How Nonsense Masquerades As Science: Climate “Code Red” Example

How Nonsense Masquerades As Science: Climate “Code Red” Example

This post is also available as a podcast. As you can tell, I recently lost my voice; and the bad news is that it was found, partially. Or listen on YouTube..

One of the reasons for broken science is nonsense being passed off as science. Today’s example, and a prominent example, too, comes from the peer-reviewed journal BioScience. From the paper “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” by William Ripple and others.

Now the word emergency isn’t undefined or unfamiliar: we know the difference between an emergency and a matter of concern, or even a problem. Further, we know the word so well that we know the weather we experience is not any kind of emergency, even if it might, possibly, someday, perhaps, who knows, maybe be a problem. Which it now is not; a problem, that is, let alone emergency. The weather is not acting in any extraordinary way.

Even though we know the word, it doesn’t have a scientific meaning. Emergency, as a word, has no place in scientific discourse. And neither does code red, a term used in the article’s opening sentences: “We are now at ‘code red’ on planet Earth. Humanity is unequivocally facing a climate emergency.”

What—what precisely—is a code red? Is it different from a code orange or code puce? What—what precisely—differentiates code red from code indigo? How many codes are there, and how do we measure or categorize without ambiguity their characteristics?

Obviously, we cannot answer any of those questions; they aren’t even meant to be asked. Which means the term is not part of science. It is instead hyperbolic, and editorial. It is scientific nonsense.

The paper, therefore, is off to a bad start. It has already signaled it is a work of politics and not science. Yet even though the work cannot function at all well as science, it might have value politically. Let’s see the very next sentences:

The scale of untold human suffering, already immense, is rapidly growing with the escalating number of climate-related disasters. Therefore, we urge scientists, citizens, and world leaders to read this Special Report and quickly take the necessary actions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The scale of human suffering due to poor or inclement weather is not “already immense”. The suffering is not “rapidly growing”, either. This we know from the work of men like Bjorn Lomberg. One citation will do, though there are many:

Lomberg is careful to make that graph scientific (links here), by defining just what he means by “climate deaths”. Naturally, the definition can be disputed, or changed, and the numbers would change, too. It is true, also, that measuring these things is subject to at least substantial uncertainty, so that the blue line should have something like a plus or minus around it.

Those are scientific criticisms because they speak to the measurements and the certainty we have in them. But, given this picture, and the work of others, it is clear that something like that picture is true; I mean the decrease in deaths. And that, therefore, Ripple’s “rapidly growing” is false.

Which doesn’t make his statement valueless. Since we are dealing, as we have learned, with a political paper, and not a scientific one, and in politics anything goes, Ripple will likely get away with his falsehood.

Which is why he goes from the political strength of “rapidly growing” to (in the next paragraph) “The consequences of global heating are becoming increasingly extreme, and outcomes such as global societal collapse are plausible and dangerously underexplored”.

Global societal collapse! I suppose we could criticize that term, too, since it, being undefined, means only what horrors are held in the mind of individual readers, but we see where we are now.

It’s not that this paper doesn’t have aspects that look like science. It does. For instance, there’s a table which claims “April 2022: Climate change likely contributed to extreme rainfall in Eastern South Africa, which triggered flooding and landslides that killed at least 435 people and affected more than 40,000 people.”

What makes this advocacy and not science is that Ripple makes no attempt to give alternate, and even more likely, explanations for the rain. There are also many critiques proving these attributions are, at absolute best, vastly over-certain, and most likely just plain wrong.

To make this paper science, and not advocacy, those legitimate and strong critiques must be at least mentioned, even if they are dismissed. Not just for this instance, but in each claim made about the causes of weather supposedly running amok.

Science is about discovering the causes of observables. If all possible likely causes are not given or investigated, then the work can be no better than bad science. Or no science at all, as we have here.

But this paper will be taken as science, especially by those rulers who have “solutions” to sell. Especially since its original 2020 version attracted “14,700 signatories from 158 countries”. If you are in the majority who take science to be a vote, then this number of signers is irresistible.

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  1. Daiva

    Emergency code indigo! It’s observably unscientific to misspell Lomborg’s name, repeatedly (twice)! Especially so when his twitter handle glares in your face ;-b

  2. Podcast version or just audio-article? Expanded or just read into the microphone? I ask because if the former, I’d love to see a feed that I could subscribe to on my podcast app.

  3. rabbi samuel

    Women worship science as magic because women are incapable of logic. So putting science or what claims to be it before them is an absurdity that leads to the destruction of society. That by itself. But allowing them to pretend to be scientists accelerates this destruction. As the Jews used to have a law against women studying Torah, we must ban science from TV because women cannot be allowed to dabble in even thinking they know what the word itself means.

  4. John B()


    I think I understand where the wheels fell off (besides Briggs’ usual enemies)


  5. Milton Hathaway

    Years ago I got into the habit, when confronted with CAGW tabloid-science papers and articles, of specifically looking for the “tipping point” verbiage. It was usually stated as we’ve got five years, or we’ve got ten years, or whatever, before it became irreversible. I did this because in my naive mind, once it became irreversible, the scare-mongers would crawl back in their holes and quit bothering the rest of us, since irreversible means nothing can be done, so there’s no point in yammering on about it. I looked forward to the arrival of each predicted tipping point. But, alas!, the tipping points never arrived.

    Let’s have a look at the linked paper . . . ok, here’s the mandatory tipping point verbiage: “Rising temperatures increase the risks of feedback loops and tipping points being triggered . . . Higher temperatures will increase the risk of cascading effects . . .” Wait . . . what? There’s no time frame! Dammit!! Nothing to look forward to.

    I have to admit that I find the whole CAGW affair increasingly boring, like that checkout clerk in the local grocery store who is the Greta Thunberg of anything and everything Sasquatch-related. About the only new aspect of note for me is that recent articles from the denier side have convinced me that fossil fuels have allowed the human population to be two or three times higher than the population levels that could be sustained without fossil fuels. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but here we are, and I’m pretty darn sure that killing off half to two-thirds of the current world population would be considered a bad thing. Well, ok, the population could be reduced by that much in maybe 50 or 60 years by reducing the fertility rate to zero. Wait . . . no, then there would be no one left to take care of the elderly . . . better make that two or three centuries with a slightly reduced fertility rate.

    An acquaintance of mine is fond of saying “put me in charge, and I’ll fix everything”. A dangerous attitude, no matter who thinks it. I think.

  6. Yeah, the people that you don’t want to have power are the ones that seek it, particularly those who don’t show any humility. “Put me in charge and I’ll fix everything!”, sure, but now tell me what and how? What’s that? Cat’s got your tongue. I thought so. You should never be in charge of anything important.

  7. Daiva

    Beware, John,

    those usual suspects may be partial to Sgt Briggs (they sure are!), but not above casting their spells & hexes wider now and then ??

    ThuNberg! ;-D

  8. john b()



    Have I proved my point? or what?


    From the standpoint of being “under one’s thumb” I like my ‘Thumberg’

    She’s under SOMEBODY’s thumb trying to put the rest of the world under HER Thumb

    I blame Dave Berg

  9. Ann Cherry

    The World is transitioning to Fossil fuels – Watts Up With That?

    Germany Demolishing a Wind Farm to Make Room for a Coal Mine:

    I remember reading an article in Der Spiegel a few years ago, where they admitted that it cost Germany $20 billion to create $3 billion in “green energy.” Talk about unsustainable. Too bad the U.S. is still behind the learning curve.

    Maybe these “World Scientists” can track how the rise in anti-fracking propaganda leads to the rise in coal for energy. I understand the Netherlands has enough clean and abundant natural gas to power all of Europe, but the (Putin-funded) “environmental” groups won’t “let” them.

    Western nations seem hell-bent on individual and collective suicide. It’s like watching a massive train wreck driven by a crazy conductor, and we’re the passengers.

  10. Milton Hathaway

    Ann Cherry: Wow, Germany, and much of the rest of Europe seems to have paid a heavy price, in treasure and lives, for Pee-wee’s Big Green Misadventure. Perhaps the three deadliest words ever spoken by a child were “How Dare You!”. Too bad her mother came back from the video store that time with “An Inconvenient Truth” instead of “Harry and the Hendersons”. Parents of intense children with vacuous minds take heed, lives could be at stake.

    Is the US next to ride the learning curve? Ask me on November 9th, maybe I’ll be feeling more optimistic.

  11. CorkyAgain

    If I remember my high school science correctly red is a lower-frequency color than, say, blue and a red flame is cooler than a blue one.

    So perhaps “Code Red” means that public concern about “climate change” is cooling down — which is certainly an “emergency” for the grifters who have been profiting from it.

  12. Oldavid

    G’donya, W’m.

    But what about if I believe that everything I believe is wrong? Do you believe that a plethora of “peer reviewed” papers will resolve this conundrum? And what about if YOU believe that everything you believe is wrong?

    St’rewth! I believe that if I work hard enough I just might start to catch on to the philosophy of the science of statistics… which is, of course, wrong because I believe it.

    I feel that I’m approaching the pinnacle of “scientific” excellence in which facts and beliefs are entirely irrelevant to the “right” feelings.

  13. gareth

    “we urge scientists, citizens, and world leaders to read this Special Report and quickly take the necessary actions…”

    Reads like an old-style Nigerian email scam, except it’s not in CAPITALS 😉

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