AGW: Restoring courtesy
to the debate
When a situation has become so fraught, so polarized, that communication
between opposing sides breaks down, "mediators" can
be called in to set up a process that can enable and allow all
parties to feel that they have been heard fairly. Recent engagement
at WUWT with Roger Harrabin of the BBC suggests clearly to me
a breakdown in communication, with all sides feeling misrepresented.
I want to take the line among skeptics that Roger and the BBC
are "innocent until proven guilty", but to do so, I
would ask for some conditions for courtesy's sake. For not only
does extra care with courtesy enable disputes to be resolved;
I have discovered a surprise: courtesy is the best facilitator
for scientific understanding itself to develop. In addition, many
of the best scientists suffer from Asperger's Syndrome (as did
Einstein and Newton). Classically, this condition gives passion
for Truth to the point of obsession with a narrow field of interest,
and difficulty with "normal" human interactions and
communicating skills. Thus the Aspies are likely to do the most
brilliant science, but they seldom end up as heads of departments,
let alone media reporters. They are the ones who understand crucial
details that reporters fail to grasp or even to recognize as significant.
I know because I had the condition, and still retain many habits
developed to cope with that experience.
(1) First, I am going to look at some historical issues that
I think are crucial - so please hear me out. This may do three
things: (a) it may exonerate the BBC, well, as nearly completely
as one can hope for (b) it may give the BBC, in particular, Roger
Harrabin and Richard Black, a way out, to salvage their reputation
among skeptics, give them a future, and go a long way towards
resolving the AGW issues (c) it may suggest future good practice
(which may need to be enshrined by legislation, in order to protect
the future integrity of Science).
(2) Second, I ask for special courtesy in responses, in order
to give all sides a fair chance. I believe that the best skeptics
blogs practice far higher standards of courtesy than are seen
in the equivalent "warmist" blogs; I know that many
became skeptics because of the difference in the levels of courtesy.
Nevertheless, because of the deep breakdown of communication,
it is easy for both sides to see insults even where none are intended.
So I would like to see factual responses, evidence relevant to
the core issues, as far as possible. Emotions are an important
part of our nature, they are often the gut-reaction clues we get
as to whether material is truth or rubbish. But in the driving-seat,
they can precipitate divides. Good practice in rebuilding trust
is to ask participants to "own" their feelings rather
than give them "objective" status. So as Steve McIntyre
says repeatedly: no "piling-on" of emotional response
please. All this will help to isolate, distil, clarify, and agree
the root issues, as if this blog were a science laboratory, or
an awareness-raising workshop, and the issues required the same
care of handling as one would apply to tiny but significant quantities,
and delicate instruments which also includes human beings.
The communication problem has been building up for so long that
we can hardly hope to resolve all conflict instantly. Much mischief
is the result of unchecked "group think" by special
interest groups, which the best of us do frequently and for the
best of reasons. An agreement from all sides, that progress has
been made, will, I think, be an excellent achievement.
This picture shows every email link found in the
UEA emails, grouped into institutions and individuals.
I've been scanning responses on WUWT's
post about Roger Harrabin's request for "tenured academic
sceptics". Many skeptics feel this is already an impossible
request, a request that already loads the dice, because these
people, who should be the ones most able to put the skeptical
scientific position, are actually the ones least able to speak
out, owing to pressure from the scientific "consensus".
I've had a productive exchange with Roger, and I've looked at
some of Richard Black's material, and all this has left me with
the feeling that both of them, and the BBC behind them, may have
far more genuine intention to stay fair and open than their reporting
suggests to most people here. But we have to go very carefully,
and be wary of pitfalls, to open up this possible understanding.
First, let's look at the BBC policy regarding climate science
reporting, as quoted by Robert Christopher on the WUWT Harrabin
See that small phrase "some of the best scientific experts".
Let me raise the volume a little. SOME OF THE BEST SCIENTIFIC
EXPERTS. Not my personal opinion, but it's the opinion of the
BBC, and it may well have been an honest opinion.
But skeptics here can imagine who these experts could have been.
How about Bob Ward, "Senior manager, policy communication"
for the Royal Society until September 2006??? We can see something
of his provenance and character here.
Now it is no more than a possibility that Ward was one of the
"experts". But Prof Lindzen's paper (Climate
Science: is it currently designed to answer questions) demonstrates
the infiltration of activists by back-door methods into influential
positions in key scientific bodies, over the last twenty years
or so. These are people with an agenda - even if the agenda appears
to be important, like "saving the planet". Paradoxically,
emotionally-based campaigns for a green, sustainable future, in
becoming special-interest groups, developing "groupthink",
relaxing traditional good standards of Scientific Method and Practice,
and losing sight of Truth itself, in exaggerating claims of danger,
attacking and defaming fair challengers, and ignoring basic sanity
checks, have themselves become a danger to our future, and an
easy way for those like Al Gore to grab power and make money.
Innocent reasons for the present situation
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am observing powerful, innocent
reasons that even the "best scientific experts" may
be misguided, and may have given the BBC misguided advice. The
world have seen an unparalleled rate of material change, as well
as material growth of population, that has happened due to the
material benefits of modern Science. But much of this still depends
on material and resources that are ultimately limited, even if
they are far more plentiful than some fearmongers maintain; it
is still important to consider issues of longterm sustainability.
With powerful evidence of our ability to change the environment,
it is natural to be concerned about whether our activities may
be having effects on the climate. And we cannot omit the religious,
spiritual and experiential dimensions, in these issues. Often
the material changes overwhelm and confuse; traditional religions
seem inadequate, or else God is sought with fundamentalist ardour
to shut out all doubts; there is often a gap in the soul, that
feels it is unscientific to embrace spiritual reality, but still
experiences apocalyptic fear for the future and obsessive activity,
supposedly to build a "sustainable future" but in reality
to avoid facing the naked fear. However, one thing we need as
a foundation is a science and understanding of reality itself
that we can trust. And herein lies a big problem for Climate Science.
Science has grown out of all recognition in both extent and complexity.
But as specializations proliferate, the number of experts in each
specialization grows smaller. Traditionally, the peer-review system
depends on unprejudiced review; but the Climategate emails have
shown a corruption of the whole peer-review process, where a tiny
cabal of experts took it over, to promote their own secondrate
"science" and exclude anything that challenged the validity
of that "science", whether or not the challenge was
sound. IT DIDN'T USE TO BE LIKE THIS!! The science I studied at
school was the soul of trustworthiness, which one breathed in
every time one entered the labs and the classrooms, because it
was built on Scientific Method and human courtesy; experts couldn't
possibly lie over serious issues, because their results had to
be reproduceable and auditable; their colleagues would disbar
them for lying, because humankind needs foundations of truth.
With complexification, the situation in Science has changed.
Much goes back to 1988 when James Hansen delivered a warning
speech in a stage-managed
heat trap for the US Senate, and the IPCC was established
by the U.N. to assess "the scientific, technical and socioeconomic
information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced
climate change." IPCC was formed to assess risks and recommend
an appropriate response. But in practice, it bypasses the very
basis of Science by assuming that AGW is an already-proven fact.
The IPCC is not Science, it is a lookalike, and as recent events
are increasingly showing the public, it has become a fraudulent
usurper. Openness to objective truth in Science is utterly essential,
and, unlike what the BBC directive says, mere numbers of believers,
or even 2500 IPCC "scientists", is actually completely
irrelevant; just one piece of contradictory evidence is enough
to overturn a century of scientific hypotheses on the AGW in which
millions now believe. And unlike what IPCC and "top scientific
experts" suggest, there are not just a few, but thousands
of scientific pieces of evidence challenging every single part
of the AGW thesis.
A significant historical factor is Maggie Thatcher. She knew
her science degree was unusual for a politician, and she used
it to gain power over the miners by taking hold of, and magnifying,
the AGW threat that had appeared like a tiny blip in Science.
She gave research grants in any discipline that promised to look
for evidence upholding AGW; she decreased all other research grants;
she founded the Hadley Centre. I think her legacy was slowly cumulative,
like that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Researchers learned to
get grants by promising to research more and more alarming climate
issues; apocalyptic research caught on and became multinational
business and the darling of the media.
The current challenge
The current challenge is to demonstrate, to such as Roger Harrabin
(degree in English) and Richard Black (PhD in economics), that
the most fundamental scientific propositions in AGW, and indeed,
Scientific Method itself, the very foundations of Science, are
what the issue is about. Orthodox science institutions now say
that the existence of dangerous AGW has long been agreed by the
"consensus" of scientists and doesn't need further discussion
because "time is short" if we are to take "action"
to "prevent" it. And with "evidence"
by the bucketful
from the scientific establishment, people believe [note:
believe] the proofs without further check, become "activists",
and harrass those who challenge the basics of AGW into silence.
I have been there myself. Those who should be most free
and able to investigate and report the real science are now the
ones who have been most threatened into silence or drilled into
conformity - tenured academics. The WUWT
thread is already evidence of this key group of witnesses.
Therefore, what is needed for these disenfranchised experts to
speak up is a written promise from the BBC that such scientists
will have the right to the final approval of what (of their statements)
goes out in any programme. Plus, they should be granted the chance
to answer others' objections to their statements on the programme,
as is sine qua non (or is certainly supposed to be) in
The "drilling into conformity" often happened for the
best of reasons, as detailed earlier. Most public dissenters are
retired, or from other disciplines, or have somehow reached a
point of "nothing to lose by speaking the truth". The
very basis of Scientific Method, namely reproduceability and auditability,
has been compromised; and there are many scientists of high standing
and expertise, as well as many others who have studied the relevant
science, who know that AGW is essentially flawed, not once but
over and over, holed under the water line by a monumental iceberg
of hidden evidence, as surely as was the Titanic.
The real science
It is true that the Earth has been warming over the last century;
it is true that this warming cannot be explained by "total
solar irradiance" changes; it is true that the level of CO2
has risen; it is true that CO2 is an important greenhouse gas;
it is true that the annual rise in CO2 is comparable in size to
(about half the size of) our annual emissions; it is true that
even at the beginning of the twentieth century there were scientists
concerned at the possible effects of our CO2 emissions. But further
than that, we find nothing more than amazing coincidences and
correlations, with zero proof of causation. Every single one of
these statements can be challenged on many fronts, shown to be
misleading, and in no way constitute a proof, or even the slightest
quantity of evidence, of AGW. Moreover, there are many further
complications that are rooted in poor, misleading, and sometimes
downright fraudulent science; the Urban Heat Island effect is
one such issue; temperature records themselves are under question;
the "proxy" reconstruction of earlier times is seriously
under fire; all the "alarmist" prognoses of extreme
weather, and of computer models, are belied by the actual records.
Reflections - how to protect the integrity of
Currently we have an unbelievable, unfortunate situation. But
it would not be the first time that humankind has been overtaken
by mass delusions. You have only to read about Tulip-mania, or
the South Sea Bubble, or the Crusades to find others who have
said in effect "we cannot all be wrong". Much of AGW
is a strange combination of sheer coincidence in natural climate
cycles, as well as lack of "back to basics" in checking
the science. At first it grew innocently, slowly, and apparently
usefully, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's broom. Only later did
corruption take a greater hold.
The real questions now are, how best to re-establish and protect
integrity in Science, how best to rescue the passengers still
on the Titanic, and how best to uphold justice and deal fairly
with the key offenders, many of whom have been motivated, at least
in part, by genuine concern.
Scientific Practice needs rethinking regarding how to keep it
truly open, and how to protect Science's integrity from corruption
in the future. Paradoxically, we need to re-include human values
to safeguard this integrity - coming from the very same inner
realm of experiences that was originally, and with justification,
excluded from Scientific Method. Now the humanity has to be rebuilt,
not just touchy-feelie-post-modern, but through the great key
of Scientific Method itself, applied to our inner realms. This
embraces much of what we know today as good psychology, and more.
Science needs to rediscover its "citizen science" roots
and reclaim this for the future, and become truly transparent,
checkable, and open to challenge, by people of ordinary intelligence.
Before implementing horrendously expensive policy, scientific
truth and open verifiability are essential. This back-to-basics
check is the only Precautionary Principle worth its salt. All
this work is being achieved by the skeptics blogs who are most
ably pointing the way forward. I taught myself the science and
then wrote it up as a Primer (click my name) Many readers at the
Times Higher Educational supplement have appreciated it, so perhaps
our two BBC reporters might consider studying my Primer as well.
Stallybrass aka Lucy Skywalker