Open Thread

People seem to want to debate policy options, which I encourage. There may be other topics not covered in existing threads. Also, this might be a place to suggest new topics for posts.

Have at it!


About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

50 Responses to “Open Thread”

  1. Some comments by Daniel Sarewitz that I generally agree with:

    The problem? Science has been called on to do something beyond its purview: not just improve people’s understanding of the world, but compel people to act in a particular way. For nearly twenty years, researchers, policy-makers and activists have claimed that climate science requires a global policy agenda of top-down, United-Nations-sponsored international agreements; targets and timetables for emissions reductions; and the creation of carbon markets. But this agenda was guaranteed to be politically divisive because it entails short-term political and economic costs in return for benefits that are long term and highly uncertain.

    The crucial point here is that no amount of reform of the IPCC, or rooting out of bad science — or of scientists behaving badly — will begin to correct the flaws in the dominant approach to climate policy. Rehabilitation of climate policy is a matter not of getting the science right, but of getting the politics right.

    There is no magic formula, but a few general principles seem apparent. A successful climate policy regime will match short-term costs with the real potential of short-term gains. These gains can come from reducing vulnerabilities to climate impacts, and increasing security and wealth generation from energy-technology innovation. Both paths call on the government to do things that most people see as appropriate: to provide public goods and promote innovation. Both paths also allow climate change to be understood not as impending doom that requires deep sacrifice to ensure survival, but as an opportunity to continually improve society.

  2. The Guardian has done something that may be of interest. They took data and came up with their own graphs and visualisations, independent of any other organisation. Their results show what the denualists deny.

    Arctic sea ice: the data behind the climate change fightback

    Scientists are fighting back over climate change. Get the data behind the latest battle – and see how we visualised it

    They even link to the data so anyone can try it for themselves.

  3. Tamino has called out Watts in no uncertain terms whatsoever. 🙂

    Message to Anthony Watts
    March 5, 2010 · 27 Comments


    It has now been independenly confirmed, by multiple persons, that my results regarding the impact of station dropout on global temperature are correct. Your claims, in your document with Joe D’Aleo for the SPPI, are just plain wrong.

    You’ve avoided answering this criticism, claiming that you can’t replicate my results without my code. Yet several others managed to do just that. It’s not that difficult, and you were irresponsible not to investigate this issue before publishing your claims. The posts by E.M. Smith are so incoherent they resemble the ravings of a lunatic more than the results of a qualified analyst. Your only other response has been to call me a coward for blogging under a pseudonym. That’s nothing but a desperate attempt of a scoundrel to deflect attention from his own misdeeds.

    Furthermore, your use of false claims to accuse NOAA scientists of deliberate deception was not just mistaken, it was unethical.

    If you have any honor at all, you’ll set the record straight. You owe it to everyone, and especially to NOAA, to admit that you were wrong. And you certainly owe it to NOAA to apologize. You need to make a highly visible, highly public admission of error, and apology, for using falsehoods to accuse others of fraud.

    Are you man enough?

  4. New gate-du-jour, by the way: Wattergate 😉

  5. A very interesting read about Watts at this link, including the comments:

  6. Tim Osborne’s submission to the Parliamentary inquiry is always worth referring to.

  7. And Wott’s Up With That is worth a look at.

  8. @ willard

    Thanks. Spot on.

  9. Another intersting read, to show that management science is first and foremost an art of selling pitches:

  10. willard :
    An interesting article by George Monbiot:

    Here’s the article at the Guardian.

    Monbiot himslef is participating in the comments section.

  11. Interesting option for hyperlinks so that the linked webpage isn’t ranked higher by Google.



    Dr. George Woodwell sets the record straight.

    The response to the [email] vandals is to bury them with the data and experience of a century of scholarly research and analysis. The information that is important in making the decisions as to how to manage our world is unequivocal and must be advanced, not as questions at the edge of scientific knowledge where scientist like to dwell, but as the facts that they are, facts as immutable as the law of gravity. The climatic disruption is not a theory open to a belief system any more than the solar system is a theory, or gravity, or the oceanic tides, or evolution. This approach is uncompromising, partisan in the sense of selected for the purpose. It is not a lecture to undergraduates; nor is it ecology 101. It is a clear statement of what is required for government to do its job in protecting the public welfare. The scientific community has a firm responsibility in this realm now. This is not the time to wring our hands over the challenges to hyper-scientific objectivity, the purity of scholars, and to tie ourselves in knots with apologies for alleged errors of trifling import.”

    More at the link.

    • Good post at Climate Progress. Scientists are in a difficult position re global warming. If they do speak out, they are labelled ‘activists” and their scientific objectivity is put in doubt, hence any research they do will be portrayed as ‘biased’ by their personal views. They will also be called ‘alarmists’ and dismissed. If they don’t speak out and later, if/when the science is shown to be correct in increasingly dramatic fashion and we are faced with serious disruptions and danger, scientists will be blamed for not speaking out earlier when they first knew the threat and risks.

      The thing is that ordinary people are swayed by emotion and appeals to what they understand not cold rational and objective science expressed with all its uncertainties. That’s why Limbaugh is so successful — he appeals to people’s emotions and fears.

      Monbiot is right — there are people who will never be swayed, not matter the evidence. They are anti-AGW for political or vested economic reasons and no amount of risk assessment and evidence will sway them.

      Frankly, I wish we could convince some retired scientists to come out and form some kind of activist group and speak out publicly, using their knowledge and scientific expertise and experience as educators to speak directly to the public. They’d have to keep aloof from existing advocacy groups and be really open about any funding so they would be independent. No WWF or other advocacy groups as funders. If the science really is unequivocal, and if the threats are real and imminent (meaning in the lifetime of my children) then something like that is necessary. It would have to be clean, totally above board to retain as much credibility as possible for the scientists involved. No politicians. No industry funders. No advocacy groups. Just scientists and donations from the public.

      I’ve been reading all day on the precautionary principle for a project I’m working on and I just keep thinking of how many people over the last century have died because of lax regulation when the science was pretty clear, of obfuscation by industry, of governments caring more about funders and re-election than protecting public health and the public good. It makes me feel helpless.

  13. At times I wish they’d just put up banners saying “You’re all gonna die, and your grandchildren are, too, because YOU KILLED THEM!”

    Thank god I’m not in PR 😉

    • At times I wish they’d just put up banners saying “You’re all gonna die, and your grandchildren are, too, because YOU KILLED THEM!”

      Thank god I’m not in PR

      LOL! I know. It’s so damn frustrating. I’m surrounded by people who downplay global warming, who argue that’s its all a hoax, that it’s alarmism, etc. The fact that we rely heavily on fossil fuels for just about everything where I live doesn’t help matters…

  14. shewonk :
    It would have to be clean, totally above board to retain as much credibility as possible for the scientists involved. No politicians. No industry funders. No advocacy groups. Just scientists and donations from the public.

    On a serious note, under those circumstances, the shill groups and certain DK-afflicted individuals would just lie. Why do you think Jim Hansen took to direct action?

    • Why do you think Jim Hansen took to direct action?

      And look what it got him – death threats. Whackos egged on by the denialist press and talk radio hosts.

      H. sapiens sapiens, you say?


    On global warming, the science is solid

    In recent months, e-mails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom and errors in one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports have caused a flurry of questions about the validity of climate change science.

    These issues have led several states, including Texas, to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide (also known as greenhouse gases) are a threat to human health.

    However, Texas’ challenge to the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon dioxide contains very little science. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott admitted that the state did not consult any climate scientists, including the many here in the state, before putting together the challenge to the EPA. Instead, the footnotes in the document reveal that the state relied mainly on British newspaper articles to make its case.

    Contrary to what one might read in newspapers, the science of climate change is strong. Our own work and the immense body of independent research conducted around the world leaves no doubt regarding the following key points:

    • • The global climate is changing.

    A 1.5-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperature over the past century has been documented by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Numerous lines of physical evidence around the world, from melting ice sheets and rising sea levels to shifting seasons and earlier onset of spring, provide overwhelming independent confirmation of rising temperatures.

    Measurements indicate that the first decade of the 2000s was the warmest on record, followed by the 1990s and the 1980s. And despite the cold and snowy winter we’ve experienced here in Texas, satellite measurements show that, worldwide, January 2010 was one of the hottest months in that record.

    • • Human activities produce heat-trapping gases.

    Any time we burn a carbon-containing fuel such as coal or natural gas or oil, it releases carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide can be measured coming out of the tailpipe of our cars or the smokestacks of our factories. Other heat-trapping gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, are also produced by agriculture and waste disposal. The effect of these gases on heat energy in the atmosphere is well understood, including factors such as the amplification of the warming by increases in humidity.

    • • Heat-trapping gases are very likely responsible for most of the warming observed over the past half century.

    There is no question that natural causes, such as changes in energy from the sun, natural cycles and volcanoes, continue to affect temperature today. Human activity has also increased the amounts of tiny, light-scattering particles within the atmosphere. But despite years of intensive observations of the Earth system, no one has been able to propose a credible alternative mechanism that can explain the present-day warming without heat-trapping gases produced by human activities.

    • • The higher the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the higher the risk of potentially dangerous consequences for humans and our environment.

    A recent federal report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” commissioned in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration, presents a clear picture of how climate change is expected to affect our society, our economy and our natural resources. Rising sea levels threaten our coasts; increasing weather variability, including heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and even winter storms, affect our infrastructure, energy and even our health.

    The reality of these key points is not just our opinion. The national academies of science of 32 nations, and every major scientific organization in the United States whose members include climate experts, have issued statements endorsing these points. The entire faculty of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M as well as the Climate System Science group at the University of Texas have issued their own statements endorsing these views (; In fact, to the best of our knowledge, there are no climate scientists in Texas who disagree with the mainstream view of climate science.

    We are all aware of the news reports describing the stolen e-mails from climate scientists and the errors in the IPCC reports. While aspects of climate change impacts have been overstated, none of the errors or allegations of misbehavior undermine the science behind any of the statements made above. In particular, they do not alter the conclusions that humans have taken over from nature as the dominant influence on our climate.

    This article was submitted by Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; Katharine Hayhoe, research associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas Tech University; Charles Jackson, research scientist, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin; Gerald North, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; André Droxler, professor of earth science and director of the Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University; and Rong Fu, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin.

  16. Climatesight on vexatious FOIA requests.

    In July 2009 alone, they received 60 FOI requests – most asking for data that was already freely available online. However, turning down a request takes 18 hours of work, and they only had 13 staff at CRU – all of which had better things to do than respond to needless FOI requests.

    In another instance, over a matter of days, they received 40 FOI requests, which obviously all came from the same form letter – but each asked for data from a different 5 countries. So in total, temperature data for 200 different countries (again, most of which was already freely available) was requested, and all the forms came to CRU rather than the offices in the countries the data came from, or even the countries the authors of the FOI forms lived in.

  17. Just posting the NOAA Paleoclimate webpage, which is a really handy categorised resource for when you’re in a hurry 😉

  18. Can I make a suggestion for your blog roll, Susann?

    Does for WUWT what you do for CA.

  19. I’ve had my reply from the information commission regarding the claims that CRU had not played the game with FOI requests.
    Basically they have told me the same old boilerplate they told CRU, which issue is summarised here:

    Contact me if you like and I can forwards the e-mail I recieved. Basically the FOI office have shown themselves to be horrifically naieve, insofar as their statement to the journalist made it look exactly like CRU was guilty, without any actual evidence or consideration being taken.
    What happened at the comission seems to be that a Sunday tiems journalist asked them a question, and it was bumped all the way up the tree to the deputy comissioner David Smith, who was the one responsible for the badly worded statement.

    • Basically they have told me the same old boilerplate they told CRU, which issue is summarised here:

      Very bad communications on the part of the ICO. They obviously don’t have anyone skilled in media relations.

  20. For once Roger says something sensible:

    Despite the usual lips service regarding his own work, Junior points to a nice article by Daniel Sarewitz:

    Almost too commonsensical.

    • Willard, his post appears rational and academic. However, it relies on an approach to the issue that I find highly suspect — the whole theory of post-normal science.

      I disagree with this approach. As I argued in my earlier post Post-Normal Science – or [Pseudo] Sort of Science? there is no trouble with normal science / climate science per se except that it is under attack through the political / policy process.

      There is a problem with the policy process and the political process.

      People, Pilke Jr and Sarewitz included, act as if the problem is with science trying to influence the policy process, when in fact, it is really corporate power trying to discredit science in order to influence the policy process because it can’t win the science debate.

      IOW, the problem is not uncertainty in science — it is this: the science is pretty certain. Entrenched cooperate power with a vested interest in this is unable to make its case against climate legislation because of the consensus and is therefore undertaking a campaign to refute existing science.

      One need only look at the influence of K-Street on Washington to appreciate this.

      The trouble as I see it is that corporate interests are trying to give science a black eye because they know they can’t win on the science front. The only way to win the policy war is to make action on climate change too politically costly to the incumbent government. It has to win via politics — via power and influence and by discrediting science. Hence, the denialist strategy of finding small holes and magnifying them through the denialist echo-chamber of astroturf orgs and blogs, thus smearing science and scientists and eroding public trust in science and acceptance of its findings.

      So, sorry Willard, but I have to disagree with you on this. To me PNS is bunk. It’s post-modern bunk wrapped up in shiny paper and with a tidy bow, but bunk all the same.

  21. Oh oops, I got this from another thread on this blog! Please ignore, I thought I was reading elsewhere (how embarrasing!)

    • Oh oops, I got this from another thread on this blog! Please ignore, I thought I was reading elsewhere (how embarrasing!)

      No problem. Promoting DC’s posts and blog is always welcome!

  22. shewonk,

    The argument I find commonsensical is this one:

    1. Science theories describe facts;
    2. Policy regulations stipulate norms;
    3. Deriving 1 from 2 is tough, most of the times.

    (I weasel out of 3 because it’s not always impossible to derive regulative statements from factual ones, but let’s not enter into the is-ought debate, a debate I am even less inclined to discuss here than the post-normal bunk. In a nutshell, the post-normal bunk is interesting only insofar you are into Kuhnian bunk, as it is only a footnote to Kuhn’s framework, and I suspect that Ravetz promoted it in WTF to make sure he would not be read by philosophers of science.)

    Anyway, I am sure I could find a quote on this very site where you state that policy matters supervene over science. That’s commonsensical, really, unless we could prove that science can settle political differences. That does not mean that policy makers should go against science, of course, but that means they have to take measures that go beyond scientific knowledge, which I am far from sure it should include economics.

    What I find interesting from this article, in my most humble opinion, is that it underlines the “scientization” of political debates. This scientization is fundamental for those who wish extreme political views without discussing them.

    Libertarians, to take an easy example, can engage the public simply arena without having to defend their strange political beliefs. They only want to talk about science, ya know. Free the data, free the code. Since they are selling books, they do not even talk about freeing debates anymore. Open the debate will have to suffice.

    In any case, I can agree to disagree with Sarewitz, Junior, and even with you.

    • Willard, you don’t know how many comments I’ve started and deleted trying to respond to your post. 🙂 Great food for thought.

      I am in basic agreement with you and Sarewitz — and even PNS — on this point: in a policy dispute as in over GHGs / climate change, arguments about science — its certainty or uncertainty and its basic conclusions — are often used as shields to hide entrenched political and economic interests and agendas (values and norms).

      The outcome of the policy dispute rests less on the weight of the evidence than the power of those claiming an interest in the outcome. That’s politics and policy making is a political process.

      I’m not saying this is how it ‘ought to be’. It is how it is, at least from my point of view as someone interested in the social political and economic history of the dispute.

      In the case of the climate wars, some on the AGW side support an interventionist agenda and on the contrarian side, some support a libertarian agenda: both agendas speak more to how problems should be solved (government regulation vs. the free market) than whether the problem exists, although that is also a tactic used on the part of some contrarians. Science is used by the various players to support their particular agenda — the interventionists point to the consensus and the libertarians point to the uncertainties. The interventionists tend to accept government as a tool to address policy problems, whereas the libertarians tend to reject government as a tool to address policy problems. Note that this is at a very high level of abstraction — in a more concrete analysis there is far more mud than this.

      The policy dispute will be largely solved by the policy makers based on their values and objectives, and chief among those are retaining power. There is no use in gaining political power in an electoral system only to lose it because of bad policy decisions hence, policy decisions are usually weighed heavily with respect to political fallout of action/inaction. Fallout is largely determined by how one’s base and one’s funders respond to a policy decision, withdrawing or maintaining support at the ballot box and at cheque book. Politicians will weigh the risks and costs and decide on an action that will hopefully allow them to retain or increase support from voters and funders while addressing the problem.

      In my view, the lack of real action on climate change in the US and the developed world despite the consensus and preponderance of evidence is illustrative of the power of those who reject government intervention. Science is not an objective source of knowledge to use to inform policy disputes but a weapon in a war. Those with a more interventionist agenda hold up the scientific consensus as a sword, displaying it as proof that action — aka legislation — must be taken. The libertarians try to destroy that sword — undermine the perception of a consensus — by pointing to flaws in the IPCC report or areas of continuing uncertainty. Science becomes contested terrain.

      So I agree on this point — further research and study is not necessarily going to settle this dispute. It will be possible for contrarians to argue that regardless of the science, adaptation to warming is preferable to the costs of mitigation involving government regulation. Interventionists will be able to argue that the cost of adaptation is too high such that mitigation and legislation are necessary. At some point, if AGW is valid and if nothing is done to mitigate GHGs, even those libertarians who are fundamentally against government intervention may find themselves agreeing to it because of the fallout of inaction, which would threaten the very free market and personal freedoms they so value, but I imagine they will hold out as long as possible.

      Whether action is taken and what that action entails are political questions that will be answered by politics — aka power — not science.

      In my personal view, the science is certain enough on the existence of warming and the threat posed to climate by the continued unregulated (uncontrolled) burning of fossil fuels. There are questions that remain to be answered and there must be more research — about future impacts given various policy responses, but the basic science in my view is certain enough to act based on the precautionary principle — which is part of my own value system.

  23. We need balance, so here it is. Michael Tobis’ title says it all:

  24. willard :
    Another really good article:
    Got to love to hate this guy.

    Watch until the very, very end 😉

  25. J,

    You mean this:

    Overall, he is skilled at making claims that cannot be argued against in a live format, not because they are necessarily good points, but merely because they are random, obscure references that would require time and research to dispute. Furthermore, he uses these arguments in combination with each other, one after another, very quickly, so that by the time you have a response in mind to one of the specific points he made, he has already moved on to three or four other points.

    Or this:

    The article about Begley is quite good too.

  26. Here’s another blog I never came across until today, and well worth a look at.

    Watching the Deniers
    Throwing a spotlight on climate change scepticism

  27. J Bowers :
    Here’s another blog I never came across until today, and well worth a look at.
    Watching the Deniers
    Throwing a spotlight on climate change scepticism

    Thanks J Bowers! And I’ve never come across shewonk either, great site – will be adding this one to my feed. Mike @ watchingthedeniers

  28. shewonk,

    Your response was worth the editing. It might be a nice basis for a future post. Eli steals a lot from his mice’s, even from his own mind.

    This theme carries an important message. I would surmise that this message makes you a policy lass, after all.


    As for the science itself, Steve’s commenters are having a ball during his absence, and are beginning to philosophiz. It all starts with a comment from a certain brent, that has bears a certain relationship with what we are talking about right now:

    Please take note of the comments from Luther Blissett, the real one for sure, before the zamboni flattens the thread.

  29. shewonk,

    Your response was worth the editing. It might be a nice basis for a future post. Eli steals a lot from his mice’s, even from his own mind.

    This theme carries an important message. I would surmise that this message makes you a policy lass, after all.


    As for the science itself, Steve’s commenters are having a ball during his absence, and are beginning to philosophize. It all starts with a comment from a certain brent, that has bears a certain relationship with what we are talking about right now:

    Please take note of the comments from Luther Blissett, the real one for sure, before the zamboni flattens the thread.

  30. Someone’s applied a bit of logic to what it would have taken to satisfy the data demands over at CA. You should read it 😉

    50 years
    12 months/y
    1 A4 sheet/month
    1000 Stations
    5 cm/ream (measured)
    500 sheets/ream
    21 width A4
    29.5 height A4

    sheets total 600000
    reams 1200
    height 60 metres
    volume 3.717 cu metres

    So to preserve raw data would take a storage space of perhaps a lot more than 4cu metres.
    These sheets would have been transcribed into computer format, possibly with errors added and errors corrected so the first computer record is NOT the raw data.
    If you had to move office and you thought that you would never go back to your 4 metres^3 of raw data because your computer data was correct. And you had admin complaining that there was not room for your tatty bits of paper. And it needed sorting and indexing to be useful. I think binning it would be a sensible option.

    And if you wanted raw data the WMOs would still have a copy so nothing is lost…

  31. And desmogblog has some handy figures concerning money being poured into anti-AGW think tanks and lobby groups.

    Finally, and perhaps most impacting, there is the money being poured into creating a so-called debate over whether climate change is real, human caused and dangerous. Greenpeace reports that from 1998 – 2006,. ExxonMobil put over $2.2 million into just one denier think tank. From 1998 – 2005, the company spent $16 million with denier lobby groups and think tanks. BP spent $8 million in just 8 months in 2009 lobbying against climate legislation. The Heritage Foundation, which tried to use the 2008 La Nina cooling to cast doubts on the reality of climate change, received $50,000 from ExxonMobil that year, and another denier think tank, Atlas Economic Research, received $100,000.

    As the tobacco companies can attest, pour enough money into a marketing campaign and you can get people to do just about anything. Even spend their hard earned money on a product that will kill them.

  32. This forwarded message from a dendroclimatologist to CA, back in 2007, was pointed out on NeverendingAudit.

    Pretty much sums it all up. For example:

    And, finally Steve M, though you are more civil than most here, you cherry-pick pretty well in making your arguments. One case in point – the quotes you copied from the discussion on the dendro listserv. A second case in point is the broad ‘Project for the Dendro Truth Squad’ stone you hurled up on this page. Those in the know, who really know the science, know not to use that chronology and know who still use that chronology. The work that uses that chronology for a temperature reconstruction is less-respected than others. Please, do not cast the whole field as deceitful or ignorant of this. You state that it is not your intention to slander the whole science, but why post the picture of that tree and make road statements, make a separate post about it and string a long list of papers that use that chronology if you are not trying to undermine the science? Why not post the longer string of papers that DO NOT use that one site? The final point, you and others are beating some extremely dead horses. The people and papers you ‘audit’ is very selective. You ignore more recent work that surpasses others.

  33. Another denialist meme bites the dust at breakneck speed (sorry, but it’s got to the point where “sceptics” is becoming completely innapropriate).

    …Below is a screenshot taken on my PC, what you see here is the Climate Research Unit (CRU) climate data (the blue line) overlaying the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) data (the red line)
    As you can see there is an almost perfect matching of the CRU and DMI data. Unless the Danish government has been conspiring to deceive the world with false data since 1870, in collaboration with the CRU, there is clear evidence that the temperature is rising is Denmark.

    In this section you will find graphs which are created using the CRU data. This is what we have done with the CRU data:…


  34. J,

    The 11 responses from Steve in the thread makes one wonder the degree of freedom really was given to the dendros for their swing.

  35. Does anyone happen to have a handy link to any kind of list of volcanic eruptions going back to at least 700 AD? Thanks.

  36. ProfMandia posted this link over at Skeptical Science. A graphical view of sea level rise for most coastal US cities (click on a city and move the cursor over the images to get an interactive update).

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