The Political Science Of The IPCC

Front Cover of IPCC’s Fifth Assessment.
Since the IPCC festival begins this week, I’m alternating posts like this with the series started yesterday.

In this thing called Science, just as in other human affairs, one can act in good or bad taste. You wouldn’t go to a fancy dinner party, a political fund raiser with The One for instance, and eat your salad with a soup spoon. People would titter and think you a rube. (They would still cash your check.)

Likewise, in Science, if one proposes a theory and makes predictions with it, and those predictions turn out to be a bust, you should not continue touting the theory. Do so and as you walk down the hall your colleagues would whisper “Graduate student” and giggle like cheerleaders as you pass by.

You’d only be compound the error and make a spectacle of yourself if you went on the lecture circuit (trips funded by Government) and said things like, “Other people beside me believe in my theory!” People would think you thought mere agreement trumped observation! Nothing more anti-science than that. You’d have to go into hiding.

Matters are different in Politics. Whatever you say is not expected to accord with reality, but with desire. A politician must say what he guesses his audience wishes to hear and not what he himself believes to be true. Thus a man will not write a solicitation to Leviathan admitting he has doubts about the theory because Leviathan says it will only reward those who profess ardent agreement. So the scientist writes the grant saying he believes, figuring that if he gets the money he can do good things with it. The scientist becomes the politician: his words accord with desire and not reality.

Leviathan doesn’t particularly care if the theory is true but it knows that claiming it is allows Leviathan to do the only thing it has ever wanted to do: which is grow. Thus it will wag its thick finger at the populace and say the theory implies a “significant health threat”, even though the health of the populace has been improving. Point this out and Leviathan replies, “I didn’t say now. I meant health will deteriorate in the future. Unless I may grow.”

Few question how feeding the beast will kill the theory. It doesn’t matter, because many clever people see the opportunity for what it is and seek to join forces with the beast. They figure that once they gain the money and power which this alliance entails they will do real science with it. These folks underestimate the rapacity, the unlimited appetite of Leviathan.

They also don’t recognize what this compromise does to their souls. Whereas before they would have roundly and rightly and scientifically denounced the theory—and not the man holding it—as being false because it does not accord with observations, they now seek for any scrap of evidence no matter how thin or meager which implies the theory might be true. Alternate evidence which casts grave doubts on, or even damns, the theory is ignored. These politicians with scientific credentials will say, “It is not that the theory might be false, but that it might be true which is important,” a statement nearly empty of content.

This isn’t devious behavior; indeed, it comes from kindness. It is the natural result of one friend helping another. These supporters are friends with Leviathan, which has clothed and fed him and flown them to exotic locations to speak in front of flattering crowds who write down their words. Saying that the theory which Leviathan loves might be true is the least they can do. Besides, they reason, good science is still being done. No harm has been done.

But these folks have forgotten the True Believers, the ones who are so convinced in the truth and beauty of the theory that no amount of evidence will ever convince them to abandon it. The True Believers take the lukewarm statements of the politician-scientists as wholehearted support. There are never many True Believers, but their ardency, encouraged by lack of criticism, makes up for their lack of numbers.

They go after dissent and punish it. Take the typical case of Chris de Freitas who “dared to publish a peer-reviewed article” which suggested the theory might not be true. True Believers “mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas…fired from his university position.”

In no possible way or interpretation is this the behavior of scientists acting for truth. It is pure politics. This tells us the only possible way to kill a false theory is to wound or distract Leviathan, the beast which feeds belief. Only nobody knows how to do this.


  1. RE: ” IT IS PURE POLITICS [emphasis added]….the only possible way to kill a false theory is to wound or distract Leviathan, the beast which feeds belief. Only nobody knows how to do this.”

    Oh contraire — History is replete with “how to do this”…inherent to politics is assassination…and not just the ‘character’ variety.

    If a few of the more devious were started turning up suddenly & unnaturally dead, things would change.

    Study history.

    Not philosophy.

  2. Regarding the “Global Warming” phenomena. In my reading about the history of the Periodic Transit of Venus which occurs in a pattern that generally repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years, I noted comments by witnesses to all recorded transits that prior to and during the 8 year period between transit pairs there was a general warming and a large amount of sunspot activity. After the second transit the sunspot activity lessons and the climate cools off which is what we are experiencing at present. I wonder if some of the global warming data is skewed by this trend and some of the “Chicken Little” Leviathan crowd ran off only half cocked.

  3. Or, take the case of Michael Mann, who has dared to thwart the aims of the (other) Leviathan, thereby incurring, along with the University of Virginia, the legal(istic) wrath of the demagogue Cuccinelli, aided and abetted by alleged scientists such as Timothy Ball, J. Scott Armstrong (who probably knows something about … something), and Harrison Schmitt (about whom the same thing, sadly, cannot be said), and Burt Rutan, who is truly an amazingly brilliant and talented… aircraft designer (not to say aeronautical engineer).

  4. Is this the Tim Ball you are referring to, Rob?

    And Michael Mann, is this him?

    Who is the scientist again? I must have missed something.

    On a separate note: I don’t quite get your transit of Venus point, Bob. After all, somewhere in the solar system Venus can be seen to transit the sun at any point in time. Right now for example.

  5. “Never have so many understood so little about so much.” Richard Rhodes, author “The Making Of The Atomic Bomb” and a couple dozen other books was referring to the generation of electricity using nuclear power but he could just as well been referring to Global Warming, er Climate Change, er, climatic disruption or whatever they’re calling it today.

  6. The irony it burns. Your Mann link says “not found”. I’m sorry Rob but I’m not some rube who is impressed by publication counts or dismissive comments. As a practising scientist myself I want the real science and I have read extensively on this issue for the last ten years or so. WUWT is impressive, but it is not my only source of information. It is quite clear that Mann and company have been reduced to sputtering ad hominem attacks which is a clear sign of their desperation. Can you, in your wildest dreams, imagine Feynman acting in such a disgraceful fashion. I also find it telling that you didn’t link to a discussion of the science as I did.

  7. Briggs:

    Thanks for the interesting essay on the political science of the IPCC.

    It could be added that: 1) in the literature of global warming climatology the term “predict” is polysemic, 2) arguments made by the IPCC are equivocations based upon the polysemy of “predict” and related terms and 3) conclusions drawn from these arguments are equivocation fallacies. Very few laymen see through this deception a result of which is what the IPCC Expert Reviewer Vincent Gray calls in the title of a paper “The Triumph of Doublespeak.” The “Triumph” is to install a pseudoscience in the fabric of the world economy which, in monosemic terms, makes no “predictions” hence is insusceptible to being falsified. The presence of this pseudoscience enriches insiders such as a former vice president of the U.S. while impoverishing outsiders.

  8. The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN)
    The IPCC is an intergovernmental body. Governments participate in the review process.

    Sounds like mission identity confusion to me.

  9. Scotian

    You’re impressed with “The Nitty Gritty of Winnipeg Air?” Yes, I will agree that WUWT is impressive, for a suitable definition of “impressive.” I’m similarly impressed with “The Onion” though The Onion does cause me to laugh harder. Sometimes Willis comes close though.

    What’s your field?

  10. Oh I wouldn’t be too hard on IPCC. Now that they are squirming with how to reassert their certainty that we have caused most warming, while at the same time fessing up to the utter failure of models to predict, we should cut them a little slack — to hang themselves with!

  11. We have learned over the last 10 years that there is no observation that can cause a member of the “true” climate scientists group to back off their prediction. No one will remember what they said before and all outcomes can be twisted to match someone’s prediction somewhere, somewhen.

    If climate body (say the MET Office) makes a prediction of 60% chance of warmer than normal, 30% chance of normal, and 10% chance colder than normal repeatedly and repeatedly the 10% wins, do the models they use actually work? Where did the models come from?

    The nice part about WUWT, Numberwatch, Junkscience, Bishop-Hill, etc, is that there are still people who remember what falsifiability means. How do you falsify a probability statement that includes all outcomes?

  12. Is this really all you have to offer, Rob? WUWT accepts guest posts so why don’t you write one and show how wrong Willis and company is?

    My background is in Physics which is, of course, irrelevant to the discussion.

  13. Hmmm… Dr. Briggs’ blog isn’t the place for a factual discussion of geophysics or the politics thereof. While I get significant value from reading Dr. Briggs’ blog on matters of statistics, it’s clear that he and I (and you and I) differ significantly on other matters. Just to set the record straight, my viewpoints politically are eclectic. I’m no doctrinaire libertarian though I align with libertarianism philosophically. I’m conservative in the “old style” sense, i.e., conserving our resources – financial, natural, and human – , conserving the rights we have from God and from our Constitution. But I weep at where so-called conservatism has gone.

    Why do I state this here? I don’t want to have any conversation – here or at WUWT – to devolve into a “you idiot liberals” vs. “you knuckle dragging conservatives” flame fest.

    I may take you up on your suggestion to write a post for Anthony – I’ve commented there and, of course, incurred his wrath.

    My background in in mathematics (mostly applied) and physics. I’m a partner in an engineering consulting firm. FYI.

  14. Rob Ryan: I do appreciate your not wanting comments to devolve here. It was one of the most difficult aspects I found to having a blog on climate change–much name-calling, little science. I would note that your comment does appear to be appealing to the publishing status of the authors rather than actual data, which would push the argument into politics rather than science. So does “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours”–degrees that is. If we are going to discuss degrees and who is the grandest authority, we venture more into the politics. If we start talking about sources of temperature measurements, statistics applied to those measurements, what even is a global “average” temperature, etc., then we are discussing science. The actual science report from the IPCC is rumored to be quite good, even by some skeptics. As soon as one wonders into “do we need action and what is it”, that’s where the politics come in.

  15. I certainly appreciate your desire to avoid a devolution of civility, Rob, as this has always been my position, but it does make me wonder why your first comment on this article is simple name calling of people who you disagree with. I look forward to reading your WUWT post. Since you have your own site you could also put it there or if you already have, link to it. It takes a lot to incur Anthony Watt’s wrath, so what did you do?

  16. I probably shouldn’t suggest what Dr. Briggs thinks about what should and shouldn’t be discussed in his blog, but discussing the facts is not a stretch.

    I am working on my own little pet project for temperatures. . It is not meant to be rigorous science. It is an attempt to look at the raw data without having to dig through a bunch of select boxes. Currently it just has the top 10,000 stations as measured by number of observations. It is a work in progress though.

    Temperature is a slippery thing. Averaging temperature is even more slippery. The website I attach here is just the monthly averages. Averages scare me. … If you look at the the data for the BEST (the source for the attached site), you discover strange things in the uncertainty column. 31 data points used to get the average and the uncertainty is < 0.01C. I just found one at 0.003C against 31 observations with a temp of 26.198 C, a place in South America. The average temp over the year range is 20C.

    There are 40,000 stations in the BEST Data.

    The chart is 214 years wide. The lowest Y value is determined by the lowest recorded value on the planet (204K).

    Part of the reason I did this is because you cannot average temperatures across a planet. The best you can do is measure the total enthalpy. We can't quite do that yet. If scientists were using enthalpy instead of Temperature Anomaly, I would have some confidence that they were starting to work down the right path. They don't report anything that way though. The best you can get is some places charting enthalpy anomalies. It is okay to discuss anomalies, but when you do, you should keep a chart of the absolute values nearby.

  17. I started out the way I did in response to Dr. Briggs’ posting as he did. But I’m not of the mind that it’s appropriate. My bad.

    As to incurring Anthony’s wrath, it was in regard to his position that he’d been “disinvited” from a debate at Cal State Chico. My post on this is at:

    (I don’t know whether the platform here allows html or BBCode).

    I commented as such at WUWT.

  18. Scotian: It’s not actually that hard to incur someone’s wrath on WUWT. Willis E can easily be moved to name-calling and angry outbursts. I suppose it’s just the emotional subject matter.

    Brad: has temperature data and software.

  19. I’ve read your link Rob. It doesn’t put you in a very good light and if you talked to me in the same manner, I’d be annoyed as well.

    Sheri, I agree that Willis doesn’t, as the saying goes, suffer fools gladly but if you speak (write) to him in a civil manner he responds in kind. What he mostly gets angry about is being called a liar. The difference in Willis is that if you are snarky with him he will not shrug it off as others do, but will respond in kind. In every such encounter that I have read I have agreed with Willis and admire his tenacity. This is totally separate to the question on whether his science is always correct, although I think that he comes closer than most. My final advice when commenting on Willis’ posts: don’t be an ass.

  20. Yes, he did respond and he was definitely angry.

    (I just don’t read Willis’s articles any more–that way I am not tempted to disagree and invoke his wrath.)

  21. Sheri, so I take it that you politely disagreed with Willis and he responded with an angry, name-calling outburst?

  22. Both myself and other commenter were angrily attack for having a view point different than Willis. I don’t recall if name-calling was involved, but Willis did tell me if I got out of my mother’s basement where I live, I would know more about the world and science. I can’t answer the “polite” question because there’s so many definitions of what is polite and not polite. I suppose the fact that two of use were attacked for the sharing same view might indicate it was the viewpoint and not the presentation.

    In the case of Willis, I agree with Rob Ryan–there is no way of disagreeing with Willis that Willis does not consider “impolite” and a reason to attack. I don’t think this makes Willis any different that Michael Mann in this case. Going for the jugular rather than the argument is not about science.

  23. Without linking to examples it is hard to judge what you are saying, Sheri. This is especially true with a website like WUWT where comments often number in the hundreds and thus I do a lot of skimming and rarely comment. Without a link it is just a whispering campaign.

  24. Sheri,

    Hey now. I lived in my mother’s basement when I got out of the service. Wasn’t too bad, either. Except I could hear my father get out of bed at 4:30 every morning. And now guess when I rise each day?

  25. I could not find the link–it was over 6 months ago. I really did not want to get into a discussion on Willis E. As noted, I no longer read his posts. Suffice it to say I found I was not the only one put off by Willis’s behaviour. You are free to enjoy Willis’s posts and believe whatever you like about him.

    Briggs-4:30 am rising would be a definite reason why I would not live in my parent’s basement. If ever there was incentive to move out!

  26. Well, without rehashing the entire train of events, it would be difficult to convince me that Anthony was not casting himself in a bad light by representing that he’d been “disinvited” when that was clearly and obviously false. But that’s probably neither the discussion we want to have on this site nor the one Dr. Briggs wants us to have.

    I’m sure that you’ll continue to sporadically read a comment from me here.

    That said, since I have this here day job and only manage to post to my own blog once a week or so, it may be a bit before I post to Anthony’s (assuming he’d let me do so).

  27. Yes, that is the opening comment. Noelene was also vilified for similar views.

    Anthony’s note is interesting, however. First, I am not a “he”, as every commenter seems to think. Second, his comment is based entirely on the name of my blog (whynotwind). He read absolutely nothing on it–in fact, he could not have even opened the site and glanced over it. Otherwise, he would have known I am vehemently anti-wind. So I am characterized as bad (or pathethic or never having been around animals) because I don’t like anthropomorphism (especially on science sites and am careful not to use it myself on any of my blogs) and I am called pro-wind.

    All of this very clearly show Rob Ryan’s point–name calling and assumptions are an approved practice on WUWT, even by the blog owner.

    (Thank you DAV for finding the link.)

  28. Today is my day for possibly unwanted but kindly meant advice.

    I assume Sheri that you are also reality check and congratulations on your website “Why not Wind Power”. I enjoyed reading the articles you posted. Clearly Anthony did not look closely enough to see that you were more critical than supportive of them. If you had pointed this out to him I’m sure that he would have apologized.

    As to why Willis got angry I can give an independent perspective. I do not mean to criticize but to give an insight into human nature. In your first comment you did not so much disagree as lecture him as if he were a child. Willis, being Willis, does not react well to this approach. I know this because I do not react well to it either. You then compounded the problem by sulking. So, that’s it, there was nothing personal and I am sure that Willis has long since forgotten the issue. So should you.

    On a lighter note, I enjoy your comments here and hope you continue to make them. But I still may occasionally disagree with you as I occasionally do with the Venerable Briggs.

  29. Scotian: I understand your comment. Yes, I could have worded it differently (it’s hard for me to know how people will take things, especially when there’s no face-to-face interaction). However, if you read what the other commenter wrote, she was very polite and tried to make nice. It did her no good. Willis angrily shredded her also.
    Anthony’s complete lack of fact checking remains disturbing–he is a scientist writing a blog and using factually incorrect statements.

    I have been disagreed with before and will be in the future, I am sure. It’s not the disagreement I find problematic (or I wouldn’t write a blog proclaiming my skepticism on climate change, trust me). It’s the bullying and the lack of fact-checking before making accusations that bother me. When on a science blog, I expect a much higher standard.

    I will continue to comment here and I do enjoy your comments also, even when we disagree.
    I do appreciate your advice and your being willing to take a chance in giving it. (Commenters here tend to be quite well-mannered and I enjoy that aspect of the blog.)

  30. Just so those who do not follow Willis E understand Roy and my objections, this is a Willis quote:

    “That’s pathetic, bunnybrain. If you have a reference, point to it. Otherwise, you’re just smearing your own feces on the walls. Not atypical behavior for you, of course, but not very productive behavior either …”

    Can someone explain how this contributes to any discussion?

  31. Sheri,

    You are referring to Noelene I suppose. Here we must disagree again. She was not very polite and had a hectoring or lecturing tone that Willis called her on. He specifically mentioned lecturing.

    Anthony must be an extremely busy man and it is hard for me to even imagine that level of activity. You should cut him some slack and be less judgmental. You could easily have corrected his error.

    If Willis will forgive me I would like to quote this comment of his.

    “See, Noelene, I’m the guy who doesn’t care, the wild card in the deck. None of your wiles, none of your stratagems, none of your protests mean anything to me. I don’t care if you like me. I’m totally uninterested in your or anyone’s approval, I have to work too hard to maintain my own approval. I’m not running for anything.”

    I love this comment. Maybe I admire Willis so much because I sense a kinship, sort of like a lazy, less talented, half brother. I’m the lazy, less talented one, in case there is any confusion. I sometimes tell people not to ask for my opinion unless they really want it. This also reminds me of the title of one of Feynman’s books which is a quotation of his first wife Arline “What do you care what other people think?”. Words to live by.


  32. My previous comment should have said “Rob”, not Roy. My bad typing strikes again.

    Scotian: You misunderstand my objections here. I truly do not care what Willis thinks of me. In my life, he is nothing whatsoever–a no one. His opinion is irrelevant. I do care very much when someone who bullies people becomes part of a discussion so important as climate change. As I stated before, Willis is exactly like Michael Mann. He’s always right and if you question that, he bullies you. I find it vaguely disturbing that you find insulting human beings a way to go. Also, why can I not insult Willis without you labeling it “sulking”, yet you refuse to label Willis a bully? You advocate saying what you think, while telling me I should have groveled before Willis. This all seems very contradictory–you love Willis and he can be rude, but no one dare be rude to Willis? And, again, if I were to call you a simpering, whiney Obama lover because you like rude, condescending people who attack when threatened, what would that accomplish? I know nothing about your politics or you, yet when Willis and Anthony behaved in this fashion, you cheered. I am not understanding at all what this is except at cheering rally for a rude guy and guy who does not fact check.

    It is, of course, your life and your choice. If you want to champion bullies who call names and cannot defend their positions, that’s up to you. I just want it to be clear that I do not think that name-calling, bullying and insulting are have any place in discussions of science. Especially when it comes to something as important as climate change.

  33. Sheri,

    I guess that there is a lot here, but it is very clear that you do in fact care a great deal about what Willis thinks. You would not hold a grudge for seven months otherwise. I have had many, somewhat heated, discussions on this website in the past but danged if I can remember what they were and who else was involved, now. This is because I find it extremely difficult to hold a grudge or even to care once the event has passed. You appear to have a very different definition of the word bully than I do and I don’t see that Willis even comes close to the official definition. What he does is mount a vigorous defense and most people are just not used to that. There are many occasions where Willis has admitted to error. All he requires is evidence and mere opinion and especially denouncement will not do it for him. Of course you can insult Willis all you want and do it on WUWT. What you can not do is expect Willis to take it quietly and go into a sulk when he does not – sorry but I call them as I see them – and where does this groveling comment come from. Do you really consider this the only alternative to rudeness. Yes, Willis is often rude as well but it is not he who is complaining seven months later. I know that you are trying to lecture me and possibly I am doing the same, but the difference is that I am smiling and having fun and will reply to your future posts as if none of this had ever happened. Also I should point out that the Willis article in question was not about climate science but was a personal reminiscence and probably he did not expect to be attacked on how he expressed this memory.

    Another quotation from Willis: “Dang, my friend, get a grip!” may be applicable here, but remember that I didn’t say it.

  34. My dearest scotian:
    First, I notice that John M provided the link, then DAV commented on it. My apologies for getting that mixed up.

    I am not holding a grudge. I simply do not need people like Willis in my life in any way. I did not originate the discussion here on Willis. I added my experience. If you cannot tell the difference between holding a grudge and adding my experience to an “in progress” discussion, there is nothing more that I can say. (What part of “I did not start this discussion and I did not even care enough to dig up the link” do you not understand? Maybe you and Willis are related? I suggest a DNA test to find out–hopefully this is genetic and limited in scope.)

    Perhaps you should explain “sulk”. Would an appropriate response have been “Willis, you are a flaming idiot who probably had sex with sheep when no one looking and that’s why you can’t tell people from animals”? It would have been rude, condescending and completely in line with Willis’s tone. Would that have been better?

    I am fascinated by the fact that you are not bothered in any way that virtually every thing Willis said and all of what Anthony said are completely false. I don’t understand defending someone who had no interest in the truth of what they were saying. It’s like you love people who don’t care about facts, just hurl insults. (You’re a liberal, aren’t you? Please say yes and then I will understand all of this–go ahead, lie if you’re not.)

    I must go now and pick my garden before it freezes, round up the ducks, and then sort more of my thousands of photos of wildlife for my business. Willis is too stupid and lazy to actually research before calling me “unknowledgeable” about wildlife. Had he done so, perhaps he could have picked a ‘”real” insult instead of the stupid drivel he chose to use. Perhaps Willis needs to get a grip–or at least more accurate insults.

  35. Sheri,

    In some ways you are lucky that I differ from Willis in as many ways as we are similar. I will make only one last comment on this thread. I find it amusing how you pepper your comments with random insults, many of which are highly improbably, and then get upset (highly upset) when replied to in kind. If memory serves me correctly, and as I’ve already mentioned my memory is spotty when it comes to this sort of thing, you have exhibited this same behavior to others, including me, on this website. Maybe subconsciously this is why I sympathize with Willis.

  36. Mike: They have neither. And I constantly remind them they are freezer meat. 🙂

    Scotian: You indicated you liked insults. I obliged. You obviously love Willis and will defend anything he does, including false accusations and failure to fact check.

  37. Can anyone explain why calling someone a bunny brain and accusing them of throwing feces is funny while saying someone had sex with a sheep is not? Can anyone explain why one is labeled “highly improbable” and the other not? And why is it that my comments get interpreted as “highly upset” when another’s rants are just a guy insulting his readers?

    I truly do not understand any of this. It just looks like double think. Help?

  38. Sheri: You talk to your ducks? And “remind” them of things? Hmmmm…. 🙂

    What I see in that thread not a matter of you getting “beat up” for disagreeing with Willis, but rather taking considerable heat for creating the Disney Straw Man, and saying “this is what Willis thinks”. However it should be pretty clear that you misinterpreted his post and, based on your misunderstanding, attributed a worldview to Willis that he clearly doesn’t hold. He took offense.

    I would not have reacted to your OP the way Willis did. And I wouldn’t have reacted the way you did to his “diatribe”.

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