Climategate And Post-Normal Science

Guest Post by Michael Kile,
It was an important moment in the Climategate saga. Yet few remember Jerome Ravetz’s damning critique of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) posted on
WUWT in early 2010.

Ravetz is an eminent American philosopher of science and an Associate Fellow at Oxford University’s James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation. (Personal web page here; Oxford pages here and here.) For much of his career he has been challenging claims of scientific objectivity and developing a concept of “post-normal science” (PNS).

We can understand the root cause of Climategate as a case of scientists constrained to attempt to do normal science in a post-normal situation. But climate change had never been a really ‘normal’ science, because the policy implications were always present and strong, even overwhelming.  Indeed, if we look at the definition of ‘post-normal science’, we see how well it fits:  facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent.  In needing to treat Planet Earth like a textbook exercise, the climate scientists were forced to break the rules of scientific etiquette and ethics, and to play scientific power-politics in a way that inevitably became corrupt.  The combination of non-critical ‘normal science’ with anti-critical ‘evangelical science’ was lethal. (J Ravetz, WUWT, 9 February, 2010)

Some environmentalists had been using Ravetz’s PNS concept to drive a looser – more subjective – approach to decision-making under uncertainty, urging greater use of the so-called “precautionary principle”, a “principle” of pseudoscience, not genuine science.

The late Stephen Schneider (1945-2010), then Stanford University professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and editor of the journal Climatic Change, was one of them. He was also an IPCC lead author. Schneider advised other lead authors how to deal with uncertainty in a climate context in the IPCC’s Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.

The management of uncertainties is not just an academic issue but an urgent task for climate change policy formulation and action…Various vested interests may inhibit, delay, or distort public debate with the result that “procrastination is as real a policy option as any other, and indeed one that is traditionally favoured in bureaucracies; and inadequate information is the best excuse for delay (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1990)”. (AR4 WG III section 10.1.5: Robust decision-making)

When The Royal Society published a commemorative volume of essays in 2010, Seeing Further – The Story of Science and The Royal Society, it included one by Schneider: “Confidence, Consensus and the Uncertainty Cops: Tackling Risk Management in Climate Change.” At the time, he was struggling (as the IPCC still is) to deal with what he described as the “significant uncertainties” that “bedevil components of the science”, “plague projections of climate change and its consequences”, and challenge the traditional scientific method of directly testing hypotheses (‘normal’ science). His solution was ambitious: to change ‘the culture of science’ by developing a language that would convey the gravity of the situation “properly” to policy makers.

As climate uncertainty was (and is) so intractable — and incomprehensible to the public — Schneider introduced the rhetoric of risk management – “framing a judgement about acceptable and unacceptable risks” – and pseudo-probability. While he claimed he was “uncomfortable” with this “value judgement” approach – he was even “more uncomfortable ignoring the problems altogether because they don’t fit neatly into our paradigm of ‘objective’ falsifiable research based on already known empirical data.”

Schneider proposed a new subjective paradigm of “surprises’ in global climate scenarios, one with “perhaps extreme outcomes or tipping points which lead to unusually rapid changes of state”; while admitting that, “by definition, very little in climate science is more uncertain than the possibility of ‘surprises’.”

This was a pivotal moment. Schneider had smuggled a contrived “language for risk” into the IPCC; one derived from his personal (and the IPCC’s) “value frame” and that was adopted in subsequent reports. They now had, he wrote triumphantly, “licence to pursue risk assessment of uncertain probability but high consequence possibilities in more depth; but how should we go about it?” How, indeed?

Schneider’s 2010 Royal Society essay concluded: “Despite the large uncertainties in many parts of the climate science and policy assessments to date, uncertainty is no longer a responsible justification for delay.” Yet how can one seriously argue the more uncertain a phenomenon, the greater is the risk to humankind?

Needless to say, it took Schneider a long time to “negotiate” agreement with climate scientists on precise “numbers and words” in the Third Assessment Report cycle. “There were some people who still felt they could not apply a quantitative scale to issues that were too speculative or ‘too subjective’ for real scientists to indulge in ‘speculating on probabilities not directly measured’. One critic said: ‘Assigning confidence by group discussion, even if informed by the available evidence, was like doing seat-of-the-pants statistics over a good beer.’”

Over the next few years – and many beers later – “confidence” in the key IPCC findings came to be expressed in a “calibrated language” all its own, one that can lull a credulous reader into believing a show-of-hands consensus- quantified with bogus precision – is superior to mere opinion. From its latest SR:

Each finding [in this Special Report] is grounded in an evaluation of underlying evidence and agreement. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: very low, low, medium, high and very high, and typeset in italics, e.g., medium confidence. The following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: virtually certain 99–100% probability, very likely 90–100%, likely 66–100%, about as likely as not 33–66%, unlikely 0–33%, very unlikely 0–10%, exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Assessed likelihood is typeset in italics, e.g., very likely. This is consistent with AR5 and the other AR6 Special Reports.

Additional terms (extremely likely 95–100%, more likely than not >50–100%, more unlikely than likely 0–<50%, extremely unlikely 0–5%) are used when appropriate. This Report also uses the term ‘likely range’ or ‘very likely range’ to indicate that the assessed likelihood of an outcome lies within the 17-83% or 5-95% probability range. (IPCC SR Ocean and Cryosphere, 24 September, 2019, page 4)

Ravetz was quick to post a response to set the record straight.

I would like to defend myself against a charge that has been made by various critics. This is, that I personally and intentionally laid the foundations for the corrupted science of the CRU, by providing the justification for Steve Schneider’s perversion of scientific integrity. First, there is no record of the guilty scientists ever mentioning, or even being aware, of PNS during the crucial earlier years. Also, shoddy and corrupted science in other fields did not wait for me to come along to justify it. My influence is traced back to a single footnote by Steven Schneider, citing an essay by me in a large, expensive book, Sustainable Development of the Biosphere (ed. W.C. Clarke and R.E. Munn), (Cambridge, University Press, 1986). PNS first came into the climate picture with the quite recent essay by Mike Hulme in 2007. That was a stage in his own evolution from modeller to critic, and came long after the worst excesses at CRU had been committed. I should say that I do not dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand, since some of them are correct! But this one really does seem far-fetched. (J Ravetz, WUWT, 12 April 2010, Debate and post-normal science

According to Ravetz, the relationship between scientists and policy-makers has changed; the technocrat ideal of the nineteenth century is dead. We have entered what he calls a “post-normal” age, where science too has become “post-normal”. It no longer speaks “value-free” truth based on impartiality and objectivity. So-called “consensus” advice cannot be considered the objective truth. How do we prevent the self-interested exploitation of uncertainty in such an age?

For Schneider, and presumably the IPCC, it seems to have been by adding “quantitative modifiers”, or phrasing all conclusions in a way to “avoid nearly indifferent statements based on speculative knowledge.”

“We have to offer up scary scenarios,” he said, “make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have…Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” For Ravetz, this was PNS in action.

In February, 2010, Ravetz posted “Climategate: Plausibility and the blogosphere in the post-normal age” on WUWT. He later released other essays, most of which were ignored by alarmists and the MSM.

What I say may be shocking to some [readers]. I argue that the ‘global warming’ campaign can be best understood as yet another of the Wars that have characterised politics in recent years….Now the evil empire of choice is Carbon, intended to be vanquished by an infinitely corruptible system of bureaucratically defined payments for non-existent transactions. (J Ravetz, Oxford Magazine, 2010)

Ravetz kindly agreed to elaborate further on Climategate and its possible implications for science. Several extracts from his 9 February 2010 WUWT critique are followed below by his answers to my questions.

How could the illusions persist for so long until their sudden collapse? The scientists were all reputable, they published in leading peer-reviewed journals, and their case was itself highly plausible and worthy in a general way.  Individual criticisms were, for the public and perhaps even for the broader scientific community, kept isolated and hence muffled and lacking in systematic significance.  And who could have imagined that at its core so much of the science was unsound?  The plausibility of the whole exercise was, as it were, bootstrapped.  I myself was alerted to weaknesses in the case by some caveats in Sir David King’s book The Hot Topic; and I had heard of the hockey-stick affair.  But even I was carried along by the bootstrapped plausibility, until the [Climategate] scandal broke. (J Ravetz, WUWT, 9 February, 2010)

MK: Is it accurate to say you were sympathetic to the alarmist case on climate change until Climategate?

JR: Yes, I saw climate change as another sort of evidence of humanity’s disruption of the ecosphere; my reaction was, “why not this too?”  I was aware that the more lurid predictions of the alarmists of the 1960s (population bomb, resource depletion, etc.) had not been realised; but there is quite enough of alarming developments otherwise.

MK: Could you describe in more detail why you now consider so much of climate science “unsound”?

JR: In my latest essay, Climategate: the unravelling and its consequences, I distinguish between Climate Science, which is fully aware of complexity and uncertainty, and the ‘CAGW’ (Carbon-based anthropogenic global warming) science of the small group that fed directly into the IPCC.  That is becoming increasingly exposed as unsound, thanks to the critics on the blogosphere.  The ‘Nature trick’ is the most egregious case, but there are others.  Some now assert that the temperature records have been systematically distorted in order to produce an apparent rise – the simple method was to progressively delete the stations from cooler places.  And now Arctic ice is growing in extent; and it seems that its decrease was more due to patterns of winds than to warming air.

The deeper problem for CAGW science is to show that there has been a sudden significant unprecedented rise in temperatures, over a long enough period to count as ‘climate change’ and not just cyclical variability.  Removing the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age was essential for that programme.  The very varied, uncertain and scattered field data did not really add up.  And the models were exposed in 2000 as giving any prediction you liked, depending on the assumptions and conventions.   The propaganda has always displayed anything warmer as evidence for climate change, and anything cooler as a temporary shift in the weather.  After a while that loses plausibility.

To have a political effect, the extended peers of science have traditionally needed to operate largely by means of activist pressure-groups using the media to create public alarm. In this case, since the global warmers had captured the moral high ground, criticism has remained scattered and ineffective, except on the blogosphere.  The position of Green activists is especially difficult, even tragic; they have been extended peers who were co-opted into the ruling paradigm, which in retrospect can be seen as a decoy or diversion from the real, complex issues of sustainability, as shown by Mike Hulme.  Now they must do some very serious re-thinking about their position and their role.” (J Ravetz, WUWT, February, 2010)

MK: Has there been any reaction from Green activists to your assessment of their position on climate change post-Climategate as “especially difficult, even tragic”?

JR: None!  But I have not been in touch with Green activists for some time.  You may have seen that there was a posting on the Greenpeace website (since taken down) that called for direct action against the enemies of climate change.  I have personal memories of people who had committed themselves to a cause, political or religious, and then found it extremely difficult or quite impossible to admit that they had been badly mistaken.  So – one might say – just as the very varied and complex cause of militant Socialism was appropriated by Stalin, so has the official Green movement been appropriated by Al Gore.  And those who identified with the good cause are then trapped.

MK: Were you surprised by the conclusions of the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on Climategate released on 31 March 2010?

JR: Not in the slightest!  What were they supposed to do?  The ruling orthodoxy (as expressed by Lord Robert May) is still CAGW; so how could an official body cast doubt on it?  But many will remember how the talking heads of science and medicine were assuring the public that British beef is safe, even for years after the cat ‘Mad Max’ had come down with Mad Cow disease.  Their problem is that the longer they hold onto the party line, the more they lose credibility with the public.

The examples of shoddy science exposed by the Climategate convey a troubling impression.  From the record, it appears that in this case, criticism and a sense of probity needed to be injected into the system by the extended peer community from the (mainly) external blogosphere.

The total assurance of the mainstream scientists in their own correctness and in the intellectual and moral defects of their critics, is now in retrospect perceived as arrogance.  For their spokespersons to continue to make light of the damage to the scientific case, and to ignore the ethical dimension of Climategate, is to risk public outrage at a perceived unreformed arrogance. (J Ravetz, WUWT, 9 February, 2010)

MK: Do you expect the University of East Anglia’s new Scientific Assessment Panel to conclude, as you have done, that Climategate has exposed troubling examples of “shoddy science”?

JR: I would be astonished.  You may know the dictum of the historian Lord Acton:  power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  My version of that is ‘responsibility corrupts, and responsibility without power corrupts absolutely’.  Those who are required to reassure the public that quite obvious bad things never happen, are trapped most tragically.

To the extent that the improved management of uncertainty and ignorance can remedy the situation, some useful tools are at hand.  In the Netherlands, scholars and scientists have developed Knowledge Quality Assessment methodologies for characterising uncertainty in ways that convey the richness of the phenomenon while still performing well as robust tools of analysis and communication.  Elsewhere, scholars are exploring methods for managing disagreement among scientists, so that such post-normal issues do not need to become so disastrously polarised.

MK: To what extent do you believe your suggested tools for improving management of uncertainty and ignorance could remedy the situation now confronting climate science?

JR: The tools are there, for such a time when the political will is there.  We are now seeing a stirring of critical thinking about the ‘science’ of finance (and more generally economics), and important people are reminding their colleagues that uncertainty and ignorance must be respected.  It is possible (I can say no more) that if the present crisis over Climategate matures to the point of confrontation, then in the aftermath there could be a more sophisticate, respectful and might I say humble approach by leading scientists to the complex problems of our age.

And what about the issue itself?  Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming?  If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science.  The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection.  What sort of chaos would then result?  The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary. (J Ravetz, WUWT, 9 February, 2010)

Michael Kile

14 April 2010


Funtowicz, S O, & Ravetz, J R, 1990, Uncertainty and Quality in Science for Policy. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

Moss, R.H. and Schneider, S.H., 2000: Uncertainties in the IPCC TAR: Recommendations to lead authors for more consistent assessment and reporting. In: Guidance Papers on the Cross Cutting Issues of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC [eds. R. Pachauri, T. Taniguchi and K.Tanaka], World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, pp 33-51

Ravetz, J R, 2010a, Climategate: The unravelling and its consequences. Oxford Magazine, Eighth Week, Hilary Term.

Ravetz, J R, 2010b, Climategate: Plausibility and the blogosphere in the post-normal age. WUWT, 9 February 2010, Climategate plausibility and the blogosphere in the post-normal age

Ravetz, J R, 2010c, Willis, epidemics, rough-tumble debate and post-normal science. WUWT, 12 April 2010, Debate and post-normal science

Ravetz, J R, 1986,” Usable Knowledge, Usable Ignorance: Incomplete Science with Policy Implications. In Clark and Munn, (eds.), Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, New York, Cambridge University Press, pp 415-432.

United Nations, 2007, Climate Change 2007. Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),

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November 16, 2019 10:06 am

One critic said: ‘Assigning confidence by group discussion, even if informed by the available evidence, was like doing seat-of-the-pants statistics over a good beer.’

If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me.

After all, as students of the Feynman inquiry will remember fondly, that’s the technology that got our Challenger astronauts into space the upper atmosphere the sky.

Reply to  Brad Keyes
November 16, 2019 1:01 pm

The problem is the illusion of knowledge.

Feynman’s own investigation reveals a disconnect between NASA’s engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA’s high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts. link

That seems to be the ruling principle of climate science. It may well be that Dr. Michael Mann believes his crap. I’m sure that was also the problem with Dr. James Hansen when he screwed up his feedback analysis.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. link

There aren’t enough people like Feynman who can call BS on complex technical matters.

It’s beyond frustrating to hear people parrot words, thinking they understand the situation, when they clearly have no more clue than a novice in a nunnery. Those people abound in management, and sadly, also among PhDs. Don’t even get me started on MBAs.

Reply to  commieBob
November 16, 2019 1:17 pm

“First, NASA management assigned a probability of failure to each individual bolt, sometimes claiming a probability of 1 in 10^8, i.e. one in one hundred million. Feynman pointed out that it is impossible to calculate such a remote possibility with any scientific rigor.”

Yet similar made up safety statistics are being promoted by proponent of preventive drugs, many of which pretend to be climate skeptics.

paul courtney
Reply to  niceguy
November 16, 2019 4:52 pm

niceguy: Obviously, Prof. Feynman did not grasp the “climate math” then in development at NASA. Likely J. Hansen contributed, applying “forcings” and “feedbacks” to bolts. See, if one bolt has a 1 in 10 chance of failure, and you make 10^8 bolts, then the forcing feedbacks yield 1 in 10^8. Simples.

My own math doesn’t go there, but I’m no climate scientist.

Reply to  commieBob
November 16, 2019 1:30 pm

If Feynman, Crichton, and Carlin were all with us today, the climate change doomsters would lose the support of scientists, the general public, and the youth.

I miss them all.

Reply to  jtom
November 17, 2019 5:16 am


Do you happen to have a reference to Dr. Carlin’s passing?

Reply to  kakatoa
November 17, 2019 7:14 am

Sorry, my comment was too vague. George Carlin, commedian, ‘philosopher’. Died June 22, 2008.
His humor was very influential on the youth. He was irreverent of church AND state. Used truth to puncture the inflated egos of the self-righteous. If you are not familiar with him, go to Youtube and search ‘George, Carlin, plastic, earth’. and you will find a prime example.

My comment was meant to show that Feynman’s take on CC would impact scientists; Crichton’s, the general public; and Carlin’s, the youth.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  jtom
November 18, 2019 1:13 am

George Carlin could be ‘anti authority’ to the extent of appearing to be a lifelong rebellious teenager, so it’s hard to know how seriously to take the advice of this particular comedian, (but seriously folks..). However, I am something of a fan of his, as he could be quite reasoned and perceptive in his way, and without being partisan, the best kind of political comedy really. One comment that sticks with me, that seems to explain a lot, had to do with the news media:

“just a bulletin board for the country’s elite ownership class”.

Reply to  commieBob
November 17, 2019 4:58 am

It may well be that Dr. Michael Mann believes his crap. I’m sure that was also the problem with Dr. James Hansen when he screwed up his feedback analysis.

I fear you are too kind. Mann is far too arrogant to ever admit he was wrong and far too much in need of the power and money continuing to bully every one around him to back off.

Hansen did not “scew up” , his papers clearly state you can get whatever climate sensitivity you wish depending up on how you chose your parameters. He has been more activist than scientist from the beginning at the senate hearing with Tim Wirth. The most favourable view I can see is nobel cause corruption. But keeping up that level of self-delusion for half a century strains the most charitable interpretation.

Reply to  Brad Keyes
November 16, 2019 1:06 pm

That’s also probably how the MCAS was deemed adequate for the B737 MAX and how the allegedly fire proof battery containment was considered safe enough for the B787, and how the authorities gave a pass to Boeing on these different occasions.

Reply to  niceguy
November 17, 2019 2:36 am

Probably off-topic but… BOEING taught the stall recovery was to be done by adding thrust and powering out (accelerating). The rest of aviation taught break the stall aerodynamically. Then came a complete change of thinking (over a chat and a couple of beers) – adopt a revolutionary new concept: break the stall aerodynamically and THEN add power. Looking back, this coincided with the mishmash that is the MAX – if thrust was added first then the stall would be exacerbated; therefore, the entire fleet had to be standardised (or MCASd)

November 16, 2019 10:31 am

Speaking of bogus levels of confidence, how can the presumed sensitivity metric of 0.8C +/- 0.4C per W/m^2, with its +/- 50% uncertainty be considered settled? Especially since the low end requires surface emissions to increase by more than the maximum 2 W/m^2 of surface photon emissions per W/m^2 of forcing as limited by conservation laws.

Another example of the self serving re-definitions of language throughout IPCC reports is calling less than a 1% change in the energy budget ‘substantial’ as declared in the first sentence of the working version of Chapter 7 in AR6. Moreover; this chapter, which is the only chapter that establishes any kind of scientific justification, refers to how policy goals influence how the science is interpreted in many, many places.

November 16, 2019 10:36 am

This post was a horrific eye-opener. I’d naively assumed that Schneider’s crimes against science began and ended with the ethical green light he gave to Post-Honest Science.

They should build a golden reliquary to house the pulmonary embolism that finally halted Schneider’s career of vandalism against the machinery of science, which is the beating heart of modern civilization. Perhaps god does have a sense of humor after all: fighting cancer with cancer.

Ewin Barnett
November 16, 2019 10:44 am

When all the solutions being demanded impose socialism, we are seeing an ideology not a scientific discipline.

November 16, 2019 10:58 am

I understand that urgency is part of the formula necessary to bring PNS into the picture. As the decades roll on, in spite of the alarmist’s screeds, I see no urgency necessary re the Earth’s climate or its denizens. Wasting trillions of dollars on the non-problem of GW/CC should be a crime.

November 16, 2019 11:22 am

I’ll simply re-iterate what I said at the time:

Dr Ravetz seems to have failed to accept responsibility for his mistakes.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Neil Lock
November 16, 2019 11:57 am

I’m with you, Neil. There is no post-normal science. If it’s post-normal, it’s not science.

I add that Stephen Schneider was irrational. He spoke of the huge uncertainties in climate science, and then recommended proceeding as though he knew the truth anyway, and the truth was AGW.

That is not “post-normal science.” That is an outright betrayal of science.

I suspect Schneider’s reference to uncertainty was just obfuscatory blather to cover up his intention to promote his objectively insupportable inference of doom.

The only important difference between Stephen Schneider and Paul Ehrlich is that SS was highly trained in engineering and physics. Unlike Paul Ehrlich, Stephen Schneider was exposed to the strongest form of scientific objectivity before his descent into subjectivist doom-saying. That made his ultimate betrayal of science a much deeper and greater offense. He is a scientific criminal.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 16, 2019 3:30 pm

Albeit, a dead scientific criminal.

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 16, 2019 3:40 pm

I’m glad I’m not alone in my verdict on these Post-Normal vandals, though on a personal note I’d like to assert that a scientific criminal is ipso facto inimicus humani generis and can expect to be treated as such “when we finally get serious about these bastiches and have a sort of Science Nuremberg,” as David Roberts of Grist would say if he had half a clue.

Science without scientific norms is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and it’s no coincidence that its reification—in The Science™ of catastrophic climate change—looks functionally indistinguishable from Pre-Scientific Nonsense.

Reply to  Brad Keyes
November 17, 2019 5:33 am

I took a break from getting ready to plant a few trees yesterday. I found myself watching all the Antigone u-tube clips after having read this post-

Mann’s misuse of the scientific method keep popping into my mind during the play.

Les Segal
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 16, 2019 5:59 pm

Pat Frank. Indeed, SS was a scientific criminal. A traitor to the cause of objectivity. It goes to show that, when ideology bumped up against scientific rigor, his ideology couldn’t be overcome. It illustrates how, in the face of all the uncertainties about the CAGW theory, and all the doom being based on wildly flawed models, the true believers simply keep ramping up the doomsday scenarios.

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 16, 2019 10:22 pm

Pat, there seems to be a non sequitur in your comment.

“I add that Stephen Schneider was irrational. He spoke of the huge uncertainties in climate science, and then recommended proceeding as though he knew the truth anyway, and the truth was AGW.”

That’s not an example of irrationality at all, but of perfectly-rational immorality (combining a knowledge of which side his bread was buttered on with an indifference to norms like honesty).

Pat Frank
Reply to  Brad Keyes
November 16, 2019 11:58 pm

Brad, I clearly lack your deeper insight into the human personality.

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 17, 2019 2:14 pm


I’m not disagreeing with your excellent analysis—just having a bit of fun at the expense of your word choice (“irrationality” implying an honest brain malfunction, at least to my Sprachgefühl).

Pat Frank
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 17, 2019 5:51 pm

I knew that, Brad, and appreciated the joke. 🙂

My comment was just a little irony at your expense. 🙂

Reply to  Pat Frank
November 17, 2019 6:44 pm

I knew you knew that, Pat. I can’t believe you didn’t know I was ironically pretending not to know you knew that!

Pat Frank
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 18, 2019 1:28 am

Sorry Brad, I won’t accept your invitation into an infinite regress.

a right-minded lefty
Reply to  Pat Frank
November 17, 2019 4:15 am

“… If it’s post-normal, it’s not science…”


Commenter Steven Wilde stated in 2010 on the original WUWT post linked at the top of the article:

“…Indeed post normal science is just a another phrase meaning non science and is fatally flawed except for it’s real purposes of social manipulation and social engineering…”

Back on that same comments board Roy used the words “beguiling tosh” to refer to Mr Ravetz’ convaluted contribution.

Along with Willis Eschenbach’s assessment that “…feel-good solutions of the type Ravetz recommends are exactly what we don’t need….”

(especially faced with feel-good climate cults such as Extinction Rebellion and feel good indignation as purveyed by the hysterical and exploited adolescent climate priestesses, Greta Thunberg).

Thank heavens for the sanity and clear thinking that can be found on the comments boards of WUWT.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Neil Lock
November 16, 2019 3:27 pm

It seemed to me at the time that Ravetz was a co-founder of PNS along with Schneider in the climate science pudding. He was into this business of giving legitimacy to the opinions on the science from the “Humanities” and others on Human-Caused Global Warming. He (unwittingly perhaps) basically opened the door for scientific illiterates Lewandowski (psychologist), Oreskes (historian), philosophers, etc. to dive into the fray. They probably have more ‘climate science’ papers published than papers in their own fields.

Yeah, he’s well aware now of having been part of creation of this monster.

John F. Hultquist
November 16, 2019 11:53 am

Thanks Michael and ctm.

Some us were reading WUWT prior to “Climate Gate”, so this is a refresher class.
My first good history class was “History of Mathematics” – – about 1967.
I like “history of . . . ” topics but will now excuse myself from reading
any more about “climategate.” Unless we learn who and how.

High Treason
November 16, 2019 12:10 pm

Wishing everyone a happy climategate 10th anniversary day today. Perhaps we should add the Andy Pitman admission to the celebrations to keep the momentum going.
How to celebrate? Perhaps we each wake someone up about climate fraud and how the current ultra hysteria is end stage propaganda. We have all had to endure liars- lie to support lie to support lie. Then one day the penny drops- you pick an outright lie, an inconsistency or it is all just too phantasmagorical to believe (such as we need to declare effective marshal law via climate emergency because the world will end in 11 years, 1 month and 2 weeks) and the penny drops.

You have been deceived. You kick yourself for not seeing it earlier. When you look at the situation objectively, you see what a load of baloney it was from day one. Alas, you have been scammed.

We must bust this scam before we are deceived in to signing away our freedom via the declaration of a (hyperventilate, hyperventilate, emotional blackmail) climate emergency.

Patrick Healy
Reply to  High Treason
November 16, 2019 1:23 pm

Hang on there Mr High.
That end of times date you quote so happens to be my 88th birthday.
Would you and St Greta deprive me of a well earned juicy fillet steak and a nice bottle of merlot?
Shame on you, could you make it a day or two later please.

November 16, 2019 12:33 pm

The current global phenomenon of ‘climate science’ populist advocacy from Greta Thunberg (age 16) to David Attenborough (age 93) has very little to do with the climate and even less with the science.
The people of sound reason at a loss for a loss of reason.

Mark Broderick
November 16, 2019 12:37 pm

“Heating Up Your Car This Winter Could Get You Fined In Massachusetts”


Ron Long
November 16, 2019 1:11 pm

Wow, here we have, in the various back-and-forth statements, denials, counter-claims, and theories, the awareness of the current state of the Climate Change Debate: The advocates for Anthropogenic climate change/impending destruction of the biosphere think they are in a liars contest, and the scientists skeptical of the political science therein, and noting the preserved geologic record of what is normal variance, think they are fighting the science scam of all time. My personal guideline for scientists conduct involves the question: hey Giardano, what’s that I smell burning?

Reply to  Ron Long
November 16, 2019 2:07 pm

The measures taken to prevent (Giordino) Bruno continuing to speak have resulted in his becoming a symbol for free thought and speech in present-day Rome, where an annual memorial service takes place close to the spot where he was executed. link

The SJWs want to take away our free speech. They disregard the lessons of history because those lessons were passed down to us by the patriarchy.

November 16, 2019 1:51 pm

“the climate scientists were forced to break the rules of scientific etiquette and ethics”

No, they chose to. No one forced them to do anything.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
November 16, 2019 4:01 pm

“The Cause” compelled them.

paul courtney
Reply to  Gunga Din
November 16, 2019 5:44 pm

Jeff Alberts, Waterboy: Hey, if saving the planet is forcing them to choose, then they plead guilty.
If that sounds like a word salad, well, that’s PNS for ya!

November 16, 2019 2:33 pm

We know that it took 240 years (1750 to 1990 up 70 ppm) for co2 levels to reach 350 ppm and from 1990 to now another 60 ppm ( less than 30 years) have been added thanks to China, India and developing countries.
And yet their emissions continue to soar and we’re (OECD) expected to cut back to below 1990 levels?
If this isn’t corr-ption and fra-d then what is? Can’t these silly scientists and pollies+ MSM understand simple first grade sums?
How have we become so stupid?

Tom Abbott
November 16, 2019 2:40 pm

From the article: “How do we prevent the self-interested exploitation of uncertainty in such an age?”

That’s exactly what alarmist climate science is today: Exploitation of uncertainty.

November 16, 2019 3:00 pm

Sorry, not buying it. Ravetz says “post-normal science” comes into play when we have:

facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent

Don’t know about the good doctor, but that seems like everyday life to me. Almost every public discussion on any issue has all of those. Facts are almost always uncertain … and if the decisions aren’t urgent, you can bet that there will be plenty of alarmists telling us we have to decide NOW!

Drives me nuts. Why do we have to decide NOW on a threat that may or may not materialize by the year 2050?

And for my money, when we have those uncertain facts and the like, that’s exactly when we need plain old garden-variety science the most, and it’s when feel-good solutions of the type Ravetz recommends are exactly what we don’t need.

So no, in science, particularly climate science, we do NOT need Dr. Ravetz’s Mystery Tour in the slightest …


Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 16, 2019 4:14 pm

Willis you’ll be happy to know that the CSIRO agrees with you that Australia + the entire SH is a NET co2+ methane sink.
Yet the Greens and most MSM scold us that we’ve caused the latest bushfires, cyclones, droughts, SLR, melting ice etc, etc.
All the above and yet we emit just 1.1% of emissions and we are a net sink as well. But mate I wish you would investigate the Connolly’s data and tell us what you make of it. See you tube “balloons in the air”.
Read down on this link for CSIRO confirmation.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Neville
November 16, 2019 7:53 pm

Interesting link there, I have not seen that before. So the CSIRO says the WHOLE southern hemisphere is a net CO2 sink!

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 17, 2019 9:04 am

I thought North America was also a net sink. So, Europe and Asia are the culprits!

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 17, 2019 11:50 am

Given the overall trend of CO2 in the atmosphere, it seems that the whole SH must be a net sink and the NH must be a net source …


Patrick MJD
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 17, 2019 4:01 pm

That is pretty much what the CSIRO are saying. Unfortunately, this fact is forgotten in the Australian media. Australian emissions are higher than anyone else and causes forest fires.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 16, 2019 10:10 pm

facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent

Agree with Willis, this is absurd. Ravetz comes across almost as the hero in this article. Truth is he got a rough ride in this forum with his PNS advocacy. It is a thought process that has no place in the real world.

There could be an asteroid strike at any minute. It has happened before with catastrophic consequences and we cannot predict the next one. Facts uncertain, stakes high. It is urgent that we put 100% of our resources into coming up with a defense against asteroids.

There could be a new plague at any minute. It has happened before with catastrophic consequences and we cannot predict the next one. It is urgent we put 100% of our resources into a defense against unknown plagues. Forget the asteroids.

See the problem here?

We could have nuclear war at any moment, with catastrophic consequences. Facts uncertain, stakes high. Decisions urgent… Several times in history, we have come close to nuclear war. In one instance, new American radar systems detected tips of mountains on the moon and they looked like missals from Russia. Facts uncertain, stakes high… the commanding officer chose to do nothing as he had reason not to trust the new system. Ravetz would have launched a retaliatory strike. Similarly the Russians had a false alarm, their system reporting America missals coming over the pole. The Russian commander didn’t trust the system and held his fire and turned out to be correct. Ravetz would have launched.

I can come up with dozens of scenarios that fit Ravetz absurd PNS. We cannot drop everything to service all of them. Or even any of them. In the case of climate change, taking the actions proposed by the alarmists would doom billions to certain death under the lash of an absolute dictatorship. Ravetz is full of it and distancing himself from climategate is bsh*t. There’s no difference between his philosophy and that of Schneider’s and the Team.

Reply to  davidmhoffer
November 16, 2019 11:29 pm

Yes, you are quite right here. In general the precautionary principle is a variant of Pascal’s Wager.

If I believe in the Catholic religion and its false all that happens is some inconvenience in attending church, and I live a moral life which I should do anyway. If I disbelieve and its true then I go to Hell for eternity.

The risk reward ration obviously favors belief, no matter how improbable the truth of the religion is. Because payoff = costs x probability, and the costs being so huge, the payoff from getting it wrong and disbelieving will always far outweigh those of believing when its false.

The difficulty, as your examples show, is that the argument applies to every religion that promises eternal damnation as the price of disbelief. They cannot all be true. So we have to choose, and once this is admitted, it turns out we still have to do the same old cost benefit analysis as before the argument occurred to us.

Exactly the same thing happens with climate. After the same argument has been made for asteroids, plagues and even more fanciful dangers with even greater payoff values, you then find yourself compelled to choose which ones to avert. Rescources not being unlimited you cannot avert all of them.

As soon as choice over limited resources is admitted into the decision making process, you are back exactly where you started, with the need to assess probabilities and costs and prioritize the use of limited resources, and the only way to do this is the usual way.

The variants of Pascal’s Wager are always used by people obsessed with some particular policy measure which cannot be justified by rational assessment. You can tell that the policy recommendation has deteriorated into a form of social madness when line of argument is trotted out to justify it.

It is an effort to get people to agree to doing what I want when I have no valid argument for why its a good idea, except that I really, really want to do it.

Consider the argument: there is a very small chance that erecting enough wind turbines to make the planet carbon neutral will disturb the climate by extracting power from the winds, and this has a very small chance of disrupting the monsoon and causing huge famine in India.

On the precautionary principle we should refrain. The chances may be low, but the risks are to millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of lives. The payoffs are obviously against wind turbines….

a right-minded lefty
Reply to  michel
November 17, 2019 2:44 am

“…The variants of Pascal’s Wager are always used by people obsessed with some particular policy measure which cannot be justified by rational assessment…”

Great demonstration, thanks.

Gunga Din
Reply to  davidmhoffer
November 17, 2019 8:14 am

facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent

Mr Layman here.
IF the facts uncertain, values in dispute, THEN how can anyone know that the stakes high, and decisions urgent?
They can’t. They don’t.

Reply to  Gunga Din
November 17, 2019 11:54 am

Oh, right, Gunga, I’d forgotten about that argument, it came up before on WUWT. Makes sense to me.


Reply to  davidmhoffer
November 17, 2019 2:25 pm

“There could be an asteroid strike at any minute.”

I know. And try as I might, I can’t rule out the possibility that it will wipe out the suburb i live in. That’s why my family and I will be spending the night in a motel ($120 for two rooms) in the next postcode over. A simple Craven’s Wager demonstrates why this is the only rational course of action.

Consider the 4 possibilities.

We move, and there’s no asteroid -> lose $120
We move, and there’s an asteroid -> lose house, $120
We don’t move, and there’s no asteroid-> lose nothing
We don’t move, and there’s an asteroid -> lose house, lives.

Bottom line, says science: if you sleep at home tonight, you’re playing roulette with your family’s lives.

a right-minded lefty
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 17, 2019 3:47 am

Hat’s off to you for calling a spade a spade already back in 2010.

Solomon Green
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 19, 2019 6:22 am

“Facts are almost always uncertain…”

Facts are always certain. Uncertainty is in the minds of those who cannot recognise facts..

November 16, 2019 3:29 pm

There is a difference between risk analysis and hazard analysis and what schneider described as risk analysis is really hazard analysis i.e. the “could” and the precautionary principle.

steve case
November 16, 2019 5:42 pm

“Schneider proposed a new subjective paradigm of “surprises’ in global climate scenarios, one with “perhaps extreme outcomes or tipping points “

If there is a tipping point, it is this:

Climate Change has reached “Too Big To Fail” status.

a right-minded lefty
Reply to  steve case
November 17, 2019 3:05 am

Yes, indeed… Quite a formidable tipping point it is…

I do wonder what would happen should the world suddenly be exposed by the mass media (the only thing most people believe) to the truth about climate change and the colossal hoax humanity’s been sucked into…? I bet no one would even believe it.

The ideology is so deeply entrenched now that this would be akin to … martians landing or Zambia winning the world cup… or the revelation that we are in fact shape-shifting lizards… or…or something to that effect…

Please tell me I’m wrong. Maybe, on the contrary, we’d discover a world full of closet skeptics??

Clyde Spencer
November 16, 2019 6:12 pm

I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned Chauncey Starr, who just passed away in 2007. He was a pioneer in risk assessment. Basically, he postulated that people are willing to take risks in proportion to their perceived benefits. He provided a semi-log graph showing how people are willing to spend money to support activities such as skiing or driving a car. The greater the perceived benefits, the more people are willing to take risks. That is, accidents occur at high rates in activities such as driving a car, but people are willing to tolerate the risk because of the benefits. I re-plotted his graph on a log-log grid and the relationship is essentially a straight line.

With respect to climate change, people could be expected to embrace it if they saw benefits. If they are convinced that climate change has no benefits and only downside penalties — as alarmists and the Media tell us daily — then it is understandable that people will be scared. It would seem that at least the alarmists have read Starr’s works. It would explain the constant absurd claims with all the qualifying words such as “may, could, might, possibly, etc.”

November 16, 2019 7:50 pm

Ouch! From December 10, 2009.
Rex Murphy had some scathing comments. 3:50 mins

Rex Murphy POV: Climate Change – Science or Politics?

Mike MacDonald
Reply to  Cam_S
November 17, 2019 9:14 am

in the US, this link may be needed:

November 16, 2019 8:08 pm

The CAGW hoax is just one manifestation of Leftist ideology where empirical evidence, logic, reason, morals and ethics are replaced by empirical and ethical relativism…

Truth and empirical evidence have been replaced by an Orwellian “my truth”, which means “The Truth” is whatever Leftist propaganda says it is..

History shows humans eventually wake up to reality and realize: 2 +2 does, in fact, equal 4, Leftist regimes fall, walls are torn down, Leftist economies implode, individual rights matter, strong families are essential to functioning societies, and logic, reason and virtue prevail.

Let’s hope this awakening occurs sooner than later as we’ve seen what happens when Leftist moral and ethical relativism runs amok…

November 16, 2019 8:11 pm

Post-normal science is a philosophy and practice outside the near-domain where observation, replication, and deduction are processed. Poster-normal science involves a conflation of logical domains, liberal license to assumptions/assertions, inference or created knowledge, sociopolitical constructs, injections of brown matter (“fudging”), and appeals to empathy.

November 16, 2019 10:27 pm

Consensus position

It is extremely likely [95 percent confidence] more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

And when I point out with quantitative analysis that only a third of a degree of man-made warming is consistent with the data, I’m a Big Oil shill.

Reply to  Robert B
November 17, 2019 12:19 am

Yes, when there is no rational counter argument the usual tactic is to take it to personal attacks.

The reply is: if I am a big oil shill, so what? The question is whether my argument is valid. The thing that sunk Big Tobacco in the end was the medical evidence. The arguments, whoever made them and why, only pointed one way. Make people assess the arguments on their merits.

The question of dietary guidelines on fat are an interesting and different example.

In a period of uncertainty, we proceeded as if the science was settled, and moved everyone away from saturated to polyunsaturated fats. To the delight of the corn and soy lobbies. This was accompanied by the usual inconsistent cries:

— however uncertain, the risks are so great we cannot wait to decide

— the science is settled, its certain, saturated fats are the villains.

We then found that raising polyunsaturated fats led to higher death rates, so we started demonizing all fats. Again, this was certain on the one hand, and no matter how uncertain, it was too risky to wait on the other.

This led to rising intakes of carbohydrates and particularly sugar, to the continuing delight of the corn and soy lobbies, and to a huge rise in diabetes and obesity, and much hand wringing, and a continuing failure to learn the lessons of the past. Which are:

If the theory is not certain, don’t pretend it is.

If the theory is not certain, don’t act as if it is.

Because doing either, and particularly doing both, will magnify and not reduce the likelihood of very bad outcomes. Like diabetes and obesity. Which no-one had considered when trying to invoke what was essentiall the precautionary principle to jusfify policies which did not have enough normal evidence and justification.

There is no, zero, empirical evidence for the view that acting in this way on the precautionary principle will in fact lead to better decision making as measured by outcomes than doing conventional cost-benefit and risk analysis.

November 17, 2019 12:02 am

We should also recognize that the concept of Post Normal Science is more than problematic, its confused, incoherent and useless for the purposes being made of it.

It is true that there have been, probably always will be, times when the state of some theory in a particular science does not fit with observation, but when a contrary credible theory has not emerged. This typically happens when the explanatory power and usefulness of the original theory is still strong.

PNS did notice this, and it was an interesting factual and historical observation about the development of science. It occurs in all periods of scientific discovery, and in all sciences, and it is unrelated to policy issues. It happens whether or not the topics and the theories which are becoming problematic have policy implications.

The fallacy in the use of this observation is then to go on to argue that in these cases we must do something different in the policy decision making process than we would do in cases where there is no scientific revolution under way. In the case of climate this has meant in practice that we should act as if some problematic theory is true, when we do not have enough evidence for it to consider it proven. PNS advocates have also suggested that in these cases we should accept non-scientific arguments and theories into the decision making process.

You find this used in climate with the ‘precautionary principle’ argument: the costs if CAGW is true and not remedied are so high that even if the chances of it being true are very small, the balance still favors the world going carbon neutral. And we need to take the views of ‘stakeholders’ outside the scientific community into account when assessing the validity of the %CAGW theory, and of what to do.

What has happened will be familiar to students of the climate wars. There is a proposition which is true but does not yeild the desired conclusions. In this case it is that there are intermezzos in the development of scientific theories.

Compare this to the uncontroversial observation that almost all scientists believe human activity has effects of some sort on climate. This is then elided into the false assertion that 97% of all scientists believe that human emissions are leading to catastrophe.

In the PNS argument, the valid view that there are intermezzos is elided into the view that rational debate on traditional cost-benefit and risk analysis lines should be stopped, and replaced with an ill defined something else, in periods of scientific uncertainty.

Notice that in climate, this argument is used in conjunction with another, and inconsistent, argument: that the science in climate and regarding CAGW is settled and indubitable, established beyond any doubt.

PNS is part of the time true and quite interesting as an account of the historical evolution of scientific theories, and the rest of the time false and dangerously irrational in the conclusions for policy formation that people attempt to draw from that.

The correct conclusion is that if we are in a period of lack of certainty about the scientific theory, we have to take account of this fact in addressing policy issues that depend on scientific theories. There is no way around this. This is very uncomfortable for the climate activists, which is why they deny there is any uncertainty. But it turns out that what is more or less well established and fairly certain will not justify the draconian measures they desperately want, and so they then have to fall back on various expedients, extended PNS and variants of Pascal’s Wager, all forms of special pleading.

The fallacy is always the same. If the argument is extended to other policy areas we always find ourselves with more policies justified than we can manage to implement with limited resources, and we have to forget all the special pleadings, which are useless when it comes to prioritization, and use the conventional methods fo choosing what to do.

When the argument for a policy choice involves the invocation of the philosophy of science, and the argument stops being about the evidence and starts being about the philosophy of science, you know you are in trouble, and that the real problem is, no evidence to support what the advocates want to do.

Climate advocacy at the moment: the invention of bad reasons to do what we desperately want to do on instinct.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  michel
November 17, 2019 7:28 am

How pleasant it is to read your words. Comforting, too, that there are others who share ones views so unequivocally and analytically. Please do not stop your comments now, for there is more of value to be said. Geoff S

Reply to  michel
November 17, 2019 9:35 am

michel says:
This is then elided into the false assertion that 97% of all scientists believe that human emissions are leading to catastrophe.

Exactly. There is plenty of solid evidence that more CO2 is beneficial in many ways (including warming).

Hokey Schtick
November 17, 2019 12:28 am

Science isn’t scientific, that’s the problem right there.

November 17, 2019 1:34 am

I really liked the characterisation by one of the commenters:

Post Honest Science

Alice Thermopolis
November 17, 2019 3:12 am

Thank God – and NASA – for TESS.
There surely must be an exo-planet somewhere out there – in the Goldilocks Zone – with a Goldilocks climate, and no Post-honest science or scientists.

a right-minded lefty
November 17, 2019 3:15 am

I guess the old philosophers are correct.

Governors know that when communicating with the governed

The appearence of Truth is more important than the Truth itself… and

The Truth is unacceptable if it doesn’t appear truthful… (Balthasar Graciàn?)

People not only don’t know about Climategate. They truly do not want to know.

Peter Taylor
November 17, 2019 3:56 am

Yet another swipe at the Precuationary Principle by commentators who don’t know its history. It was a policy initiative driven by German fisheries scientists alarmed at the demise of North Sea fisheries in the early 1980s. At the time, the prevailing ‘scientific’ paradigm for dsposal of toxic wastes in industry was what I call ‘dilute and disperse’. That policy depended upon a whole string of monitoring programmes to track the fate of pollutants in the ocean, and then toxicology labs to keep track of the effects of toxics at doses likely to be encountered. The fisheries scientists concerned (Sperling and Dethlevsen) highlighted the obvious errors in the initial assumptions – of two kinds: 1) stuff was moving through the food chains in unexpected ways, 2) new impacts were being discovered in the toxicology labs, BUT, the assumption was that you could then turn off the discharge or dumping taps and the problem would go away. Not so – because so much had been licensed and accummulated and was moving in unexpected ways that it was way too late. This problem manifested with CFCs (licensed as the ‘least toxic substance known to man’); PCBs – not identified as immunosuppressants nor gender-benders; lead in petrol – brain damaged children; acid-rain and downwind lakes in Sweden; plutonium discharges and excess leukaemias along the Irish Sea coast…..there is a long list. The system of protection was not working, but the law required ‘proof’ of damage – and and scientists well know, normal science does not deal in proof, and in complex environmental science the ‘burden of proof’ placed on those with concerns, made change within the old paradigm almost impossible.

The first thing needed appeared to be to reverse the burden of proof. If an industry wanted to discharge a known toxic, it should prove ‘no harm’ before it gets a license. Also almost impossible. The Precautionary Principle then evolved to deal with this – and it usually misrepresented (especially here on WUWT): firstly, it focusses on the limits of science to predict (that is not ‘unscientific’); secondly it recommends not discharging as precaution, but to analyse best pratical means to contain, recycle or not even use the toxic substance in the industrial process – hence averting the risk. When the scientific community (and it was the science community) developed these principles for legal use, they also developed a strategy of a) researching ‘best practice’ b) analysing industrial sector capital renewal cycles c) setting up a global unit to provide this informaiton to industry and regulators. At all times, the PP had a caveat – ‘at reasonable cost’. The community instigated and staffed a Clean Production Unit in Paris, supported by the UN.

Thus the Precautionary Principle is not ‘pseudoscience’. Of course it was resisted by the old guard, protective of lucrative pollution control contracts and consultancies worldwide for their monitoring and toxicology control systems – what I called at the time Goldberg’s Lament – a radioecologist lamenting the drying up of PhD student funds and research capability when programmes do dump radioactive waste in the oceans were abandoned in favour of containment options (or not going nuclear at all). If there are not enough pollutants, the old-guard were out of a job. And research efforts then focussed upon Clean Technology. I recommend the book edited by Tim Jackson – Clean Production Strategies, from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

I declare an interest here: I gave Jackson, one of the brightest physics PhDs of his time, the task of developing the strategy for the UN. I was asked by the International Maritime Organisation to help redraft the ocean protection legislation. Jackson is now a respected professor of sustainable development and a UK government advisor. The UK no longer discharges plutonium wastes to the Irish Sea; there is no nuclear dumping operation in the North Atlantic; sulphur emissions are heavily controlled and there is no acid rain in Sweden; and there are countless improvements to discharges of all toxics in all regional seas. I believe the ocean is cleaner as a result – and industry actually acknowledges that the changes they have made, saved them money, because they could make those changes within their capital renewal cycles and not via much mor eexpensive retrofitting.

I submit that the PP has brought immense benefits to the ocean environment. However, science missed the plastic micro-beads and the nanoparticle fate of all degraded plastic from landfill and litter. We do not know the full implications for ocean and human health. Precaution would have been advised. And the same applies to acidification and CO2 – not because of the ocean in toto, but the sea-surface microlayer, where so much ocean life passes its larval stages – and where recent studies imply a threshold as low as 450 ppmv for ecosystem wide effects. A recent study of CO2 throughout geological time shows a correlation between levels above that threshold and 37 ocean extinction events (Davis, 2017: The relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentration and global temperature for the past 425 million years. Climate 2017, 5, 76; doi:10.3390/cli5040076 (open access).

This is where the PP clause about reasonable cost comes in: the risk of an ocean extinction even is real, but uncertain in timing and impact; however, the cost of averting the risk is enormous – it would be a huge retrofit, and actually impractical, as the huge cost would have massive ‘opportunity cost’ implications. All of that is a political process – which the PP acknowledges is essential, where values and costings and risk are assessed, and most especially, vested interests are accounted. No part of this process is anti-science nor pseudo-science: it is science with all its limitations (and vested interests) within the public sphere of decision making – where the last thing anyone with any political nous should want, is for scientists to be left alone to make the decisions.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Peter Taylor
November 17, 2019 7:54 am

Peter Taylor,
One who claims such seniority should avoid simple mistakes when reciting a personal view of recent history. For example, the toxicity of ingested lead has the reverse causation doubt, that children said to have IQ affected by Pb were beforehand those of lower IQ and more susceptible to swallowing it. Next, the amounts of Plutonium (which isotopes, they are not all the same) from Britain to the sea were so diluted that no real harm was predictable unless one resorted to highly questionable science like LNT. You might recall if acftual harm has been documented, I do not recall any such conclusions.
My comments arise from my past involvement in these matters, not from what people with agendas spread.
Finally, the improvements that you cite took money. The money came mainly from industry. It came around a time and at a rate that industry could afford. It included the non-trivial cost of partial funding of bureaucracies that were mainly out of touch with the science that mattered. Without them, in jockey terms, there would have been less lead in the saddle and a faster pace. The key industry people never, in my experience, had nasty attitudes to the populace, but were efficient, responsible, more often than not simply caring folk with families to consider.
Why do so many commentators these days write with the apocalyptic view, when ordinary scientific conclusions suffice? Geoff S

Gunga Din
Reply to  Peter Taylor
November 17, 2019 9:26 am

“Precautionary Principle” is just an attempt to justify drastic and costly action to prevent an invented, “possible” climate “boogeyman” disaster from happening.
The REAL disaster would be to enact any the proposed solutions.

Quote by Chris Folland of UK Meteorological Office: “The data don’t matter. We’re not basing our recommendations [for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions] upon the data. We’re basing them upon the climate models.”
Quote by David Frame, climate modeler, Oxford University: “Rather than seeing models as describing literal truth, we ought to see them as convenient fictions which try to provide something useful.”
Quote by Christine Stewart, former Canadian Environment Minister: “No matter if the science is all phoney, there are collateral environmental benefits…. climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.”
Quote by Timoth Wirth, U.S./UN functionary, former elected Democrat Senator: “We’ve got to ride the global-warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”
Quote by Richard Benedik, former U.S./UN bureaucrat: “A global climate treaty must be implemented even if there is no scientific evidence to back the greenhouse effect.”
Quote by Al Gore, former U.S. vice president, and large CO2 producer: “Humankind has suddenly entered into a brand new relationship with our planet. Unless we quickly and profoundly change the course of our civilization, we face an immediate and grave danger of destroying the worldwide ecological system that sustains life as we know it.”
Quote from the UN’s Own “Agenda 21”: “Effective execution of Agenda 21 will require a profound reorientation of all human society, unlike anything the world has ever experienced a major shift in the priorities of both governments and individuals and an unprecedented redeployment of human and financial resources. This shift will demand that a concern for the environmental consequences of every human action be integrated into individual and collective decision-making at every level.”
Quote by Ottmar Edenhoffer, high level UN-IPCC official: “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”
Quote by Naomi Klein, anti-capitalism, pro-hysteria advocate of global warming: “So the need for another economic model is urgent, and if the climate justice movement can show that responding to climate change is the best chance for a more just economic system…”
Quote by Club of Rome: “In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill….All these dangers are caused by human intervention….and thus the “real enemy, then, is humanity itself….believe humanity requires a common motivation, namely a common adversary in order to realize world government. It does not matter if this common enemy is “a real one or….one invented for the purpose.”
Quote by Maurice Strong, a billionaire elitist, primary power behind UN throne, and large CO2 producer: “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?”
Quote by Gus Hall, former leader of the Communist Party USA: “Human society cannot basically stop the destruction of the environment under capitalism. Socialism is the only structure that makes it possible.”
Quote by Daphne Muller, green-progressive-liberal writer for Salon: “This moment requires we the people to rethink democracy as a global mechanism for enacting policy for and by the planet.”
Quote by Christiana Figueres, leader of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change: “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history.”
Quote by Peter Berle, President of the National Audubon Society: “We reject the idea of private property.”
Quote by Jack Trevors, Editor-in-Chief of Water, Air, & Soil Pollution: “The capitalistic systems of economy follow the one principal rule: the rule of profit making. All else must bow down to this rule…The current USA is an example of a failed capitalistic state in which essential long-term goals such as prevention of climate change and limitation of human population growth are subjugated to the short-term profit motive and the principle of economic growth.”
Quote by Judi Bari, an American environmentalist and labor leader, a feminist, and the principal organizer of Earth First!: “I think if we don’t overthrow capitalism, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically,”
Quote by Naomi Klein, anti-capitalism, pro-hysteria advocate of global warming: “It is the fight for a new economy, a new energy system, a new democracy, a new relationship to the planet and to each other, for land, water, and food sovereignty, for Indigenous rights, for human rights and dignity for all people. When climate justice wins we win the world that we want.
Quote by David Brower, a founder of the Sierra Club: “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.”
Quote by UN chief Ban Ki-moon: “Now it is the least developed world who are not responsible for this climate change phenomenon that bore the brunt of climate change consequences so it is morally and politically correct that the developed world who made this climate change be responsible by providing financial support and technological support to these people.”
Quote by David Rockefeller, heir to billion dollar fortune: “We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis…”
Quote by Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician and a leading member of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Free Enterprise really means rich people get richer. They have the freedom to exploit and psychologically rape their fellow human beings in the process…Capitalism is destroying the earth.”
Quote by Judi Dench, famous UK actress: “The need for a global structure of control in the form of a world environment court is now more urgent than ever before.”
Quote by Naomi Klein, anti-capitalism, pro-hysteria advocate of global warming: “We cannot change the laws of nature. But we can change our economy. Climate change is our best chance to demand and build a better world.”
Quote by Thomas Stocker, IPCC “scientist” and climate modeler: “We need to devise a plan where all sectors of society contribute to the grand goal of de-carbonizing society.”
Quote by Club of Rome: “A keen and anxious awareness is evolving to suggest that fundamental changes will have to take place in the world order and its power structures, in the distribution of wealth and income.”
Quote by Mikhail Gorbachev, communist and former leader of U.S.S.R.: “The emerging ‘environmentalization’ of our civilization and the need for vigorous action in the interest of the entire global community will inevitably have multiple political consequences. Perhaps the most important of them will be a gradual change in the status of the United Nations. Inevitably, it must assume some aspects of a world government.”
Quote by Gordon Brown, former British prime minister: “A New World Order is required to deal with the Climate Change crisis.”
Quote by Club of Rome: “Now is the time to draw up a master plan for sustainable growth and world development based on global allocation of all resources and a new global economic system. Ten or twenty years form today it will probably be too late.”
Quote by Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute: “Nations are in effect ceding portions of their sovereignty to the international community and beginning to create a new system of international environmental governance.”
Quote by Dixy Lee Ray, former liberal Democrat governor of State of Washington, U.S.: “The objective, clearly enunciated by the leaders of UNCED, is to bring about a change in the present system of independent nations. The future is to be World Government with central planning by the United Nations. Fear of environmental crises – whether real or not – is expected to lead to – compliance”
Quote by UN’s Commission on Global Governance: “The concept of national sovereignty has been immutable, indeed a sacred principle of international relations. It is a principle which will yield only slowly and reluctantly to the new imperatives of global environmental cooperation.”
Quote by David Shearman, an IPCC Assessor for 3rd and 4th climate change reports: “Government in the future will be based upon . . . a supreme office of the biosphere. The office will comprise specially trained philosopher/ecologists. These guardians will either rule themselves or advise an authoritarian government of policies based on their ecological training and philosophical sensitivities. These guardians will be specially trained for the task.”
Quote by John Holdren, President Obama’s science czar: “A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States…De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation…Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.”
Quote by Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General: “A deal must include an equitable global governance structure. All countries must have a voice in how resources are deployed and managed.”
Quote by Robert Muller, former UN Assistant Secretary General: “In my view, after fifty years of service in the United National system, I perceive the utmost urgency and absolute necessity for proper Earth government. There is no shadow of a doubt that the present political and economic systems are no longer appropriate and will lead to the end of life evolution on this planet. We must therefore absolutely and urgently look for new ways.”
Quote by Jacques Chirac, former French President: “For the first time, humanity is instituting a genuine instrument [Kyoto Protocol] of global governance,”…”By acting together, by building this unprecedented instrument, the first component of an authentic global governance, we are working for dialogue and peace.”
Quote by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, architect of the new Germanic masterplan, the ‘Great Transformation’: “Either the Earth System would undergo major phase transitions as a result of unchecked human pressure on nature’s capacities and resources or a “Great Transformation” towards global sustainability would be initiated in due course. Neither transitions nor transformations will be manageable without novel forms of global governance and markets…”
Quote by UN’s Commission on Global Governance: “Regionalism must precede globalism. We foresee a seamless system of governance from local communities, individual states, regional unions and up through to the United Nations itself.”
Quote by Emma Brindal, a climate justice campaigner coordinator for Friends of the Earth: “A climate change response must have at its heart a redistribution of wealth and resources.”
Quote by Michael Oppenheimer, major environmentalist: “The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the US. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are.”
Quote by Louis Proyect, Columbia University: “The answer to global warming is in the abolition of private property and production for human need. A socialist world would place an enormous priority on alternative energy sources. This is what ecologically-minded socialists have been exploring for quite some time now.”
Quote by UK’s Keith Farnish, environmental writer, philosopher and activist: “The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization…Unloading essentially means the removal of an existing burden: for instance, removing grazing domesticated animals, razing cities to the ground, blowing up dams and switching off the greenhouse gas emissions machine.”
Quote by James Lovelock, known as founder of ‘Gaia’ concept: “I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”
Quote by Jeffery Sachs, Columbia University, Director of The Earth Institute: “Obama is already setting a new historic course by reorienting the economy from private consumption to public investments…free-market pundits bemoan the evident intention of Obama and team to ‘tell us what kind of car to drive’. Yet that is exactly what they intend to do…and rightly so. Free-market ideology is an anachronism in an era of climate change.”

Scott W Bennett
Reply to  Peter Taylor
November 18, 2019 12:37 am

Yet another swipe at the Precuationary Principle by commentators who don’t know its history. – Peter Taylor

Yet another example of an ideologue – incapable of original thought – who assumes that all history begins and ends with the methodologies provided by their favourite brand of totalitarianism!

Who could have possibly known that universally, the the oldest and most common form of “Wisdom” is the cautionary aphorism… doh!

So much for “look before you leap” and “better safe than sorry.”

Knowledge, if it does not determine action, is dead to us. – Plotinus

But we can “thank our lucky stars” the UN is here to invent wisdom… apparently! /wit

However, my Precautionary Approach would be to warn people against using the “PP” based on the more ancient principle of “first do no harm” and to remember that it is only the second law of therapeutics to do good!

“Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experimentations perilous,
and judgment difficult. – Hippocrates”

Global Cooling
November 17, 2019 5:02 am

CAGW is a deception. If warming results is a catastrophe we would have had it already in Earth history. We know that [] for example, “a 3°C change in mean annual temperature corresponds to a shift in isotherms of approximately 300–400 km in latitude (in the temperate zone) or 500 m in elevation. Therefore, species are expected to move upwards in elevation or towards the poles in latitude in response to shifting climate zones”. Now they tell that a 0,5C change is the end of world.

Look at the climate zones also. They are not moving rapidly in a 10-100 year timescale but 10 000 years is another story.

November 17, 2019 6:02 am

Who will win the Golden PNS Award for 2019? There are many esteemed and unprecedented nominees.

November 17, 2019 12:09 pm

Peter Taylor November 17, 2019 at 3:56 am

Yet another swipe at the Precuationary Principle by commentators who don’t know its history. It was a policy initiative driven by German fisheries scientists alarmed at the demise of North Sea fisheries in the early 1980s. …

Thank you for the history, Peter, interesting. As you say, the Precautionary Principle (PP) is not pseudoscience.

However, it is almost universally misunderstood. From the United Nations Rio de Janeiro Declaration on the Environment (1992), here’s their original formulation:

“In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

This is an excellent statement of the PP, as it distinguishes it from such things as carrying umbrellas, denying bank loans, approving the Kyoto Protocol, invading Afghanistan, or using seat belts.

The three key parts of the PP (emphasis mine) are:

1) A threat of serious or irreversible damage.

2) A lack of full scientific certainty (in other words, the existence of partial but not conclusive scientific evidence).

3) The availability of cost-effective measures that we know will prevent the problem.

Knowing that, let’s consider the PP case regarding CO2. The claim is that in fifty years, we’ll be sorry if we don’t stop producing CO2 now. However, we don’t know whether CO2 will cause any damage at all in fifty years, much less whether it will cause serious or irreversible damage. We have very little evidence that CO2 will cause “dangerous” warming other than fanciful forecasts from untested, unverified, unvalidated climate models which have not been subjected to software quality assurance of any kind.

We also have little evidence that a warmer world is a worse world. It might be a better world.

Finally, the proposed remedies are estimated to cost on the order of a trillion dollars a year … hardly cost effective under any analysis. Nor do we have any certainty whether the proposed remedies will prevent the projected problem.

So cutting CO2, and most especially cutting fossil fuel use, fails to qualify for the PP under all three of the criteria.

In closing, let me say … Post-Normal Science did kill itself …

Best to all,


Gunga Din
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 17, 2019 2:47 pm

“PP”, the Precautionary Pawn to promote “The Cause”.

Quote by Chris Folland of UK Meteorological Office: “The data don’t matter. We’re not basing our recommendations [for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions] upon the data. We’re basing them upon the climate models.”

Quote by David Rockefeller, heir to billion dollar fortune: “We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis…”

Quote by Ottmar Edenhoffer, high level UN-IPCC official: “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”

Alice Thermopolis
November 18, 2019 1:16 am

Precautionary principle, n., 1. A trick or tactic evoked by a person or agency to justify a preferred course of action, esp. in the absence of evidence or a verifiable law. 2. Climate-craft: a deliberate strategy to exaggerate possible risks of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, dupe the public and advance a global decarbonisation agenda.

“The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change – Wicked words to impress your friends and upset your enemies”, George Lexicon, Athena Books, 2018, Amazon/Kindle)

The precautionary principle might well be seen as a plea for a kind of regulatory insurance…. Nonetheless, the principle cannot be fully defended on that basis, simply because risks are on all sides of social situations. Any effort to be universally precautionary will be paralysing, forbidding every imaginable step, including no step at all….A rational system of risk regulation certainly takes precautions. But it does not adopt the Precautionary Principle. (C R Sunstein, Regulation, 2003)

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