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Do climate sceptics exist?

July 22nd, 2016

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 17:59 | #1

    I have found this Brisbane winter a little disconcerting and possibly even frightening in its implications. This Brisbane winter on its own might not be too concerning but when appended to the “fourteenth (global) record month in a row” some phenomena begin to be a little disturbing. Bear in mind I mean here the combination of all factors together are disturbing not any one on its own;

    (a) There have been some remarkably warm days for June and July;
    (b) There has been more rain than usual for winter;
    (c) There have been interspersed cold periods with westerlies normally seen more in August.
    (d) There have been (2) heavy winter rain events where the peak rain periods, over an hour or so, were heavier than I have ever experienced, where I live, in 19 years including summers.
    (e) mosquitoes are persisting in a way I never recall happening in a previous Brisbane winter.
    (f) certain ant species are persisting in winter activity I have not before seen at this time of year.

    The rain events (d) were really surprising. I have a graveled area beside the house which will flood in very heavy rains due to water coming over a retaining wall (in small waterfalls) and IF the drain blocks with leaves which it always does. I remedy this by going out in the peak downpour and continually clearing the drain in calf deep water. This time, despite clearing this non-stop, I failed to prevent water rising higher than ever before in 19 years here and inundating the base of an air-con unit. The torrential nature of this downpour was beyond any summer downpour I have seen in my current suburb. I live in a kind of mini-rainshadow microclimate area for reasons too long to explain here.

    I am currently shifting many cubic meters of gravel, digging and re-digging various drainage channels and replacing geotex weed matting and the gravel, all by hand (pick and shovel). It’s good exercise. As I said to the better half, “If this is what winter rains are like now, I shudder to think what summer rains are going to be like. I have to redo all this stuff now while I have the chance.”

    The climate feels somewhat destablised to me. Of course, it could settle for a while again after the El Nino. But the recent temp rises are happening with scary rapidity.

  2. Newtownian
    July 22nd, 2016 at 19:17 | #2

    Thanks for the Onion humour. However it doesnt mean that climate sceptics dont exist.

    I think the stats on climate science experts show that few who have a reasonably deep understanding of the science and the scientific method method are skeptical. The trouble is most people dont base their skepticism on on scientific methods but other sources of belief like authority, ‘commonsense’, unconscious lessons, and the dogs breakfast of their life experiences.

    There are though a few scientists you might want to comment on…..Ian Plimer particularly given his attacks on the Noah’s ark nutters which indicate he does believe in science more or less, even though he should know better than to disrespect other branches of science.

    Then there are post modern relativist climate sceptics. They are invariably humane and thoughtful and are very sincere about their belief in climate change. I’m thinking here of progressive friends in the law who agree sagely with you at dinner parties. But then they proceed to operate their lives as though climate change is not really a problem because a. we’ll find a technical solution, b. what’s another degree or two, c. I’ve done my bit with a couple of solar panels on my roof (remember Kevin 07 being queeried about his families urban assault vehicles.). Or whatever – and in truth

    I probably inhabit this class in fact as a still drive a car – A classic story in regard to the latter problem of us scientists who do who better but set a bad example is FOX, H. E., KAREIVA, P., SILLIMAN, B., HITT, J., LYTLE, D. A., HALPERN, B. S., HAWKES, C. V., LAWLER, J., NEEL, M. & OLDEN, J. D. 2009. Why do we fly? Ecologists’ sins of emission. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 294-296.

    Other examples are your mainstream economist colleagues with their equilibrium theories that say that all will be well thanks to the Market. And my University Senate membership with their opposition to coal divestment. And there are all those Paris et al. climate change negotiators who have achieved peace in our time without any seriously enforceable agreement. And there is the ABC and BBC with their ‘balance’. I seriously doubt many of these actually sit around conspiring directly with the Koch brothers but there is serious cognitive dissonace which amounts to skepticism.

    And this is kind of de facto scepticism that is more insidious even than climate change denialism as they arent even aware of their denialism.

    Next there are those skeptics with a world view which is plain and simple unscientific. There are serious religionists whose world view may make them sincerely sceptical but leaves them unequipped to understand the science. Then there are political people who view the world in Manichaean terms and well understand from dinner parties that a climate scientist is very likely to be a crypto socialist greenie trying to make him pay more taxes. I suspect in fact the majority of sceptics fit into this or related categories of not being scientifically literate even if they are kind sincerely human beings. A quasi cousin in the US fits this precisely.

    Finally there are the chameleons for whom scepticism along sincerity, love, rage, softness etc. are cloaks in their wardrobe, sometime worn sometimes not. Some are psychopaths, but more learn these cloaks as part of their trade in ideas (lawyers politicians) or goods (salespeople) or anything goes (public relations, advertising). For them scepticism is a fashion accessory or a tool.

    Today we have the ultimate manifestation of this humanoid like creature, The Donald, on display to show in their universe everything is tradable and negotiable even truth.

    Which leaves one question ……. where in this galaxy of climate change sceptics (possibly really all also denialists) does our dear prime minister sit? Thoughts welcome.

  3. Newtownian
    July 22nd, 2016 at 19:25 | #3


    Unfortunately our senses are not reliable……which is why we have science that shows climate change is a lay down mizare.

    My favorite continues to be Charctic http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/

    This shows climate change is blind freddy stuff.

    Yet Paris and Doha and the rest continue to be fizzers. Hence my other rant reflecting my fury at being conned for several years into believing Turnbull actually believed the science.

  4. Donald Oats
    July 22nd, 2016 at 19:54 | #4

    The PM might have a private view on the matter, but the theo-neo-cons have a very public view, and that’s the one the LNP follow in their policy (denial) actions. FDOTM has a beaut cartoon on Trumpalism, and the final panel, item 3, is the best way of avoiding the issue (of climate change) that I’ve seen so far!

  5. Alphonse
    July 22nd, 2016 at 20:08 | #5

    I’m a house fire sceptic. I don’t think my house will burn down this year but I’ve taken out fire insurance. Now show me a global warming sceptic who advocates emission control as insurance. All I see are denialists who resist emission control. They’re not sceptical about lack of need for emission control, they’re certain about it. So I agree. If the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics indeed appears to be zero. Lots of self-preening claims to being evidence-based though, from legions of fake “sceptics”.

  6. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 22:49 | #6


    I understand all that. I understand my evidence is anecdotal. But when one understands the scientific evidence at least at a basic level and then one starts getting what one feels is confirming personal, loclal evidence (while still remaining sceptical about one’s own subjective “confirming” evidence from possible hyper-vigilance) one still gets a disturbing feeling. The feeling is still of personal existential meaning for we are feeling beings as well as (occasionally) rational beings. In turn, being social beings we do share feelings… sometimes.

  7. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 22:57 | #7


    Commercial TV channels are climate change sceptics but they are most assuredly not house fire sceptics. They believe firmly in house fires. They believe they happen every day, potentially to every one and they should be screened every night on every news bulletin. That and car accidents of course. If it bleeds it leads. If it burns it earns. Keep those bleeding, burning leaders coming and advertise, advertise, advertise! Preferably those products which cause accidents, bleeding, burning AND global warming. Automobiles are perfect!

  8. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 23:16 | #8

    @Donald Oats

    I caught a little US related news tonight. Trump at the Republican convention. And the cop(s) who shot at a mentally disturbed white (or hispanic?) man sitting on the ground in the street holding something that was not a gun. Behind this man was his carer, a black man lying on the ground on his back with his arms in the air calling out that the man he was caring for was harmless and holding something harmless. Of course, one of the cops fired at the white man, missed him and hit the black man, who fortunately survived a flesh wound and is now in hospital.

    I swore in disbelief. (My wife hates it when I swear), “Is everyone in the US taking f***ing stupid pills??? WTF is wrong with them?” But I should apologise to the black man and to his patient who could not help his condition. They at least are two people in the USA who are not to blame.

  9. jrkrideau
    July 22nd, 2016 at 23:40 | #9

    Bolt’s column
    While Muller claims to be a converted sceptic, the real truth is that he was never a sceptic in the first place.

    Ah the old “No True Scotsman” argument.

  10. jrkrideau
  11. jrkrideau
    July 23rd, 2016 at 00:17 | #11

    Failed tag closure. Apologies. There actually is a link to the Horse Crisis in there somewhere.

  12. July 23rd, 2016 at 00:29 | #12

    Newtonian, the solution to global warming is not to be found in individuals being virtuous.

    Lets say you get a smaller car and drive only half as far. That might cut your car emissions by 75%.

    But say you have an electric car because the government said you had to, and that the electricity comes from renewables because the price on carbon makes it uneconomic to generate electricity by burning coal or gas, then your car emissions might be cut by 95%. And all without you being virtuous at all. And what is more, even the most egregious climate skeptic will do the same as you.

  13. Magma
    July 23rd, 2016 at 01:55 | #13

    Do climate sceptics exist?

    According to the law of newspaper headlines, the answer is “no”.

    And my own observations match JQ’s. I have never seen a ‘skeptic’ change his or her mind, although I have read several commenters who stated that they themselves did so, discarding their initial doubts as they investigated publications and data for themselves.

  14. James Wimberley
    July 23rd, 2016 at 07:45 | #14

    The ouster of Roger Ailes from Fox News, on charges of systematic sexual harassment, is an indicator of an ongoing succession crisis in Rupsft Murdoch’s press empire. By reports, the pressure came from the Murdoch children; James and Lachlan are cited, but surely Elizabeth must have weighed in. Five years ago thus would never have happened, possibly two: the decision would have been Rupert’s alone.

    The adult Murdoch children (those by his third marriage are too young to count in dynastic politics) are culturally standard members of the British plutocratic elite, like David Cameron. They quite lack Rupert’s outsize Cringe chip and attraction to destructive populist nihilism, as with Brexit. Fox News, the WSJ, and the Australian will all become much blander, on the model of BSkyB. We are about to test the the hypothesis that climate denialism was significantly abetted by Rupert Murdoch’s personal demons.

  15. July 23rd, 2016 at 09:31 | #15


    Which leaves one question ……. where in this galaxy of climate change sceptics (possibly really all also denialists) does our dear prime minister sit? Thoughts welcome.

    I tried to write a long response to this and lost it (on mobile!) so I’ll just refer you to my blog http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/turnbull-terrible-lies-and-climate.html?m=1

    I think the best you could say about Malcolm Turnbull is that he is a hypocrite about climate, for political opportunism, rather than a ‘sceptic’. However, I think in some ways that’s even more depressing. The fact that he was prepared to scare monger about increased emissions targets shows to me that he has sunk pretty deep. If I still worked in politics rather than in academia, I’d be out there campaigning on this, but as it is I tend to just get depressed.

  16. July 23rd, 2016 at 09:36 | #16

    Just tried to respond to your question about Turnbull and stuffed it all up because I’m on my mobile. Short version – Mr Turnbull is not a denier or “sceptic” but appears to be a pretty terrible hypocrite


    Will respond in more detail when I am not on mobile

  17. July 23rd, 2016 at 09:40 | #17

    Newtonian @ #2

    I’ve tried to reply twice to your question

    “Which leaves one question ……. where in this galaxy of climate change sceptics (possibly really all also denialists) does our dear prime minister sit? Thoughts welcome.”

    But my replies keep going into moderation because of links. So short answer, based on trawling through all his election campaign speeches -he is a hypocrite and political opportunist. Will send more info when not on mobile.

  18. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:51 | #18


    Yes, I think we’ve all heard about that one, jk. At least we’d have had enough crop stimulating manure to free the world from hunger.

    But the ‘if this gors on …’ prediction I liked best was one I first heard quoted by James Martin (does anybody else remember him) about the early days of the domestic telephone network: back in the days before any kinf of mechanized, much less automated, exchanges, all phone hookups were mediated by living human ‘operators’.

    Apparently, somebody calculated that if the rate of takeup of domestic telephones, and their use over much of the 24 hours of a day continued at its present rate, then in 20 years time 60% of the population of the USA would have to be employed as telephone operators.

    I don’t think we have even one live human ‘operator’ nowadays, do we ?

  19. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:54 | #19


    [sigh] That’s “if this goes on …” and it’s ‘before any kind of’. But I’m sure nobody would have been as confused as me.

  20. rog
    July 23rd, 2016 at 13:13 | #20

    Originally a sceptic was one who argued their case from an informed position. Climate sceptics have been able to change the definition to a more loose “yeah but..” or “I dunno bout that one”.

    Seems to have worked so far as the fear factor trumps.

  21. Ken Fabian
    July 23rd, 2016 at 16:41 | #21

    Ikonoclast – but isn’t the warm winter weather so nice?! Seriously, the unseasonably warm westerly winds we’ve had most of today would have – had this been a dry winter – made (relatively) safe fire hazard reduction burning extraordinarily difficult. Add another 4 or 5 C of global warming and there may be no window of opportunity in dry conditions that doesn’t require vast amounts of equipment and labour available. Not to mention what that might do for actual hot conditions.

  22. Ikonoclast
    July 23rd, 2016 at 17:15 | #22

    @Ken Fabian

    Actually I like cold, clear weather especially when I am doing pick and shovel work as I am doing at the present time. I could pay for the work or hire a dingo mini-digger but why do that when I need the exercise? I have peeled off 5 kilos already. If it had been shivering cold I would have shivered off a few more kilos of round fat. I hate warm winters. As well as bushfire fuel load problems we will develop insect, pest and disease load problems with not enough cold, dry weather to knock mosquito, fly, tick etc. populations down enough. It could be ugly when Zika gets here. It’s carried by the common Culex genus of mosquitoes as well as Aedes aegypti.

  23. Donald Oats
    July 23rd, 2016 at 19:38 | #23

    Yeah, that particular episode was beyond passing strange. The carer explained the situation, he had his hands up, he was lying on his back, was clearly unarmed, and was trying to get the patient to lie down and to submit. It was also fairly clear that the patient was not capable of understanding what was going on around them, and the thing in their hands was a toy truck, something the carer also explained—all before the shots were fired.

    I don’t think simple rascism explains it, I think it is an over-compensating sense of fear of every encounter with people, and a training that is too geared to gun first, talking second. There is no doubt that there is some risk in a proportion of encounters with members of the public, but this firing on people who are clearly unarmed and compliant, it is bizarre.

  24. July 23rd, 2016 at 21:37 | #24

    @Donald Oats
    I agree. I’ve seen several videos of this type, and the cops, despite being in no real danger, seem genuinely terrified.

  25. Ikonoclast
    July 24th, 2016 at 06:01 | #25

    @John Brookes

    I have been puzzling about these issues too. Certainly, the idea that the cops are basically terrified all the time has occurred to me. This is where words for subjective states are rather inadequate. The cops’ mental states in these situations seem to be a compound of terror, hypervigilance, paranoia and hysteria. Group hysteria seems to overcome these US cops when they operate in that kind of cordon.

    The level of terror and paranoia which US cops clearly experience must come from the knowledge that anybody could be carrying a gun. They clearly expect every black man, every “nutter” and quite a few white people to be carrying a gun. So every time they pull up someone even for a speeding ticket they are thinking “He might have a gun.” This in so many ways comes back to gun laws. Legal and easy gun ownership, legal hand guns, open carry laws etc. all function to make civil society a place where, if you are law enforcement or anyone else you have to assume everyone might be carrying a gun.

  26. jrkrideau
    July 24th, 2016 at 12:43 | #26


    if you are law enforcement or anyone else you have to assume everyone might be carrying a gun

    I think the US police do. A good 20 or 25 years ago I was on a rugby trip to a small US university town and we were having a somewhat raucus sing-along in someone’s back yard. Knock comes on front door and one of our Canadian players opens it to find a police officer with drawn gun standing on the porch.

    Apparently the police office told him that the neighbors had called the police and asked them to stop by and request that we clear up the songs a bit. No problem with the noise, per se, just those lovely old hymns we were bellowing singing.

  27. GrueBleen
    July 24th, 2016 at 13:14 | #27


    The question I’m starting to ask myself – and wondering just why it took me so long – is whether police are having visual and auditory “illusions”. We know perfectly well that from the nice neutral picture of reality delivered into the eyeballs, the signal that reaches the brain can be interpreted quite differently – especially for people under stress from dfear and excitement and even panic.

    The brain imposes its own patterns on what we “see” (we even have a term for a fairly innocuous version of it: pareidolia which is a subset of apophenia). Schizophrenics are apparently particularly prone to see the world differently – not that I’m implying tge police are certifiable schizophrenics, but like a lot of other things, it is a state of mind and body which has degrees from mild up to serious.

    So, I’m just wondering why I haven’t seen any psychologist’s and/or psychiatrist’s comments, analyses etc. In the most recent one, the cop may actually have interpreted the toy truck as a “gun” and maybe even just not heard, or not registered, the carer’s explanation.

    Anyway, Ikono, you may find these interesting:


  28. John Goss
    July 24th, 2016 at 16:15 | #28

    How would you classify Richard Toll, John.
    As I understand his views he’s not a ‘sceptic’ on climate change science, but he is a ‘sceptic’ on the need to take action quickly to avert climate change, and part of the reason for that scepticism is his interpretation of the uncertainties around climate change models, as well as his view on the real world implications of the outputs from climate change models.
    I suspect he is not the species of ‘sceptic’ you are trying to dissect, but I am not sure.

  29. Mpower
    July 24th, 2016 at 17:47 | #29

    @John Goss
    Uncertainty is the final resting place ( for whom bell tolls?, sorry about that) of denialists who have played all the cards from “What warming?” to” it has happened before!” etc etc. Sadly our new Minister for something Northern , Senator Canavan from CQ, plays the uncertainty card (despite or maybe because of his BA BEcon dissonant double from UQ!). Doubly ironically his region including GBR has more to lose from increased climate variability than most places on the planet ( biggest El Nino La Nina impacts) and contributes more per capita than most regions ( coal, cane, cattle etc).
    Of course there are many uncertainties about the bits, but that does not justify uncertainty or skepticism about the whole.

  30. rog
    July 24th, 2016 at 22:23 | #30

    Read this, a GOP resignation letter,

    At the national level, the delusions necessary to sustain our Cold War coalition were becoming dangerous long before Donald Trump arrived. From tax policy to climate change, we have found ourselves less at odds with philosophical rivals than with the fundamentals of math, science and objective reality.

    The Iraq War, the financial meltdown, the utter failure of supply-side theory, climate denial, and our strange pursuit of theocratic legislation have all been troubling. Yet it seemed that America’s party of commerce, trade, and pragmatism might still have time to sober up. Remaining engaged in the party implied a contribution to that renaissance, an investment in hope. Donald Trump has put an end to that hope.


  31. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 07:31 | #31

    From 2015:


    Fourteen record heat months in a row up to June 2016 just adds to the picture. Climate change is no longer a prediction. It is current reality and its about to bite hard. Sometimes, it’s the less obvious things that are the worse dangers. Ocean changes from death of the ocean food chain, to the failure of “conveyor” currents and “escalator” currents, will have enormous impacts on developments on land including on human civilization.

  32. Ken Fabian
    July 25th, 2016 at 08:38 | #32

    @John Goss
    Besides the strong associations with the CO2 is good and climate science is a Left conspiracy crowd, Richard Toll seems to portray himself as “lukewarmer” – which I think is just a variant of climate science denier/”skeptic”. He appears to much of uncertainty as a basis for treating climate change as less likely to be seriously damaging than mid range mainstream projections whilst failing to treat uncertainty as a basis for accepting the possibility it could be more damaging. He seems to primarily work at finding cause to not act on the expert advice in a timely and appropriate manner, to criticise the policies of those that do and fails to present actual alternative pathways. The climate problem is real but maybe not that serious, more important priorities should take… priority, delay is our friend and so on. style.

  33. tony lynch
    July 25th, 2016 at 09:43 | #33

    June CO2

    June 2016: 406.81 ppm
    June 2015: 402.80 ppm

  34. Neil
    July 25th, 2016 at 11:14 | #34


    There is a literature on weapon bias: the extent to which implicit racism leads people to interpret an ambitious object in the hands of a black man as a gun (versus the same object in the hands of a white man). See Keith Payne’s work, for a start.

  35. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 12:18 | #35


    Grazias, Neil. The kind of ‘mental illusion’ you refer to would be fairly common, I expect, especially when exacerbated by ‘fear, excitement and possible panic’. Indeed ‘optical illusions’ are all over the place and don’t need schizophrenia to be effective (though I still think that “mild” schizophrenia is far more common than we – and DSM V – believe).

    Is the Keith Payne you’re recommending the one who won a VC (which isn’t a Viet Cong, it’s a Victoria Cross) in Vietnam ? And do you have a nice introductory article you could point to ?

  36. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 12:22 | #36


    Hasn’t paid much attention to history, and precious little to current conditions too, to have waited so long.

    Maybe he should have read John Cole on Balloon Juice and gotten the idea much quicker.

  37. Ivor
    July 25th, 2016 at 12:33 | #37

    @Ken Fabian

    It is “Richard S. J. Tol” not Toll. He is the author of “Climate Economics” which is freely available as a pdf.

    His data is mainly from IPCC AR4 and some of his referencing is inadequate – particularly fig 2.2. I only found a vague reference to SRES (IPCC Special Report Emission Standards).

    This is interesting because it appears to show that reduction in carbon “intensity” is failing to produce any cut in CO2 due to population increase and growth in GDP. This is based on the Kaya Identity.

    Many of the recent pledges from Paris were to reduce carbon intensity.

  38. Jim Birch
    July 25th, 2016 at 14:01 | #38

    It is maddening but climate change is not seen as a matter of science and risk management, but as an juicy arena for signalling of allegiances. The deniers weren’t accountable before and they aren’t now.

  39. Neil
    July 25th, 2016 at 14:13 | #39

    Not the same Keith Payne. This one is an American social psychologist. Don’t know any introductory articles, but you can do the weapons misidentification test yourself as Project Implicit (hosted on the Harvard website). Google: implicit bias weapons.

  40. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 15:48 | #40

    @tony lynch

    Just wondering, are there any good philosophy blogs worth visiting? Philosophy IO is good but it’s not a blog where amateur mugs like me can post (even to ask questions).

    You might recall I am not a fan of the “Deflationary Theory of Truth” (so-called). Quick question. What is “p” in the text below? Does “p” stand for “proposition”? I assume it does from the context.

    ‘For all p, if he asserts p, p is true’, then we see that the propositional function p is true is simply the same as p, as e.g. its value ‘Caesar was murdered is true’ is the same as ‘Caesar was murdered’. (Ramsey 1927) quoted at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online).

  41. Neil
    July 25th, 2016 at 15:58 | #41

    I’m sure Tony Lynch has his own (and different) recommendations, but my favourites are the Brains Blog (for recent work in the philosophy of mind) and Imperfect Cognitions. There is a high quality free will blog (Flickers of Freedom) and an equally good ethics blog (peasoup).

    Yes, ‘p’ stands for an arbitrary proposition.

  42. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 16:07 | #42


    Like Neil said, mate. p and q (not the same as p’s and q’s) are the expressional equivalents of algebra’s x and y. So (he says, vainly recalling his RMIT course):
    p>q (p implies q) is identical to p+~q (p or not q).

    Hooray, some first order propositional calculus.

  43. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 16:08 | #43


    Ta, I’ll follow that up.

  44. GrueBleen
    July 25th, 2016 at 16:26 | #44

    @Jim Birch

    Yes, Jim, but by whom is climate change not seen as a matter of science (and BTW, best to prefix “climate change” with “anthropogenic” because even the raving deniers at Watts Up know that there is “natural” climate change – even they have heard of Milankovitch cycles – which fact they use incessantly to try to undermine the idea that any change at all could be “unnatural”).

    Apart from the usual suspects (ie the Watts Up crew and its running dog lackeys), the general public basically accepts “climate change”, and even “anthropogenic climate change” but basically believes that it won’t really affect them.

    A lot like the UK and Euro ‘deep austerity’ programs (but not as deep as that imposed on Greece). Many members of the general public simply aren’t opposed to austerity measures because they believe any negative effects just won’t touch them.

    Belief in personal immortality and immunity isn’t just an attribute of feckless teens.

  45. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 19:22 | #45


    Thank you. Much appreciated.

  46. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 20:11 | #46


    As well as thanking you I should have added this. I am most interested in metaphysics, especially the central issues of ontology and epistemology. Blogs in that arena would be of interest to me. I am currently interested in;

    (a) process metaphysics
    (b) complex systems theory.
    (c) “system monism”
    (d) issues of consciousness and free will

    When one looks up “system monism” one gets legal but not philosophical results. I suppose I should be looking up “Relational Theory” which I think will return results in Physics and Philosophy.

    I initially considered matters within what would conventionally be called the “physicalism” form of Monism but I now see the Physicalism/Idealism debate itself as a false dichotomy (and dualism as completely untenable). In a thorough-going Monism, basic substance terms in the Physicalism/Idealism debate lose all meaning. “Physical” only means something if somehow “non-physical” or “spiritual” or some other contrasted term is being postulated explicitly or implicitly. What are left are simply the “dependable laws of relation” (of existence) as I call them.

  47. July 26th, 2016 at 05:08 | #47

    Indeed, Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics, which certainly applies to most on climate.

    However, I actually have some data to go along with anecdotes, and a big chunk of it comes from a detailed study of nearly 500 commenters and nearly 2000 comments, summarized in Pseudoskeptics Exposed In The SalbyStorm.*
    Of course, Jo Nova’s blog was probably the center of the action.

    It is very difficult to get at the data regarding the larger population, i.e., how many people actually change their minds … in part, because vociferous commenters on denial blogs represent an extreme edge of the distribution.

    “Climate dismissives, pseudoskeptic behavior
    By contrast, of the 400+ dismissive commenters (who reject mainstream consensus), about 40% explicitly supported Salby’s erroneous CO2 ideas, seemingly desperate to believe the current rise in CO2 was natural. That idea was rejected by a mere handful, of whom one apologized and said he expected to be downvoted for doing so, and indeed he was.
    Dismissives reacted to Salby’s Macquarie story in varying ways:

    ~5% were consistently cautious or dubious from the start, commendably able to think skeptically on Salby’s story, if not on climate science or his CO2 ideas.

    ~5% accepted Salby’s story at first, but were able to change their minds, at least to being cautious about Salby’s story.

    ~10% said nothing about Salby’s story.

    However, most dismissives displayed strong pseudoskeptic behavior:

    ~80% rapidly accepted Salby’s story without question and persisted. They either ignored contrary evidence, insulted its bringers, invented ill-informed counter-arguments or just stopped commenting when strong evidence appeared. Graham Readfearn’s story revealed Salby’s mis-use of an old associate who had trusted him. Despite strong participation by Australians and 3 relevant pieces in The Australian, that story was ignored. Even later, hundreds of comments were written in support of Salby’s CO2 ideas, ignoring science-based counter-arguments and strong evidence of Salby’s past deception. As a whole, the blog network rapidly propagated ideas it liked, but not contrary data.

    Salby’s story confirmed their beliefs and 45% of this group amplified it into conspiracy ideas. ”

    * Later this year, I hope to put out the full report. It got suspended because I found that Salby’s grad student was finishing PhD under another advisor, and wanted to wait until she was done, and then waited until the court ruling occurred.

  48. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 10:49 | #48

    @john Mashey

    Hmmm. Could one compare the “~80% rapidly accepted Salby’s story without question and persisted.” with the ~80% who rapidly accepted Trump’s story without question and persisted ?

  49. Neil
    July 26th, 2016 at 13:26 | #49


    Turns out there are no professional blogs on metaphysics. There is one on epistemology. It’s called Certain Doubts. I don’t frequent it, but the people involved are all excellent. The Brains Blog often has posts (the format is usually book symposia) on consciousness. I blogged on the topic myself a while back. And Flickers is the place for free will.

    In my circles, everyone is a physicalist (as you would be too; holding that there is nothing non-physical is all it takes for entry). Disputes are between non-reductive physicalists (the majority), reductive physicalists and eliminativists (with the question being: what is the relationship between mental properties and their physical realizers).

  50. John Mashey
    July 26th, 2016 at 13:45 | #50


    Certainly plausible, although i’m not sure which Trump story you mean, and his stories don’t go very deep.
    Salby’s was exquisitely well-crafted:
    1) To appeal to climate denier demographic
    2) and also “academic freedom” supporters, ie to put a facade of academic freedom over awful behavior. Now universities sometimes behave badly, so this is possible, but in this case, knee-jerk reactions were simply wrong, and people didn’t bother to look for data. (From hearing about this to knowing about problems at CU /NSF was about 2 hours.)
    3) Carefully selective of facts…
    The “couldn’t make hearing because found ticket canceled when arrived at Paris” thing stirred up Jo Nova’s fans like nothing ekse … But bogus.

  51. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2016 at 07:52 | #51


    Yes, I hold that there is one field of existence; the Cosmos as single, entangled system. This is obviously a Relational Theory taken from the general example of modern physics. All existence is a single, unified system such that the positions and other properties of objects, processes or fields only exist relative to the positions and properties of all other objects, processes or fields. This monistic complex system in turn is found to consist of n complex sub-systems. When we identify any “object” or “process” as some kind of apparently discrete existent, we are really identifying a sub-system of the Monistic or whole system.

    My complex system monism does not assert “no parts”, it asserts connection of all parts in one system. Differentiation and connection can and do exist in a monistic system. Parts or apparently discrete existents, as I asserted above are sub-systems. What then becomes of key importance is the issue of boundaries or interfaces. Interfaces is a better term in some respects. A sub-system retains some differentiation from its surrounding system environment via maintaining a measurably different internal “economy” (need a better word) in terms of matter-energy and information. The boundary or interface is permeable to matter-energy and information transfers.

    I hold that life and consciousness are not special problems relative to what is regarded as inert matter. What separates living systems from non-living systems (and the boundaries are fuzzy of course) are the details of matter-energy and information transfers. In particular, I think there is an importance to the ratio of information transfer relative to matter-energy transfer. One might say life transfers information (using this to effect organisation) in a matter-energy efficient way. Thus a high ratio of information transfer to matter-energy transfer or use is a characteristic of life.

    Mind constructs patterns of “analogic congruence” (Russell called it structural isomorphism) with systems outside itself. It uses these patterns to experimentally and imaginatively manipulate reality economically in terms of matter-energy requirements. The two-way transfer of information (patterns) from mind to exterior-to-mind and the reverse works iterativelt to allow mind to construct an “internal reality” and manipulate “external reality”.

    As I said above, I do not regard mind or even consciousness as special problems. I have no problem with recourse to brute fact non-explanations about existence. Existence is a brute fact. Consciousness within existence or as an aspect of existence is a brute fact. Consciousness is neither more inexplicable nor less inexplicable that all other facts or relations of existence. We would be better off regarding consciousness as a field in the monistic system than propounding that it was of different “substance”. Consciousness certainly shows attributes of a field, associations with electrical activity and so on. As to arguments that we cannot detect consiousness itself (other than self-detecting), I would suggest that the information field of a mind, as its extant emissions of information and patterns through the physical apparatus of the body, is indeed how we detect other minds and consciousness in everyday life.

    With regard to the question “what is the relationship between mental properties and their physical realizers”? I would suggest this. Consistent with complex system monism as above, mental properties and their physical realizers are as interconnected and necessary to each other as say matter-energy and space-time. They are connected co-existents. Any philosophical push for “explanations” and “causes” is essentially pointless and fruitless. There are really no such things as explanations or causes. Explanations get lost in endless regress as Hume pointed out. And explaining becomes explaining away. Likewise with “causes”. So-called causes are really observably dependable laws of relation of process playing out of over time. We cannot discover explanations and causes. We can only discover dependable laws of relation which in themselves turn out to be probabilistic not deterministic. There is something almost of Eastern Philosophy in taking this view of stopping fruitless thought and investigating only that which is existentially accessible and relatable.

    Just a few thoughts I couldn’t help sharing.

  52. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 08:56 | #52

    @John Mashey

    The “Trump story” I meant was actually Trump himself – the rubes believe he is what he says he is.

    But thanks for the analysis of Salby – not surprising, but informative anyway.

  53. John Mashey
    July 27th, 2016 at 09:00 | #53


    Ahh Trump .. I lived in N NJ 1973-1983, which is essentially a suburb of NYC, so that the NY Times was the main newspaper, and NY TV stations…
    hence, Trump was known.

  54. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 09:06 | #54


    Oh, the rest of your life is going to be such fun, Ikono 🙂

    Anyway, when are you going to read Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained so you can then explain it to us all ?

  55. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2016 at 09:44 | #55


    I will be honest. From what I have read so far of Dennett’s work, I don’t think he makes much sense and his writing style is completely unclear. I would contrast that to say George Berkeley, who I don’t agree with in the main but whose propositions and writing style are extraordinarily lucid. Hume is also clear and I happen to agree with a great deal in Hume. Obscurity is acceptable sometimes if the ideas actually are difficult, profound and complex. But a lot of philosophical obscurity is actually woolly ideas and bad writing.

    For a start, if Dennett is really trying to “explain” consciousness he is already on the wrong track in my opinion. Consciousness like existence itself is a brute fact. I suppose it depends on what he means by “explained” in that context. Reputations don’t impress me, especially modern ones. Plenty of people with reputations alive today will be forgotten in short order after they are dead… or even before. Lucid ideas and lucid writing do impress me. I also prefer to attempt nutting things out myself before I go looking too far. Obviously, that is tempered by the need to start with at least some background.

    Everyone who attempts to be a philosopher of some sort is flirting with justified ridicule if they attempt to share their ideas in any manner. I am sure 99.9999% of such people including myself will “suffer” obscurity, ridicule and an utterly pointless life in that regard. So what? A toothache is worse! 🙂

  56. Ken Fabian
    July 27th, 2016 at 11:36 | #56


    I think the problem with Tol (I had wondered about correct spelling, too late) is that he tends to use the fact that, so far, attempting to reduce carbon intensity in the face of continuing energy demand growth isn’t bringing down emissions to argue against ongoing attempts to reduce emissions by available means, specifically investment in renewables. That such intensity reduction, both by commitments and by achievements has been deeply inadequate doesn’t alter the fact that it is a key element of a pathway towards zero emissions. Suggesting means that are not available or are, for various reasons, unacceptable or unachievable in the mouths of those dedicated to finding cause to not commit, becomes what I think of as tactical raising of a bar too high in order to create a barrier to ongoing progress. This can also be thought of as using perfect as the enemy of good enough – or of perfect as the enemy of barely adequate or just of just slowing the rate of descent towards much worse.

    I would say that renewables have only just recently passed the significant price points that encourage their mass expansion towards the scales necessary to make a real difference; any analyses that project their future impacts based on what they cost and achieved in the past are going to be in serious error.

  57. GrueBleen
    July 27th, 2016 at 17:40 | #57


    Your points re Dennett are taken as … what’s the term ? Obiter dictum ? Or perhaps, as Stephen Crane once remarked:

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    Nonetheless, I found Dan’s ‘Consciousness Explained’ a good read and full of ‘incidentals’ that made it worthwhile even though he didn’t, IMNSHO, “explain” it at all. But he tried real hard 🙂

    As to the rest of your life: ridicule is a state of somebody else’s mind – it implies no obligation in me to either recognize or acknowledge it.

  58. Ivor
    July 27th, 2016 at 22:45 | #58

    @Ken Fabian

    Yes, I suppose so. Humanity would benefit hugely from both “good enough” and “barely adequate” means to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Keeling Curve demonstrates that this an urgent present problem that is only getting worse.

  59. John Turner
    August 1st, 2016 at 14:39 | #59

    I have never really understood the position of climate change sceptics with respect to reducing co2 emissions.

    Let’s assume that the climate change sceptics are right but we have taken steps to reduce c02 emissions what is the economic and social downside? A small reduction in per capita GDP perhaps and the earlier demise of our coal industry which is destined to decline anyway as alternative energies will inevitably become cheaper coupled with a general improvement in our environment. No big deal.

    On the other hand if we assume that the scientists are correct in their forecasts of global warming and the causes what is the potential economic and social downside if we ( all nations) do nothing.
    Nothing less than complete economic collapse, social disruption on an unprecedented scale, massive movements in population and irreparable environmental damage on a scale not seen in human history.

    As far as decisions go this really is a no brainer.

  60. Ikonoclast
    August 1st, 2016 at 16:54 | #60

    This is an interesting idea from Frank Jotzo and colleagues re brown coal power stations in Victoria.

    “This is how Jotzo’s idea would work. There are four stations owned by three companies. Each would bid competitively on how much money they would accept to shut down straight away. The federal regulator would have a look at the bids, and choose the most cost effective one. The remaining power stations would pay the winning bidder to shut. There is a brilliance to it – the owners know that at some point several of them will close, but no one wants to be first because it would leave the others to make more profit.

    “You can expect that Hazelwood would put in a very competitive bid under that scenario because it is the oldest plant and would have a relatively low remaining lifetime,” says Jotzo. It couldn’t ask for too much money or it might be beaten by another bidder. “It’s not meant as a cure-all or even a medium to long-term policy mechanism. It’s meant as a short-term approach to a very particular short term problem.”” – Guardian.

    This sounds like a sound idea to me IF all stations are fully privately owned.

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