Saturday, October 12, 2013

Debunking sceptical propaganda

Debunking sceptical propaganda - this is the programme of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. I have written a review which is published in BioSocieties. Here is the teaser:
The plot of the book is simple: we would have made more progress in policymaking had not a bunch of contrarian self-stylized experts tried to undermine faith in the knowledge base for regulation. Their motivation was a belief in free market principles with a dose of anti-communism. They have combined both motives to reject government intervention, to promote the freedom of enterprise and to attack environmentalists as ‘socialists in disguise’. This ideological influence made them blind to the facts, in fact led them to ‘deny the science’. The US media, following a professional norm of journalistic balance, have amplified the false truths propagated by the contrarians. Nearly all of the elements of this plot are axioms or shared beliefs of environmentalists and some climate scientists. The partisan account provided here thus merits special scrutiny.
Read the whole review here.


Harry Dale Huffman said...

No "partisan account" of science merits any scrutiny whatsoever, much less "special" scrutiny, as only the definitive, objective evidence matters in the search for the truth of physical cause and effect; who do academics like Grundmann think they are kidding--or more correctly, conning? This review, and post here, is a dismal failure of science from the outset.

MikeR said...

Good review, and I agree with the main points.
Unfortunately, the authors of the book seem to me to be partisan political agents. Some contrarian voices are also, but there are a number who are clearly in it for the science. The authors of the book are trying to pretend they don't exist, for their own purposes.

Hans von Storch said...

A competent analysis of this book, which seems to be recognized among many climate scientists as a good piece of social science. According to Reiner, simply a one-sided analysis without social science. Seemingly the by now well-known green righteousness, about being the good ones and no need for looking into the own practice of bias.

Paul Matthews said...

It will be interesting to see if and how Oreskes responds.

In the August issue of Climatic Change,
there is an interesting article by Myanna Lahsen "Climategate: the role of the social sciences", which largely follows the party line (scepticism lavishly funded, political and corporate) but deviates slightly by suggesting that climate advocates may have facilitated the "backlash". In sec 3.2.1 she discusses Merchants of Doubt, calling it a 'lopsided analysis'.

Lahsen's article is immediately followed by a reply from Oreskes, which is quite curious since it does not seem to address Lahsen's points at all. The final paragraph of Oreskes's article is quite chilling, accusing Lahsen of being a contrarian and questioning her motives "why exactly would someone want to do that?"

eduardo said...

It is also remarkable that Oreskes acknowledges Nancy Cartwright, who wrote one of the most sceptical views on the laws of sciences : 'how the laws of physics lie'

hvw said...

Why do you find it remarkable that Oreskes acknowledges Cartwright?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Interestingly, both Oreskes and Cartwright (the latter having mentored the former) have espoused some more or less radical criticisms of mainstream science which they later abandoned. Cartwright came to regret the title of her book How the Laws of Physics Lie and Oreskes seems to have abandoned her (co-authored) critical examination of climate scientists 'verification' of models (Verification, Validation, and Confirmation of Numerical Models in the Earth Sciences, Science 263 no. 5147 pp. 641-646 DOI: 10.1126/science.263.5147.641)

@ReinerGrundmann said...

On October 7 Oreskes gave a talk in which she declares that the so-called 'pause' or 'hiatus' in global warming is a result of cherry picking, see here (at 26')

The IPCC which published its WG1 report shortly before, has acknowledged the problem of the 'pause'.

[h/t Brigitte Nerlich]

hvw said...

Reiner Grundmann, #7

Thad would be interesting news to me, if Cartwright and Oreskes had abandoned their central theses from "How the laws of physics lie" and from the verification paper, respectively. That is because I keep quoting them all the time. Could you please let us know where they have stated this?

@ReinerGrundmann said...


if you look at Cartwright's books -- How the Laws of Physics Lie (1983), Nature’s Capacities and Their
Measurement (1989), The Dappled World (1999), and Hunting Causes and Using Them (2007) -- you will see a shift in argument. The same applies to Oreskes et al's 1994 validation paper in comparison to what she wrote later, especially the 2004 paper on Scientific consensus on climate change and MoD.

While Oreskes does not repudiate the 1994 paper, in MoD she does not build on it but on the 2004 Consensus paper. Had she used the 1994 paper as a starting point for her argument in chapter 6 of MoD this would have led to a different story.

What I don't understand is your suggestion that you would stop quoting these early works of both authors if you find out they no longer subscribe to the letter or the spirit of what they once said. Is this what you are saying?

anonymous13 said...

Hmmm, I don't think Oreskes said that the 'pause' was the 'result' of cherry picking data, but rather that making certain claims about a so-called pause is based on cherry picking data, if I understand her correctly. I think she wanted to stress that one should not make claims about data that are taken out of context....

hvw said...


thanks for the extensive answer. Regarding Cartwright, that you need to point to an in toto appreciation of three books seems to indicate that Cartwright's abandonment of her argument in HtLoPL isn't as clear cut as your initial statement seems to imply. Unfortunately I don't have the capability to figure that out -- my little brain isn't even happy (yet) about its comprehension of HtLoPL.

Regarding Oreskes, I do not see how her "2004 consensus essay" has anything to to with the "validation paper". It doesn't even contain any of the words "model" or "validation" or "verification".

In Chapter 6 of MoD (freely available here) she talks about climate models a lot, but doesn't qualify anything she said in 1994. I believe you misunderstand her 1994 paper: It is not a "radical criticism" of mainstream science. On the contrary, it is based on "mainstream science". In there she cautions against declaring a model a "true" or "appropriate" representation of reality because it has passed a validation/verification exercise. Instead, she proposes to regard these exercises as "confirmations", which may add up to incrementally increase the trust in its predictions but by themselves never yield certainty - in particular for a model's application in settings where public policy is concerned. In MoD she therefore goes to great length to document the history of climate models and their confirmation-record along with non model-based corroborating evidence.

... you would stop quoting these early works of both authors if you find out they no longer subscribe to the letter or the spirit of what they once said.
In my world, quoting someone signals the appreciation of an argument or a result and not of a person. Therefore what you suggest would appear absurd, over here. But it isn't the first time that my world-view clashes with SSK-trained thinking.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


It seems I need to quote from the 1994 paper to show what I have in mind when I say the later work abandoned the spirit of this paper:

"But no matter how many confirming observations we have, any conclusion drawn from them is still an example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Therefore, no general empirical proposition about the natural world can ever be certain. No matter how much data we have, there will always be the possibility that more than one theory can explain the available observations (41) . And there will always remain the prospect that future observations may call the theory into question (42). We are left with the conclusion that we can never verify a scientific hypothesis of any kind. The more complex the hypothesis, the more obvious this conclusion becomes."

No mention of this obviously very relevant statement for the global warming debate is made in MoD.

As to 'your world, over there' I could not agree more. If you think the 1994 paper a good paper you should quote it, no matter what the author later made of it. I also quote the 2004 paper (and MoD) although very critically.

Where is the absurdity, and where is yet another clash with SSK?

hvw said...


I believe your quote from Oreskes that "can never verify a scientific hypothesis of any kind" (and she certainly was not the first one to state this) is commonly accepted by even the most hard-core natural scientists, including climate modellers. It is relevant to the epistemological value of numerical models and to how we weigh the evidence to inform political decisions. In that sense I agree that it is relevant to the climate debate.

However, MoD is in my reading not about the evaluation of the evidence inside the scientific realm. It is about rogue "scientists" who, supported by their formal credentials, try to misrepresent the evidence against better knowledge, who lie to the public and to decision-makers. Singer et al. did not have a serious alternative theory of the risk of smoking, ozone chemistry and global warming, and there was no scientific debate. In short, I think you confuse statements about "our best knowledge today", on which we should base political decisions, with claims to "absolute certainty". So I think the 1994 paper is not really relevant for MoD's central argument.

My incompatibility with SSK is maybe related to what you state is a fundamental principle, i.e. analysing "knowledge claims" disregarding the intrinsic value of the claims. That seems to lead to an equivalence of "knowledge claims" that are totally made up to support some political agenda, and "knowledge claims" that spring mainly from scientific work. Focussing solely on the social determinants of both claims is a classical case of faulty reasoning due to the incorrect treatment of censored data, in my mind.

Where is the absurdity?
Apparently a misunderstanding and we agree for once.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


(Climate) scientists talk a lot about verification and validation. Oreskes 1994 is a paper against such usage, thereby demonstrating that she is opposed against the usage of these terms. However, she defines the terms in a vocabulary from the philosophy of science and not many scientists are familiar with it (or interested in it). In this sense her argument is certainly not based on ‘mainstream science’.

At the end of the paper she makes a link to Cartwright's book How the Laws of Physics Lie. Her caveats are telling:

"The idea of model as representation has led the philosopher Nancy Cartwright to the claim that models are ”a work of fiction” [46]. In her words, “some properties ascribed to objects in the model will be genuine properties of the objects modeled, but others will be merely properties of convenience.” Her account, which is no doubt deliberately provocative, will strike many scientists as absurd, perhaps even offensive. While not necessarily accepting her viewpoint, we might ponder this aspect of it:

A model, like a novel, may resonate with nature, but it is not a ``real'' thing. Like a novel, a model may be convincing--it may ``ring true'' if it is consistent with our experience of the natural world. But just as we may wonder how much the characters in a novel are drawn from real life and how much is artifice, we might ask the same of a model: How much is based on observation and measurement of accessible phenomena, how much is based on informed judgment, and how much is convenience? Fundamentally, the reason for modeling is a lack of full access, either in time or space, to the phenomena of interest. In areas where public policy and public safety are at stake, the burden is on the modeler to demonstrate the degree of correspondence between the model and the material world it seeks to represent and to delineate the limits of that correspondence."

Your claim about the absence of scientific debate on smoking, ozone or climate is plain wrong. By focusing on the 'bad guys' Singer and Seitz MoD avoids the issue (and the term ‘lying’ does not help the case). It's a simple trick bypassing difficult questions which would have arisen if the 1994 paper was taken seriously.

Can you explain what an 'intrinsic value' of a knowledge claim is?

And what are 'censored data'?

I think you misunderstand the SSK approach. It does not focus ‘solely on the social determinants of both claims’. Different authors in SSK acknowledge that there are epistemic elements which are supposed to be true statements about reality, but they are often not enough to settle a debate. Why not? Because their truth status is disputed. It is a mix of ‘observation and measurement of accessible phenomena, … informed judgment, and … convenience’, to quote Cartwright /Oreskes from above.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The first link in the last comment does not work at the moment

eduardo said...


my reading of Cartwright's 'how the laws of physics lie' is that laws of physics, and generally of science, are in the end just phenomenological description of data, just a fit of one type of model to the available data - with no intrinsic predictive power. Physical laws, according t her, do not 'embody' reality as a whole, they just appear to describe the partial reality we are aware of. Once a theory fails in its prediction it is replaced by other theory that may, just by chance, happened to be better this time.

Applied to climate models, one would argue that they describe the observations. When they failed to do so, they are replaced (improved)) by a new version.

This is the contradiction that I see, but it seems that Cartwright changed her mind in the mean time, something that I ignored.

Werner Krauss said...

I agree with hvw that "Merchants of Doubt" is first and foremost about those guys who only recently compared believers in anthropogenic climate change to the UNA bomber. The book gives an insight into the political, economic and scientific background of the network behind these campaigns. As far as I can see, no one doubts or questions these parts of the book, right? Of a book written at the interface of social science and investigative journalism, a genre which has a long tradition in the social sciences / humanities.

We should keep this in mind when discussing Reiner's review, which focuses on the role of science in their argumentation. In my understanding, Reiner follows here Brian Wynne, who criticized in his review of 2010 the prevalent "scientism" in the argumentation of Noreskes and Conway:

"[T]hey miss a crucial point: the ingrained assumption that scientific evidence is the only authority that can justify policy action — scientism — is what renders both policy and its supporting science vulnerable to the dogmatic amplification of doubt."

An argument, which Hans and I took up in Die Klimafalle", where we criticized in detail "the dangerous vicinity of climate science and politics". Oreskes and Conway focused on the "merchants of doubt"; we "investigated" the "merchants of certainty" in our book. These approaches are not necessarily antagonistic; instead, they document a shift away from "scientism" and the resultant climate wars towards a more pragmatic (and ethnographic) approach. It is this process which for me is the most interesting part of the debate.

Furthermore, to facilitate discussion I suggest that books like "The merchant of doubts" or "Die Klimafalle" deserve a review different from peer-review in science. Reiner writes that "The Merchants of doubt" is "extremely well written"; I agree, and I want to add: it is extremely well to think with.

Werner Krauss said...

errrr, grammar: it (the book) is "good (not: well) to think with"

MikeR said...

"I agree with hvw that "Merchants of Doubt" is first and foremost about those guys who only recently compared believers in anthropogenic climate change to the UNA bomber." I still have a problem with this statement. The book is an attempt to replace the actual universe of skeptical thought with one small corner, blown up as if it were the whole. Does anyone really believe that the Heartland Institute is a major player in most of what happens, much less being secretly in charge? Well, someone does: one frequently sees this kind of claim about Oil Money and such made on the AGW websites and by some of the biggest names there. Mann says it a lot.
But it is delusional; this alone is enough to convince me that those people are not in touch with reality. Gleick must have been very disappointed (enough to try to "fix" the story that came to him). As Judith Curry has pointed out many times, the really dangerous and influential skeptics are a few citizen scientists who've done some effective work. McIntyre is the most obvious example, but by now most of us know about Lucia's work, and von Storch though he isn't a skeptic and is a regular scientist, and Curry though she isn't a skeptic, and Nic Lewis, and even Richard Muller, and so forth.

If Oreskes would want to study the National Rifle Association, that's her business. If she would try to give an impression that the conservative movement in the USA is basically run by them, she would deserve to be called out. And there would be a lot more truth to that than saying that the skeptical agenda is driven by oil money.

Karl Kuhn said...


I totally agree with your statement that Oreskes' book takes a biased approach. It may try to give the appearance to be a blend of science and journalism, but using footnotes does not prevent you from producing plain propaganda. Reiner's review is much too polite. It is not the intention of this book to contribute to social science or true journalism, but to smear political opponents.

The trouble is that advertising the idea that scepticism is dangerous is just horrifying for a liberal democracy. Though, preaching scientism it is not even credible when coming from a left-greenie: these folks do not give a dime on facts and science in most other areas holy to them: genetic engineering, homeopathy, economic development etc.

hvw said...


I do not agree with your reading of HtLoPL. In particular I do not agree that she says that physical laws have "no intrinsic predictive power". On the contrary, it seems she argues that just the "phenomenological" (as opposed to "theoretical" or "fundamental") laws really are able to predict something. I think your metaphor of "curve fitting" fails here. I also do not see her arguing that scientific "progress" (if you still could call it that) happens "by chance".

However I find it impossible to summarize in this frame here positively what she means, let alone what that could possibly mean for climate models. I guess in her terminology climate models are 100% "phenomenological" descriptions of nature. She doesn't even "believe in the continuity equation".

But disregarding all that, accepting your reading of Cartwright, I do not see a "contradiction" in Oreskes acknowledging Cartwright, as her piece is compatible with any epistemological stance you may want to take on this issue. Your puzzlement appears as an artefact of persons not fitting the drawers you would like to put them in.

I find it telling that the "sceptical" climate-sociology faction tends to nudge the discussion towards deep philosophical questions that lie on the table, unresolved, since Plato put them there, when in fact the question at hand can be examined by much more worldly considerations, for example the analysis of how and why and when politically relevant scientific results become accepted.

hvw said...

Reiner #15,
(Climate) scientists talk a lot about verification and validation. Oreskes 1994 is a paper against such usage, thereby demonstrating that she is opposed against the usage of these terms. However, she defines the terms in a vocabulary from the philosophy of science and not many scientists are familiar with it (or interested in it). In this sense her argument is certainly not based on ‘mainstream science’.

With "based on mainstream science" I mean that her observations, on which she bases her argument, are 1) observations ofin mainstream science. Her suggestion to drop the terms "validation" and "verification" was not successful, however, the underlying criticism of the application of modelling results has been assimilated into the common norms and practices of environmental modelling (at least in the realms where I happen to look from time to time) to such an extend, that it is often not explicitly mentioned any more but taken as self-evident background condition. An excellent example for this is climate modelling, believe it or not. Just talk to people who struggle with "bias-correction" or "ensemble statistics" or "uncertainty communication" in an attempt to make model results useful for applications.

Your claim about the absence of scientific debate on smoking, ozone or climate is plain wrong
In 1995 Cruzen, Molina, and Rowland received the Nobel Price for their work that showed how sensitive the ozone layer is to the influence of anthropogenic emissions of CFCs. Would we count that as "science is settled", perhaps, please? In the same year, Singer, (together with Baliunas) testified before Congress to the effect that "there is no ozone hole", "there might not be ozone depletion at all", "if there is, it is likely natural variation or the sun", and anyway, it is not clear whether it increases surface UV radiation and if it did there is no proof that that would actually be harmful. No joke! Read for yourself.

A similar pattern is documented for the impacts of second hand smoke (in Merchants if Doubt). And regarding climate change I can't see any serious debate of the statement that "there is anthropogenic global warming". Yet Singer is on record (in 2012) with "The science tells us that there is hardly any evidence for anthropogenic global warming".

All that is also an important part of the argument in MoD. It is about showing that these "sceptics" like to sell their arguments as valid scientific minority opinion, when in fact it is completely made up cargo-science that gets zero recognition from the community outside the little network that has Heartland, Marshall Institute etc. at its center. You seem to support the "minority view" narrative, but if you had found any factual errors in the historical record as reported by Oreskes and Conway, which debunks this claim, your review would have been the place to mention them.


hvw said...

Reiner #15

Can you explain what an 'intrinsic value' of a knowledge claim is?
All he value that derives from its evaluation inside the scientific realm, from the socially constructed norms and conventions that are intended to eliminate subjective bias and to approach some sort of "objective truth" (whether that exists or not), short, from the bulk of the work that scientists actually do and according to the perceived quality of which they give credit and trust to one another. It appears to me that you focus on another, surely also important, dimension relevant to "reconstruct the emergence of a dominant position" and your method is not well adapted to analyze "epistemic elements that are supposed to be true statements about reality". So this data is censored (stupid wording, indeed) from your point of view, and you choose to simply ignore it.

It should not surprise you then, that if you follow the "principle of symmetry", and end up with motivations / determinants of, say, a cluster characterized by "promotion of free-marked ideology", "acquisition of funding", and "media exposure" at the one hand side, and one of "promotion of inter-generational justice", "acquisition of funding", and "media exposure" on the other side, one side will react a bit disgruntled, since they could as well have made stuff up, instead of pulling all-nighters in the lab, to score equally in your analysis.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


Not sure I am much wiser after reading your reply, as I am having difficulty grasping all of it.

In 1995 the ozone debate was scientifically settled and when I refer to controversies I mean the period 1974-1995. In fact, I have written a book on it.
The "two Freds" (Singer and Seitz) make a brief appearance as well, but to give them exclusive attention is a superficial treatment of the problem which focuses on the apparent politics of the case. But both ozone and climate show deeper, more nuanced debates and one expects that a social science /historical treatment would examine these. Oreskes does not do this. She uses an argument based on 'scientism' (thanks to Werner for the link to Brian Wynne's review) to score a point in a political debate.

Climate science is settled in the sense that we have observed warming and that humans have caused some of it. The interesting questions are about the details (How much warming is man made? Why the recent temperature stagnation? How big will future changes be? What should we do about it? Who should have say?) and that's were disagreement pertains -- no matter how many times the 'denial of science' is invoked as the reason for debate.

hvw said...


in 1995 the ozone debate was scientifically settled

So we agree on the history. You just find it not worth documenting how the Freds obviously lie to politics and public about what the science has to say about the question, because such concerns are "scientism", whatever that means.

Your critique boils down to that you had preferred a book about a different subject. Ok, I can live with that.

eduardo said...

@ 22


I do not understand your comment. Physical laws are assumed to have predictive power inasmuch they are deemed to fundamentally and universally represent the world. A phenomenological law just describes the observations, and thus its predictions are just an extrapolation of the observations. The same observations can be represented by two different phenomenological laws which then may yield different predictions. On the other hand, two different phenomenological laws can describe the data equally well. For a phenomenological law the concept of 'truth' does not apply. It is just useful. Two fundamental law of physics, however, cannot yield different predictions. In that case one of them is wrong. One of them can be declared wrong because it violates one of basic principle, e.g. the conservation of energy. For phenomenological laws, this features are not even checked - it is agreed that they are simple ad-hoc descriptions. What Cartwright asserted is that, in the end, all laws of physics are phenomenological - they are not based on first principles- and from this it logically follows that they have no intrinsic predictive power beyond a mere extrapolation. They are not valid beyond the range of observations, whereas a fundamental law is universally applicable . If it is not, then it is wrong.

She may have been wrong or right , and I tend to think that she is more right than wrong. However, it is a quite anti-scientific message, which does not square with blind reliance on climate models as instruments for predictions.

MikeR said...

@hvw "Your critique boils down to that you had preferred a book about a different subject." No, the critique is that the authors pretended they were writing about one subject when they were actually writing about another.
a) Are there political operatives acting in denial of AGW, pretending to be describing scientific work? Yes
b) Are there political operatives acting in support of AGW, pretending to be describing scientific work? Yes
c) Are there real scientists doing serious work in support of AGW? Yes
d) Are there real scientists doing serious work skeptical of AGW? Yes
I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to deny the existence of people in each of these categories.

But someone writes a book ignoring b and d, trying to paint a certain picture.
Those who read the climategate emails will know that this was a conscious attempt behind the scenes, by a certain group of AGW supporters.

"one side will react a bit disgruntled, since they could as well have made stuff up, instead of pulling all-nighters in the lab, to score equally in your analysis." That is, one side is doing "all-nighters in the lab" (type c), the other side are "making stuff up) (type a)
In other words, you agree with the book - a and c are all there is. No wonder you think the book is doing a reasonable job.

I see this attitude all the time on AGW-supporting sites and/or comments by supporters anywhere - anyone not supporting the Consensus is by definition a denier, not a real scientist. Judy Curry has been pigeonholed that way; one sees comments constantly about her being a denier. I just came across a bunch yesterday at a perfectly good website about Arctic sea ice, including by the blog author:
The fact that she wrote a paper (peer-reviewed) was enough to annoy pretty much everyone there.

[Rob Wilson has apparently just done that to himself as well. (See Mann's twitters in the comments, Tamsin's response, etc.)] Goodbye, Rob.

hvw said...

Hi Eduardo,

In my understanding (might be wrong, but I don't have anything else), your ideas of "phenomenological law" and "fundamental law" is different from that of Cartwright. You write:

For a phenomenological law the concept of 'truth' does not apply. It is just useful.

Cartwright has it just the other way round:

But fundamental equations are meant to explain, and paradoxically enough the cost of explanatory power is descriptive adequacy. Really powerful explanatory laws of the sort found in theoretical physics do not state the truth.

For her, fundamental physical laws are not true. They are just useful.

What Cartwright asserted is that, in the end, all laws of physics are phenomenological
More precisely, she says that all true, that is "descriptively adequate", laws are of the phenomenological sort.

The same observations can be represented by two different phenomenological laws which then may yield different predictions....Two fundamental law of physics, however, cannot yield different predictions. In that case one of them is wrong.

If we assume that just one of two different predictions can be right, then one of the two phenomenological laws in your example also must be wrong, no? A corollary from your interpretation of Cartwright seems to be that (in her world) prediction is in principle not possible? I don't think that that is defendable. Anyway, these thing are more fruitfully and enjoyably discussed in a pub, rather than on a blog.

However, it is a quite anti-scientific message, which does not square with blind reliance on climate models as instruments for predictions.

Sorry, Eduardo, I think this is quite a stupid statement: 1) She is anti-realist with a twist. To describe that as "anti-scientific" is much worse than "not helpful" in my mind. 2) What on earth, for heavens sake, "squares with blind reliance on climate models as instruments for predictions" ???

No climate scientist I ever encountered showed signs of "blind reliance on climate models as instruments for predictions". As you might be well aware there is quite some discussion - in the science, and for sure including the most hard-boiled scientific realists - about the predictive use of climate models. Or better, hand-wringing, desperate activities to find out how the sorry and unsatisfying predictive power can be communicated to the decision makers while keeping the shreds of applicable and useful information that might be delivered by climate models. And it is worth noting that this discussion (it is mostly about decadal scale, high.res. modelling which has enormous problems to deliver robust essential information for adaption policies) happens without the "sceptics"[1]. Those are busy attacking pretty much the only robust result we actually have. They are attacking the reality of AGW because that result suggests policy measures (mitigation) their paymasters don't like. They are not interested at all in useful and application relevant assessment and communication of uncertainties.

[1] by "sceptics" I mean the sort the book is about, Singer, Lüdecke, and so on.

Karl Kuhn said...


Your last paragraph just reveals how you would love to keep the hand-wringing discussion about the problems of climate models behind closed doors.

Singer and Lüdecke are fringe figures, and Seitz is dead. You are fighting strawmen. The serious and influential sceptics are seldmoly mentioned.

JamesG said...

I'm wondering what "pretty much the only robust result we actually have" is. The only scientific underpinning for manmade warming distinct from natural warming was based on models which could not represent the 20th century temperatures without adding manmade warming. Inherent was the assumption of declining natural variation.

Now that the pause has belatedly been recognised as a natural variation that just wasn't expected, the models cannot back up the claims of higher sensitivities.

We are left with a fairly benign warming of 1 degree from a CO2 doubling based on 1 dimensional calculation. Is that 1 degree, the robust result mentioned? Or should we all continue to believe in higher numbers because a lot of people yet fail to admit that nature already disproved it or because their "gut feeling" tell them so?

Notice, by the way, that Oreskes is clearly a conspiracy theorist.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Eduardo, hvw

It seems to me that your dialogue has direct relevance to the thread about humanities and sciences (Wozu braucht die Klimaforschung die Geisteswissenschaften?). Perhaps we could continue the discussion over there, or open a new thread with the more specific topic about the relation between philosophy of science and science.

Anonymous said...

So what contribution to climate change RESEARCH (Klimaforschung) does this debate here make - in two or three sentences? Just curious...

Ronan said...

Your book review is an excellent, and much-needed, critique of Oreskes & Conway's book. To be honest, ihre Argumentation hat mehr Löcher als ein Apfelstrudel. So, I'm constantly amazed at how readily their claim is accepted without question.

My interest in their book is mainly on their section on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), because I have seen several people use it as an excuse for refusing to consider the views of climate sceptics.
Myself, I find their implication that Singer, Seitz, Nierenberg and Jastrow were (are???) singlehandedly responsible for the entire climate sceptic movement utterly bizarre... particularly since three of them have been dead for several years. If that were true then what would it say about the robustness of the pro-AGW side that 3 dead guys and an 80-something year old physicist are all that is needed to counter the alleged "97% of climate scientists who agree that ... blah blah blah..."?

Having said that, I actually find the numerous logical inconsistencies in their arguments very amusing, so I got some entertainment out of reading the book...
1. We should listen to the geologist, Roger Revelle, because he was the director of the Scripps Institution from 1950-1964. ... But, we should ignore the director of the Scripps Institution Bill Nierenberg from 1965-1986, because he was a physicist???
2. We should listen to physicist James Hansen, because we was the director of the NASA Goddard Institute from 1981-2013... But, we should ignore Robert Jastrow, the founding director of the NASA Goddard Institute from 1961-1981, because he was a physicist?
3. We should listen to the MIT meteorologist, Jule Charney, because he said we should be worried about AGW... But, we should ignore the MIT meteorologist, Richard Lindzen, because he says we shouldn't be that worried about AGW???
4. We should be shocked that Pat Michaels, was "... presented as an expert who somehow knew more than all the scientists working within the IPCC umbrella"... even though, as a former IPCC climate scientist, he was part of that "umbrella"???
Are they saying that "the IPCC" as a collective knows far more than the individuals which actually make up the IPCC? Why? Because of the "rigorous" review process involved? If so, then are they not worried about that process when they find out that Michaels "...complained in the hearing that while he'd made many critical comments on the various chapters of the IPCC report, his comments on the various chapters of the IPCC report, his comments had been ignored, resulting 'in not one discernable change in the text of the IPCC drafts'"?

(to be continued)...

Ronan said...

(part 1/2)
5. The emphasis on Santer's "fingerprint" study in the 1995 IPCC report was partly justified by Oreskes & Conway because Santer got the idea for doing the study from Klaus Hasselmann, who was "a physicist who spent much of his spare time working on unification theory" (my emphasis) ... But, weren't Oreskes & Conway supposed to be telling us that physicists don't know enough about climate to have valid opinons???
6. The other main justification they give for the Santer et al. study being "fact" is that they were looking at the vertical structure of temperature. This was important to Oreskes & Conway because "V. Ramanathan, a prominent atmospheric scientist, had suggested (it)". But, if looking at the vertical structure of temperature is as key to AGW theory as Oreskes & Conway imply, why don't they bother mentioning the ongoing debate about whether or not the tropical tropopause has a "missing hot spot"?
7. Indeed, throughout the book they criticise Singer and the others for carrying out much of their correspondence in the media, rather than in the peer reviewed literature. It is true that Singer hasn't published many peer reviewed papers in the last few years (nor have the other three guys... perhaps because they are dead???). But, most of Singer's recent peer reviewed papers are on the "hot spot" debate, e.g., Douglass et al., 2007 - a paper specifically responding to the work of Santer et al. Why didn't Oreskes & Conway mention that?
Indeed, since they're so interested in the sociology behind climate science, why didn't they interview Douglass or any of the others arguing that there is a missing hot spot. There's an interesting essay by Douglass & Christy about the Douglass et al. vs. Santer et al. controversy in this American Thinker essay from December 2009. Admittedly, the essay was only written a short while before the 1st edition of Oreskes & Conway's book, so maybe they didn't know about it. But, surely as historians they would have made an effort to find other views on the Santer study...

8. Finally, they imply we shouldn't listen to Hugh Ellsaesser when he criticised the emphasis of Santer's study in the 2nd IPCC report, because Ellsaesser was only a retired geophysicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory... unlike Santer who was a newcomer to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory??? Are Oreskes & Conway saying that youth is more important than experience when it comes to scientific opinions?

Do they not see the contradictions?

- Ronan

Ronan said...

Another problem I have with their book:
Since their claims are attempts to describe and explain the long-term personal beliefs, motivations and effect the fundamental personality and character of each of the men, their book is in effect an attempt at biography.
In writing a biography, the top priority is usually obtaining an interview with the subject, as well as friends, families and acquaintances of the subject – indeed anybody who would be familiar with the subjects’ character. Since three of the four men are deceased, they obviously were not interviewed.
However, I couldn't find any evidence of the authors having interviewed either Singer (who is of course still alive, and recently published the latest "NIPCC" report in response to the 5th IPCC report), or anybody who personally knew the other three.

Indeed, in response to the book, the George C. Marshall Institute issued a strong criticism of the book (see here).
They report that:
“In describing the Institute and its positions on global warming, Oreskes-Conway never talked with the Chairman of its Board, its CEO, its current President, Board members, past Executive Directors, nor apparently anyone who could shed first-hand light on the personalities and motivations of Seitz, Jastrow, or Nierenberg. And yet they write as if they are intimately familiar with the institutional and individual motivations.”

They conclude that
Merchants of Doubt is long on innuendo and short on evidence or compelling logic. It fits well with Mark Twain’s classic observation about the gathering of [sic] facts and then distorting them as the gatherer desires.”
Surely Oreskes & Conway should have talked to at least some of those guys?

In fact, Oreskes & Conway seem to have done such a poor job in trying to interview the friends and relatives of their apparent villains that Nierenberg’s son, Nicholas, only became aware of Oreskes after stumbling upon her description of his father’s activities to US Congress! After researching her analysis, he believes that she has been completely distorting and misrepresenting his father’s actions. See his website for more details on his perspective on his father's views.

Whether or not Nicholas is correct in his views on his father, since the premise of Oreskes & Conway's book is that his father represents 1/4 of their "merchants of doubt" team, I think they had a strong obligation to at least interview him. As well as any other family and acquaintances of their Merchants of Doubt they could find... and at least making an effort to contact Singer.

Presumably, if they'd tried and failed to contact Singer, they'd have said something like "Singer was contacted, but declined to comment" or something like that? I couldn't find any reference along those lines, though maybe I missed it. Did anyone else find one?