A reply to Mike Hulme

Two articles appeared in uClimate.com almost together:

Whilst Andrew Montford tends to be a moderate, in this case his comments did not seem appropriate for what appeared to be a good attempt to move the debate forward by Mike Hulme:

Mike Hulme is going to find himself given “the big cutoff” if he carries on like this. “Infamous” eh? Perhaps word is getting round that John Cook and his acolytes at Skeptical Science are a bit of a liability. With quote fabrication now added to the list of misdeeds of which he stands accused.

Whilst there must be more to this, I will focus on responding as well as I can to what was said:

“Science can’t settle what should be done about climate change”

Whilst this sounds like an admission that “science” has its limits and is not the sole authority on climate, I do not know if this is what Mike Hulme meant. The position is the more difficult because unfortunately, often when the term “science” is used in the public arena, it does not refer to the application of the scientific method, but instead to the socially constructed boundaries erected around a group of academics which seems to serve the purpose of demarcating themselves as being “good science” and anyone else as “bad science”.

If he is using the “scientific method” definition, then in effect, this is a statement that it cannot ever(?) be possible to know enough about the climate, its effects and the economic and social implications to make a decision. Perhaps what Mike Hulme means is that “present science” cannot know. But to say that the scientific method cannot ever settle the issue, is …. unscientific!! Because unless you believe science is set in concrete and cannot improve beyond our present knowledge then how do we know what we will know in the future? How do we know science has a limit? So I do not believe this is his meaning.

If however, by “science” he means the socially constructed boundaries around the group of academics – then yes, as public employees, with little real knowledge of the world outside academia, they were always going to be challenged to have the same understanding as those in the commercial economy outside when it comes to the economic implications of what they were proposing. Admitting this is an important step forward.

However, it was this that caused me to reply:

“What matters is not whether the climate is changing (it is); nor whether human actions are to blame (they are, at the very least partly and, quite likely, largely); nor whether future climate change brings additional risks to human or non-human interests (it does). … In the end, the only question that matters is, what are we going to do about it?”

As a scientist, engineer, with a business MBA, who has dabbled in politics, I may be biased as it seems to fit me to a “T”, but I cannot disagree with that statement. And it is the first time I’ve felt real progress as it shows a remarkable degree of candid honesty which should have been applauded. Knowing isn’t everything. It’s what we do with that knowledge which is!

However, I was also a little concerned that taken on its own this statement might be perceived as saying that science (as in those using the scientific method) would not have an important role.

Moving from “thinking” to “doing” may be taking the emphasis away from the boundaries of “science” within academia, but it should not be seen as the end of the involvement of science.

Science (as in the scientific method, not a consensus amongst academics) is the bedrock of good decision making. That is why so many sceptics who clearly (from our survey) have important jobs working in the private sector are also scientists and engineers. The problem is this perception by many inside academia that “science” only refers to academia and therefore anyone outside speaking on science must be “bad science” or “unscientific”. This is a real problem and it is this failure of academics to trust those outside which I think is the biggest problem we face on this issue.

The reality is that whilst science isn’t the sole focus of many outside academia, it is the foundation on which we make day to day decisions very similar in nature to the issue of the climate. Any engineer or doctor works daily with scientifically based projections, scientific tests, models & risk assessments. Far from rejecting science, this is embracing science, but it is done in a way that balances their knowledge of science against economic and social concerns. That is where I think the big disagreements arise. Academics have demanded science and (academic) scientists should have pre-eminence as the authority on this issue. Those outside have known they should not.

But in most other spheres of public life it is those outside academia in medicine, engineering, agriculture etc. that any reasonable government would turn to if wanted a decision equivalent to that regarding the impacts of CO2, because it is largely those outside who have the experience of balancing the scientific, with the economic and social issues.

“So politics, not science, must take centre stage.”

So here Mike Hulme completely misses the point, because the key ingredient is missing. I repeat, in every other field of human endeavour I can think of, we don’t let academics dictate to the rest of us what to do. Almost invariably there is a group of people whose role it is to take academic research and translate it for use in society. In medicine we call them doctors, in most science we call them engineers and for example in other areas they are called “consultants”.

These outsiders to academia act as a vital intermediary between academic science and society. Almost invariably from the private sector, they filter out the public sector bias of Universities and add in their own commercial understanding of real functioning economy. The result is a balanced viewpoint – one often not to the liking of academia, but one far more in tune with the needs of society.

What Mike Hulme is proposing is not balanced. It is public sector academics advising public sector politicians how to run the private sector economy. This has never worked  in the past and it never will in the future. Instead we need is people who not only understand science but also empathise with the working economy & reality of a commerce-based society to help guide governments. As such, any such attempt for [public-sector academic] scientists to advise [largely scientifically illiterate public sector] politicians will fail particularly on an issue like energy which is so important to the real economy.

We must get back to basics. Academics don’t build bridges, academic do not perform operations, academics don’t “do”! So, when the key question is “what are we going to do about it?“, the wrong answer will always be that academics should “do” anything other than produce good science.

So, I think the real problem with the climate issue is that we are missing that key group of “doers”. Politicians are not “doers”, academics are not “doers”. We need that group of “doers” who have been so far excluded from this issue.

Now, without giving too much away before the survey is published, I can say sceptics are doers! I think the reason so many people are “sceptics” is because they have naturally come in to fill in the missing space and provide the vital ingredient in this debate. As such, only when their views are not only listened to, but respected, will we know we have any chance of making a good decision on “what to do”. And hopefully, those who seem to be trying to find a way forward like Mike Hulme will be pleasantly surprised to find how well sceptics fit this role (that is the real sceptics who answered the survey and not the imaginary group called “deniers”)

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42 Responses to A reply to Mike Hulme

  1. tlitb1 says:

    “Politicians are not “doers”, academics are not “doers”. We need that group of “doers” who have been so far excluded from this issue.”

    Maybe you will tell us more when your survey results are announced but for now I don’t understand what you mean by “doers”. You seem to imply this is a newly identified group but I can’t imagine what that could be right now.

    Political negotiation between interested parties about what needs to be “done” on any subject seems inevitable, and the people involved in this process are always operating as politicians.

    Whether they are scientists or “doers” already doesn’t matter, they will need some forum of persuasion and democratic process of acceptance of their ideas to exist and this is politics.

    Until I know better I am left with the impression that this idea of a new “doer” class makes the same mistake that the alarmist activist scientists make, i.e. that they have somehow become a “vital intermediary” without requiring any further debate and should bypass normal “political” scrutiny.

  2. The best example to use is medicine. In medicine the doctor is not an academic, instead they are a practitioner. That’s another way for saying they take the theoretical knowledge (often from academia) and apply it to real life situations.

    So, we can say that they “do” medicine. They take generalised knowledge and apply to the specific case. This is the same for engineers who “do” science (although it would predominantly be a subset such as “mechanics” or solid state).

  3. “Whether they are scientists or “doers” already doesn’t matter, they will need some forum of persuasion and democratic process of acceptance of their ideas to exist and this is politics.”

    I’m not excluding politics — I am saying that we are missing a vital intermediary group which isn’t just focussed on the one issue.

    I think a good analogy, would be road policy where e.g. academia was telling government how to build roads, bridges, rail etc. and saying that “as the experts”, they are the ONLY ONES that should be consulted. Even most academics would understand that if civil engineers said their ideas would not work – then they should be heard.

    Unfortunately, on climate we don’t have that group of “practitioners” who have their feet firmly on the ground – and it is as if the Universities were dictating to government how roads should be built.

    … or more likely, they are saying: “the solution to the problem with the country’s roads … is to give all the money we were going to spend on building roads, to academics to look into the problem”.

  4. This looks to me very much like an article professor Hulme did for the guardian some years ago saying that what he does is “post normal science” in which evidence, facts and the like take second place to placating paymasters:

    “One of the central reasons why there is disagreement about how to tackle climate change is because we have different conceptions of what science is, and with what authority it speaks – in other words, how scientific “knowledge” interacts with those other realms of understanding brought to us by politics, ethics and spirituality……

    ” Disputes in post-normal science focus as often on the process of science – who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy – as on the facts of science.
    So this book from Singer and Avery can be understood in a different way: as a challenge to the process of climate change science, or to the values they believe to be implicit in the science, rather than as a direct challenge to scientific knowledge………

    do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time? – masquerade as disputes about scientific truth and error.

    We need this perspective of post-normal science……..

    ……..In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage.

    …….”identify what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is self-evidently too much”.

    This is the wrong question to ask of science. Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking”

    I have never since been able to consider Mike Hulme a scientist. This was my rant on the subject with link to the Grauniad. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/professor-hulme-disgrace-to-university.html

  5. Excellent post, and I “do” understand your concept of “doers”–and they would be called engineers in most countries. The UK has diluted that title to mean people who fix washing machines, broken computers, downed power lines, etc. Bless those with those skills, but we need engineers with education and professional accreditation to execute their responsibilities in accordance with their code of professional ethics and obligations. Because we don’t have that, we have allowed “scientists” to fill that role.

    • I suspect much of the reason why the UK treats engineering with such contempt lies in the classism that infected the industrial revolution in Britain. On one side you had the “gentlemen” of the landed gentry, and on the other you had the “new rich” who built their wealth through industry.

      The Royal society – was largely patronised by the old landed-gentry class, and I think that class ridden culture that looked down on manufacturing and scientific-engineering has been the prevalent “identity” of British science. So in Britain “science” became a very divisive term classifying the “good” academic area from the “bad” practitioners of science in engineering.

      Add to that a dose of anti-trade unionism, a North-sea oil inflated exchange rate that made most UK manufacturing uncompetitive and you can more or less explain not only the demise of British industry – but the reason so many academics cheered on its demise so enthusiastically.

      Then along comes CO2 – something overwhelmingly produced by heavy industry – the heavy industry that has been so disliked by all academics from the industrial revolution onward who have portrayed what in the rest of the world was the freedom and liberation from agricultural toil as the incarnation of hell. (Think of one academic who tells the truth that people were better off after industrialisation! – for proof just watch Lord of the Rings and see how the “industrial” culture of the Auks is contrasted to the rural idyllic culture of the Elves.)

      So CO2 was really just a proxy for heavy industry, which due the historical development of the academic culture in Britain, the whole of British academia was more than happy to attack.

  6. This difference between academic scientists and doers was shown to me early on in my career in the civil nuclear industry. There was a battle between the Government scientists in the UKAEA and the doers in the CEGB and private industry (of which I was a part). My boss said that if the Government decided to take us down the route recommended by the UKAEA (a Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor) rather than recommended by industry (a Pressurised Water Reactor), then that would kill the industry. The SGHWR was an elegant and sophisticated design which would be impossible to build, impossible to maintain and repair, difficult to operate and difficult to decommission. Fortunately the PWR was chosen. Post-war industry is littered with bad technology chosen by politicians (advised by academics) who are renowned for chosing wrong – if it’s a winning technology, private industry will go for it; all that’s left for politiicans to pick is losing technologies.

    The last people you want advising Governments are academics – just look at energy where Professor David MacKay is chief scientific advisor. His claim to fame is having written a book, which hardly makes him a doer. Where is his experience of industry?

    • I’d prefer an analogy of a team — given their way academia would have a team full of goalies. That doesn’t mean there should be no goalies. In other words a partnership.

      But as we’ve seen on climate, UK academia is institutionally hostile to anyone – particularly in engineering – with the scientific experience and education that undoubtedly gives them a right to speak on science but who dares to say anything from outside academia.

  7. > Whilst this sounds like an admission that “science” has its limits and is not the sole authority on climate

    Not in the sense you think. What he is saying is that Science can tell you (or, an idealised Science can tell you) how much the climate will warm if we emit X amount of CO2. And an idealised impacts analysis could tell you how bad (or, not to prejudge the issue, good) the costs (benefits) of such a warming could be. But Science alone can’t tell you what to do. Suppose (for example, take the commonly accepted case) that we decide that GW will have costs in 2050; or in 2100. How do we balance those future costs, against the present-day costs of emitting less CO2? Ideally, that’s an Economics question (though I don’t think Hulme is brave enough to put it so directly). But because Economists argue about discount rates, and indeed everything, that then becomes a Political question instead.

    So this is nothing at all to do with Sci/Eng distinctions.

    • But engineers are using scientific principles to do those kinds of calculations day in day out. Science can tell us how to do that – but only if you have a familiarity of using scientific techniques in real world type situations where things are never as easy as they are in text books.

      Economics, costs, balancing social, environmental … it’s all bread and butter to your average engineer who are constantly having to deal with problems that of “beyond the known science”. The problem for academics has never been finding the right people – to go “beyond the science”, it’s been trying to make academics understand that this is not their area of expertise.

      Let me put it this way – if you liken science to a recipe, engineering is like cooking. What you are saying is that the recipe can’t deal with a situation where we don’t have a one-to-one relationship between ingredients and what’s in the recipe. It’s “beyond the recipe” of simple science.

      In other words, it’s not a simple problem where you can just apply a few rules in peer-reviewed journals and hope to get a good answer. That’s where you need people who know how to cook.

  8. andywest2012 says:

    While I applaud your concept of “doers”, I don’t think they should be unleashed until the nature and magnitude of the problem has been identified. Possibilities still range across a wide scale that at one end includes no problem, and even at the other has long timescales. No core science indications (Consensus or skeptic) that I’ve seen over 7 years seem ever to have implied any real urgency; yet I have seen floods of self-reinforcing social narrative that promote critical urgency.

    I think Mike H is certainly honest, but only honest to his own beliefs, and he clearly believes that CAGW is a transforming social agent that will impact all aspects of our lives. Someone so culturally immersed cannot help but serve his/her culture, so the comments will hardly be objective. I repeat my relevant comment at WUWT below (hope that’s acceptable). I guess I’m being rather less charitable…

    Mike Hulme is living proof that possessing knowledge of what CAGW really is, i.e. a huge cultural phenomenon, does not neccessarily protect one from being simultaneously immersed in that culture. Check this quote:
    “The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.
    Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition. . . .
    The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.
    …climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences…climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics – from global to local – is now framed…Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations…?”

    He’s in love with the ‘big idea’, the ‘new social paradigm’. He now suggests that politics, not science, should take centre stage. But if, as seems increasingly likely, the science tells us that there’s very little problem, or possibly no problem, to which the economists might add that there’s likely net benefit with the first century, how then will we feel about this aggressive cultural entity that is reframing our politics and deploying itself across many of our human projects and feeding us satisfying brain chemicals to serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs? Not to mention the vast resources CAGW has already consumed. Even if there is a genuine problem, feeding the social beast trillions before you’ve identified the nature and magnitude of that problem, will only bury whatever truth we wanted to uncover under an explosion of narrative, as indeed has occurred.

    Mike displays all the characteristics of a very dangerous animal; a high priest who understands not only the power of religions, but how they work and how they may best be deployed to move nations. Yet simultaneously he believes utterly in his chosen religion too. His skillful and constant reframing plus nuanced balancing against increasing skepticism, serves only that religion. True skeptics should be cautious of priests, not just the ranting types, but those with kindly smiles and outstretched hands and apparently sage words too.

    • Good comment. Yes this subject often strays into totally non-scientific areas which I often think resembles some kind of relationship counselling in which “the planet” is seen as having a human personality and those involved end up wringing their hands pondering the appropriate relationship with this planetary “identity”.

      I would describe the problem as more a hypochondriac going to a doctor – or more accurately a group of friends who have worried themselves sick reading too much into a situation. Mike has convinced himself his “friend” the planet is ill. He’s asked his social group and like him, they’ve all looked and become very worried about their “friend” the planet. Then they have talked and talked and got themselves all into a tizzy.

      But when he’s gone outside his social group he’s not found the same concern from people like me. Rather than seeing that as reassuring … unfortunately, he and his friends seem to have got it into their heads that there is some kind of conspiracy of people to “deny” the illness of their friend the planet.

      Like a hypochondriac, the problem with those believing the planet is “ill” is not their ability to find symptoms of illness, it is realising that their concerns are overblown and trusting other people who are better placed to give an impartial opinion.

      • andywest2012 says:

        Great analogy! Self-identification with ‘the problem’, or ‘the illness’ to use your analogy, is a classic symptom of deep cultural immersion (or from a memetic perspective, the impact of {CAGW} memes upon the psyche). You may be interested in my essay ‘The CAGW Memeplex’, the summary post for it as guested at WUWT & Climate Etc is here:

        • Andy, I’ve made a mental note to read it properly, but in the meantime a few observations.

          I felt you were trying to shoe-horn an idea “memes” into the evidence, rather than looking at the evidence and allowing it to suggest the solution. For example, I look at the historical development of the environmental issue, the kinds of people that became involved as actors and stakeholders and see how circumstances tended to favour one kind of outcome.

          Then, yes, the idea gained a life of its own, it did become a reinforcing concept but as important to that is the environment that tended to reinforce it rather than some kind of intrinsic quantisation of this particular “meme”. The global warming issue is not a separate issue, it is part of a whole series of inter-related issues including the relationship of academia to society, the ownership of science, of the “planet” of the “future”.

          I suspect I’ll find them in your paper, but the key ones are:-

          1. The globalisation of humanity – largely from seeing planet earth from outside – this raised awareness that there are “universal” problems.
          2. The transition from the perception of: “humans in the sea of wilderness” to “wilderness in a sea of humans”. … this led to environmentalism – and with (1) led to global environmentalism.
          3. The industrialisation and de-skilling of “science” after WWII which has led to a lack of self-awareness within the academia – so e.g. they can go through the motions of the scientific method, but they cannot understand its limitations and so do not understand what they can and can’t know in areas like the climate. – You refer to this as “Post Normal science”.
          4. The massive investment in “public” science in Universities at a time (I would say causing) the decline in private sector science in industry. So a fundamental power shift which allowed academia to claim “science” as something they owned which then led to the exclusion of anyone else and the jealous guarding of “their” right to dictate all things “scientific”. – I haven’t seen this in your paper. The key here is that academia now feels it “owns” issues like the climate and that I think explains the hostile response we sceptics have had when we rightly assert our right to assess the science.
          5. The rise of the internet … has bypassed traditional academic hierarchy of science. It has also allowed a flourishing on line debate. This again, has resulted in some quite vitriolic response particularly from those at the top of the hierarchy of academic science who (quite rightly) feel their power & authority is being challenged.
          6. The loss of “state” religion — which I suspect has been replaced by “science” as a religion – particularly in academia.
          7. Another factor is the state-run media outlets like the BBC which have dominated the debate in the UK and Australia. There’s a clear link between these state run organisations and global warming alarmism. This is more evidence of something within the culture of the public sector which favours the more alarmist viewpoint – a nice testable hypothesis – but one I doubt we will be able to test.

          So these are the context of the issue, and I would tend to try to find an explanation which is based on the particular historical and social context rather than some theory of the mind.

          However, there is also some evidence that different ways of thinking are favoured by the sceptics and “consensus” people. Ones that spring to mind are:

          1. Argument from “the consensus” versus argument from the data.

          2.Ad hominem attacks – which overwhelmingly come from those who are “convinced”, whereas overwhelmingly I see sceptics critiquing (OK yes maybe attacking) what people say, their ideas, their actions. Sceptic play the ball – believers attack the person. But more strangely, when sceptics tackle the ball, it is usually interpreted as an attack on the person. They then come back with Ad hominem attacks – it all gets heated and usually believers reject any criticism.

          This I find rather odd. It suggests that believers are very emotionally involved in their work. But as scientists, they should be emotionally detached – indeed, a real scientist must accept they are likely to be proven wrong – but hopefully not too wrong and not for a while. So real scientists must be able to accept criticism of their work without taking this an attack on them personally.

          3. The other perception I have is that believers “hunt as packs”. Whereas sceptics tend to go their own way. So e.g. you will find that most sceptic blogs are run by individuals. However, there are numerous examples of believing blogs being run by teams of people. Also note “the team”. I would suggest this indicates that “belief” is as much a part of social identity as it is anything to do with science, reason, “religion” or “memes”.

          So, yes I think there is merit in your paper, however, I would not myself advocate a single universal “grand theory” to explain the global warming phenomena. Instead I would suggest more a patchwork of explanations including social, political, historical, scientific, religion – and pure bad luck with the timing of an upturn in natural variation and growing global awareness of the environment.

          • A lot of that resolves itself on the power of government when it is spending about half the money in the economy and regulating a hell of a lot more out of existence. To quote Jerry Pournelle
            “the purpose of government programmes is to pay government employees and their friends, the nominal purpose is secondary at best” or more formally – over time bureaucracy turns ever more if the economy into structure rather than productivity.

            Or Mencken’s “the practical purpose of politics is to keep the population scared and eager to be led by frightening them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all imaginary”

            In essence the warming alarmists, from the “scientists” down to employees of state funded awareness raising charities are paid to push the scare. Thus second rate researchers do well out of creating the scare. No wonder they rely on a fake advertising “consensus” entirely paid for by the state (zero non-state employees in the consensus”); ad homs; and also explains why they have to act as packs.

            Final quote about the psychology – “It is very hard to convince a man of the truth when his income depends on him believing otherwise” Upton Sonclair. The last 2 said these long before climate alarmism or any of the earlier eco-scares which reinforces the belief they were onto general principles.

          • Neil your observation that you could not find a single private sector scientist that supported global warming is possibly one of the most important observations on the subject. But financial motivation is a lot weaker in the public sector so I don’t think this is a good explanation for the higher prevalence in the public sector. Instead I think it is likely to be a lack of financial acumen and distinct lack of empathy often verging on outright hostility toward the private sector.

            So e.g. Lewandowsky didn’t go out of his way to attack sceptics because he got money doing so … instead his lack of understanding of those outside academia particularly in the private sector and his lack of empathy with anyone outside his small social circle in the public sector led him to manufacturing a grand conspiracy theory about our motives which he needed to rationalise and legitimise his hostility against us as “outsiders”.

          • Thanks Mike – nitpick – there are people on both sides who will acknowledge warming it is catastrophic warming or anything close to it no independent scientist (& when pressed relatively few of the other sort now) will say they believe in.

            However your point reminded me of something else, which also turns out to be via Dr Pournelle about the positive feedback of colleagues. I can see that that plus the minor but existent financial incentives over a period of years could persuade almost anybody to sincerely modify their opinions (except all of us obviously who all agree in our independence)


            “Inspired by Lorenz’s writings on animal mobbing, Leymann coined the term “workplace mobbing” to name the phenomenon. He defined it as “an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker.”

            And where is such lynch law prevalent?
            In the thousands of mobbing case studies that Leymann carried out, universities were among the most highly represented workplaces. Mr. Westhues, a sociologist at the University of Waterloo, is not surprised.

            Max Weber, a founding father of modern sociology, saw bureaucracy as the living embodiment of cool, procedural rationality. In Mr. Westhues’s view, mobbing is a pathological undercurrent of irrationality in bureaucracies — a crabby ghost in the machine.

            According to Mr. Westhues, mobbing occurs most in institutions where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose. In other words, the ghost is alive and well in many academic departments.

            Tenure is supposed to protect scholars from outside control, but it does a lousy job of protecting them from one another, Mr. Westhues says”

            You don’t have to be a bad, or unusual, person to come to agree with coworkers.

          • andywest2012 says:

            Depends on what you mean by evidence. I am approaching from the direction of cultural evolution, and the vast timescale this covers and the huge knowledge-base this has aquired, of which memetics is a part. Hence my ‘evidence’ is much wider and older, and this evidence suggests that nothing whatsoever is new withith the cultural phenomenon of CAGW, quite the opposite in fact. All that you quote above is simply the detail of how it happened ‘this time’. We have co-evolved with memeplexes (simply a name for co-evolved memes – though one should not take biological comparisons too literally – a meme is to a memeplex as a gene is to a gene-pool, for instance as possesed by a species), since probably before we were homo-sapiens-sapiens. They are neither sentient nor agential, but via selective advance have an agenda, and are as deep a part of us as we are of them. Hence no shoehorning is neccessary, it is natural for us to conform to memeplexes all the time, for instance religions are memeplexes, and there are various secular ones too, CAGW is just one example. Such conformance implies neither delusion nor impairment, and may even have been a neccessary pre-requisite for civilisation, but some memeplexes have definite downsides, and some may be outright parasites, essentially living off our traits for altruism. There have even been previous memeplexes based on climate. The Lambeyeque people burned their Elite who lived on the top of man-made mountains (in Peru), when said mountains and elite failed to control the devastating El-Ninos that was their whole purpose so to do. The interesting thing is that, a few generations later, new mountains had been built and a new Elite lived atop them, only to suffer the same fate, and so the cycle went several times, until the Spanish arrived. Maybe windfarms and such are our ‘mountains’.

            However, you are bang on that belief is a part of social identity, this in fact is a critical strut of memetics, and I call upon various support refs for this. Your comment suggests to me that your understanding of memes is the public version (i.e. little relation to the real implications) – but of course there’s no reason why it would be anything else.

            I would also broadly agree with most of your points above, but they are not ‘root cause’ level, but secondary. What causes ‘belief’? what causes the level of self-identification with the ‘isssue’ or ‘problem’ that can result in ad-homenien? Why would the loss of a traditional religion require a secular replacement? Why are supposedly objective scientists emotionally involved? You think the latter is just ‘odd’, but I believe ALL things have a scientific expalnation, and it just so happens that the memetic hypothesis for CAGW addresses root cause for all these issues and more, based on a few simple evolutionary principles. It remains however, a hypothesis. When you get to the end we shall see how plausible or otherwise you think it may be :)

          • … There is a phenomena in electronics called the “phase locked loop”. You may know this, but in summary it is an oscillator whose frequency is controlled by an error from a phase detector. The problem with this circuit is that whilst it is very good at discriminating between noise and signal (hence its use in FM demodulation) – it has the rather awkward feature of also locking onto any harmonic. So e.g. if the system initially locks onto the third harmonic – the oscillator will keep (almost) perfect phase – but at three times the frequency.

            This I believe is a good analogy for much of human thought. We create a “model” (as in the oscillator). We then compare this with the real world (as in the phase detection). This system is very good in a noisy environment and copes with drops cycles and other big problems (the equivalent in thought – is not have our internal model constantly reinforced but even so we continue holding onto our model despite the lack of supportive stimulus – e.g. when we turn around, we still believe that which was in front is now behind – even though we have no supporting optical stimulus to support that belief).

            However, the problem with this internal model of human thought is that it is prone to false locking. Belief in god is a clear example. We are predisposed to understand complex systems in terms of human actors. It is therefore very easy for us to construct a false model of the world based on “unseen” human actors. Once we create this false model – or as the PLL model suggests – falsely locked model, it can be very difficult to shift it back to reality particularly in a data poor environment.

            So, if we apply that to global warming, the natural tendency is that evidence that fits our preconceived notion tends to enforce our view that that notion is true, whereas evidence that contradicts it can often be ignored, or … tends to cause us to modify rather than drop our models …. and only in the extreme where the evidence outright contradicts our internal models do we get cognitive dissonance forcing us to change our worldview and adopt an entirely new “lock”.

            The other thing worth knowing is that in a “phase locked loop”, the phase detector, often only samples a very small part of the cycle (where the most information should be at the transition). In other words, the PLL looks for information within a very small window which is predetermined by what the PLL has “decided” is its frequency of operation.

            This works well because it ignores the vast bulk of noise. So, it is a highly efficient mechanism. But it is also means a lot of information is never considered. This is the fundamental reason why PLL are prone to false locking.

            So, again going back to the global warming theory, what we see is very selective examination of the evidence looking within a narrow window where those who advocate it expect to find supportive evidence. It’s a self-locked concept where the model is locked to reality, but it is done so in a way whereby the model falsely represents reality.

            So, to put it simply: the model says “catastrophe”. They therefore expect catastrophe, they look for this, and when they find catastrophe, this is taken as supporting the concept of catastrophe.

            The problem is that there is just as much catastrophe as there ever was, and just as many benign and beneficial events as catastrophic. However, when you are locked onto the catastrophic “meme” … nothing but a lack of catastrophe will cause you to question this “meme”. And, since in any natural system. there will always continue to be catastrophes as part of the natural system … it’s a very difficult to stop this false locking once it has started.

          • Andy West says:

            I’m very familiar with phase-locked loops, having a degree in physics-with-electronics. And once again you are near the money. Think you would be good at the cultural evolution game :)

            Although not in terms of your model, and it has to be understood that social groups, not individuals, perform ‘lock’, then these concepts are well known in the domain of cultural evolution. Various theories in this domain posit components of Darwinian evolution within cultural entities (from weak to strong, depending on the particular theory). The criteria for ‘lock’ is that the locked cultural entity is out-competing others, and will become the dominant mode, which via penetration of the psyches of individuals, is self-reinforcing and overwhelmingly supresses remaining lesser modes.

            However, it is important to understand that there is not a black-and-white ‘false lock’ versus ‘good lock’. These dominant modes typically all have upsides and downsides regarding the real nature of the game, which is survival of that culture, and insomuch as a culture may be biased to particular hosts, survival of those hosts. A truly ‘false lock’ would only be the case I guess if the cultural mode was almost wholly parasitical; this can happen though and may be the case for CAGW. Anther thing to understand is that there are inherent advantages is ‘any lock at all’, because without such a lock 10,000 folks have 10,000 opinions and actions at cross-purposes that would prevent any kind of civilisation from rising. Early social locking onto religious themes enabled communal action leading to civilisation, such a truly massive advantage that the many downsides (e.g. massive effort building pyramids or mass sacrifices) of some such religions were utterly dwarved by the truly staggering profits to the enabled society. This is why we have since the start of homo-sapiens-sapiens been pre-sensitised to such ‘locking’, in your terminology, it’s a massive advantage, but as always in evolution, a profit represents a cache somone else can live off, and some cultural entities are parasitcally engaging us via the lock mechanism (which itself is linked to altruistic traits).

            My essay referenced above utilisuses the ‘strong’ end of the Darwininan theories above, memetics. The equivalent of your PLL in this essay is ‘memetic north’, on which there is a section; think of it as a cultural magnetic pole that aligns folks like magnetic domains or iron filings. All this and very much more is explained in the essay, and also in terms of all the CAGW touch-points, but also using religions as a major examples of memeplexes.

            A large number of very intelligent folks have spent the last 60 years+ figuring out how cultural entities work, including entities like the social phenomena of CAGW. It would seem crazy to ignore their perspective and huge progress they have made in this time, almost as crazy as climate scientists ignoring the advanced techniques of the statisticians, and attempting to re-invent understanding from scratch. (Bear in mind that all this has no real link to what’s really happening in the actual climate, which was only a trigger point for the cultural mode – a mode that inherited many memes from last time around, and the time before that, etc. As long as there is sufficient uncertainty to allow a wide range of possible outcomes, which seems always to have been the case for climate, this is enough fuel to cause a cultural explosion and an eventual ‘lock’).

  9. Hulme has always struck me as being a teflon-coated man! The key for me has long been his:

    The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs. [emphasis added -hro]

    When I first read this particular excerpt from Hulme’s 2009 Why We Disagree about Climate Change** in a presentation Lindzen had made, I was gobsmacked! This was in the very early days of my own exercises in due diligence on the matter of what was then still touted as “global warming”. Until approx. ten days BC [Before Climategate], it was not an issue that had crossed my radar, so I could not believe that a “scientist” would say such a thing!

    ** See also Bernie Lewin’s extensive review of this book. Excerpt:

    […] what we show in this blog-post, is that this heroic adventure collapses in a mess of words and deeds. Hulme’s book quickly descends into a confused and degenerate performance of sociological methodology. A victim of his own sloppy practice, unconstrained by the need to appeal to the evidence (or even to take a consistent line of argument), he seems unconscious of the way his own judgements of motive and value push his own vision of truth while oppressing others. Towards the end we even spirals off into a fancy for post-modernism! But Hulme’s attempt to escape the gravity of realism is half-baked, erratic and, most of all, unreflective.

    But I digress …

    Hulme’s first step away from “the mantra” (as currently articulated by WG1 Co-Chair, Thomas Stocker) that I became aware of (and had noted in my very first blogpost was found in his AC [After Climategate] Dec. 2009 op ed in the WSJ:

    “The central battlegrounds on which we need to fight out the policy implications of climate change concern matters of risk management, of valuation, and political ideology. We must move the locus of public argumentation here not because the science has somehow been “done” or “is settled”; science will never be either of these things, although it can offer powerful forms of knowledge not available in other ways. It is a false hope to expect science to dispel the fog of uncertainty so that it finally becomes clear exactly what the future holds and what role humans have in causing it.“ [emphasis added -hro]

    So, to some extent, his current views echo those he’s held for at least the last four years. But there are some (convenient?!) omissions in his past and present narratives: Not only the still unproven – and increasingly dubious – human generated CO2 as primary “cause” or “control knob”, but also the extent to which he was a key player in the early “must act now” advocacy campaign in (an also conveniently unmentioned?!) partnership with the big name green NGOs.

    • Hilary, whilst it is undoubtedly true that sceptics were right and that for example the models did not work, the problem now is getting the climate researchers to trust those who had knowledge and experience to understand why they were going wrong.

      If they perceive themselves as being constantly under attack, then rather than do the sensible thing and talk to those who have proven themselves right on the science, they will do daft things like suggesting giving the decision on the science to the scientifically illiterate politicians.

      Hulme has rightly recognised that the solution does not lie within academia. He should be praised for saying that.

      And yes, we’ve probably all said things in the past we regret, but people do have a right to move on.

      • > the problem now is getting the climate researchers to trust those who had knowledge and experience to understand why they were going wrong

        Mmmm, so, to take an example purely at random: suppose you assert “X is true”. And then someone says to you “please show me the evidence for the truth of X”. And you reply “Oh goodness no, I won’t do your legwork for you, if you want to me to find the evidence for X being true you’ll have to pay me”.

        Do you think that you’ll gain people’s trust that way? Or do you think that people will think you make wild claims and then run away from backing them up?

        • William, my time is worth a lot of money. At a rough guess, I’ve personally donated £100,000 to society on this issue. in contrast, you and other people spreading this scare have gained billions.

          Your side have constantly brought out this lie about “being in the pay of big oil”, when even a cursory glance at who owns the wind companies will tell you that the oil companies own wind … it is they who are making money like you and the greens from pushing this scare.

          So, I just like to rub the point home. You are the one who are doing it for the money.

          So it is fun to watch your howls of indignation when I suggest that my time spent answering your aggressive attacks, should be paid for.

          • > Do you think that you’ll gain people’s trust that way?

            You haven’t answered my question. You clearly want to gain people’s trust. Yet you make assertions that you refuse to back up. And when asked about it, you evade.

            You will not gain people’s trust this way.

            > my time spent answering your aggressive attacks

            Now you’re being actively dishonest.

          • Mr Connolley your “trust” is not available under any circumstances since, if you acknowledged the truth you would have to give up your well paid government job censoring Wikipedia & trolling. See the previous Upton Sinclair quote.

            Factually, zero warming for 19 years is, on its own, absolute evidence, for those persuadable by evidence, that there is something wrong with a theory of continuous catastrophic upward warming pressure – you are in the situation of a creationist arguing that evolution isn’t acceptable because not every skeleton everywhere has been found.

          • > Mr


            > Connolley your “trust” is not available

            You’re wrong. I am prepared to trust those who are trustworthy. But that’s a bit of a red herring, since the discussion here isn’t about my trust – our host wants to gain the trust of ” climate researchers”, and that’s not me. I was trying to point out that you won’t be gaining anyone’s trust by making assertions that you refuse to back up with facts. Indeed, that’s the quickest way to lose trust.

            > Factually, zero warming for 19 years

            Excellent. A testable statement. Lets test it:


            Oh dear. You fail. Would you like to:

            (a) admit you’re wrong?
            (b) point out the flaw in my analysis?
            (c) cherry-pick a different interval in order to make your statement true?

          • (B) It isn’t an “analysis” it is barely a picture.

          • Neil, knowing William of old, I know he has vastly improved and not being as stupid as he sometimes sounds, he had got to know there is more than a little truth in what we’ve been saying.

            Not having the same experience in commerce and industry, I don’t expect him to ever be convinced we are right – but I do detect a softening of his approach (from rottweiler to labrador).

            And – I wouldn’t be a proper sceptic, unless I didn’t sometimes wonder how much of what he says is right. And as people like him, slowly tone down their rhetoric, it is getting harder and harder to know we are right on those areas where we still disagree.

  10. ”normal science” doesn’t ignore the existence of oxygen & nitrogen = the winds; and what they do in regulating the temperature. Both camps work on as if the atmosphere is made only from CO2 & methane…. that’s not a science, no matter who is promoting what. Disregarding horizontal and vertical winds, because they are cooling the atmosphere by 10-15-20C in 10-12h from midday to midnight = shonky science:. http://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com/q-a/

  11. Neil Craig the minor but existent financial incentives over a period of years could persuade almost anybody to sincerely modify their opinions

    I have at least one documented accounts of a University vice chancellors pushing global warming solely because it got them grant money. However on the whole, public sector employees are not incentivised in the same way by money. That doesn’t mean that proxies for money such as “public standing” or kudos as a result of getting grants might be just as motivating to academics as money is to an entrepreneur in the private sector.

    One possibility that I’ve considered is that the Thatcherite reforms of research leading to a more “entrepreneurial” way of allocating grants may have had entirely the reverse effect and ultimately caused academia to become more hostile to commerce.

    What I suggest may have happened, is that the reforms forced academics to justify their work. So, rather than researching the “lesser spotted goat toad of outer Xatia” as a worthwhile endeavour in its own right, researchers then had to find a noble cause requiring mankind to spend all that money for them to go to outer Xatia to look for the lesser spotted goat toads.

    They needed a massive problem so big that it would justify huge amounts of research funding that was previously being done for its own good.

    Global warming provided this “need”. So, a whole area of research, which found it difficult to justify its research on commercial grounds, found that global warming was a useful “problem” to have which justified all kinds of research trips to Outer Xatia. So, rather like I did before I checked the science myself, they would have just rehashed what they read … making it sound even more important and even more necessary to urgently rush to Out Xatia to study lesser spotted goat toads.

    And, of course, when they found the numbers going down (largely because of factors nothing to do with climate) … they would link the trend between population and goat toad numbers together in their paper.

    Eventually, because so many were using global warming as a rational for their research, and so many were then suggesting a link, it became a self-fulfilling crisis. It’s a crisis because so many research papers have found a link.

    This I think can explain why when I went to the Royal Society, it was very obvious that those who most strongly believed in the catastrophe concept, were those from the “impacts” study groups. Climate modellers will largely get the funding irrespective of how serious global warming is. It is useful to know what the climate is doing even if it is totally benign (it’s good to know this).

    In contrast if you are researching the impacts of “global warming” … there’s very little need for your research unless global warming is a problem.

    And of course, by the time you go down the catastrophe food chain to the environmental journalists, you get to a group who ONLY have a job if they predict dire consequences.

    • This can be an argument that Thatcher’s reforms went too far by inspiring destructive opposition. It could also mean they didn’t go far enough & thereby rewarded such opposition. There ought to be a significant place for the purest research.

      Nonetheless if we take the 2nd option the way to go is (to repeat myself boringly) public funding of X-Prizes. It would certainly settle the imbalance between engineers and academics.

      I share your view of bottom feeding journalists.

      • thanks for that, I was wondering what kind of response I would get. Another group who were “semi” privatised were the met office and they (or their PR department) saw pushing global warming as a new way to make money.

        So, I was wondering whether this was connected to the transition – that this inappropriate goals were a kind of response to the Thatcherite reforms. And perhaps, given time we would “restore balance” as the goals of the grant awarding bodies shifted to avoid this type of “self-justifying goals” which global warming became (it’s warming therefore we must research to find proof it is warming -> anything found becomes proof more research needed).

        The big problem is that we do need to do research on the proverbial “lesser spotted goat toad”, because unless we try to estimate populations of at least some key indicator species, if someone suggests there is a problem, we will never be able to know whether or not that is true unless we have historic data.

        There never will be a commercial market for this – and as such we just have to bite the bullet and pay for it out of the public purse. So the Thatherite reforms were completely pointless on this type of research which can never justify itself commercially. Instead Thatcher forced researchers to find some other way to justify it — creating a need for global warming to be a problem, and the rest is history.

        X-Prizes (prizes that encourage “important” innovation).

        I know you like the idea, but I’ve never seen a government sponsored scheme trying to promote innovation which isn’t a complete cock-up. For example, if such a scheme were operational now – given the lag in the public sector, between the politicians telling them they had to act, and action taking place – all the X-prizes would be on ways to cut carbon. Schemes that as we both know have no commercial future.

        In other words, it would become a means for politicians to try to force people to develop technology which commercial people have already rejected as not viable or with no market potential.

        • I don’t think we seriously disagree on the need for some such pure research – perhaps we would slice it slightly differently.

          You make a fair point about government funding of X-prizes. The Longitude Prize was a very successful state prize but that was some time ago ;-) Ones since have been privately done (though it is not because government efforts failed but because they didn’t make them, though the Saltire prize claims, falsely, to be one). Successful prizes do not pay the full cost of development – they are a spur to stuff that is fairly commercial anyway, rather than a hirer for those that don’t. I am now coming to feel that the state’s role should be limited to giving tax relief/topping up privately donated prizes, albeit on a generous scale.

          This is a paper done about the Royal Agricultural Society Prizes – small in value but long enough to provide a statistical poplulation. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/x-prizes-undue-stimulus-to-competition.html

  12. > (B) It isn’t an “analysis” it is barely a picture.

    Well, now you know why you’re called “denialists”.

    You make an assertion – “Factually, zero warming for 19 years”. You provide no evidence for this assertion at all. Someone else provides evidence that directly contradicts your assertion – http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/wti/from:1994/to:2013/plot/wti/from:1994/to:2013/trend

    And you pretend you can’t see it.

    Come on. Surely even you lot can do better than that.

    Scottish Sceptic: do you endorse NFB’s “no warming for 19 years” assertion? Or are you prepared to “look through the telescope”?

    • William, Neil, … I’ve seen you both arguing your point and I know you get passionate, but please keep the passion under control.

    • William. I’ve not personally seen anything giving 19 years. I’ve seen 16 & 17 years quoted, but I’m happier to say “no significant warming for 15+ years”.

      But as we both know 1998 was a bit exceptional, so that 15+ years is really a “soundbite” figure.

      Personally, I would be happier to start somewhere about 2001. There’s no massive changes for the next couple of years, so the start date doesn’t massively affect the trend.

      But then we get to the question “significant warming”. This is a difficult question as scientifically you need to know your noise model in order to have a criteria for “significance”. However in a situation where the level of noise is part of the debate, this doesn’t look like something we could agree on.

      So, I would propose as a measure of the “pause” the following:

      That the temperature trend (based on HADCRUT) since 2001 has been closer to zero than to the 2001 lower estimate of the IPCC (0.14/decade warming).

      This then gives us warming >0.07/decade, pause +0.07 to -0.07/decade and cooling (<-0.07C).

      For obvious reasons I believe you prefer a 30 year trend.

      I'm not going to say that is wrong – I just can't see any definition of warming or pause, that would not just end in a heated argument about start dates until 2031.

      • You’ve evaded my question. I’ll try again; if you won’t answer this time, I’ll assume you find NFB’s assertion simply too embarassing, but that since you’re his friend you won’t directly contradict him.

        So: NFB asserted “no warming for 19 years”. He offered no evidence. Do you think that his statement is true? I’ve offered evidence that his statement is false. The evidence isn’t difficult to evaluate – you just have to click on a link and view a graph. Have you done that? Having done it, do you accept that I’ve proved his statement to be false?

      • Professor Jones of CRU admitted “since 1995″. Maybe that means 18 1/2.

        He did later say that an extension of the time period, but without warming, changed the statistics enough to be able to claim no hiatus but I understand that was a short term statistical phenomenon and as more time passed this method of calculating statistics was bound to reassert the original conclusion.

        • Is that where you get it. I think he said “no significant warming trend”. This is not the same as saying it has not warmed, just that any warming could not be distinguished from noise.

          I think this means: “you cannot say with confidence it has warmed in the last 18.5 years” (William will correct me I’m sure if I’m wrong).

          However, I disagree with the noise model he uses and “significance” is based on what is expected as “normal” within your noise model, so personally I do not refer to this.

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