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« Misrepresenting hide the decline | Main | To politic or not to politic? »

Richard Milne on the divergence problem

This lecture from Dr Richard Milne is being commented on in the Paul Nurse thread. I'd actually come across it a couple of weeks ago, when it appeared on a Skeptical Science thread, but I'd held off posting about it because Ben Pile and I were supposed to be facing Dr Milne at a debate at Edinburgh University next week. Unfortunately the debate has now been cancelled, so here is the video.

Look out for the discussion of the divergence problem, which Dr Milne appears to think is a problem affecting bristlecone pines (there is discussion of a divergence in the Salzer paper he cites, but it's a divergence between ring widths and densities IIRC - nothing to do with hide the decline at all). Look out also for how he moves on very quickly over the question of whether the divergence problem can be shown to be a problem unique to the late twentieth century.

Amazing the things that Skeptical Science thinks are reliable, isn't it?

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Reader Comments (67)

"Amazing the things that Skeptical Science thinks are reliable, isn't it?"
Andrew Montford

Most of the things that Skeptical Science thinks are reliable are peer-reviewed papers and scientific work. You lot don't have that, so you have to resort to smears, insinuations, and endless obsessions about how quickly someone can type a comment in the Guardian, or what a scientist was quoted as saying in an Independent article a decade ago.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

I like Dr Richard Milne's analogy with regard Tony Blair and his belief in the reality of Iraqi WMD.

You can argue that many on left and right were equally fooled by the Blair and co. So if those on the right-wing have a different brain then what was happening in left-wing brains that allowed those people to have the same level of faith in what Blair was saying?

When asked about the 'trick' Milne side-tracked the question all together. Why didn't he explain what the acutual trick was? Surely the students were worthy of a proper answer.

Finally Milne admits he is both a scientist and an environmentalist. His use of the word 'denier' showed that he was behaving more like an environmentalist than a scientist. He should have declared this right at the start of this talk.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I wouldn't touch anything Skeptical Science says with somebody else's barge-pole. Cherry-picking is their speciality.

Milne comes over as someone with very little intellect.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It merely shows that scientist and advocate is a toxic and unworkable mix, when he fails to honestly address the know facts becasue they clash with his political outlook he stopped being a scientists.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I too found it difficult to watch this thin version of Brian Cox, not only because he must take the wooden spoon for giving the lecture with the most uses of the word "denier" in it.

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I'm very aware that I am an uneducated numpty here, but I did like your comment the other day in which you said something like "we are only here exchanging nonsense, trying to convince each other that we are right" (apologies as I'm sure that isn't an exact quote). With that in mind, here's my bit of nonsense to chuck into the mix:
Isn't it the case that CO2 provides the fizz in Coke etc? Therefore is he not contributing just a little more of the stuff than he needs to to the atmosphere in order to refresh himself, along with countless millions of other people, every day? Along with the plastic for the bottle etc I'd say he wasn't quite doing his bit; the wooden pointer doesn't fool anyone!

Nov 14, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMeIKnowNothin

Dr Milne has a point about the MWP being a localised event. It is commonly understood that it was local to the third rock from the sun.

In stating that the publishers "forced" the substitution of actual temperatures to hide the divergence issue, is he making reference to the IPCC?

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Perhaps someone can forward this link to Milne. He is apparently confused over what the 'trick(s)' was (were).

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I couldn't watch for more than 14 minutes. Milne seems to have learned about "climate science" at the feet of Bob Ward (and/or perhaps David Suzuki). In any event, I think he would be much better off sticking to tending his rhododenrons - although he'd probably be a very good candidate for the WWF's Climate Witness Program's "Science Advisory Panel".

Bish, do you know why the "debate" was cancelled?!

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

"I prefer to distinguish between "climate scientists" (who are mainly atmospheric physicists) and "climate change scientists" who seem to be just about anyone in science or social science that has decided to see what climate change means for their own particular field of expertise. While many of these folks do have a good grasp of climate science (atmospheric physics) and the uncertainties in attribution of past events and future projections, many sadly do not.

Richard Betts - Nov 2011

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

And for those who may not know, that's

Professor Richard Betts
Lead AR5 Author

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

This is worth watching right thru because it give a very valuable insight into how the environmental mind operates in the scientific establishment.

It is clear that Milne has abandoned science and the ongoing and legitimate debate about climate change in order to get the eco-political message over to the audience about 'deniers'.

If the audience goes away with the belief that deniers are mental cretins then Milne will think it is a good job well done ............................ but that isn't science.

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

If you take Milne's explanation of the divergence problem as a given; then trees make good thermometers up to 1980 but not so afterwards because other factors affecting tree growth are unique to the post 1980s.

Now anyone capable of critical thinking would see the obvious flaw in that arguement that other factors, other than changing temperature, impinging on tree growth cannot be date dependent.

Now any critical thinking scientist or student worth their salt would flag up that flaw and pose a very relevant question - do trees make good thermometers?

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

The guy comes across as a bit strange...what's with that stick?

"Himalayan glaciers error 'found its way' into the IPCC report..." Yah, it just got up, wandered around, and found its way into the cosy pages of a report.

Our stick-wielding scientist criticizes the GWPF logo (27 min). "Temperatures are flat this decade,...nothing wrong with that,...go back a bit further in time, ...there is a bit of warming...go back even further and there is a whole lot of warming! Ta da!"

But the graph that he shows demonstrating a whole lot of warming, is truncated at 2000. How very scientist-like.

I don't understand why some speakers pepper their powerpoint with childish clip-art and cartoons.

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Apparently the lecture theatre was double booked.

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:47 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Dr Richard Milne on Climate Change
Wednesday 02 November 2011
7pm - 10pm
Appleton Tower, Lecture Theater 2

Dr Richard Milne's popular talk on climate change and it's criticisms. Expect enthusiasm, expect jumping, and expect the hyperactive Dr Milne to give one hell of a show!

Dr Milne has also invited ecosoc regulars to join him at the Mosque kitchen afterwards for a curry. Controversy, science, intrigue and curry, what more could you want?

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

We are replaying the 16th and early 17th centuries, when "Save the Appearances" was king, Copernicus was afraid to publish while still alive, and Galileo's new World System (the birth of modern science) was proscribed. Only now it is institutional science itself that has become the religious tyrant, and the denier of reality. These are the "interesting times" the old Chinese saying warns about. Most interesting...

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Zed said
"Most of the things that Skeptical Science thinks are reliable are peer-reviewed papers and scientific work. You lot don't have that, so you have to resort to smears, insinuations"
So Peer-reviewed papers are different from scientific work? Probability true for Climate Science
I suppose you haven't bothered acquainting yourself with Sceptical Science's treatment of Roger Pielke Snr and his peer reviewed scientific papers
Also you seem to be unaware of the distortion of the peer review outlined in Climategate
You also seem to be unaware of continued Gatekeeping at some Journals e.g. Pielke Jnr, Spencer/Dessler, etc.
There is no point pointing out a gold standard of the peer review system if it is corrupted.

Nov 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterCinbadtheSailor

This was a highly biased presentation. I expected even-handedness but it was clear from the start that Milne was out to mock skeptical arguments. I feel sorry for the students.

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterHardycross

I think this will have been a public lecture.

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I just finished watching the whole thing including the questions at the end.
My antenna imediately go up when I see two columns - Good and Bad. False dichotomies and ad hominem immediately come to mind. There was one good question right at the end, which keyed on a dichotomy that Milne raised towoards the end of his lecture: Scientist vs Environmentalist. The questionner perceptively asked some along the lines "which one are you in giving this lecture? " He finessed the issue by saying he was in multiple roles but he can be clear when he wasa scientist and when he was an environmentalist. This is the essence of one of the false dichotomies. It is at the heart of Donna Laframboise's book and at the heart of the Climategate emails. Alas Prof. Milne has probably never debated an effective representative of those who have questions about the scope and impact of climate change.

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

I still think this talk by Milne is worthy of our attention because here we have an environmentalist giving a talk on 'denialist' arguments and the debunking of them to a student audience. We have a lot to learn here on how environmentalism is controlling the debate in academic circles.

How scientists use environmentalism as a bage of honour and actively engage in advocacy.

How these advocates try to belittle public concerns over climate change.

How they try to demonise those who dissent on AGW and CAGW.

How they try to dismiss the very dubious and fraudulent activities of their colleagues.

How they openly use propaganda and propaganda sites as a weapon in the debate.

Milne's talk is a real insight into how scepticism has been neutralised in academia.

What Milne has revealed that the stance, "You are either with us or against us" now holds sway in academia on the subject of climate change.

We are dealing with a climate of fear in academia. No one now dares to speak out.

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Apparently the lecture theatre was double booked.

Right. And there aren't any other lecture theatres in Edinburgh. And it wasn't possible to reschedule it to another date because...

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

@Green Sand

In stating that the publishers "forced" the substitution of actual temperatures to hide the divergence issue, is he making reference to the IPCC?

I found that interesting too, what I heard him say was "...they knew that from 1980 tree rings ceased to be a good recorder of temperature and they were forced to insert temperature from another source, they were urged to do that from the publishers"

When he says the "publishers" he must mean the World Meteorological Organization who used Phil Jones work here:

I don't remember hearing Jones was "forced" to do anything and I don't recall any evidence to show that.

Also I thought the divergence started from around 1960? Milne repeats the 1980 date a couple of times.
His explanation for "hide the decline" is quite interesting. He makes the claim that bristlecone pines work fine in the past and claims that "up to about 1980" they track temperature "to various reconstructions of global temperature" but doesn't say which other reconstruction he chose to compare against. I wonder what the US National Academy Sciences would say about that? I think I remember them saying they should not be used in temperature reconstructions.

Nov 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterTS

Sorry .... I could only watch the first 4 or 5 minutes before I had to close it down. It's stomach churning.

Nov 14, 2011 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterImranCan

It goes to show that you can get a PhD and be a bit of a wally. I don't know if you know this, but the word "trick" that climate scientists bandy about when they're banging cars to get them started appears less than 5 times in the 1300 or so emails.

I've asked him for the emirical evidence that CO2 is causing half the warming and promised if he gives it to me it will be on every sceptical blog I can get it on by the end of the week.

Nov 14, 2011 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Milne's attempt to minimise the extent of Glaciergate is worthy of a reply.

When scientists first tried to have this corrected their actions were described as "voodoo science" by Rajendra Pachauri. Here was an authority figure attempting to dismiss and demonise scientists who were professing legitmate scepticism over the claim. The date 2035 was to be defended at all costs, even if it meant destroying the reputation of experts in the field.

The date 2035 never bore scientific or public scrutiny and the IPCC were eventually forced to back down, but the message sent out that to criticise the IPCC was to do so at your peril. Dissent over AGW and scepticism over IPCC claims and projections were not going to be tolerated.

So just imagine you are a climate scientist who is expressing private doubts about the science and the way it is being reported would you ever go to colleagues or go public with your concerns? No you would not! You clearly would be denounced by colleagues and you would be putting your career and reputation in severe jeopardy.

For the faithful the consenus over AGW is very real but for others this must represent a prevailing climate of fear in academia. Once false step,one wrong word, and you would have revealed yourself as a 'denier'.

Nov 14, 2011 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

The Salzer issue is worth more explanation. In reality his use of it suggests that he is guilty of many of the same logical errors that he accuses climate skeptics of. Steve McIntyre did a very nice dissesction of it - . Denial/cherry picking/confirmation bias afflicts us all. As Feynmann said - the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Nov 14, 2011 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Paul Matthews, your comment is a good one especially for international readers - unless I am very much mistaken, Andrew's use of "Apparently" to start his statement was a rather British way of making the same point... Cancelling meetngs, debates etc., due to making the room unavailable or stopping some or other organization from sponsoring it is a classic way to keep control over what people are allowed to say (see another example discussed here). Ah well, the sad thing is that Ben & Andrew would most likely have made mincemeat out of Dr. Milne, but he, and the consensus devotees in the audience, may have had the opposite impression. Ah yes, FWIW, I managed about two minutes of the talk, but then that is partly due to other work needing to be done.

Nov 14, 2011 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Harvey

Phillip Bratby

Milne comes over as someone with very little intellect.

You are being polite. It was painful to listen to him. At least Richard Betts and his side kick Tamsin Edwards are clintonesque. Even our beloved ZDB has demonstrated better logical processes.

Nov 14, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


Like many others I could only bear to listen to the first few minutes and then a little of the Q&A session. I thought I would give him the benefit of a bit of doubt in case he improved in the middle.

Nov 14, 2011 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I really did try to watch this shocking indoctrination. The majority of the audience, and the questioners that I watched, appeared to me to be very young and gullible - were they secondary school children? But I just couldn't stomach watching the whole thing.

Nov 14, 2011 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

"...what's with that stick?"

A plant scientist (Peritus omnia).

Nov 14, 2011 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

As with others above I managed about 15 mins before escaping.
My first reaction was that if I had been a student in that audience then I would have felt that my intelligence was being insulted. The cartoon of a "deniar" with a chain saw trying to cut down the tree of knowledge? Hahahahaha.
However thinking back I was probably a blank sheet of intellect waiting to be written on. Those students probably have not yet read widely on the subject, our education system has dumbed down our children so maybe he hit the right level?
From the word go there was an assumption that CO2 is currently warming the planet, someone not previously involved in this discussion might just absorb that as a "known fact" without even thinking.
I will try and force myself to stomach the rest of the video.

Nov 14, 2011 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

Mac 1.22pm:
”We have a lot to learn here on how environmentalism is controlling the debate in academic circles”.

Absolutely. The fashion for posting video and audio versions of authoritative-sounding sceptic-trashings seems to be part of the strategy. The evidence is “out there” for the faithful, but not in a form which anyone can analyse easily.

Milne starts by saying:
“If scientists are ANYWHERE NEAR correct, then this is the greatest challenge facing humanity today, it is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, and probably will ever face”.

What, all scientists, on all sides, all of the time? This statement is so stupid, in so many ways, it’s just got to be debunked. I feel another transcription urge coming on. (Look out on ALex Cull’s Mytranscriptionbox site in a few days)

Nov 14, 2011 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

The more I think about it, the more angry I get at the thought that Edinburgh University should actually be charging people to hear this drivel. My daughter, who is quite bright, had a somewhat unfortunate experience with Edinburgh some 15 years ago, but I thought that might have been an exception. That someone should actually lecture in this slovenly manner does not say much for the university. I believe Patrick Mercer's comments on David Cameron would have been more aptly directed at this man.

Nov 14, 2011 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

I urge everyone to view this from start to finish.

This is how climate science and the ongoing debate on climate change is being politically misrepresented in universities by environmentalists.

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

It is interesting to think about Milne's actual style of argumentation: He offers few specifics. He uses an all or nothing approach. He derides and disparages the opposition and allows that they have made no points whatsoever. He assumes that critical measures, i.e., the historical temperature record, is unquestioned. He acknowledges uncertainty - error bars - but never shows them. There is always the hint of an imminent catastrophe. He provides no evidence that he has in fact dissected any of the sources he relies on, essentially relying on arguments from authority. There is the everpresent presumptive close - only a fool or an evil person would reject my position.
It reminds me of the terribly weak and non-responsive arguments in the negative reviews of Donna Laframboise's book.
Can anyone source any of his non botanical writings?

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Wow. What an amazingly patronizing, arrogant child.

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

What seems most remarkable about Milne is not just his right-on ain't-I-cool smugness but his apparently instinctive certainty that 'deniers' are right-wing and, as such, automatically to be dismissed as lumbering half-wits beyond hope of slavation.

It is frightening that anyone so consumed by as obviously fraudulent and ignorant a view of the world should be taken seriously.

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

He's a botanist, isn't he?

For all I know, speaking as a superannuated Elec Eng, he may be a prince amongst botanists - but why do "climatologists" feel so happy with wandering away from their areas of expertise and redesigning human society to meet their whimsical preferences?

It's as if crusty old engineers got together to campaign for the world economy to be powered solely by steam engines backed up by treadmills operated by superfluous politicians, bureaucrats, political activists and academics.

Sounds wonderful to me - but I wouldn't be arrogant enough to try and ram it down everyone else's throat.

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

@Don Pablo,

Yes - Clintonesque describes Richard Betts' posts on this site.

He answers questions by answering a different question or using legalistic words in an attempt to mislead.

In Ireland some would describe him as a cute hoor.

Nov 14, 2011 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

This is a keeper: :-)

“Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large.."

Richard Black-BBC on new draft IPCC report
“..And for the future, the draft gives even less succour to those seeking here a new mandate for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions, declaring: “Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”…”
“..There is “low confidence” that tropical cyclones have become more frequent, “limited-to-medium evidence available” to assess whether climatic factors have changed the frequency of floods, and “low confidence” on a global scale even on whether the frequency has risen or fallen…”
and it continues

Nov 14, 2011 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

He’s not exactly the highest bar on the chart, is he? I think we can all agree with him on one point though:

“You don’t need a PhD in climate science to be able to tell who’s telling the truth, and who’s talking nonsense. You simply need a bit of science and a bit of critical thinking and objectivity”.

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Ed Forbes Nov 14, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Have you seen anything that explains the meaning of "sign" in the following?

"Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability".

Positive or negative? Or something else?

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Re: Green Sand

Have you seen anything that explains the meaning of "sign" in the following?

I haven't seen the exact reference but I think it is something similar to this.

Nov 14, 2011 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

I can see why some would not want to watch the whole thing but I felt it did pay to watch the whole thing just to confirm the paucity of the content and delivery. Whilst the title employs the words "Critical thinking" this is a mere run through the list of bullet points from Skeptical Science. I guess Milne must have bought the franchise to try and corner the UK market as the charismatic preacher of this trite pseudo-critical thinking.

It is quite astonishing that he gets such a build up and response considering how familiar the material is. There seems to be quite a market for this well worn re-treading of the evils of "deniers" and how to spot them ;)

I would have loved to have heard the result of Milne going against Ben Pile and the Bish in a debate, I can't imagine this guy doing too well outside the cosy echo chamber he seems accustomed to occupy.

There is so much to pick up on in his unctuous little fallacy fest, but I did find especially funny his claim that a key "denialist trick" is to putting forward "false experts" "with just a recent Phd", I wonder what he would think about the revelations in Donna Laframboise book about the qualifications of the lead authors of the IPCC? ;)

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

meiknownothing"tZDB.I'm very aware that I am an uneducated numpty here,"

Dont bother asking zeds questions..
It doesnt respond most of the time..and for good reason.. :)
It Doesnt read posts..before responding
And it doesnt understand simple statements..
Its a trainee in mendacious obfuscation..
Case in point..look at what the bishop is pointing out..
Even zeds should understand this by now....but it pretends it doesnt..
Then uses the classic CAGW argumentum ad verecundiam..
And the CAGW lecturer using ad hominems..and deception.
They all lie in the same bed I am afraid..

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered Commentermike Williams

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the everlasting AGW-camp denial of MWP, here's the database of MWP-studies worldwide that the AGW'ers rather deny the existence of:

Nov 14, 2011 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPethefin

Leopard: “Milne must have bought the [Skeptical Science] franchise to try and corner the UK market..”
That would explain the word “skeptics” on one of the slides.
Seriously, given that this seems to be part of a general propaganda campaign, I don’t understand how Milne (and Abrahams, Nurse, Cox etc) think that they can get away with such poor stuff.
OK, Milne may not be the hottest spot in the troposphere, but you’d think he (and Abrahams, Nurse, Cox etc) would check it out before delivery. They treat public lectures, TV programmes, YouTube, as if they were private e-mails immune to critical analysis.
Of course, any critical analysis is only going to come from us, and we don’t matter because we shouldn’t exist. I don’t like being treated as a non-person by people who think I shouldn’t exist. It reminds me of things I’d rather not be reminded of, and makes me feel like reacting with a verbal violence unsuitable to a family blog.
I think Richard Betts should be taking this stuff apart, not us. We’re nobodies.

Nov 14, 2011 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

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