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Why do people believe stupid things?

Jose Duarte continues to mine a productive seam on the shameful behaviour of, on the one hand John Cook and his team, and on the other Stephan Lewandowsky. His post a couple of days ago was on the subject of the true value of the climate consensus and he puts the proportion of climate scientists who think that most warming is caused by carbon dioxide at 80%. I had previously thought that the true figure was around the 75% mark, so we are in the same ballpark.

But as Judith Curry points out in an update to Jose's post, this is all slightly beside the point. Many or even most of the the people who call themselves climate scientists are not actually working on anything relevant to the question at hand - they are specialists in impacts and responses and the like. They only believe that most warming is caused by carbon dioxide because their colleagues specialising in the atmospheric sciences tell them so.

The proportion of atmospheric scientists who adhere to the consensus appears to be a little over half according to the same update. But even then, we have to wonder if someone who is working on, say, atmospheric chemistry is getting his opinions on the extent of human influence from the tiny number of people who are working on detection and attribution - a couple of dozen was Mike Hulme's estimate if I recall correctly.

And even then we have to ask how this tightly knit group arrives at the conclusion it does about the proportion of warming that is manmade. Of course the answer is with climate simulations, leavened with parameterisations, assumptions and fudges, and larded with unknowns, both known ones and unknown ones.

The idea that most of the warming at the end of the last century was human caused is not in itself stupid. The stupidity referred to in the title of this post is that a consensus formed by people who know little of a subject, based on the opinions of a tiny group of people who claim to have discerned the truth from a simulation of an impossibly complex system, has any meaning or relevance to the public policy debate.

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Reader Comments (30)

It doesn't matter if the 97% figure is true. It matters if it is believed.

This is not a matter of science but of faith.

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:17 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney


Tell a big lie and tell it often, and a lot of people will believe it.

It was quite a successful political method, until reality in the form of millions of foreign soldiers arrived.

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

There are not too many people working on detection and attribution of climate change. Hulme's couple of dozen is probably right. This is not a tightly knit group, though. In fact, they're at each other's throats.

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol, they're at each other's throats?
In private maybe.
But when communicating with politicians and the wider public? I think not.

Else the 97% line could never have been promoted.

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:45 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

"they're at each other's throats"

Why? Don't tell me climate scientists are human, either, because I know they aren't. ;)


Jun 2, 2015 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

Those few 'climate scientist' who understand the physics only have their belief in CO2 causing warming because they are funded to keep having that belief. Ask any one of them to show the physics that shows that CO2 causes warming and you will not get a reply.

Jun 2, 2015 at 4:54 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Any 20 yr old who has come back from a sun sea sand sangria and sex holiday in the Med knows that in warmer temperatures British people behave differently. They instantly become experts in climate science and psychology and frequently return.

Not many people go back to the Arctic. Must be the lack of sandy beaches.

Radical Rodent. No commas!

Jun 2, 2015 at 5:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Radical Rodent. No commas!

I'm not Rad-Rod, but I appreciate your effort.
A definite improvement. Thank you.
However, "...sun, sea, sand, sangria and sex..." would be appropriate usage.

Sometimes it seems typers insert commas whenever they take a breath.

Jun 2, 2015 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterSlywolfe

Golf Charlie. Well done; much better !

Jun 2, 2015 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Constable

Admitting to knowing very little about the people detection and attribution, I nevertheless wouldn't say they're all in concert. I believe they are divided along which data they use.

Jun 2, 2015 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I wonder if there are figures on the number of climate scientists by decade since about 1950. I can't help thinking that the subject was originally considered to be of low importance and a bit of a backwater. Today, there must be a huge number of "scientists", all completely indoctrinated in the beliefs, having studied the global warming and climate change revelations that led to the explosion in funding.

Few are going to question the textbooks and the declarations of the founding fathers, even if many of the latter feature in the infamous ClimateGate emails.

Just think of a whole new generation of keen, well funded enthusiasts, fully signed up to the beliefs instilled in them since they were old enough to watch biased BBC childrens' propaganda. At school, they would have been taught about the evils of a trace gas. A trip to the Science Museum would reinforce fear of the horrendous warming facing our planet.

University would beckon, with all the climatic threats on display and the opportunity to take part in the massively funded opportunity to actually save the planet. Whooopeee!

Now they populate every university, pseudo university and pretend university, countless NGOs, organisations with charitable status, consultancies aimed at extracting taxpayer's money, renewable energy advocates, etc. I could probably go on indefinitely, but you probably get my drift.

Frightening, isn't it?

Jun 2, 2015 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Re 'most of the the people who call themselves climate scientists are not actually working on anything relevant to the question at hand', I like to think I may have nailed it in paragraph 1.3 of my submission to the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee in 2013. (Although I acknowledge the inelegance of my term - 'Beyond Expertise Problem'.)

Jun 2, 2015 at 7:13 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Are moving to a Comma Police as well as Apostrophe Police state?

Jun 2, 2015 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Slywolfe, I breathe regularly to keep my carbon and comma footprint high

Jun 2, 2015 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Many scientists working on climate use the notion of CO2 induced warming as a working assumption and examine the consequences should it come to pass. Whether they actually believe such warming is occurring or will occur is another question.

Scientists are under incredible pressure to publish. When warming was raised as a possibility, investigating the potential consequences of such warming suddenly became a valid and active research area. This has spawned an entire industry of people publishing papers on the potential impact of warming on everything from the lifetime of paint to the lifecycle of insects. To do this work don't have to believe the warming will actually occur. You merely look at what the impact would be if it did. Doing this kind of research pays the bills and isn't a bad way to make a living.

You can't infer scientist's opinions from the fact that they work in this area. The only way to find out what they really think is to ask. And such are the forces of political correctness in academia I suspect you probably wouldn't get honest answers unless it was a completely anonymous survey.

Jun 3, 2015 at 1:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan H

Ian H.

...or as pizzed as newts on a camping holiday for two by the fireside, perched atop Malham Cove?

Jun 3, 2015 at 3:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

The extent of consensus is irrelevant because support fro a hypothesis does NOT determine scientific truths. Judith Curry is on the mark when she says that many so-called climate scientists aren't looking at the possible cause of climate change, they simply assume and the assumption is often "because a big boy said so", the big boy being the UNFCCC or the IPCC, neither of which have shown any proof.

The other matter is climate models, which are run with and without greenhouse gases and the different attributed to human activity. WRONG. The difference shows nothing more than the sensitivity of models to the inclusion of those gases. In its latest report the IPCC said that 111 or 114 climate models predicted greater warming during 1998 to 2012 than the temperature data indicates. It also says that the models could be failing for three very broad reasons and it notes that "some" models "overestimate" the influence of greenhouse gases. Despite all that and the statements about the inaccuracy of models that appear in every IPCC report, there's a huge lapse in integrity when people claim that models show that humans have caused most of the warming since 1950. This is simply a lie because it's an unsupportable claim.

Jun 3, 2015 at 3:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn McLean

There is an interesting blog post about a small group of climate insiders. Unfortunately it's in Finnish. Here's a link to a google translation that should be good enough to make the point understandable:

Jun 3, 2015 at 5:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterVäinö

Two surveys of climate scientists done by climate scientists put the level of consensus at 66%. von Storch/Bray in 2008 and Verheggen et al in 2012.

Jun 3, 2015 at 7:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterThomas Fuller

Vaino's link at 5:13 AM above is well worth typing the url and reading in its occasionally laboured entirety. Many fine points, but I particularly liked 'airing his fingers over the keyboard'.

Jun 3, 2015 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Heh, gc, if I didn't have commas I'd need a drum.

Jun 3, 2015 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Ian H has stated something that, I think, most of us have probably noticed without really taking it on board.
Virtually every field of study you can name can be linked to global warming if you start from the assumption that, "if it's happening then the outcome in my own area of expertise is likely to be this."
That's all you need for the activists to say, "See, we told you what will happen when ... and so and so has confirmed it"
And politicians and journalists, being no more or less gullible than the average, fall for it.

Jun 3, 2015 at 9:11 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"Ask any one of them to show the physics that shows that CO2 causes the warming and you will not get a reply."

I usually phrase it as, 'if CO2 causes the warming events then what causes the cooling events - and why couldn't that cause the warming too'? Again no reply, they mostly just ignore it and blithely move on. Why? Well when I do get an answer to tricky questions about whither CO2 or nature given the uncertainty, I'm told that clever and otherwise honest scientist friends had done this work already and convinced them. God forbid anyone should read any papers outside their own narrow subject with an objective eye.

Jun 3, 2015 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Commas are useful little animals, but can be a little difficult to keep under control. Let them guard inserts into a sentence, an insert that may only be there to expand upon the meaning of that sentence, or direct people onto a slightly different flow within that sentence. Another use for them is to keep the contents of a list apart; without them, any Tom, Dick and Harry might cause confusion. However, let them, run wild, and, simply reading, a sentence, could get very, very, hard work. Should you feel the need to fill a quota, simply corral them at the end,,,,,;).

Jun 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

If scientists outside the circle of climatology, knew the details of assumptions made in formulating climate models, there probably would be many fewer supporters of the hypothesis. Scientists working in one field, generally trust those working in other areas, because most branches of science are populated by a significant number of researchers, so independent policing is guaranteed Greenhouse gas climate modelling has a very limited number of such specialists, and refereeing within such a small group has, seemingly, become incestuous.t

Jun 3, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

John McClean wrote: when people claim that models show that humans have caused most of the warming since 1950. This is simply a lie because it's an unsupportable claim.
Yes! When you pin them down, it is grudgingly acknowledged by Big Climate Science that human attribution is due solely to expert opinion, not to any specific successful experimental tests. This convenient expert opinion came out of the IPCC AR process, and began to take serious shape in the 1995 AR2, wherein working group chairman Ben Santer used his chairman's privileges to make some last minute changes to his group's summary text which converted previously agreed uncertain attribution into a much more certain attribution. Some skeptics quit working with the IPCC after Santer's corrupt little trick, but that just made it easier for Santer's myth to become even more accepted with the IPCC, and made the IPCC more insular and echo chamber-esque. The factoid was seized upon by sympathetic media outlets, and the brainwashing of the public proceeded, advancing via the circular logic that because the IPCC says it, it must be scientific. And remember how Trenberth's grasping hypothesis that some missing heat must be going into the deep oceans evolved in the same mythic (myth used as a pejorative, here) way? When he first said it, he was just desperately seeking to explain away the so-called pause, the "travesty" of the Team's failure. But it became almost immediately accepted as science fact because 1. it had been uttered by an "expert IPCC climate scientist," 2. it sounded plausible, 3, it could not be disproved, and 4. it fit with the alarmist narrative and agenda. It's shameful what these people are doing to the scientific method.

Jun 3, 2015 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterMickey Reno

Schrodinger's Cat says:

"Today, there must be a huge number of "scientists", all completely indoctrinated in the beliefs, having studied the global warming and climate change revelations that led to the explosion in funding."

Frighteningly true, for example the Potsdam Cuckoos are being released on the world....and the same is happening from all the institutes that have been set up over the last couple of decades.

"They work on carbon taxes, the German Energiewende and “flying rivers” in the Amazonian basin – the research of several young scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has recently been awarded for its excellence."

"Max Franks, who is a member of PIK’s Policy Instruments research group, discusses the fiscal benefits of a carbon tax. His paper “Why finance ministers favor carbon taxes, even if they do not take climate change into account” was selected out of 200 submissions to be awarded with the “Best Overall Paper” at the Third Annual Conference of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform, a conference that was hosted in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank. Franks assessed the fiscal incentive of imposing a tax on carbon rather than on capital. He concludes that carbon taxes lead to higher welfare than capital taxation."

Jun 3, 2015 at 4:23 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Duarte has graphing issues too

Joe Duarte (José) ‏@ValidScience May 27

Example: I'm interested in any graphs that multiply °C by 100 as in the attached from Hurlstone, Lewandowsky et al.

Jun 4, 2015 at 2:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

"Why do people believe stupid things?"
..because they are people is part of the neurological makeup
....most of humans believe in unproven things like religion etc.
..However humanity as a whole has tools to decide where the line is and what is proven and what is merely an idea.
IT matters cos misdirected "green dream" money is wasted in the same way that "corruption money" is wasted.
Yes Greens are not intrinsically evil, but we shouldn't allow them to be negligent.

- BTW you can see amazing examples of social scientists doing "true believer" behaviour in The David Aaronovitch BBC Radio 4 Analysis prog about Satanic Abuse ..There was no external evidence just testimonials from children obtained under duress ..

Jun 5, 2015 at 12:01 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

...most of humans believe in unproven things like religion etc. [sic]
A lot of people have had sufficient personal proof to accept their religion; perhaps you meant "...unprovable things..."?

Jun 5, 2015 at 12:09 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

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