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It's pretty obvious from context that the whole point of "Mike's Nature Trick" was deception. Temperatures inferred from tree ring proxy data have diverged strongly from the actual temperature record in recent years. But if you show this you then have the problem of explaining why treemometers were accurate a thousand years ago, but no longer are.

"It still seems to me that if we don't act now and the worst case is right, we may not have another chance."

You could look at it that way. You could also look at it in the way that ice ages are the normal condition of the planet on geologic time, and ice ages will kill many more people than the brief interglacial periods ever could, so we should do everything in our power to avoid that. That's at least as plausible as postulating that CO2 concentrations that are a small fraction of what they were only a few million years ago, will somehow this time cause runaway heating, unlike the many other times in the planet's history where it didn't.

Excellent article!

Well written commentary on a difficult subject, Diandra. You are right that being uncomfortable with the advocacy role for scientists isn't the same as denying the reality and urgency of climate change. If you like the L.A. Times op-ed, you might want to look at The Honest Broker, by their associate Roger Pielke, Jr. (which I reviewed here).

You should be aware, though, that emphasizing the uncertainties of climate change has been a deliberate strategy of corporate-funded organizations for quite a while, as documented in Climate Cover-Up (which I reviewed here). There are also many smart skeptics who have not reaped any financial gain, but they tend to highlight the same issues, and to regard any uncertainty as a reason for inaction rather than panic.

One of those issues is the "hockey stick." As skip's comment accurately points out, "Mike's Nature Trick" was clearly intended to mislead people by hiding the embarassing failure of tree rings to reproduce the recent rise in temperature. If the tree rings are not reliable, perhaps we haven't yet achieved the highest temperature in a millennium, but merely adopted the emissions and policies that will insure we soon will.

Love your article, Diandra. I'm glad to see someone pointing out the terminology of science has distinct differences in connotation than other everyday uses. And while I agree with the gist of your article, I have a quibble with the conclusion. Would you also apply the logic of Pascal's Wager to a potential asteroid strike? How about the potential eruption of a super-volcano? Either of these would be far more catastrophic to civilization and human life than AGW (ACC?) and perhaps as likely. What criteria would you use to determine where to apply scarce resources with the aim of preventing future catastrophes?

I'm curious: How well does the temperature plot correlate with the production of oil over the last few decades?

Thank you for addressing this. I was beginning to wonder about the deafening silence from Cocktail Party Physics on this issue. I rely on your site for a concise explanation of current topics in science on a regular basis. You have more than redeemed your blog. The "reluctance" on the part of Jones to release data was particularly troubling. The email in which Jones said he would rather destroy the raw data than release it under Britain's equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act seemed particularly extreme. One has to suspect that the raw data and analysis would not stand up to scrutiny. The "Trick" that is mentioned in emails seems to be a way of mixing data sets that should not be mixed. If tree ring temperature data and thermometer data diverge then that should be brought to light and explained, not obscured by mixing data sets. On the subject of funding, it seems that in climate research that if a scientist is funded by industry then that reserch suspect. This tendency does not appear to this extent in other fields. Much research in Physics, Biology, Medicine and Chemistry is conducted and published that is not subject to this criticism.

Great treatment of the issue, artfully expanded to discuss science, academia, and the human condition. I also find the "all intelligent people find this obvious" attitude off-putting and really appreciate you naming it. The penchant of academics (in certain fields at least, including mine--marine biology) to assume political agreement from their colleagues, rather than respectfully inquiring about their views, really irks me.

I enjoyed your article and I appreciate your willingness, unlike many AGW adherents, to acknowledge the uncertainty and complexity.

You're conclusion ("You might as well believe in climate change because if we are in a natural cycle and the temperatures come back down, we're out money. If it's not a natural cycle and we do nothing, we're pretty much screwed.") is where the discussion should focus. There should be some cleared eyed focus on how much money we're out and more importantly who are winners and losers in the money exchange. Nobody seems to want to talk about that. "Money" in this context is not only currency but opportunity costs, e.g., how many will remain in a sub-standard of living with its impacts on health and well-being in exchange for what level of climate change avoidance?

You dance around it, but don't seem able to state unequivocally what any good scientist should hold: that publicly-funded science, upon which immense public disruption is proposed, should always be publicly and contemporaneously shared, so that it can be replicated and tested. If CERN can do it, so can the high priesthood of AGW. If you believed that, you could have said so, and saved yourself a lot of inconsequential speculation about Phil Jones' motives and whether, and to what extent, he or his colleagues were justified in refusing to share their work. (And if you don't believe this work should have been posted online from the outset, why not?) This whole "scientists are just human" thing is a diversion - if scientists WEREN'T human, they wouldn't need the Scientific Method to keep them honest. You don't seem to understand that the scientific method, and the deep wisdom it embodies, evolved to deal precisely with the human fallibility of its practitioners. It was evolved by scientists painfully, but honestly, aware of their own frailty, and determined to surmount it in the only way they could see how - by making it irrelevant. The conventions of peer review are essential to this method, and the Hockey Team flouted them.

You quote: "both sides of the climate debate continue to claim political authority..." –

No they don't. This implies the mistake made by so many climate alarmists (and too many sceptics) - that it is the job of sceptics to present counter-theories to their own. It is not. What matters is whether AGW theory survives proper scrutiny, not whether those scrutinising it can do any better. It is up to the proponents of AGW to present their theories in the form of falsifiable argument. The Climategate emails and code reveal the excruciating efforts of the high priesthood of AGW to do just that, their continuing failure, and the lengths to which they did or were prepared to go to conceal their work, with all its inadequacies, from proper peer review. How you can have read this litany and failed to make the adverse inference that they were hiding their work because it was faulty and they knew it, beats me.

And as far as the scientific laiety is concerned - the "uneducated masses" in Briffa's supercilious words - they were told for a couple of decades that they were getting the results of peer-reviewed "computer models". The more the Hockey Team and their many apologists try to defend their alchemy and the agonies of Harry the "data manipulator", the more they are realising that they were in fact getting "computer-plus-man-with-keyboard-and-an-outcome-in-mind" models. They will draw the adverse inference, that the models lack skill, and they will be right to do so.

Yet with all this you can't let go of the irrational belief that we must, somehow, be doing something wrong to the planet. "You might as well believe in climate change because if we are in a natural cycle and the temperatures come back down, we're out money. If it's not a natural cycle and we do nothing, we're pretty much screwed." The precautionary principle - there are others better able to demolish this dangerous furphy than I, and I see one of your contributors has made a start. But if you're interested in a good analysis of "Big Scary Predictions That Haven't Yet Happened" (including such worthy predecessors to AGW as Eugenics and the appalling Al Gore's earler messianic folly, DDT), and of what happens when governments take "precautions" (i.e. spend taxpayers money and interfere with people's habits), see - it's not encouraging.

Science- by definition- is the adoption of the theoretical framework that best predicts future observations and explains past ones. "Refutation" doesn't really count for much. A good example is the situation of Gravity at the end of the 19th century.

In the late 19th century, it was known that Newtonian mechanics did not correctly explain the orbit of Mercury. This did not mean that Newtonian mechanics were thrown out and ignorance reigned.

Ignorance has zero explanatory power, and therefore any theory with any explaatory power whatsoever is better. Newtonian gravity still worked quite well in most 19th century applications. In fact, it was the best theory anyone had, so they kept using it.

Eventually, Einstein came up with a better system, which was promptly ignored for a decade until Eddington managed to experimentally test it and demonstrate that it had greater explanatory power for the behavior of gravity close to the sun.

Nobody- except perhaps their creators, thinks that General Circulation Models are perfect. But science doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be better than the competition. And GCM's explain the last 40 years of climate better than any competing model, so they are the predictive tool of choice until someone invents something better.

That is why scientists say that poking holes is not constructive science. People knew that Mercury's orbit was fishy for 60 years, but until a better theory of gravity was developed, they used the flawed, discredited, falsified newtonian gravity anyway, because it was still the best available model.

You are so my hero right now!! I have been searching in my negligible free time for a discussion such as this. And in my search, I have been heckled as a 'denier' or a 'liberal' simply for asking questions. Thank you so very much for your critical thought and discussion!!

Also, love the links and any biblio info. They are spectacular.

Ignorance has zero explanatory power, and therefore any theory with any explaatory power whatsoever is better. Newtonian gravity still worked quite well in most 19th century applications . In fact, it was the best theory anyone had, so they kept using it.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.