William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

We made Joker!

UPDATE: apologies to those who tried to comment from 1 am to 5 am EST Wednesday. My hosting service was doing maintenance and comments were locked out. All is well now.

UPDATE 2:The site was also down nearly all Thursday. If you’re reading this, you can see it’s back up.

You won’t have heard of it, but there is a website called “The Wonk Room“. (Stick around until after the quote for today’s Lesson in Logic.)

Sounds like a fun place, eh? Who doesn’t like a room full of wonks?

Anyway, it turns out that they have added my name to 51 others to form a pack of jokers! Climate jokers, apparently. No, not the kind of guys who might say to a cirrostratus cloud, “Look who just blew into town”, but those who would make light of “The consensus.”

They grouped my name under the heading “Weathermen”, which is close enough.

Here is my comment (I sometimes worry these kinds of comments won’t make it past the censored list):

Hi guys. William Briggs (“Weatherman”) here.

You oddly list us weather guys as having “expert” as opposed to expert (without square quotes) opinions. I gather this means you think your comments are expert and not “expert” on climatology.

It’ll be fun to see if you’ll have the honesty to publish this comment.

Just for fun, here are my credentials: PhD from Cornell in Mathematical Statistics, MS from Cornell in Atmospheric Science, BS from Central Mich in Meteorology. Associate Editor Monthly Weather Review; multiple publications in Journal of Climate and other such places; Member on the American Meteorological Society’s Probability and Statistics Committee. Etc. Interested readers can go to my web page for more.

Money received from anybody—government, grants, non-profit, industry, etc.—for journal articles or comments in climatology/meteorology: $0.

Industry contacts: 0.

Number of email blasts sent by me on any subject: 0.

Thanks for the interest everybody!

Actually, now that I remember, I did receive gratis travel to give an invited lecture in Spain at the Royal Science Academy last year. I also got some free grub at the Heartland Climate Conference last year. This puts my total dollars received far, far short of one month’s rent payment. But, dammit. Now I have to recant. (I added this comment to their site, too.)

For an interesting exercise in logic, if consensus means agreement by all and some climate scientists do not agree with The consensus, is it still a consensus?

If you answered no, you wouldn’t enjoy yourself in the Wonk Room. Because on their compilation they list “The Scientists: Ph.D.s…[who] are ready to denounce the scientific consensus.” “Scientists…denounce scientific consensus.” But if “Scientists” do not agree then there cannot be a “scientific” consensus, right?

Unless you redefine scientist as one who agrees with The consensus. That move, regardless of what you think of it, does make the argument about consensus valid. All “scientists”, by definition, agree on The consensus, which is therefore a consensus. Do you see what I mean?

This means that those who disagree must not be scientists. Which puts the Wonkers in a dilemma, for they cannot list these folks as “scientists”, which they do.

Those guys must lose a lot of sleep over thinking about these things. Because it gets worse.

Why? Well, none of these Wonkers is himself a scientist. So how can they know who is a scientist and who is not? After all, they do not possess the academic training to be able to tell.

Only thing they can do is to ask a scientist, “Are you a scientist?” If the man says, “Yes”, then the Wonker must also ask, “Do you fervently believe in The consensus.” If the interviewee says “No”, then the Wonker must conclude that the interviewee is deluded or confused.

It’s worse still, because how did these Wonkers know that there was The consensus in the first place? Because somebody told them. And they must have believed what they were told wholeheartedly. And they must have been told by some first person who said, “I am a scientist and here is The consensus. Anybody who does not fervently believe in The consensus is not a scientist.”

This must be the case because, again, the Wonkers have no way to judge on their own the scientific content of The consensus. They must accept, by faith, what the original scientist told them. Arguments against The consensus are not allowed because these would be made by non-scientists, because scientists, by definition, are those who accept The consensus, and who therefore would not—and could not—argue against it.

Whew. What a lot of work, much of tedious and boring, to show that some people have, quite simply, lost their minds.


  1. I like the Random House dictionary’s second definition of wonk best: “2. a stupid, boring, or unattractive person.” And maybe “illogical” could be added to the mix?

  2. Thanks for engaging on this issue. I am not a practicing scientist, though I do have a master’s degree in the geosciences from MIT, and would like to believe I have the “academic training to be able to tell” what is science and what is not.

    My understanding of the scientific consensus is based on published literature, not the blog posts of scientists on RealClimate or wmbriggs.com.

    If a plausible counterexplanation to anthropogenic climate change emerges in the literature, I’ll be the first to report it, because I’d much rather not expend effort on fighting the fossil fuel industry et al. to change our energy policy.

    It’s certainly possible there’s a massive conspiracy by academic institutions and governments to defraud the public in order to stick it to trillion-dollar energy industries, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    Whereas we have established examples (e.g. cigarettes) of industries funding long-term misinformation campaigns to distort and counter scientific literature that threatens their profit stream.

    Perhaps we can find common ground in one small area: that the scientific community would benefit from more openness to amateur scientists and public scrutiny. It’s unacceptable in this day and age that nearly all scientific literature is behind paid firewalls.

  3. Briggs

    February 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm


    It’s just as well that I re-say, roughly, what my thoughts on climate change are.

    Human-caused climate change is trivially true. Any species, mankind included, cannot help but to influence the climate. No species cannot not influence the climate.

    Since this is true, it is only a question of (1) How much, (2) Are the effects harmful or helpful, (3) Can we mitigate the harm, and (4) Can we enhance the help?

    The best estimate of (1) is not that much, in the sense that, so far, the models all have over predicted the actual temperatures (and have had large errors for other variables, like precipitation). Since the models have so far over predicted, it is rational to suppose that the future predictions will not be so good either and will over predict.

    (2) Climate change—induced by man or not—has always been harmful and helpful, to both man and other species. The key thing is to identify the harms. So far, most people have looked exclusively at the harm, and have ignored, and even denied, the help. The estimates of some harm (like suicides in Italy) have been appallingly poor. There is a “band wagon” effect here.

    (3) Here, we leave climatology and enter economics, sociology, and politics. I am an optimist. I think it is likely that we will, to a large extent, be able to cope with what comes—in the form of climate change, that is. God knows what will happen between people.

    (4) Again, I’m an optimist. I think we can use the helpful changes make things better.

    Incidentally, if I say a true thing here, on this blog, it remains just as true as if I said it on RealClimate or in some “refereed” journal. The only thing peer review does is to help cut down on the amount of stuff people have to read every month. A statement showing up in a journal is obviously far from a guarantee of validity.

    It is right to be suspicious, even extremely suspcious and skeptical of content read anywhere, especially on the web. But publication on the web just as obviously does not guarantee invalidity.

  4. BJohnsonon says:
    “It’s certainly possible there’s a massive conspiracy by academic institutions and governments to defraud the public in order to stick it to trillion-dollar energy industries, but it doesn’t seem likely.”

    Argumentum ad Absurdum. “if the consensus is wrong then it must be a deliberate (and therefore implausible) conspiracy”.

    The consensus exists because it meets the personal needs a wide variety of players. People like Hansen and Mann find the climate armageddon tales make them them media darlings and turns them into untouchable authorities in their field. Universities and government agencies like the funding opportunities that it brings in. Undergrads and post docs realize that fighting the consensus is unhealthy for their careers and them same with the second tier scientists that work under the shadow of people like Hanson and Mann. Journal editors like climate armageddon papers because they sometimes get picked up in the media which enhances their profile as a journal.

    In short, if the consensus is wrong it is because people believed what they wanted to believe and not because of any conscious effort to defraud the public. If you want examples where large groups of smart people fool themselves into believing in a falsehood then you need look no further than wall street finaciers.

  5. BJohnson:
    What do you think of the logic at The Wonk Room? To what extent do you see this as a healthy or helpful approach to the discussion of catastrophic AGW? Of course, Matt’s questions are also pertinent.

  6. Re: BJohnson

    Out of my way, paranoid world views are my specialty.

    It’s certainly possible there’s a massive conspiracy by academic institutions and governments to defraud the public in order to stick it to trillion-dollar energy industries, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    Whereas we have established examples (e.g. cigarettes) of industries funding long-term misinformation campaigns to distort and counter scientific literature that threatens their profit stream.

    Your point seems to be that conspiracies as such are real, effective, and evil but that some conspiracy theories are demonstrably true while others (likelyly) aren’t. Did I get this right?

    So if you accept that there are conspiracies and that they are effective and evil, what is it that makes you believe that a) your knowledge of facts and b) your interpretation of your factual knowledge hasn’t been manipulated by an evil and effective conspiracy such as the cigarette industry misinformation campaign?

  7. From
    “About Think Progress
    Think Progress is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Center for American Progress Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization. Through this blog, CAPAF seeks to provide a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies.

    ThinkProgress was voted “Best Liberal Blog” in the 2006 Weblog Awards. It was also named best blog of 2008 by The Sidney Hillman Foundation, receiving an award for journalism excellence.”

    They are simply Orwellian in their logic.

  8. This post reminds me of what one of our fellow bloggers has been known to sarcastically say, and I’ll paraphrase:

    “Scientific consensus is important. Without consensus, scientific conclusions would remain vulnerable to new data.”

  9. The fact that that site is run by Elizabeth Edwards (married to the “breck Girl”) should be all that anyone needs to know about it

  10. I posted this on their website, but considering mr Briggs’ advice about their censorship, I just want to put it here too, so it doesn’t get “lost”. Sorry about the space intrusion 🙂

    Classy ad hominem attack, Daily Kos style even.

    “Congrats people, I mean, comrades! Let’s denounce the capital… I mean the Holoc…, I mean the Deniers! These pigs are mudding the waters! Infestating the deb… I mean there is NO debate! NO debate! The Science is SETLED. The Truth is the Consensus(tm), as been approved by the Goracl… I mean, the Infallable Pop… I mean the IPCC!! The IPCC! These pigs aren’t scientists nor even reasonable people! Their are CREATIONISTS! Yes, it’s true! Hansen SAYS SO, and he’s a True Scientist, unlike these people! They are OIL-BOUGHT PEOPLE! Ah, the nasty capitalists! They deny to see the truth, but worry not my comrades, we are here for the rescue! Bring these people onto me, my fellow comrades, and we’ll make a big nice Barbeque out of them, and the world will be such a nicer place!

    Long Live MARX!”

    And no, I’m not a right winger, but I also ain’t no Marxist. If that’s too complex for any to understand, I’m sorry :).

  11. B Johnson

    This graph shows global warming in it’s full glory from the Climate Research Unit in the UK that subscribes to the view that mankind is largely responsible for 20th century global warming. (Now renamed “climate change”, but note it’s CO2 that is the main concern as a greenhouse gas.”

    That is what the fuss is about. A planet 5 billion or so years old; a 150 year instrumental record of a measure called “global mean temperature” almost all of which is disputed in it’s accuracy;

    0.327 degrees above some arguable idea of average over the earth’s history.

    Does this sound like a problem to you?

    The 0.327 IS supposed to be scary!

    Seems to me that they can’t possibly have calculated the carbon cycle to any level of accuracy so there is another area wherein the entire theory could be swallowed up with incorrect understanding of an immensely complex system that we are not able to measure.

    Wish I’d spotted this post earlier, will have to read more tomorrow.

  12. Congratulations!

    But I don’t think you’re as high in rank as Court Jester.


  13. “A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.” – Abba Eban, Israeli statesman, diplomat, and scholar.

  14. “My understanding of the scientific consensus is based on published literature, …”

    Your understanding is incorrect. The scientific consensus that surrounds evolution, quantum theory and the belief that the earth is round is based on the fact that those theories can be subjected to reproducible experiments that would falsify them.

    Scientific consensus flowing from peer-reviewed articles is a new innovation. One I had never heard of before the climate change people started telling us that their conclusions merited application of vast public resources.

  15. dennis — Thank you for that juicy tidbit. John “Breck Girl” Edwards was busted by the National Enquirer for having a mistress and secret “love child” while his wife battled cancer (note — if you don’t find that amusing then you are a seriously humor-challenged).

    So the betrayed wifey sets up a website to cast aspersions on somebody, anybody, to salvage her reputation as a what? A policy wonk? Shades of Hillary!!!! And the targets are: scientists who disagree with the phony consensus about global warming!

    That’s beyond pathetic. I feel sorry for poor Libby Edwards. Hubby has a love child by a bimbo and screws his political future, too. Cancer-ridden Libby is knocked for a loop by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so she lashes out, with the help of the wonkettes at Mind Numbed R Us. She creates her own “National Enquirer” for AGW.

    Sometimes it’s more than irony. Sometimes it’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream brought to life. Poor Libby. Poor, poor Libbies everywhere.

  16. The Art world installed this mechanism a long time ago.

    I am an Artist.
    This pile of bricks is Art because I, an Artist, say so.
    We, the Critics, agree that this is Art because 1) an Artist said it is and b) because it’s what fuels the gravy train.
    Me: This is a pile of bricks.
    Them: Who cares? You’re not an Artist or a Critic.
    Me: Can I have my tax money back please?
    Them: No.

    Substitute “Scientist” for “Artist” and “Reviewer” for “Critic” and it still works. And if you put “Con” in front of “Artist”.

  17. I think they should change the “O” for an “A”. For that is what I think they may really are.

    Funny – but I think that many pro AGW sites are being overwhelmed by anti AGWs just like us.

    Time to start writing letters en masse to our elected representatives???

  18. That should read ” may really be”

    Apologies Matt your blog deserves more attention to detail.

  19. Now I believe that line “any publicity is good publicity.” Reading through some other websites I found the link to the article from the Wonk Room and so found your website. Nice website. I now have it bookmarked. Also, congratulations on being influential enough to be on the list.

  20. “My understanding of the scientific consensus is based on published literature, …”

    I know that many of the so-called deniers accept much of the published literature regarding AGW as does Mr. Briggs. I am familiar with almost all of the so-called deniers on the jokers list and I know that they all agree with the following propositions: 1) over the last 150 years, average global temperatures have increased; and 2) CO2 is a greenhouse gas and, other things being equal, increases in CO2 in the atmosphere will cause warming.

    The so-called “deniers” disagree with the “alarmists” in the following areas among others: 1) some believe that the extent of historical global warming may be overstated due to poor surface station siting and records, unwarranted adjustments to the historical records and uncorrected effects from the urban heat island effects; 2) some believe that we do not have reliable estimates of pre-instrument temperatures over the last several thousand years (i.e. the “hockey stick” graph is bunk); 3) some believe that the extent that CO2 has caused global warming is overstated and/or that other man-made climate effects have been understated; 4) some believe that most of the observed global warming is consistent with natural fluctuations in global climate ; 5) some believe that that any warming caused by CO2 in the future will not present any significant problems; 6) some believe that the climate models have not been proven reliable and do not have a good track record of forecasting historical temperatures.

    I would suggest first that the two propositions identified above with which the so-called deniers agree reflect the actual consensus that can be said to exist in the published literature. I would also suggest that all of the areas of disagreement I have listed above reflect actual disagreements that are also reflected in the published literature and do not reflect a divergence from any established consensus.

  21. Amazing how ‘Big Tobacco’ always gets a mention in this sort of discussion.

    Of course the traditional response to this gambit is to bring up the Bacterial causes of Ulcers and follow that up with Plate Tectonics.

    But I won’t bother since that usually leads to pointless arguments. As does mention of the ‘Cascade Effect’. So I won’t bring that up that either.

  22. Congratulations.

    I guess this makes Al Gore Batman and James Hansen Robin, hard as this might be to visualize. Somehow I can’t see them coming out triumphant against an army of jokers.

  23. Consensus is more than 50% agreement Briggsy…..not unanimous….

  24. Alan,
    “Consensus is more than 50% agreement Briggsy…..not unanimous….”

    Check your dictionary, Alan. Consensus means general agreement or accord. Much stronger than 50%. A majority doesn’t mean the same as consensus. Al Gore wouldn’t be content to say that a majority of scientists agree with him, even if they did.

  25. I’m a bit surprised at the blog choices. She picked jonjayray who I’ve never heard of, and whosd Alexa rank is in the 10s of millions and she didn’t list Climate Audit?! I visited jonjayray. Is it even about climate?

  26. Briggs

    February 20, 2009 at 4:18 am


    You might be right; there is some ambiguity. But, from Webster, “consensus n : agreement in the judgment or opinion reached by a group as a whole;” which also could mean what I say it does, an understanding that the group speak as one.

    Now, most working scientists, not the political ones, just the regular guys, are like Groucho—they would never join any club that would have them as members. If we all didn’t have differences, even wild differences, of opinion then we wouldn’t feel we’re doing our job. Each of us likes to think we have the right new idea and that most other people do not have it.

    Thus, I have never been in a room where there is more than one scientist and where there has been a consensus on all matters of fact and theory.

  27. Bjohnson

    “If a plausible counterexplanation to anthropogenic climate change emerges in the literature, I’ll be the first to report it, because I’d much rather not expend effort on fighting the fossil fuel industry et al. to change our energy policy.

    It’s certainly possible there’s a massive conspiracy by academic institutions and governments to defraud the public in order to stick it to trillion-dollar energy industries, but it doesn’t seem likely.”

    Something worth thinking about: the energy requirements of the industrialized nations are huge, and the personal and frivolous elements of that are relatively small; as such no one is going to be meaningfully “sticking it” to the energy companies any time soon, any notions environmentalists may have to the contrary are mere fantasies.

  28. I posted this yesterday as it was disappearing andreappearing on the wink room’s website,. Figured if I posted it again it would be blocked.
    I know that Mr Briggs doesn’t block comments. So hoped that Gail could read hereinsead. Sorry again Gail for the spelling it was a mistake.

    ” Wonk room, where can I buy the playing cards? May I suggest this picture for Emporer William brigg’s joker card:

    Luis doesn’t mean it about the kittens, he’s a softie really. I’ll bet he’s got a cat at home.

    Not sure if you are genuine as you seem so extreme and rediculous that I wonder if we’re being had. Some of the remarks are like blue touch paper to those of us who are of the opposite opinion to yours, so I’m reluctant to waste too much time replying.(although I already have.)

    Panic or worry do not affect the outcome of any event, they simply interfeer with one’s ability to deal with the outcome. Remember that, it applies to all worries in life. If you do nothing else think on that.

    If you weren’t from over there, I’d love to talk to you about this as if I am to take your comments seriously, I would say that you are anxious. Most anxiety is born of fear of the unknown. The best remedy for this is information; in this case to understand better the science. So my advice is that you look for the data that supports the arguments, do not read political or media driven information on the subject on either side until you have sought the data that is available and is that data which is under discussion. I am sure you will find this a fruitful exercise and quite surprising. Start with the four main instrumental temperature records for global mean temperature over the last 150 years.
    Here’s the English one, it’s one of the four or five ‘outlets’ for global mean temperature and the Hadley centre that produces these numbers does subscribe to the IPCC’s predictions (which are not as dire as yours incidentally). Here’s a link, keep it on your desktop and check it every month at the time when you feel most anxious about the topic. They are always a month late with their figures, so January 09 is not out yet.) This is what global warming looks like right now:

    Climate debate daily is an excellent site if only for the links on the left side, it attempts to present both sides of the debate. As someone who’s spent rather too much time on this topic I can assure you that if it isn’t linked on that page it is probably not worth reading or it soon will be included. Problem is one needs to know which sites are political/gossip/science/data/mathS/economic. You will have to trawl through them to find out. This takes time.

    You wrote about what’s happening in your immediate environment. Remember that the globe is huge! Have you ever been outside the US? Do you genuinly think that what’s happening up your street is the same the world over? If so, why should the scientists try to locate temperature gages all over the world, in the oceans, in the Arctic and Antarctic? They could just come over to yours to collect all the data they need, that sounds sarcastic, but really that’s what you’re implying in your comment. (we have about twenty various firs and pines in our garden and they’re doing rather too well right now, we had them cut back about three weeks ago.) The grass is suffering because of the firs! I am an avid gardener and have noticed nothing unusual. This winter was cold though, and I think my orange tree, my favourite plant has pegged it in our recent frost.

    Lastly, bear in mind that if “the deniers” are such an impotent minority then they need not be of any real concern to you or anybody for that matter. So no need to get your knickers in a twist about them. They do not hold the purse strings or the power, yet!
    I shan’t be sending you an email though, can’t help wondering if that’s some sort of trap!”

  29. I’m getting dizzy with all the posting, blocking, broken blogs and double posts; and for a girl of very little brain, it doesn’t take much. here’s the other one I’ve been trying to post over the wonk room(how tempting is it to spell that wrong!)
    “Gale, please read my comment to you from yesterday, it has disappeared without being shown as deleted. I won’t post it again here but it’s on Brigg’s site,

    It seems that you are genuinely scared. THAT is precisely the reason I became angry about this argument a couple of years ago when I first started looking into it. I will admit that I was sceptical even before I started reading about it, but I truthfully felt that there HAD to be some good evidence for all the fuss. There is none. No evidence in reality, just some very expensive super computers running climate models making predictions.
    It’s the spreading of fear and lies in the name of “good” that I find abhorrent and infuriating. We are used to governments and media being less than straightforward. However I was staggered at the level of dishonesty and misinformation not to mention control by governments that has taken place, the ignorance, and lack of common sense that has been shown AND used by powerful individuals in this matter. All I can recommend is that you suspend your own disbelief and see if you can discover why it is that so few scientist that disagree can be so powerful in the debate. Take a step back for a moment:
    If they are so silly (the chosen fifty), then don’t worry about what they say, they are just silly. If they have a strong argument, then it will overthrow as many bad arguments as you care to put forward.
    Einstein was once asked how it felt to be in a minority in his views, to have so many dispute him. He said, quite rightly, “it takes only one of them to PROVE me wrong”, or words to that effect.
    This is the beauty of science over politics, the former does not need safety in numbers, the latter requires concensus.

    “The alarm that she feels”
    “Her alarm at what she sees”
    ”The things THAT she sees”
    (my spelling is awful so feel free to correct me.)
    Bernie is a gentleman. I have read hundreds of his comments and he has never been anything but patient and kind. He has always managed to condense his argument clearly and intelligently. If you read Brigg’s blog posts you will see that this is true.
    If he called Gale a sweetheart, he meant this in a pleasant way and not sarcastically. Shame you have to hurl insults at Bernie. I have a pitch-fork and I’m not afraid to use it.

    Take a look at the comment from yesterday and explain to me how this is unhelpful to Gale or derisive. It was the opposite of that, but perhaps Brad notPitt thought he’d vex me by blocking my rather long comment as he could see that I had spent some time on it.

    Maybe in America “knickers” are a naughty word, if this is the case, I’m sorry, but in England we/I would use this term in polite company and there would be hardly an eyebrow raised. Since many on here have been vacuous and puerile, not to mention nasty, I’m surprised my comment was not posted. Perhaps I ought to take that as a compliment.”
    Now I have my pitch fork out,

    Briggs, they’ve started on you again over there on the room of wonkers

  30. My dear Mr. Briggs,

    Yes, here we go again.

    Thus, I have never been in a room where there is more than one scientist and where there has been a consensus on all matters of fact and theory.

    Maybe it’s because most scientists are not concerned about building a consensus (scientific or not), which is not part of the scientific method. ^_^

    I would like to think I know what a scientist does. I have attended many colloquiums and seminars where a group of scientists is present. Scientists are expected to ask legitimate questions and exchange knowledge and experiences in a scholarly way. The goals include further understanding of a field and developing new ideas and methodologies. Yes, there are institutions or minority scientists who, for whatever reason, involve themselves in the political circus, but they don’t represent all scientists as a whole.

    I understand that statisticians are paid to make generalizations. However, in my non-scientific opinion, your statement, such as the one above or statisticians cannot be trusted, attracts certain comments on your blog and could easily make you come across as anti-statistics and anti-science, which I hope is not you at all.


  31. Briggs

    February 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm


    I meant, what I had hoped was obvious, that you can’t trust statisticians under political control to not shade their answers in the direction their masters desire. You know just as well I as do how many different ways, especially classically, that numbers can be presented to make a case.

    Having the Census estimated by statistical modeling, when simple counting can be done, is not a good idea. There is error both ways, but the error is more transparent with a physical count. As one of the commenters on the Census article pointed out, I am hardly the first statistician to argue that statisticians should not be trusted in this way.

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