Traction: Tom Fuller asks why Skeptics fail to get it

Some answers/replies for Tom Fuller’s questions to climate skeptics posted on his blog.

On Marc Morano as representative of skeptics:

Marc Morano may be on assignment from James Inhofe. But Marc makes an excellent spokesperson – he is straight, polite, and knowledgeable of scientific variables and the state of play. Climate politics is highly partisan in the US; you are not going to find someone acceptable to all parties.

“[Skeptics] don’t have a narrative that you can consistently put forward, nor a way to fit new science and climate news into your narrative”

At the surface, this is largely correct. Climate skeptics don’t have narratives, or a narrative. The world has expended a lot of fruitful energy dodging the climate activists bullets to its head. There is a story and a lesson there but it is not actively written by anybody.

The climate media/’communication’ machine takes no break. There are enough funded organizations, motivated journalists and testy news editors to keep ‘climate’ news on a slow boil, even if facts don’t co-operate. It is not possible to match these on measly budgets. Even Cook, Lewandowsky and Nuccitelli get paid to do what they do.

“Judith Curry does very well with the Uncertainty Monster theme, but she’s not a skeptic.”

That’s correct. Curry is no skeptic so she finds weaving narratives easier.

“But you do need to use a shared vocabulary that provides you with some legitimacy and answers some questions before they are asked.”

Not sure about the vocabulary, but the lack of skeptics’ organization can certainly makes things difficult. Suppose, there is a wrong climate activist paper published and the error is easily shown. The news will never get out. There is no press office or copy-writer to put out a press release. There is no money to cover costs. I bet many skeptics don’t know how press releases work.

At best you have a network of sympathetic journalists and high-profile bloggers.

Genuine skepticism in the climate debate, playing Team B, and cross-questioning climate alarmism is an expensive proposition. But climate alarmists routinely over-reach and make fools of themselves and have champagne-sipping high-flying playboys, green businessmen and unhinged activists as spokespersons. As Greenpeace gains in sophistication and wizardry in PR it is robbed of common sense and sends its activists to scrawl graffiti on ancient monuments.

People who have a position/vision/mission statement/story/narrative for what they do are those who are paid to do it.



  1. Smokey

    I like Tom Fuller. I’ve met Tom a few times, and he’s very pleasant and likable. But it’s clear that he doesn’t understand scientific skepticism. Skepticism depends upon testability, which is another term for falsification (see Prof. I. Langmuir for a thorough explanation).

    At bottom, skeptics are saying to the climate alarmist group: Show us. Provide testable, measurable scientific evidence quantifying man-made global warming (MMGW, AKA: AGW).

    But so far, there is no such evidence. None at all. If there were measurements quantifying AGW, then for one thing, the question of the climate sensitivity number would be answered definitively (climate sensitivity is the degree of global warming resulting from a doubling of atmospheric CO2). As it currently stands, depending on who you ask, guesstimates for climate sensitivity range from more than 6ºC, down to 0.0º (Miskolczi et al). And everything in between.

    So we have a situation in which the proposed remedy is the radical restructuring of Western industrial society — based upon a conjecture (MMGW) that has never been quantified! Skeptics have been asking: What is the fraction of MMGW, out of total global warming?

    Is it 50%? (or preposterously, 100% as some claim)?

    Answer: No one knows.

    Is it 5%?

    Answer: No one knows.

    Is it 0.03%?

    Answer: No one knows!

    Skeptics simply say: show us. Quantify MMGW. The alarmist conjecture states that dangerous MMGW is happening. But no one has ever been able to measure the fraction of MMGW, out of total global warming (which has been stopped for many years now).

    Show us, Tom. Quantify MMGW. Because so far, every scary prediction made by climate alarmists has failed to take place, from disappearing Arctic ice, to more extreme weather events, to accelerating sea level rise, to ocean ‘acidification’ — to the big enchilada: runaway global warming and climate catastrophe. Every alarming prediction has failed. No exceptions.

    When every alarming prediction made by one side of a debate turns out to be flat wrong, rational folks will raise the bar. They will begin to insist that those making outlandish predictions need to produce supporting measurements. But there are no measurements, despite spending $billions of tax dollars searching, and investigation by thousands of highly educated scientists using the most advanced instruments. Lately, the alarmist argument has morphed into: “But there can’t be measuremnts like that! It’s impossible.”

    Nonsense. Just about everything in science is measured. Billions of dollars are spent measuring subatomic particles like the Higgs boson. Atmospheric CO2 is measured to six decimal places. Anthropogenic emissions are precisely quantified. The only things that can’t be currently measured are signals that are swamped by background noise (ie: the signal is too small), or some things affected by the Uncertainty Principle. Everything else can be measured — if it’s there, and if it is not too small to measure with current instruments. By falsely claiming that MMGW cannot be measured, what they are really saying is: “Trust us when we warn you about dangerous MMGW. We can’t show you, but take our word for it.” The real reason they can’t show us is because MMGW is simply too minuscule to measure.

    If MMGW was the cause of all global warming, it could easily be measured. The answer would be 100%, as global T would rise in lock step with human CO2 emissions. But the opposite seems to be the case: despite the steady rise in CO2, global T has remained in stasis for many years now. (At this point, my personal disclaimer: I think AGW exists. But it is simply too minuscule to measure, except for local UHI effects.)

    So to sum up: Tom Fuller misunderstands scientific skepticism. Every honest scientist is a skeptic. Otherwise, we would be back in witch doctor territory. Skeptics are right to ask for evidence quantifying MMGW. That is an entirely reasonable request, particularly since the proposed remedy amounts to dismantling of our technological society, while most other countries will continue to use fossil fuels.

    Mr. Fuller and all the rest of the climate alarmist crowd constantly avoid the question of quantifying MMGW. Because if they admitted that there is no measurable evidence for what they claim is happening, their opinion begins and ends at the conjecture stage. It is no different in principle than claiming there is a black cat hiding under the bed in a dark bedroom — but no one will turn on the light and look under the bed, because they know there may well be no cat there. A conjecture is merely an opinion. To advance MMGW to a testable hypothesis requires verifiable measurements.

    The entire MMGW scare amounts to a giant head fake. The public is constantly bombarded with assertions contending that global T is rising, and that the rise is accelerating, and that Arctic ice is disappearing fast, and… well, you get the idea. There is never any cost/benefit analysis. There is almost no discussion of the extensive *measurable* evidence showing that agricultural productivity is rising due to the rise in atmospheric CO2. There has never been any global harm identified due to rising CO2 (which remains a tiny trace gas). And so on. In fact, all the available evidence shows that more CO2 is beneficial to the biosphere, with no observed downside. Thus, more CO2 is harmless, and beneficial. But try to find any of Mr. Fuller’s media cohort pointing out those facts.

    If Tom Fuller wants to practice being a true scientific skeptic, this is a great opportunity. A ‘dangerous MMGW’ conjecture has been put forth (in science, the hierarchy is: Conjecture, Hypothesis, Theory, Law). A conjecture is an opinion (MMGW is not a ‘hypothesis’, which among other things must be able to make repeated, accurate predictions; but no one was able to predict the current stasis in global T). Fuller should join with genuine skeptics in demanding that those supporting MMGW conjecture must produce verifiable supporting measurements, quantifying the fraction of MMGW out of total global warming from all sources. Disregard emotional arguments such as, “But we can’t keep dumping CO2 into the air!” And disregard anything in which the word “carbon” replaces carbon dioxide or CO2.

    In science, we need measurements to make decisions. Climate science is no exception.

  2. thomaswfuller2

    Hi Shub and Smokey. I’ve read this–I’m still of the same mind, actually.

    Smokey–the Arctic has warmed two degrees. That was the primary prediction of global warming. I know others haven’t turned out as planned, but it’s a big one.

    Shub, I’m not really sure how to respond. Happy to talk about it more…

  3. Shub Niggurath

    Hi Tom
    Firstly I largely agree with Smokey. Climate science is an observational, retrospective-oriented science discipline, where changes and confirmation or refutation of theory takes decades. If humans were long-lived Eloi that hung around for ~500 years, they could confidently parse their own theories about the climate.

    In the 1960s and 70s, climate science was on a cusp, unable to decide whether human CO2 or heat from power plants was going to warm the climate or dust from factories and farms was going to cool it. But they had both theories lined up and ready as they both involved blaming humankind for environmental problems and bad things.

    This is from Mann’s Dire Predictions, note especially the last sentence:

    Dire Predictions. Note last sentence.

    As the world showed an increase of the global average temperature, science and scientists discarded the cooling theories and shifted over to the warming ones.

    Because it is the climate the whole process takes 30-40 years.

    If the same thing were to be sped up, as it is with experimental sciences, how much scientific credibility would scientists carry if they lined up two opposing theories at the same time, conducted an experiment, picked the winning one and claimed their science predicted the outcome?

    The orthodox AGW meta-theory (which I don’t equate with climate science as a whole) is exactly that. It is the residual one of two lies whose prognostications coincidentally happened to line up with reality. There is no reason to believe underlying framework of analysis, starting with Charney, captures the essence of the functioning of climate.

    Given the above, why should estimates of climate sensitivity – which is a product of the chosen framework – be considered seriously enough to stake out positions on their basis?

    We need to do both – question estimates of sensitivity and other calculated parameters within climate science and be ready, per Bruno Latout, to unpack the black box of climate sensitivity and parameters.

    Secondly, as you can see, apart from the above, I don’t disagree with some of the points you make. They are well-stated, and you are being nice to the ‘lazy skeptics’. I do think the GWPF is now a formidable entity, if the climate debate were to be played along the lines of the merits of the underlying science alone. Nor am I overtly upset by Monckton either.

  4. catweazle666

    “Given the above, why should estimates of climate sensitivity – which is a product of the chosen framework – be considered seriously enough to stake out positions on their basis?”

    Given that “climate sensitivity” is generally considered the most important variable in the field of climate science, and the one on which all the dire predictions of catastrophe – or not, as the case may be is based, and in the last couple of decades billions – trillions? – of dollars have been expended on research into attempting to pin it down, it is instructive to examine how this research has actually increased the precision of our estimates of this, arguably the most crucial number in all of 21st century science.

    So let us see how much progress has been made over the last couple of decades pinning down this extremely important number.

    The IPCC is commonly regarded as the most reputable authority on such matters, so let us see how estimates of the climate sensitivity have changed over the five IPCC Assessment Reports from 1990 to the present day, a period of some two and a half decades.

    Here are the ranges of value given by the five IPCC Assessment Reports that have been published to date.

    IPCC First assessment report 1.9 to 5.2°C, but states “…hence the models results do not justify altering the previously accepted range of 1.5 to 4.5°C

    IPCC Second Assessment Report 2 to 4.5 C”

    IPCC Third Assessment Report 1.5 to 4.5 °C

    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report 2 to 4.5 °C

    IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 1.5°C to 4.5°C

    So, despite the expenditure of an incalculable number dollars on research by huge numbers of researchers, estimates of the low and high limits of this essential parameter have not changed in around 25 years.

    As a sceptic, I get it, I get it very well indeed thank you, Tom Fuller!

  5. Smokey

    Dear Tom Fuller,

    Arctic ice is just the latest in the long series of 100.0% failed predictions made by the alarmist crowd:

    As we see, Arctic ice is increasing. Also, total global ice cover is above its 30-year average:

    The Antarctic has been steadily gaining ice, while the Arctic had a pullback for several years. But that has now reversed:

    Thus, the temporary Arctic ice pullback was simply natural regional climate variablility — something which happens always and everywhere over time. It does not indicate global warming, which stopped many years ago.

    That will not convince climate alarmists. It seems nothing will. They are Belief-based in their outlook. Tom, does it not bother you that those folks have been completely wrong in every alarming prediction they’ve made? What would it take to convince you that their ‘dangerous MMGW’ premise is wrong? Please give us an example. What would it take?

    Skeptics are a very different breed: we need verifiable measurements quantifying the alarmist crowd’s claims of ‘dangerous MMGW’. The more measurements, the better. But after decades of searching by thousands of highly trained scientists, no such measurements have been found. Obviously, any MMGW effects are simply too small to measure.

    I don’t know the answer. I truly think that if another great Ice Age descended on the planet, and glaciers covered from Chicago north a mile thick again, the same folks would be insisting that dangerous MMGW was just around the corner, and that the cold was just a “pause”.

    Measurements, Tom. That’s what we need. “Trust us” and “Take our word for it,” are just not good enough. But that is what their argument amounts to. If there is dangerous MMGW, they need to produce measurements quantifying it. That will also settle the question of the climate sensitivity number.

  6. Paul Matthews

    I don’t really buy Tom’s claim that arctic warming was the primary prediction of global warming.
    In fact it seems a bit of a contradiction to say that Arctic warming is the main prediction of global warming!

    I’d say the main prediction of global warming was, errr, global warming, for example the IPCC FAR 1990 said 0.3C per decade, and so far it’s been less than half that.

    I would pretty much agree with what Shub says in this post (though as a Brit I am not quite so keen on Morano!)

  7. Brad Keyes


    Nobody is accusing you of lacking a knack for skepticism, but *scientific* skepticism is a special beast, which you can’t be expected to understand without scientific epistemological training. To a scientist, the idea that ‘opponents’ of a hypothesis (to the extent that such a role exists) should have a unified stance against it is absurd. ‘Opponents’ not only have no such obligation; they’re not even obliged to *exist.*

    In a debate, you win if the other team fails to show up. But science is *not* a debate. Or a court case for that matter. (It wouldn’t work if it were.)

    There *is* no Negative team in science. When the Affirmative loses (and the Affirmative always loses, eventually) it loses to *nature.*