Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.

Settings

Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup

Settings


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Donate

Twitter Facebook YouTube Pinterest

RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe


Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...



Username
Password
Keep me logged in
New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts

Archives

Bob Carter's Financial Post Gish Gallop of Scientific Denial

Posted on 29 May 2012 by dana1981

Climate contrarians often exhibit what we have described as the 5 characteristics of scientific denialism.  These characteristics involve various ways in which people will deny scientific reality by rejecting and misrepresenting data and evidence.  These characterisitcs are often exhibited in the form of a Gish Gallop, which describes the technique of repeating a large number of incorrect or misleading statements in such a short amount of time that it becomes difficult to refute them all.

Bob Carter has recently gotten such a Gish Gallop article published in the Canadian Financial Post, which was uncritically re-posted by the usual climate denial enablers.   In this relatively short article, Carter manages to toss out nearly a dozen climate myths and tick off three of the five scientific denialism characteristics.

Bob Carter: Fake Climate Expert

The first characteristic of scientific denialism Carter checks off is that of Fake Experts:

"These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge."

In this article, Carter peppers out one wholly unsubstantiated claim after another.  We'll look at the accuracy of these claims below (suffice it to say most of Carter's assertions are false), but just as importantly, Carter makes no effort to support his assertions.  The article contains no references, no links, just seemingly factual statements which the reader is expected to believe, presumably because Carter is a climate expert.  In fact, the article closes by giving Carter's supposed qualifications:

Bob Carter, a paleoclimatologist at James Cook University, Australia, and a chief science advisor for the International Climate Science Coalition, is in Canada on a 10-day tour...

Carter's article deals with climate science and economics, so being a paleoclimatologist would certainly make him a credible speaker on the science - if it were true.  However, Carter has published very few climate-related papers.  His only climate science publication in the past 7 years is McLean et al. (2009), on which Carter was listed as the third of three authors, which made assertions not supported by its scientific evidence and was immediately refuted by Foster et al. (2010), and was the basis of one of the worst global temperature predictions in history.

Bob Carter has a long and distinguished scientific career - in marine geology.  He is a marine geologist, not a paleoclimatologist.  Normally we don't place very much emphasis on a person's background because the content and accuracy of their comments are what matters, and that is true of Carter's article as well (whose content we will address below).  However, in this case Carter has asked the Financial Post readers to believe him by posing as a fake expert, claiming credentials which he has not earned.  And citing fake experts is a classic characteristic of scientific denialism.  Carter has perhaps taken this to the extreme by himself playing the role of the fake expert.

Misrepresentations and Logical Fallacies

Another characteristic of scientific denialism involves misrepresentations and logical fallacies, and Carter's article has both in spades.

"Over the last 18 months, policymakers in Canada, the U.S. and Japan have quietly abandoned the illusory goal of preventing global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, an alternative view has emerged regarding the most cost-effective way in which to deal with the undoubted hazards of climate change.

This view points toward setting a policy of preparation for, and adaptation to, climatic events and change as they occur, which is distinctly different from the former emphasis given by most Western parliaments to the mitigation of global warming by curbing carbon dioxide emissions."

Here Carter starts out with a glaring logical fallacy, assuming that the failure to pass greenhouse gas emissions reduction legislation in these 3 countries means they must have decided that adapting to the consequences of climate change is more cost-effective.  This is pure fiction. 

In the USA there is currently a major divide between the two major political parties regarding climate change, and the lack of climate legislation is a consequence of that divide, not a result of climate adaption becoming cheaper than mitigation.  Similarly the current Canadian government is a conservative one which still speaks about the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite its failure to take serious actions to accomplish that goal. 

In fact, at the same time as Carter's article was published, all 3 nations were participating in the Bonn Climate Change Conference, attempting to negotiate agreements to reduce emissions.  All 3 nations have agreed to a goal (limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels) which cannot be achieved without major emissions cuts.  The USA has implemented regulations on CO2 emissions and new fuel efficiency standards, not to mention individual state legislation (like California's carbon cap and trade system).  Canada and Japan have also implemented various energy efficiency policies.

These policymakers have not suddenly decided that adaption is the cheaper option, because that's simply not the reality of the situation.  Economic studies consistently show that mitigation is several times more cost-effective than adaption (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Approximate costs of climate action (green) and inaction (red) in 2100 and 2200. Sources: German Institute for Economic Research and Watkiss et al. 2005

Bob Carter has not given us any reason to believe otherwise.  He has simply asserted that because policymakers have failed to reduce emissions, they must believe that adaption is cheaper.  This logical fallacy is Carter's second characteristic of scientific denial.

Radios-Own Goal

Carter proceeds to try and convince his readers that the planet hasn't even warmed significantly.  He approaches this argument by first attempting to pooh-pooh the surface temperature record, as climate contrarians so often do, and then proceeding to claim the satellites show no significant warming.  In the process, Carter scores a major 'own goal'.

"For many different reasons, which include various types of bias, error and unaccounted-for artifacts, the thermometer record provides only an indicative history of average global temperature over the last 150 years."

As Skeptical Science readers are undoubtedly aware (since we have to refute this particular myth quite frequently), the accuracy of the surface temperature record has been confirmed time and time again (i.e. Peterson et al. 2003, Menne et al. 2010, Fall et al. 2011 [which includes Anthony Watts as a co-author!], Muller et al. 2011 [the BEST project], etc.). Carter's claim that the record only provides "an indicative history" of actual temperature changes is entirely without merit, and of course as with all his assertions, is entirely unsupported.

"The 1979-2011 satellite MSU (Microwave Sounding Units) record is our only acceptably accurate estimate of average global temperature, yet being but 32 years in length it represents just one climate data point. The second most reliable estimate of global temperature, collected by radiosondes on weather balloons, extends back to 1958, and the portion that overlaps with the MSU record matches it well.

Taken together, these two temperature records indicate that no significant warming trend has occurred since 1958..."

This gross misrepresentation of the radiosonde record (misrepresentation being another of those pesky characteristics of scientific denial) is where Carter scores an own goal.  While there is no basis to the claim that the radiosonde record (instruments on weather balloons) is more reliable than the surface temperature record, more importantly, the radiosonde record actually shows more warming than the surface record (Figure 2).

noaa radiosonde vs. surface

Figure 2: NOAA RATPAC radiosonde temperatures (red) and surface temperatures (black)

Carter's argument amounts to 'you shouldn't trust the warming in the surface temperature record, you should trust the radiosonde record', yet the radiosonde record shows even more warming.  However, to realize this, Carter's audience would have to fact check him and look up the data themselves, as we have.  Perhaps Carter was banking on the financial newspaper and climate denialist blog readers not bothering to fact check the claims of a "paleoclimatologist."

Note also that Carter has cherrypicked lower atmosphere temperatures, whereas the vast majority of global warming (about 90%) goes into heating the oceans, which continue to accumulate energy at a rapid rate.

Step Dysfunctions

Next up, Carter misrepresents the temperature data once again.

"...both [radiosondes and satellites] exhibit a 0.2C step increase in average global temperature across the strong 1998 El Niño."

We'll leave this one to our readers - does the red data in Figure 2 look like a step change occurred in 1998?  Or is Carter perhaps confusing a linear warming trend plus random noise and natural cycles with a 'step function'?

Cherry Sun

Carter proceeds to illustrate a third characteristic of scientific denial, cherrypicking.

"In addition, the recently quiet Sun, and the lack of warming over at least the last 15 years — and that despite a 10% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide level, which represents 34% of all post-industrial emissions — indicates that the alarmist global warming hypothesis is wrong and that cooling may be the greatest climate hazard over coming decades."

Here Carter cherrypicks the low solar activity of the past decade, blaming it for the dampened surface warming, while ignoring that temperatures and solar activity have not been remotely correlated for the past 40 years (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Global surface temperature (red, NASA GISS) and total solar irradiance (blue, 1880 to 1978 from Solanki, 1979 to 2009 from PMOD).

For the nitpickers amongst us, we should also note that the CO2 increase over the past 15 years (29 parts per million by volume [ppmv]) is only 26% of the increase since pre-industrial times (approximately 112 ppmv), not 34%, as Carter asserts.  However, arithmetic errors are the least of Carter's problems in this article.

'Paleoclimatologist' Unfamiliar with Paleoclimate Data

Carter proceeds to misrepresent the paleoclimate record.

"...numerous high-quality paleoclimate records, and especially those from ice cores and deep-sea mud cores, demonstrate that no unusual or untoward changes in climate occurred in the 20th and early 21st century."

The Hockey League disagrees, including Figure 4.  There is also a new hockey stick from Australia (Gergis et al. 2012), where Carter resides.

 

Figure 4: Various northern hemisphere temperature reconstructions (Mann et al 2008).

Anthropogenic Denial

Next up, Carter misrepresents the body of climate change attribution research.

"...no compelling empirical evidence yet exists for a measurable, let alone worrisome, human impact on global temperature."

Aside from the physical science which allows us to quantify the human impact on global temperature, there are the many different empirically observed 'fingerprints' of anthropogenic warming (Figure 5).  And let's not forget the many different peer-reviewed global warming attribution studies (Figure 6).

fingerprints

Figure 5: Human-caused global warming 'fingerprints'

HvA 50 years

Figure 6: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

Fingers Crossed

Carter ends like Lindzen, crossing his fingers and hoping we can adapt to the consequences of climate change.

"...a policy of adaptation is also strongly precautionary against any (possibly dangerous) human-caused climate trends that might emerge in the future."

Adaption is not precautionary, it's reactionary.  A precautionary policy would involve efforts to prevent dangerously rapid climate change from happening by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carter's Unscientific Approach

Although Carter's article may seem convincing to his intended audience, it is not because his arguments are at all factually correct, but instead because he has employed a Gish Gallop of scientific denial characteristics.  However, this is clearly not an appropriate approach for a scientist speaking to the general public through the mainstream media.  A scientist should always support his claims and ensure that they are factually accurate.  And this is certainly not Carter's first such Gish Gallop - the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) previously debunked another of Carter's articles here, and Skeptical Science has examined several others here.

If Bob Carter wants to influence the climate discussion, we believe he should subject his arguments to peer-reviewed scrutiny, rather than cobbling together Gish Gallops of scientific denial and misrepresentations for the finiancial media and denialist blogs.

0 0

Bookmark and Share Printable Version  |  Link to this page

Comments

Comments 1 to 41:

  1. [snip]
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [KC] Please no accusations of deception, whatever the source. The rest of your comment may have overstepped the ad-hominem criterion, although a more experienced moderator may overrule me on that.
  2. This time around, Carter's Gish Gallop does not include some of his stronger claims from some 1y ago: e.g."CO2 is elixir of life, and the base of most of the food chains on our planet". At least I don't see that in this article.

    Does it mean that Carter softened his stance or climbed couple of rungs on the ladder of denial (as Mike Mann would say) comparing to that summary?
    0 0
  3. I strongly object to characterizing Bob Carter as a fake climate expert. The field of paleoclimate is rather wide and much of the IODP research (International Ocean Drilling Program), where Bob Carter has been involved and published (eg. Carter 2005, Land et al. 2010), can very well be included. In my opinion he is perfectly entitled to call himself a peloclimatologist and even if you prefer a stricter definition it is still highly unfair to call him a fake expert. That of course makes it worse that he is arguing such nonsense.
    0 0
  4. Geologist... An "expert" would suggest someone has specific expertise in the field, someone who can impart accurate information. Carter makes so many incredibly elemental errors in regards to climate change it is a stretch to call him an expert. Carter is a stratigrapher and a mining expert, but with regards to climate, I would suggest, he is less informed than a large number of readers of SkS and therefore not an expert.

    Carter can call himself whatever he likes. He can call himself the Queen of England if he likes, but that doesn't make it so.
    0 0
  5. Geologist - while Carter has a couple of papers related to paleoclimate, he is certainly not a climate expert, as is evidenced by his constantly incorrect claims on the subject.
    0 0
  6. I find it fascinating how Carter avoids citations. The piece that I wrote on Carter points out where he does use a citation but in relation to nothing found in the the actual paper being cited! Worse than that, the paper he cites directly contradicts the claim he's making.

    It seems to me that Carter employs the same technique that Monckton relies on: Say whatever you like and assume that the people you're trying to convince are never going to check your facts.
    0 0
  7. This question may have been answered before. I'm new to the site & not real smart on the science. Why is it that folks who critique AGW are dismissed if their not experts in climate science, but we should just accept a climate scientist's work on models when their not experts in computer modeling?

    Have a nice day.
    0 0
  8. Geologist@3,

    "I strongly object to characterizing Bob Carter as a fake climate expert."

    That is not a "characterization" but a statement of fact. Also, the reality is that it is Carter who is characterizing himself in the media as something that he is clearly not. James Cook University does not list him as a "climate expert" or "paleoclimatologist", and even Carter's online bio states that:

    "He is a palaeontologist, stratigrapher, marine geologist..."

    Regardless, as this post demonstrates, Carter's claims are at complete odds with the data, the science and the facts. Sadly, this behaviour is par for the course for most "skeptics".
    0 0
  9. I am not calling him a climate expert, he clearly does not give the impression of being one. But from what I can tell he did not claim to be a climate expert, he claimed to be a paleoclimatologist. And if you publish scientific articles on past climate, which he has, it is correct to call youself a paleoclimatologist. This article: http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc/Carter&Gammon-Science-04.pdf with Carter as first author is for example clearly whithin the field of paloclimatology (as well as the fields of marine geology and stratigraphy). Many paleoclimatologists today work with proxies and time periods relevant to the current warming, making them real climate experts. Carter is not one of them but his correct description of himself as a paleclimatologist does not make him a fake climate expert either.
    0 0
  10. Geologist@9,

    You are missing the point. Publishing one or a even few papers on paleoclimate does not make on an expert in that particular field. And again, in his own bio he does not refer to himself as a "paleoclimatologist". It is really quite that simple.

    Now why should someone listen to the musings of Carter on the subject of paleoclimatology when a there are real, practising paleoclimatologists such as Mann, Bradley, Ammann, Wahl, Ljungqvist, Briffa and Moberg et cetera out there?

    Carter is not a paleoclimatologist-- and from his comments in his editorial, he does not even seem to be well versed in the paleoclimate literature-- hardly what one would expect from an expert in the field. That he stated so in public is disingenuous and misleading, and inconsistent with his own online biography.

    You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts Geologist.
    0 0
  11. Geologist:

    I played trumpet in the final years of primary school. Although I am now a semi-professional musician (singer & composer) I would not go so far as to call myself a trumpet player.

    By analogy, Bob Carter may have published some work on paleoclimatology, but if that is not a primary focus of his research & other professional scientific activities, I think it is too much to classify him as a paleoclimatologist.
    0 0
  12. Clyde:

    I do not see how your question is applicable.

    On the topic of Bob Carter (whose Financial Post column is the topic of this post) while Dr Carter sets himself up as an expert in paleoclimate, his post is full of factual errors pertaining to paleoclimate, misrepresentations, and logical fallacies. As several of the errors & misrepresentations pertain to paleoclimate, they bely his claim to expertise in this field.

    It is these errors &c which allow his critique to be dismissed, and not his lack of expertise, in and of itself.

    Speaking more generally, I suspect you will find that other attempts to critique the mainstream findings of climatology will tend to fall on similar grounds (factual errors, misrepresentations & sloppy logic).

    The climate scientist vs computer modelling question is unclear. As far as I am aware, some, perhaps even most, climate scientists use computer models as part of their work, but only a few climate scientists would be accurately described (or characterize themselves) as expert computer modellers.

    Since the mainstream findings of climatology depend on an intertwining web of physics theory, empirical findings, and experiment, and computer modelling is but a small part of this web, I do not think there is a double standard in play.
    0 0
  13. Composer @12,

    I concur with your assessment of climate scientists and computer modelling. Additionally, we scientists do not simply "...accept a climate scientist's work on models" as Clyde suggests.
    0 0
  14. My primary objective is not defending Bob Carter, his article is obviously full of nonsense, but as I generally consider SkS to be of the highest standard I get disapointed when I believe that it is making poor arguments.

    Geology is a rather small and young subject and I believe that the subfields are a lot less distinct than in most other fields. People therefore often move between subfields and you may readily find your self doing research that could be considered to be within three or four different subfields at the same time. On the other hand each subfield can be quite diverse, working with Ordovician ice ages is obviously quite different from studying Holocene lake deposits but you might still both be working with paleoclimate. For example there isn't (or at least very few) educations or PhD-programs in paleoclimatology, instead your overall field is normally Quaternary geology, Marine geology, Sedimentology or even Ecology and then you specialize.

    This means however that if you want to define whether someone belongs to a subfield or not the only reasonable way is to see if they publish in the field. I would say that if you have published articles corresponding to a PhD (a few articles)in a certain field you may claim to belong within it. We can argue whether this is still on the low side but it is not "fake". Of course before you deserve to be called an expert you need more. Carter has published several articles in paleoclimatology. It is not that he isn't a paleoclimatologist that is the problem it is that he is in the wrong part of paleoclimatology and obviously haven't educated himself about the rest. Thus it isn't by calling himself a paleoclimatologist that he is mistaken, it is by moving outside his own area of expertise without realizing that he is no longer an expert.

    And if I, who really like SKS, thinks that calling Carter a fake is unfair, it is likely that a somewhat "skeptical" geologist would conclude that SkS is calling anyone who disagrees a fake no matter if it is correct or not.
    0 0
  15. Clyde, you seem to be assuming that climate scientist's who work on and with climate models are not experts in doing so. Do you have any evidence to support this assumption? Or that they do not work with competent computer modelers when constructing the models?

    In any case, greenhouse theory and how human actions are changing the greenhouse effect doesn't depend on computer climate models, it depends on basic physics and chemistry and real world observations. The climate models are just a tool used to better understand how that physics and chemistry interact compared to what is actually observed in the real atmosphere.

    In other words, you're barking up a tree of your own making.
    0 0
  16. Geologist - the problem, as noted in the post, is that since Carter provides zero evidence to support his assertions, the reader is expected to believe him because presumably he's an expert and knows what he's talking about. To gain that supposed credibility, Carter is listed as a paleoclimatologist. I've read a lot of stuff written by Carter, and this is the first time I've seen him referenced as a paleoclimatologist. He hasn't published anything related to the field in 7 years, and few papers in totality. He may have some knowledge of some areas of paleoclimate, but that doesn't make him a paleoclimatologist.

    The only reason we raise the issue is that his Financial Post and WUWT readers are expected to take him at his word because of this supposed expertise. If he had tried to support his claims, I wouldn't have even mentioned the fake expertise, but we are clearly expected to believe his nonsense because he is supposedly a paleoclimatologist, which is not a title he has earned, in my opinion. I think Composer @11 has a good analogy on this matter.
    0 0
  17. Clyde @7 - I'm not really sure what you're asking. Climate scientists who build climate models are modeling experts. Climate scientists who use climate models don't have to be climate model experts, just like I don't have to be an electrician to turn my lights on.
    0 0
  18. Geologist: I agree that "fake" may be a little strong since it implies deliberate deception. It's not an unjustified charge but it might nevertheless contravene the comments guidelines here.

    But that's not to argue that Carter actually has any worthwhile credentials at a paleoclimatologist. I'm a geoscientist myself and I am frustrated by many of my colleagues claiming that they have professional insight into paleoclimate because they are aware that climate has changed in the past. It's true that you simply can't do sedimentary geology unless you have some notion of what the climate, geography and sea levels were when the rocks were deposited. Paleontology is very closely linked to the study of past climates as well.

    However, to call yourself a paleoclimate expert requires that you understand why and how the climate changed and many geologists don't have a better understanding of that process than the average non-specialist scientist. Once I started studying climate change a few years ago, I was amazed at how much was known about paleoclimate, much more than was ever taught to me in my university courses.

    Frankly, it makes me cringe when some geologists claim that anthropogenic climate change is impossible because "climate has changed in the past". The gross logical error is common enough but what irks me is the arrogance of thinking that because they know a few factoids--eg the existence of Ordovician glacial tills in West Africa, or Zechstein sabkhas in the North Sea-about the climate of the past, that that somehow gives them the authority to dismiss a whole subject, climatology, about which they are manifestly ignorant.
    0 0
  19. Geolgist@14, you state, "Geology is a rather small and young subject and I believe that the subfields are a lot less distinct than in most other fields..."

    Since I am a geologist (UC-Denver, '99, B.Sc., currently employed at USGS)it's my considered opinion that your whole point is tone-trolling.

    Be that as it may, I strongly disagree with your point, above. Geology is now in its third century and there are *very* well-defined and numerous subareas within the aegis of the concept of "geology." It is demonstrably ~not~ a young field. To your second assertion, I believe if you refer to the member list of GSA, AAPG, SEG, AGU, and numerous other geological societies, you'll discover there are thousands, at least, who are geologists.

    Not young. Not small.

    Others have made informed, to-the-point refutations of Carter's CV and his qualifications to call himself a paleoclimatologist. I can guarantee you there are those with whom I work who are bona fide experts in paleoclimatology, and they would concur. Others' here who have reasoned about Carter's assertion are spot-on, and consistent with given and accepted norms of field definition that exists within the broad scope of geology. I see *nothing* in his available list of pubs, or his CV, that would indicate he has the "right" to refer to himself as a paleoclimatologist, irrespective that he seems to have published a few papers associated with the field..

    Finally, and utterly irrespective of what he calls himself, his 'facts' are nothing of the like, and in making them, and calling himself something he is not, is entirely fair game for professional criticism, and he opens himself not only to the scientifically-sound critiquing of his facts, but also concerning his self-professed title.
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Converted all-caps usage to bold lower-case. Please refrain from all-caps usage except for acronyms. The Comments Policy has a section illustrating how to use html tags to achieve the same effect (via underlining or through bold text). Thanks!
  20. dana1981, I agree with the point you were trying to make and if you had insted pointed out that while paleoclimatologist is usually a highly relevant title the actal expertise in this case wasn't I would never have commented. As Andy S suggests it was the "fake" part that set me off. I have to admit that vrooomie has a point in that I sound as tone-trolling, it truly wasn't what I intended but that does not make it not so. I will try to avoid further comments in this thread as I mostly agree with all of you, it's just that the points where I disagree are a bit too close to my pet peeves. Just like Andy S I get very annoyed when people say that they can dismiss climatology because they know of past climate changes. However if you work with climate reconstructions far back in time you might only need a crude understanding of the climate as the conditions where sufficiently different and, poorly restrained anyway and your resolution, especially temporal, are often very poor. Thus you may make good local climate reconstructions without being very knowledgeable about the much more complex understanding which is useable in more modern series. Of course you should know that and either educate yourself or stay in your subsubfield of paleoclimate in "time period far back in time" or whatever but I don't think that just because the research might be irrelevant to the current climate change it's necessarily without other scientific values.

    And I would still argue that 300 years is a rather short period for a science.
    0 0
  21. And I would still argue that 300 years is a rather short period for a science.
    Much like vroomie, I can't agree with this statement at all, as the maturity of a science is not based on the number of years that people have been studying it, but the level of effort and expertise that has been garnered in the practise of it. The expertise developed in geology is enormous, based in no small degree upon the mineral and hydrocarbon wealth that is a direct product of that expertise... geology has come an awfully long way from the days of Hutton and Geike! Subfields are sufficiently developed such that you would not go to a specialist in interpreting 3D seismic data to learn about the geologic carbon cycle in the Ordovician, for example; nor would a volcanologist say much about Precambrian thrust fault mineralogy. Of course it's not particularly relevant to the fact that Carter is very clearly dreadfully misinforming people on the subject of palaeoclimate, as we both agree on!
    0 0
  22. Geologist: For the record, I'd like to thank you for your contribution to this discussion.

    The SkS comments policy forbids accusations of deception, and the article itself steers close to the wind, as do some of the responses here (see my moderation of #1 - perhaps the rest of the thread needs moderating, but maybe it is more useful for me to comment instead.)

    When published scientists make demonstrably counter-factual claims however it is hard to know what else to say. The three approaches seem to be to (a) challenge their competence, (b) challenge their honesty or (c) challenge their sanity. Under the circumstances, (a) may be the least uncharitable option, although I share your discomfort.

    The specific terminology 'fake expert' comes from the study of previous anti-science campaigns - see Oreskes' 'Merchant's of Doubt'. It is descriptive of a general strategy, although to what extent the term can be accurately applied to any individual or to a particular campaign is certainly a matter for discussion.
    0 0
  23. Geologist & Kevin C:

    Research in psychology increasingly shows how people tend to make decisions first, based on snap judgements, mental shortcuts, and biases, and only then use reason to rationalize their decisions after the fact. Going about things the other way around, using reason and evidence to come to a conclusion, is a difficult skill which must be carefully cultivated (especially among scientists, for whom the proper exercise of reason-based thinking is crucial).

    Suffice it to say, I do not think it unreasonable to expect even the best of us to operate using rational thinking all the time. Indeed I suspect most of us use instinct/irrational thinking more often than not.

    Given that, I think there is the wherewithal to describe Dr Carter, in the context of his activity as a climate science contrarian (including the Financial Post column which is the subject of this post), as a fake expert, without necessarily accusing him of general incompetence or of other malfeasance. All that is required is the acknowledgement that in this specific case he is not behaving with the respect for evidence & inference required in good scientific practice.

    ScienceBlogs' denialism blog (from which the 5 characteristics of denialism discussed elsewhere on Skeptical Science are drawn) adds context to the discussion of fake experts:

    Clearly, the exact definition of what an “expert” is still eludes us, but it becomes readily apparent from the legal, dictionary and common practice definitions employed by scientists what experts are not. They aren’t merely an empty set of credentials and they aren’t merely people who have at some point published in some random field. Even the rather silly expert wiki would seem to agree on this.

    Therefore I would say a fake expert is usually somebody who is relied upon for their credentials rather than any real experience in the field at issue, who will promote arguments that are inconsistent with the literature, aren’t generally accepted by those who study the field in question, and/or whose theories aren’t consistent with established epistemological requirements for scientific inquiry.


    There's no rule that fake experts can't be real experts in other contexts (e.g. Michael Egnor is a real expert neurosurgeon while a fake expert in evolutionary biology on account of espousing science denialism with regards to evolution).

    Bottom line:
    (1) Not even the best scientists are immune to irrational thinking, which is simply a function of human nature
    (2) Someone who is a fake expert in one field can be a real expert in others
    (3) Given the above, characterizing Bob Carter as playing the part of fake expert in his Financial Post letter is accurate and is not necessarily a general attack on his competence or character
    0 0
  24. Composer: I think that's very helpful, especially your first point. Indeed I think we could legitimately characterise the history of science as a struggle to extract nuggets of truth from the flawed, biased, and occasionally fraudulent efforts of individual scientists.

    In that context, the role of the social structures which have developed around the scientific endeavour become clear. The need for consensus and the gatekeeper role of journals and academic institutions is a necessary response to the fact that individual scientists are, by nature of their humanity, unreliable. It is only when you subject their work to critique before and after publication, and demand that the bulk of their opinionated and often self-important peers also be convinced, that any kind of objectivity can be obtained.

    If we look at the scientific endeavour in that light, then anyone making a claim on the basis of their own expertise is a fake expert (that's not exactly the original usage, but might be more useful). The only real basis for expertise is in making arguments which are grounded in a scientific consensus.

    That doesn't preclude new lines of research which challenge a consensus, but presenting such work to the public as fact would be inconsistent with true expertise - we could call that 'fake expertise'. Carter's piece would certainly qualify under that criteria.
    0 0
  25. Jim Eager 15#

    Only evidence i have is their bio's & Wiki pages. I can't say I've read every climate scientists bio & Wiki page. The ones i have read make no reference to having any expertise in the use of computers.

    I respectfully disagree with the models playing a small role. All future predictions/projections are based on models. If the models are wrong wouldn't the predictions/projections be wrong too?
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Please relocate discussions of models to the Models are unreliable thread, where they are more properly on-topic.
  26. dana1981 17#

    If i want me house rewired i call an electrician. I can turn lights on & off too. I wouldn't try to rewire my house tho. Anybody can turn a computer on, doesn't make them a computer expert.

    Have a nice day all
    0 0
  27. Clyde @ 25... No, all future predictions/projections are not just based on models. It's based in physics. The radiative properties of the atmosphere is the basis for projections. It's as simple as, if you turn up the heat, it gets hotter. The models are only attempting to inform us about the various kinds of responses we can expect, not whether there is going to be a response or not. The models help scientists reduce the uncertainties related to the sensitivity of the climate in response to warming. The models help identify the various fingerprints of AGW.
    0 0
  28. Clyde - all future predictions about everything are based on models. If I drop a coin off a bridge and calculate how long it will take to reach the ground, I'm using a model. That model, like climate models, is based on fundamental physical laws. Also, all models are "wrong," including the one in my simple example. No model is perfect, but models can be useful tools - climate models certainly are (i.e. see here).

    As for your modelers question, I still don't understand what you're asking. My point was that scientists don't necessarily have to be modeling experts to use a climate model (depending on what they're using it for). Regardless you seem to think models play a much bigger role in climate science than they actually do (i.e. see Rob H's comment #27).
    0 0
  29. Clyde,

    Climate modelling involves writing down a set of equations to describe the underlying physics of the climate system, and then solve the resulting set of equations to give you a numerical answer. Computers are nothing more than a tool for number crunching.

    In short, a climate modeller will have to be an expert, by default, in whatever programming language they work in, just as a image designer must be proficient with photoshop, a writer must be proficient with the language. One only needs to know how to get the computer to compute 1+1, not necessarily how the computer arrives at the answer.
    0 0
  30. Bob Carter first referred to himself as a Palaeoclimatologist in his book "Climate: The Counter-Consensus". Apart from a brief mention of peering at ocean sediment cores, there was no reference to any of his geological work in that book.

    The glaring oversight to me is mentioning the sun with respect to recent warming. Any palaeoclimatologist knows that incoming solar radiation peaked 10,000 years ago.
    0 0
  31. In other words, Clyde has no evidence what so ever, only conjecture and assumption.

    A question for you, Clyde:
    Which would you find more believable as a climate modeler, a climate scientist, or rather team of scientists, who are also competent at building a computer model of the physics and chemistry of the coupled land-ocean-atmosphere system, or an expert at computer modeling who knows absolutely nothing about the underlying physics and chemistry of the coupled land-ocean-atmosphere system that is being modeled? (Why should they, they are not climate scientists, they're computer modelers, while practically all physical scientists work intensively with computers.)

    And why did you fail to consider that climate scientists work with actual computer modelers when developing climate models, as I suggested, before leaping to defend your assertion that climate scientists have no expertise in the use of computers?

    Also posted here in case Clyde want's to continue to defend his misconceptions.
    0 0
  32. Adavid, that would be orbitally driven northern high latitude summer insolation that peaked 10,000 years ago. What's more relevant for the current warming is that since ~1980 there has been no correlation between change in insolation and rising global mean temperature.
    0 0
  33. adavid @30, solar radiation has been close to constant, with variations of well less than 1% over the last 10,000 years. What peaked about 12 thousand years ago was Northern Hemisphere summer insolation. Because this peak was due to the orientation of the Earth to the Sun, it made little difference to the Earth's total insolation.
    0 0
  34. Jim and Tom good catch. It would have been better for me to have written "the influence of the sun on global temperatures peaked 10,000 years ago".
    0 0
  35. Clyde@7, you ask:

    "Why is it that folks who critique AGW are dismissed if their not experts in climate science, but we should just accept a climate scientist's work on models when their not experts in computer modeling?"

    The reasons are vasried, well-documented, and are scientifically rigorous, as to why so-called "fake" experts are robustly, and rightly, questioned.

    To paraphrase another user here at SkS, you cannot believe just one scientist; you CAN, however, believe thousands. And at this time, many thousands who are bona fide experts in all the subjects relevant to AGW share a consensus, a consensus which is *vehemently* opposed by those who don't have the chops to refute that consensus.

    DB@19: Thank you fro correcting my bad "Netiquette." I'm still learning all this modern-fangled computer, HTTP stuff.

    I'm a geologist, dagnabit, *not* a computer expert...>;-D
    0 0
  36. vroomie @35:

    "I'm a geologist, dagnabit, *not* a computer expert"


    You are forgetting the first axiom of denier's (and unfortunately that of too many elements of the media) that:

    1) If you are expert in any subject, you are an expert in every subject in which you agree with my opinion.

    The second axiom is:

    2) If you are an expert in a particular subject, if I disagree with you on that particular subject your stated opinions are based on fraud and conspiracy.
    0 0
  37. And 3) My totally uninformed opinion is just as valid and worthy of equal consideration as your highly informed and hard-won expertise, if not more so.
    0 0
  38. As a very occasional reader of climate science sites, including this one, I would like to add that I also find the tag 'fake expert' unhelpful in this case.

    I accept that Carter is less qualified than many others to comment on paleoclimatology. I also accept that his actual claims seem flawed, from which an inference can be drawn that his expertise is, indeed, minimal. I just don't see that tagging him as a 'fake expert' helps the argument. It would be different if he had never studied or published in a relevant field, and was unambiguously lying about his background, but that is not the case.

    If he wrote a sensible defence of AGW, with exactly the same credentials, would you think it necessary to call him a 'fake expert'? If not, then you are basically saying he is fake because he is wrong.

    If I have to accept the flaws in his position before deciding he is indeed a 'fake expert', then it is those flaws, rather than the tag, that do all the heavy lifting in the debate. Describing him as a 'fake expert' merely distracts from the otherwise interesting discussion of why he is wrong, and comes across to me (and possibly other readers) as an ad hominum argument. Readers who can already see why he is wrong will not be more convinced because you add the 'fake expert' tag. Worse, readers who are unconvinced of his errors will merely conclude that his errors are not sufficient in themselves, to carry the argument, and require propping up with attacks on his expertise.

    Cheers,

    Leto.
    0 0
  39. Leto @38:

    "An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and how to avoid them.

    WERNER HEISENBERG, Physics and Beyond"


    Heisenberg provides us with the best, succinct definition of expertise. In any field, somebody is expert if they don't make the bad mistakes. An expert batter (in baseball) will still make mistakes. But he will pop up a fly ball because he is trying to hit a home run against good pitching, not because it is pure chance for him to get a better hit.

    In science, the definition is particularly applicable. If you don't make mistakes in science, it just means you are not trying interesting hypotheses. But the mistakes of the expert are different from those of the non-expert. For a start, they are new mistakes. The expert knows his field well enough to know the mistakes others have made, and how to avoid them. Further, they are interesting mistakes. That is, they are mistakes which you need to learn something knew in order to discover that they where a mistake.

    Contrast that with Carter's performance above. Do we really learn something knew to discover that 29/360 is not 0.1 (10%) as Carter asserts (Cherry Sun)? Or that contrary to Carter, the radiosonde data shows a greater warming than the surface warming and does not follow a step function (Radios own goal)? Well, perhaps it is new to us, but to a climate expert?

    Or consider his only genuine scientific article in climate science. In it he took some temperature data, removed the trend, found a significant correlation with ENSO, and then concluded that ENSO explained the trend! Is it really a great discovery to find out that is a mistake?

    So, Carter claiming to be a climate expert is like somebody who falls prey to the Fool's mate claiming to be a Grand Master. The claim of expertise, given the types of mistakes he makes, is simply not credible. He is a fake expert.
    0 0
  40. Leto @38, see my comment #16 which explains why we raised the issue of Carter as a fake expert here. Additionally, fake experts are one of the five characteristics of scientific denialism, as noted in the post, and we have been trying to highlight those characteristics when they are exhibited by denialists. Carter gave us a great example of the fake expert characteristic here.

    Good points on the subject from Tom Curtis @39 as well.
    0 0
  41. Leto I disagree. It is important to point out Carter's statute as fake expert for numerous reasons. The first one is that his expertise is limited enough to border on the non-existent. There is no reason to sugar-coat it and use politically correct euphemisms to describe that, especially in view in the hateful rethoric spewed by deniers against real experts.

    The next one is that, even though his expertise is so limited, he portrays himself in the exact opposite fashion and he, and others, then attempt to use the impression thus created to ascertain ideas from authority, an authority that in fact does not exist.

    Many people comment here on climate. I have followed SkS since its very beginning and I was part of the original moderation team. I relinquished that privilege when I no longer had the time to keep up with the work and build my expertise to a level appropriate for the standards maintained here. I have closely followed the evolution of most of the moderators and I am pleased to say that their level of expertise on the subject has increased constantly, continues to do so, and is now quite impressive. Yet I do not recall a single one of them ever claiming to be an expert. They all defer to scientists who actively study the field and regularly publish their findings (the real experts). That is the basic premise of SkS' existence.

    Commenters on SkS are very rarely called upon to disclose their expertise. When someone makes sweeping statements (in any direction) going against well established science without the necessary substantiation, they're asked their sources for such statements. If nothing comes, there may be sometimes asked by other commenters what their expertise is. I can not at the moment recall an occurrence in which the moderation team asked a commenter to disclose their expertise.

    It is quite common that egregious mistakes be pointed out in no ambiguous terms, as they should be. That is another area where sugar-coating should be avoided. Even at that, if you peruse the 2nd law of thermodynamic thread, you'll gain new respect for the patience of SkS' moderators.
    0 0

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.



The Consensus Project Website

TEXTBOOK

THE ESCALATOR

(free to republish)

THE DEBUNKING HANDBOOK

BOOK NOW AVAILABLE

The Scientific Guide to
Global Warming Skepticism

Smartphone Apps

iPhone
Android
Nokia

© Copyright 2014 John Cook
Home | Links | Translations | About Us | Contact Us