Sarewitz’s Science Smörgåsbord

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen


featured_image_SarewitzWhat is a smörgåsbord? And who is SarewitzFrom the top, a smörgåsbord is a buffet meal of various hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, salads, casserole dishes, meats, cheeses, etc.” and, as a derivation from that, can also be “an extensive array or variety (of something).”  And Sarewitz?  He is Daniel Sarewitz of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) at  Arizona State University.  “a research unit of the Institute for the Future of Innovation in Society, [which] has once again been named one of the top ten think tanks in the world for science and technology policy in the latest edition of the University of Pennsylvania’s “Global Go To Think Tank Index.” [ here see Table 24 ].

Back in August 2016, Judith Curry covered one of his most-talked-about papers in Dan Sarewitz on Saving Science Two years ago, almost to the day, I published an essay here Book Review: Climate Pragmatism covering one of the books published by the CSPO and the Breakthrough Institute in a series called “The Rightful Place of Science”.  Dan Sarewitz is one of four co-authors.

Dan Sarewitz has been at it again — hitting hard and digging deep at the philosophical and practical interface between Science and Public Policy.  [ It is at the interfaces of things that the real action takes place. — kh ]  His new paper [Marcel Crok has caught me out — the paper was only new to me — originally published in 2004 – this correction 11 July 2019]   is titled:

How science makes environmental controversies worse

[free full .pdf]

The key point, in his introduction, reads: [Note: direct quotes will be bold and italicized.]

“…scientific inquiry is inherently and unavoidably subject to becoming politicized in environmental controversies. I discuss three reasons for this. First, science supplies contesting parties with their own bodies of relevant, legitimated facts about nature, chosen in part because they help make sense of, and are made sensible by, particular interests and normative frameworks. Second, competing disciplinary approaches to understanding the scientific bases of an environmental controversy may be causally tied to competing value-based political or ethical positions. …. third, it follows from the foregoing that scientific uncertainty, which so often occupies a central place in environmental controversies, can be understood not as a lack of scientific understanding but as the lack of coherence among competing scientific understandings, amplified by the various political, cultural, and institutional contexts within which science is carried out.”

When I read Sarewitz saying “value-based political or ethical positions”, I substitute the more easily understood phrase  (by me…) “world-view”, which could comprise many things such as personal and/or religious morals, ideas of the purpose and value of human life, views concerning the proper relationships between humans and the rest of the natural world (and Universe, if you will).

In its 19-journal-pages, “This paper thus confronts a well-known empirical problem. In areas as diverse as climate change, nuclear waste disposal, endangered species and biodiversity, forest management, air and water pollution, and agricultural biotechnology, the growth of considerable bodies of scientific knowledge, created especially to resolve political dispute and enable effective decision making, has often been accompanied instead by growing political controversy and gridlock. Science typically lies at the center of the debate, where those who advocate some line of action are likely to claim a scientific justification for their position, while those opposing the action will either invoke scientific uncertainty or competing scientific results to support their opposition.

There is so much really great thought in this paper that even just the few quotes I hoped to highlight will make this essay too long for most people to read easily.  I will give you one more and make a summary of my own, along with the whole-hearted recommendation that serious readers download and read the original in its entirety.

Consider climate change, which may variously be understood as a “problem” of climate impacts, weather impacts, biodiversity, land use, energy production and consumption, agricultural productivity, public health, economic development patterns, material wealth, demographic patterns, etc. Each of these ways of looking at the problem of climate change involves a variety of interests and values, and each may call on a body of relevant knowledge to help understand and respond to the problem.

 Not only may the interests, values, and knowledge relevant to one way of understanding the problem be, in small part or large, different from those associated with another way, but they may also be contradictory. Conversely, those holding different value perspectives may see in the huge and diverse body of scientific information relevant to climate change different facts, theories, and hypothesis relevant to and consistent with their own normative frameworks.

This condition may be termed an “excess of objectivity,” because the obstacle to achieving any type of shared scientific understanding of what climate change (or any other complex environmental problem) “means,” and thus what it may imply for human action, is not a lack of scientific knowledge so much as the contrary — a huge body of knowledge whose components can be legitimately assembled and interpreted in different ways to yield competing views of the “problem” and of how society should respond.

Put simply, for a given value-based position in an environmental controversy, it is often possible to compile a supporting set of scientifically legitimated facts.”

Sarewitz tells us that in our relationship with any complicated, complex  natural system, the application of additional Science (more studies, more papers, more more…) can simply create a Scientific Smörgåsbord a table of knowledge on which one can find enough (and more again) legitimate scientific information to support any reasonable viewpoint as to the nature of and the solution to a controversial environmental problem.  Placing additional  more complex, more narrowly-focused data on the table does not necessarily improve the feast — all can already come away full and satisfied.

I hinted at this idea in my Climate Etc. essay “What’s wrong with ‘alternative facts’?” and my own views on Climate Science (expressed in two essays here at WUWT,  here and here),  which, though thoroughly contrarian, are based [almost] entirely on data direct from the IPCC, NOAA and NASA. — Sarewitz correctly builds a case as to how and why such a thing can be —  the Climate Team and I look at the same body of data, and both sides draw  legitimate but contrary conclusions.

The key point:  

More Science in Environmental Controversies can just produce:

In the words of Sarewitz:

“…a huge body of knowledge whose components can be legitimately assembled and interpreted in different ways to yield competing views of the “problem” and of how society should respond.” 

In my words:

“… legitimate but contrary conclusions.”

Welcome to the Climate Science Smörgåsbord!

# # # # #

Author’s Comment Policy: 

I have not tried to give readers a thorough review of the Sarewitz paper, which is available in a free full .pdf file from the CSPO.   I really am just hoping to tempt you into downloading and reading the paper, which I think is tremendously important for those hoping to understand the many Modern Science Controversies including the swirling madness surrounding the Climate Question.

From the quotes above, it should obvious that the paper is not for those with only a casual interest — it is a bit of a tough slog.  My editor, a Phi Beta Kappa English major from an Ivy League university (from back when that meant something academically), was driven nearly into a coma listening to me read Sarewitz to her.  Nonetheless, the paper is well worth the effort to read — take your time with it.

Those readers with cast-in-cement views about things climate will benefit from the paper as well as those whose thinking is still flexible enough to allow other viewpoints to be legitimate.

Readers here at Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That are intentionally given an all-you-can-eat free pass to the Climate Science Smorgasbord.  Enjoy it while you can.

# # # # #



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July 10, 2019 3:13 pm

Public money in huge quantities. See the Eisenhower speech.

steve case
July 10, 2019 3:44 pm

“…a huge body of knowledge whose components can be legitimately assembled and interpreted in different ways to yield competing views of the “problem” and of how society should respond.”

There isn’t a problem. To be succinct:

CO2 is not
a Problem

Reply to  steve case
July 10, 2019 5:18 pm

Steve ==> A very concise statement of one of the legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the Climate Science Smörgåsbord.

July 10, 2019 3:51 pm

Unlike the Smörgåsbord feast, the climate version doesn’t offer any combination of choices you want. Some choices preclude accepting others. Much like the legal principal of estoppel, the climate science choice of accepting human induced CO2 as the sole cause for the recent increase in atmospheric content precludes the acceptance of other explanations and demands reasoned defense of that position. Likewise the defense required cannot be limited to the consumers choice but must consider all reasonable challenges. So although the concept of a long adjustment time of human emissions may compliment the original choice, if it has no valid physical explanation it is “off the table” and the original position must choose from the valid explanations to defend their hypothesis.

Robert B
Reply to  DMA
July 10, 2019 4:27 pm

Its not a smörgåsbord. If the GTA estimated from both satellites and the temperature record needs dodgy adjustments not to completely debunk that the changes in climate due to increase in CO2 is well understood, then you can ignore that science says sharks are becoming more right handed due to climate change (if you hadn’t already started to cry in your porridge).

Reply to  Robert B
July 10, 2019 5:29 pm

Robert B. ==> Your “right-handed” sharks (though intentionally ridiculous and imaginary) is a good example of environmental issues in which “science supplies contesting parties with their own bodies of relevant, legitimated facts about nature, chosen in part because they help make sense of, and are made sensible by, particular interests and normative frameworks. ” Some imaginary ocean biologist may think that the tendency he discovered towards an increase in right-handed sharks is very relevant and important and should be considered when a solution is proposed to climate change.

Its not a smörgåsbord.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 10, 2019 5:47 pm
Rich Davis
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 10, 2019 5:56 pm

The increasingly right-handed sharks claim, while certainly ridiculous, is not intentionally so, and while certainly imaginary (in this version of the multiverse at least), was not imagined by Robert B.

WUWT reported on the claim being made by the usual suspects a few months back.

Mark H
Reply to  Robert B
July 10, 2019 9:17 pm

Be careful, all of that crying in your porridge may well lead to catastrophic global sea level rise in the next 12 years!

Reply to  DMA
July 10, 2019 5:22 pm

DMA ==> You use the Climate Science Smörgåsbord to come to a conclusion that other conclusions can be excluded — and yours is one of the legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the Science that is on the Table.

Others come to a conclusion that is just as legitimate, from their viewpoint, that your conclusion must be excluded based on “the evidence.”

That is just Sarewitz’s point.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 10, 2019 6:18 pm

Kip, one of the issues is that a fair bit of what is on the Climate Science Smörgåsbord is rotten. Then, even when it is not decomposed, many of the “conclusions” from it are not made from what is on the table. Such as the “Summary for Policy Makers” – that converts the thin-sliced salmon of the technical parts into lutefisk.

Phil R
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 11:52 am


Good post, but I respectfully disagree with the

multitude of possible legitimate policy views made possible from the science data available…

I don’t have the philosophical or logical chops to clearly articulate what I want to say, but I have a problem with “multiple legitimate views,” probably mostly with the term, legitimate. If the supporting or background data or information is vague or not well established, then I can see that there might be a multitude of legitimate views. But if certain data or supporting information is well-known and established, but is interpreted wrong (or is even purposely misinterpreted), I agree that one can have a policy view, but not necessarily a legitimate one.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, that it sounds like ethical or moral relativism. If there are a multitude of legitimate policy views based on the science data available, Then I think the argument can be made that the data are insufficient for purpose and better data needs to be collected (often easier said than done).

Phil R
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 5:53 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful response. And you did at least make me think and consider the issue.

If I accept (some of) your premises, I would tend to agree. I absolutely accept your premise that:

“Good and honest people can have vastly differing conclusions based on the same data…”

I disagree that:

“skeptics say “Get rid of all that crooked data! and all will be clear””

They say, look at the data.

If the data sucks, (QA/QC), you can’t make any interpretations or conclusions. If you’re talking about scientific data, then you have to confirm the quality of the data before you can take/make any interpretations and conclusions.

I don’t have a lot of experience in climate stuff, but I have 30+ years experience collecting all kinds of environmental data (landfills, groundwater, aquifer tests, etc.) and I always had to do at least some assessment of the data quality before I even did any reports or recommendations. as a licensed professional, I could lose my license over it.

When there is accountability/repercussions, the Smörgåsbord looks a little less appetizing if there are spoiled oysters and you’re going to be held responsible for people getting sick.

Reply to  DMA
July 11, 2019 1:37 am

Would Ben Santer’s reversal of the IPCC committee’s conclusions about the uncertainty of the effect of CO2 on global temperatures be an example of estoppel?

July 10, 2019 4:04 pm

Thank you, Kip, for the post and the link to the paper.


HD Hoese
July 10, 2019 4:33 pm

I just got back from an exceptional marine science library where I have been working on a number of projects, too ambitious for my age and where finding that journals are breeding faster than rabbits. One project is a book with a chapter on “SMORGASBOARDS OR NURSERIES.” I learned the first word in a high school math class when we were taken to one, because he loved his students and wanted them to understand the proper place of math in the world. He also took us to a slaughterhouse. The nursery concept is an old one about estuaries being the place where so many marine species juvenile populations develop. Like all metaphors (simile?) it has problems, because the birth place is mostly out of the estuary and the pillage of populations is perhaps quantitatively less, but horrible, that is if you are thinking shrimp, for example.

Since I am in a difficult to stop reading mode I will offer the following about a too rapid reading of the paper. “…science does its job all too well…” “…can be understood not as a lack of scientific understanding but as the lack of coherence among competing scientific understandings…” OK, there is too much specialization, needs a new paradigm for handling this. Get rid of publish or perish and other statistical evaluations as a start. Reeducation.

“Excess of objectivity” This section may miss where we have a lack of it.

“… others have suggested that society needs to adopt new ways of thinking about the conduct of science,” I would concur to the extent that the government, not always gradual, take over of science research, centralized and tried to justify what should have been an individual enterprise. Currently science is way out of its role, somewhat like law and journalism, too often thinking that they can save the world.

Finally—“In reality, of course, scientists are constantly engaged in a process of sub rosa, perhaps even subconscious, negotiation that is unavoidably political, whether working in the closed context of a research community (e.g.,Fleck, 1979; Collins, 1985), or in the more highly charged atmosphere of a science advisory panel (Jasanoff, 1990).” Been there, done that, selects for political, corrupt types, but a necessary evil, should be used sparingly.

Reply to  HD Hoese
July 10, 2019 5:35 pm

HD Hoese ==> Thanks for your comments — look forward to a link to your book chapter.

Where are you in the world — last time we were in Titusville, Florida, we used our cast net for shrimping from a low bridge — excellent shrimp, eaten fresh within the hour. didn’t feel guilty about it.

July 10, 2019 4:53 pm

Words, words and yet more words.

There is in effect a sort of a log jam of information, making it easy to
Cherry Pick to push anyone point of view.

We will have to wait till Nature finally cools things down, and just hope that we can still repair the damage.

Of course two countries are sitting on the sidelines, laughing their heads off as we of the so called “West”” tear ourselves to pieces. They are of course Russia and China.

The only other hope is for the likes of Trump, with all orf the power of his office, to prove and then to publicise the fact that CO2 is a good and much needed gas.


J Mac
July 10, 2019 4:58 pm

As a native son of Wisconsin, a smörgåsbord was usually more than just a ‘wide variety of food choices’. It was also a gathering of friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances coming together to share food, drink, and stimulating conversation. Smörgåsbords used to be a quite common offering at restaurants across the state, as well as private parties. While the offerings of gastronomic delights may be selectively sampled according to each persons tastes, the conversations and information shared therein are often wide ranging, ribald, and only lightly censored to reduce vulgarity. Farmers, fishermen, truck drivers, tourists, and loggers would mix freely with lake shore cottage summer residents from ‘cities down south’ (Milwaukee, Chicago, etc) and the faithful from the local communities to create (usually) a merry and interesting evening at the local ‘supper club’. Tales were told, jokes exchanged, politics and weather observations discussed, and different perspectives freely aired. Only rude behavior was actively discouraged.

Why do I offer the preceding thoughts? The smörgåsbord analogy to climate science doesn’t work for me. I may select certain savory tidbits off the buffet that please my taste buds but assessing climate science requires much more than just ‘sampling what pleases me’.

Assessing climate science of necessity requires at least an understanding of basic science principles and methods. It requires application of that science understanding to evaluation of the wealth of climate science accumulated and presented. It requires some practical experience with years of variable weather as a common sense basis for assessing analyses of claimed normal climate vs predictions of pending extreme climate changes. It requires the ability to sift and sort that aggregate of climate information into data of primary importance versus those items of lesser importance or lesser certainty.

What information is of primary importance? Answer: Our climate history. Climate history informs us as to what is primarily normal variability… and what is not. We know with certainty that the northern United States, Canada, and the northern soviet union were overlaid with mile thick glaciers within the last 14,000 years. We know that average temperatures were much colder and sea levels were much lower also. We know that those mile thick glaciers melted and retreated as the climate changed naturally over the last 14,000 years, in what we call the Holocene interglacial period. Our best data shows the warmest point in the last 14,000 years was approximately 8,000 years ago, in what is termed the Holocene Optimum. Our climate has been naturally slowly cooling in fits and starts since the Holocene Optimum.

These data items inform us as to the natural and normal climate variability for our world. Any claims of current ‘extreme climate change’, regardless alleged causation, must be weighed against the known natural climate variability historically experienced for the last 14,000 years. By that primary historical measure, all current claims of ‘extreme climate change’ are within, and a small fraction of, the range of natural climate variability. Everything else, such as current wiggles in temperature, sea levels, CO2 levels, ocean ph, etc ad infinitum, is just ‘sampling tid bits’ of tertiary importance.

J Mac
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 10, 2019 7:40 pm

Our planets climate history, glacial and interglacial and the natural climate variability exhibited therein, is the primary natural baseline against which all claims of extraordinary climate change must be tested. It’s the natural baseline. It’s the natural null hypothesis. It’s climate science, starting from its most basic data.

If others chose to ignore it or use shorter baselines, the slicing and dicing smörgåsbord is open for business and they can chose any comparative tidbits needed to satisfy their personal climate change tastes.

Science is not a smörgåsbord. It isn’t a game of semantics either, regardless of how eloquently the narrative of relative perspectives may be written. That is called marketing.

J Mac
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 12:18 am

Are you implying that my ‘views’ are leading me to insist that others do not have views and conclusions….. that are legitimate? Please do not attempt to put words in my mouth, even by inference or implication. What I’m attempting is a simplification of climate change evaluations, based on a mutual understanding of fundamental natural climate variability.

The ‘problem’ is interpretations (legitimate or otherwise) of sliced, diced, and carefully parsed climate science tidbits ignore, deny, or are oblivious to the fundamental baseline of natural climate variability here on planet Earth. The tidbits individually may be legitimate and and different tidbits may spawn diverse tidbit reviews but they are only hors d’oeuvres individually selected to suit a given climate tidbit palate. Collectively, they provide legitimate confusion, not clarity.

I propose we stop arguing over the selected climate appetizers and just proceed to the main course. What is the legitimately fundamental baseline for natural climate variability on planet Earth? If it doesn’t include climate variability from the onset of the Holocene interglacial to the present day, it is not representative of known natural climate variability on Earth. Acceptance of this legitimately assembled fundamental baseline resolves diverse interpretations of individual climate tidbits to a clarity of understanding of their relevant importance. The range of fundamental natural climate variability is larger than the perceived man made climate change effects (legitimate or not) by an order of magnitude and more. The fundamental null hypothesis of climate change holds and informs all of us that no extraordinary measures are needed to address this problem of perception only. To paraphrase the concluding statement of Sarewitz’s treatise Being nimble involves taking small steps in an informed and advantageous direction. Science guides the changes in direction, while politics ideally helps clear the path.

J Mac
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 9:05 am

As I said earlier, science is not a smörgåsbord. It isn’t a game of semantics either, regardless of how eloquently the narrative of relative perspectives may be written. That is called marketing. The Sarewitz treatise simply adds another layer of eloquently written sociological complexity to an already needlessly complex problem. Adding semantic complexity does not provide clarity… or a path to resolution, regardless of how enamored one may be with the prose.

I have read Sarewitz through several times now. I understand you feel it has merit. I do not share your convictions, legitimate though they may be. And I found nothing within Sarewitz that is likely to provide a path to resolution of our disagreement. Ironic, isn’t it?

J Mac
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 10:19 pm

RE: “….not to mention a definitively and widely accepted solution.”

As I said, I’ve read and reread Sarewitz I noted no “definitively and widely accepted solution” contained therein. Please elucidate…. in specifics, not nebulous allusions.

Rud Istvan
July 10, 2019 5:26 pm

Kip, thanks for picking up a WUWT relay baton I mostly dropped a few years ago for personal reasons CtM knows well. Highest regards for another excellent guest post. Please be prolific.

John Robertson
July 10, 2019 5:35 pm

I understand the concept and utility of ;”Evidence based policy making”
This smorgasbord of science sounds like a justification of :”Policy based evidence manufacturing”.
Which is well known by an older term as Propaganda.
Or the other:”If you cannot baffle ’em with brains,baffle ’em with BS”.
Unless the policy bakers are going to define their terms,science is definitely not of interest to them.
Climate Change , like water wet is baby talk.
So many possible interpretations and none chosen.
Which is now clearly by design, not a glitch.

John Robertson
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 6:11 pm

Why thank you Kip,I did read it in its entirety and thought about it for a day.
Sarewitz confuses politics,religion and belief systems with science.
A refusal to define the terms under discussion is a feature of Policy based evidence manufacturing.
Intentions are like opinions,we all have them,but the scientific method is the only guide we have to actually performing “good Science”.
And that has been the failure of Climate Science from the early 1990s.

What is Climate Change? Especially as used by our policy makers?
Steve MacIntyre’s call for an engineering grade assessment of the “science of Global warming” has been ignored.

I no longer am willing to extend the benefit of doubt to the IPCC.
I have read 2&1/2 of their reports.
Bureaucracy at its worst.

July 10, 2019 6:07 pm

Kud bee two mutch nollege duznt mayk us anee more intellijent. To mutch of a gud thing iznt a gud thing?

Tha faks kant speek fer themselfs wen thayrz two manny of em?

Figyers leye, an liyers figyer?


Gerald Machnee
July 10, 2019 6:17 pm

The smorgasbord of science has enough varying conclusions that the politicians and grant seekers have chosen certain conclusions and are pursuing them – politicians for taxes and control and some scientists for grant money.
However, I believe that this smorgasbord has deteriorated the quality of science down to “pseudo-science”.
I like the term Steve McIntyre used with respect to the Climate Sensitivity. He asked for an “engineering quality study” to determine it. To date I have not seen any, but some have tried and have got the value close to 1 Deg C for a doubling of CO2 which I think is still high since there are still assumptions about positive and negative feedbacks.
My favorite question is: Show me ONE study which MEASURES the amount of warming by man made CO2.
There is no smorgasbord there. So using the smorgasbord, the politicians have skipped this first step and proceeded to STEP Two which is lowering emissions aka CO2. They have now way of measuring real success here (Temperature increase) so they will try to say they are successful if they decrease emissions.

Reply to  Gerald Machnee
July 10, 2019 6:55 pm

Gerald ==> Science doesn’t make conclusions as to the nature of environmental problems nor does it dictate solutions. Those things are in the realm of Policy.

It seems to be your legitimate conclusion that much of the science produced in the field of climate is “pseudo-science” — which is one of the choices that can be made from the data on the Climate Science Smörgåsbord.

Ron Long
July 10, 2019 6:32 pm

The idea that scientific study done correctly produces a smorgesboard of results, which bridge the disiciplines of politics and science is total nonsense. Sure, scientific inquiry often lacks sufficient data to directly analyze an issue and derive the correct answer, but to deliberatly mix together non-scientific disciplines (I’m herein using the term discipline loosly) with actual science and claim to arrive at something resembling science is flawed ab initio. The two sides of CAGW are not their own truths, one is science and the other is social engineering.

Reply to  Ron Long
July 10, 2019 6:57 pm

Ron Long ==> Read the Sarewitz paper… is exhaustive in giving examples from various fields of study.

Ron Long
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 12:12 pm

OK, I read the whole tedious paper and my opinion is unchanged. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository saga is a clear story of a little science and a lot of politics. As a Nevada Geologist, with a lot of specialities adapted to the issue, I, and my fellow cohorts, found the entire study a well-intentioned attempt at scientific analysis totally overrun by political interests. Yahoos will mix in politics as they wish and totally obscure any science relevant to the issue. I stand almost alone as someone who has walked underneath a line of wind turbines and counted the dead birds, for the rest of you the truth is not convinient. This whole report is nothing but self-serving homage to how clever everyone is at mixing together science and personal interests/politics.

Gary Pearse
July 10, 2019 6:34 pm

Kip I think Sarewitz is either too kind or unaware of what has been going on. He assumes scientific rigor – following definition speaks for itself:

“Scientific rigor broadly means good experimental practice. It means that other people can replicate your work and understand exactly what you did in the course of your experiments. Open.Scientific Rigor and the Quest for Truth”

Where in his thinking does Climategate fit in? Is it proof that lefty “world view” is so legitimate that it’s okay to cherry pick, fabricate data, manipulate the scientific methodology to produce stuff that serves world view on how we should control society? Is Michael Mann a legitimate contributor to the smorgasborg?

The heavily freighted word”outcomes” from corrupted social sciences in the name of his “think tank” is a big ‘tell’. How does a legitimate scientist know in advance that there actuallywill be policy outcomes if they didn’t cook it up in advance. They have been harping on destruction of Western Civilization and its economic engines and a central command economy since Kyoto, before we had collected any data. Perhaps the alarm envisioned (which we have patiently awaited fo 40 years so far) will be found to have been an expensive mistake. Maybe we will find the “Great Greening” is taking us to a “Garden of Eden Earth” of plenty for humans and our felliw creatures on this planet. The greening (and attendant bumper crops) is the only climate change that has unequivocally manifested itself. So far CO2 has been a huge net positive. This is the evidence. It’s not a left or right fact.

Where does Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or quantum gravity stand as regards “outcomes”. ‘Outcomes’ are the real scare here.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 10, 2019 6:58 pm

Gary ==> I fear you have spoken before reading Sarewitz’ s paper.

July 10, 2019 6:41 pm

In this smörgåsbord, some dishes are rancid, outdated, concocted by unscrupulous, incompetent or dishonest cooks using adulterated components and will certainly make anyone sick.
These dishes are a disgrace to the art of cooking but thankfully, they can be steadily identified as garbage by everyone who has functional taste buds and a minimum of cooking experience.

Clyde Spencer
July 10, 2019 6:43 pm

I’m reminded of another metaphor for the situation: “An embarrassment of riches.” There is a plethora of facts and opinions, (Although, not all find the same ease of being published in reputable journals.) from which one can choose to ‘prove’ either side of the argument.

Something I have been concerned about is if we were to engage in the Red Team exercise, just who could we find to adjudicate competing claims of Truth. Who would be acceptable to both sides as a referee to decide which side won a point in the debate.

We have become so polarized that I doubt that either side would accept a call from the referee that they had lost an argument. I wish I could say that I knew how to pull us back from the precipice of social dysfunction. But, I don’t! The Left and the Right seem to be living in their own realities, with little hope of being able to communicate and reach an understanding.

However, having said that, it is my personal experience that the alarmists seem more inclined to engage in ad hominen attacks, and invent particularly offensive labels such as science or climate “denier.” I have lost count of the number of times I have been called a “liar” for presenting uncomfortable facts or having a different interpretation of the facts. Thus, I think that the burden of change rests with the alarmists who are continually extrapolating small changes into long-term catastrophes, and find no redeemable value from the changes that appear to be happening.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 10:30 am

I did read the article last night. There are some things that trouble me about the approach. For situations regarding the intentions of an anonymous voter, or immigration policies, one cannot just make a measurement of some factual value. What one is dealing with is opinions. That is, is immigration desirable? Now, if an advocate for immigration claims that it is a non-problem because there are fewer than 100 instances of illegal immigration annually, that moves over into the realm of science. That is, there are ways of invalidating the claim. Doing so undercuts the attempted justification or advocacy of immigration.

One sees similar situations in climatology. Claims are made that extreme events are becoming more frequent and storms are becoming more violent. Indeed, the whole climate argument is based on claims that science supposedly demonstrates. It is a house of cards built on ‘science.’ The only opinion that is important is that loss of life or property is undesirable. That is a given in all situations involving humans. But, the difference is that those who are obsessed by the potential of disasters are divining the future based on what they claim to be science projections. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate when those claims have no support in reality because people are being convinced to form an opinion based on falsehoods.

For example, superstitions are based on claims that science cannot support. Political solutions to eliminate superstition are propaganda or indoctrination of youth. Alternatively, one can demonstrate that science can disprove claims about black cats and ladders, and at least the rational individuals will accept the debunking.

In summary, science cannot answer questions of personal preference or opinion, but it can pull the rug out from under those who invent fallacious arguments to try to add support to their opinions. Therefore, I think that science is still important in the climate debate. The political question becomes, how to hold the feet of alarmists to the fire of Truth.

Christopher Chantrill
July 10, 2019 7:01 pm

Or, as Jordan B. Peterson says, everyone looks at the facts through the lens of their values.

paul rossiter
July 10, 2019 9:12 pm

Before Kip jumps on me, yes I have read the paper.

It seems to me that Sarewitz regards any theory, measurement and interpretation as “science”. As such, he is quite correct in saying that “science” can lead to opposing interpretations and points of view. In fact, it is just this woolly definition of “science” that allows the various stakeholders in the climate debate to push their barrows. Such a broad definition of “science” renders it impotent in determining the reality of a situation. I’ll come back to the definition of reality in a moment.

However, Popper uses falsification as a criterion of demarcation to draw a sharp line between those theories that are scientific and those that are unscientific. Popper claimed that, if a theory is falsifiable, then it is scientific. This provides the very foundation of the rigorous scientific method as distinct from the pseudo-science described above. In this context, the falsifiable hypothesis with regard to climate is that climate change is not caused by anthropogenic CO2. This is easily falsifiable by any measurement of a real phenomenon that shows that CO2 is in fact causing climate change. In this context a measurement has to satisfy the following criteria: 1. It is a measurement of a physical phenomenon (i.e. modelling projections are not included). 2. It must be repeatable and 3. It must be independently verifiable. I am not aware that any such evidence has yet been produced.

Within this rigorous framework, there is no room for alternative interpretations or the associated politicization that is the subject of the Sarewitz paper.

paul rossiter
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 12:58 am


I think that you don’t understand the scientific method if applied rigorously. It doesn’t matter how complicated the system is, until the null hypothesis is disproved it remains the operating hypothesis. If your measurement techniques are inadequate to disprove the hypothesis then it remains the working hypothesis and any statements to the effect that we might be able to do so at some indeterminate time in the future are irrelevant pseudo science.

This is not an arbitrary choice of one from many as you propose and I think you may be confusing verifiablity with falsifiability. It is the less rigorous (and I would argue non-scientific) inductive methodology based upon verifiability that leads to the many possible outcomes discussed by Sarewitz. So the scientific method/falsifiability is not just another smorgasbord offering but an alternative to the whole smorgasbord

Have you read Popper?

paul rossiter
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 8:14 pm

Hi Kip,

No, the distinction is not between basic science and any other sort of science, it is between pseudo-science and science.

In order to try to reach a consensus, let me state my falsifiable hypothesis:

In all the instances of “science” quoted by Sarewitz that have led to alternative points of view, there are none based upon a falsifiable hypothesis.

This easily falsified by citing just one instance based upon a falsifiable hypothesis. Until that is done (go for it!), all he is talking about is pseudo-science and, if you did a global search and replace in his paper, replacing all mentions of “science” with “pseudo-science”, then it provides an excellent description of why climate pseudo-science is in such a state of chaos and I agree with all his findings.

What we need is for the so-called custodians of science like the academies, universities etc. to remember what rigorous science is based upon and stop legitimizing the pseudo science currently being touted. But that might threaten research funding and hidden political agendas, so I won’t be holding my breath.

If you still disagree with this, what is your falsifiable hypothesis?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 11:26 pm

“A theory that is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific.” – Karl Popper

There is no credible evidence that weather is more chaotic now – both hurricanes and tornadoes are at multi-decade low levels of activity.

The term “catastrophic human-made global warming” is a falsifiable hypothesis, and it was falsified decades ago – when fossil fuel combustion and atmospheric CO2 increased sharply after ~1940, while global temperature cooled from ~1945 to ~1977.

There are many more credible observations that falsify the catastrophic global warming hypothesis, and not one credible piece of evidence to support it – the climate models especially lack credibility, and are programmed to run excessively hot to create false alarm.

Then there are the Climategate emails and the thuggish misconduct of the warmists, which prove the blatant dishonesty and violent predisposition of the global warming alarmists.

I am surprised that anyone gives the warmists any credibility – nobody should believe them.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 12, 2019 5:54 am

Re-posting since the top paragraphs were inadvertently truncated.

Paul Rossiter – I agree with you.

The “catastrophic climate change” hypothesis is so vague and its definition changes almost hourly to suit the occasion – as such it cannot be disproved and is unscientific nonsense.

“A theory that is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific.” – Karl Popper

There is no credible evidence that weather is more chaotic now – both hurricanes and tornadoes are at multi-decade low levels of activity.

The term “catastrophic human-made global warming” is a falsifiable hypothesis, and it was falsified decades ago – when fossil fuel combustion and atmospheric CO2 increased sharply after ~1940, while global temperature cooled from ~1945 to ~1977.

There are many more credible observations that falsify the catastrophic global warming hypothesis, and not one credible piece of evidence to support it – the climate models especially lack credibility, and are programmed to run excessively hot to create false alarm.

Then there are the Climategate emails and the thuggish misconduct of the warmists, which prove the blatant dishonesty and violent predisposition of the global warming alarmists.

I am surprised that any one gives the warmists any credibility – nobody should believe them.

Reply to  paul rossiter
July 11, 2019 6:36 pm

Hi Kip and Paul,

I read the paper too and I have to admit I see a lot of relevance in Paul’s and other’s comments that challenge the basis of ‘Sarewitz’s analysis. There seems to be a distinct Nietzschean undertone to the acceptance of scientific data, along the lines of ‘there are no truths, there are no facts, it’s all a matter of style’. He specifically claims he isn’t out to upset any ‘cosmologies’ and then accepts all ‘scientific facts’ as equal. This is clearly not true.

On the other hand, it is hard to argue with his conclusion that piling up ‘facts’ in an environmental policy debate is not going to lead to any clear answers. I would argue that there are several reasons for this. First and foremost is that these are political fights and the participants don’t care about the facts and just want to prevail. I assume that was his reason for leading off with the hanging chads – as a rationale for political solutions to environmental policy problems.

A second is that very many ‘environmental science’ studies are not much like any science I was taught. The Climate Catastrophe-terrorised right-turning sharks is just one of many examples. Matt Ridley had a recent post on his blog where he went over a series of recent shonky science claims. It is impossible for me to believe these researchers don’t know what they are doing and it isn’t science.

I recently read a not very good novel on the religious wars in Tudor England and de Guise France that was described by one critic as ‘ a painless way to learn history’. I beg to differ, but it did stimulate me to do a lot of extra reading. One thing that struck me was how the Religious Wars were bizarrely like the Climate Wars. Theological ‘facts’ (Biblical interpretations) were manipulated by all sides to promote their particular beliefs and everyone was quite willing to destroy anyone who disagreed with them. So, I think Sarewitz is making a valid point about the contribution of science to political struggles – politics will always win out. I don’t agree with his post-normal science approach to scientific facts. I would never walk over a bridge that he designed. Cheers

Steven Mosher
July 10, 2019 10:51 pm

glad to see Kip reading one of the leaders of Post Normal science

Alan the Brit
July 10, 2019 11:21 pm

“those holding different value perspectives may see in the huge and diverse body”

Says it all, typical FPC groupthink/speak, why use one word, i.e. “opinions”, when two will sound more impressive & intellectual, i.e. “value perspectives”!

This kind of double-talk & gobbldy-gook are a complete giveaway!

Sky King
July 11, 2019 1:15 am

Thanks for this. I am running out of Ambien.

July 11, 2019 6:06 am

“My editor, a Phi Beta Kappa English major from an Ivy League university (from back when that meant something academically), was driven nearly into a coma listening to me read Sarewitz to her. Nonetheless, the paper is well worth the effort to read…”

Sorry, but I’ll pass. My mentor, a highly accomplished gentleman with a Ph.D in the sciences, is always advising me to shorten my sentences and use simpler wording in order to make my papers more understandable to a broader public.

Too many academics do the opposite. They write a simple, readable paper, and then pull out the thesaurus and replace all the little word with bigger ones, until they get to the point that nobody understands what they are saying. Then they publish, and since nobody wants to admit that they have no clue what the paper is about, it is accepted as deep wisdom.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 12:00 pm

Fair point regarding communication skills Kip, and I do appreciate your posts here – thank you.

But, scanning Sarewitz’s treatise, It appears to me that he is suggesting there are two legitimate sides to each scientific debate, including the global warming/wilder weather fracas.

If I am correct in that assessment, I must disagree. The conduct of the warmist camp has been dishonest, fraudulent and thuggish.





by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng. June 13, 2019
Excel workbook:


Other factors such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, etc. may also cause significant increases in atmospheric CO2. However, global temperature drives CO2 much more than CO2 drives temperature.


Christy & McNider (2017) and Lewis & Curry (2018) proved that climate sensitivity to increasing CO2 is too low to cause dangerous warming – see Section #9.

Furthermore, atmospheric CO2 changes LAG temperature changes at all measured time scales, including ~9 months in the modern data record and much longer in the ice core record. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that increasing atmospheric CO2 causes some mild warming, but full-earth-scale data prove that this CO2 warming effect is drowned out by the much larger impact of temperature on CO2.



Christy and McNider (2017) analysed UAH Lower Troposphere data since 1979:

Lewis and Curry (2018) analysed HadCRUT4v5 Surface Temperature data since 1859:

Climate computer models used by the IPCC and other global warming alarmists employ climate sensitivity values much higher than 1C/doubling, in order to create false fears of dangerous global warming.


The leaders of the radical greens typically know they are misleading the public. The Climategate emails provide irrefutable evidence of their misconduct. Their followers typically believe the falsehoods, and apparently do not have the education or the intellectual ability to do otherwise.


In 2002 we were confident in the following points, sufficient to publish them and sign our names to them:

“Climate science does not support the theory of catastrophic human-made global warming – the alleged warming crisis does not exist.”

“The ultimate agenda of pro-Kyoto advocates is to eliminate fossil fuels, but this would result in a catastrophic shortfall in global energy supply – the wasteful, inefficient energy solutions proposed by Kyoto advocates simply cannot replace fossil fuels.”


Enormously costly and destructive government policies have been adopted to “fight global warming / climate change”. Trillions of dollars of scarce global resources have been squandered, tens of millions of lives have been needlessly lost and delicate environments including tropical rainforests severely harmed due to environmental extremism.


Global warming / climate change alarmism is the most expensive and the most lucrative scientific error in history. There is ample evidence of fraud.


“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
Reference: “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, Charles Mackay, 1841.

By Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., July 4, 2019


Radical green extremists have cost society trillions of dollars and many millions of lives. Banning DDT and radical green opposition to golden rice blinded and killed tens of millions of children.

Green energy and CO2 abatement schemes, driven by false fears of catastrophic global warming, have severely damaged the environment and have squandered trillions of dollars of scarce global resources that should have been allocated to serve the real, immediate needs of humanity. Properly allocated, these wasted funds might have ended malaria and world hunger.

The number of shattered lives caused by radical-green activism rivals the death tolls of the great killers of the 20th Century – Stalin, Hitler and Mao – radical greens advocate similar extreme-left totalitarian policies and are indifferent to their resulting environmental damage and human suffering… … and if unchecked, radical environmentalism will cost us our freedom.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 4:48 pm

Thank you Kip – good thoughts.

Re Judith, she came late to the table, used to be a warmist, etc., which lessens her credibility in my opinion. I still like her but she should have got a lot smarter, a lot sooner, especially given her relevant scientific background.

I have an engineering and earth sciences background, and I knew that global warming alarmism was”utter cr@p” the first time I heard it, circa 1985.

I’ve been studying the subject intensely since then and have learned a great deal, but my above conclusion remains the same – I have seen no credible evidence to change my position, and ample evidence to support it.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 12, 2019 7:59 pm

You said, ” Sarewitz says there are “MANY, MANY” possible legitimate views and conclusions to be drawn from the same set of data.”

I would agree that many possible views and conclusions CAN be drawn from the same data. However, I would question the legitimacy. Two contradictory explanations cannot both be right. That is, if two conclusions are the polar opposites, I would suggest that one of them is wrong. The duality of light is an interesting case, but it is usually posed with physical constraints or the caveat that they are equivalent in terms of calculating quantitative results. If there are many conclusions, all may be wrong, but logically, there can only be one correct answer. They may all have elements of truth if it is complex, but only one complete explanation can contain all the elements of truth.

Tom Schaefer
July 11, 2019 7:39 am

If any amount of (legitimate) scientific data becomes a “Smörgåsbord”, it is because it has not been organized and pursued properly under the scientific method. At the macro- and many intricate supporting micro-propositions, ALL the data should be used to support or refute hypotheses, so that they can be dismissed or refined. This legitimate use of data requires disinterested or at least dispassionate and ethical people to look at ALL the legitimate and relevant data, not just picking and choosing what is convenient to support a particular favored hypothesis.

I suggest there is a role for the organizational and curation functions of an AI librarian, but in the mean time, humans could do a much better job or organizing, tagging, and disseminating relevant data and research to those seriously pursuing climate research.

One could argue that the point of Mr. Hansen’s article here was to 1) discourage the creation of any further data. and 2) Admit that the entire science and debate is poisoned by agendas that must be pursued. I reject both. If you come to a smörgåsbord and can’t assemble a healthy meal, it is probably your fault, just like the morning buffet at a Hampton Inn.

Marcel Crok
July 11, 2019 7:51 am

Hi Kip, the paper is brilliant indeed but was published in 2004! Didn’t you notice?

AGW is not Science
July 11, 2019 9:39 am

“Sarewitz correctly builds a case as to how and why such a thing can be — the Climate Team and I look at the same body of data, and both sides draw legitimate but contrary conclusions.”

Sorry Kip, but this while it sounds reasonable ignores some Mammoths in the room.

The Climate Team first of all started with their conclusion and continually twist and turn and scheme trying to justify it, which isn’t how “science” is done.

The Climate Team looks selectively at the “body of data,” ignoring massive amounts of information that shows their “conclusions” to be complete nonsense.

And the Climate Team ADJUSTS the “body of data” in a manner that universally provides fodder (even then only if their assumptions are assumed to be facts) for their doomsaying BS.

So no, “both” sides do NOT draw “legitimate” conclusions. The Climate Team’s conclusion was reached long before they looked at any “data” and when their conclusion is unsupported by the “data” they do look at, they ALTER it or they IGNORE it.

July 11, 2019 9:46 am

Walking down the smörgåsbord table…

Wow, Judy brought this really fancy dish, with thin-sliced fish, and cheese, and all sorts of crackers. Yum!

Tony and Steve both brought meatballs? Kind of plebeian, but good stuff.

I see that Leif also brought a pretty fancy dish, although for those with rather eclectic tastes, as did Ryan. Certainly worth a try; their previous offerings have been tasty.

Roy and John turned in their usual solid performances.

Wait, what are all of these things in the middle from the “IPCC Kitchen”? They look good, most of them – but you’d better give them a sniff test; some people have reported not feeling all that good after consuming their dishes.

I’d recommend the same for what Nick put on the table.

As for the other Steve, well, he did bring a darned good dish the first time – but that seemed to be it.

Yuck! That stuff covered with mold (and is it actually oozing onto the table?) was obviously brought by Mike. Stay far, far away…

WHO INVITED AL?!? That plate of poop does NOT belong here!

Reply to  Writing Observer
July 11, 2019 11:29 pm


Who invited you?

You have not said anything intelligent – just the usual meaningless drivel.

Phil R
July 11, 2019 12:53 pm


Full disclosure, I haven’t read the whole thing (I did get through the abstract and first three pages, so far), but one thing that strikes me is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of what “science” is. his use of the term seems (to me, at least) to be fairly vague and fluid.

Then there’s the problem of reification (e.g., If the science is insufficiently certain to dictate…) Science is neither certain nor does it dictate (however, many people are so certain that they try to dictate 🙂 ).

Maybe I’m too simple, but the article seems a little confusing to me, and I’m not too sure that the first example about the 2000 election has much, if anything, to do with science.

Phil R
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 5:58 pm

Thanks for the response. What I like is you definitely get people thinking, and your responses are thoughtful and considerate. Late for me here, but i will read your essay that you linked.

Sven Olof Andersson
July 11, 2019 2:16 pm

Slightly off-topic, but being a native Swedish speaker, I’m impressed that so many here on WUWT can spell ”smörgåsbord” correctly. A rare occurrence! 🙂

Sven Olof Andersson
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 10:02 pm

Cheating is allowed, not just in climate science. 🙂 It may, however, disappoint you to know that the picture actually depicts the Christmas variety of the Swedish Smörgåsbord, a ”Julbord”!

Enough of that, thanks for an interesting essay. It certainly gave me and others food for thought.

Cheers Sven

July 11, 2019 4:54 pm

Thank you Kip – good thoughts.

Re Judith, she came late to the table, used to be a warmist, etc., which lessens her credibility in my opinion. I still like her but she should have got a lot smarter, a lot sooner, especially given her relevant scientific background.

I have an engineering and earth sciences background, and I knew that global warming alarmism was “utter cr@p” the first time I heard it, circa 1985.

I’ve been studying the subject intensely since then and have learned a great deal, but my above conclusion remains the same – I have seen no credible evidence to change my position, and ample evidence to support it.

July 11, 2019 5:43 pm

Reading the comments, I am reminded of a science fiction show where a person took the same set of facts and created many different conclusions, some contradictory to others but all perfectly logical and reasonable. It’s interesting that part of the cause was too much information. I am reminded of this show often. Because people cannot take in all the data and make sense of it, they have to choose. People tend to choose in line with their own values and beliefs.

It’s difficult for people to accept that facts actually can be used to create different narratives when there are hundreds of variables involved. We think of science as hard and cold—like the laws of gravity. Now, however, much of science is based on statistics and extremely complex systems and ideas. We are trying to analyse more data than our human brains can deal with so we pick from the smörgåsbord . It makes complete sense to me, Kip.

paul rossiter
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 11, 2019 8:24 pm

Kip, Sheri,

The problem is that what is being produced is psuedo-science (see thread above starting July 10) and not rigorous science. That is why there can be multiple interpretations. Rigorous science based upon a falsifiable hypothesis is not open to such multiple interpretations. But, (as I said above) that would threaten research funding and the prosecution of political agendas, so I won’t be holding my breath.

paul rossiter
Reply to  Kip Hansen
July 12, 2019 8:13 pm

Kip, we go ring around the rosy again.

Can you name one, just one, hypothesis of the IPCC “science” that is falsifiable?

As Bertrand Russell said, you can’t disprove the statement that there is a giant tea pot in orbit around the sun, but you can disprove the statement that there is isn’t one. The first statement is a verifiable hypothesis that can’t be proved or disproved (maybe you are looking in the wrong place or your measuring equipment is not sensitive enough) and so is just pseudo-science. The second statement is a falsifiable hypothesis that is unambiguously capable of being disproved by a single positive observation.

Does the role of CO2 in climate sound a bit like the tea pot?

All of the “science data” of the IPCC just adds to the pseudo-science noise that, as you correctly say, is open to multiple interpretations. The is the fundamental characteristic of pseudo science and is what had lead directly to the climate controversy morass. It is however the ideal vehicle for those seeking profit, research funding and political influence. Any wonder it is defended so rigorously!

paul rossiter
July 11, 2019 11:05 pm

Sorry for the vague reference, the relevant post started at 9.12 p.m. on July 10.

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