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« Days of yore - Josh 113 | Main | A mezzo-soprano on climate science »

Illegitimate IPCC

A devastating paper by Jane Goodwin on Iowa State university is discussed at Judy Curry's blog. The subject is the IPCC consensus:

We shall argue that consensus among a reference group of experts thus concerned is relevant only if agreement is not sought.  If a consensus arises unsought in the search for truth and the avoidance of error, such consensus provides grounds which, though they may be overridden, suffice for concluding that conformity is reasonable and dissent is not.  If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.

Both the paper and the blog post are must-reads.


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Reader Comments (35)

That is the point, isn’t it? If individual researchers and methods arrive independently at the same conclusion, then their arguments reinforce each other, but if that conclusion was sought from the outset, then those arguments are worthless.

WRT the IPCC, I’m reminded of Piet Hein’s advice:

When choosing a committee
A useful rule of thumb
Is that talents make a difference
While follies make a sum.

Jul 16, 2011 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P


OT, but a very interteresting piece by Princton physics professor William Happer on "The dubious science of climate crusadors" wich also favorably mentions one Illusion about a certain stick:

Jul 16, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

Your Grace, your quote is not from Goodwin but from Lehrer. It's a good one though.

Jul 16, 2011 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

OT but interesting. Has Geoffrey Lean let the cat out of the bag ? On page 30 of to-day's DT he says - 'Might Greenpeace rename one of its ships SAMANTHA CAMERON after its former supporter ?'
So it isn't so much the pathetic Dave who is in cahoots with the mendacious Lean, as the uber-green hippy Samantha. She,along with her chums at Greenpeace, is calling all the shots in the 'Greenest Government Ever'.
The million or so we give her dad each year, to subsidise his wind farm, helps of course.

Jul 16, 2011 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

James P
I'm also reminded that when establishing a committee, for the most efficent conduct of business an odd number of members is desirable in order to ensure a decision. Three is usually too many.
Doesn't always apply, of course! :-)

Jul 16, 2011 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Both elegant and penetrating. Bravo!

Jul 16, 2011 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Sorry, I did post this classic relevant quote at jc's site but it seems worth adding it here:

“Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

–Michael Crichton, The Caltech Michelin Lecture, 17 January 2003

Crichton was so far ahead of this game. His 'State of Fear' more accurately predicted what was coming than any IPCC 'science.'

Jul 16, 2011 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered Commenteredward getty

Absolutely agree on Michael Crichton. My youngest son is 14 1/2 and I have just given him State of Fear to read.

Jul 16, 2011 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRB

The title of Crichton's lecture was: Aliens Cause Global Warming. It is well worth reading for those unfamiliar with it.

Jul 16, 2011 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrcrinum

This paper is essentially bollocks designed to keep the author in the main shoal of self-congratulatory fish.

The real story is that the consensus is about to be destroyed by experimental evidence and proof of major scientific fraud by insiders who made the wrong guess 30 years' ago, and decided to lie when they were disproved by people lower down in the food chain.

Watch this space and the NewsCorp, aka renewable energy scandal!

Jul 17, 2011 at 12:10 AM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

I like Goodwin's essay. It is very clear, simple, and plain. It makes good points; however, those points have been pretty much digested by visitors here. Goodwin's contribution might be the introduction of a language that skeptics and some AGW folk can share. I hope she sticks to logic and argument. She is a rhetorician and that makes one fear that she might tend toward "post modern" views of science.

Jul 17, 2011 at 1:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Goodwin’s point seeems to be that, by emphasising consensus, the IPCC made a tactical mistake which gave sceptics a stick with which to beat them. Curry’s post gets all excited because some humanities types have invented some new words ending in “ology”.
You science / engineering types have a lot to learn about how shallow and pointless we humanities types can be.

Jul 17, 2011 at 6:03 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

@Jul 16, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Jonas N

Thanks for link! A superb piece by Happer, extremely well written.

(Well deserved) Praise for the Bish's HSI by Will Happer!

I'm not a great believer in "Authority figures" as proofs of arguments. But if I was the Bish I'd frame that quote and hang over my bed!

Jul 17, 2011 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

@ Jul 16, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Jonas N

Agree - an excellent article, which illuminates all the pseudo-science, and makes some very good contrarian points. Easy to understand - suggest Hengist reads it.

Jul 17, 2011 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterPFM

An interesting historical perspective on the IPCC, however, we already know that its (IPCC) product is consensus. For those interested in the machinations of climate science, it adds little and to those looking for scientific fact, nothing.

What it does do is make a strong case against the concept of science informing policy-makers and places the likes of John Beddington on a par with Rowan Williams for relevancy.

Jul 17, 2011 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

How can it be a devastating paper whilst it's a working draft ? It's not through peer review yet .

Jul 17, 2011 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone


Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” Keith Briffa (29/4/2007)

Jul 17, 2011 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

ssat - that quote is from Phil Jones.
The relevant one from Briffa is where, as editor of a journal, he wrote to a reviewer
" Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting "

Jul 17, 2011 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaulM


Thanks, no excuse, just sloppy.

Jul 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Key quote, "what science can offer public policy is not proof, but consensus."

Proof over AGW remains elusive but a consensus surrounding AGW has been built steadily over the past 30 years.

To legitimately criticise the science and oppose the consensus invites ridicule and threatens careers. The alarmists try to beat people around their heads not with evidence but with authoritarianism - that is the great weakness over the acceptance of AGW - it demands submissiveness to a social arguement.

The politicians are beginning to realise that pursuing green policies that pushes millions into the poverty trap has consequences - the arguement that they are saving the planet simply won't wash, especially when people are beginning to demand ever higher forms of proof.

The consensus is failing.

Jul 17, 2011 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Consensus is always going to fail where it is built solely on the need to create consensus.
The fact that Houghton and the IPCC identified a need to build a consensus is the most positive indication that they were on shaky ground — and knew it.
If your argument is sound enough the science itself will carry you through. Since humanity appears programmed to believe bad news in preference to good news yet one more prediction that we are all going to hell in a handcart should have been an easy sell. Even the fact that Hansen (or his gofer) felt the need to over-egg the pudding by tinkering with the air-conditioning way back in 1988 suggests a certain lack of belief in the 'truth' they were about to tell.
"This is what we want people to believe; we're not really sure about it ourselves; time for a bit of spinning!"

Jul 17, 2011 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I do think that once ordinary people realise that “Scientific consensus is not by itself a scientific argument, and it is not part of the scientific method.” will change the public mind. The realisation that we are dealing with societal based policies and not evidence based ones will destroy the consensus.

Jul 17, 2011 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Mike Jackson,

"we are all going to hell in a handcart" is never based on facts but on a pessimistic outlook of mankind's actions. It is interesting to note that;

Both optimism and pessimism contributed independently to the prediction of depression and life satisfaction; pessimism but not optimism predicted paranoid hostility and cynicism.

AGW is a state of mind.

Jul 17, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

The new paper, even though it may not have been peer reviewed, makes a very good point that most (all?) of the Warmist community ignore at their peril, but most posters at BH know full well - consensus does not have anything much to do with science, or even with the so-called 'common sense' of the public at large. One of my grandfathers, a pioneer motorist in New Zealand, was frequently the butt of witless jokes when he purchased his first motor car well before WWI and was so convinced of the future of the device, financed a motor garage before the term was generally understood.
To have this type of study into the creation of the myths promulgated by the IPCC is yet another step along the road to the IPCC's eventual denouement and exit from the international scene.

Jul 17, 2011 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Now might be the time to persuade Murdoch to investigate the Cameron's links to Greenpeace et al. The results could give him the leverage he needs to save his Corporation.

Anyone got contacts??

Jul 17, 2011 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

Never forget Mencken's dictum (quoted on here more than once):

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
Only possible becasue of an apparent pre-dispostion to believe that today is always worse than yesterday.
AGW carries a grain of truth — it would be unreasonable not to think that man had at least some influence on his environment; CAGW only has traction because the politico-scientific establishment has succeeded to an extent in implementing Mencken.
If I could predict the next scare I could probably make a small fortune.

Jul 17, 2011 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

The fact that Jane Goodwin identifies Sir John Houghton, former head of the UK's Met Office and at the time, Chair of the IPCC during that organisation's days of Nobel glory, as the originator of the 'consensus' myth as a deliberate ploy to convince the great unwashed of the veracity of the IPCC's scientific sancity should be no surprise knowing that the deeply-religious Sir John sees his own Christianity as a justification for (as Mrs Clinton has famously termed it) mis-speaking, ie splitting hairs over the veracity of his statements about needing a disaster as a way to 'sell' the IPCC's dubious science garnered surriptitiously from organisations such as Greenpeace and WWF. As the UK Establishment appears to be having its own train-wreck very publicly, no doubt much more information will surface making the linkages between the mainstream media, politicians, climate-advocate NGOs, the Met Office, the BBC, a climate research establishment not known for openness and truth-telling, Scotland Yard and various climate scientists. As a plot for a novel, the drama unfolding before us would have been deemed too silly to bother reading, but, once again truth is proving to be far more fascinating and entertaining than fiction.

Jul 17, 2011 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K


I take Mencken's point and admit that Orwell's similarly reasoned 1984 was an eye-opener in my youth. However, I try to understand how apparently intelligent scientists can espouse certainty where no proof exists - it is against all that they are taught. I also have problems with conspiracy theorists and the idea that AGW is a scam. From the likes of the unthinking Caroline Lucas to the thinking George Monbiot we constantly are exposed to social pressure of the 'man is evil' type. My conclusion is that some people are hard-wired that way and it was forever thus. History shows they only ever win in the short-term and can be mostly ignored, however, on the big issues, they need to be taken to task. I try to do my bit and note that your corner is holding up very well:)

Jul 17, 2011 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

A friend told me that he was present at a small gathering of people being "briefed" by Sir John. When he started gently questioning some of the points made, he told me that Sir John made it perfectly obvious that "things were going to become embarassing if he continued" .......

Jul 17, 2011 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterPFM


To add to your insight, Houghton last year;

"About 70 scientists from around the world attended the first meeting of the group near Oxford early in 1989. We had no preconceived agenda regarding our conclusions. In fact, a number of attendees argued that not enough was known about human-induced climate change to produce any significant report. However...."
"I was chairman or co-chairman of the Science Working Group from 1988–2002...."

Jul 17, 2011 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate, with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Hengist. You made me laugh – then I scrolled down and it was you – and I laughed longer and louder.

Latimer Adler in the JC thread. Brevity. Bravo, but difficult and, for me, time consuming.

Consensus amongst scientists, particularly in these days of increased specialization, is largely based on hearsay and mutual respect, whether misplaced or not. One man knows the science and those around him believe him, and those around them believe them and so on and …. there is a consensus. So it does not depend on solid science, it depends on solid personal relationships and is all the more persuasive for that.

Sir Paul N and Sir John B might like to bear this situation in mind.

Did Ms Goodwin include such a thought as this? I think she did, but her words and sentences were very long and her arguments were very longwinded and I am not sure.

Yes, Mr Latimer, brevity is the trick.

Jul 17, 2011 at 5:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Here's a nice historic example of 'manufactured consensus';

They dwarf the '2500' claim re; IPCC, with "20,679*" concurring experts;

"*Checked and Certified" in the fine print.

Consensus used to be easier in 'ye olden daze'...

Jul 17, 2011 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterRuhRoh

Alexander K writes:

"...Sir John sees his own Christianity as a justification for (as Mrs Clinton has famously termed it) mis-speaking, ie splitting hairs over the veracity of his statements about needing a disaster as a way to 'sell' the IPCC's dubious science garnered surriptitiously from organisations such as Greenpeace and WWF."

How deliciously ironic that Sir John could not predict that the only disaster in his future would be the IPCC.

Jul 17, 2011 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Every thinking adult, including scientists, must ask themselves 'What should the consensus be?'. Only careerists and politicians look for what the consensus is and the power and privilege structure that goes with it..

If all reach the truth then all will be in agreement. Yet if all share some error then all are simply equally wrong.

Jul 18, 2011 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Layson

Consensus is failing,
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,
Consensus is failing,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Climate Team Lament.
(With apologies to William Yeats.)

Jul 19, 2011 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBeth Cooper

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