“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
It is tempting to speculate what a resurrected Mark Twain would think of the current controversy surrounding the global warming debate. Some of the warnings being issued by the scientific community are certainly alarming, and I suspect that he would very much like to know the truth behind them. Moreover, the public have been informed that the science is settled and the time has come to take action. Nevertheless, even a superficial understanding of the challenges facing climatology is sufficient to appreciate that there are significant uncertainties still to be addressed. So, if he were alive today, I think Mr Twain might be wondering where the certitude is coming from.
The standard answer to this question is that the uncertainties have been evaluated and are deemed to be peripheral to the central point; we know it’s going to be bad and we are just uncertain as to how bad. However, the uncertainties to which I am alluding are too fundamental for this explanation to work. Instead, I suspect the problem is that climatologists are making predictions that cannot be readily falsified through appropriate experimentation. Knowledge gained from experiment is an important means by which epistemic uncertainty (that is to say, ignorance) may be reduced, and it is through such a reduced uncertainty that one would wish to achieve a convergence of opinion. But within climatology, consensus emerges principally through inference and disputation, in which logic and objectivity are in competition with rhetoric, ideology, policy and expedience. Significantly, it is through the sociology of science that one can establish certitude without having to reduce uncertainty.
Getting Back to Basics
No one would question that climatology is a science. Climatologists, therefore, benefit from the credence that any reasonable person would place in the proclamations made by scientists. This is why it seems so easy to label as ‘anti-scientific’ anyone who challenges the ‘overwhelming’ consensus amongst climatologists. After all, to quote Barak Obama, “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear”. The same assumption of unquestionable integrity lies behind the suggestion made by eco-psychologists of the University of South West England that anyone who questions the truth of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) should be treated as suffering from a mental disorder.1 Furthermore, the time wasted debating with such sceptics (or ‘Flat Earthers’, as Al Gore prefers to call them) could lead to critical delays in the introduction of necessary measures. Such scepticism, therefore, is every bit as irrational and immoral as the denial of the Holocaust, so there should really be a law against it, shouldn’t there? But before we get carried away (literally), we should remind ourselves why it is that we trust scientists, and ask if our understanding of where this trust comes from justifies being wary of the presupposed consensus amongst climatologists.
It is generally accepted that the principal strength behind the scientific method is the objectivity that results from restricting oneself to statements that are falsifiable, particularly through practical experimentation. At the very least, one should be making statements that include predictions that can be verified by reference to nature. This is how consensus should be achieved. Science is not a democracy – facts decide the issues, not a scientific electorate. But even in the purest of sciences one can occasionally find oneself in areas of speculation that are not obviously susceptible to the scrutiny of experimentation. When this happens it is almost inevitable that dispute prospers. After all, scientists are only human. If one adds into the mix a question of vital importance to the survival of the human race, then you can guarantee that politicians and the media will get involved, after which, the prospects of a calm, objective debate are virtually non-existent. More importantly, the lack of falsifiability sets the scene for the achievement of consensus by other means, resulting in a certitude that cannot be taken at face value. In the case of climatology, the first clue that the consensus may not be all it seems lies in its extraordinary significance. The consensus within climatology, we are told, reflects the achievement of a level of certainty that is unique within science. Apparently, climatology is the only scientific discipline in history for which the science has been settled!
Admittedly, the theory that CO2 is a greenhouse gas is easy to confirm in the laboratory, and the fact that, throughout industrialisation, there has been a significant rise in the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is readily confirmed by measurement. To this extent, the proposal that mankind is currently contributing to climate change is easy to accept. Nevertheless, this is not the issue. The question is whether current trends can be used to predict that there is a realistic prospect of irreversible and catastrophic environmental damage in the not-too-distant future.
Keeping in mind that a scientific proposition has to be falsifiable, is there a legitimate experiment we can perform to falsify the specific prophesies being made in the name of climatology? Well, I’m afraid the answer is no. The experiment would necessarily require taking a representative planet (planet Earth, for example), subjecting it to the sort of ongoing increases in CO2 that are concerning us, and then seeing what happens. Such an ‘experiment’ is underway, but it hasn’t been set up by the climatologists. As the 1988 ‘World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere’ put it, “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war”.
This is clearly not what we want to do, but in the absence of a responsible, intended and controlled experiment one has to be satisfied with theorising, based upon the current understanding of how the Earth’s climate system works. This entails field study, to garner information regarding current and historical climate change, combined with mathematical modelling to explore the range of future possibilities. Unfortunately, no matter how sensible this may be, it leaves a great deal of room for speculation.
Firstly, there is room to be cautious when attempting to discern the Earth’s history of temperature changes, particularly when this requires interpretation and manipulation of proxy indicators. This is an area mired in controversy; a point to which I will return later as we encounter the infamous Hockey Stick graph.
Secondly, there is plenty of room to be cautious regarding the nature of the mathematical models used to predict the evolution of the Earth’s climate system – a system that is known to be open, driven, non-linear, hugely complex and chaotic. The extent to which any credence can be placed in such models depends upon how well they capture the relevant factors at play and how realistically and accurately such factors have been parameterised. Furthermore, even for a comprehensive and accurate model, predictive skill rests upon the extent to which noise and the climate system’s dissipative forces can stabilize the climate on the large scale.2 Unfortunately, in view of the significant structural and parametric uncertainty within the models, it may be delusional to premise confidence levels upon the assumption of well-defined aleatoric uncertainty.3
None of the above, however, seems to have fazed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For those who required reassurance that the extant set of climate models were valid, the following assertion was displayed prominently within the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report:
“This confidence comes from the foundation of the models in accepted physical principles and from their ability to reproduce observed features of current climate and past climate changes.”
Well it is reassuring to know that the models are founded in accepted physical principles, though this is a bit like saying that a witness is reliable because it is a real person rather than a Harry Potter character – it is hardly something worth boasting about. As for the reproduction of current and past climate changes, I have two concerns:
Firstly, the fact that a model can reproduce the past is only impressive if it is the only conceivable model that can do so, and since a diversity of models can be made to fit the record through judicious ‘tuning’, this is clearly not the case.4 Consequently, matching the climate record is not the true metric for confidence in a model. Instead, confidence comes from the plausibility and legitimacy of the parameter values to which the modellers resorted in order to achieve the match. Even the IPCC itself concedes, “If the model has been tuned to give a good representation of a particular observed quantity, then agreement with that observation cannot be used to build confidence in that model.” So, is such a strategy common practice? Who knows? The modellers don’t publish their tuning strategies.
Secondly, surely it is a logical non sequitur to suggest that a model that performs well for the purposes of hindsight will necessarily be reliable for the purposes of making predictions. For example, a model that incorrectly accounts for the effects of water vapour and cloud feedback might not reveal such a weakness until the effects gain significance.
I’ll leave the last words on this subject to a statement buried deep within the detail of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report: “What does the accuracy of a climate model’s simulation of past or contemporary climate say about the accuracy of its projections of climate change? This question is just beginning to be addressed…”. So it turns out that the IPCC was already confident about its models even though the critical question was only ‘just beginning to be addressed’. Am I missing something here?
But above all my concerns, the key point I would wish to make is that using a mathematical model to make a prediction is a poor substitute for the running of an experiment. Climatologists may refer to each run of a climate model as a ‘mathematical experiment’ but in so doing they appear to be fooling themselves. In any other scientific discipline such activity would go by the name, ‘hypothesising’. It’s not an activity that establishes facts of nature (as would a true experiment), it simply enables climatologists to better understand the character of their speculations.
Let There be no Room for Doubt
So far, all I have offered to explain the coexistence of uncertainty and certitude within climatology is a somewhat churlish and semi-informed suspicion that the scientists concerned are guilty of professional misjudgement; that they are placing too much trust in the scientific arsenal available to them. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that climatology has been heavily politicised and that ideologies, as well as scientific understanding, are at stake. It is under such circumstances that the debate may be corrupted. So, if evidence were to emerge that uncertainties have been deliberately downplayed, one might argue that such corruption has taken place. I entrust this argument to the following two examples:
The first example is the accusation that the IPCC has been guilty of a simplistic presentation of the science, and that the certainty declared in its executive summaries does not reflect the uncertainty expressed by the scientists consulted. This concern was raised as early as the first of the IPCC’s assessment reports, published in 1990. Whilst a working group set up to advise the panel pointed towards uncertainties, these were not reflected in the executive summary. For example, the following statement appeared in the body of the working group report: “A global warming of larger size has almost certainly occurred at least once since the end of the last glaciation without any appreciable increase in greenhouse gasses. Because we do not understand the reasons for these past warming events, it is not yet possible to attribute a specific proportion of the recent, smaller warming to an increase of greenhouse gasses.”
Notwithstanding such reservations, the report’s executive summary was unequivocal in its conclusions and advised that the evidence for the potential damage from AGW was so strong that it, “requires immediate reductions in emissions from human activities of over 60% to stabilise their concentrations at current levels.” Furthermore, the executive summary said nothing regarding the crudity of the early mathematical models that were being used as the basis for the climate change predictions.
Without wishing to theorise as to why such downplaying of uncertainty should have happened, the fact that it was even possible speaks little of the confidence one can place in the consensus that the IPCC was seeking to portray. The IPCC has released a number of reports since, but the allegations of false certainty refuse to go away. For example, several passages within the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report, passages that had warned of uncertainty, were removed apparently after the peer review was supposed to have been concluded. Upon observing this, Professor Frederick Seitz stated, “But this report is not what it appears to be – it is not the version that was approved by the contributing scientists listed on the title page. In my more than 60 years as a member of the American scientific community, including service as president of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society, I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led up to this IPCC report.”5
For my second example of the promotion of false certainty, I take the notorious Hockey Stick graph produced by a team led by Dr Michael Mann, and used by the IPCC in its Third Assessment Report for the advancement of its cause. It famously showed a steady, uneventful decline in temperature over the last millennium, ending with a dramatic upturn coinciding with the onset of industrialisation (a shape of curve presupposed to resemble an ice hockey stick). As such, it was a hugely significant graph since it exorcised the pre-industrial warmings alluded to in the First Assessment Report; in particular, there was no sign of the so-called Medieval Warm Period. With the Hockey Stick to hand, the IPCC no longer needed to bury the uncertainty in the body of its reports, since the graph proved that the uncertainty simply didn’t exist. It showed that current temperatures are unprecedented and there is no evidence of any pre-industrial warming event in the Earth’s recent history, at least not on a global scale. The Hockey Stick was the smoking gun that proved the AGW thesis, and with it the science was settled. Or was it?
Somewhat surprisingly, no one within climatology saw fit to attempt a reconstruction of the analysis undertaken by Dr Mann and his associates; this does not appear to be the ‘done thing’. Instead, it fell to a semi-retired mining consultant, Steve McIntyre, to attempt such an audit – and the results were damning. I do not intend in this article to go into detail; see instead A. W. Montford’s book, ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion‘, or indeed Dr Mann’s ardent defence, presented in his book, ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars’. To justify my concerns, I do not actually have to take sides in the debate; it is sufficient to note that the debate exists. Nevertheless, when one becomes aware of the statistical shenanigans that lay behind the Hockey Stick’s shape, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the data had been mercilessly tortured for a confession. Certitude emerged from the analysis, but only at the expense of integrity. Given the huge endorsement and publicity that the IPCC had initially given the study, its subsequent unravelling and ultimate debunking had to be a matter of severe embarrassment. Or, so one might have thought.
Of course, here I am taking the sceptic’s position. There are those who point to more recent studies, such as the PAGES 2K consortium, that appear to provide independent corroboration of the Hockey Stick. So perhaps, in the end, Dr Mann’s statistical cunning wasn’t necessary in order to stumble upon the correct answer. The trouble I find with this argument is that PAGES 2K seems to be a variation on a theme: Take lots of proxy data, mangle it to death with manipulation and statistical analysis until you get the answer you want, and hope that no one notices the uncertainties and false assumptions that lurk within the detail. Already, the PAGES 2K findings have had to be updated in the light of criticisms6 and, as each amendment is made, the low frequency variabilities in the temperature reconstruction return ever more prominently. The more that paleo-climatologists try to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period, the more they seem to expose the hazards of trying to reconstruct a reliable, global temperature record from collections of localised proxy measurements.
The real irony of all of this is that the Hockey Stick’s political importance was always far greater than its scientific relevance. The AGW hypothesis is not falsified by the existence of a Medieval Warm Period. However, in the politicised arena in which climatology is conducted, the temptation to claim that the science was settled was too strong for the IPCC and, as a consequence, it backed a horse that ended up failing its drugs test. That would have been bad enough, but the lengths then taken to defend the Hockey Stick exposed an even more worrying trait. Even in areas where falsification is eminently possible, there appears to be a culture within climatology that seems to be designed to frustrate it. Anyone who doubts this needs to pay greater attention to what Climategate revealed: the illegal deletion of emails that were subject of a Freedom of Information Act request, conspiracy to intimidate the editorial boards of scientific publications, corruption of the IPCC peer review process, persistent efforts to obstruct the release of data for open scrutiny, censorship of data that did not support the central message, and blatant misrepresentation of data to achieve a desired political impact. Yet all of this was subsequently dismissed as nothing more than the ‘robust’ dialogue to be expected between honest and capable scientists going about their daily business!
However, one did not need Climategate to reveal that an ugly culture of intimidation, bias and censorship surrounds climatology, since there are many within the field who can testify to the following: IPCC membership withdrawn for those who are deemed to be contrarian; having publication of one’s articles unreasonably refused; withdrawal of research funding or threats thereof; accusations that a particular source of funding undermines one’s scientific and personal integrity; accusations of incompetence and stupidity; and vilification through the use of derogatory terms, such as ‘denier’ or ‘science-speaking mercenary’. Many observers may claim such tactics are necessary for the robust defence of a legitimate scientific consensus that has been placed under attack by an army of ill-motivated doubt-mongers, though I prefer instead to point out that such behaviour does little to allay the currently vaunted crisis in science.7
It is perhaps only fair to mention that some of the certainty-mongers, such as Dr Mann, are equally aggrieved at the tone of the debate and like to present themselves as the real heroes, guardians of the truth, surrounded by frenzied and rabid naysayers. I dare say that Dr Mann has suffered considerable abuse, but the idea that he is a beacon of light in a wilderness of aggressive ignorance is a bit difficult to swallow when he also claims that all right-minded scientists agree with him. All I can say is that there must be a lot of wrong-minded scientists out there.
But enough of mudslinging. When it comes down to it, the real problem with climatology may have nothing to do with would-be conspiracies. The problem may be the extent to which the consensus is due to a straightforward selection effect. It is an uncontested fact that, from the very early days, governments throughout the world have invested heavily into researching the AGW hypothesis, often to the exclusion of potential alternatives. I am not here to question their motives; they are not important. All that matters is that, if funding for research is restricted in such a manner that it favours an interest in a specific area of conjecture, then one cannot be surprised when the scientific community one has employed for advice starts to speak with unanimity.
There is no need to resort to conspiracy here. I am quite prepared to accept that scientists are being sincere and honest in raising concerns regarding the extreme possibilities of AGW, and there is every chance that they could be correct. However, it could also be that they predominate only because those climatologists who might have entertained alternative views were either coerced into compliance or left the game – the days of the self-supporting gentleman scientist beavering away in his study are long gone. It is conceivable, therefore, that the consensus, rather than being a result of minds being changed during debate and inquiry, instead emerges following a form of sociological natural selection.
One may be tempted to reject this proposal as being fanciful. Surely, it is most unlikely that a whole community of scientists could blithely ignore significant avenues of enquiry. Well, it might seem unlikely, if it were not for the fact that it happens all the time. All that is needed is the right mix of conviction, social pressure and the inability to falsify through experimentation. Take, for example, a scientific discipline that one might have thought was a paragon of scientific integrity – high energy particle physics.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s theoretical physicists started to develop ideas that were not only unfalsifiable within the immediate future, but also within any conceivable future. These ideas went by the name of string theory; soon to be replaced by its supersymetric equivalent, superstring theory. The essence of the idea is that the elementary particles, including the force-carrying particles of quantum field theory, are not point-like objects but are instead manifestations of the vibration of open strings or loops of energy. Each vibrational mode is detectable as a particle of a given fundamental type. The problem with string theory, however, is that the strings are so small (in the order of the so-called Planck Length of 10-35 m) that the energies required to explore such fine detail in nature are literally astronomical – it would require a particle accelerator so powerful that it would have to be the size of a medium-sized galaxy. It has therefore been alleged that the theory has so far failed to make a single prediction that is testable in the laboratory.
This problem has led a number of observers to question whether string theory is actually a science at all. For example, Peter Woit, in his book and blog, both titled, ‘Not Even Wrong’, bemoans string theory’s lack of falsifiability, saying, “It is a striking fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for this complex and unattractive conjectural theory”. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped the theory from coming to dominate the halls of academe, to the chagrin of those who would propose alternative ideas for the fundamental structure of nature. The problem is that, once a school of thought has been embraced by those who are in a position to dictate the future direction of study, it is very difficult to dislodge it. In the early days, the enthusiasm for string theory was understandable because it appeared to carry considerable merit and promise.8 However, once a theory is ensconced, the enthusiasm for it can be just as well explained by a desire to protect the reputations and livelihoods of those individuals and organisations that have invested so much in its development. A less cynical though similar sentiment is expressed by the mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose, in his book, ‘The Road to Reality’, when he says, “The often frantic competitiveness… leads to ‘bandwagon’ effects, where researchers fear to be left behind if they do not join in.”
It is fashionable in this day and age to cry, ‘conspiracy theorist!’, whenever someone questions the legitimacy of the regnant creed. However, one does not have to appeal to subterfuge in order to explain string theory’s dominance. Such dominance is an emergent phenomenon that should be expected, given that faculty heads will naturally promote those around them who share their own theoretical inclinations. And, given the pressures involved, an aspiring scientist is unlikely to see any lack of integrity behind their choice of study. Nevertheless, the fact remains that in many universities there came a point when it was extremely difficult to get funding to study any unification theory other than string theory.9
As non-experts in a particular scientific discipline, the rest of us can only rely upon scientific consensus to determine where the truth probably lies. In this instance, if one were to take a poll of theoretical particle physicists and ask them which of the competing theories is the most promising candidate as a Theory of Everything, the poll would undoubtedly come down heavily in favour of string theory. However, this merely reflects the predominance of string theorists within the field.
Of course, we can also observe the practitioners in debate, and decide who appears to be winning the argument. Unfortunately, however, arguments can be won by means other than by reference to irrefutable facts. In the absence of compelling experimental evidence, such arguments often start with well-intended allusions to virtues such as mathematical elegance, before degenerating into the sort of slagging match that academics seem to excel in. And woe betide anyone who dares to question the integrity of the field of study concerned. In his book, ‘The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of Science and What Comes Next’, the theoretical physicist, Lee Smolin, provides a passionate plea for a fresh and honest appraisal of the state of affairs within theoretical particle physics. For his troubles, he received the following review from one Luboš Motl:10
“…the concentration of irrational statements and anti-scientific sentiments has exceeded my expectations…”
Anti-scientific? Where have I heard that one before? It seems to be a strange fact requiring explanation that anyone who calls for the re-affirmation of scientific principles ends up being the one accused of being anti-scientific. At least, as far as I am aware, no-one has been accused yet of being a ‘string denier’. Even so, the debate is heated enough for participants to have coined the term ‘String Wars’.
I should point out that even those who are most concerned regarding the state of theoretical physics are not proposing that string theory be abandoned. Rather, they simply draw attention to the problems of experimental verification and warn that this results in a freedom to speculate that is not entirely healthy. Regarding the survival of theories, when natural selection by experiment is removed, natural selection by sociological means will often take its place. The result is that consensus is no longer achieved through the reduction of epistemic uncertainty, but rather by means of a narrowing of focus.
Beware the Bias
So, climatologists who are in agreement over dire AGW predictions are no more (or less) misguided or disingenuous than the hordes of theoretical particle physicists studying and promoting string theory. Also, let us be honest here, when seen in isolation, there is strength in the AGW argument, despite the central role played by predictions that cannot be falsified within the timescales required. However, one would feel a lot more comfortable in accepting this strength at face value if one didn’t suspect that the opportunity for developing counterarguments had been thwarted by non-scientific means. It is very disconcerting to think that the AGW argument may have been artificially strengthened due to confirmation bias. In such circumstances, can we be sure that we are not ignorant of our ignorance?
Furthermore, there has been no other scientific controversy that has suffered so much political interference, or attracted nearly as much media coverage, as that existing within climatology. I say ‘suffered’ because, despite an abject lack of qualifications to do so, there appears to be no one within journalism or politics who cannot tell you, with certainty, which side of the argument is correct: All the dire warnings arising from AGW are true and anyone who doubts it is a loon. As responsible citizens we are all required to back the scientists (the real ones), so how fortunate it is, I say, that we have the media and politicians to guide us through the intricacies of the debate. Surely, we couldn’t hope to have two more reliable and trustworthy sectors of society to let us know the strength of the consensus and to point out who the cranks, amateurs and phoney sceptics are.
And, of course, thank God for the internet. What little part of it that isn’t dedicated to pornography seems to be dominated by supposedly irrefutable arguments for one side or the other of the ‘CAGW will kill us all’ debate. For anyone with an open mind trying to determine the truth, it is just too easy to give up in despair. As for the rest of us, we form our opinions based upon an emotional impulse and spend the rest of our lives engaging in post hoc rationalisation, seeking out the information that confirms our chosen bias. It is unfortunately the case with global warming that individuals of all persuasions will always be able to find the encouragement they are looking for.
When the Stakes Get Higher
I have argued here that there is little to be found in the CAGW controversy that cannot be found elsewhere within science once the tight grip of experimental corroboration is loosened. Whenever this happens, bitter dispute breaks out between sides holding entrenched positions. Despite this, a consensus emerges, but the consensus is of questionable value since there is good reason to suspect that selection effects are significant. Individuals who question the consensus are labelled as anti-scientific, even when their scientific credentials are beyond dispute. Scientists feel under attack, though they would help themselves considerably by taking greater care to avoid unfalsifiable speculation.
There are differences between physics and climatology, of course. For instance, in climatology the situation is worsened by a politically motivated denial of uncertainties and a lack of commitment towards openness and the reproducibility of results. Also, the stakes are much higher, so it is in the nature of things that we are all invited to join in the bun fight. However, as with supersymetric string theory, I do not feel qualified to arbitrate. All I can say is that it seems to be the case that the arguments persist because all sides are so highly motivated and there are no experiments available to settle the issue. Under such circumstances, I would have thought having an open mind was a reasonable position for the layperson to take. Unfortunately, tolerance of scepticism is no longer the order of the day and anybody who questions scientific authority is assumed to be irrational. However, the real violation of scientific principles lies in the notion that science can be settled without having to wait for predictions to transpire.
Initially, politicians evaded the falsifiability problem by invoking the precautionary principle, in which the plausibility of an idea is sufficient for it to be treated as if it were confirmed. So, in climatology not only was the falsification of ideas technically difficult, it wasn’t even deemed necessary. But this was an overtly political position to take: If deferring a decision until all uncertainty is removed carries an existential risk, then there is political wisdom in not doing so. Nonetheless, the precautionary principle is notorious for being a self-defeating logic. When the price for taking action is potentially catastrophic (as it may be when one considers the drastic actions proposed by the CAGW protagonists), then the precautionary principle can also be invoked to argue against taking such action. Uncertainty cuts both ways, and perhaps this is why the denial of uncertainty seems to have usurped the precautionary principle as the favoured policy in many people’s minds.
Down on the Mississippi, Mark Twain understood better than most just how easy it is to get carried away with conjecture when the evidence is sparse, but I doubt that even he fully appreciated just how easily such conjecture can mysteriously transform into fact as the stakes get higher. It doesn’t require artifice to achieve this, though it is surprising what some advocates will resort to in order to ensure that the ‘righteous’ side of the argument wins. If it were up to me, however, I’d accept the uncertainties and invoke the dreaded precautionary principle. Although far from ideal, this is a better option than downplaying uncertainties to the extent that having an open mind in the face of a questionable consensus is taken as a sign of criminal stupidity. After all, scepticism used to be the compass for the scientific mind. So I ask once again: What happened to the science?
John Ridgway is a physics graduate who, until recently, worked in the UK as a software quality assurance manager and transport systems analyst. He is not a climate scientist or a member of the IPCC but feels he represents the many educated and rational onlookers who believe that the hysterical denouncement of lay scepticism is both unwarranted and counter-productive
1 See http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/6320#.WWu5mGeWzZ4
2 For further information, see Storch, Hans von; Zwiers, Francis (1999). Statistical Analysis in Climate Research. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 45071 3.
3 I should explain that aleatoric uncertainty results from random fluctuation. It reflects the variability of the real world and, as such, it contrasts with epistemic uncertainty (gaps in our knowledge) and ontological uncertainty (gaps in our knowledge of the gaps in our knowledge).
4 Those who dispute that the post hoc tuning of climate models is common practice should refer to Hourdin Frédéric, et al (2017). The Art and Science of Climate Model Tuning. American Meteorological Society, Journals Online.
5 Much has been made of the fact that the IPCC successfully appealed against the Washington Post article in which this quote appeared. The basis of the appeal was that the article failed to mention that Seitz was not a climatologist, not a member of the IPCC, was in pay of an oil company and that someone had previously accused him of being senile. Apparently, by not launching an ad hominem attack on its interviewee, the Washington Post failed to strike the journalistic balance demanded by the IPCC! More relevantly, the IPCC also successfully argued that the changes did not represent a corruption of their peer review process, which, of course, was a tacit acceptance that the changes had been made.
6 Steve McIntyre again. See the Climate Audit website.
7 Other than falsifiability, reproducibility of results stands as a principal requirement of the scientific method. It is on this score that many scientific disciplines are currently failing badly; hence the crisis. Most, if not all, of the explanations offered for this failure apply to climatology. On this occasion, I chose falsifiability rather than reproducibility of results as my main theme. Maybe next time…
8 In particular, superstring theory equations predict the existence of a spin-2 boson that has all of the properties expected of the force-carrying particle posited by a quantum field theoretic description of gravity (namely, the graviton). This prediction paves the way for an understanding of gravity that is unified with the so called Standard Model of particle physics.
9 For further information, see Woit, Peter (2006). Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. Basic Books. Ch. 16. ISBN 0-465-09275-6.
10 Motl, Luboš (2004). “Lee Smolin: The Trouble with Physics”: a review on The Reference Frame.