Ivy League Climate Skeptics

I received this email from Rob Fishman at the Huffington Post. My answer follows.

I’m the social media editor here at HuffPost (and a Cornell alum). I came across your blog online. I’m thinking of writing a piece about climate skeptics who hold positions at Ivy League (or comparable) institutions. Richard Lindzen came to mind after the recent Times article. I’m wondering if you have — or would know how to go about getting — a thorough list of professors at prominent universities who are also climate skeptics.

I’ve been thinking about how to best answer your question, which is not an easy one. First, I haven’t any firm idea what a “climate skeptic” is and I bet you don’t, either. You can’t possibly mean a person who is skeptical that the climate changes—for it always has changed, and presumably always will. I know of no scientist who doubts this. Beyond that, every scientist is skeptical, in varying degrees, about theories and predictions of change. The amount of skepticism is roughly proportional to the complexity of the forecast, how far out into the future it is for, and the strength of the forecast mechanisms (theory, data, computational schemes, etc.).

Nobody doubts that humans influence the climate, but there is a wide range of beliefs about how much. It is important to keep separate three things, which in this politically charged atmosphere even climatologists sometimes forget to do We have uncertainty in:

(1) the magnitude, timing, and location of changes;

(2) the changes to systems caused by climate change;

(3) and our ability to mitigate unwanted systems changes and to exploit desirable systems changes.

A system might be glaciers, or the range and number of a species, banana production, or land-use patterns, etc. Really, anything that isn’t temperature or precipitation. To show you how nutty things have become, most civilians and even many climatologists confuse (1) and (2). For example, if a climatologist measures a temperature increase (1) at, say, the north pole, then of course more ice will melt (2). But seeing ice melt is not evidence of (1).

I mean, a climatologist might have a theory why temperatures increased at the north pole (1). Seeing that temperatures have increased is evidence that his theory is correct. But noticing that more ice melted is not additional evidence that his theory is correct. It only means that ice melts when it gets hot.

Most times climatologists don’t measure a change, they predict one. A prediction, until it is verified, is not evidence that the climatologist’s theory is true. I want to repeat that because I have a difficult time convincing civilians this is so: a prediction, no matter how dire, does not mean the climatologist’s theory is true. It is zero evidence for his theory.

Suppose a prediction says that, say, temperature will increase in a region by a certain date. If temperature does increase, then this is some evidence that the theory that led to the prediction is true. But it is not complete evidence: other mechanisms unknown to, or not liked by, the climatologist might have caused the increase.

But if the temperature does not increase, and even has the audacity to fall, then this observation is evidence that the climatologist’s theory is false, or at least badly broken. This is where we stand today, at least with climate forecasts.

The situation is actually far worse. Many people take the predictions of climatologists and use them as input to their own forecasts of various systems changes. When these forecasts are in the direction of the undesirable, people—even climatologists—use this as evidence that the climatologist’s theory is right. This is crazy. The two things are unrelated logically. They have nothing to do with one another.

Most of these systems forecasts are statistical, incidentally. I have seen many, and all are awful. There is a strong element of sloppy bandwagon research here. In a way, it’s hard to fault the researchers: they are rushing to where the money is. But they are often outrunning their brains.

In any case, I will repeat: a dire systems forecast (that uses as input a changed climate) is not evidence of climate change. It just isn’t. To claim a plague of frogs will befoul us unless “something is done” is not evidence that the climate will change untowardly.

What about point (3)? It is usually assumed, without proof, and against all evidence to the contrary, that there will be no way we can mitigate against unwanted systems changes without, naturally, spending of lots of our money. It’s not that having to spend money isn’t a possibility. It is. But to argue that it be spent while we are still so uncertain of what will happen without mitigation is crazy. Finally, no matter what we know about (3), it is not evidence that a climatologist’s theory is true or false.

Once more, it’s worse. There have been hundreds of “studies” purporting some evil if temperature increases. There have been hardly any or none arguing for benefits. It is logically possible that climate change will only be harmful (to humans and other picturesque species), but it is infinitely unlikely. To argue otherwise is to ignore selectively massive amounts of information.

Our uncertainty is (2) is large, as is our uncertainty in climate predictions (1). I hope I have made myself plain here. We first need to have better certainty that climate models can make skillful predictions (which they so far have not demonstrated an ability to do), before we can consider scenarios in (2) or (3). It’s true climate models (somewhat reasonably, and only in a statistical sense) can represent past climates. But the proof of the model is always in its ability to predict new data (i.e., the future). We still await this proof.

What’s a citizen to do? Well, it takes years (and years) to become an expert in any of these areas. Very few civilians thus have the ability to independently assess the evidence, so all you can do is to poll scientists and ask them what they think. But civilians are too readily trusting scientists here (by making the kinds of errors I outlined above). Why is that? You can probably answer that better than I can. All I can offer is that many like to think the worst.

I don’t think there is any use in appealing to authority by saying, “This many Ivy League scientists have an average skepticism of X%” Besides being unable to define this average skepticism, you have to keep in mind that those who edit the journals, award the grants, and chair the academic departments are mostly convinced that their theories are true. All the believers in a theory naturally club together and support each other. This is human nature. It only becomes absurd when that group of folks point to critics and say, “They can’t be trusted because they are not one of us.” I’ll leave you to name to logical fallacy in that argument. Hint: it’s a common one.

My advice is to forget citing numbers for and against, and try instead to find the best arguments for and against. Put these arguments to leading proponents and ask them to honestly answer this question, “How can you be wrong?” Scientists are, of course, always supposed to do this, but there are plenty of examples in the history of thought which prove that this simple question has been forgotten.

Please feel free to ask for clarification. I have caught a nasty cold and my head is not clear, so I have probably explained some things badly.

W.M. Briggs


  1. Speed

    Just send him the list of attendees at the 12th annual Climate Skeptic conference, held last year in an abandoned coal mine near Morgantown, WV and sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

    Perhaps he could then do a piece on the Bene Gesserit.

  2. rpink

    As well-written as your (published) response was to Rob’s request, it is unlikely he’s going to read past the first sentence (and certainly not past the first paragraph) before either dropping the project or moving on to other potential sources.

    In your reply, you write:
    “My advice is to forget citing numbers for and against, and try instead to find the best arguments for and against. Put these arguments to leading proponents and ask them to honestly answer this question, “How can you be wrong?”

    Nothing against Rob, but ‘science’ stuff is just not what he does; it’s not the kind of thing he writes. His reporting is more attuned to the people behind the scenes, not the actual scene. See for yourself: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-fishman

    That said, he doesn’t appear to be the typical media drive-by hitman, even if he does write for Huff-post. Any article he may write on the subject may actually be a fair review, but it won’t contain actual science.

    But I enjoyed your post. That should be enough! 🙂

  3. Ken

    Briggs, I think you wwwaaaaaayyyy overthought this one.

    I bet what R. Fishman is after is a list of professors that don’t believe that human activity, predominantly characterized by carbon-dioxide emissions, are the culprit in actual & perceived warming observations.

    Such a list, to be useful for anything, would necessarily have to be categorized by those qualified to address the subject and of those, those willing to be contacted or listed as “climate skeptics,” etc.

    Some starting points might include outspoken professors that would likely be discretely contacted by such “climate skeptics.” Undoubtedly they have a number of “closet” supporters that stay discretely out of the public limelight. I would start by contacting them & ask if & to what extent they’d like to share such info. Presumably, they’d contact their hidden supporters for permission to disclose this…and such disclosures would likely be limited given the politics of university life, tenure, etc….e.g.: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/editorialsletters/story.html?id=55f4dc45-f308-4b34-80af-011a0cf38fed

    Jasper Kirkby, working on the CLOUD experiment at CERN — he’s probably gotten discrete feedback from a lot of such people & might be willing to share those contacts.

    Dr. John Christy & Roy Spencer, University of Alabama, Huntsville, areanothers I’d approach.

    If any provide any such info, undoubtedly that would lead to others, etc.

    But most, likely, will be very hesitant to provide such info. Recall Michael Crichton’s (the famous author) observation from http://www.crichton-official.com/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html :

    “And I do claim that open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed. Leading scientific journals have taken strong editorial positions of the side of global warming, which, I argue, they have no business doing. Under the circumstances, any scientist who has doubts understands clearly that they will be wise to mute their expression.

    “One proof of this suppression is the fact that so many of the outspoken critics of global warming are retired professors. These individuals are not longer seeking grants, and no longer have to face colleagues whose grant applications and career advancement may be jeopardized by their criticisms.

    “In science, the old men are usually wrong. But in politics, the old men are wise, counsel caution, and in the end are often right.”

    ELSEWHERE, M.Crichton observed:

    “One of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.”

    “Why do I say its a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. I f you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. ”

    “It seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom.

    “We need to get environmentalism out of the sphere or religion.”

    PEOPLE, generally, don’t want to tangle with such a “religious” mindset given the irrationality of it…its imperviousness to incorporating new information objectively, especially new information that would force a change to the (idiosyncratic) established doctrinal viewpoint (of a given person). Its not that they fail at assimilating new information — they tend to become militantly hostile to the mere presentation of such information or contradicting viewpoints. The above article (from http://www.canada.com) is just one illustration.

    So, R. Fishman ought not get his hopes up too much about getting the list.

  4. Ken

    M. Crichton’s Environmentalism as Religion quote is from a speech he gave; one of these should work for you:




    A very succinct presentation was made in the Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2008, “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis,” by Bret Stephens. That article appears available in its entirety at: http://www.nevilleawards.com/gw.shtml

  5. j ferguson

    Thanks for sharing Crichton’s observations. I’ve been fumbling with the development of state religions as analogies to what i suspect we’re seeing here. In addition to Gibbon and perhaps Hume, Freeman’s excellent “The Closing of the Western Mind” is a detailed source for the actions one sees during the invention of a religion, its early evolution, and its adoption as the “official” religion of the state.

    It is a seductive study in part because the actions such as “condemnation of the infidels” are easy counterparts to what we see today. There are so many similar examples, one might http://www.amazon.com/gp/css/history/view.htmlreasonably ask, “since it is so obvious, what is the value in studying this analogy.”

    The problem is far more complex than the distinction between “faith based beliefs” and the exercise of rational analysis.

    My current answer is that we have detailed histories of the establishment and evolution of state religions. Examination of these histories might help us discover whether we are at the beginning of this development, at its midpoint, or where the dwindles approach.

    Sadly, I think we are at the beginning of environmentalism as state religion and that it will become far more oppressive before it peters out.

  6. John

    One should always be wary of people who take names and make lists.

  7. Sundance

    Rob Fishman at the very least (via twitter) seems to buy in on Cohen’s nonsense that global warming causes freezing winters. The journalists coming out of Columbia are Stepford Wive-like, autobots hard wired for progressive group think. In addition guys like Fishman have to write at a sixth grade level for the readers of the Huffington Post to understand anything. You would have better luck communicating the subtleties of climate science and the limitations of general circulation models to your dog because at least your dog would be more interested in learning the information and your dog is not a progressive autobot.

    I may have it wrong but I think your wasting your time on this.


  8. Geckko

    @ 49erDweet

    apropos OT. I just discovered an interesting factoid about the term “Gulag”, which is in fact a collective noun (or more accurately the proper noun for an organisation) which refers to the system of penal camps run in the Soviet Union.

    So Rob Fishman could only ever have worked for THE Gulag.

  9. Thanks for the tip. Checked a little further. Many “camps” were only numbered, so reference to “Gulag 203”, for example, in lieu of “camp 203” was common outside of Russia. So I claim literary license, your honor, and throw myself at the mercy of the court.

  10. Bernie

    Rob – assuming that you are monitoring this thread – In person you may be a very nice chap. However, I cannot understand the merits of somehow focusing on Ivy League climate skeptics (if, that is, you can come up with a logical, non-trivial definition of such scientists) as opposed to non-Ivy League climate skeptics. The whole Ivy League thing strikes me as way too precious and too pretentious. You would be far better off simply interviewing Judith Curry or Roger Pielke, Snr if you want to do a story on those who have been critical of some of the behavior and work of those at their same academic institutions. If you do not immediately know who these people are, I suggest you do a story on another topic.

  11. j ferguson

    earlier comment seems lost in space, although it may somehow have transgressed a filter. i thought it may have had at least as much pith as a bristle-cone alas.

  12. Ivin

    Mr. Portman,

    In the (perhaps vain) hope that you are monitoring this discussion, let me suggest that you stop for a moment and as yourself what it is you would want to illuminate by talking about “Ivy League” climate skeptics. Essentially, your proposal reeks of a subtle but clear appeal to authority. It is as though being a professor at an “Ivy League” college confers some special status which might make whatever arguments they present somehow automatically better than those presented by a professor at some small state school.

    However, if your goal is to attempt to “pop the bubble” of the argument sometimes put forward by the Climate Alarmism crowd that the “science is settled” and that “no one really disagrees” then perhaps there is some value in pointing out that some academics at what might be considered the pinnacle of their profession (a disputable claim, but one I think you would agree with) do in fact disagree with the global warming hue and cry. In short, if you wish to point out that there is a lively debate going on at the most prestigious levels of academic life over the degree and result of man-made global warming, then I wish you well.

    However, if you are attempting to count noses and declare at the end that the alarmists vastly outnumber the skeptics or that “so few” Ivy League professors disagree that the debate is “essentially over” then your bias is interfering with your grasp of reality. Matt’s point is that the “winner” of the climate debate is the one that proves, in the end, to be most correct in predicting what will happen, not who has the most prestigious credentials or who yells the loudest.

    Ken’s comment earlier in the thread also points out what scientists would call a “confounding factor” if counting noses is what you are doing as well. Essentially, he points out that the clear incentive for academic dissenters from the current man-made global warming mantra is to remain silent. And so, for reasons that have nothing to do with the strength of the argument, I doubt you will be able to root out many of the dissenters. They may simply wish to remain hidden and anonymous. It is left to a courageous few like Dr. Lindzen and Dr. Christie to suffer the public slings and arrows of the debate.

    Finally, I am not claiming that Lindzen and Christie represent a “silent majority” or that if they did it would somehow signify the correctness of their arguments. It only stands to show that the debate is far from settled in the minds of many. But ultimately, the truth is not determined democratically, it is determined empirically.

    All the Best,


  13. David

    As to what constitutes a sckeptic, I would suggest anyone who is not in favour of meaningful policy responses at this time. It’s simple, and probably is in line with what Rob Fishman is looking for.

  14. Motive please! What’s Fishman’s motive? WHY is he making lists?

    The mere fact that he is “the social media editor here at HuffPost” raises all kinds of red flags.

    My answer would have been something along the lines of, “Screw you, commie. Make your own damn lists.”

    What I want is a list of all the commies at HuffPost, and their addresses, and their affiliations. Don’t ask me why. It’s none of your damn business.

  15. Alan Bates

    John says: 5 January 2011 at 11:04 am

    “One should always be wary of people who take names and make lists.”

    Can you give me a list of such people?

  16. Ken


    ““One should always be wary of people who take names and make lists.” Can you give me a list of such people?”

    HERE’s ONE: Santa Claus (“kindly old elf, or, CIA spook” — wondered Calvin from the Calvin & Hobbs ‘toon series). Goes to show, nobody is above suspicion.

  17. George Steiner

    Mr. Mike D.
    My sentiments exacly.

    Mr. Briggs. You ramble too much. It must be the cold. And use less the word “crazy”.

  18. Really Mike and George? “Screw you commie?” I’m neither liberal nor big D democratic and most certainly don’t align with Huffpo, but comments and attitudes such as this make me increasingly embarrassed to characterize myself as conservative as I choose not to be associated with such closed-minded reactionary name-calling.

    Dr. Briggs, I think it’s incumbent on you to provide backup or evidence for statements such as “To show you how nutty things have become, most civilians and even many climatologists confuse (1) and (2)” and “Many people take the predictions of climatologists and use them as input to their own forecasts of various systems changes. When these forecasts are in the direction of the undesirable, people—even climatologists—use this as evidence that the climatologist’s theory is right.”

    I’m not saying these things have never happened or never happen but I read fairly extensively from blogs both “skeptical” and “non-skeptical” (difficult to pin down these terms but I expect we both know what I mean) and from the primary literature. I’m not a climatologist nor a Ph.D. level scientist but do have sufficient mathematical sophistication to approach some of the primary literature in the field. I have not seen the behaviors you describe. Certainly in your response to Mr. Fishman such elaboration would be inappropriate but since you’ve published it here I think it’s crucial.

  19. Dear Mr. Ryan,

    Why change the subject? The Huffpo “social media editor” wants a list of names. Is that so mundane that it is not worth your examination? I don’t think he was looking for “science”. Do you?

    You claim to be student of climate science. Is it your practice to undertake that study by making “a thorough list of professors at prominent universities who are also climate skeptics“? Is that how you pursue the science topic?

    By your own words, obviously not. Do you think the “social media editor” at Huffpo is concerned about issues of science, or issues of sociology?

    I smell a rat. You ask for an exposition from Dr. Briggs on the topic of faulty logic displayed by “civilians” and climatologists. That’s a red herring. Stick to the subject. What is your opinion about the motives of list-making Huffpo editors?

    BTW, creating “Enemies Lists” is a common practice of the Left. There are plenty of those already out there. If you have followed the CAGW issue as you say you have, you would know about those lists. You would also know about the sanctions and punishments inflicted on those who dare to question CAGW “orthodoxy”. Is the Huffpo editor engaged in more of the same? In your opinion, why or why not?

  20. The neo-Left. What shall we call them? Commies is too rude, evidently. Marxist-Leninists? Stalinists? Maoists? Euro-style Social Democrats? You tell me.

    I want a list of all the organizations funded (even partially) by George Soros. Would that include Huffpo?

  21. j ferguson

    URL in my post at 5 January 2011 at 10:50 am is spurious. I somehow did it myself; another unrealized skill.

  22. Last June I was debating something called the Open Climate Initiative in London with a diverse group of scholars and laymen I’d managed to gather together at that time – see http://piratepad.net/ep/pad/view/hYXpah9rJu/latest.

    We had people like myself who self-identified as skeptics (in fact as sceptics, which is even worse) and others who most definitely didn’t. I wanted to celebrate that diversity but became bothered that neither I or anyone else had a snappy and practical definition – something that could be used in a opinion poll, for instance. In the end this is what I came up with.


    The IPCC is the UN panel that advises governments on the science and human impacts of possible global warming caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, over the next century. Critics say that the economic consequences of proposed controls on emissions are too harmful, given the uncertainty in the science. Based on your current understanding of climate science and economics, what do you think should be done about greenhouse gas emissions:
    1. They should be limited as the IPCC recommends or more so
    2. They should not be limited for at least ten years, until we know more
    3. In between or unsure


    In other words

    1. = Convinced
    2. = Skeptic
    3. = Other

    And people loathed it. That’s another important piece of data. One ardent environmentalist, who’d been converted by Rachel Carson in or soon after 1962, demanded another category, because he insisted he didn’t belong to any of the above, despite all my protestations that logically this was going to be difficult to achieve.

    Even so, I’ve come to the conclusion that only one’s opinion on climate **policy** can provide a rigorous partition of the world’s population, for reasons that William Briggs gives quite correctly (not in my view at all pedantically) above.

    What does anyone think??

  23. j ferguson

    Richard Drake,
    What additional category did the Carsonist suggest? Suffering from Carsonoma?

  24. Phillip Bratby

    It seems rather elitist to write “a piece about climate skeptics who hold positions at Ivy League (or comparable) institutions”. Why does one have to be at “Ivy League (or comparable) institutions”. Most climate alarmists are at third rate institutions (such as the University of East Anglia) or at poor quality government institutions (such as NASA/GISS). Why cannot us sceptics who are retired scientists or engineeers, who perhaps have never held positions at such institutions, be included in the piece?

  25. j ferguson: that was the utterly frustating thing, he didn’t suggest any other category, let alone a definition for it. He did make the point that his opinion kept changing – so I said he was free to change his position in my taxonomy. But the lack of precision, indeed the lack of desire for precision, indeed the fear of my desire for precision, from a group that included a number of so-called scholars (Cantab if not Ivy League) persuaded me more than just about anything else that we’re dealing with a religion – and a ruthless one at that (hence the fear).

  26. Mike D.,

    Interesting. That’s not what I thought Dr. Briggs’ post was about. In thought it was about what Dr. Briggs perceived to be the fallacies in characterizing people as skeptics. I don’t see anywhere where he contends that, if a suitable parametrization of what constitutes a skeptic were detrmined, such a division and then such a listing could be provided.

    His main point seems to be that, given his opinion that such a characterization is I’ll-defined, that separating the arguments and evidence will be more fruitful than separating the people.

  27. shawn

    that lengthy reply was a breath of fresh air to read. very well written and enjoyable.

    my thanks

  28. j ferguson

    Richard Drake, Strange that he couldn’t come up with something.

    I’m varying between “perplexed” and “doubter.” Sceptical doesn’t quite do it for me.

    I’m very much bothered by the casual way many of the US news columnists with whom I’m otherwise comfortable can casually toss off statements which reveal that they assume Significant AGW is a given.

    The new religion is very pervasive. And as Freeman notes in his discussion of 3rd century evolution of the church, the believers have become so convinced that they suspect serious defects in any person who has heard the news and not accepted it. I suspect our Mr. Fishman is so persuaded.

    I also doubt the value of the polls which show public acceptance of serious AGW on the wane. The negative impact of the true believers is where they are in the polity, not how many. Our brothers in the UK seem without available political alternatives, no “unpersuadeds” offering themselves up for election.

    Regrettably, until a true believer shows up in vestments, our constitutional discouragement of establishment of a state religion is unlikely to be invoked. That’s why I think we should be looking forward to a long period of intellectual suffering while this excessive environmental mania works its way through the system.

  29. jf, as one of your ‘brothers in the UK’ I’m very aware we currently have a democratic deficit on this issue. I say we’re brothers but let’s face it, it’s nebulous until you define the distinctions clearly – at least that’s become crystal clear to me. I don’t care what word people prefer for category 2: perplexed, doubter, lukewarmer, realist are all fine. One thing I was pleased with in my suggested formulation in June was use of the word ‘convinced’ for the first category – warmist, alarmist and other options being seen as pejorative. What matters is that the definitions are watertight yet understandable to laymen, so they could be used in opinion polls, for example. Until then, I’ve come to feel we don’t know if ‘public acceptance of serious AGW’ is on the wane or not.

    I ended up very surprised that nobody that I’d ever read had thought it through. I’m sure someone has – but I haven’t seen it.

    (PS A reference for Freeman on the 3rd century church would be of interest – though this is probably not the place to discuss it!)

  30. j ferguson

    I very much like “convinced” although it does suggest a rational progression from ignorance which I suspect is not typical. But i guess they might like it.

    I tend to think they would more prefer “correct.”

    I like the phrase “not proven” in connection with AGW at levels above the insignificant. But what can you call someone that so suspects? Maybe lukewarmer is the best.

    I bought Freeman’s “The Closing of the Western Mind” after discovering that my education and previous reading was insufficient to develop my pitch on environmentalism as a state religion. The thing I was running into was self-serving cherry picking (by me). It really is easy to find practices and arrangements in state religions which parallel (presage?) those in use by the “convinced.”

    We got into this in preliminary detail at Ben Pile’s site, Climate Resistance, in a long thread initially addressed to questionable activities at the Royal Society. It can be found in his October Archives.

    I ran out of steam – or into my own ignorance and couldn’t keep up with it without more reading which I’m doing. Sometimes you can continue an intermittent dialog in the host’s attic – attic being an otherwise moribund thread. I have no idea whether our host wants attic discussions. Maybe he might indicate.

    I have found that people take vociferous offense at the idea that basic parts of a religion might have been invented. For that reason, I ask the readers indulgence to making suggestions which they find offensive. Somehow, the people who take offense find these comments despite never having previously commented.

    E.M. Smith’s “Musings from the Chiefio” is another site where wildly off-topic discussions can occur and he seems to revel in them. He does some moderation and people have been banned, but there continues to be a very broad range of views and what I find to be intelligent discussion across the great divide – pretty much troll-free, I think he drowns them, but still we hear from the occasional conscientious “convinced.”

    best, john

  31. Rather strangely, my blog posting and reminiscing about the Open Climate Initiative was interrupted by a hour-long phone call from Toronto from a freelance journalist writing an article for a famous science journal wanting to know more about … the Open Climate Initiative. I gave him the name of someone in Toronto he should talk to, if his editor in London agreed. He was going to try Mr McIntyre anyway. Quite weird all round. (And Steve’s a 3 in my taxonomy, as far as I know. I must ask him one day.)

    Anyway, jf, thanks for the title of the Freeman. I should no doubt have heard of it. I knew the more famous Bloom of nearly the same name. “Enjoy it, but don’t believe it,” as the second review I read from Google says. It sounds enjoyable – and I was heartened to see the 4th and 5th centuries are where Freeman thinks the rot set in, as that fits better my own reading.

    I agree that not all have been “convinced”, except in the sense Goebbels did. Likewise not all in category 2 are “realists”. They may just hate the policies for other reasons. I think sceptic is best in a public setting – but perhaps Lindzen is right to prefer denier. Certainly in this context it starts to mean something punchy – we deny the need or the rationality of doing something to limit emissions right away.

    I think the separation of church and state in the USA is very key and it also happens to be a return to a more primitive and authentic version of Christianity, which started without political power or compromise.

    I admire the blogs you mention from a distance, just as I do this one. Thanks Mr. Briggs, not least for that image of throwing an octopus on the ice in first discussing McShane & co. I never did get that image out of my head.

  32. j ferguson

    You could do what Steve M. does and have the most extreme belief in the threat of AGW. He does call himself an auditor. The point would be that the gear-grinding support the conclusions – and no more than that.

    When i get a better grasp of my subject vis a vis environmentalism as state religion, I’ll most likely post at Ben Piles, if only because the lead up is there and he has some regulars who will be able to quickly discover the weaknesses and fallacies. And of course, it may be a fool’s errand, but being the fool, I can’t tell yet.

    Thanks for your interesting observations. john

    ps My reading of Freeman would suggest that the trouble was underway by 100CE. They just codified it later on.

  33. Agreed that Steve could do what he does from any point on the spectrum. Whatever you get from the 1st century on state religion (and there was plenty of it around then) you might also look at the scholarship on political religion in the 18th – 20th, as used for example, brilliantly, by Michael Burleigh to explain the Nazi state in The Third Reich – A New History (2000). Burleigh cites numerous works, including James Billington’s pioneering Fire in the Minds of Men (1980). Very interesting area that I often think about in relation to CAGW. But maybe slightly off topic. Thanks again, statistician to the stars.

  34. j ferguson

    Richard Drake,
    I think you were close. How about conviction being binary, the “convinced” and the “unconvinced?”

    The question would be “Are you convinced that the effects of human induced increases in CO2 warrant governmental intervention?”

    This question strikes directly at the heart of my apprehensions and of course I would be “unconvinced.”

    Using this simple razor, you can avoid all of the flavors among the “convinced” while enjoying all of their contentions among themselves. Not very different from one group of Christians labeling another heretics.”

    I suspect that Judith Currey would be among the “convinced” given her continued interest in “informing” policy. Not so sure about Pielke, Jr. And Steve M. an “unconvinced.”

    The beauty of your choice of words is that “convinced” carries no opprobrium. Nor does “unconvinced” since it suggests susceptibility to change.

    Briggs, why don’t you try this on Mr. Fishman?

  35. Hi John, thanks for sticking with this – even if this thread now has a worldwide audience of two!

    Your suggestion’s simpler and shorter than mine and it’s better than anything I’ve seen in an existing opinion poll. However, I don’t think it’s better than mine, which has the following strengths:

    1. The convinced are much more precisely specified as those that agree with the current reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (I think it has to include all of them, though this adds complexity) that are proposed by the IPCC – or more drastic reductions.

    What exactly does the IPCC propose? I refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol and http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/g8-nations-clearly-ignored-our-recommendations-ipcc-chairman.php – which are the best I could find back in June. One would need to be very specific and bang up to date. But the principle is clear.

    ‘Governmental intervention’ is too vague and could include policies like biofuel subsidies that seem (it turns out) not to reduce CO2 emissions at all. There is a great deal of “we must do something, however irrelevant, to make ourselves feel better” in this area. Specifically mentioning the IPCC target for emissions nails that.

    2. The sceptics likewise prefer to do nothing about greenhouse gas emissions for another ten years or longer. Exact mirror of the idea for the convinced: IPCC or more VS ten years or more.

    There’s no possibility of overlap but in both cases the extremists – those that say we must reduce emissions to 1750 levels, say, and those that are sure we never need to control emissions, even for a thousand years, lie within a broad swathe of those that are less extreme. And that inevitably leaves a middle category.

    There’s no question that yours is a simpler question and, as I’ve already said, it’s a better one than any I’ve seen in any opinion poll. So that is an advance. But I think we need more precision that you’re offering. Keep kicking the tyres, by all means.

  36. # Briggs: “I haven’t any firm idea what a “climate skeptic” is”

    Nobody can! The term “climate” is a layman’s word, and means, as everyone knows, “average weather”, which means that it means nothing concrete, as ‘weather’ consist of 100, 200, or more components, with many different descriptions (or identification, a.s.o.), more at: http://www.whatisclimate.com/b206_need_to_talk_July_2010.html
    For everyday life that is sufficient, although many people can talk lengthily about the weather, which is needed to clarify the components they want to talk about, temperature, sunshine, sea water temperatures, cloudiness, rain, and so on.

    In the world of science that is completely unacceptable. If they use the words: weather, average weather (climate) than they have to come up and work with reasonable scientific definitions. An “average weather skeptic” is meaningless. It seems that this makes up for some of the great success of “climate science” during the last two decades, as they have got away with their nonsense terminology ever since.
    See e.g. http://www.whatisclimate.com/b202-open-letter.html ; http://www.whatisclimate.com/1992-nature.html
    Regards Arnd Bernaerts

  37. j ferguson

    Maybe my take on the government intervention was based on “I don’t care what they think so long as they don’t do anything without solid science.” I’m guessing that you think that there may be some worthwhile governmental actions that could be labeled as CO2 level influencing that the otherwise “unconvinced” would support. That group would certainly include Pielke, Jr.

    I suppose my question would leave a few red balls in the green bin and conversely.

    I need to think about this some more. Do active (if this is active) threads die here after a while? I think they do at Lucia’s but seemingly not at TAV, or CA,


  38. Briggs

    j ferguson, Richard Drake,

    Civil discussion of any kind is always welcome here. But all threads close after one week. This is to prevent my spam box from flooding (more than half the bots, for no sane reason I can see, target very old posts). However, I am more than happy to create new threads. Just send me an email.

  39. j ferguson

    Thanks Matt, i think Richard is really on to something and it’s well worth discussing further.

    and today’s inspiration. Sorry, Matt, it’s anosognosia, don’t you know.

  40. Consider yourself emailed, Dr. Briggs. (Corroborating evidence should be with you later today.)

    John, thanks for the new word, it’s tempting now to recast our climate opinion poll as follows.

    What best describes your attitude to climate science and policy:

    1. Anosognosia.

    2. Fierce intelligence and realism.

    3. A sense of intellectual and social inadequacy.

    As we said in the video, no pressure. But your answer defaults to 2 after fifteen seconds.

  41. j ferguson

    The problem with asking someone about his own anosognosia is that the condition is frequently difficult to self diagnose, maybe by definition. It’s a bit of a crummy razor since it would be universal that we don’t know what what don’t know, but knowing that it’s out there or could be out there should be enough to respect a respondent’s answer.

    I think what we’ve come to is a subdivision of Dr. Briggs’ art, namely the concoction of questions which will sieve so accurately that we will be comfortable that there is no sand with the pebbles.

    I can’t imagine that there could be a “science” of survey question concoction – it must necessarily be an art. Obviously whatever answers you get to your questions are lawful – they are what they are – until you characterize them inaccurately. I like the surveys which say “here is what we asked” and “here is what we got” and leave it at that. A lot of science might be better if left at that level and not burdened with inferences and conclusions. I find that almost every survey I see in the news media has plenty of sand in with the pebbles. Sometimes mud, no sand and no pebbles.

    so we’re confronted with dividing the ivy covered professors into those holding views which apparently are approved by Mr. Fishman and those who don’t. As discussed at length above, Mr. Fishman likely needs to clarify his own views before proceeding. I think we were interested in how to discover the “true-believers” and for my case, I would have been happy to isolate them from “everyone else.”

    There will clearly be “true believers” who haven’t thought about it much but accept the “party line.” And I bet a lot of them. So maybe a staged survey would work better.

    Many years ago when I ran dial-up BBS’s, first time log-ons had to identify the debugging tool which was included with the standard CP/M distribution. It was DDT. I didn’t think of it by the way. Something like that might be a good thing for our survey.

    So first qualify the respondents with a technical question which will help you discern their state of knowledge. Then you ask the question about adherence to the religion. This would speak to a real interest of mine. Do the people who understand, or are able to understand, the “science” buy the CAGW pitch? First question might be something along the lines of familiarity with radiative effects associated with Co2 molecules in atmosphere – if I’ve put it well.

    Among those who claim to knowledge of the radiative physics, how do the yeas and nays on CAGW break out in Ivy land?

    I do think you are correct, that with knowledgeable respondents, you’ll get messy results with my simplistic binary question which may divide more by political outlook than by scientific appreciation.

    Do you think that it is reasonable to regulate green house gas emissions of any flavor?

  42. John, I’m going to ask our host for a new thread on this starting next Wednesday. That’s because I have other things to think about before then. So apologies that I can only deal with two points in your latest – and briefly.

    “Among those who claim to knowledge of the radiative physics, how do the yeas and nays on CAGW break out in Ivy land?”

    Not just among those who ‘claim’ to but among those that really grasp the radiative physics … great question. But how to test this? That’s not what I was trying to do here. Let’s walk before we can run. And walking isn’t as easy as it looks.

    “Do you think that it is reasonable to regulate green house gas emissions of any flavor?”

    I don’t know. Methane may have properties in the atmosphere that I currently know nothing about – and perhaps the human race doesn’t yet know. And that reminds me, I was wondering if Matt (if I may use the populist middle name) would entitle the next thread “Stop those cows farting.”

    Perhaps not.

    But this does tease out something important in my original proposal. Although I said the key to the top-level taxonomy was climate **policy** in fact I meant the single (and essentially simple to conceive, if not to achieve) **goal** of climate policy. I thus avoid the individual policies – biofuel subsidies, carbon trading, carbon offsets, renewable energy subsidies etc. But that would make an extremely interesting secondary question.

  43. j ferguson

    “Do you think the government should adopt policies directed to influencing the nominal temperature of the climate?” “If so on what scale?” “In the last 24 months has anyone you respect suggested that you were crazy?”

    The right questions are out there somewhere, just need ot munch on them.

    And like Wiley Coyote, i fear I’ve run well past the edge of my comprehension.

  44. j ferguson

    Re: Cows farting.
    During my misspent career in industrial construction, in 1979 it fell to me to secure the environmental permitting for a new plant in East Texas where railroad tank cars would be painted. The regulations du jour imposed (perhaps indirectly) the use of water-reducible (read low hydro-carbon) paint. There was little experience with this paint in this application (big black steel things) and what experience there was was not good. The company very much wanted to keep using the paint that worked.

    The property acquired for this new facility had been a cattle finishing lot. The term “finishing” doesn’t have the finality you might suppose in this case. What it means is you fill the cattle up with corn so that they will quickly evolve tastier steaks and hamburger.

    So i hied myself off to Austin, TX where Region 6 EPA was headquartered and met with one of their junior engineers.

    “No, I could not offset our proposed emissions by taking credit for the removal of the cattle from the 68 acres.” The cattle, although clearly a significant, and I might add calculable point source for methane emissions were a “natural” source and not creditable.

    That was then.

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