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Are there any sceptical “sceptics”

August 21st, 2015

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just reported that the global mean temperature for July 2015 was the highest for any month since record keeping began in 1880. That follows a string of record-breaking months. And with a major El Nino well under way, it seems highly likely that more record high temperatures will follow.

To anyone with a sceptical attitude to factual assertions, this evidence would appear to cast grave doubt on the claim that the world is experiencing a “hiatus” or “pause” in global warming. On the face of it, either the supposed “hiatus” never occurred, or it has now ended.

So, it’s natural to ask whether such sceptical attitudes have been observed among those who describe themselves as “global warming sceptics”. I would be genuinely glad to find examples, since it would imply some possibility of serious discussion, as opposed to a restatement of tribal shibboleths.

Are any sceptical sceptics reading this? Has anyone else noticed any? Or are self-described “sceptics” only sceptical about things they don’t want to believe.

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  1. Jack Williams
    August 21st, 2015 at 17:14 | #1
  2. Jack Williams
    August 21st, 2015 at 17:46 | #2

    Oh, and Warren … whats his name? …. Truss !

  3. John Quiggin
    August 21st, 2015 at 19:06 | #3

    To quote Obi-Wan, these aren’t the sceptics I’m looking for. I want people who have actually revised their views in response to evidence.

  4. August 21st, 2015 at 20:27 | #4

    I am still skeptical despite being involved early on.

    But then my standard of truth in matters of interference or deprivation are much higher than yours.

    There is nothing out of the ordinary in the readings from this period.

    There are multiple causal relations one of which is likely mans atmospheric pollution. The Sun being the other most obvious and consequential.

    There are multiple solutions – the most important being one child policy in the undeveloped and developing world and in the non performing underclasses of the developed world. And the most important wast being produced by industry that meets demand for population. And the worst possible means of alteration: taxation as incentive.

    Unless the data exceeds norms and models are predictive then this is yet another example of reproductive excess only curable by reproductive constraint.

    Fewer people, more advanced, with higher energy consumption or more people less advanced with less consumption.

  5. Donald Oats
    August 21st, 2015 at 21:40 | #5

    @Curt Doolittle
    The sun as a factor has been studied in great detail, and the conclusion is that it has no significant contribution on the time scales of interest. The sun can always give us some interesting short term effects, such as a solar storm, but that falls into the category of weather, not climate.

    There are so many physically inspired mathematical (not statistical) models of how the atmosphere and the oceanic water (and ice, to a lesser extent) behave, we have some insight into what things can cause certain changes in the climates around the world. Every year the models are able to be solved with greater resolution, providing better results. While there are major limits to what is achievable, physical models do show surprising features of the global climate system. It’s a classic case where the model gives rise to answers unforeseen, but later verified by checking against the one concrete case we have at our disposal: Earth.

    All models are models: it simply isn’t possible to represent every microstate of a system like Earth’s climate system, but that doesn’t mean the models necessarily diverge from the kind of behaviour we can witness in the global climate system. Whenever we chuck a spaceship out to Mars or beyond, we absolutely rely on physical models of the gravitational behaviour of the solar system, even though we don’t know where every single massive object is, and consequently cannot completely account for all gravitational effects. It works tremendously well anyway. Nevertheless, there are some asteroids whose orbital behaviours are very difficult to accurately compute; this doesn’t mean the model is broken or incapable of providing answers for most cases of interest (to people who like to hurl spaceships at the dusty recesses of our solar system and beyond).

    As for your last comment, it doesn’t follow that more advanced people would necessarily have higher energy consumption. Perhaps we find ways of reducing the energy required to do the things we want or need to do. We aren’t too sharp in that regard, so plenty of scope remains. A decent size TV screen that runs on a watt is in principle possible, but so far we’ve only reached the LED type screen technology, and they still need a few watts to function. So scope for improvement is around us.

  6. Megan
    August 21st, 2015 at 21:43 | #6

    What does “standard of truth” mean?

  7. J-D
    August 21st, 2015 at 21:44 | #7

    Curt Doolittle :

    But then my standard of truth in matters of interference or deprivation are much higher than yours.

    There are multiple solutions – the most important being one child policy in the undeveloped and developing world and in the non performing underclasses of the developed world.

    Am I the only one who feels some work might be required to reconcile these two statements?

  8. Donald Oats
    August 21st, 2015 at 21:50 | #8

    And in answering what it would take to change a “sceptic’s” mind, refer to the Onion in full 11 out of 10 mode.

  9. Kevin MacDonald
    August 21st, 2015 at 21:59 | #9

    @John Quiggin
    Paraphrase. To paraphrase Obi Wan. I don’t know why that annoyed me so much.

    I don’t know if there is any actual sceptics in this debate, even Muller, who did the work and revised his opinion accordingly, based his Skepticism on Climategate quote-mining rather than genuine issues with existing research.

  10. Sancho
    August 21st, 2015 at 23:06 | #10

    Has anyone compiled a chronology of the excuses that denialists have employed over the past twenty years?

    And by “employed”, I mean “vigorously promoted as the complete and final explanation for climate change, impervious to any criticism, then abandoned a month later when shown to have no scientific merit”.

    It’s a long list. Solar flares, urban heat islands, orbit wobbles, dodgy thermometers, unicorn magic, etc. It’s been a long road to the denialist consensus that climate change is natural and shut up leftists.

  11. Megan
    August 21st, 2015 at 23:44 | #11

    OK. I thought that maybe “standard of truth” had been confused with “standard of proof” (i.e. the degree to which a matter must be satisfactorily proven before a finding can be made – the most commonly understood level being the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”).

    But it has its own definition (according to Wikipedia):

    The Wentworth Letter is significant for several reasons.

    First, it connects the message of what Mormons believe to be the Restoration with the history of said Restoration: “By these things we know…” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:1-17)

    Second, it emphasizes the First Vision as an essential part of Latter-day Saint message.

    Third, it contains the Standard of Truth, a mission statement for missionaries:

    “Our missionaries are going forth to different nations . . . the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (History of the Church 4:540)

    Which may give comfort to people who believe in secret invisible silent mysterious friends, but will probably scare the daylights out of people who don’t.

  12. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2015 at 01:16 | #12

    either the supposed “hiatus” never occurred, or it has now ended.

    According to the calculator at http://www.skepticalscience.com/trend.php , there is now statistically significant warming in GISTEMP since the year 2000. There has been statistically significant warming since 1998 for some time now in other Global and Land/Ocean data sets including Berkeley, HadCRUT4 krig v2, Karl (2015) global, NOAA and Karl(2015).

    So barring any very selective cherry-pick, the “hiatus” in statistically significant global warming is now over.

    The climate science denialists will now move on to the next stage of denial.

  13. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2015 at 01:35 | #13

    @Curt Doolittle

    The Sun being the other most obvious and consequential.

    You’re not suggesting that scientists have neglected to estimate the Sun’s contribution, have you? If not then what is the point of reminding us about its relatively insignificant contribution to the increase in global average temperature?

  14. jrkrideau
    August 22nd, 2015 at 05:07 | #14

    @Chris O’Neill
    You clearly have not been keeping up with Willie Soon’s earth-shattering, sun-shattering, err, discredited research. That big iron ball in the sky has an immense effect on our climate. (Okay maybe it wasn’t Wille who said the sun was make of iron)

    More to the original question, we probably will not see many of the hard-core deniers seeing reality. They are far too sunk in a conspiracy-filled alternative reality, well given the mix of deniers conspiracy-filled alternative realities where these new results will again be dismissed as wrongly analyzed, faked or … Some real doubters who just have not looked at the evidence may be convinced but if they have not looked at the evidence before they probably won’t look at it now.

    For a first effort on the hard-core denial side one might want to look at Ross McKitrick’s response at WUWT: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/06/04/a-first-look-at-possible-artifacts-of-data-biases-in-the-recent-global-surface-warming-hiatus-by-karl-et-al-science-4-june-2015/./and the comments.

    The comments are lovely. The first one by Ted G June 4, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Ross The hiatus in global warming is provable, a fact but that is not enough for the doom and gloom crowd. After all if it is this is the case, they will have to get real jobs and no more exotic travel junkets!

    I’d also recommend the comment by pat michaels June 4, 2015 at 3:23 pm which starts off with It is useful because Karl’s boss needed the result. They are obviously getting hurt by the pause.

    Most of them are of the same high quality. we can see Dunning-Kruger and Right Wing Authoritarianism at their best.

    For people who don’t want to get a migraine headache, Sou @ Hotwhopper has done some nice cherry picking of some of the better (for some value of total absurdity) http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2015/06/noaa-global-temperature-paper-prompts.html. One need to scroll down a fair ways to get to them.

  15. jrkrideau
    August 22nd, 2015 at 05:10 | #15

    A quick follow-up. The Onion has what it seems to think is a parody of climate denial. I am not too sure that it is not an accurate portrayal of the average denier. http://www.theonion.com/article/climate-change-deniers-present-graphic-description-51129

  16. BilB
    August 22nd, 2015 at 07:52 | #16

    If you want to keep up with the latest trends in CSD (contrarian skeptical denialism) take a walk on the guiled side


    ,……where you can see that like any successful virus, CSD is coating itself with a protective layer to eliminate the risk of empirical information contaminating their message, “warmism is a religion”.

  17. BilB
    August 22nd, 2015 at 08:03 | #17

    And, of course, Jonovians are “hot” onto the announcement, hosing it down and berating journalists for being so gullible.


  18. Ken Fabian
    August 22nd, 2015 at 09:44 | #18

    Interesting that the sun – which is in less active mode that is claimed by “it’s mostly the sun” style deniers as reason to expect an imminent mini ice age – is cited as cause for record high temperatures. And satellite data – which is not based on actual thermometer measurements and involves so much data ‘manipulation’ – is considered superior.

    It will be interesting to see how the satellite data progresses, as it tends to show greater response to ENSO than actual surface temperature measurements, ie it may well end up showing a very strong temperature ‘spike’ as the current el Nino’s effects flow through. The die hard climate science deniers are on thinning ice. I hope there are people keeping track of their utterances, for reminding purposes.

  19. John Quiggin
    August 22nd, 2015 at 09:48 | #19

    @Curt Doolittle

    So, Curt, having announced yourself as a skeptic, are you skeptical about the hiatus? Or are you only skeptical about things you don’t want to believe?

  20. Ikonoclast
    August 22nd, 2015 at 10:18 | #20

    @John Quiggin

    Curt didn’t put any coherent position which could be argued for or against. Such science skeptics bear some superficial resemblance to the “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants, or OPCA litigants encountered in Canada.

    The OPCA “share one common feature: they all purport to somehow deny state and Court
    authority.” As Justice Rooke states: “they will only honour state, regulatory, contract, family, fiduciary, equitable, and criminal obligations if they feel like it. And typically, they don’t.”

    The Climate Skeptic’s position re science is about the same. They only accept scientific laws and data if they feel like it. And typically, they don’t.

  21. Ken_L
    August 22nd, 2015 at 10:52 | #21

    Far from being sceptical about the hiatus, every relevant comment I’ve read from denialists asserts the “No warming for 18 years” line as if it’s uncontroversial established fact.

  22. Megan
    August 22nd, 2015 at 15:14 | #22

    Half on topic, Euan Mason has a post about the NZ ETS which opens:

    New Zealand’s climate change policy failure is the main feature of the 2014 report on New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). More than 95% of surrendered credits were imports, and the cost to emitters was approximately 10 cents per imported ‘hot air’ credit during most of 2014, compared to an average of approximately $4 for New Zealand Units (NZUs), our domestic carbon credits, during that year. In addition, during 2014 taxpayers gave 4.4 million NZUs to ‘trade exposed’ industries, representing a windfall for them of approximately $17 million, which is their allocation multiplied by the difference in price between domestic and imported credits; we essentially paid them to pollute. Given the low cost of imported ‘hot air’ carbon credits and the fact that we paid people to pollute, it is unsurprising that New Zealand now lags behind almost all of the rest of the world in its climate change response.

    My biggest issue with “market based” schemes is the almost inevitability they will be manipulated. He offers suggestions to “fix” it but if we “fix” our underlying system of organizing our world then we wouldn’t need an ETS anyway.

  23. Julie Thomas
    August 22nd, 2015 at 15:27 | #23

    I listened to an interesting interview on Late Night Live about how “In 1990 Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced his government would to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 1988 levels by the year 2005. But then the policy sank without a trace, becoming a mere footnote to history.”

    There is no transcript but one comment points out that Andrew Peacock was “in the vanguard” of this policy that sank without trace.


  24. jungney
    August 22nd, 2015 at 15:59 | #24

    @Curt Doolittle
    The tendency to see humanity experiencing a species overshoot is well established with a discourse of its own. Mostly, though, the genuinely misanthropic are discouraged by the need to keep discussion reasonable and civil. For example, some people who see population exclusively as the core problem will describe a natural disaster or a war as “a good cull”. The whole notion was first advanced in the early 20C decades as the new science of ecology developed.

    Your policy prescription, however, is at the advanced edge of class bias and other potentially more unpleasant and Orwellian possibilities:

    one child policy in the undeveloped and developing world and in the non performing underclasses of the developed world.

    Please, could you expand on what you mean by the non performing underclasses of the developed world? I could guess at what you might mean but that would be doing the work for you.

    We are in an epoch when all that is old is new again. The Reverand Malthus rises again, I suspect, only on a global scale.

  25. Ikonoclast
    August 22nd, 2015 at 16:22 | #25

    Welcome back Wooly Bully!

  26. Donald Oats
    August 22nd, 2015 at 16:58 | #26

    @Julie Thomas
    For those of us who were around then, there were some bitter disappointments in the aftermath of the Greenhouse conference, which included an opening address by Graham Richardson that clearly explained what the government knew about AGW, and what sort of changes had to take place. I think it was called “Greenhouse 88”, and was in 1988.

    Politics, especially the opponent’s politics, poisoned much of the effort made in trying to set policies which would reduce emissions significantly below the 1990 benchmark. As we know now, we have failed spectacularly and it’s really unforgivable. The two major parties should have put the public interest front and centre, rather than kicking the issue around as some kind of political football for their own entertainment.

    Greenhouse 88 (IIRC) was a promise shredded, and is one of the reasons I am not an optimist with respect to the current discussions and debates about what to do and whether we will actually deliver. We’ve been there before and effed it up.

  27. Julie Thomas
    August 22nd, 2015 at 18:25 | #27

    @Donald Oats

    For hippies who were around then, the same. It was clear then what we needed to do and how we needed live to keep the planet liveable and build a decent world.

    Maybe we can learn from our mistakes this time; the evidence is convincing to those who do not have a conflict of interest and/or have ‘chosen’ to develop a personality disorder to avoid being wrong.

    I think the person that Phillip interviewed in the program I linked to did her PhD and has written a book on how the Climate Change denial machine worked to create the situation that we have now and although she was not a good interviewee, her story was coherent and convincing.

    So be hopeful and it’s probability all the way down you know so we could be lucky.

  28. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2015 at 20:20 | #28

    @Ken Fabian

    how the satellite data progresses, as it tends to show greater response to ENSO than actual surface temperature measurements, ie it may well end up showing a very strong temperature ‘spike’ as the current el Nino’s effects flow through.

    We all know who is going to tell us all about this natural property of El Ninos, don’t we?

  29. Ikonoclast
    August 22nd, 2015 at 21:16 | #29

    Maybe the Zombie Anthrocalypse has already started. 😉

    These people who otherwise appear to be more or less compos mentis but are “sceptical” AGW denialists have in fact already turned zombie on us. Hmmm, that would explain quite a lot about Tony Abbott and his cabinets’ behavior and utterances. If you realllllllly think about it, real life is scarier than any zombie movie.

  30. Ikonoclast
  31. Julie Thomas
    August 23rd, 2015 at 07:14 | #31

    Yes the Zombies never stop. This is possibly one site where they reveal the types of disordered thinking that allows them to flaunt their denial as a superior understanding of how the universe really works.


    This is one comment typical of the level of rationality

    Bryan Roberts • 15 days ago

    “My experience has been that the advocates of AGW are so blindly committed that they are completely incapable of considering any other viewpoint.
    Dr Ducan Steel, a highly respected astrophysicist, has postulated that orbital precession has not been adequately considered in climate models (duncansteel.com), and may contribute, at least in part, to present conditions.
    I put this viewpoint to both ‘The Conversation’ and to ‘skepticalscience’. On both, I was subjected to the most astonishing torrent of abuse, as ‘an ignorant denier’. Neither could show any flaw in his calculations, but both rejected them outright.
    Ironically, Steel states in his discussion that he is not denying AGW, but is pointing to a possible flaw in the assumptions.”

    The most recent post at that site refers to this post, but apparently no-one is willing to subject themselves to the astonishing torrent of abuse that always comes from people who believe the scientific story.

    And I’m always interested in the way they understand irony.

  32. Chris O’Neill
    August 23rd, 2015 at 11:57 | #32

    @Julie Thomas

    orbital precession has not been adequately considered in climate models

    As if climate scientists never consider orbital forcing.

  33. andrewt
    August 24th, 2015 at 11:36 | #33

    Well if you want sceptism – I was sceptical of the evidence of reduction to near zero (“hiatus”) in the underlying trend because of the difficulty of accounting for other variation.

    But similarly I’m sceptical of the strength of the observations cited in the first paragraph as evidence that a hiatus has ended never/occurred.

    In particular NOAA’s claim of hottest month for July is before removal of monthly variation – and removing the annual cycle is the first thing you should be doing. I think Jan 07 is the hottest month if you do this. Given correlation between months, a string of warm months isn’t necessarily much strong evidence than a single month. And if you suppose a continuing “hiatus” in the underlying trend, you would still expect warmer months with a high-amplitude El Nino.

  34. John Goss
    August 24th, 2015 at 21:57 | #34

    Julie Thomas and Chris O’Neill. Duncan Steel never said the climate change models did not consider orbital forcing. He said the way they did it was in error.
    As Duncan Steel said “I identify the reason why the influence of perihelion precession on the present-day climate and its changing nature has been overlooked by climate scientists: they appear to have compared the latitude-dependent insolations in different epochs over the past millennium at different points on Earth’s heliocentric orbit in terms of equal steps in ecliptic longitude rather than equal steps in time, the results derived therefore being erroneous and misleading.”
    This is a perfectly reasonable question to raise. But it took me an hour of searching to find out that Duncan Steel was wrong in asserting the climate models used ‘equal steps in ecliptic longitude’ rather than the correct ‘equal steps in time’.

    And why did it take me an hour to find this out?
    Because the blogs that discuss this point are filled with both sides of the debate shouting insults at each other rather than discussing the scientific point in question.
    It was also Duncan Steel’s fault for not putting his argument into a proper peer-reviewed journal. He had instead published it only in the unscientific Journal of Cosmology (as well as in his online blog). (I know this is a sign of an unscientific approach by Steel, but I do wish people would spend their time pointing out what is wrong with Steel’s arguments rather than insulting him (or praising him as the denialists do)). I want arguments not assessments of character.
    But this does illustrate that debate in this area has become most unproductive.

  35. Chris O’Neill
    August 24th, 2015 at 23:31 | #35

    @John Goss

    He had instead published it only in the unscientific Journal of Cosmology (as well as in his online blog). (I know this is a sign of an unscientific approach by Steel, but I do wish people would spend their time pointing out

    People do point out the lack of publication in a properly reviewed journal AFAIK.

    this does illustrate that debate in this area has become most unproductive

    Not much to debate when there is no publication in a properly reviewed journal.

  36. John Goss
    August 25th, 2015 at 04:49 | #36

    @Chris O’Neill
    I don’t see why a blog discussion can’t be a useful way of exploring a scientific issue. Not all truth is discerned by peer-reviewed interaction. But in the area of climate change science, people come to the discussion with pre-determined rigid positions so discussions and interactions are mostly unproductive. And in the process both sides get pushed further apart. Sad.

  37. Collin Street
    August 25th, 2015 at 06:58 | #37

    I don’t see why a blog discussion can’t be a useful way of exploring a scientific issue.

    In principle, sure. But the qualities that make a blog article or discussion a credible primary source or meta-analysis are pretty much exactly the qualities that make an article publishable: “publishable” is not a high standard nor logistically particularly difficult. I mean, literally the worst research scientist in the world can throw together publishable articles.

    In the world we actually live in, in the context we’re actually talking about, we can treat “isn’t published” as “can’t be published” and we can treat “can’t be published” as “unworthy of further consideration”. It’s not like the fossil fuel companies are actually shy about funding published scientific articles, there’s decent amounts of ecological, geology and chemistry work that they do fund and do get published. But for what’s literally an existential threat to their business model to meet with the sort of silence we get is worthy of further comment, and honestly justification to start coming to some conclusions.

  38. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 07:53 | #38

    @John Goss

    From my own experience, to tell the tale against myself, my blog discussion has been mostly about starting out and derping my priors. In this process, to defend my derp I have been forced to a do a “lot” of “research”; that is to say a risible amount of dubious quality compared to a real practitioner in the field, any field. Eventually, I have been forced to abandon some of my derp and some of my priors. Yet I still derp on about other stuff. I am addicted to derp.

    The best that can be hoped of blogs I think is that some inveterate derps like me are actually forced to retract some of our statements and modify some of our views. Occasionally I manage it.

  39. John Goss
    August 25th, 2015 at 09:00 | #39

    Thank you for your honest thoughts Ikonoclast. I am an eternal optimist about blogs (as I am about the economy and the environment), but discourse on blogs is always going to be a lot coarser than peer-reviewed journals, and I should accept that. I do enjoy blogs like this one though where John’s ruthless banning and warning leads to much more interesting discussion.

  40. Historyintime
    August 27th, 2015 at 02:06 | #40

    Well this professional economist was a sceptic. Until events forced me to work on climate change economics for 5 rather boring years – with consequent forced reading. And the rather obvious finding that the sceptic experts are either in earth sciences or decrepit emirituses. Yes forceable exposure to the facts and research is the way to go.

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