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Sceptics' impact on climate science

Amelia Sharman has published a rather interesting working paper about the impact of controversy in the climate debate. At its core is a survey of climate scientists and sceptics, asking what impact all that argy-bargy in recent years has had.

The main conclusion is that the impact has been both positive and negative, but focused more on the way the scientists communicate their findings than the way in which they conduct their research: "increased caution, followed by disruption, a greater focus on communication, defensiveness and a reluctance to publicly engage."

I sense that the two sides of the climate debate might view "increased caution" as falling on different sides of the positive/negative divide. I certainly view one of sceptics' chief impacts as being to force the Met Office to moderate the tide of wild claims that it used to issue about the climate, something that a PR officer there once acknowledged to me.

We also read of work being reexamined as a result of postings at Climate Audit, and of research being accelerated to address sceptic claims.

It's fascinating stuff, and if you can get through the jargon in the first and last sections it is very readable.

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Reader Comments (37)

Interesting to read an academic article about climate change by someone whose salary is paid for by completely impartial $100 billion carbon trader, Jeremy Grantham who wrote in his 2Q 2010 newsletter

"Global warming will be the most important investment issue for the foreseeable future. But how to make money
around this issue in the next few years is not yet clear to me. In a fast-moving field rife with treacherous politics, there
will be many failures. Marketing a “climate” fund would be much easier than outperforming with it."

Jeremy Grantham's 2Q 2010 letter

Oct 5, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

The biggest skeptic is mother nature.

Oct 5, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Which climate science?

The world will get warmer (computer says so).
The heat is hiding (computer missed that).
We've found the heat (computer didn't know that).
The world will get warmer (computer says so).

That climate science?

Oct 5, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

And here I thought one of the biggest impacts would have been on scientists conducting proper unbiased, unmassaged, thorough and careful research?

How disappointing is it to see that instead climate scientists are more concerned with how they sell their catastrophilia instead of ensuring their research is conducted accurately with data that stands up to scrutiny (after all, a good scrut is always enjoyable:).


Oct 5, 2015 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

The debate has been framed as honest academics and environmentalists vs right wing, oil sponsored nuts like Lawson, Delingpole etc. The truth is that the oil companies were the ones pushing the agenda for trillions of dollars of free carbon credits to themselves and other polluters. Carbon trading crashed, but the insurance companies are still making money.

The latest scam is 'keep it in the ground' which will save the oil industry from the catastrophic reality that we are drowning in fossil fuels, far too much to prevent total collapse of energy prices.

Oct 5, 2015 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

I do hope people will read the paper before commenting on it ;)

It is indeed quite interesting. She found that about 2/3 of climate scientists said that sceptics didn't influence the way they did science.

There are various quote-snippets from climate scientists. It might have been nice to see more quote-snippets from sceptics making it into the social science literature.

Oct 5, 2015 at 1:56 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

If you do not wish to be viewed as poor mixture of a liar and joker , then do not spend most of your time acting like one .
Climate 'science ' has well earned its reputation has the home of third rate academics with little ethics and less honesty , and for long time it has not given a dam about it because such poor behaviour was not merely acceptable but celebrated and rewarded with this area.

That the very idea of 'septic' should be consider as being something wrong, contrast strongly against the idea of 'critical ' review which is the norm in any other science, although it is quite at home in politics or religion.

When all the dust settles the irony is nothing the AGW sceptics have done will match the self inflected injuries climate 'science' has done to itself . Has for MET Office , it is clear that under its present leadership , it simply will not change , its outlook and efforts will be put into all things 'due warm ' the loss of the BBC contract will make difference to that.

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Not the first time Amelia has been close to the mark. Pretty good paper.

We're part way there if scientists feel inhibited in saying anything that floats through their fluffy little heads. It's curious how naive they all were to imagine that CAGW wouldn't require a whole shift upwards of standards. Their pronouncements are their product. Who thinks anyone should be able to sell faulty stuff without repercussions? Part of it is inherent smugness, imagining that they’re superior to industry.

I’m always struck by how unaware climate scientists are of what they’re asking for in terms of response and how that massive cost must drive the bar of credibility upwards. It always leaves me with the feeling they’re a bit thick, which is probably unfair but does indicate how they suffer from tunnel vision.

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

This paper was not written for consumption by those wishing to learn and who do not have time for such verbose self congratulatory crap.

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Registered CommenterDung

“the only thing that matters to scientists is whether someone’s sending you things like hate mail, but the thing that matters actually I would contend is low-level, the drip-drip-drip thing is very important” and suggested that this constant low-level pressure and expectation of external critique would likely be related to fewer scientists wanting to either remain in or go into climate science.

But the paper confuses the drip-drip-drip of the thermometers with the drip-drip-drip of those pointing at the thermometers.

In the end, if you have a hypothesis, test it and the predictions don't happen - you abandon the hypothesis. That's what ought to happen.

But instead we get faith-based assertions that it will happen one day. We just haven't got it right yet. Trust us. We're the experts.
That's how the NIWA-CC case was won. Trust the priesthood. But it's uninspiring.

In the long term, a high profile field with no progress being made for thirty years is not going to attract the brightest and best. That's the drip-drip-drip of disappointment.
They thought they were saving the world but they achieved no progress. They know nothing more than they did in the '80s. They were an intellectual dead end.

And now the bright young things go into Google and the like and really do change the world.

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Dung, "verbose self congratulatory crap" is the standard for that field. Given who she works for and compared to most who try to psyche study AGW, she's done well. Remember, we are an alien species.

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

' not going to attract the brightest and best.
M Courtney

perhaps true but it will attract the lazy given its money for nothing, for let us face the fact it is wash with money and offers easy life given academic standards mean nothing has long has you get the 'right results '

Oct 5, 2015 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

One thing it didn't do much of at all, of course, was provoke the self-styled 'skeptics' into conducting quality research of their own.

Funny thing, that. Almost as if they either couldn't do so, or it wasn't one of their goals.

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterMagma

Magma, you offering money?

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Magma, we Sceptics have made as many advances and as many correct predictions as the Warmists.

But we haven't spent a fortune to do it.

Bang for your buck - Sceptics win hands down.

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I gave it a go. Unreadable. Unfathomable. How nice if it were written in English rather than LSEse.

So, which sceptics were interviewed?

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Hand up here who thinks they couldn't waste a half dozen of decades or so 'studying' climate and arriving at nothing convincing if someone was offering a few billion for our time and a supercomputer?

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Paul Matthews (quoting the paper):

It is indeed quite interesting. She found that about 2/3 of climate scientists said that sceptics didn't influence the way they did science.
Whenever I see a stat like that I always ask: What is a 'climate scientist? Who were they? And why are scientists not influenced by scepticism?

My point is, would M Mann, Phil Jones or Steve McIntyre qualify as 'climate scientists'? No matter, I know which one I'd trust for objective truth.

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Amelia is a PHd student (thesis completed - I think - by publication) please don't do the paid for smear, and judge it on its merit

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Just think if the Establishment had managed to shut down the Climate Debate what other debates would they have managed to shut down.

Interesting story on Spiked the University of East Anglia of Climategate fame banned its students from wearing Mexican Sombreros said it was Racist.What a load of Bullshit.

What like banning its Climate researchers from talking to press. Then then wonder why they got hacked .

Climate Skepticism the biggest impact has been to enrich online Political debate

Climate Skepticism you can call it Trolling or Challenging Orthodoxy its all free speech and its all about protecting our Democracy and our Freedom.

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Paul Matthews, Harry Passfield - for how many years did industry resist regulation? And still does. Aren't the news papers still refusing to admit they need to be pulled up by outsiders from time to time? Politicians want to be above the same FOI laws they thought were a good idea for everyone else. I can understand that each group think it's fine and doesn't need outside interference. What is curious is how many non climate scientists rush to their defence even after demonstrating they're not much better than any other group.

Oct 5, 2015 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

One of the best papers I've read - Excellent!

Oct 5, 2015 at 4:00 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Barry Woods

Stalin is alleged to have said that what matters isn't the votes, but who counts them. More importantly what matters in politics isn't who wins a debate but who frames it. That is what the Grantham Institute is doing here. If you paint a picture of scientists vs deniers (who don't write peer reviewed papers) then there can only be one winner.

Oct 5, 2015 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

The reality is that the debate takes place between a few designated liars like Hansen, Schmidt and the RealClimate denizens, Mann and the hockey stick team batting for science. Plus a few mental deficients like Cook, Nuccitelli, environmental liar/ fanatics like Monbiot, Lynas. McKibben, the Grantham stable like Stern, Ward. Ward posts stuff on twitter late on Sunday nights. Is he paid by the lie ? Is he insane ?

The truth is that there is simply no rational reason for even speculating about a mythical creature like manbearpig.

Chesired on the previous topic

'During the 18 years and counting pause we allegedly emitted around 1/3rd of all human CO2 emissions. Result? No atmospheric / surface temperature increase worth a flying fig for nearly 2 decades.


Oct 5, 2015 at 5:02 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Any chance that climate scientists could stick to writing about facts? Conjecture and speculation about what might happen if, is for science fiction writers. Science fiction can be entertaining, but is not science.

Jeremy Grantham has spent a lot of money on science fiction, but has not seen the financial return of George Lucas and Stephen Speilberg. Whilst he continues to enjoy paying for crap, everyone else has to suffer for it.

At least with Star Wars and ET, we had a choice whether to pay to watch once, and can choose whether to watch again, every day, and pay more and more.

Oct 5, 2015 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Off topic (as is my wont), over at the ever readable Donna is a hair raising account of some seriously dangerous dandyprat called "Lord" Carnwath. Apparently he is a judge in an English court called The Supreme Court.
As I live in Scotland I was not aware that such an institution existed.
Be that as it may, it appears that this miscreant is best mates with 'bigears' Charley Windsor.
As such he has serious unconstitutional powers to put into law any hairbrained CAGW ideas his mentors harbour.
I wish some of our legal brains on here would look at this and comment.

Oct 5, 2015 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterwaterside4

golf charlie

I meant (and forgot) to include the vast industry consisting of those who tell us that IF temperatures increase by 2 degrees that we will all be speaking Chinese.

Oct 5, 2015 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

I tried again and managed to get through it somehow. Really it represents only a part of the conflict albeit one that shows up these so-called scientists in a poor light. In any other field they would be subject to examination and criticism by their peers. It would not need a McIntyre to come in ex machina and audit their stuff. All Steve ever said was that if you want to re-arrange the world on the basis of a scientific claim it should at least reach the level of integrity of a mining prospectus (my precis, apologies to Steve if it is mistaken). They don't reach that level sometimes and if sceptics are holding them to it what is the harm? I really do not care about their hurt feelings or the extra i dotting and t crossing.

What I am concerned about is that the real meat of the debate that never happened is not about the incidental quality of their work. It's about whether they have any grounds for claiming that there is anything going on that is likely to be a catastrophe for the human population. It's best evidence. It's the dead Swede and models all the way down. It's the gigantic pile of money available to those who pay lip service to the alarm. The paper doesn't address it.

Barry, you were interviewed, weren't you?

Oct 5, 2015 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

This from TinyCO2

"We're part way there if scientists feel inhibited in saying anything that floats through their fluffy little heads. It's curious how naive they all were to imagine that CAGW wouldn't require a whole shift upwards of standards. Their pronouncements are their product. Who thinks anyone should be able to sell faulty stuff without repercussions? Part of it is inherent smugness, imagining that they’re superior to industry.

I’m always struck by how unaware climate scientists are of what they’re asking for in terms of response and how that massive cost must drive the bar of credibility upwards. It always leaves me with the feeling they’re a bit thick, which is probably unfair but does indicate how they suffer from tunnel vision."

broght to mind the name

Richard Betts.

Now that I have your attention, Dr Betts, when will I get an answer to my question about the finances of the HELIX project?

Is this worth the millions of taxpayer's money?

Do feel free to give a detailed answer.

Oct 5, 2015 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterjolly farmer

It's working!

Skeptics have caused the some in the climate fraternity to up their game (albeit from a very low level).

Some in the climate fraternity put themselves in the place they are in by producing 'results to order' ('would you like fries with your Thermageddon?'). If there wasn't such obvious targeted manipulation few people would have a problem.

I refer primarily to the scientivists who, unfortunately, seem unable to separate science and activism.


Oct 5, 2015 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Waterside4 I was not aware that the Supreme Court (stupid name btw) had any powers to enact laws - that is the function of the elected legislature. So Lord C is only potentially dangerous to the extent that he could try to persuade his fellow Law Lords to interpret existing laws in ways that fit his apparent prejudices.

Oct 5, 2015 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

The NZ issue mentioned in the paper is an interesting one, in that it involved NIWA being taken to court over their seven station series.

In the meantime, the sceptics who took the court case have their work in the peer reviewed literature, unlike NIWA in this case.

On the NZ note, I should add that the group I am involved in to challenge the Christchurch City Council over its proposed district plan (ref: one metre sea level rise by 2115) has won the first round of its battle to have the plan halted by intervention of central government. We have other issues to fight in the meantime, though.

Oct 5, 2015 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Scrase

Audits are in good order.

It is a scandal to have a one man manned site , unpaid, who is finding faults in warmish "research" by the dozens.
And these are not typos, really.

Shukla is a scandal, even if nothing "criminal" is found. He is a living scandal and a waste of tax payers money.
Where people get jail for a stolen sandwich we have this character offloading taxpayers for millions.

What is required is a comprehensive audit by several McIntyres( INDEPENDENT, PAID contractors) to find out how other universities are "managing" the creation and destruction of "essential" institutes nobody ever asked for.

I think it is time , if you respect the taxpayer, to reduce all university grants by 10billion, and have a 10B audit sweep.

If one find Julia Slingo hiring her dottie, CORRUPT as it comes, how does that work out for all the other quangoes institutes, charieties? Hmmmm? Would "dave" care to answer, allocate an AUDITING budget of a billion and find out for us, please. Because I am suspecting it all STINKS now. If "dave" cannot muster that we do not need his "government"
we do not need his laws, his queen, his judges and the whole enchilada. "dave" better starts "AUDITING" as well.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

I didn't see much of value in this paper. It seems to be making molehills out of mountains and visa-versa. She makes her own Lewandowsky style surveys about her own very fuzzy restatement of the controversy. But she ducks the meat of skeptical insights and completely ignores the procedural divergence of climate science from Feynman-esque rigor.

Oct 6, 2015 at 6:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterMickey Reno

There is an interesting and relevant comment at CA from Dave Verardo, NSF climate scientist. He says:

"I have seen some of your blog’s posting as having a positive effect on scientists in the technical arena. It is too bad that some cannot bring themselves to acknowledge your help. It is wrong. In this regard, we are kindred spirits."

Mickey, it's wrong to call this a Lew-style survey. She's been careful to keep people anonymous (where Lew named them and labelled them conspiracy theorists). Also she interviewed both sides (where Lew only surveyed one side and tried to draw conclusions about the other).

Oct 6, 2015 at 9:04 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Your Lord Deben is here in Australia. He has just appeared on The Drum, on ABC (your BBC) TV a panel program which discusses current affairs. Tonight was CO2 emissions reductions and who were the worst performers.He tipped the bucket on Australia and hailed China as one of the best. Our Jo Nova who for years has run a blog exposing the global warming fraud was supposed to give the contrary view. She got about a minute and a half and Deben was let loose again. A thoroughly unpleasant piece of work. You can have him back.

Oct 6, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterClive Bond

Paul Matthews, I was referring more to the direction and intent of the questions the author chose to ask and to ignore. If her choice of survey subjects and the protocols for managing them were better than Lewandowsky's, I congratulate her. But that's a very low hurdle. Her understanding of the whole issue appears nearly as one-sided as Lewandowsky's. Do you think her paper adds something substantial to the climate policy debate?

Oct 6, 2015 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMickey Reno

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