Following the brilliant success of my attempt to explain peer review I thought I’d have a go at explaining Science next. Why restrict myself to a small canvas? Lacking confidence in such a large project, I started this post then abandoned it, but have now picked it up again, encouraged in part by ATTP’s light-hearted look and also VV on peer review. And by my own unconquerable belief in the value of my opinions.

Explaining Science is difficult, to people that don’t do it, because its, like, totally multi-faceted, maaan. And I suspect that explaining it to people that do it would be difficult too; its the shared sea that people swim in, not something they think about much.

Once upon a time – many years ago, when I was fairly new to wiki – I attempted to edit the “scientific method” page, I think, to add some stuff that seemed bleedin’ obvious to me. But I ran foul of the Philosophers – or Schoolmen as Hobbes would put it – which I mention because as well as actual Science there’s a whole pile of philosophy of science. Some of it is useful – Popper on falsifiability is valuable – if not pushed too hard. But don’t confuse meta-science with science.

Science in practice

Lets start with science in practice: its what is done by scientists – or at least, what they do when they aren’t doing admin, drinking coffee or filling in grant forms (or is filling in grant forms part of science nowadays? Who knows, and I don’t care). And who is a scientist – ha ha, its someone who does science. Which is of course circular, but that’s one of the ways it is.

Another view, which fits neatly into the peer-review framework, is that science is the corpus of knowledge transmitted forwards – the scientific literature, as interpreted and added to by scientists (the difference is perhaps analogous to the alternate views of living organisms as things coded for by their genes, or alternatively merely being mechanisms for propagating genes forwards). That means not all the peer-reviewed and other literature, but only the bits of it that get read, referenced, and built on.

Science nowadays is professionalised. I’d guess that 99% of the peer-reviewed literature is produced by people working in “scientific institutes” paid to do “science” (I might have to back off on that depending on how much is produced by industry, in ways that you might not consider formally-science. Opinions? [See Eli]) The days of gentleman scientists doing a bit of science in their home laboratory before wandering off to their gentleman’s club to chat with their peers is long gone. Some of that is good, some bad: science can be “just another career” if you want, and you can go into it if you’re somewhat lacklustre, and still you can survive producing mediocre forgettable stuff. But since its not desperately well paid there isn’t much incentive to go into science unless you like it (as ever, the rules of economics apply: the total compensation for any work remains roughly the same except for exceptions, factoring all things in: since people enjoy doing science, the wages are less: what did you expect?).

Actually thinking about stuff hard and coming up with New Science is difficult. So most people don’t do that most of the time. This is where I slightly hijack a quote from VV:

Given that an important function of peer review is to give the article credibility, it is also logical that reviewers pay extra attention if an article makes strong claims, that is claims that clearly deviate from our current understanding. In an ideal world, without any time pressures, peer review would be perfect every instance. However, a run of the mill article by a well-known author is much less likely to contain problems.

Because lots of science is, if we’re honest, run-of-the-mill. Quite often RotM and worthy-but-dull, sometimes RotM and desperately trying to pretend to novelty. And then rarely, flashes of brilliance that are worth many many ordinary papers (and it would be nice to think that such brilliant papers sail through peer review, but actually they’ll probably have more trouble than the RotM ones [Update: evidence]).

I don’t really know how people Do Science. I know what I used to do: I just Did Stuff that I thought was interesting, and then tried to string it into a paper when I had enough. Its not a great way to write lots of papers though. The way to succeed at that is to plan carefully and be determined and follow through. Well, I did end up leaving. Some people are part of Vast Research Projects (small example: there were people at BAS working on the EPICA ice cores, which was probably a decade of planning, expeditioning, coring, analysing, thinking, writing up and tidying up; large example, the folk at CERN) and 95% of the people on such are going to be cogs in a mighty machine.

Building on the work of Giants

Good scientists are familiar with the literature. You can’t start from scratch (unless you’re Einstein, which you aren’t, and anyway he didn’t start from scratch either) so you have to know the literature. Naturally, before pressing “submit” on this blog post I googled “explaining science” and looked at a couple of results, but they didn’t amount to much. So I got bored with that very soon. The internet is for writing, not reading.

If I have seen further than others, it is by treading on the toes of giants

James Annan’s fine motto, of course. And a useful reminder that while conformity makes for an easy life, it only advances Science slowly, ditto your own reputation. Reputations are made by bold acts, and nothing is bolder than treading on the toes of your mighty forebears. I mention this just in case anyone should take my previous paragraphs about professionalised science as advice to just-fit-in; and as the standard reproof to the “skeptics”.

Hard line science

One possible riposte to the above is to say that professionalised and institutionalised science isn’t really science; that science depends on its fruits only which must be judged on their merits. Which is true, of course. But the people who push that line tend to have a rather odd set of judgements in my experience. And their views are often indistinguishable from “I don’t like what your science tells me, I’m just going to believe my own judgement”.

This brings us back to peer review: after the ship of fools nonsense you’d hear the “skeptics” saying, again, “but we don’t need their peer review! We judge our science on its merits”.Saying that, on hard-line theory, peer review isn’t a necessary part of Science is sort-of true, but not really in practice.

You can also try to push the hard line philosophy of science stuff: you could insist, with Popper, that science must be in principle falsifiable. Whereupon you’re a bit stuck thinking about things like astronomical observations. Or meteorological observations. Are those science? Theories build on them are clearly falsifiable, in theory. But the observations themselves aren’t. So they aren’t science. Its an attitude, and you could adopt it if you like, but you’d end up declaring large swathes of stuff that everyone thinks is science as not.


It would be easy to fill many pages with examples of antiscience taken from “skeptic” blogs. A convenient one comes to hand today from Scottish Skeptic. The topic of the post is his idea for a “journal of citizen science”, which is doomed, but in the comments we wandered off, as so often happens, to wikipedia, with SS opining that any academic who wants “original research” in wikipedia just writes a paper, sends it to their chums at their journal, publishes it then there’s damn near nothing anyone can do about it. So I (and another) said “where’s your evidence for that”? To which the reply was it was obvious what was going on. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Yes indeed, I said “do you actually have any examples?” to which SS replied Why would I want to waste my time finding examples? and I replied with the obvious “You’d want to *spend* your time finding an example because you made an assertion, and you’ve been challenged, so you need to back up your words with facts.” To which SS replied if you want me to waste my time being your errand boy then you will have to pay me. There’s a bit more there, but really it comes down to the same thing: SS makes assertions, and doesn’t even seem to understand the idea that assertions, when challenged, need to be backed up. This is such a basic tenet of science that, well, I just can’t understand his attitude.

A tiny science example

Science can sometimes just be new ways of looking at things. The picture I inlined at the top is an example. I drew it, from ECMWF re-analyses, and its included on the Atmospheric Circulation page at wiki (this isn’t a new way of looking at things for climatologists of course, its standard. I’m just expecting it will be new to some of you reader types). Contrast it with the pic here, also from the same page. Mine shows vertical velocity at mid-height, which is a nice proxy for circulation. What my pic shows is that the polar and mid-latitude cells are entirely negligible, in terms of overturning circulation, in comparison to the Hadley cell. Which itself varies strongly zonally (the stuff over Antarctica is the katabatic winds, which are strong in winter).

Other, better, examples would be the primacy of the Equivalence principle or the realisation that you need to define simultaneity.

In closing

Predictably enough I’ve failed to do justice to a subject as wide as Science and have been reduced to anecdote. But perhaps I’ll spur someone else into doing better.

Grounded by experiment

[Updated to add:] G asks: Can you say Science is grounded by experiment? This divides out maths and philosophy. And I agree, you can. You could argue it divides out string theory, too :-). Its probably rather telling that I forgot this in my first version: I didn’t do real-world experiments.

This point can be elaborated, perhaps endlessly. For example, special relativity is grounded in experiment in a way that Newton’s stuff isn’t, in the insistence on operational definitions of objects in the theory – like simultaneity. Which also illustrates the way this kind of experimental grounded can be easily mistaken for pure theory, when the grounding is to abstract a key idea.

But – particularly relevant to the naive criticisms of climate science – experiment doesn’t have to be “real world” experiments. Numerical experiments on computers are fine, as long as they are grounded, say by being tested against observations.

A quote

Thanks TP, though this version is from

The layman’s conception of the scientist as a critic, a skeptic, a man intolerant or contemptuous of conventional beliefs, is obviously incomplete. The exposure and castigation of error does not propel science forward, though it may clear a number of obstacles from its path. To prove that pigs cannot fly is not to devise a machine that does so.

Unfortunately, a scientist’s account of his own intellectual procedures is often untrustworthy. Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be, and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare. If taunted he would probably mumble something about “Induction” and “Establishing the Laws of Nature”, but if anyone working in a laboratory professed to be trying to establish the Laws of Nature by induction, we should think he was overdue for leave. (From “Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought” in Pluto’s Republic, 1984, OUP)


* Watt about falsifiability?– ATTP
* Falsifiable and falsification in science – VV

The AR5 comments are available!

Can I really be the first to snark about this?

Expert and Government Review Comments on the IPCC WGI AR5 Second Order Draft – General is now available for download.

As you’d expect, the pompous “Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, United Kingdom” notches up a string of “reject”, please read the guidelines. Someone called “Jyrki Kauppinen, Finland” gets all his comments rejected with “please read what we said the first time”. That was just the general stuff. There may be some treasures buried in the individual chapters.

John McLean gets lots of retractions; he seems to be some NN from the ASSC.

I should say, though, that merely having your comment rejected doesn’t make you a wacko. Plenty of sane people have had comments rejected.

Watts et al. 2012 rides again, or not

Good for a laff, anyway: on Chapter 10, attribution one David Hagen reckons the IPCC ought to cite Watts et al. 2012 and has the gall to try to use the pre-print at WUWT as a reference. The reviewers are baffled: Rejected. This comment does not seem relevant. Seems to refer to Pg 16 ln 21-27. Still, this is an issue for the observations chapter. This is discussed in chapter 2.

Crok doesn’t fare well in chapter 2 either.


Update: Hot Topic finds a lovely one for Vincent Gray:

Rejected – The comment does not reflect the scientific understanding. The errors in individual observations are not additive; we are also doing relative analysis that eliminates many of the concerns about individual errors. The reviewer obviously has a limited understanding of the associated error evaluation for analysis of large datasets. See Chapter 2 for more on the evaluation of these datasets. Or maybe even read a basic textbook.

(my bold).

Tim Ball: turned out NN again

Those with long memories for trivia will remember the unlamented second deletion of Tim Ball, judged non-notable by wikipedia – ah, the shame of it. Now he’s been awarded the ultimate accolade of being deleted a third time – you don’t get much less notable than that.

I’ve taken an archive of the discussion page of the “deleted” page (technically its not deleted but moved page Timothy Ball to User:Jinkinson/Timothy Ball over a redirect without leaving a redirect ‎(Userfying per result of previous DRV), so its now at Ball. But as far as mainspace is concerned the result is the same: he’s not there) here, because its likely that the userified page will be deleted in time. Here you’ll find the admin who deleted the page explaining why: in essence, nothing has changed since he was deleted last time.

For those who don’t know the minutiae of wiki but are desperate to learn: its fairly common for pages to be “deleted”, but moved into the userspace of anyone who wants them, so that they can be worked on in decent obscurity. The user gets a reasonable period of time to work the page up, but if the admins think you’re just taking this piss and are leaving the page as a sort-of poor substitute of a mainspace page (as Lucy Skywalker did for the equally unlamented Leroux) your userspace copy gets rubbed out too.

Possibly interestingly, the major reason given for re-creating the Ball article was:

while Ball is not notable as an academic, he is notable for other stuff, such as claiming to be the first Canadian to get a PhD in climatology and to have been a professor of climatology (neither of which are true)

That wasn’t terribly convincing. Other arguments also failed: The raison d’être for this BLP is that Ball is a notable climate skeptic was met by Well, no. This article was twice deleted (here and here) precisely because Ball is not a notable climate skeptic.

[Update: (Protection log); 23:29:11 . . NuclearWarfare (talk | contribs) protected Timothy Ball‎ ‎[create=sysop] (indefinite) ‎(Any admin can override once they are satisfied this meets the conditions laid out at Wikipedia:Deletion review/Log/2011 January 3)]

Peer review

Seldom in the field of human conflict has so much been written by so many people on a subject about which they know nothing. Or so I’d like to hope: in the sense that I’d hope that the denialist chatter about peer review was the nadir. But I do know something about peer review, though my knowledge is 7 years out of date. Nonetheless, I don’t hesitate to comment. If you’re wondering (or I’m wondering, coming back to this later) all this kicks off from the ship of fools nonsense, which has elevated peer review to super-star status for its 15 minutes in the blog-o-light.

For a working scientist, peer review is just part of the job. You write up your work, you show it to your colleagues (if you work somewhere like BAS, its likely mandatory that it gets passed around a bit just to make sure you’re not saying anything really dumb; your division head corrects a couple of typos. If you’re new, this is a really helpful part of the process; if you’re not new then likely the internal review becomes a formality), you send it to the best journal you think you can get away with, and eventually you get the reviews back. These will be a mixture of “please cite my paper” (usually disguised as “you need to consider X”), typos, and the occasional well-considered thoughtful comment that genuinely improves things. You sigh, you happily incorporate the thoughtful stuff, you work out how much of the not-very-helpful stuff you can get away with blowing off, and you resubmit (naturally, I don’t know what happens when someone senior in the field submits, since I never was). And sometimes you get a reviewer who really really doesn’t like your paper for what you regard as invalid reasons, and you have to decide whether to fight to the death or go elsewhere.

For a “skeptic” – many of whom are on display at JoNova – peer review is a process about which they know nothing, except that it produces answers they don’t like (note: for those who read my previous censorship post and didn’t see the update, I’ll say that I was wrong about her site: I’m being allowed to comment freely). What’s probably most striking about that post is the level of ignorance on display: about peer review itself, and how it works, but also about prior art. You’d think that problems with PR had only just been discovered. I did try to point that out but as you’d expect, it fell on stony ground.

Peer review is nothing more than argument from authority and should be considered entirely irrelevant when evaluating the science

Comment #1 at JoNova, by “Truthseeker”. Of course, you know the old proverb: if someone calls themselves Truthseeker, then…”. But anyway: TS’s argument is a very common one: what we really care about is the quality of the science: what do we need a bunch of anonymous gatekeepers for?

rej Weeeellll… there are several answers to this. Let’s start with the most obvious: there’s an avalanche of papers out there, and not enough eyeballs to read them all. Journals like Nature publish less than 10% of what’s submitted (although note they are sifting for (ideally) both high quality and “excitement”; arguably, they veer off to the latter when pushed and may sometimes neglect the former). I found Rejection rates for journals publishing in the atmospheric sciences, from which I’ve taken the figure, and this quote: “Seventy-nine percent of journals have rejection rates of 25%–60%”.

OK, so hopefully you accept that we need some kind of gatekeepers to staunch the flow, but how then do we account for the common notion that peer review improves or proves quality or scientific merit? I have two answers:

* in practice, we find it does. Science is what works, bitches. Compare it to other ways of doing things.
* it doesn’t prove merit. Many many papers languish unread and uncited in reviewed journals. The ultimate test of the worth of your work is whether people choose to read and then build on what you’ve done. All peer review does is help you (the reader) by removing some drivel and pointing you towards some hopefully interesting stuff; and you (the writer) by providing a higher chance of people reading your stuff. There’s a reason people fight like rats in a sack to get their work into Nature, after all.

For a completely opposite approach, we already have full open-access no-peer-review publication: blogs. Anyone can write what they like and reach the entire world (I’m ignoring arXiv, about which I know nothing). Which suffer from the obvious problems.

“Peer-review” is an ENCLOSED system that no one can challenge

Comment #4.2 from Joe Lalonde. If you’re a “skeptic” seeing all your favourites shot down and reduced to producing their own journals, this is likely to seem true. As a normal scientist faced with some silly reviewer who refuses to see it your way and who is mysteriously backed up by the journal editor, it sometimes seems the same. But actually it isn’t.

Example from my own humble oeuvre: On the Consistent Scaling of Terms in the Sea-Ice Dynamics Equation by me and a cast of luminaries. That was initially rejected by not one but two referees. Ref 1 said it was true, but so obviously true that it wasn’t worth publishing. Ref 2 said it was obviously false. We managed to persuade the editor that ref 2 was wrong, but that because of ref 2, ref 1 must also be wrong (you might have hoped that the editor would have noticed this contradiction by himself, but editors are busy people).

And of course, there are already open-review journals. They aren’t in a majority, but they exist.

The other point is that most reviewers have experience of the bastard review system themselves, and can be quite sympathetic.

Anyway: as an outsider, who thinks of themselves as an outsider, and talks to no-one but outsiders, its very easy to get the wrong idea.

The effectiveness, and the desirability, of peer review is negated where a ostensibly scientific subject is politicized

Comment 5.3 by Eric Simpson.

Continuing: If one side ends up controlling peer review, and if that side is pushing for a “cause” that has nothing to do with the science, peer review is worse than worthless. Again, this is what it looks like from the denial-o-sphere: they are all so distant from the real science, that all the scientists look to them to be clustered together. But in reality there is vibrant discourse – well, sometimes. The comment is ill-posed, because the stuff about “sides” doesn’t really work. And there are so so few decent test-cases. I can’t think of a single paper that the “skeptics” can put forward that should have been published, that wasn’t. I suppose they’d retreat to “but the system is so biased against us we don’t even try” sort of paranoia. But that’s just paranoia.

Let the free market review the papers

(this is JoNova’s idea). Hmm, well, maybe. Its easy to forget sometimes that PR has evolved into its current form, and perhaps things have changed. The rise of the internet makes swift and open feedback entirely practical. But what is JN’s programme?

one named editor solely makes the decision to publish, and they can ask advice from reviewers, whomever they should choose. The reputation of that one editor should depend on the value of the papers they pass… They need to be paid, and the best ones, more. Editors are, currently, usually unpaid. They do the work either out of love, or because it reflects credit on their career. Paying them – presumably, significant sums – would change the game (one obvious problem: institutes generally OK people taking time off to edit, because its for the general good, and because they aren’t being paid. If they *were* being paid, that might change). I’d be concerned that editors would then have a (strong, financial) incentive to stuff papers into the journal. Which is the last think you want. I don’t find the rest of her suggestion terribly well thought-out either.

disappointingly, people on that blog haven’t taken up her idea and subjected it to constructive criticism, which is a semi-ironic implicit comment on the entire “skeptic” worldview.

What would you do then?

Pah, you mean in an ideal world or in practice? As I and many many other people have said, addressing the flow at its source would be best: which would mean stop judging people on sheer paper count. But that’s wrapped up in so many things, including the centralisation of decision-making, that its hard to see as realistic.

In practice I think a transition to an open review system would be very helpful, and solve some of the existing problems. That could also include journals listing papers they rejected before review, if you could work out some way around the copyright or priority problems.

[Update: thanks for your comments. I find it fairly amusing that the majority of commenters here are able to say My experience of peer review has been… as opposed to the denial-o-sphere’s fairy tales about what they imagine peer review is like. Of course, since they aren’t in any way restricted by reality, the d-o-s puts in far more comments.]

[Uupdate: see-also VV’s Peer review helps fringe ideas gain credibility.]


* Their own private reality
* Bad Science
* Unless you plan to do something really bad, why do you insists being anonymous?
* Some links from Eli
* Fix the incentive structure and the preprints will follow – David L. Stern
* Peer review: Troubled from the start Alex Csiszar, Nature, 19 April 2016

Ship of fools

Every man and his lagomorph has a post taking the piss out of the “Ship of fools“, so I won’t bother. But (since I seem to have managed to get censored by every denialist blog I try to post on) I thought I’d make a handy list of said blogs and comments. Warning: there’s no useful content anywhere in this post; its all just record-keeping for me.


Also, I do find it tedious when people whinge on about censorship. So I’m a bit reluctant to do so myself. But I’m going to indulge.

In roughly chronological order:

P Gosselin: From “Jewish Science” To “Denier Science”: Copernicus Charade Is Latest Example Of German Intolerance To Alternative Climate Science Explanations

A new entry, 2014/01/18. Calls itself “NoTricksZone” but has clearly got one trick up its sleeve: censoring comments and banning people who voice unpopular opinions.

[Update, 2014/01/28: AFAIK that post is still stuck, but we’re having a moderately sane discussion at Backfire! Eminent Physicist Calls Attempted Journal Suppression A Throwback To “Inquisition And Books Burning”!, so perhaps its time to review my opinion.

And indeed, now peace has broken out so I have no complaint at this time.]

No, I’m

> You aren’t the keepers of the truth

Agreed. But what has that got to do with you pretending that a bunch
of no-hopers are “among the most esteemed in the field”?

> Collectively they have published in the neighborhood of 1000 scientific papers, an immense contribution to the field

I’m dubious – care to share your source for that “1000″?

(currently snipped here (archived) with “[snip – I don’t take comments from no-hopers who are “among the most esteemed in the field”. So how does it feel to be censored, Dr. Connelly…climate modeler who could not get a single model to work? Don’t bother commenting here in the future.]”)

The “1000”, BTW, is his claim for the total publications. Morner, apparently, claims more than 500. Anyone have a good source for that?

Tallbloke: Breaking: Pattern Recognition in Physics Axed by Copernicus

> You’ve failed to discuss any science and have descended to ad hom insults, so out you go.

There’s hardly any discussion of science in any of these comments. And
if you think pointing out a certain asymmetry in comment approval is
insulting, you have a thin skin. Still,I’m sure you’ll find a reason
for censorship if you need one.

> I’ll post the screencaps of my comments you’ve censored on your blog another day.

Oh come, why wait? But make sure it isn’t or or cos they’re all published.

Note: having checked, I can’t see any comments from “tallbloke” that didn’t get published. So my suspicion is that he is “dramatically diverting” (sixth of the Techniques). But we’ll see.

[Update: Over at NoFreeSpeechZone TB stirringly but perhaps with a certain lack of self-awareness asserts that “Censorship has to be fought”. I put in a comment pointing out the anomaly, but I’m not holding my breath.]

Jo Nova: Science paper doubts IPCC, so whole journal gets terminated!

[Update: JN responds in the comments. And I respond to her and… my comment appears. That’s good. No meeting of minds so far but I’m happy to say that all my comments are getting through.]

I don’t have an exact copy of the comment, but I pointed out that she had mysteriously failed to include

In addition, the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing and not in accordance with our publication ethics we expect to be followed by the editors.

in her quote from the cessation notice. Its nice that she subsequently included the text via update, though it would have been nicer had she acked me as the source of her revelation.

Dr* Bob tisdale: I’m Retiring from Full-Time Climate Change Blogging

> *You are a Ph. D. de facto; Einstein’s doctorate from Oxford was “honorary.”

Einstein had an earned doctorate from Zurich:

> B(nT):

Oh come now. You can’t possibly imagine that NSF would fund this stuff, can you?

And as for cowardly: here I am. Under my real name, not hiding as anon.

(suppressed at


Of course. No post about censorship would be complete without WUWT. Self-proclaimed harbour for free debate, but in fact ruthlessly moderated. I got banned in 2012 but after the lulz of Dr* Bob, he couldn’t resist a whinge: RealClimate Co-Founder Exposes His Inability to Grasp Complex Subjects. Since that was explictly about me, I was allowed to post some comments: how jolly. But alas for the Watties, they didn’t do very well against me, and it became necessary to suppress me. The accusation that I was refusing to debate them, while they were suppressing my attempts to talk, was particularly Orwellian.

> you finally suggested that E Prof. Lindzen

Still gnawing that bone? No, I haven’t suggested here that “E Prof” is
the correct way to refr to L. You said that.

On M’s troubles with Galileo: it turns out that the full text of his
condemnation is online for all to read:

As you’ll see, M is hopelessly wrong.

> no name calling

Review the comments here. The “name calling” is overwhelmingly from
you lot. I’m not complaining – it makes you look silly.

> while never committing to anything

As I’ve said, I’ll commit to debating with M: all you need to do is
stop censoring my comments in that thread and we can debate. As to
your proposed debate, the problem is that you’re too cowardly to even
mention your toy offer to him. You guys are all fake slavering for a
debate, but its you that’s preventing the debate happening.

> RichardLH says: January 12, 2014 at 6:31 am Not banned so much as it would appear from your contributions on this thread at least.

But now you do realise that this thread is the exception, no? My
comments to other threads are censored.

The “that thread” stuff, BTW, is Monckton being really very silly indeed but I’ve already done that. Comments to that thread were rigourously suppressed, here’s one:

> Professor Lindzen.

Lindzen isn’t a prof. He’s emeritus.

> Actually, Galileo was wrong.

That one is definitely going in the quote-books, long after the rest
of this article is forgotten.

> Damages will be huge.

No they won’t. Firstly, because L won’t sue, he isn’t stupid.
Secondly, because if he did the case would be thrown out – nothing
here raises to the level of libel, even if proved true, which they
wouldn’t be.

> Sooner or later we are going to have to take someone to court

Mann is doing that. Oddly, no-one here seems to be keen for that day
in court to happen.


I’ve also been suppressed at Dr Roy Spencer’s, and Climate Etc., but since I wasn’t expecting that I didn’t bother keep copies; it was months ago anyway. Ter be honest I did push Dr Roy a bit (this one got through, it was a later one that died).


* Alleging ‘Malpractice’ With Climate Skeptic Papers, Publisher Kills Journal-slashdot
* WUWT and Co. not interested in my slanted opinion, part II

In which our hero tries an interesting new variant of the Galileo defence

wordup “Our hero” in this case being Monckton at WUWT. Most of the post is a long rant about The Weekly Standard’s Lindzen puff piece exemplifies the conservative media’s climate failures by Dana Nuccitelli in the Graun, which is in turn a reply to What Catastrophe? MIT’s Richard Lindzen, the unalarmed climate scientist in “the weekly Standard” (wot I wrote about recently).

And of course I didn’t read it all. But I was struck by M’s reply to DN’s The major difference between Lindzen and Galileo was that Galileo was right. Which was:

Actually, Galileo was wrong. The Church, as well as informed scientific opinion, had long agreed that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way about. However, Galileo had drawn inappropriate theological conclusions from heliocentricity, perpetrating the notorious non sequitur that since the Earth was not the centre of the Universe the Incarnation and Crucifixion were of less importance than the Church maintained.

This is weird stuff. Lord knows what gnostic texts M has been smoking; he gives no refs. Wiki, as you’d expect has a reasonable version of the truth (which, for those who don’t know, is significantly more nuanced that the version you get taught in school).

Amusingly, in the weekly Standard piece that started this all off, we find “Most people who think they’re a Galileo are just wrong,” and the context (as you’d expect from a piece friendly to L) is that a comparison to G is good: i.e., G was essentially correct. Which is true (if you’re thinking of heliocentrism) or false (if you’re thinking of epicycles, or of physics versus geometry).


* Galileo: Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems: magnetism – a factoid I bet you didn’t know, and a motto.
* Galileo on infinity
* The sleepwalkers
* WUWT Parody Writes Itself – QS about a different post, but worth the LULZ.
* Papal Condemnation (Sentence) of Galileo (June 22, 1633) – thanks t.

Cooling: one we missed: Petersen and Larsen, 1978

Global cooling again; via a comment on this rather dodgy page I find Stockton, C. W. and W. R. Boggess, Geohydrological implications of climate change on water resource development, Contract Report DACW 72-78-C-0031, for U. S. Army Coastal Engineering Res. Center. That isn’t P-R, but contains on p 159 a “Projected Climatic Trends” which in turn references A statistical study of a composite isotopic paleotemperature series from the last 700,000 years, Erik Lundtang Petersen, Søren E. Larsen. Tellus Volume 30, Issue 3, pages 193–200, June 1978; which is of course P-R. And which sayeth:

An attempt is made to identify a stochastic model that makes the best fit to a generalized temperature curve covering the last 700,000 years. A search is made for the model within the family of auto-regressive, integrated, moving average models. All the models presented forecast a decline in temperature during the next 5000 years.

That forecast, now, isn’t of any value to science; only to history of science. Of the model: “only models based on the apparent memory in the series will be discussed” and “By excluding models containing a forcing term, e.g. Milankovitch’s insolation theory (Monin, 1974), we avoid the difliculties ssociated with assigning the form of the forcing, as discussed by Kukla (1975) and Hays et al. (1976), and more-over we avoid linking our results to any specific physical model”. That seems a rather dodgy basis to me, but nevermind, its what they did. I think it tells you why its wrong: (a) it omits the greenhouse gas forcing, so its completely wrong as a forecast, but (b) it omits the differences in Milankovitch type forcing now as opposed to the past interglacials, and so is wrong there too (actually I suspect its even wronger than that, for reasons analogous to those mt has discussed elsewhere re the inevitable tendency of Fourier-type-fitting to “predict” cooling after warming, but never mind).

I think that, even for a bunch of palaeogeographers, they are curiously unaware of the world around them. The conclusion does note that its only valid if the mechanisms controlling the future are still the same as the past; the only way to rescue this is to realise that they are wrapped up in their world, which was not anywhere near as politicised as it is now. Palaeogeographers were free to speculate on what would happen restricting themselves only to their patch.

[Update: thinking about this, I should really have looked at the timescale and size of change more carefully. Their prediction has a timestep of 5 kyr, so arguably we could ignore it if we’re interested in the “near future” – say the next few decades or century. But if you do try the next say 50 years, and assume linear interpolation to 5 kyr, then their prediction of 1 oC cooling over 5 kyr translates into 0.01 oC over 50 years. Which is so small it would get overwhelmed by natural variability; its equivalent to “no change / neutral”.]

The Spirit of Mawson

ATTP has a post on this, from which I’ve nicked most of my links. But he also has 50+ comments, so I abandoned my original plan to put some observations there, where they’d get lost, and have written this.

I’m not going to pretend my opinion – for that is all that this is – is definitive. I worked in Antarctic science a while ago, but never went South myself. But I’ll pretend I can evaluate some of this stuff.

Other people have written stuff:

* Andy Revkin
* the Frogs seem very unhappy
* Chris Turney defends himself in the Graun.
* Their blog.
* SPRI’s own “Bob” Headland isn’t impressed

I’d say there are two interesting questions: was their expedition sufficiently sciencey to ward off criticism; and, if it wasn’t – if it was largely a jolly – were they reckless? After all, no-one criticises pure tourist ships for going south (actually that’s not true: plenty of reflex enviro keep-ant-pure stuff exists, but that’s a different matter), so tourism itself is not a sin, but they tend not to go far south. And this stuff was rather definitely far south. BAS regularly sends people down for jollies, sometimes thinly disguised as “need to familiarise HQ staff with Antarctica”, but no-one believes that. They were selling places on the trip.

I think that a question asked by AR was the trip important enough to justify the cost that is now mounting? is obviously *not* the right question to ask – if they knew they were going to get stuck and need rescue, then obviously they wouldn’t have gone. A righter question would be was the trip important enough to justify (the cost that is now mounting) times (the probability that cost would be incurred)?

If you read their science case you notice that there’s an awful lot of blurb and padding before you get to their actual science case. Which is:

1. gain new insights into the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle
2. explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay
3. use the subantarctic islands as thermometers of climatic change by using trees, peats and lakes to explore the past
4. investigate the impact of changing climate on the ecology of the subantarctic islands
5. discover the environmental influence on seabird populations across the Southern Ocean and in Commonwealth Bay
6. understand changes in seal populations and their feeding patterns in the Southern Ocean and Commonwealth Bay
7. produce the first underwater surveys of life in the subantarctic islands and Commonwealth Bay
8. determine the extent to which human activity and pollution has directly impacted on this remote region of Antarctica
9. provide baseline data to improve the next generation of atmospheric, oceanic and ice sheet models to improve predictions for the future

Of those, I think that 1 isn’t desperately plausible: that kind of thing needs a concerted programme, not a one-off. They may have thrown some argo floats off, which is nice, but the regular resupply ships can do the same. 2 I have a hard time believing as well. I doubt they were equipped for it.

3 and 4 are believeable, but crucially don’t require going far south into the sea ice. Indeed, those were done on “leg 1”, not “leg 2” where they got into trouble.

5, again, can’t really be done on a one-off. They probably intended to look at a few birds, but there are loads of people down there doing that kind of stuff anyway. 6 ditto. 7 is squishy bio stuff so I don’t know, but I’m doubtful. 8 sounds dodgy – surely the Australian Antarctic Programme does this kind of stuff?

9 is too vague to mean anything. Richard Tol makes some of the same points at ATTP.

CT says

The AAE is inspired by Mawson but is primarily a science expedition; it will be judged by its peer-reviewed publications

which may be true eventually, but certainly isn’t true now; and he can’t possibly believe that everyone is going to suspend judgement for several years. He also says:

The aim of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) is to lead a multidisciplinary research programme in one of the most scientifically exciting regions of our planet, straddling the Southern Ocean and East Antarctic. Using the latest in satellite technology, we are beaming images, movies and text in an attempt to excite the public about science and exploration…

This puzzles me. Here he is, trying to defend its sciencey-ness, and the first thing he does is talk about attempt to excite the public about science and exploration.


From what I’ve seen, which is a distinctly non-exhaustive survey of Stuff, I don’t think their expedition was sciencey enough to ward off criticism. Were they reckless? Well, not quite reckless perhaps, but they were a long way South in what appears to be an isolated area, which was perhaps incautious.


Well, not much chance to leave it there. ATTP added the big issue… is whether or not their decision to go as far South as they did with the ship they were using can be justified which is another question. They weren’t in an icebreaker, they were in an “ice strengthened ship”: see wiki. So they were safe(the Russian crew is still on board,and has not been evacuated), but they risked getting stuck. And even icebreakers can get stuck, unless they’re really sooper, as the Chinese proved. BAS, for example, doesn’t operate icebreakers.

[Further update: but in This was no Antarctic pleasure cruise in Nature, CT says the Russian icebreaker MV Akademik Shokalskiy. That leads me to re-read their website, which says “you can book a berth and join us on the amazing Shokalskiy, a true expedition vessel”; which elides the question. But the brochure clearly states “the Shokalskiy, is a true expedition vessel. Built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research, she is fully ice-strengthened”. Anyway, now that a major question turns around the ship getting stuck, I think its bad that CT isn’t being more accurate about the nature of the ship.]

Another Question: how far are they away from a Proper Scientific Base? How far from Mawson? I haven’t seen this written explicitly – or if I have, I’ve forgotten – but I get the impression that its a Long Way – 1000 km or so. Were they only 10 km away, or perhaps even 100, that would alter the “risk” case. [In the continuing bizarre blog-storm on this, TC says at ATTP that Casey is closer – but still 2000 km away – but Dumont D’Urville is only 100 km. The question then becomes, but what facilities do they have?]

Shub Niggurath Climate has a moderately detailed chronology of the ship’s getting stuck. It might even be accurate, who knows. I certainly don’t understand Turney knew southerly winds were prevalent and would likely drive pack ice against their vessel. Perhaps SNC means “northerly”? [Later update: CT gives a rather shorter and not entirely compatible version of events at Nature.]

[And yet another update: McI has one of his usual detailed, but not entirely to be taken at face value, posts. Note in particular how he is careful to assign all responsibility to CT, and doesn’t even consider that the Captain might in any way be responsible. However, the compilation of imagery and positions is useful. What’s missing it the meteorology: having wind overlaid would be very useful, since the movement of sea ice is a key part of the story.

In one aspect McI scores a definite hit: CT claimed (in the Graun) that We worked on our research programme with the Australian Antarctic Division and other bodies and the expedition was considered significant enough to be given the official stamp of approval. In this recording (at about 1:30) Tony Fleming, director of the Australian Antarctic Division very clearly states that only the Env Impact Assessment was approved; they didn’t consider the science at all. CT is telling porkies.

OTOH, Fleming makes clear his opinion that the Captain is the one ultimately in charge of safety.]


* Eli Is Puzzeled
* The Trapped Polar Expedition: Spectacle or Serious Science? – attempts a summary of various discussions, including this one.

Another one bites the dust

After tthe sad fate of Dr* Bob, it would seem that now Lindzen is officially Emeritus. But remember folks, I was there first.

I’m curious as to when this happened. Cato claimed him in August 2013 – perhaps then? No, it was earlier: May 2013. If you look at his wiki page you won’t find the E-word anywhere. Perhaps someone should update it?

The article I started with invites you to meet Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT but this is clearly wrong: he’s no longer a prof at MIT, he’s an E-prof. So he can’t be the APS prof. He could be the APS E-prof, but he isn’t. Cato gets it right: Emeritus Professor of Meteorology at MIT, where he was the Alfred P. Sloan Professor.

From the article we find stuff like Lindzen has made the strange journey from being a pioneer in his field and eventual IPCC coauthor to an outlier in the discipline but that’s not really true. L did a few big things related to atmospheric dynamics: atmospheric tides, QBO – read his wiki page for details – this was all great work, no doubt about it. But after, say, 1972 he’s done very little. And the early work, sort-of, was a bit dead-endish. Atmospheric tides: great. But it doesn’t lead anywhere. Gravity waves feeding QBO was good, and gravity waves are certainly relevant to present-day GCMs and climate work, and QBO is still an active area, but L’s stuff was all a bit to one side; calling him a pioneer is odd; he’s been off-mainstream for 40 or more years (also the article’s description of his involvement with the IPCC is deceptive; it suggests more involvement than occurred). In fact, as he pretty well says in the article, L is more of a dynamic meteorologist than a climatologist; insofar as those distinctions mean much.

Retirement of a Dr* Salesman

Image credit: The Phytophactor

After a hard day down the lint mines realigning brackets, its nice to turn to the comic section and such greats as:

rpielke says: January 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm: …Your work really should be funded by the NSF or other such grant awarding organizations.

I hasten to add that RP Sr is not speaking of me, no, he is talking of renowned blogger Bob Tisdale. BT has, he says, been spending 8 to 16 hours-per-day blogging, writing books and producing videos over the past few years, but alas it doesn’t pay the rent so he needs to get a job. I don’t think I need to say any more about that.

The “*” is another great one:

*You are a Ph. D. de facto; Einstein’s doctorate from Oxford was “honorary.”

As you’d expect from the Dork Side, this is wrong/misleading: Einstein had an earned doctorate from Zurich.

[Update: 2014/01/17: BT has yet another whinge up at WUWT (don’t bother follow the details) in which he says I am an independent climate researcher and regular contributor at the award-winning science blog WattsUpWithThat. But this isn’t really true. He’s retired, as he says himself, and no longer a regular at anything.]


* Death of a salesman, part 2
* My main talent is having a big gob
*BT is having some trouble retiring – but he’s doing fine at now producing anything new 😉