Pseudoscience in the service of policy

This week has been an education–reviewing the work of Naomi Oreskes, Anderegg, Prall et al, John Cook et al and Stephan Lewandowsky.

Death of science

Short version–some people who were (mostly) not scientists and certainly don’t know how to do research properly conducted a series of studies that had foregone conclusions supporting their position on climate policy. For Prall, Cook and Lewandowsky the foregone nature of the conclusions was explicit–they wrote on various websites that they were conducting the studies with a predetermined end. For Oreskes it was implicit, but easy to see, as she structured her research carefully, not to show the breadth of opinion on climate change, but rather to conceal it.

I guess I should address Stephan’s potential concerns first–no, I don’t see a conspiracy in the work I’ve reviewed, even though there is a web of mutual citations in the work involved and collaboration between some of the principals.

Oreskes, the ‘purest’ scientist in the bunch, wrote the original paper (Beyond the Ivory Tower) and it served as a template (and was cited as such) for those who came after.

Her ‘original sin’ was one that has destroyed a lot of research studies unintentionally–sample bias. The literature search on which her work was based omitted relevant studies from skeptics. I say that was intentional, but that’s just my opinion. It was a trivial exercise to find numerous studies by skeptics that would have drastically changed her results. My opinion is she knew those studies were there and carefully crafted a keyword search string that would exclude them.

Anderegg, Prall et al were much sloppier and in addition to sample bias made numerous errors in data collection, analysis and other methodological choices. Their study is garbage. The same is true for Cook et al–their 97% consensus claim is utter nonsense. And when Lewandowsky tried to do in primary research what the others did with secondary research, he only introduced a new class of childish mistakes. I have worked in market research for more than 20 years and I’ve made my share of mistakes. I recognize their mistakes. The difference between these amateurs and professionals is that when professionals make mistakes they admit them and work to correct them. This crew just doubled down on their claims and hoped that nobody would dig very deeply. But when I use words like garbage and nonsense, I am not exaggerating. The quality of work that went into these studies is so bad that if anything I’m understating things.

After Climategate, the actions of those supporting the consensus have been increasingly frantic and in most cases, inept. When the marketing departments of NGOs create flawed iconography of polar bears under threat, videos of people blowing up skeptics and trash treasured archeological sites, it’s easy to dismiss these as the mistaken work of people who have adopted a religion, rather than scientific findings.

But when trash is put before the scientific community as the alleged results of research conducted within the norms of science, it is something else, something much worse. It not only damages the effort to understand how our climate is changing and what we should do about it. It damages science.

Numerous studies have shown a very real tendency for studies to be irreplicable and unreproducible. Fraud has been found as well as mistakes.

Climate change is important and will affect the lives of our children. But science is more important and trashing science to win a policy fight over climate change has the potential to do more damage to the human race than any changes we cause to the climate.


14 responses to “Pseudoscience in the service of policy

  1. Thanks, Tom. I am glad you have returned to blogging.

    Your series of posts on these “surveys” needs to be widely distributed. Well meaning people who care about the enviornment actually believe the propaganda is truth.

    I agree that conspiracy is not at issue, but deception and dishonesty are accurate descriptions.

  2. Making a lot of hay on these surveys is really partisanship wrapped up in a different package. Highlighting your less than gifted opponents is a common technique. Look what Sen. Cruz or Inhofe just said! The response from everyone should have been to ignore the crazy people.

    Of course when it is your opponents who highlight these crazy people to support there cause, then open season it shall be.

    • I would love to see a debate of any sort between skeptics and alarmists, but wouldn’t it be really great to see the best of each side presented without the clutter of inferior argumentation used as both shield and sword?

    • @Tom Scharf “… less than gifted opponents …”

      Are you referring to Naomi Oreskes Professor at Harvard, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky Professor at Bristol University, UK, John Cook, Fellow at University of Queensland and Anderegg, Princeton Fellow at Princeton University.

      But – Professors and Fellows at those prestigious Universities are supposed to be gifted. Instead, we find them biased and useless.

      Oreskes, at least, has lowered her standard of work over the years. I can’r even cope with reading Lewandowsky’s social science because his assumptions have no rational argument and misuses statistics alarmingly badly. While Cook continually fails support his assertions with any evidence.

  3. Update on bet
    2000 40 2001 52 2002 60 2003 59 2004 51
    2005 65 2006 59 2007 62 2008 49 2009 59

    2010 66 2011 55 2012 57 2013 60 2014 68

    The running differences are +26 +29 +26 +27 +44
    So you are running .31 ahead of the .75, meaning the new cutoff is .21C of warming for 2015-2019 vs 2005-2009, a decent lukewarmer bet, and still a reasonable bet for an alarmist. The average has to over .80 for the next 5 years.

    Comparing to the coldest years, you have +26, +6 +6 +8 and +9 for .55
    with the remaining years of 59,59,60,62 and 65 to be beaten by .19.

    Note only two years out of the five have been .15 warmer than 10 years prior, with only 2018 a very likely candidate going forward.

  4. Excellent essay, Tom. I do wish to ask for clarification of a term in this. For many years, the chosen name for what the climate crisis community was so concerned about was “global warming”. Everyone could intuit what that term meant. Now the concern has been re-branded as “climate change”. For me that term is as meaningful as “wet water” or “windy wind”. Climate always changes- past present and future. Some changes, per the credible histories, have been far quicker than what we are experiencing now.
    Please show me an actual definition of the current branding efforts of this amazing community.

    • I thought we had moved on from climate change to the more dramatic ‘climate disruption.’ Did I miss something?

      • Just like it’s taken Carl’s Jr some time to phase out their Six Dollar Burger in favor of the Thickburger, it will take the ADW/CC activists a bit of time to complete the transition to “Climate Disruption.” Rebranding isn’t instantaneous. Yet.

  5. Pingback: Week in review | Climate Etc.

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