The Burden Of Proof On Climate Scientists—And Those Wishing For Its “Solutions”

The Burden Of Proof On Climate Scientists—And Those Wishing For Its “Solutions”


If you say a calamity will befall me, and ask me to pay to protect against it, the burden is on you to (a) prove the calamity is likely in all its details, (b) the cost of the protection is worth it in the sense the protection is likely to do the job asked of it, and (c) that no other forms of cheaper effective protection exists.

If you cannot do all three, then I am under no obligation to heed you. Showing only one element is insufficient to compel my action. That is, showing only that the calamity is likely isn’t enough.

For instance, if you convince me, based on some set of evidence, a moon-sized asteroid will ram into the earth in two years, but then offer to sell me at high price a magic spell book which, when used, might dissuade the asteroid, then I will not buy. Even if I agree the world will end.

Or you might show, given a different set of evidence, that a fire burning down my house has a reasonable chance. But if the cost of your insurance is higher than the price of the house, I will not pay. I can buy insurance from another vendor.

Again, you need to prove all three elements and in detail. A conclusion which is, or was not, in any way controversial.

Until global cooling came around. Enter the peer-reviewed paper “Climate scientists set the bar of proof too high” in Climatic Change by Elisabeth A. Lloyd, Naomi Oreskes, and others.

They lament “scientists typically demand too much of themselves in terms of evidence, in comparison with the level of evidence required in a legal, regulatory, or public policy context.” This being so, they beg the IPCC to “recommend more prominently the use of the category ‘more likely than not’ as a level of proof in their reports” because certain courts do.

What they mean by “more likely than not” is what anybody does: better than 50-50. I’ll not comment on why courts choose this over other possibilities, but I will say what this or any probability-based criterion means.


First, except for one possibility, there is no one central claim of global cooling—or global warming, or climate change, or sustainability, or whatever. So there is no one claim for scientists to put a measure of uncertainty on. Except for this statement: man influences the climate. Which should be given full assent by any scientist, because it is deducible from simple premises every scientist claims to believe.

But how much man influences the climate is an open question, with many competing claims. As is what is best to be done about it, if anything. The uncertainties here are rife.

There are two crucial things to remember when speaking of any model uncertainty (solutions are also models):

(1) All models only say what they are told to say, because all models are lists of premises put there by scientists;

(2) Those premises determine the probability of the model’s conclusion (or model’s statements).

The authors “Climate scientists generally look for a probability of 90–100% before they call a scientific claim…’very likely'” and then complain “climate scientists have set themselves a higher level of proof in order to make a scientific claim than law courts ask for in civil litigation in the USA”. This is a silly complaint, followed by an odd table trying to map probability words to quantifications, going so far as to say likely means, sometimes, 100%. Which is false.

It’s silly because (a) no probability proves a model is true, and (b) model statements get probabilities from the premises scientists’ choose. They can pick what they like, and make the model’s statements appear as sure or as unsure as they like because of these choices.

It’s important to grasp model criticisms have nothing to do with the probabilities asserted. Critiques must focus on the premises themselves, the constructs of the model.


Oreskes and the others have a ridiculous goal. They assume that once a certain threshold probability is reached a scientific claim has been “proved”, which is why they carp on “scientists [who] strive to make sure that all possible complaints and objections are fully addressed” in their models.

That is not the way probability and decisions work.

If the model’s statements are uncertain, they will remain uncertain even though some activist—or court—has decided the uncertainty was small enough to ignore for their purposes—which is to implement some “solution”. But—those solutions are also models and have their own uncertainties.

Plus this: the model and the solution uncertainties have to be married before any decisions can be made, which is described next.

The authors don’t seem to understand this, and instead build a straw man and argue that waiting for 100% certainty could cause harm. “Proof in the climate change context is particularly urgent for two reasons: one is that there are legal cases that hinge in part on whether anthropogenic climate change is proven, and two because we are running out of time”.

This obviously assumes what it sets out to prove: we can only be running out of time if the worst models predictions are certain. Which they are not, as the authors admit. But they want the “solutions” so much, the authors try to bully scientists into saying “Close enough.”


A global cooling scientist deduces a certain probability quantification from a model, such as a statement like “There will be a global average temperature change of X, where GAT is measured by these processes.” Conditional on his assumptions, this probability value is, say, P_T. We saw above that this kind of judgement is disputable: change the assumptions/premises, change the value of P_T. But let him have his P_T.

Next, an activist comes along and offers a “solution” to either cut the size of this temperature change, or to mitigate its supposed effects if it can’t be cut. This solution, as said, is also a model. It has a list of assumptions from which a probability quantification can be deduced (though we don’t always need numbers). The activist will say P_S = 1, because activists never doubt.

But scientists (of the non-activist kind) will look at the proposed solution and come to a different, more sober value of P_S < 1 (usually done by removing the activist’s premise “I am right!”).

We then have a chain of uncertainties, first in the model projections—of the GAT itself and how it’s measured with error, or its supposed effects—and a solution which assumes the model is true. Which the scientist admitted was not, because P_T < 1.

Thus the probability for both the model to be true and the proposed solution to work is P_D = P_T * P_S < 1.

This is the number to put into decision calculations, not P_T or P_S, as Orekes asserts. Obviously, P_D is smaller than P_T or P_S. So any urgency must be less than the authors assumed.

In order to make real decisions, we recall the first section in which the model statements and the proposed solution are contrasted with other solutions, and especially the “solution” of doing nothing (as it were).


The authors bring up so-called attribution studies, making the same error of insisting that probabilities greater than 50% are as good as certainty.

Attribution studies are fundamentally flawed in the sense their interpretations guarantee over-certainty. I mean, they all assume model perfection, and draw their conclusions with that in mind. For details on that you can read my paper “The Climate Blame Game“.

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  1. Sheri

    Your opening paragraph sounds exactly like mob protection. And yes, you pay if you don’t want your store burned down, so I guess we pay for climate “protection”.

    My magic spell books are selling like hotcakes.

    An historian is making “scientific claims”. I laugh and laugh and laugh.

    One should OUTLAW (literally) the use of terms such as “more likely than” unless they can fully show their math in a “peer-reviewed” paper and the peers reviewing have to verify the math and show their work. FULLY.

    Science is meant to be broken. Note the muon that is working on breaking particle physics. Should we raise it above the 6 sigma to make Naomi happy? NOT. Naomi is a fool that does not understand science and proof. That we CAN prove.

    Of course waiting for proof could cause harm—THAT IDIOT NAOMI COULD BE FLOGGED IN PUBLIC when it turns out there is no warming. You can see her hiding under a blanket in the basement in terror even as we speak.

    Average temperatures are worthless, stupid and should be tossed out with the P values. Start a campaign. Of course, the math illiterate will be furious since averages are for the math illiterate…..

  2. bruce charlton

    The trouble with the climate change scam is that it is Such a Big and Total Lie.

    In the first place there is no evidence that anyone can predict future climate. Past predictions did not work, present predictions are purely conjectural.

    (In modern pseudoscientific discourse ‘predict the future’ is not an oxymoron, because people misuse ‘predict’ to mean statistically summarizing retrospective data.)

    Secondly, there is zero evidence that anyone can influence, let alone control, the world’s climate – let alone the future climate. Absolutely nothing at all.

    The total absence of evidence for prediction and control destroys the entire field at a stroke. When such gross lies dominate world discourse and economics, ordinary people cannot comprehend the sheer scale of it:

  3. Cloudbuster

    They lament “scientists typically demand too much of themselves in terms of evidence, in comparison with the level of evidence required in a legal, regulatory, or public policy context.” This being so, they beg the IPCC to “recommend more prominently the use of the category ‘more likely than not’ as a level of proof in their reports” because certain courts do.

    “More likely than not” is roughly what is legally known as “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the bare minimum standard in a legal context.

    For world-changing policy recommendations, I’d like something more than that.

  4. Jerry

    The scary thing to keep in mind with all these “experts” is that CO2 has been demonized to the point that the ultimate goal is to rid the planet of it.

    This is the lunacy we live with today.

    The fact is, it can be argued that we need MORE CO2, not less – but sadly it is also a fact that none of this can even be debated (the SCIENCE is settled!).

  5. Dean Ericson

    The Enemy excels in creating FunHouse systems designed to make us nuts and give them power. Climate is a perfect example. Its sole purpose is to gaslight us into submission. Its substance is nothing more than kooky FunHouse mirrors, where every image is a distorted reflection of some other FunHouse phantasm, all of it the pure invention of sicko tricksters. But if you mistake the FunHouse for reality you get trapped inside, and then the Sons of Satan are in control.

    COVID is another such FunHouse operation. Central Banking is another. The Big Tech clowns tricked us into entering their Social Media FunHouse and now, instead of the normal human intercourse we used to have, we’re all a bunch of crazed and angry fools at each other’s throats, and under the malevolent control of the FunHouse operators, who hate us. We’ve been such rubes. Don’t enter the FunHouse, people! And run the damned FunHouse operators out of town.

  6. Missing the point

    1 – Oreskes et al miss the real issue: the models are intended to fit the data, but the data has been modified to fit the models, so their argument for political action based on science is really an argument for political action based on politics.

    2 – you miss the point too: imagining that effective action is possible, would you want to take action against an asteroid if newtonian models suggested that it had a 5% chance of hitting your home next year?

    I would, and bet you would too – so the issue with Oreskes et al is that their models reflect their beliefs rather than physics. As I keep telling my kid, the issue with the use of models is that we continue to listen to people whose expertise leads to precise, but totally wrong, predictions – Hansen, Fauci, Ferguson, et al come to mind as always wrong, yet never shunned.

  7. Milton Hathaway

    “Standards of proof for attributing real world events/damage to global warming should be the same as in clinical or environmental lawsuits”

    That’s the first sentence in the abstract, and that’s such a stupid assertion that one can stop reading right then and there. The standard of proof in civil litigation is low because there isn’t much at stake, in the big picture; one individual or one entity might lose some money. The standard of proof in criminal trials is much higher because someone’s freedom, or even their life, is at stake. Since the proposed remedies for climate change will cause massive hardship and death around the world, the standard of proof should be much much higher yet.

    In all problem solving, one must learn to quickly recognize when someone is too wedded to a particular solution too early in the process, as the chance of catastrophic error is quite high. Today’s climate science goes further astray than even that, what we used to call “a solution in search of a problem”. They want their solution so badly that they twist “Science” into a pretzel.

  8. Sheri

    “Standards of proof for attributing real world events/damage to global warming should be the same as in clinical or environmental lawsuits” You mean like the demon spawn piece of crap lawyer needs a new yacht? I would disagree that not much is as stake–DDT, etc had HUGE costs. Europe has destroyed many industries with their “high” standards. They try to destroy ours the same way. Human welfare is a the bottom of the greedy lawyer list.

  9. Sheri

    WordPress says no more posting for me for now….Can I sue the rats? Civil liability. Hurt my teeny, tiny feelings.

  10. Dean Ericson

    Sheri: “”Hurt my teeny, tiny feelings.”

    You have a Great Heart. Once you get to know it.

  11. John B()


    Does that mean your wind “power” rants pissing off the powers that be?

  12. Sheri

    Dean: Thank you.

    John B(): I certainly hope so. If not, I’ll have to step it up notch.

  13. Denis Ables

    Nowadays ice ages are referred to as “glaciations”, apparently because it turns out that our planet has been experiencing a cooling trend for the past 65 million years. Over the past 1.3 million years there have been 13 glaciations, average duration 90,000 years, each followed by a warming period (such as we now enjoy) average duration 10,000 years.

    Google “Post-Glaciation Sea Level Rise” or “12,000 year graph of sea level” if the graph does not appear in place of this comment.

    This graph sends an important message because it likely reflects typical sea level response during any of the past 13 interim warming periods. About 6,000 years ago the RATE of increase in sea level began to drop and that decreasing rate has continued. Now the rate of increase is a minuscule 1 to 3 mm per year. (1mm = about 4/100 of one inch). During this warming period sea level has increased more than 400 feet. The concern about rising ocean levels over the past several decades is based on the last few inches of sea level increase.

    If this 1.3-million year trend continues then another glaciation is next. A foot or two of water covering the Big Apple is hardly comparable to sitting under a mile high glacier for a goodly portion of the next 90,000 years.

    CO2 increase began in the mid 1800s, as our industrial revolution started. That increase is at least partially related to human activity. However, even though CO2 increase has been consistent there have been periods of no temperature increase, and a three decade cooling period between 1945 and 1975. There are other stronger forcings. The popular belief is that increasing CO2 causes global warming which not only warms the oceans, but also causes glacier melt.

    But there is no evidence that CO2 has ever had any impact on our global temperature. The proponents of warming have generated numerous computer models to justify their position. These models all assume that CO2 causes warming, but not much. The supposed CO2 impact is not enough to be worrisome so the models introduced another culprit, water vapor feedback, which generates 2 to 3 times the temperature increase as supposedly brought on by CO2 increase.

    However, recently some Oslo researchers have demonstrated experimentally that CO2 levels increasing from .04% to 100% lead to no observable temperature increase.

    If CO2 has little or no impact on warming that also rules out the possibility of any significant impact from water vapor feedback. There are also other problems with the water vapor feedback assumption. That feedback claim depends on the applicability of the greenhouse gas theory to actions which involve the open atmosphere. The GHG theory brings with it a necessary condition – there is an accompanying necessary (but not sufficient) condition that there also be a warmer region about 10km above the tropics, a “hot spot”. Despite decades of radiosondes that hot spot has never been found. The alarmists’ response about that missing hot spot offers little more than speculation as to where that it may have gone.

    But there’s more. Sun activity (sun spots) has recently gone quiet. Sun activity has driven every warming and cooling period during the past 800,000 years according to Don Easterbrook (geologist). His book “The Solar Magnetic Cause of Climate Changes and Origin of the Ice Ages” is available at Amazon. It’s based strictly on data. John Casey also talks about sun influence in “Dark Winter”.

    Henrik Svensmark, Danish physicist, was claiming the same back in the 90s. Svensmark’s theory is that cosmic rays entering the lower atmosphere contribute to cloud cover. (CERN has long since validated Svensmark’s theory.) The normally unchanging stream of cosmic rays entering the lower atmosphere are partially blocked when the sun is active because of the sun’s strengthened magnetic field. An active sun therefore results in fewer cosmic rays entering the lower atmosphere hence lower average cloud cover which implies that more sun radiation reaches the earth’s surface, hence a warmer earth. When the sun is inactive the lower atmosphere receives more cosmic rays which leads to more cloud cover. More sun radiation is reflected back to space so less radiation reaches the earth’s surface which leads to cooling. It’s simple, and as Svensmark puts it – cloud cover dictates climate.

    The sun has been active until recently which supposedly brought on our current warming. But now the sun has become quiet so average cloud cover should be increasing and a cooling should follow. Some indications of the arrival of cooling are the temperatures since 2016, (see Dr. Roy Spencer’s graph), also February 2021 was the coolest in about four decades. Texas experienced a record cold winter. England has experienced the coldest April (as of the 18th) since 1922 and Germany the chilliest April since 1917. The theory is simple and the data is beginning to support it.

    There is considerable evidence that COOLING, rather than warming, is next on Mother Nature’s agenda. Those trillions of dollars to fight global warming can be shelved unless fighting a naturally-caused colder climate can be justified.

  14. We’ve had global warming since the mid-1970s.
    It has been mild and harmless.
    Those of us in Michigan have enjoyed the slight warming, and want more.
    We don’t need always wrong climate model predictions.
    We have many decades of experience with ACTUAL global warming.

    Warnings of a coming climate crisis started in 1957, with Roger Revelle, and have now been wrong 64 years in a row.

    Climate models, on average (the average represents the “consensus”) have predicted warming 100% faster than reality for the past 40 years.

    Today’s climate is the best climate for humans, animals and plants since the cold, late 1600s.

    There is no climate emergency.
    There is no climate problem.
    The current climate is wonderful.

    Gross overreactions to an imaginary coming climate crisis — coming for the past 64 years, but never arrives — are the real climate emergency !

  15. B Crane

    Most forget that the plant kingdom is the nurturer of our planet and CO2, sun, soil, and water provides food and O2 for all of us parasites. So why do some want to kill the nurturer? Removing CO2 (climate czar) would make this a dead planet.

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