War on/over Science thread

This is the promised open thread on science. If you want to defend or attack climate science skepticism, take a stand on intelligent design, argue about passive smoking or whatever, here’s your chance. No coarse language, and try to keep it civilised.

68 thoughts on “War on/over Science thread

  1. moved from Andrew Bolt thread

    Anyone who does wish to submit to Nature, please be sure not to address any systematic failing on the part of climate scientists, lest you receive a response like this:

    Nature’s excuse this time? Editor Nicki Stevens wrote:
    we have regretfully decided that publication of this comment as a Brief Communication Arising is not justified, as the concerns you have raised apply more generally to a widespread methodological approach, and not solely to the Hegerl et al. paper
    Yes, you read that right. Because everyone else has been doing much the same thing, they aren’t interested in ensuring that the stuff they publish is valid.

    Those are James Annan’s own words.

  2. Proust,

    As someone with a great deal of experience in publishing, this comment from the editor does not strike me as at all surprising. The editor is saying that the submission purports to be a brief communication on a particular paper. But it is not: it is an attack upon a methodology that is widespread in the field. That is sufficient grounds to reject it as it stands. Moreover, it is very likely that given that it is an attack upon a widespread methodology, it is unable to achieve its aims as a brief communication. Generally, well-established methodologies do not employ obvious fallacies or any other errors that can be very easily demonstrated. Hence there is a second reason for rejection: that the paper likely does not achieve its aim. Finally, as a recent study on referee’s reports in the sciences noted (I don’t have the reference to hand) rejections almost never attempt to be exhaustive. They give a sufficient reason for rejection, even if there are multiple sufficient reasons.

  3. Neil, as someone who has a great deal of experience in publishing (as author, reviewer and editor), I can tell you that in the harder sciences Nicki Stevens comment is way out of line.


    Dr. Einstein, we have regretfully decided that publication of your Special Theory of Relativity as a Brief Communication Arising is not justified, as the concerns you have raised apply more generally to a widespread methodological approach [Newtonian Mechanics], and not specifically to the Hegerl et al. paper.

    “Generally, well-established methodologies do not employ obvious fallacies or any other errors that can be very easily demonstrated. Hence there is a second reason for rejection: that the paper likely does not achieve its aim.”

    As a reviewer, your prior bias should never be a reason for rejection. If the paper does not achieve its aim, you point out the error and that contributes to your reasons for rejection.

  4. Deniers seek to deify their bias.

    Reality is less important than the apotheosis.

    Deniers, in the face of evidence, are simply being religious, in the sporting team sense of the word, where reality is a social construction, and whoever can grab the political football in a game of keepings-off (for the longest times) wins.

    Its all because we lack an organ for truth. In its place, we substitute our favourite bias, because without that push we would not move at all, and reality would not be noticeable at all.

    Deniers are no different to the rest of us, they are just out of luck on a particular issue, and their innate preferences and tribal paraphernalia are sidelined. Depending how obsessive or neaurotic they are they will not give up on it (read refuse to learn, adapt, change).

    But every dog has his day. Just don’t ask Donald Rumsfeld about his.

  5. I can’t imagine the Special Theory of Relativity being submitted as a “Brief Communication Arising”.
    How about giving us a decent analogy oh author/reviewer/editor.

  6. There is a general tendency, especially evident in JQ’s comments setting up this thread, to imply that “the Science” of global warming is a closed book, like the Koran. But as Barry Ninham (one of Australia’s most noted scientists) noted at a recent seminar, just as the Ptolemiac system was incompatible with placing man on the moon, so more recently other closed books have had to be reopened, as with the classical textbook theories of solutions (eg of electrolytes etc) which now prove to have been seriously flawed and actually wrong, because they overlooked Hofmeister effects, as crucial to proper understanding as Mendelian genetics. Ninham also mentioned how the “all important role of dissolevd atmospheric gas on ‘hydrophobic interactions'” has been ignored, with a mistaken general reliance on Euclidean geometry. He added “it’s the same for the magnetic field and standard model of the sun, which are central to climate change, and for photosynthesis…The books have to be rewritten”.

    One of the books that will sooner or later have to be rewritten is Houghton’s Global Warming. At Fig.2.4 he has a wildly misleading depiction of the atmosphere purporting to show thermal radiation in the infrared region and the contribution of different gases to the radiation. Here the GHGs, H20, CH4, N2O, O3, and CO2 are implied to outweigh the oxygen and nitrogen that are known to form 99% of the atmosphere by volume, and each of the GHG dutifully sticks to its alloted region, instead of being well mixed. When Houghton produces a probabilistic model showing how infrared radiation is mostly blocked by the 1% of GHG, when for any wavenumber the probabilities are that it will miss the GHG, perhaps we could progress. Likewise Houghton fails to inform us what it is the rising CO2 displaces from the atmosphere. Is it oxygen or water? If the latter, the rising CO2 will reduce the H2O and its claimed positive feedback effect. Houghton also fails to explain why when both Mars and Venus have atmospheres consisting almost wholly of CO2, they have very different climates. He notes the presence on Venus of almost pure sulphuric acid. He attributes Venus’ “runaway” greenhouse climate to its water vapour which may well explain its very high temperatures. But then if CO2 is displacing H2O here….? JQ tells us to submit to Nature, which is probably wholly staffed by old mates or sycophants of Houghton. Houghton’s book by the same token was never peer reviewed by economists, even though much of it comprises his own wayout theories of economic development and cost benefit analysis.

  7. Re JQ’s new thread (and his failure as yet to deliver on his promised response to the Stern Reveiw), “scientific predictability also raises the question of the scientist’s
    ethical responsibilities. His conclusions must be guided by respect for
    truth and an honest acknowledgment of both the accuracy and the inevitable
    limitations of the scientific method. Certainly this means avoiding
    needlessly alarming predictions when these are not supported by sufficient
    data or exceed science’s actual ability to predict. But it also means
    avoiding the opposite, namely a silence, born of fear, in the face of
    genuine problems”.
    –Pope Benedict XVI, 6 November 2006

    It is not the purpose of this memo to criticise my fellow scientists. It is to point out that in my view, there is a strong possibility that current climate change science and the role played by scientists in this field, are likely to be closely scrutinised in the months to come.

    Honesty, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It exists at different levels – at home, at work, and all the way through to international level. Generally, honest scientists have problems when they enter the political arena and have to leave the shelter of the purely academic environment.
    I believe that the UK government made a big mistake on this whole global warming issue. In order to pursue their international agenda they started manipulating science. It is now becoming clear that they not only encouraged science that pointed to human causality of global warming, but they actively discouraged, and more recently tried to suppress, scientific endeavour that questioned this.
    An item hot off the press is that the UK Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett held a news conference yesterday 9 November in which she likened the voice of global warming sceptics to Islam terrorists. She went on to criticise the media for what she termed ‘Wheeling out a sceptic to get a headline’.
    The Weather Action news release continued:
    “Beckett is shamefully ignorant of science and its workings. Politicians trying to control scientists spells the end of free-thinking and scientific advance. Climate sceptic scientists are being gagged and victimised in many countries including the UK and USA. Bizarrely scientists who are beneficiaries of the burgeoning climate crisis hype industry are claiming to be threatened, but that is just absurd. They are very well funded, the contrary view is not.

    International science on this subject is dominated by scientists in the fields of climatology and the environmental sciences. Not only were those of us in the applied sciences left out in the cold, but there was a deliberate policy to exclude us from the agendas of national conferences on this subject. It was applied at the Exeter conference early last year and I personally experienced it when my presentation to interested parties in Oudtshoorn was cancelled earlier this year.
    The proceedings of the International Panel on Climate change (IPCC) are also dominated by the views (honest but disingenuous) of those in the natural sciences.

    Then the green groups such as the WWF saw an opportunity to advance their causes. Human beings are responsible for destroying the environment by continuing to pollute the atmosphere with the undesirable greenhouse gas emissions (GGEs) generated by their coal fired power stations, transport and industrial activities. Something has to be done about it they claimed.
    Faced with this dilemma, scientists in the natural sciences had to make a choice. They could follow the green agenda, or the political agenda, or the human welfare agenda, or their consciences as scientists. These are incompatible. The argument, if you are not with us you are against us is a powerful persuasive tool. But it is totally abhorrent to the fundamental scientific objective which is to search for the truth wherever it lies.

    Then, in my opinion, the UK authorities made their biggest mistake. The Kyoto Protocol is based on scientific methods. It was flagging as uncommitted nations particularly the USA and Australia, refused to come on board and the major developing nations India and China remained exempt. So the UK authorities decided to reinforce their position with the economic argument. They appointed Nicholas Stern, a civil servant and internationally respected economist, to produce an economic review.
    Stern’s point of departure was the IPCC (2001) reports despite some protests (mine included). He then exaggerated the scientific consequences of global warming, and applied equally extremist economic factors such as the assumed interest rates. His projected costs to the world economy if no action was taken to reduce the global GGEs were horrendous and were clearly intended to frighten all nations into taking action ahead of Nairobi.
    It has had the opposite effect. Faced with the huge costs that could damage national economies and reduce funds available for poverty alleviation, nations are more cautious than ever to come on board.
    To make matters worse for the UK, economists the world over, including those in the UK, are up in arms. They are tearing up the Stern Review page by page.
    The timing of the Stern Review preceded by the edicts of the Royal Society was clearly intended to influence the nations attending the Nairobi Conference. They would have to accept the need for costly measures to control their GGEs. The costs of these measures will dent national economies.
    Stern emphasized that if these counter-measures are to succeed, they will have to be applied by all nations of the world, rich as well as poor. But developing counties by definition have other priorities for their limited budgets.
    As a result of this unseemly pressure by the developed nations of Europe, universal action to control GGEs seems remoter now than ever.

    I believe that there is now a strong possibility that this whole climate change issue will come under close scrutiny in the months ahead internationally and then in this country. The next IPCC assessment is due to be published in February. Unlike its predecessor issued in 2001 it will not achieve international recognition. All conclusions will come under the microscopes of the greenies, the applied scientists, and now the economists at both individual and national levels. There is no way that it can possibly convince all these groups.

    Enough philosophising. Here are some extracts from various sources during the past three days in the order that they were received, mainly from CCNet.

    7 November
    It seems impossible to have an honest conversation about global warming…. We need more candor. Unless we develop cost-effective technologies that break the link between carbon-dioxide emissions and energy use, we can’t do much. Anyone serious about global warming must focus on technology-and not just assume it. Otherwise, our practical choices are all bad: costly mandates and controls that harm the economy; or costly mandates and controls that barely affect greenhouse gases. Or, possibly, both.
    –Robert J. Samuelson, Newsweek, 13 November 2006

    You cannot tell people who are struggling to earn enough to eat that they need to reduce their emissions.
    –Lu Xuedu, China’s Office of Global Environmental Affairs, 30 October 2006

    Stern’s headlined conclusions are intellectual fictions. They’re essentially fabrications to justify an aggressive anti-global-warming agenda. The danger of that is we’d end up with the worst of both worlds: a program that harms the economy without much cutting of greenhouse gases.
    To check warming, Stern wants annual emissions 25 percent below current levels by 2050. The IEA projects that economic growth by 2050 would more than double emissions. At present, we can’t bridge that gap.

    The other great distortion in Stern’s report involves global warming’s effects. No one knows what these might be, because we don’t know how much warming might occur, when, where, or how easily people might adapt. Stern’s horrific specter distills many of the most terrifying guesses, including some imagined for the 22nd century, and implies they’re imminent. The idea is to scare people while reassuring them that policies to avert calamity, if started now, would be fairly easy and inexpensive.
    –Newsweek, 13 November 2006


    The Independent, 07 November 2006

    At times it has seemed as if the entire British debate on climate change has taken on the character of a pantomime, with lurid plots, grotesque caricatures, and stage villains.

    In the world of grown-ups, the man who has probably thought more deeply than anyone else in this country about climate change is distinctly unamused. Professor Mike Hulme is the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the coordinating lead author of the chapter on “climate change scenarios” for the third assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change.

    “Over the last few years a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country – the phenomenon of ‘catastrophic’ climate change'” wrote Prof. Hulme. “The increasing use of this term and its bedfellow qualifiers ‘chaotic’, ‘irreversible’ and ‘rapid’ has altered the public discourse [which] is now characterised by phrases such as ‘irreversible tipping in the Earth’s climate’ and ‘we are at the point of no return.'”

    “Some recent examples of the catastrophists include Tony Blair, who [states] ‘We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point.’ Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science’s predictions? … By ‘sexing it up’ we exacerbate…the very risks we are trying to ward off. The careless (or conspiratorial?) translation of concern about Saddam Hussein’s putative military threat into the case for WMD has had major geopolitical repercussions. We need to make sure the agents in our society which would seek to amplify climate change risks do not lead us down a similar counter-productive pathway.”


    Philip Stott, 6 November 2006
    Untoward faith in models

    Yet, even more worrying is the fundamental idea behind Stern, namely that, by enforcing such drastic economic measures, we will be able to control climate predictably. Climate is the most complex, coupled, non-linear, chaotic system known, and it is intrinsically unlikely that climate change can be predicated on a single variable, or factor, however politically convenient. Moreover, what climates are Tony Blair and Sir Nicholas hoping to produce? Will they be better? And when we get there, won’t they too change?

    Therein rests the real inconvenient truth. Climate is like Glasgow on a Saturday night – a wee bit chaotic. We cannot manage it predictably by fiddling at the margins, however well-meaning Sir Nicholas’ efforts.

    I believe Stern sets the wrong agendas, in that he mistreats uncertainty, so that the absence of knowledge justifies alarm, and he places an untoward faith in computer-generated prognostications rather than in real-world data and history. For the last 10 years, there has been no statistically-significant change in global mean temperature. Moreover, doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would, if all other factors remained constant, lead to only 1 degree C of warming. It is thus vital to remember that Stern’s panics reside with Lara Croft and the virtual world of the computer, and that climate models have overestimated the real-world warming by a factor of three. The models seem unable to cope with the key factors of water vapour and clouds.

    First in our priorities must be dealing with poverty, dirty water, and disease. And then we must establish a world order that can support all, but especially the poor, to cope with, and to adapt to, inexorable change whatever its causes or directions. The rest, I fear, is the dangerous and misguided ecochondria of a rich North.

    Stern has built a mighty economic edifice on shifting and unmanageable sands. I predict that Stern will sink quite quickly to join the now-forgotten Population Bomb and Limits to Growth, and many other such doomsday tracts.

    A U.N. conference working to fix long-term rules to fight global warming
    beyond 2012 “as soon as possible” was split on Tuesday over whether that
    meant an accord should be struck in 2008, 2009 or even 2010…. Yvo de
    Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said Nairobi will not
    launch formal negotiations to replace Kyoto — that will have to wait
    until the next meeting in 2007. He said a new deal might not be ready
    until 2010.
    –Reuters, 7 November 2006

    [Italian Environment Minister] Pecoraro Scanio said Europe should no
    longer accept that position and suggested the threat of trade sanctions
    against both the United States, and major exporters like China and
    India, should they refuse to accept emissions cuts. “We have asked the
    European Union to do something at the World Trade Organisation on
    environmental dumping for those countries which do not cut CO2,” he
    said. The aim would be to impose import duties on goods from countries
    which are not cutting emissions, said the minister. India and China can
    no longer refuse cuts on the basis that rich countries must act first,
    Pecoraro Scanio said. “Now they are becoming rich. So they should
    absolutely have to start making a contribution.”
    –Reuters, 7 November 2006

    8 November

    The First Post, 8 November 2006

    Scaremongering damages the credibility of real ecological research, says Robert Matthews

    For fundamentalists, few sins are more grave than that of apostasy. So spare a thought for Professor Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, who has gone over to the Dark Side and spoken out about scare-mongering over global warming.

    According to Prof Hulme, the climate change debate has become “negative, depressive and reactionary”, with environmentalists vying to find ever more apocalyptic visions of the future. He singles out Tony Blair and government scientists for perpetuating the most egregious claims about the impact of global warming, and accuses The Independent of indulging in “megaphone journalism”.

    Coming from the director of the respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, this may sound like Ian Paisley saying the IRA deserve a hearing. In fact, Prof Hulme has not changed his belief in the reality or seriousness of climate change. He has simply had enough of eco-fundamentalists hijacking the scientific agenda.

    He is not alone. Dr Tim Palmer, one of Britain’s leading experts on climate modelling, last week also warned that “hyping can be dangerously counter-productive”.

    Criticism of posturing politicians and right-on journalists is certainly richly deserved. Their scaremongering runs a real risk of convincing reasonable people it is simply too late to avoid climatic calamity.

    But there has been no shortage of academics all too happy to talk up the threats in the belief that the end justifies the means. Way back in the late 1980s, the influential climate change expert Prof Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, confessed: “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” He added that he hoped there was a balance between between “being effective and being honest”.

    Twenty years on, he and his fellow climate scientists are struggling to be either.

  8. zoot, it is a good enough analogy. Any journal that has a policy of rejecting contributions on the sole basis that they buck the prevailing wisdom should state so publicly, and then see how much respect they get.

  9. Proust,

    Scientists can only give an assessment of the possible outcomes for global warming from CO2 emissions. The concensus view is that there will be global warming and that it is likely to impose serious costs. If the range of current scientific opinion was reflected in probable outcomes we could, for example, say:
    -10% chance that there will be no serious cost of global warming
    -20% chance of a small cost of global warming
    -60% chance of serious costs of global warming
    -10% chance of very serious costs including those associated with tipping points, catastrophe etc.
    (These are just figures for illustrative purposes and reflect the scientific consensus – I don’t have a precise idea of what the probabilities are.)

    Faced with this information what should do we do?

    Scientists should continue research to get a more precise estimate of the probabilities and get more certainty about the possible effects and the probabilities that they will occur. That has been happening for two decades and over time the consensus has become progressively stronger.

    Economists should be arguing that market mechanisms need to be put in place so that the costs of carbon emissions are taken into account in all economic decisions. At present we have no mechanisms, which would only make sense if there was a 100% chance of no serious costs.

  10. Tam o’Shanter informs us:

    “Likewise Houghton fails to inform us what it is the rising CO2 displaces from the atmosphere.”

    Fortunately through a brilliant discovery Tim Curtin has found that the substance displaced by CO2 has exactly the same molecular weight as CO2. A truly amazing coincidence.

  11. And Chris Nobody thinks that if the composition by volume (not moles) of the atmosphere changes by 100 ppmv in one component, the rest by ppmv are not affected. I’ll give you my bank account details and await your generous donations as they will not reduce your account. O brave new math!

  12. Einstein didn’t say we should stop wearing seatbelts because he’d improved on Newton’s understanding of momentum.

  13. There’s always someone on the web who’s said it before, only better:

    Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong: “When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”


  14. Proust,

    I told you why the comment wasn’t biased. You told me that it was inappropriate because it was biased, without furether argument. I’ve noticed that when things get uncomfortable for you, you always stop offering arguments. BTW, don’t bother replying (at least for my sake anyway). I’ve decided, for the sake of my blood pressure, to ignore your comments from now on. I don’t think you’re a troll. I do think you need to learn some epistemic humility.

  15. ToS: why pretend to an understanding of atmospheric physics that you self-evidently do not have, and do it in print just to make sure everybody knows it?! Do you do the same sort of thing in economics? Your paragraph that contains the sentence “JQ tells us to submit to Nature, which is probably wholly staffed by old mates or sycophants of Houghton” doesn’t get much more obnoxious than that, but it does get even sillier. I reckon you’d have learnt in the past to be careful with your bluffing in economics debates – you don’t really believe that physics is an easier bluff than economics do you?

    BTW there’d be a few people watching you I think, after the nastiness of your comment a month ago at Deltoid. Which I’m going to quote from now.

    However if it was the Lancet’s 600,000++, unless diminishing returns to the killers (almost all Iraqis) set in, since most victims are men, within 10 years the problem will have been solved by removal of almost the total adult male population to all those virgins in the sky.

    Almost all Iraqis are killers is it? I won’t be wasting any time teaching school level atmospheric physics to you, dipshit.

  16. Taking up the matter of the philosophy of science which is one of John’s hobbies, this post was written for Weekend Reflections but no box comes up on my screen. The same applies to the Rememberance Day thread and some others, but not this one.

    Bertrand Russell became suspicious of a major and famous philosopher when he read something that the man wrote about mathematics. Hitherto Russell had been willing give him the benefit of the doubt on many issues but that gap in his credibility opened a floodgate. In this case the issue that has exposed John to serious doubt is his claim that Lakatos either located major and unresolved problems in Popper’s views or that he improved on Popper in some significant way.

    John has been too busy or too unwilling to explain his positon Alan Saunders on ABC radio did a program on Lakatos which illuminates the situation. This program shows how the problem has been shifted in a degenerative manner under the influence of the idea that there should be some logical criterion to distinguish the gold of science from the dross of pseudoscience. The quest for this criterion has been unhelpful on two counts (a) it did not succeed and this has led to widespread skepticism regarding science and reason (b) the quest diverted attention from the more helpful and important task of assessing the merits of alternative theories, using evidence as effectively as possible in the process.

    Alan Saunders studied philosophy at the London School of Economics and one of his teachers was John Worral. Recently he did a program on Imre Lakatos, including an interview with Worral who was a favorite student of Lakatos. This is the transcript of the program.


    Lakatos was a lapsed Marxist and when he reached England he became a bitter critic of Marxism. He saw the battle with Marxism very much in terms of defending science from pseudoscience. This put him in line with the positivists although he followed Popper in some ways and never tried to make the distinction in terms of meaning.

    He wrote “The Communist Party persecuted Mendelians on the ground that their doctrines were pseudoscientific. But then the problem of demarcation between science and pseudoscience is not merely a problem of armchair philosophy, it is of vital social and political relevance“.

    Formulating the basic problem

    Actually this formulation of the problem is unfortunate and consequently most of the literature that has raged over the implications of Popper’s demarcation criterion has generated more heat than light. Popper was partly to blame by his own committment to the idea that the problem of demarcation is fundamental. However the more important issue is the capacity of theories to solve problems (whatever the problems may be, in science or in public policy) and to stand up to criticism and it is not really an issue whether they are classified as scientific because that is a matter of definition.

    The most helpful way to think about Popper’s views on falsification is to see them as a commentary on the most effective way to use evidence. It is about evidence, not a definition of science or a theory of knowledge. Popper’s theory of knowledge is best called a non-authoritarian theory of conjectural objective knowledge and it it is very misleading to label it falsificationism because that only concerns a part of a larger structure of ideas about the nature of epistemic authority and the objective status of public knowledge in addition to subjective beliefs which are the focus of most epistemologies.

    The focus on science

    The definition of science became all important under the influence of the false theory that there was some way to establish scientific theories as “justified true beliefs“. Admittedly the problem shifted from conclusive justification to probability but in the hands of the positivists that was no improvement and the basic “justificationist� motivation remained in place.

    Alan Saunders introduced the modern debate over the nature of science with Popper’s 1934 message that a single recalcitrant fact can sink a theory. Actually that is not original to Popper but never mind, it was original in the context of the positivists’ concerns with verification as the criterion of meaning and scientific status. So on the Saunders account “it is not by proving our theories that we make scientific progress; it is by arriving at theories so bold that they can be disproved. When a theory is disproved, we know we’re getting somewhere.�

    It is more helpful to say that we make progress when we invent a better theory and it proves its mettle by standing up to tests. Disproving a theory counts as progress in several different ways (1) by the elimination of error, (2) narrowing the field of search for better theories and (3) creating new problems which are the growing points of learning.

    Saunders on Lakatos

    Saunders then quoted a passage from Lakatos that confused the issue with a correct observation – that scientists do not necessarily abandon a theory because facts contradict it – followed by the false conclusion that this invalidated Popper’s views on the most effective way to use evidence. Lakatos appealed to history to trump Popper on logic and methodology but Popper was perfectly well aware of the evasive tactics that can he used. His response was to formulate rules of the game to maximise the exposure of theories to tests and to sort out who is playing the game and who is not. So is is not a matter of demarcating “scienceâ€? in the abstract but instead it is an invitation to work out whether particular theories are potentially testable and whether people are interested in testing them.

    This shows the importance of the check on the problem. Popper’s problem was to formulate methods that would maximise criticism and economise the use of evidence which can be very expensive and time-consuming to obtain. It is not a refutation of his proposals to point out that some, many or even all people don’t want to be bothered with criticism.

    Enter Kuhn

    Saunders repeated the same (non) criticism of Popper, with attribution to Kuhn, and this was supported by Worral. “What Kuhn was saying was that rather than this sort of neat, sharp picture that Popper was providing of you lay on your couch (sic), you formulate a conjecture, you test that conjecture against evidence and if it survives, then you give it a tick…if it doesn’t survive, then you reject it and you go back to your couch to come up with a new conjecture. What Kuhn pointed out was that this is historically importantly false.�

    It is possible to find episodes in the history of science where refutations were rapidly accepted as decisive but that is not really the point, which is that Kuhn/Saunders/Worral have created a straw Popper, like the naive falsificationist Popper who never existed but was useful for Lakatos in his polemics.

    Popper described science as a human activity whereby people do their best to advance knowledge by groping in the dark. Logic has a role to play, along with evidence, mathematical calculations, metaphysical speculations, and all the human passions, including the less noble ones, often enough writ large.

    He was well aware that observations which appear to contradict theories need to be checked and they need to stand up to counter-arguments. That is why he made the distinction between FALSIFIABILITY (the possibility that a statment could be falsified by a true observation statement) and FALSIFICATION which which takes account of the practical difficulties of obtaining true observation statements and other considerations. So that falsification is inevitably conjectural due to the theory-dependence of observations, the fallibility of observers and experimental equipment, the Duhem problem etc.

    Popper on dogmatism

    He even went to far as to say that there is a methodological justification for a degree of dogmatism to hang onto a theory in the face of some objections, simply to keep it in the game long enought to find out whether it can be developed instead of throwing it away at the first sign of trouble. Bartley pointed out that the notion of dogmatism is not very helpful in that context, it is enough to say that theories are rendered problematic by contrary evidence and other shortcomings. That just means that more work is required to explore the nature of the problems, to find whether they can be overcome by effective modifications to the theory or by counter-arguments that demolish the credibility of the contrary evidence.

    When Popper’s views on the use of evidence are understood in their most robust and helpful form, related to the problems that they were formulated to address, it can be seen that the objections advanced by Kuhn and Lakatos do not fly. Recognition of that simple fact could have saved a great deal of wasted effort in the history and philosophy of science over the last four or five decades.

    What value have Kuhn and Lakatos added?

    It has been argued that Popper’s account is inadequate because he did not pay attention to the history, psychology and sociology of science, so Kuhn and Lakatos done well to advance the discussion past the point where Popper left it, whether or not he is correct on his own topics of interest.

    It that is the case it would have helped if Kuhn and Lakatos had acknowledged what was correct in Popper instead of giving the impression that they had refuted his basic ideas, root and branch. In fact Kuhn did make a major concession in a little-repeated statement in his essay in Criticism and the Growth of Knoweldge, (eds Lakatos and Musgrave, page 247). “Even in the developed sciences, there is an essential role for Sir Karl’s methodology. It is the strategy appropriate to those occasions when something goes wrong with normal science, when the discipline encounters crisis�.

    Kuhn was only interested in the crisis preceding revolutions while in contrast for Popper there are mini-crises (open problems, called puzzles by Kuhn) all over the place, depending on the capacity of scientists to be critical and exercise “the sense of wonder� about the work that remains to be done on unsolved problems.

    Popper actually sold himself short in defending his work on demarcation because he had the ideas in hand to outflank the opposition with a more effective rejoinder to their positive programs, so far as they had positive programs to offer. The paradigms of Kuhn and the research programs of Lakatos can be seen as rather unhelpful formulations of the notion of metaphysical research programs that Popper propounded in the 1950s while he revised his first book. These take account of the programmatic nature of scientific research that Lakatos addressed with his methodology of programs. Recall that Lakatos had accces to everything that Popper wrote on MRPs because it was circulating around the London School of Economics in drafts and ms form for thirty years before it was eventually published in the third volume of The Postscript to the LSD.

    The ideas in the MRPs can also stand in for the historical and psychological elements of Kuhn’s paradigms, thought they provide more accessible handles for criticism to eliminate error and make progress. It has yet to be demonstrated how Kuhn’s ideas (or those of Lakatos) actually help working scientists to be more effective as scientists.

    The same may be said of Popper’s MRPs at the moment but the point is that paradigms and MSRP have been taken up by thousands of people for decades and I am not aware of anyone of note who has mounted a serious effort to make use of the theory of MRPs to systematically advance some area of scientific research.

  17. You cannot tell people who are struggling to earn enough to eat that they need to reduce their emissions.
    –Lu Xuedu, China’s Office of Global Environmental Affairs, 30 October 2006

    Maybe the Chinese should have been thinking about a sustainable population a long time ago.

    Otherwise, our practical choices are all bad: costly mandates and controls that harm the economy; or costly mandates and controls that barely affect greenhouse gases. Or, possibly, both.
    –Robert J. Samuelson, Newsweek, 13 November 2006

    “It’s the economy stupid.” Ahem, I think that line is growing old and musty. Everything is interrelated. The environment affects the economy and the economy affects the economy. A lot of modern economist just talk about growth, as if we didn’t live within a closed system. Unfortunately, many of these so called economist think that sustainability is a dirty word. But I guess when instant riches are in the offing, you would think that way.

  18. You cannot criticise the science, imperfect as some of it may be, the foundations are good and solid, and thereby rest all the other disciplines we rely on to guide us into the future. Mother Nature has many more secrets than we think and does not give a fig for science, economics, politics, sociology, theology or any other discipline, standby by for the perfect storm, beginning in 2007. For the denialists, your right the world will still be here, problem is we will not be. JQ, Perhaps this belongs in another thread.

  19. Neil, there is no reason for your blood pressure to go up. I just disagree with you.

    You said:

    “Generally, well-established methodologies do not employ obvious fallacies or any other errors that can be very easily demonstrated. Hence there is a second reason for rejection: that the paper likely does not achieve its aim.�

    I completely agree that one should assign a low prior probability of correctness to any paper that claims to expose obvious fallacies in well-established methodologies. When I review a paper that makes such claims, I focus more energetically on finding the error in the authors’ reasoning. If I find the error, that becomes the reason for rejection. In the very rare case that I don’t find such an error, I then think carefully how smart people could have been wrong all along. Once I understand how we got it wrong, I recommend acceptance (assuming the paper is otherwise ok). But in no case do I recommend rejection on the basis that the “paper likely does not achieve its aim”, ie based on my prior bias that such claims are unlikely to be true. That is not a good enough reason, and Annan was perfectly right to object.

  20. I think point is that a paper that challenges ‘well established methodologies’ should not be submitted to Nature as “Brief Communications Arising”. If you want to challenge a paradigm you need to make a substantive case not just criticize someone else’s work.

  21. Rafe, I explained my position at length and you just repeated yourself, as numerous commenters pointed out to you. However I’m interested in the claim that “Lakatos [failed to acknowledge] what was correct in Popper instead giving the impression that [he] had refuted his basic ideas, root and branch”. Can you give some citations to support this?

  22. Rafe and JQ: what are the testable propositions of the IPCC and Nick Stern & co which have so far not been refuted? I have read a fair bit in this area over the last couple of years and have yet to find R2 and ts in any cited papers that bear close examination. For example, what is the precise relationship between fossil fuel burning and reported higher temperatures, with R2 and t? When simple correlations between increasing CO2 and temperature rises over 250 years produce nothing inconsistent with a nul hypothesis, bring on the multiple regressions! But where are they? Not on this site.

  23. Intuitively, I feel it is more brave to be a “Pundit” than a graduate student.

    I can make any mistake, but a professor does not. That is the difference.

  24. “And Chris Nobody thinks that if the composition by volume (not moles) of the atmosphere changes by 100 ppmv in one component, the rest by ppmv are not affected.”

    Nice strawman but Tim Curtin thinks the mass of the atmosphere stays the same:

    “since 1750 we have 780 bn tonnes of CO2 increment in the global atmosphere since then and 780 billion tonnes of non-CO2 decrement since 1750.”

    It’s funny looking for the silliest things Tim Curtin says. He provides a great laughing stock.

  25. John, I am repeating myself because I think you have persisted in the misleading belief that there is a problem with Poppers views that need to be improved upon, perhaps along the lines suggested by Lakatos. I appreciate that policing Popper’s ideas is a slightly eccentic hobby but for some reason that I wish the sociology of knowledge would illuminate, people have decided that it is ok to take huge liberties with his ideas and so misleading misrepresentations circulate widely. Of course it is only worthwhile to challenge these things if Popper’s ideas at the core are good enough to make a difference. I think they are. And so, once more to the breach!

    You wrote (16 Sept)

    “On Popper, I think the big problem is that his falsificationist approach, taken literally, suggests that a research program can be rejected on the basis of a single “crucial experimentâ€?. As Popper himself recognised, this isn’t true and Lakatos’ treatment of scientific research programs seems to me to be the best available resolution. I find Lakatos’ ideas useful in my own work.”

    Reply: “The core of Popper’s approach is criticism, and attempted falsification is a part of that critical method. The question is, what is wrong with Popper’s views that was identified and corrected by Lakatos?”

    To which I would add today that the invalid critiques of Popper by Lakatos and Kuhn were widely and uncritically used to eject Popper from the main game in the 1970s.

    JQ “I’ll restate my point about Popper and Lakatos. If you accept that a single apparent falsification of a hypothesis can’t in general be conclusive, you’re left with the problem of finding an operational basis for critical assessment of theories. The best available answer to this problem, in my view, is that given by Lakatos’ theory of Scientific Research Programs. If you think there’s a better answer point to it and say why you think it’s better. So far, all you’ve offered is unsupported abuse and, apparently, a claim that the field stopped with Popper.”

    John, you still seem to think that falsification is the heart and soul of Popper’s views on methodology when it was merely his rejoinder to the unhelpful views of the positivists on verification. We need to move on from the problem of demarcation between science and non-science where all this bogged down, assisted by Popper himself who made too much of the issue.

    I don’t understand how Lakatos has helped working economists. The two Greek Island conferences on Lakatos came up empty in that respect. I know that Lakatos provided some interesting terminology but I don’t see how he provided any handles onto the unstated assumptions that cause problems for research programs. That is where I think that Popper is potentially more helpful with his stuff on metaphysical research programs.

    I made a start to work along those lines in a paper for the 2002 Popper conference in Vienna.

    It will not be included in the published proceedings which will appear any month now because it ran into a referee who is a clone of Byran Kaplan, a robust critic of the Austrians. Still, I know enought about the history of ideas to realise that this is what is supposed to happen.

  26. “John, I am repeating myself because I think you have persisted in the misleading belief that there is a problem with Poppers views that need to be improved upon”

    So you think there are no problems with Popper’s views that need to be improved upon?

  27. The ball is in your court John.

    1. You need to identify some genuine problems, other than the invalid criticism of Popper’s views on the role of falsification that followers of Kuhn and Lakatos have put about.

    2. It would be good to have an explanation of the way that Lakatos has been helpful, other than providing a language for ideas and strategies that could be just as well described in other terms.

  28. My view is exactly that given in the very sympathetic Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Popper by Stephen Thornton, which commences the relevant section

    “As Lakatos has pointed out, Popper’s theory of demarcation hinges quite fundamentally on the assumption that there are such things as critical tests, which either falsify a theory, or give it a strong measure of corroboration”

    and ends

    “Popper’s distinction between the logic of falsifiability and its applied methodology does not in the end do full justice to the fact that all high-level theories grow and live despite the existence of anomalies (i.e., events/phenomena which are incompatible with the theories). The existence of such anomalies is not usually taken by the working scientist as an indication that the theory in question is false; on the contrary, he will usually, and necessarily, assume that the auxiliary hypotheses which are associated with the theory can be modified to incorporate, and explain, existing anomalies.”

    Maybe experts like Thornton are wrong, but I’ll have to ask you to take it up with them, rather than me. If you can convince them, I’ll certainly review my own position.

  29. Kyangdac, Annan’s brief communcation does make a substantive case. I think Nature’s excuse for rejection (without review) was not great – it amounts to: “if we were to publish your brief communication arising for this paper, we’d have to do it for a lot of other papers too”.

  30. proust, maybe you are not aware of this, but I believe the rejection rate without review for Nature is over 95%. Even they acknowledge failures in the system (there is an article from a few years back noting they initially knocked back the two most cited papers of all time in chemistry), however, unless they start publishing piles of garbage and piles of not exceptionally interestnig stuff (and finding reviewers for them), there isn’t much alternative to such a system.

    One of the main ways to get published in the journal in areas of controversy where best of the best cannot be clearly demarcated (which is most areas) is to write a big really good article in the top journal of your area that everyone agrees is good and new and then send some portion of the interesting to results to Nature. So there is your solution.

  31. I would contest that at least insofar as climate science is concerned, Nature are already publishing piles of garbage. Annan’s point is precisely that: Nature have published paper after paper claiming wacky bounds for climate sensitivity, and according to editor Nicki Stevens, they plan to carry on doing so because that’s the way it has always been.

    When such bounds underpin public policy as in the Stern report, it is incumbant on Nature to at some point publish a dissenting opinion, or to at least review a dissenting paper.

  32. proust – “I would contest that at least insofar as climate science is concerned, Nature are already publishing piles of garbage.”

    Says who? What qualifications do you have to say that Nature are publishing piles of garbage on climate change? Have you read and understood it all. I don’t know who you are – are you a peer reviewer on climate science?

    “Nature have published paper after paper claiming wacky bounds for climate sensitivity, and according to editor Nicki Stevens, they plan to carry on doing so because that’s the way it has always been.”

    Show us the papers then. As far as I can see James Annan has come up with a method of constraining climate sensitivity using statistical methods from past events. That does not mean all the others are wrong. One study or paper does not mean that all the others are incorrect and this is what the editor of Nature basically said. James has published in many peer reviewed scientific journals.


  33. “Says who?”

    Says me.

    “What qualifications do you have to say that Nature are publishing piles of garbage on climate change?”

    I am just a humble genius, valiantly fighting for the truth.

    “Have you read and understood it all”

    I have read a lot of it and understood everything that I have read. I wouldn’t claim to have read it all.

    “I don’t know who you are – are you a peer reviewer on climate science?”


    “Show us the papers then.”

    Try this and this for starters.

  34. I think Nature should be able to publish/accept whatever they want — if you don’t like that, then too bad, go publish somewhere else. There are heaps of journals out them, many with different scientfic criteria for acceptance. In addition, I’d don’t know the answer to it, but I’m sure they have rejected many many dissenting opinions (and for that matter, alternative potentially non-dissenting models). Why would you think they hadn’t?

    If you have a killer model that is so much better than the rest, I’m sure you’ll get it published. Alternatively, if you have a pile of garbage, then rejecting it is clearly the correct decision. If they published every piece of junk, then people wouldn’t bother reading it.

  35. There’s a reason Nature gets such a huge number of submissions: in many fields it is the most prestigious journal in which to publish. A paper in Nature does wonders for your academic career, and carries more weight amongst policy makers. Therefore, it is important that Nature be willing to correct any previous errors; doubly so in climate science given the political sensitivity of the subject.

    Are you suggesting Annan’s work is junk?

  36. Chris O’Neill (whoever he may be, no direct contact is possible)

    You serially misquote Tim Curtin, whose actual statement I found thanks to your helpful link. Here it is:

    “We really have descended into what passes for science and math in England and Australia. If CO2 has increased by 100 ppm since 1750, then non-CO2 must have decreased by 100 ppm since 1750. The IPCC says that 1 ppm CO2 equals 7.8 billion tonnes CO2 in the global atmosphere, therefore it also equals c.7.8 billion tonnes non-CO2 in the global atmosphere.

    So for an increase of 100 ppm CO2 since 1750 we have 780 bn tonnes of CO2 increment in the global atmosphere since then and 780 billion tonnes of non-CO2 decrement since 1750. What happened to it?

    The ludicrous GCM models of the IPCC simply like the philistine walk by the other side of the road. If the GCM cannot/do not account for the missing 780 billion tonnes of non-CO2 they have to be worthless as indeed they are.”

    Chris wilfully left out the c. (for an ignoramus like Chris “c” stands for “circa”, which he will not know stands for “about”). Clearly Tim knew there was not an exact match between more CO2 AND LESS Non-CO2. Next question: why if CO2 in ppmv (all here apart from Chris know that v stands for volume) has gone up by 100 since whenever, what has gone down IN PPMV, which is what I think Tim was asking. If it is water vapor, with its alleged positive feedback effect, then as CO2 increases, H2O decreases, and so the positive feedback diminishes (but I fear that is beyond the level of year 10 math that Victorian Chris says he has attained).

    I apologise for the asperity, but Chris No-address consistently abuses all contrarians of his very narrow view of the world.

    More positively, Ben Selinger, who unlike Chris has some standing as a former professor of chemistry at the ANU, has noted in today’s Canberra Times that the so-called “greenhouse” effect (which as he says is a misnomer)is really a question of the absence of ventilation in the greenhouse (which has walls as well as a glass roof). It may well be news to Chris, but the atmosphere has no walls, and no roof, and the CO2 (in 380 ppmv or 0.03% of the total) is a poor substitute for a roof which is 100% glass. The infrared radiation back to space which underpins the total IPCC model is hardly likely to be seriously incommoded by a “roof” which is a mere 0.03% of the atmosphere (by ppmv if Chris can get his mind around that concept, he seems to have difficulty in distinguishing between weights and volumes). More so when an increase in CO2 by ppmv has to be offset by a decline in H2O by ppmv, the larger GHG according to IPCC.

    Hint: visualise an array of 1 million pixels of which 380 are CO2. How much infrared radiation will those 380 ppmv stop vis a vis the amount allowed through by the 999,620 of non-CO2? I think we should be told.

    And I think we should also be told why a greenhouse with walls and a glass roof that prevent airflow between the interior and the exterior are an exact model of the world and its atmosphere as we know it.

    Readers should note that, despite the implications to the contrary, Tam is a sock-puppet for Tim. JQ

  37. Tam, if CO2 mixes well throughout the atmosphere (which I believe is the case), then a doubling of CO2 from 0.03% to 0.06% by volume should result in a uniform relative reduction by 0.03% of all other gases, unless there is a mechanism by which CO2 displaces specific gases preferentially (I doubt it).

    A 0.03% reduction is not going to be significant, or even measurable. For example, it means NO2 (another greenhouse gas) will be reduced from 314 ppbv (that’s parts per billion by volume) to about 313.9 ppbv.

  38. Proust: as ever to the point! However we need to consider (as Houghton and the IPCC never do) what happens when atmospheric CO2 is created. If it arises from burning hydrocarbons (= fossil fuels) then the burning process uses oxygen plus carbon and releases H2O and CO2 etc. Has there ever been a measurement to show declining oxygen since say 1750? I suspect that all we have is a marginal redistribution within the 0.1 % by ppmv that is not oxygen, nitrogen, and argon. But if there is a decline in oxygen, why has nobody noticed?

  39. Not being a climate physicist, I don’t know enough climate change to comment on Annan’s work. Alternatively, I do know that Nature does allow errors to be corrected (there is in fact a note about it this very week), so if there was a clear error made, then a correction could be published, which hasn’t happened.

    Like I said before, if you (or any of the other global warming denialists) are really smart enough to be talking about what you are talking about and have good evidence for that, then the answer to your problems are simple. If Nature, who has access to the best reviewers in the field, happens to reject you because that is not the case, then you should try to get better evidence or more convincing arguments rather than just whining about stuff getting rejected.

  40. Annan’s paper was rejected by Nature without review because it disagreed with previously published results of “the best reviewers in the fields”.

    Conrad, your arguments amount to “Nature can’t be the problem, it must be Annan” even though, as you admit, you know nothing about Annan’s work. I think that narrows the posterior distribution on the value of your opinion on this subject.

    Annan published his initial results in GRL – a decent journal, after they were rejected by Nature. He is now trying to correct the series of wacky climate sensitivity claims coming out of Nature. Of course Nature will resist that – to accept his papers will be to admit they published alarmist stuff.

  41. Since you aren’t a climate physicist either proust, as you comment above, I find your comment a bit odd. Why would I trust your opinion over the scientific process, editors/board at Nature?

    Everybody complains about getting their papers rejected (in every field), and I can’t see why this is any different. It sounds like just more whinging from whingers. If you don’t like the way Nature is run, you don’t have to publish there. Why not try Science or PNAS, if these ideas are so good? I’m sure those journals would just love to have a super high impact paper that attracts world-wide publicity. If they reject the paper also, then that should tell you something about the value of the contribution.

  42. Tam, how many O2 molecules are consumed for each CO2 molecule generated when burning fossil fuels? And what volume does an O2 molecule displace in the atmosphere relative to a CO2 molecule?

    Call the first number N and the second number X. If CO2 goes up by 0.03% ppmv as a result of fossil fuel burning, O2 will reduce by 0.03% * N * X ppmv. Eg, if N=1 and X=1 (not the correct numbers I am sure), O2 will reduce from 20.95% ppmv to 20.94% ppmv.

    Is that measurable? Probably, given that O2 concentration is already quoted to 2 decimal places in the literature. Does it make any difference to global warming? Very unlikely.

    Now, if burning fossil fuels to produce CO2 is some kind of cataytic process that sucks up way more O2 that CO2 consumed (so N is large), then you’d expect a bigger change in O2 – but I don’t think that is the case.

    As for H2O – because it is liquid at Earth temperatures and we have a big store of it in the oceans, its atmospheric concentration should be determined by the partial pressure of water vapour rather than any “concentration” of water in the atmosphere. That is, even if burning fossil fuels generated tons of H2O, the water would tend to go into the oceans, not into the atmosphere.

  43. “Everybody complains about getting their papers rejected (in every field), and I can’t see why this is any different. It sounds like just more whinging from whingers.”

    Of course it does: you’ve already admitted you know nothing about the specifics of this case.

  44. Proust: many thanks, ’tis as I suspected. BTW, did you see that ABC news and 7.30 Report last night showed no fewer than five shots of power station cooling towers belching out white vapour with the clear intent that we are to think that is the troublesome carbon dioxide. Actually it is water vapour of course, and surely only beneficial in this drought. No doubt it goes up initially but comes down eventually as you say, nevertheless it is deemed (by Stern) to be a harmful GHG! Stern also states repeatedly that deforestation per se releases carbon dioxide. He can be forgiven as chemistry is no longer much taught in Britain, and not at all at Kings College, across the road from LSE, even tho’ that is where the double helix was first observed, but it shows the quality of his internal peer review that he can produce this kind of garbage: “…when trees are cut down the stored carbon oxidises and escapes back into teh atmosphere as CO2…” (Ch.25, p.537). Yet here am I at my teak desk, and it appears not to have shrunk (as in Alice in Wonderland) since I bought it 7 years ago despite all that oxidation going on. Stern is also unaware that if land is cleared of trees for other agricultural purposes the new crops and pastures absorb carbon dioxide on an ongoing basis.

    Stern’s zero discount rate is likewise fallacious (see Richard Cooper in the FT’s Wolf Forum at www.http://ftblogs.typepad.com/wolfforum/) – Cooper could have added that the Stern/Wolf view derives from the Koran and investment theory as applied in the Soviet Union (which also opted for zero discount rates with less than optimal outcomes).

    JQ frequently dismisses an opus if it contains a single error. With its many major blunders in addition to the howler on tree felling the Stern report should be dismissed in its entirety as worthless and recycled into a more useful paper product.

  45. Deforestation is bad (okay?) for a number of reasons, including its minor effect on the carbon cycle. One can, theoretically, nullify the effect of deforestation on the carbon cycle by planting trees, one for one, as is done in sustainable forests. The main culprit for AGW is the combustion of fossil fuels (coal and oil) which cannot realistically be replenished by planting more trees.
    As for what gas is replaced by CO2, surely it is O2, one for one on a molar basis (because 12g of carbon plus 32g of oxygen gives 44g CO2), eh? The water balance is more difficult because of its ability to condense into liquid (rain), but if the temperature rises (for whatever reason) the water carrying capability of air also increases and H2O (vap) is a GHG – hence the positive feedback which has been, I’m pretty sure, taken into account in all the models.

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