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Remembering our dear friend Andy Skuce

Posted on 21 September 2017 by dana1981

Long-time Skeptical Science contributor and our dear friend Andy Skuce passed away last Thursday, September 14th.  Andy was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, with a median life expectancy of six years, but lived another 15.  During that time he made invaluable contributions to Skeptical Science and to educating the public about climate change.  His final post Exit, Pursued by a Crabpublished just three weeks ago is an insightful personal reflection on his life, cancer, and climate change.

Andy first and foremost was a wonderful person.  Those of us who only knew him via the internet valued his wit, kindness, and insightful comments.  Those of us fortunate enough to meet Andy in person always enjoyed his company and his warm personality. When any of us traveled to his neck of the woods, Andy and his wife Annick always opened their home as generous hosts.


Andy sometimes described himself as a “recovering oilman,” having worked many years in oil and gas exploration. In a 2012 post, Andy wrote about the evolution of his views on climate change. Once Andy grasped the reality and urgency of the problem, he devoted much of his time to educating others about it, including some of his former oil industry colleagues. In some of his first posts at Skeptical Science, Andy debunked myths perpetrated by the influential Matt Ridley, and nicely summarized the findings of the Berkeley Earth team. 

As a resident of British Columbia, Andy was able to clearly explain the details of BC’s important carbon tax, and subsequently Alberta’s, both of which I found immensely helpful. Andy also utilized his oil & gas expertise to write informative posts about oil pipelines, Shell’s internal carbon pricing, BC’s estimate of fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas industry, and carbon capture & storage. He published these pieces not just on Skeptical Science, but also at his own blog Critical Angle, and on Corporate Knights.

Andy also made invaluable contributions to our Denial101x online course.  He recorded lectures debunking the myth that volcanoes emit more carbon dioxide than humans (which happened to be the subject of his very first Skeptical Science post 7 years ago) and that we’re just recovering from the Little Ice Age. Best of all, these videos forever preserve Andy’s memory, and his passionate efforts to educate people about climate change.

Andy was also a key contributor to the body of climate consensus research.  He was a co-author on both The Consensus Project and Consensus on Consensus papers.  When James Powell challenged that we had underestimated the consensus, Andy took the lead in testing that challenge.  Powell had claimed that our team’s methodology wouldn’t work in evaluating the expert consensus on plate tectonics. 

So that’s exactly what Andy did – he applied the methodology from our climate consensus paper to the theory of plate tectonics.  He read the abstracts of 331 papers from the journals Geology and the Journal of the Geological Society, checking whether they endorsed, rejected, or took no position on the theory of plate tectonics.  Andy found 29% of the papers’ abstracts included language that implicitly endorsed the theory of plate tectonics, while the rest took no position. In short, of the papers taking a position, he found 100% consensus on plate tectonics in this sample of the peer-reviewed literature.  Skuce et al. (2017) conclusively showed that our method worked.

Bear in mind, if we were only interested in getting the message of climate action across, we could have just accepted Powell’s claim that the climate consensus is 99.99%. But instead Andy led the charge in getting the right answer.  That shows great integrity, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to put in the work to get the science right.

It’s also well worth noting that everything mentioned here, Andy did in the years beyond the life expectancy associated with his diagnosis.  He truly lived his life to the fullest all the way to the end. A great inspiration for us all.

And so we bid a final farewell to the wonderful Andy.  We’ll miss him, we’ll always remember him, and we’ll carry on in his memory.

 thanks Andy

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. I didn't have much contact with Andy, but what I did have was valuable - he was friendly and clear. Byeee...

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  2. I began noticing when an article was written by Skuce.  They were unusually clear in their content.  Thats unusual because 'content' is no longer highly regarded in the age of facebook.  You have to put time in on the front end, and request same of the reader.  We put much more value in 'attitude' these days, and more's the pity.  I think Skuce can rest easy knowing he did the good thing. 

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  3. Too many people I respect  died this year. It is sad. But at least Andy left a positive legacy that insures he will not only be remembered, but remembered well.


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  4. Thanks for this nice comment on a worthwhile life; I will remember Andy as someone to emulate, or at least aspire so. Thank you Andy for your bright existance. 

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  5. Dear Dana Nuccitelli, John Cook and colleagues at Skeptical Science

    Can I add a few words about my dear friend and fellow geophysicist Andy, since he seems to have been too modest to leave anything behind in the form of a CV or an autobiography?

    I probably knew him for longer than anyone else in his profession. He joined my little applied research group at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh in 1977 or so, where he and his wife Annick quickly become close friends with myself and my then partner. He had a degree in geology from Sheffield University, a Masters degree in geophysics (Newcastle I think), and before coming to Edinburgh had worked for a geological service company for a year or two.

    Our day-to-day work was mapping and interpreting the UK sector of the NW European passive margin (the Rockall-Faeroe region) using the mass of confidential offshore seismic and well data made available to the BGS via the Department of Energy. By thinking more widely and deeply than your average hydrocarbon exploration geologist of the era, we were able to apply the still youthful new science of plate tectonics to our daily detailed research, and thereby make some significant advances. Although our ability to publish was rather limited, due to the confidential nature of the data at our disposal, we did manage to get a few papers published. These are listed among Andy's publication list on his blog.

    One of his posts reveals Andy's keen and long-standing interest in the philosophy of science. This interest developed during his time at Edinburgh. Names like Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, and so on may be familiar to researchers in physics or climate science, but in the 1970s or 80s - or even today - precious few solid earth scientists were aware of, or interested in, the philosophy underpinning their research. Our little philosophical trio was completed by Mike Russell, then head of the applied geology department at Strathclyde University, Glasgow. Andy embarked on a part-time doctoral research programme, registered at Strathclyde, supported by the BGS, and with Mike and myself as joint supervisors. But Andy resigned from the BGS in 1981, and emigrated to join the oil industry in Calgary, so his PhD studies fell by the wayside. Mike Russell, a polymath and world leader in the emergence of life, now at the JPL, NASA in California and still active at 78, once described Andy as "the best research student we never had".

    Andy was appalled at the polarised and bi-partisan nature of the scientific debate on fracking in the UK (my own little niche in the more general battle against fossil fuel exploitation), and scathing of the low standards of the majority of the UK earth scientists active in that field, who are funded by the industry while claiming to be impartial. I referred to Andy's incomplete doctoral work in a blog I published a year ago, which includes a contemporary photo of Andy. I never quite got to the bottom of why he quit his quasi-academic post in the UK for an oil industry job in Canada, but his generally low opinion of UK academic earth science researchers certainly played a part.

    I will miss our frequent email exchanges of recent years, the occasional visits to France by Andy and Annick when they stayed with us for a few days, or even a month at a time, and the occasional long phone call. I knew his time was limited when he sent me for review a draft of his final blog (Exit, Pursued By a Crab - a characteristically drole title of his) just over a month ago - a typically thorough Andy touch - but I did not realise how close to death he already was.

    Andy Skuce - I was privileged to have known him for forty years. Dear Andy - a thoughtful, reflective and incisive mind, overlain with the healthy scepticism required of a true scientist.

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  6. David- thanks for sharing those memories of Andy.

    You were lucky to have known him for so long.

    Even those of us who knew Andy mainly online, and met him only fleetingly in person, felt his keen intelligence, wry humor, and deep humanity.  

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  7. David

    Thank you for this. That strongly matches the Andy we knew, often only online. He seems to have been that rare individual. Professional and very human (and humane). We will miss him.

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  8. Yes, thank you for sharing.  It was good to learn a little more about Andy, who's article I alway for interesting and informative, but very sad to hear of his passing.  My condolensces go out to his wife and family.

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  9. My only contact with Andy was via online discussions with the Skeptical Science team and valuable comments he made regarding the information visualisations that I was involved with.

    Brings back memories of the fun we had working on the data and the projects we worked on.

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