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One-Sided 'Skepticism'

Posted on 16 September 2011 by dana1981

As the banner at the top of the Skeptical Science (SkS) webpage notes, the primary purpose of our site is to "get skeptical about global warming skepticism" by examining what the peer-reviewed scientific literature has to say about the climate myths promoted by self-declared "skeptics."  We strive to examine the full body of scientific evidence, and see how the "skeptic" claims stack up.

In a recent post on his blog, Roger Pielke Sr. criticized our performance in meeting those goals.  We at SkS are always open to constructive criticism.  Unfortunately, Dr. Pielke has not actually offered any.  In fact, it appears that Pielke has not even bothered to make the effort to read the series he is criticizing.  He seems to think Christy Crocks and Spencer Slip Ups pertain to satellite temperature data analysis:

"As a result of the persistent, but incorrect (often derogatory) blog posts and media reports on the robustness of the University of Alabama MSU temperature data....The ad hominem presentations on this subject include those from the weblog Skeptical Science who have sections titled Christy Crocks and Spencer Slip Ups"

Unfortunately for this piercing critique, these two series of articles do not touch upon the topic of the satellite temperature data. Indeed, the only time SkS has mentioned this work was when we used it as an example of the self-correcting nature of the scientific process.  What the series have bored in on are the wide range of topics relevant to global warming concerning which Spencer and Christy have propogated numerous myths and copious misinformation.  This frequent myth propagation by Spencer and Christy is an unfortunate reality which it seems Pielke would like to sweep under the rug.

Pielke's One-Sided Criticisms

What we find strange is that, although Pielke often rushes to the defense of Spencer and Christy, he never criticizes them for blatant errors of logic and fact that they have made; even though he is happy to criticize more mainstream climate scientists.  His critiques seem a tad one-sided.

For example, Christy's testimony before US Congress earlier this year was riddled with myths and misinformation.  Pielke said not a word about it.  Christy later went on Australian and Canadian radio talk shows and propagated many of the same myths.  In fact, these interviews and testimony were the basis of the Christy Crocks. 

Not only does Pielke refuse to criticize his fellow "skeptics" for misinforming the public and policymakers, but he then denounces SkS for doing just that.  In the process, Pielke is effectively endorsing the myths and misinformation propagated by Spencer and Christy, documented in the very series that he criticizes.

The Scientific Basis of the Series

Let's put more effort into this question than Dr. Pielke and actually examine the content of the two series.  Spencer Slip Ups currently consists of seven posts.  Three of these are an analysis of one of Spencer's books by Dr. Barry Bickmore, in which Bickmore tested Spencer's results by replicating his simple climate model, and found that Spencer's conclusions were invalidated when physically realistic parameters were input into the model. 

In another post, we responded to Spencer's challenge to produce peer-reviewed scientific research ruling out internal variability as the cause of the current global warming by doing exactly that.  We also examined what the peer-reviewed literature has to say about Spencer's hypothesis that the PDO is causing global warming.  And finally, in two recent posts we examined Andrew Dessler's peer-reviewed response to Spencer & Braswell (2011). 

Christy Crocks are much of the same.  For example, we examined what the peer-reviewed literature has to say about Christy's claims with regards to climate sensitivity, climate model accuracy, internal variability, global warming causation, and satellite temperature data vs. models.

In keeping with the purpose and standards established for SkS by John Cook, in every Spencer Slip-Up and Christy Crock we have either evaluated how their statements stack up to the body of scientific literature, or attempted to replicate their results.  And we have found that Spencer and Christy consistently make statements which are inconsistent with the body of scientific literature, and often which are well outside their range of expertise.

Misinforming Policymakers

One of the most egregious examples of a Christy Crock was in his testimony before US Congress, when policymakers twice presented Christy with assertions that scientists were predicting impending global cooling in the 1970s, and twice Christy refused to dispel the myth, instead claiming:

"In this sense yes [1970s cooling predictions were similar to current warming predictions], our ignorance about the climate system is just enormous"

This statement, made to those who are determining what if any policies the United States will implement in response to climate change, is a crock.  We examined the peer-reviewed scientific literature in the 1970s, and found that contrary to Christy's depiction, most climate scientists at the time were predicting global warming.

We wonder if Dr. Pielke approves of Christy's testimony here.  When presented with a climate myth by a policymaker, is it appropriate to mislead the Congress with such statements, instead of reporting the situation as it was?  We would very much like to know Dr. Pielke's answer to this question, and why he continues to turn a blind eye to the repeated transgressions of Spencer and Christy.

Reality Check

In reality, Pieilke was off-base in trying to implicate SkS in criticism of the UAH satellite record; we didn't do that. Even more to the point, Spencer and Christy have both made a number of statements to the public that contradict the body of scientific literature.  These statements were the starting point of our critical series. By defending them but ignoring their errors, Pielke is providing cover for the misinformation propagated by Spencer and Christy.  That's not being skeptical, that's excusing the blatant misinformation of the American public and policymakers.  Pielke Sr. needs to decide what is more important, covering up misinformation or standing up for science and truth.

Note: this post represents the SkS contributors' consensus response to Roger Pielke Sr.'s recent criticism of our site

Update: Pielke has responded, if you can call it a response, since he didn't actually address anything we said here.  A total shifting of the goalposts, once again trying to deny Spencer and Christy's constant propagation of misinformation.  In fact, Pielke's response simply confirmed what we said in this post - he seems unwilling to read the content of our posts, and is totally unwilling to crtiicize his fellow "skeptics." 

Dr. Pielke, we once again ask that you answer the question - do you or do you not approve of John Christy's misleading testimony to US Congress, including his assertion that predictions of global cooling in the 1970s were the same as predictions of global warming today? 

As another example, do you agree with Roy Spencer when he said that as a result of addressing climate change, "Jogging will be outlawed. It is a little known fact that the extra carbon dioxide (and methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas) emitted by joggers accounts for close to 10% of the current Global Warming problem"? 

And do you agree with Spencer's assertion that "warming in recent decades is mostly due to a natural cycle in the climate system — not to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning"?

Please stop changing the subject, stop pretending Spencer and Christy are faultless Saints, drop the charade, and answer our questions, Dr. Pielke.

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Comments 201 to 216 out of 216:

  1. critical mass (@ 197) I have a different perspective from Dikran concerning the reason that scientists in general don't publish stuff that is wrong. My experience from a quite lengthy period of doing research is that the vast majority of scientists don't publish stuff that's wrong because they do their damnest to ensure that what they publish is correct! The vast majority of science is done in good faith. Scientists participate implicitly in "self peer review" in which they themselves question the reliability of their work and arguments, focussing particularly on observations and interpretations that seem to be in conflict with other work. Usually papers are submitted after the work has been presented in group, departmental or conference seminars where its reliability can be tested against outside expertise. This concept of "self peer review" is second nature to most scientists. It's important to get the work correct (a) because one genuinely wants to find out something about the natural world, (b) because one's next series of experiments analyses is often dependent on its essential validity, (c) professional pride and self respect, (d) serious screwing up is not very good for one's reputation and career. Once one adopts the viewpoint that the processes of science and its dissemination are subservient to ones political or personal agendas, all of this goes out the window. Not only does one dump the essential precept of scientific good faith that underpins the scientific effort, but also apparently the inhibitions against abusing the good faith of others.
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  2. Chris Well said, I couldn't agree more. Self-skepticism is central to being a good scientist.
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  3. Disclaimer: I have been involved with SkS for a while, including early stages during which all the moderation was done by John Cook, most of the time on his Australian schedule. As I live in the US, that gave me the opportunity to endure torrents of verbal abuse from individuals claiming to be skeptics (no grudge here John :-). I digress from my point, which is the following: as the site grew, I did contribute as a moderator for a short time. The site grew faster than my abilities to keep up with the obligations of moderator. I then stepped back from that role and no longer serve these functions. I limit my contribution to comments. I do not edit or delete comments. Attentive readers will notice that moderators put their initials with their blue highlighted comments. However, I do feel entitled to use "we" when redirecting commenters since I did participate (a little) in the growing of the site, including devising the comment poilicy (which has changed since, althoug the underlying principles are conserved). Shub should therefore not address me as "moderator." I believe the moderator on this thread has been mostly DB (Daniel Bailey) but there may be others too. Shub has yet to produce an example of ad-hom fallacy coming from SkS or of personal attack against Spencer or Christy. What he cited in his post #188 certainly does not meet that definition. Saying that Spencer and Christy are "somewhat infamous" as the guys who claimed their data invalidated global warming until others corrected their errors is a mere statement of fact. They did that and are known for it. That is a simple fact.
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    Response:

    [DB] "I believe the moderator on this thread has been mostly DB (Daniel Bailey) but there may be others too."

    Nope, mostly me.  I'm the one to blame, nobody else.  But never credit to malice what is better explained by ignorance or incompetance.  ;)

  4. Critical mass: Currently Dr. Hansen and Dr. Trenberth are debating about "missing heat" versus aerosol cooling. It seems likely that one of them will be wrong in the end. Since neither has made an outrageous claim, when the energy path is finalized neither will look bad. The one who is correct will have a new feather for his hat. It will not be necessary to have an article about who is right because that will be determined by consensus. The skeptics need to be countered because they do not conceed when they are incorrect.
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  5. critical mass, to be blunt... your claims that there are no examples on this site of 'skeptics' being right or 'AGW supporters' being wrong is pure nonsense. There are numerous examples of both. In addition to those already cited consider; "Dr. Muller also dispelled the myth that the surface temperature record is unreliable, and overall his testimony was accurate and reasonable (which may be why he wasn't asked very many questions)."
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  6. "To be a good scientist you do not have to be right, the important thing is that you have reached your conclusions by sound reasoning with the concepts and observations available at the time you made them."
    Anders O. Persson
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  7. For interested readers, more about S&C here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/08/et-tu-lt/ And here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/how-to-cook-a-graph-in-three-easy-lessons/ These are only 2 examples.
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  8. In post #113, Dr, Roger Pielke Sr. had this to say about Anthony Watts: "I have worked with Anthony and he is devoted to the highest level of scientific robustness." Dr. Pielke is smart enough to know that people are judged by the company they keep. Has he never read any of the vitriolic diatribes posted by Anthony Watts on his website, WUWT?
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  9. michael sweet @204 - personally I suspect that both Hansen and Trenberth are right, and the 'missing heat' is a combination of deep oceans and negative aerosol forcing.
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  10. Philip You state: "Saying that Spencer and Christy are "somewhat infamous" as the guys who claimed their data invalidated global warming until others corrected their errors is a mere statement of fact. They did that and are known for it. That is a simple fact." Merely calling Spencer and Christy 'infamous' is not an ad-hominem argument. Implying that there may be cool biases in the UAH record due to the prior infamous history of errors in the UAH record, is, an ad-hominem argument. The Sept 14 article makes such an ad-hominem argument. The article above states: "He [Pielke Sr] seems to think Christy Crocks and Spencer Slip Ups pertain to satellite temperature data analysis: ... Unfortunately for this piercing critique, these two series of articles do not touch upon the topic of the satellite temperature data. Indeed, the only time SkS has mentioned this work was when we used it as an example of the self-correcting nature of the scientific process." Clearly, all the above claims are refuted.
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  11. No, Shub. Ad hominem has been well-explained above and on other threads. The case you point to would, if demonstrably unreasonable, simply be a form of non sequitur or post hoc ergo propter hoc.
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  12. 207, Philippe, Thanks for the links. In particular, I've been looking for more history on "who knew what and when" in the MSU/UAH satellite temperature record debacle. It doesn't tell everything, but it at least fills in some of the blanks. It would be good to understand exactly how resistant Spencer and Christy were to correcting the problems in their data, and why it fell to others (Mears et al) to ultimately find the issue.
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  13. #200 chris DM #199 and you make some good points - but I find it hard to explain why a scientist like Dr Lindzen gets it right in over 100 papers and then goes off the rails in the critical area of climate sensitivity and then refuses to retract or acknowledge what others claim as errors. There is either an issue of bad faith or political motivation here or an irreconcilable difference of opinion. My point is that the authors of this site seem to automatically accept that a pro-AGW scientist such as Dr Trenberth or Dr Hansen will get it right (even when they disagree with each other) and if one of the 'usual suspects' says something different then they generally must be wrong. Michael Sweet #204 mades this point for instance: "Currently Dr. Hansen and Dr. Trenberth are debating about "missing heat" versus aerosol cooling. It seems likely that one of them will be wrong in the end. Since neither has made an outrageous claim, when the energy path is finalized neither will look bad". I would suggest that had the likes of Dr Lindzen made a claim like the 'delayed Pinitubo rebound effect' as a contributor to the recent reduction in warming imbalance as postulated by Dr Hansen, this site would be condemning it as a 'flawed hypothesis' and even bizarre or unhinged.
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  14. critical mass wrote: "but I find it hard to explain why a scientist like Dr Lindzen gets it right in over 100 papers and then goes off the rails in the critical area of climate sensitivity and then refuses to retract or acknowledge what others claim as errors." Actually that is all too common a career trajectory, it is not difficult to think of excellent scientists that have gone badly wrong when they have strayed even slightly from their field of primary expertise. Scientists are very prone to Dunning-Kruger, you get used to being an expert but most of the time you still have to start at the beginning when moving into a new field, which doesn't come easily to some. There is no need to question motivation, and I would avoid doing so as (i) it is pretty irrelevant as to whether the science is correct and (ii) it (quite rightly) contravenes the comments policy.
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  15. Critical mass "My point is that the authors of this site seem to automatically accept that a pro-AGW scientist such as Dr Trenberth or Dr Hansen will get it right (even when they disagree with each other) and if one of the 'usual suspects' says something different then they generally must be wrong." Whatever his past successes, Dr Lindzen's viewpoint on climate sensitivity is not widely accepted in the scientific literature because observations and modeling results do not bear it out. Predictions based on his viewpoint also fail spectacularly to represent past trends in temperature. If you read the linked threads, you find that SkS is merely reporting the evidence for and against his positions. It does not presume he is wrong a priori because he is a "skeptic." It shows he is likley wrong because his positions put him at odds with the data and our understanding of physics (based on lots of data). The same can be said for many of the other "skeptic" positions. The evidence for AGW is so overwhelming that you are almost forced to argue that the evidence is wrong to hold an opposite opinion. I guess that's one reason one often hears AGW skeptics spout conspiracy theories about data manipulation. As for intentions, I cannot explain why Lindzen refuses to back down on his positions, nor can most of the climate scientists I personally know (note that I am not one). As DM notes, it does on occassion happen that brilliant scientists head down the wrong track, for whatever reason, sometimes spectacularly so. Past success does not guarantee future success. Though it does warrant a measure of personal respect, it does not excuse his ideas from critical inspection.
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  16. critical mass (@ 213); re:
    "DM #199 and you make some good points - but I find it hard to explain why a scientist like Dr Lindzen gets it right in over 100 papers and then goes off the rails in the critical area of climate sensitivity and then refuses to retract or acknowledge what others claim as errors."
    Yes, it might seem difficult to explain, as Dikran says, that does seem to happen occasionally. Notice that others don't "claim" that some of Dr Lindzen's assertions are "errors". Some of Dr. Linden's assertions are objectively errors. So when Dr. Lindzen asserted that a response to global warming will be a "drying" of the upper troposphere such that the water vapour feedback is negative, we know categorically that this assertion is incorrect in the light of uncontroversial direct measurements. When Dr Lindzen uses (as a basis for another claim for low climate sensitivity), an astonishingly flawed selection of time periods for comparison with top of the atmosphere radiative flux measurements, the error is not a matter of opinion, but an extant and blatant fact. Why do a tiny number of scientists assert that they have priviliged insight into the workings of the climate system in contradiction to the evidence, and attempt to support this with astonishingly flawed analyses? In my opinion matters of scientific ethics can be summed up in consideration of "good" and "bad faith". The vast majority of scientists wish to find out about the natural world, and do their utmost to ensure that their work is correct and interpretations consistent with the evidence. A tiny number of scientists seem to have other motivations. In fact there is lots of information about some of these individuals that can help us to understand motivations, but it can be rather difficult to state this without appearing to categorise according to non-scientific criteria (even if the relevant information is also uncontroversial and objective fact!).
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