they come to diverge. When they have diverged sufficiently, so that hybrids are infertile or inviable, then they can be regarded as separate species. This is called allopatric speciation.

Now, as I said, by a rough consensus, this is still probably the leading definition – at least for organisms that reproduce sexually. What is interesting is that for 30 to 50 years it has been subjected to continuous criticism from numerous people in the field, including botanists, paleontologists, systematists, as well as field zoologists. Along with their critiques, some have proposed alternative definitions, so that according to a fairly recent (1997) summary, more than 20 different definitions have been put forth. (From what I can tell, the penchant for coming up with alternative definitions has fallen off since the turn of the century, probably because the range of possibilities has now been pretty well covered, so this number is probably still accurate.)

Very early on, the practical usefulness of the BSC was questioned. Here is a typical comment:

“The biological species concept considers the species as a collection of genetically similar populations capable of interbreeding that, through genetically determined isolating mechanisms, are evolving in a pattern distinct from other similar collections of populations. This concept … is the most widely accepted definition of species, although its application to practical taxonomic work is limited and its conceptual bases flawed …”1

And here is another, even stronger, statement. After discussing various perceived deficiencies, especially having to do with ancestor-descendent relationships, the authors say:

“For these reasons, the Biological Species Concept … is an obstruction to empirical evolutionary biology.”2

To be sure, there are plenty of substantive problems, such as, (i) difficult to unravel species-complexes in animals (e.g. birds, butterflies) and even more so in plants, where there is sometimes evidence of widespread and continuing hybridization (and therefore possible gene flow) between closely related species, (ii) uniparental ‘species’, where the clonal lines together retain common, species-like features, just like biparental species (iii) the need to develop classifications that include both extinct species and living ones. One upshot is that many botanists and zoologists have concluded that the BSC cannot replace the classical taxonomic species, based on phenotypic (e.g. morphological, but also genetic) features. Others have argued that “evolutionary” or “phylogenetic” species concepts should be taken as primary. And some researchers have gone further and called for abandoning the notion of species altogether, a position at the opposite pole from the assertion of others that species (as opposed to higher taxa) are the focal points of evolution.

To give the reader a flavor of the discussion, here are some quotes from a 1992 review of a book devoted to the topic of species in biology (obviously, the author of the review is not a nonpartisan observer):

“Most authors … admit that species are real and not arbitrary groups demarcated by humans. There is, however, no agreement about the nature of species, save that it is not adequately described by the biological species concept. Once again we hear the standard catalogue of objections to Mayr’s definition …

“To replace the biological species concept, the authors proffer nearly a dozen new species concepts, some of them quite ingenious.

“The authors snipe at one another’s concepts, with some of the best criticisms coming not from biologists but from philosophers … When the dust has settled, however, only Mayr is still on his feet, with his original concept remaining the simplest and most useful …”3

In other words, to the degree that the BSC remains the prevailing species definition, it is more a matter of still standing after a vigorous and drawn-out brawl than because it has been upheld by workers in the field collectively as the one true account of things4. But I would contend that this is what real scientific consensus looks like. In such cases, discussants never take the ideas in question as sacrosanct, and because – at least in a normal, healthy science – intelligent inquiring intellects are constantly evaluating ideas for themselves and setting them against their own experience, such ideas are subject to vigorous and even harsh examination, often leading to a range of opinion, especially if there are serious conceptual or semantic difficulties (as there are in the case of the species concept).

(In my opinion, this is why Patterson et al. in their 2008 BAMS article were able to say, truly but perversely, that in their terms there was no “consensus” regarding future warming or cooling back in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time climatology was still a normal area of science, so there was bound to be disagreement, especially about future trends.)

Another example comes to mind in this connection, which I will discuss very briefly, since I don’t know the field at all. This is the status of quantum mechanics. Reading Lubos Motl’s blog, The Reference Frame, over the years, one notices that although this is clearly the leading ‘paradigm’ in subatomic physics, there are still any number of people who are quite willing to argue endlessly about whether it is truly valid. Now in this case, these may often be zealots on the fringe, but the message is the same: in a real field of science people don’t line up behind a so-called “consensus”. The image one has, even of a well-established doctrine like quantum mechanics (one which, I gather, has been subject to tests of excruciating rigor for almost 100 years), is not of a phalanx of people standing shoulder to shoulder, chanting in Monty-Pythonesq unison, “This is the Truth!” Instead, there is a general assent along the lines of, “Yeah, this seems to be the way it is” or a more assertive, “Yup, this is the way things are.” And the attitude toward heretics is not expressed as, “You must believe!” but (at least until they become insufferable), “Well, you either get it or you don’t.”

Thus, in real science any state of agreement is labile at best – and establishing a consensus is about the last thing on peoples’ minds. I would go so far as to say that under these conditions, as often as not, a leading idea is a target to take aim at rather than a flag to rally ‘round.

Obviously, this cast of mind is utterly different from what we find in the AGW arena. Which in itself is compelling evidence that the motivations are different in normal science and in (C)AGW.

This brings me to my final point.

What is perhaps most fascinating about modern spectacles like the AGW movement (and here I’m thinking in particular of the Moscow show trials of the 1930s) is that the truth is always right there in front of everyone – and it is always apparent to those who can see. For such people, and this is true of most (but probably not all) AGW skeptics, the fact that some sort of charade is in progress is obvious, even if one does not characterize it in those terms.

Once this is understood it also becomes clear why these affairs are always imbued with an air of intimidation. (In fact, perhaps more than anything else, this aspect is what gives the game away.) This is something that is never present in real scientific discourse, even on those occasions when things get nasty. In such cases (for example the controversy over the wave nature of light in the early 19th century), scientists may get catty, and they may even act to keep work out of print (by negative reviews). But there is no real intimidation (at least none that I know of, and I have some personal experience in this department); there is never a covert message to the effect that, “This is the proper account – and you had better not contradict it!”


1R. R. Sokal. (1973). “The species concept reconsidered”. Systematic Zoology, 22(4), 360-374.

2D. R. Frost & A. G. Kluge. (1994). “A consideration of epistemology in systematic biology, with special reference to species”. Cladistics, 10(3), 259-294.

3J. A. Coyne. (1992). “Much ado about species”. Nature, 357, 289-290.

4Just for the record, I will note that at this point it seems clear that no one of these concepts will prevail over the others, and in fact a more multi-faceted approach to the problem which takes into account several of the species-definition proposals seems to be emerging.

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Tom Halla
March 10, 2016 3:21 am

Interesting comment on what normal scientific discussions are like.

March 10, 2016 3:25 am

….97% of WUWT readers agree with yo !!….. ; )

Reply to  Marcus
March 10, 2016 3:40 am

YOU !! arrrrggg……

Reply to  Marcus
March 10, 2016 6:45 am

It is ‘yo…dude!’ 🙂

March 10, 2016 3:27 am

Devastatingly smart.

george e. smith
Reply to  journalpulp
March 10, 2016 10:00 am

I can see your problem Rick. Now that the Eastern Elk is extinct, because it could never meet another elk, it could like, we have the new and more recent discovery, that there are actually 57 different biological genders, and not all combinations , of two, three, four, or more sexual combinations, lead to successful progenation.
But at least we have enough genders to be able to postulate a future with at least one new human species for each of the 57 States of the USA.
Now there’s a comforting thought for you, just when we began to develop a consensus (97%) that there were far too many specimens of Homo sapiens sapiens on this planet for its resources to sustain, nature finds a way to carry on; and I do mean carry on !

Jock Elliott
March 10, 2016 3:29 am

Mr. Wallace,
You are spot on. You don’t have to compel people to believe something that is patently obvious. You won’t find mobs storming the castle and demanding folks “believe” in the law of gravity. Folks who don’t believe generally find themselves testing the efficacy of their health insurance or the competence of the coroner.
The problem for the prophets of doom is their predictions have simply failed to come true. Orbital mechanics is understood well enough to put a craft into orbit around a distant planet but climate modeling comes nowhere near this level of accuracy.
This comes from IPCC working group I – executive summary: “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
And yet another news source reports that the US Department of Justice has apparently discussed legal action against “climate deniers.” How curious.

March 10, 2016 3:50 am

Good article, but I was mislead a bit by the use of “normal science” in the title. I was thinking something more “Kuhnian” was in store.

March 10, 2016 3:53 am

The traditional definition of species is unhelpful, because it doesn’t let us define the dingo as a new species. The fact that it can interbreed freely with ordinary dogs is neither here nor there. It is obvious that it has to be a new species, because then we can claim naming rights.
Just another example of your tax dollars corrupting science.

Reply to  Hivemind
March 10, 2016 5:39 am

Perhaps the dingo is not a different species but a ‘breed’ ie doberman, alsatian, wolf, hyena etc

James Hein
Reply to  Alex
March 10, 2016 4:38 pm

According to Neils DeGrasse Tyson, or at least the writers of the TV show he was on, all modern dogs originally derived from Wolves so ‘breed’ would appear to make more sense since the modern traits are a result of “breeding”

Reply to  Hivemind
March 10, 2016 3:17 pm

This may be another interestingly problematic case for the BSC, although I don’t know enough to say. I’ll have to check it out.

March 10, 2016 4:39 am

Two gems:
“…Mayr is still on his feet, with his original concept remaining the simplest and most useful.”
[These need for two qualities apply to almost any concept in science]
“…these affairs are always imbued with an air of intimidation. (In fact, perhaps more than anything else, this aspect is what gives the game away.)”
Amen! Great article!

M Courtney
March 10, 2016 4:41 am

At least since AR4 and the absence of the Tropical Hotspot, Climate Science has been unable to engage in any debate about it’s core tenets of catastrophism.
That’s because the core tenets have been disproven.
That CO2 is a GHG is true. That increasing CO2 causes the end of the world through amplification by water vapour is untrue.
Thus the field needs to start again with a lower importance for policy-makers. But that means the field needs to shrink. Who would tell their post-grad that “Oh. You shouldn’t have followed me?” They had to defend the field.
But that defence cannot be by scientific debate. The observations show that the field is not critically urgent to research.
So in climatology the debate has to be about control of information. It cannot be about the information itself.
Is that unique to Climate Science? Sadly, No.
Coming soon to a Pharma trial near you. And no doubt other places too.

Reply to  M Courtney
March 10, 2016 6:51 am

Well said!

March 10, 2016 5:11 am

The question about consensus or non-consensus is determined by whether anyone really cares. We have seen examples where one scientist or corporation can effectively shut out conflicting opinions: ‘the fat you eat is the fat you become’ and ‘transfats are good’ are two examples.
Scholars who produce works that contradict the politically necessary ‘party line’ in homosexual or transgender studies will be made to suffer. Evidence will be fabricated or criminal charges will be leveled without any evidence at all.
We all know what happens to any scientist who bucks the accepted consensus.
Check out Heterodox Academy.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  commieBob
March 10, 2016 6:48 am

Dead link, SIr.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
March 10, 2016 7:42 am

Thanks Alan. Heterodox Academy

Reply to  commieBob
March 10, 2016 10:40 am

Nina Teicholz has written about Ancel Keys. He and his buddies started the idea that fat caused heart attacks. They controlled research funding and shut down dissenting voices. Here’s a link to Nina’s TedX talk. I’ve transcribed a bit:

It was kind of like the same group, that’s Keys on the left and the front and his colleague Jerry Stamler. It was the same group that was on all the expert panels and they reviewed each other’s papers and these groups controlled all the funding. If you didn’t get on this cholesterol bandwagon it was called you really couldn’t get funding you couldn’t do research, you couldn’t be a scientist.
By 1986 the critics had basically been silenced.

Nina also points out that the American Heart Association was a tiny group until it started receiving sponsorship money from the vegitable oil producers.
So there you have it: Commercial interests and a scientist with a big ego combined to pervert science.

Reply to  commieBob
March 10, 2016 4:01 pm

I would agree that the saturated fats saga is a very interesting parallel case study. In fact, it would be worth working out the parallels in detail.

NW sage
Reply to  commieBob
March 10, 2016 4:59 pm

I agree. Nina’s book “The Big FAT Surprise” is a masterpiece. It is thoroughly researched and shows many many obvious parallels between the ‘fat’ controversy and the ‘global warming’ controversy. The lesson to be learned is that, because of the abandonment of science, 50,000 or more of our current population are obese and/or have diabetes and/or heart issues. Because of this many will die who would not otherwise have perished. The parallels and implications are truly astounding.

March 10, 2016 5:14 am

Nice Post & Thanks For Sharing…

Paul Westhaver
March 10, 2016 5:42 am

In my view the BSC is like phrenology.
I recall grade 10 biology and being presented with Haeckel’s embryos as evidence for human evolution. In my view the embryos did not look the same at all. So I said so. Welll……THAT was a mistake!
Now, as it happens, Haeckel’s embryo theory and his falsified images has been completely discredited. (see Ken Miller)
I was also told that human beings (homo sapiens) evolved from neanderthal. No, according to extensive DNA analysis of neanderthal DNA from teeth, we know that there is insufficient time to account for the differences between neanderthal and modern homo sapiens. Also, it is more likely that neanderthals interbred with homo sapiens and were absorbed into the human being family. Opps.
Again I recall being brow beaten by ideologues (who had no proof) that we came FROM neanderthals.
Piltdown man…
I don’t see how a structure alone leads to speciation definition. Wouldn’t you think that there are molecular roots to evolution and sameness must be at a DNA level? BSC is so antiquated.

Reply to  Paul Westhaver
March 10, 2016 6:33 am

“I was also told that human beings (homo sapiens) evolved from neanderthal…Again I recall being brow beaten by ideologues (who had no proof) that we came FROM neanderthals.”
I don’t know who told you that or when, but this has not been believed for a long time.

Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 7:01 am

It can take an awfully long time for the textbooks to catch up with current science. A fun example from one of my own teaching subjects is acetone metabolism. Degradative pathways that convert acetone to pyruvate (and thus, ultimately glucose) have been know for about 40 years. To this day, however, many biochemistry textbooks state that acetone is a dead end of metabolism.

Juan Slayton
Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 7:24 am

…this has not been believed for a long time.
Some of us are older than others….
: > )

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 10:01 am

It was 1978 and the biology text was “a new one”. Miss Newman was my teacher. I looked at the Haeckel recapitulation images and said, “why are all the embryos the same size?” and ” they look different to me!”
Both of these criticisms were cited by Ken Miller who had the defunct images removed from USA biology texts.
The bothersome point was that I was 16 years old and raised a legitimate issue and the Stalinist ideologues had no answer based on facts. Instead, they resorted to ridicule and shaming me for not believing the evolution religion as per 1978.
I say that this is common amongst biology types. First they accept their flawed concepts with the scope of possible evolutionary pathways, then the construct models based on the concepts despite the flaws. Now …they have to, because if they don’t, they too are ridiculed.
Now the line of discourse is.. “Oh you believed that? No real scientists believe that anymore. Where have you been?”
I criticize not the theory, theories come and go. Rather I criticize the phony scientists who are both dishonest about the obsolete science, dishonest about having advanced fact-less theories, and who today continue to advance bad science c/w their endless dishonest ridicule of their critics.

Reply to  seaice1
March 11, 2016 2:20 am

Paul, I remember the “similar embryo” argument myself. It was more the humans descended from neanderthals one I was thinking of. I am not familiar with this argument. It i sad that teachers are not always good at dealing with pertinent questions. I suppose they get so many questions aimed at trouble causing and disruption that it is understandable that some end up feeling that any question is a challenge to their authority. Understandable, but not acceptable.

NW sage
Reply to  Paul Westhaver
March 10, 2016 5:03 pm

Paleontologists and anthropologists are famous for jumping to truly devastating conclusions from extraordinarily little evidence. They then go on to state those conclusions as fact. Its seems to be the nature of the work.

March 10, 2016 5:50 am

“DOJ ‘DISCUSSED’ LEGAL ACTION AGAINST ‘CLIMATE’ DENIERS…” (from Drudge) http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2016/03/09/ag-loretta-lynch-testifies-justice-department-has-discussed-civil-legal-action-against-climate-change-deniers/
It has been obvious since the 80s that this cAGW charade has been politics, rent-seeking, grant seeking, and a power grab. The Drudge report on the DOJ is just another data point.
Science does not need the police state to enforce truth. Truth can take care of itself. It is falsehood that needs the protection of laws.
~ Mark

Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 5:57 am

….What is perhaps most fascinating about modern spectacles like the AGW movement (and here I’m thinking in particular of the Moscow show trials of the 1930s) is that the truth is always right there in front of everyone – and it is always apparent to those who can see. For such people, and this is true of most (but probably not all) AGW skeptics, the fact that some sort of charade is in progress is obvious, even if one does not characterize it in those terms….
What we are seeing in Climate Science is simply a feature of modern society, which is mirrored in practically every other area of life – particularly politics.
Not being a sociologist I find it hard to describe – but it seems to be associated with the growth of an elite ‘establishment’ class in many areas of social activity, and a corresponding concentration by the ‘establishment’ members of their own particular position in their hierarchy, to the exclusion of any interest or skill in furthering the actual work that they are nominally meant to be doing.
Thus politicians or environmentalists fight for a position on their respective ladders, without caring about the constituents they are meant to represent, or the actual on-the-ground environmental issues which are happening. You keep your position by ‘not rocking the boat’ – not by actually delivering clean water or a sensible foreign policy. I think this is happening in all walks of life – and we are seeing phenomena like the rise of Trump, or the rise of sceptic blogs, exactly because the establishment elite are no longer interested in engaging with the task they are nominally required to do. Or will not succeed in their profession if they do try to address that task – which amounts to the same thing….

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 6:42 am

Fine observations and commentary, Geezer. Many agree with you.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 8:58 am

Ayn Rand captured this precisely. “Science” is now the pursuit of a selfie with the right politician, pundit, or elitist appointed thought leader. Mix in a heavy dose of “Argument from Authority” and you have the recipe for the perpetuity of CAGW which lives on despite all its obvious failures.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 3:29 pm

You’re describing something along the lines of James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution (publ. 1941). At the time, however, he didn’t see all the various pathologies that would be associated with the rise of the managerial elites.

NW sage
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 5:07 pm

Well stated! Authoritarianism is a powerful force and will continue to be so. Science and democratic processes continue to struggle against it.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 10, 2016 6:13 pm

You are hitting that nail square on. The opportunity to ‘make a difference’ is open to all and there are parallel paths available which evade the requirement to jump the ‘accepted’ hoops. I draw a line separating education from schooling. The unschooled are frequently better educated than the schooled, but can lack the style that prevails in a specialised field.
There are pluses and minuses as a result. A plus is independent thought. The environmental movement that got into full swing in the 70’s was mostly composed of people whose main qualification was burning interest, not relevant schooling. It was ‘Peace Corps does Environment’. ‘Appropriate Technology from the masses for the masses’ and ‘Mother Earth News readers write environmental legislation’.
Anyone could be an expert. If you were shrill, that was proof of ‘involvement’ and ‘activism’. Now, burdened with years of indoctrination, filtering, schooling and accumulated debt, the participants are heavily qualified and highly vulnerable to a new generation of amateurs who have access to all the documentation. In consequence the anointed retreat to the cave of ‘you are not qualified to speak’ and ‘that does not appear in a peer reviewed journal’ and ‘that journal is not reputable’ or ‘if the reviewing had been rigorous that sentence would have not been permitted’. The last example happened to me in 2015. The ‘sentence’ implied that something was false, baseless, in line with the experimental evidence. The comment desperately diverted attention from the facts to the style, unsuccessfully.
There are forms of gatekeeping. Defending turf. It goes beyond grant seeking. It is more visceral. They are defending their unique identifiers, their boasting rights. If every Bob, Dick and Willis can access the same data and come up with better conclusions, their scribblings are worth no more than an article from Mother Earth News claiming you can build your own biodiesel plant from $15 worth of plumbing parts from Home Depot and a surplus air conditioning system from an F18. The casual expert is an existential threat to the clique.

March 10, 2016 6:23 am

“Mayr is still on his feet, with his original concept remaining the simplest and most useful” This is very much like the descriptions of models as wrong but useful. Probably nobody thinks this is an exact, and certainly not a universal definition, but in most cases it is good enough.
“In such cases, discussants never take the ideas in question as sacrosanct…”
In science there is a strong consenus that the second law of thermodynamics is right. Thus any patent application is checked to see if it is a perpetual motion machine of some kind. If so, it is rejected. The idea is sacrosanct.
“In my opinion, this is why Patterson et al. in their 2008 BAMS article were able to say, truly but perversely, that in their terms there was no “consensus” regarding future warming or cooling back in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time climatology was still a normal area of science, ” Not only a normal area of science, but an unexplored area. There were only a few tens of papers published in the 60’s and 70’s. It is somewhat rediculous to say that the lack of a concensus was becasue it was “normal area of science” when it was clear that it was simply a poorly understood area.
Another example is AIDS/HIV. This is also a politicised area, like global warming. In this case, when people like Mbeki persue policies that are harmful to millions because of a pseudo-science rejection of the real science, there is a somewhat similar outcry. We tend not to simply say “well, you either get it or you don’t” when lives are at stake.
“is that the truth is always right there in front of everyone – and it is always apparent to those who can see. For such people, and this is true of most (but probably not all) AGW skeptics, the fact that some sort of charade is in progress is obvious, even if one does not characterize it in those terms.”
This was also apparent to the HIV/AIDS refuseniks

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 6:50 am

Missed by a mile, seaass. The science behind HIV/AIDS was well-founded, whereas the “science” behind CAGW is simply well-funded.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
March 10, 2016 7:53 am

Bruce – you seem to have made a typo there. I think there is a lot to be learned from the HIV/AIDS debate. Look at this:
“Here is Fraser Nelson, political editor of the Spectator, promoting the Spectator event next Wednesday at which they will be screening this film: “Is it legitimate to discuss the strength of the link between HIV and Aids? It’s one of these hugely emotive subjects, with a fairly strong and vociferous lobby saying that any open discussion is deplorable and tantamount to Aids denialism. Whenever any debate hits this level, I get deeply suspicious.””
See – there was a strong and vociferous lobby saying that open discussion was deplorable. That is exactly what Rick Wallace (the author of this post) says does not happen in scientific debates.
There is good reason for this. The debate is not scientific, it is political. The scientific debate largely happens in journals. When it gets political -that is , when it directly affects policy- then we get the political debate about the science. This is not unusual, and indeed is the norm. When the Copenhagen vs Many Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics starts affecting tax rates, you will see the same happen with that scientific issue.
The other area that tends to cause debate about the science, rather than scientific debate, is religion. Politics and religion – best avoided at the dinner table for good reason.

Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 7:20 am

We can assume that Mayr was fully aware of the limitations of his species concept. Ring species have been known for a long time.
Virtually all of the terms and concepts that we use to describe reality are a little fuzzy around the edges, and it is not really too much of a problem in practice. Is that color red or orange? Is that individual with partial androgen insensitivity and XXY chromosome set male or female? Is this or that drug use a case of treatment or of doping?
We all understand intuitively that for some edge cases we need more elaborate and exacting terminology, but that does not detract from the usefulness of broad categories that succinctly and sufficiently describe the other 97% (sorry, couldn’t resist). It is when we neglect this insight that thinks can get out of hand. An example is the ham-fisted application of overly broad legal categories – “assault,” “organized crime,” “terrorist organization” – without due consideration of specific circumstances.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
March 10, 2016 7:36 am

Indeed, these, perhaps in particular “terrorism”, are words that we think we know what they mean but defy definition. Even life itself is somewhat resistant to definition. The BSC is good enough for most uses, but there are exmples where it falls down. It is not my area, but I would imagine that there were few if any who would cling to it as a universal definition of species.
“Is this or that drug use a case of treatment or of doping? ” This is getting somewhat off topic, but i think the way banned drugs are defined leads itself to problems. A drug must be two out of the following:
•Potential to enhance sports performance
•Actual or potential health risk to an athlete
•Its use violates the spirit of sport.
If it is not performance enhancing I see no reason to get involved.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
March 10, 2016 8:34 am

Re doping: Many drugs that are therapeutic — beta-2 adrenergic agonists in asthma, corticosteroids in inflammation — are also performance-enhancing. Hence the common excuse by athletes “I was sick at the time.”

george e. smith
Reply to  Michael Palmer
March 10, 2016 3:12 pm

Well I don’t differentiate chemical doping from mechanical doping.
Using a machine to put on muscles is no different to taking a chemical booster shot.
I used to eat a bunch of honey within the hour before jumping in for a competitive swim. I never ever won a race.
Izzat a banned doping ??

Reply to  Michael Palmer
March 11, 2016 2:32 am

“Using a machine to put on muscles is no different to taking a chemical booster shot.” I would certainly draw the line at some machine use – using a motorbike for the 400m for example. But using machines as training aids is probably a lost cause.
Drugs are certainly not the only issue. There is an interesting case in baseball. Apparently, pitchers often injure the tendon in their elbow. They then have surgery to replace it with an artificial one, and can then train longer than they could before the injury. There is no question that this surgery to repair damage is acceptable. However, some have the surgery before there is any injury, at age 18 or so, which facilitates longer training. There are serious questions about this procedure when there is no injury.
However, I am pretty sure that honey is safe from the banners.

Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 7:26 am

And of course, the analogy of climate models and the BSC concept is completely silly. Mayr’s species concept is just a definition, and as such it cannot be judged as true or false, only as useful or not. It is mostly useful.
The climate models are not just definitions, but they make specific predictions about the future. These can be right or wrong, and so far they have proven mostly wrong.

Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 3:41 pm

Here and below, you’re making some interesting points – and obviously not treating the posting as sacrosanct.
Taking one of these, the difference between a “normal” science and an unexplored area – in the first place, these are not mutually exclusive, so you haven’t refuted the point made. Also, if we follow your logic, the current consensus must mean that the climate is now well-understood. No, I really think that the normal/abnormal distinction plays a role here.
The point about “HIV/AIDS refuseniks” looks to me like a non sequitur. At any rate, I don’t think they thought it was a charade in the same sense – just that the majority were misguided. (The remark is a non sequitur because even if the refuseniks did think it was a charade, this has nothing to do with someone seeing a real charade for what it is.)

March 10, 2016 6:27 am

Re: Quantum mechanics. There is negligible doubt that quantum mechanics is “right” in that it produces results that compare magnificently with experiment. I misremember the number of digits, but it is something like 8 or 9, that the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron calculation and experiment agree. And analytical chemistry, nuclear physics, and transistor-based electronics, are but three areas of application that are completely dependent on QM. One would have to be perverse to deny QM.
There is lively discussion about interpreting QM. People ask “what is really going on?” and get a huge variety of answers.

Thomas Homer
March 10, 2016 6:27 am

There are several similarities with speciation and AGW:
– Each is considered “settled science”
– Each has a “missing link” (there is no quantifying formula for the greenhouse gas property)
– Each offers no axioms, postulates, laws, nor tools of Reason
– Each is a stagnant theory with no advancements since their inception (over 100 years)
With no tools of Reason, each is incapable of structuring an answer to simple questions:
– Is the greenhouse gas property influenced by the quantity or density of a gas in the atmosphere? IOW, if the level of CO2 alone were doubled in the current atmosphere, the density would be almost doubled as well, how does that compare to a doubling of the entire atmosphere so CO2 density remains the same but the quantity is doubled?
– if man were able to establish a self-sustaining colony on Mars and then lose the ability to travel between Earth and Mars, when and how does the Mars’ colony become a different species?
Any theory with no tools of Reason is a specious theory and vapid science. When do we acknowledge this and bend the arc of scientific knowledge towards truth?

Reply to  Thomas Homer
March 10, 2016 3:49 pm

When it comes to “settled science”, I’m not sure what this means in connection with speciation. (Nor do I understand what it means to call the prodigious empirical activity in this area during the last 20-30 years a “stagnant theory”.) I would say that the ‘consensus’ is that we still don’t have a deep understanding of how new species arise. In fact, even with sexually reproducing species, of the BSC type speaking roughly, a host of genetic studies, especially on hybrid incompatabilities, suggest that there may be many roads to speciation.

Steve in SC
March 10, 2016 6:50 am

Like I said before, the priesthood is almost always corrupt.

March 10, 2016 7:03 am

The analogy here seems off point.
Rick Wallace is referring to how species are grouped which can be whatever characteristics you find useful. BSC has proven the most useful over time and so has become the most used implying consensus. The other proposed methods do not change the accepted characteristics of the species (mammals are warm blooded) only how they are grouped. If another method of grouping is found to be more useful it will not change the characteristics of species.
The argument in “climate science” is not about how we group artifacts of climate for discussion, it is about the characteristics of the science itself. We don’t argue over what is a GSM or the PDO, we argue over the impact of increased CO2 on climate and even whether it is good or bad, will it increase global temperatures and by how much. We point out the climate models are not skilled at predicting/projecting temperature because observations prove they have failed. Alarmists claim polar bears are not surviving in a warming climate, and we point out the population is growing and thriving.
The definition of a species is concerned with grouping animals, the CAGW crowd with their claims about CO2 is the equivalent of claiming mammals are cold blooded.

Juan Slayton
Reply to  GTL
March 10, 2016 7:39 am

The analogy here seems off point.
I think the point is not to draw out similarity between the issues of biological taxonomy and those of climate studies. Rather, the point is to show the similarity (or dissimilarity) of reactions to “unconventional” views.
Strictly speaking, I don’t think his point requires drawing an analogy between the issues themselves.

Reply to  Juan Slayton
March 10, 2016 9:36 am

Most times, not always I’ll admit, unimportant “unconventional views” are easier to discuss rationally. Biological taxonomy does not raise my interest much, Alarmist claims do.

Reply to  Juan Slayton
March 10, 2016 2:07 pm


Being and Time
March 10, 2016 7:18 am

While I am thankful to see that there is, even among practicing scientists, a healthy skepticism of allopatric speciation (which is nonsensical on a metaphysical basis), I doubt that dissent would be so tolerated if a practicing scientist were to make bold enough to deny Darwinian evolution itself, (which is equally nonsensical on a metaphysical basis).
That will probably be changing within a generation or so, however. The present day near-universal acceptance of Darwinism is a bona fide curiosity. For one thing, the idea is certainly not original to Darwin. The ancient Greek philosophers discussed similar notions among themselves 2,400 years ago and rightly rejected them because they confused the processes of substantial and accidental change. Immanuel Kant, writing roughly a century before Darwin, summarized and refuted every point in the Darwinian program avant la lettre (which once again proves that “Darwinism,” at least as an argumentative trope, was familiar enough to learned men long before its eponymous “discoverer” came along). The reason that the millennia before the mid 1800s rejected Darwinism was not because they were unfamiliar with it, but because they knew it was metaphysically impossible and not worthy of serious attention. So what accounts for the fact that Charles Darwin revives a long-discredited idea in 1859 and it rapidly advances to s state of scientific dogma?
The answer is to be found in the broad historico-morphological development of Western civilization, which of course is far too broad a topic to explain in a blog comment. Suffice it to say for now that Darwinism is not really a scientific hypothesis at all but rather a categorization scheme. It is, in the last analysis, simply a reification of taxonomic tables, a means of disposing of one’s data. The Western world was ripe for such a scheme as part and parcel of the general historicist and materialist outlook that was coming into fashion at that time, which also helps to explain the contemporary ideas of Marxism and Hegelianism.
But the cultural antecedents that lead to the popularity of such notions are not permanent. Darwinism, refuted a thousand and one times already, will continue to live as long as there is an intellectual community which requires belief in it to justify itself. In the end it will be overthrown and abolished not by arguments but by boredom. Men tire of the old ideological conflicts and simply don’t care anymore. We are fairly near the point now when the mention of evolutionary ideas will cease to exercise the same sort of mystical hold over the passions of learned peoples. Practical biology does not require it, and intellectual history will have had done with it.

Reply to  Being and Time
March 10, 2016 11:31 am

eponymous…More than anything else about WUWT, I enjoy the requirement to have a handy dictionary and a place to read a four paragraph summary of the history of philosophy for the last 250 years. If we are discussing showing evidence in scientific posturing it would be fun to hear why we call differential calculus that category of mathematics Newton kept secret under the name “fluxion” until beat to publication.

Stephen Ziker
March 10, 2016 7:19 am

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as “Climate Science” in today’s world! When Enviro-Wackoes and Politicians agree, then Science is relegated to the Dustbin of History. The first major Idiocy came in the 1960s with the “Population Bomb” and was followed in the 1970s with the Idiocy that Northern Hemisphere Freon Releases created an “Ozone Hole” over the Southern Hemisphere, despite NO EVIDENCE whatsoever or even a postulated mechanism for transporting Freon derived Free Chlorine to the Southern Hemisphere. To prove that Science “doesn’t matter”, NASA studied this for over 10 years, including radioactive traced releases of Freon and never identified any Freon derived compounds in the upper atmosphere of North America, much less anywhere South of the equator. Then we have the 1980s ridiculousness of Global Cooling followed, of course, by the 1990s Global Warming. In reality, nothing has changed! The same morons pushing all of these claims are anti-Science, anti-Capitalism, Global Socialists who see a chance to gain Global Power through the Redistribution of Wealth.

Reply to  Stephen Ziker
March 10, 2016 7:27 am

BTW, the Ozone Hole is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by free chlorine releases from lightning strikes on sea water and volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire”. Both occur predominantly in the Southern Hemisphere – Oceans comprise the majority of the Southern Hemisphere surface and the “Ring of Fire” sits mainly South of the Equator. Also note that 25 years of Freon Ban have produced no identifiable change in the Ozone Hole either in Maximum Size or Seasonal Variation.

March 10, 2016 7:24 am

Rick Wallace,
A reasonable and even toned essay. I like your level of circumspection on the matter of consensus.
How a short bio on yourself?

Reply to  John Whitman
March 10, 2016 7:27 am

Edite of my immediately previous comment, ” How about a short bio on yourself?”

Jim G1
March 10, 2016 7:35 am

QM only begins to have problems when attemptind to explain How, or Why, some things happen, ie particle entanglement, observed wave front collapse, not in predicting what will actually happen, where it is spot on. Climate science fails miserably in the prediction of What will happen. The difference is between science and politics. It is what happens when networking and grant money are injected into the hiring process.

Mike M.
March 10, 2016 7:42 am

Rick Wallace,
Nice, reasonable essay.
As Dan points out, no serious scientist doubts the validity of the postulates of quantum mechanics as a set of rules for calculation, or that those calculations can be used to describe a wide variety of phenomena. The dispute is over the *interpretation* of what those postulates mean. There is indeed a dominant, but unproven, paradigm called the “Copenhagen interpretation”. There are those who challenge that interpretation. And those who do, tend to be marginalized. But that debate is not as politicized as climate science since there are no public policy implications of the debate.
One thing that complicates the climate science debate is that there are aspects of climate science, such as the basic mechanism of the greenhouse effect, that are indeed firmly established science. There are also many things that are debatable. There are many “skeptics” that challenge the sound science, as well as the more debatable results. There are many climate scientists who hear the nonsense mixed in with reasonable criticism, lump it all together, and conclude that the reasonable criticism is based on the nonsense. Lots of blame on both sides.
The main thing that is abnormal about climate science is the public nature of the debate. The primary literature still looks very much like normal science, including all the foibles that are normal in science.

Jim G1
Reply to  Mike M.
March 10, 2016 8:02 am

See my comment above. Ignore the typo, ” attempting”.

Mike M.
Reply to  Jim G1
March 10, 2016 8:56 am

Jim G1,
“Climate science fails miserably in the prediction of What will happen.”
Climate science is not about prediction. It is an observational science, like astronomy, concerned with understanding what is observed. The use of climate models for prediction is just one piece of climate science and those results are, at best, debatable. Predictive models should be just a small piece of climate science; sadly, they have come to dominate the field.
“The difference is between science and politics. It is what happens when networking and grant money are injected into the hiring process.”
That is pretty much the case in every area of science. It is indeed damaging. It seems to be especially bad, and especially damaging, in climate science.

Reply to  Mike M.
March 10, 2016 2:09 pm

These are good points, although there has been a fair amount of biasing in the literature itself, as the people at Climate Audit have shown time and again.

March 10, 2016 7:43 am

I refuse to believe anything about quantum mechanics or speciation until I hear the feminist/LGBT perspective. If you think I’m going to take your masculocentric, XY-influenced interpretation of science you’ve got another think coming…

Reply to  JohnH
March 10, 2016 7:58 am


Reply to  JohnH
March 10, 2016 11:41 am

According to recent reports that may only arrive at a glacial rate!

Joe Dunfee
March 10, 2016 7:47 am

It is interesting that the biological evolution was a chosen example, to compare to climatology. Evolutionary thought has some other interesting comparisons to the AGW field. Since you can’t directly test a hypothesis, you can easily let your imagination run wild, and get away with claiming the results are valid science.
E.g. The evolution of the whale is touted as the prime example showing the gradual evolution of species, and how obvious it is to any observer. But, Dr Gingerich’s Pakicetus fossil, like AGW, is based on the scientist’s thinking of what he wants the data to be, rather than actual data. The Pakicetus fossil was, and still is, often shown with its blow hole, flippers and fluke. However, none of those things were in the original fossil. Dr. Gingerich’s model of whale evolution required that they be there, so he simply added them to the reconstruction.
When a later, more complete model of the same sort of animal showed up, it had all the features of a land animal, including the nose in the front, and with legs, not flippers. But, Dr. Gingerich’s model of whale evolution is not so easily dismissed, and now he claims that the whale’s inner-ear bone is that of a whale, and not a land animal, so this animal must be an ancestor of whales. Though, it seems he has a hard time getting biologists to agree with him. None the less, his imaginary land-to-water transition animal is still touted as a prime, undeniable, example of evolution.

March 10, 2016 7:47 am

Perhaps worth noting that you can analyse black holes in terms of AC theory, electromagnetism, thermodynamics and many other physical paradigms and those enigmatic holes in the Universe answer you back in your chosen language. As far as we know, there is no single way to treat a black hole since much depends on the kind of questions you chose to ask and it appears to me that the same is probably true of plastic biological systems. I doubt there is ever going to be a satisfactory single definition of species to satisfy all the requirements of all workers in the field so I find it odd that this is not recognised and different definitions adopted for different purposes – so long as they are internally consistent within the particular paradigm under consideration.
In the case of the stultifyingly stupid cagw, everything is always addressed under the starting and startling assumption that everything is by default and de facto caused by human GHG emissions. It is rather akin to a cosmologist interrogating a black hole in terms only of his Aunt’s prize begonias and anyone slipping in a question involving general relativity is a damned heretic.

March 10, 2016 7:55 am

A lucid and cogent expose on the intolerable audacity of intolerant scientific elitists. Let me suggest another avenue worth exploring is the oft-repeated meme elevating climate alarmism to pseudo-religious status? Here, we needn’t look further than the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial for an analog to the current toxic disposition of climate-crusading zealots. Nearly 100-years on and the battle (pitting modernists against fundamentalists) rages with neither side giving quarter. Yes sir, give me some of that old time religion!
Of course, knowing something exists begs the question as to why it exists. Fundamentally, (no pun intended) the divide between the so called hard sciences and life-sciences resides in a distinction between animate and inanimate objects. Certainly, the ego takes center stage in the nurture of scientific theories; yet, even the most passionate of scientists will disavow a pet theory when faced with contrary information. Here, I’m reminded of a familiar phrase from Dr. Savalgaard, viz., “we can only go where the data takes us”.
Now my friends, I ask you, has either Mann or Schmitt and their (truth obfuscating) cronies behaved in a manner consistent with standards of scientific decency? Nay, we must say, for they cannot disassociate CO2 from human pollutants that have historically harmed the environment. Here, we witness a penchant for (un supported) logical leaps blaming CO2 for the disruption an imagined climatic stasis of the benevolent Gaia. Alas, the stasis has and never will exist, and even the most devout amongst believer’s clings to his signed copy of Silent Spring, all the while suppressing the certain knowledge that plants dig CO2. A religious dichotomy to be sure, but do take care, as cornered cats are dangerous foes.

Reply to  RobR
March 10, 2016 8:21 am

How very true and complex non-linear dynamical systems are the perfect medium in which to conduct religious conflicts. No matter how well you think you have it all nailed down, there is the ever present unpredictability and just one more cloud over there which looks a bit of a funny shape.
You are perhaps correct in that the cagw nonsense will never go away. Well, it cannot really can it. There can never be a point in time when all of the supporting politicians, “scientists” and media types suddenly turn around and admit that the whole thing is a massively corrupt hoax gone horribly wrong. Or even that the starting assumptions were badly flawed and it has taken them spending $20E12 of your money and the total destruction of the Western economies to find that out when thousands of qualified experts have been telling them that from day 1.
It is likely that the public – and therefore the media – will get progressively even more bored with it than they currently are as nothing much of anything continues not to happen but the hard core will be obliged to retreat from the current ‘mainstream’ cult into a fringe cult from where they will doubtless organise terrorist atrocities.

March 10, 2016 8:34 am

“Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.”
– Michael Crichton

That is consistent with what Rick Wallace described in his essay.

Reply to  John Whitman
March 10, 2016 8:55 am

Consensus is invoked when the science is solid, but the public perception is that it is not. See HIV/AIDS, tobacco and vaccinations

Reply to  seaice1
March 10, 2016 12:25 pm

Consensus is invoked when the science is solid …

It is also invoked when the science is not solid. See the connection between dietary fat and heart attacks. See also CAGW.
The determining thing is that someone thinks the public needs to be convinced of something.

March 10, 2016 8:39 am

I once had a discussion about quantum physics with one of our Vice Presidents who headed a research/development group that used quantum physics in its work. I asked if it were describing a reality; he answered that they didn’t care whether it did or not, but the mathematics worked.

March 10, 2016 8:45 am

People know art when they see it, although they don’t agree on what art is.

March 10, 2016 9:11 am

That’s a very nice summary of the species concept. I took a graduate seminar in evolutionary genetics around 2001 and found that every single session – every single seminar – degenerated into an argument about how to properly define a species. I am pretty sure that would still be the case today. A simply definition is taught to kids in school and many undergraduate courses without acknowledging this problem.
However, when you bump the discussion up a notch to evolution in general, the situation becomes very different. Then, you get the AGW approach and the closer analogy.
In fact, I’ve often wondered if AWG took its consensus stance from the evolution folks. As far as I can determine (others may find earlier documents), evolutionary biologist began their consensus campaigns (issuing “position statements”) in 1995 – the AGW crowd took it up in 2001. This is what happened, as far as I have determined.
[I may not be the first to point this out: if so, my apologies. Others allude to something like this above but my point here is more specific]
Creationists in the 1990s were perceived as a real problem for evolutionary theorists and science teachers (in the US primarily). Without getting into a debate at this time about whether or not creationists had a point, the fact is they were pushing back strongly against the practice of teaching evolution as an accepted concept in biological science.
To counter that, biology developed “position statements” on evolution, which usually started with something like this: “all life, including humanity, has descended with modification from common ancestors.”
See the current one here http://tinyurl.com/hcu8cp5 issued by the Society for the Study of Evolution, which also lists links to other position statements on evolution made by dozens of other organizations, including the American Geophysical Union.
Google showed me this: National Association of Biology Teachers adopted a position statement on evolution as early as 1997. http://www.nabt.org/websites/institution/?p=92
[citation listed as: “Adopted by the NABT Board of Directors, 2011. Revised 1997, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2011 (Original Statement 1995). Endorsed by: The Society for the Study of Evolution, 1998; The American Association of Physical Anthropologists, 1998.”]
One could argue that this consensus approach, honed over the years, worked well in preventing creationists from gaining more power within the US education system. Promoters of evolution as a unifying biological concept immediately saw this as a successful maneuver and no doubt others did as well.
I am an evolutionary biologist and wrote my 2004 Ph.D. thesis on speciation, as well as several peer-reviewed papers on the topic – I am totally convinced that evolution IS a unifying concept that’s essential for understanding biology. But in my opinion, these people did a huge disservice to science by resorting to consensus position statements in order to win their ‘battle’ against creationists.
However useful/successful it was for them at the time, it was clear they could not think of any other way to counter the creationist argument except to shut them up.
No matter how you cut it, it wasn’t science. But now it’s the way disagreements are settled and that’s a huge disappointment to me as a scientist.
Dr. Susan Crockford

Reply to  susanjcrockford
March 10, 2016 9:13 am

Correction to above: “Google showed me this: National Association of Biology Teachers adopted a position statement on evolution as early as 1997.” Should read: “as early as 1995.”

george e. smith
Reply to  susanjcrockford
March 10, 2016 3:20 pm

To heck with defining ‘species’.
So try your hand at defining (precisely) genera.
Repeat dosage, but one step up.

george e. smith
Reply to  george e. smith
March 10, 2016 3:21 pm

PS I’m fan of L C Smith.

Reply to  susanjcrockford
March 11, 2016 3:18 am

“No matter how you cut it, it wasn’t science.”
Susan, I agree it is not science, but why should that be a problem? Given that the arguments against teaching evolution were not really scientific but political, how could they be fought using science?
If they are not faught, then we end up with creation being taught as an equally likely competing scientific theory. If this were to happen, it would be a great dis-service to generations of children, and hence to everyone as we will all rely on the children of today.
As far as science goes, creation is not a viable theory. It is at best a conjecture. Yet there is strong political pressure to teach it. This can only be faught by political means. The consensus approach is one way to do this.
When someone says “this is an alternative theory, you should teach both and let the children decide”, that sounds a very laudible and reasonable approach. But it is not, because there are infinite competing conjectures. A large part of the problem arises because of the different colloquial and scientific meanings of “theory”. What we have is a scientific conjecture (creation) vs a scientific theory (evolution). It would be absurd to give both equal billing in a science class. In religious studies it is a different matter.
So if attacked in a political manner, you have to fight back in a political manner. To try to remain aloof and in the pristine uplands is science is to loose the battle.

Reply to  seaice1
March 12, 2016 10:02 am

“As far as science goes, creation is not a viable theory.”
Riiiiiight ! You don’t know how stuff happened, but however it happened God didn’t do it.
Evolution is not a theory, it’s a hypothesis. Creationists don’t think a hypothesis should be taught as fact. But you would keep creationism out of the curriculum on the basis of selective imagination (aka. wishful thinking.) If you cared to investigate honestly, you would learn of the faulty science that lies behind evolution, and find that creationism is indeed a viable hypothesis at least equal to its favoured rival.
Just one example: Look up “Lewis Overthrust” (I think that’s the name) on a creationist website. Evolutionists insist it must be an overthrust because the upper layers contain fossils of “early” critters while the deeper layers have fossils of “more evolved” forms. IOW it’s upside down by the fossils, and yet right side up geologically. An overthrust (one landmass sliding over another) would be evidenced by the results of such grinding action, but no such evidence exists. The rock layers are contiguous. No matter. Evolution presses on to convince the geologists to see that what is not there really is, and up is down and down is up, and adjust the carbon dates to agree. (And we’re back to Alice in Wonderland. Yes, the Disney version where she talks to her cat.)
Creationism does away with such lying nonsense and offers viable explanations. But it gets shouted down by preconceived biases and a flat-earth mentality that says “the evolution is settled.”
“Given that the arguments against teaching evolution were not really scientific but political, how could they be fought using science? If they are not faught (sic), then we end up with creation being taught as an equally likely competing scientific theory.”
Let me correct that for you: Political suppression is used by the status quo against scientific creationism. That is analogous to the warmunists suppressing scientific climatism. Science is used to show where evolution is wrong. Creation should be taught alongside evolution to guard against indoctrination. That shouldn’t frighten anyone who loves science.

Reply to  seaice1
March 12, 2016 6:35 pm

“A large part of the problem arises because of the different colloquial and scientific meanings of “theory”. What we have is a scientific conjecture (creation) vs a scientific theory (evolution).”
And you deliberately confuse those two definitions to suit your own bias.
“It would be absurd to give both equal billing in a science class. In religious studies it is a different matter.”
So truth depends upon the location of the observer? I don’t see how relativity applies to this.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  susanjcrockford
March 11, 2016 6:01 pm

“all life, including humanity, has descended with modification from common ancestors.”
It is a surprise to me that the only ‘permitted’ interpretation of this idea is that life starting in the first place is so unexpected, so rare, that it must have only happened once, and that everything, literally, is related by descent from that single miraculous event.
Examples of the failure of the single descent line idea abound. Eyes are thought to have developed de novo five times. Fish containing illumination and poisons are thought to have incorporated other creatures. Jellyfish are colonies. So are people. My point is that the unilineal approach to evolution, as a response to classical creationism, is limited in vision and wrong. Another part of the reasoning driving it is to oppose Lamarkism which turns out to have a physical reality after all, just not in all the ways punters fantasised. DNA is a lot more malleable than unilinealists find convenient, and a lot less rigid than suits creationists. The truth lies elsewhere.

Reply to  susanjcrockford
March 15, 2016 1:12 pm

I agree that with the evolution/creation controversy we’re seeing some of the same phenomena that we see with AGW – political issues or core beliefs getting mixed in with scientific concerns. So it is indeed another case to consider in this general context (whatever the general context is).

Neil Jordan
March 10, 2016 9:21 am

Way back when I was in the biological field, the speciation camp was divided into the lumpers and the splitters. The lumpers already had naming rights and weren’t interested in new species. The splitters didn’t have naming rights and wanted the speciation lifeboat to allow at least a few more people on board. Once on board, splitters became lumpers and would stomp on the remaining fingers clinging to the gunwale.
A colleague related an incident at a meeting when the discussion about whether the Brown and Kodiak bears were (or were not) separate species ended up in a fist fight.

Reply to  Neil Jordan
March 10, 2016 12:04 pm

….ended in a fist fight” Seen that happen over “what is the difference between a rainbow trout and a steelhead”

george e. smith
Reply to  fossilsage
March 10, 2016 3:23 pm

One is also a sailor.

March 10, 2016 9:28 am

There’s nothing quite like having such a natural fly land in your climate change consensus soup:
“The situation is completely different for a CO2 concentration of 240 p.p.m., which is close to that observed at the end of MIS19. In this case all four model versions simulate rapid ice growth several thousands of years before the present and large ice sheets exist already at the present time (Extended Data Fig. 1). This means that the Earth system would already be well on the way towards a new glacial state if the pre-industrial CO2 level had been merely 40 p.p.m. lower than it was during the late Holocene, which is consistent with previous results.”
Paywalled here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7585/abs/nature16494.html

Tim Hammond
March 10, 2016 10:16 am

Consensus occurs in science when money and/or position is dependent on consensus.
In areas of science where that is not the case, you get lively debate (or vicious arguments) because people want to make a name for themselves – and that cannot happen by following “consensus”.
Climate science is up a dead end because it insists on consensus – strangely it seems to have forgotten that the current consensus was once heterodox!

March 10, 2016 1:22 pm

Whether the field is physics, chemistry, biology, or climatology, there seems to be a consistent tendency to confound the real world of observations with the theoretical world of models. In science the utility of a model lies in its ability to conveniently summarize observations with sufficient accuracy to suit the investigator’s needs. Thus Newtonian physics, long ago demonstrated to be inaccurate for certain high-resolution measurements, is still the preferred model for many every-day applications.
“Species” is a concept that allows us to group disparate individual life forms based on their similarities and their differences. It is all about ‘classification’ as a tool for analytical thinking. Much as ‘definition’ in grammar uses similarities to assign an object to broader class of objects, and differences to distinguish the object for other objects in the same class. For example, a ‘fire truck’ is a vehicle (broader class) that includes equipment for fighting fires (distinguishing characteristic.
Ultimately the definition of a ‘species’ must be context-sensitive.
Physicists who anguish over the ‘wave-particle duality’ likewise are confounding the real world object (i.e. a photon) with the models (waves, particles) they choose to summarize their observations regarding the photon.
Science depends intimately upon the precise definitions used to summarize our observations of the real world.
The fact the ‘climate scientists’ are still hemming and hawing over such ill-defined concepts such as ‘global warming,’ ‘climate change’, ‘climate variability’, ‘global average temperature,’ etc. and trying to drive SOMEWHERE at great expense without any certainty of where they are or where it would be best to go merely indicates the immature nature of their field.
The terminology needs clear, concise, unambiguous definitions.

Mike M.
Reply to  tadchem
March 10, 2016 4:58 pm

“Physicists who anguish over the ‘wave-particle duality’ likewise are confounding the real world object (i.e. a photon) with the models (waves, particles) they choose to summarize their observations regarding the photon.”
Physics students might do that, but I don’t think actual physicists do. The debate over the interpretation of quantum mechanics is partly philosophical but it is also partly over the question of whether there might be a deeper reality behind the equations and whether that reality might be discoverable. From what I’ve read, Einstein was not motivated to discover general relativity by small numerical discrepancies; his motivation was that he objected philosophically to the action-at-a-distance implication of Newtonian gravity.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Mike M.
March 11, 2016 6:20 pm

Einstein was also trying to describe reality as being ether-free. Without a propagating medium, EM waves have to be turned into ‘particles’ like billiard balls in a perfect vacuum. Gravity waves have to become particles to be transmissible. Silliness abounds. Purists are painted into a corner.

Richard Greene
March 11, 2016 8:43 am

Climate “science” is not real science.
It is smarmy people with science degrees, bribed with government salaries and grants, who sit in air conditioned offices and try to “prove” there is a boogeyman currently known as climate change.
To “prove” it, they convert unproven “CO2 is evil” beliefs into computer software, tell the computer CO2 will rise every year from now on, and the computer spits out a piece of paper that says: “Life on Earth will end as we know it”.
The “cure” for every predicted environmental catastrophe (going back to DDT in the 1960s) is always more central government power, spending, and new taxes on corporations.
The goobermint scientists get permanent jobs/grants and media attention for being so concerned about the future of our planet.
They have to constantly “adjust” temperature data to prove their computer game predictions were right — why trust those haphazard outdoor measurements when you have a computer model that knows all.
This is “Save the Earth Socialism” — the latest way to sell BIG GOVERNMENT socialism (‘We left wing politicians don’t want more power for ourselves, we want more power to save the Earth for our children!’).
The scientists and their computer games are just props in leftist politicians quest for more power.
The general public knows little about climate science — few people could write one paragraph on the subject … and even fewer, if any, would state the most important points: Earth’s climate is always changing, and the cause is still unknown, but CO2 is not the “climate controller”.
If the general public has no idea the climate is better than it has been in at least 500 years, with faster plant growth and slightly warmer nighttime lows, then it’s easy to scare them with the climate change or any other boogeyman.
Scared people too quickly surrender freedom to give their government more power to fight the “crisis”, whether a real or imaginary crisis.
Climate change is an imaginary crisis.
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March 11, 2016 10:45 am

People trust scientists but don’t trust politicians. The political class takes advantage of this by supporting the consensus created by selective funding into predetermined scientific studies. The results of the studies along with the media blitz show the scientists and the science to be in a consensus position and therefore requires a political solution. Problem…action…solution describe the Hegelian Dialectic
“Hegelian conflicts steer every political arena on the planet, from the United Nations to the major American political parties, all the way down to local school boards and community councils. Dialogues and consensus-building are primary tools of the dialectic”
Call me a tin foil hat conspiracy theorist if you want, but why does the MSM (main stream media) only cover the catastrophic problems associated with CO2/global warming/climate change. Why are contrary views never presented? Why are the governments looking to outlaw “denialist” views?

Dave L
March 11, 2016 11:26 am

The problem in the field of “AGW controversy” is the lack of clear definitions, and the reckless mix-up of different aspects. For example: A temperature rise is not necessarily results in global warming (GW), and global warming (GW) is not necessarily related to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The existence and cause of climate change has not necessarily something to do any increase or decrease in instrumental temperature records. Here are many details on this issue: http://oceansgovernclimate.com/end-of-science-consensus-and-the-agw-controversy/.

Reply to  Dave L
March 13, 2016 12:34 pm

It’s more complicated than that.
Assuming average temperature is a proxy for our planet’s climate:
A temperature rise IS “global” warming if it affects most of the globe — but only local warming if there are some hot spots and most of the globe is barely affected or unaffected.
Global warming is most likely natural, and manmade.
Cities are much warmer than surrounding countrysides. Economic growth in the vicinity of surface thermometers causes warming — perhaps enough to affect the global average.
Coal power plants continuously throwing dark soot on the Arctic must cause some local warming through albedo changes.
Measuring the average ocean temperature is so difficult, and haphazard, I can’t imagine a margin of error less than +/- 1 degree C.
In addition, 1880s surface thermometers tended to read low = exaggerating warming since 1880.
It’s possible the average temperature is about the same as in 1880, or maybe already two degrees C. higher? No one knows for sure.
The HUGE quantity of hot air coming from the mouths of leftists about a coming climate change catastrophe may be the most important “cause” of global warming (specifically, their “adjusted data”, climate computer games, infilled data, etc.).
If not for leftist blabbermouths, I’d be enjoying the best climate on Earth in at least 500 years — my green plants are happy about more CO2 in the air too.
I think the definitions are already clear — it’s the assumptions and scary predictions that are WRONG.
The climate physics model is wrong — CO2 is not the climate controller, and never was.
The computer game forecasts have been wrong for 40 years so far.
People who know next to nothing about climate history, such as Al Bore, the Pope, and President O’Bummer, are taken seriously about climate change for no logical reason.
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Alan Ranger
March 11, 2016 4:21 pm

75 out of 77 (97%) consent with your views. The consensus is settled!

March 14, 2016 9:42 am

Rick ==> You should check out the long-standing scientific controversy commonly known as “The Salt Wars”- in which the enforced consensus position (held by the various Heart and Blood Medical associations, the leadership of which does the revolving door thing with the NIH and FDA) is that “everyone must be forced to reduce their salt intake” to “save millions of lives”. The contrary position is the normal medical science — only a certain percentage of humans are highly salt sensitive and only they will benefit from salt reduction — for everyone else, enforced salt reduction will have either no effect or a negative effect.
The history of the Salt Wars prequels the Climate Wars —

Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 15, 2016 1:07 pm

I agree that there seem to be some significant resemblances between this controversy and AGW. I will check it out. I think it is potentially useful to consider these various cases together, to see how they’re related, how they differ, and so forth. The downside is that in each case there’s a considerable amount of evidence to consider.

March 15, 2016 2:37 pm

Rick ==> See Gary Taubes 1998: http://garytaubes.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/science-political-science-of-salt.pdf
and his 2012 update: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/opinion/sunday/we-only-think-we-know-the-truth-about-salt.html
Check Google for recent news on salt reduction regulations from the NY City Health department.

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