Tom Fuller’s advice for “warmists”

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Tom Fuller had a post on how science minded folk (“warmists” he calls them) should talk with “sceptics”. Well meant, but coming from the perspective of the “skeptics” having a lot of useful things to say about the science, which is only rarely the case if you ask me. Below are his main points with my replies:

1. Tom: Without ‘reaching across the aisle’ you will not have adequate support to implement your policy preferences.

Me: Coming from a scientist point of view, my prime concern is to advance the public understanding of the issues, and to fight efforts at increasing misunderstanding. From a policy advocacy position, you’re surely right. Though it’s an illusion that you could possibly get 100% of people to agree with your position. Some people are just dug in too deep.

2. Tom: What most skeptics want more than anything else is a seat at the table–to be listened to and taken seriously.

Me: Play by the scientific rules, and you have a seat. Publish, come to meetings, use real arguments.

Tom’s comeback: Climategate seems to show that the rules can be bent, and that some of those saying skeptics should get published in peer-reviewed journals are conspiring to prevent that from happening.

Me: “Climategate” shows that scientists are human too. I’ll concede that some unfortunate statements were made in a minuscule fraction of these emails. However, concerning peer review, the major problem discussed in the emails was how peer review broke down at Environmental Climate Research, by letting a methodologically flawed paper sail through review. See e.g. a recount of the story by then editor-in-chief Hans von Storch, who is as close to a non-alarmist climate scientist as you can get. See also an opinion piece on the stolen emails by him and Myles Allan in Nature. Specifically, they write: ”Even we —the two authors of this piece — find it impossible to agree whether or not some people went too far to ensure dominance for particular points of view. We do agree, however, that it is absurd to suggest there is some kind of global conspiracy involving all climate scientists.” And “What the e-mails do not prove — or even suggest — is that the main product of the CRU, namely the record of global surface air temperature based on thermometer readings, has been compromised.”  This commentary is also very insightful. The widespread attack on science and on scientists is entirely uncalled for.

3. Tom: It has been convenient for ‘warmists’ to class all opposition as ‘denialists,’ usually adding such terms of endearment as ‘flat-earthers,’ etc. This has had the unfortunate effect (for ‘warmists’) of uniting the opposition.

Me: Although I try to refrain from using that term for pragmatic reasons, it seems befitting for more than a few. ‘Denialism’ relates to using certain tactics, and it exists in other areas as well (e.g. health issues). See also here.

Tom’s Comeback: I think ‘denialist’ is a political term used for political reasons, to class anyone who doesn’t agree with the activist point of view alongside those who denied the Holocaust. I don’t like it.

Me: The phrase “being in denial” is common English AFAIK, and is not only attributable to holocaust deniers. There are more things being denied by people than the holocaust. It is unfortunate that the term “denier” brings up associations with these characters, but it does not mean that the term doesn’t also apply to others.  See e.g here, where they argue that denialism is based on conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic. What other name could be given to those engaging in these types of tactics? It’s clear that it has nothing to do with sincere scepticism. For lack of a better word, and to avoid angering people who are not aware of the ins and outs of the internet debate, I usually refer to them as “sceptics” in quotation marks. Where I agree with you is that it is not smart nor correct to class everybody who disagrees as a denier or denialist. Disagreement comes in many flavours, and not all amount to denialism (though some do, unfortunately).

4. Tom: Acknowledge error. Start with Steve McIntyre.

Bart: Genuine errors should, and are usually acknowledged. It’s a tricky thing to do so with people who are overtly hostile and having smeared you through the mud though. Scientists are human too: Accuse them too often of fraud, and they’ll stop listening to you.

Tom’s Comeback: Bart, is there any way you could justify hiding the divergence of proxy temperatures from real data in a presentation for non-scientists? For politicians debating on whether or not to spend $1 trillion a year of our money in response to what the graphic showed them?

Me: Admittedly I haven’t followed the details of the divergence discussions, but AKAIK, it was discussed in the IPCC report back then. In speaking to the public, the message necessarily has to be adapted, and it often means simplified. If I go to a scientific talk even remotely outside of my field, it’s incredibly hard to follow. Let alone if I were to go to a talk of a totally different discipline. There’s a catch 22 for scientists talking to the public.

More importantly, the decision to spend a trillion dollars doesn’t hinge on one graph. The importance of the hockeystick graph has been overstated to the extreme. Initially also by the IPCC itself, but since then mostly by the “sceptical” camp.

5. Tom: Free the data. Free the code. Open up the debate. From what I’ve seen of the people you think are your bitter enemies, they will respond with help, kindness and forgiveness of your boorish behaviour in the past.

Bart: There are more data and code available than you think. And your second argument that the response will be helpful, kind and forgiving is utterly naïve. It won’t change a single thing in the witch-hunt and anti-scientific attitudes.

Tom’s Comeback: Try us. Specifically, try Steve McIntyre. Ask him for help in his area of competence.

Bart: If McIntyre were sincerely interested in contributing to the science, he would do so. I looked in some detail into his role in the Yamal-debate. I was not impressed. For a more recent example, see eg here. He has made a niche for himself, and it is to provide fodder to “sceptics” and harass scientists. Whatever you say can and will be used against you, seems to be his motto. I completely understand why scientists are loath to try and accommodate him, even if at instances it may be counterproductive, and even if at instances he has a point. Basically, you’re damned it you do and damned if you don’t accommodate.

Constructive criticism is one thing; harassment is quite another. Do too much of the latter, and your efforts at the former will be stonewalled. Misguided? Perhaps. Human? Certainly.

6. Tom: Say a fond but firm farewell to those who have served you poorly in the struggle to gain public support. Al Gore. Joe Romm. (Not Jim Hansen or Gavin Schmidt.) Michael Mann. Phil Jones.

Bart: Scapegoating is not the answer.

Tom’s Comeback: I’m not saying get rid of them because I don’t like them, or even because I think they have acted wrongly. I’m saying get rid of them because they are a hindrance, not a help to your cause.

Bart: There is no board of scientist-directors anywhere who have the power to “get rid of” anyone as they seem fit. Apart from that, I disagree about the people you mention all having been a hindrance to advance public understanding; in some cases quite to the contrary (even if not without faults). There could be some (rather unethical) pragmatism to get rid of people who are receiving the most blame, in an effort to clean our plate, at least in the mindset of the “sceptical” public. But I disagree with such scapegoating.

7. Tom: Abandon the tactic of artificial deadlines and panic attacks. We have more than 10 minutes to save the Galaxy.

Me: There is no strict deadline. OTOH, the longer we wait with taking measures, the more drastically we have to reduce emissions later, which in the end will probably be more difficult and more expensive. Not to mention it increases the chance of crossing dangerous tipping points. So time is of the essence.

Tom’s Comeback: It will be more expensive, but we should be richer, right? As for tipping points, I think this is the core of our disagreement on the future of our climate in the near term. I just don’t see it happening.

Me: “Tipping points” is perhaps too loaded of a term. The world doesn’t end after it is crossed, nor is everything fine when it’s not crossed. Consider for example the increasing melt of both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. The dynamics of these melt processes are very uncertain (and potentially worrisome), but it’s very likely that once big changes are set in motion, it’s very difficult to reverse them. Even more so because the CO2 concentration responds only very slowly to emission reduction efforts. So by the time society realizes “whoops, we’re in serious trouble now”, it may be too late to reverse it by ordinary means. Warning signals from the science are ignored at our peril.

The costs of reducing emissions doesn’t rise linearly with the amount of emissions to be reduced. It rises more or less exponentially. That makes your argument that we’ll be richer in the future moot, at least beyond a certain level. There are arguments made that 4% emission reduction per year is more or less the maximum achievable; beyond that the regular way of innovation and change (learning curves etc) doesn’t apply anymore. It would necessitate much stronger and much more costly and invasive measures to go beyond that. Typically the kind of measures that the “sceptics” oppose most strongly.

Those who oppose strong control by the government, should really favor emission reductions to start sooner rather than later, to reduce the pain that the measures would otherwise cause. That point is easily overseen.

The last point, and in addition the fact that more uncertainty should make one more, not less careful, are the key concepts that “sceptics” are missing the mark on, I think.

8. Tom: Accentuate the positive. Almost all of the measures you advocate to help bring about a greener world are justified without a trace of global warming. Emphasize the common-sense approach

Me: True, but it risks painting a rosier picture than it really is. If solar energy is expensive, people won’t do it just because it’s cool or because it creates jobs. They may because it gives an innovation advantage down the road (but that already implies the reality of AGW).

Tom’s Comeback: I have no comeback. I will actually have to think about this for a while…

9. Tom: Don’t ever again be trapped into untruths by a desire to shorten the story line.

Bart: I don’t’ understand the “again” in this context. Which untruths? If anything, scientists are way too long winded and fond of weasel words as it is. (Guilty as charged…)

Tom’s Comeback: True, but they stayed out of trouble (and the limelight) most of the time before.

10. Tom: Be the first to bring this debate out of the morass of partisan politics. This isn’t a left vs right debate.

Me: Entirely correct. CO2 absorption isn’t influenced by political leanings. This is mostly a message though for those who let their political views blur their judgment of the science.

A mirror story, advice for “skeptics” is here.

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19 Responses to “Tom Fuller’s advice for “warmists””

  1. Marco Says:

    Bart, zou je “Environmental Research” kunnen verbeteren tot “Climate Research”
    (vraag 2).
    Ik moet zeggen dat ik Tom Fullers McIntyre-fetishisme erg grappig vind. Als McIntyre zich nou zou verwijderen van een McKittrick (die het IPCC al van fraude heeft beticht en statistisch gemankeerd onderzoek heeft gedaan (“no montly value? Just put it to zero”), en een heleboel van zijn ‘aanhangers’, dan zou hij zich enigzins geloofwaardig maken. Oh, en als hij zich zou verontschuldigen voor al zijn fouten. Maar nee, blijkbaar moeten alleen anderen zich verontschuldigen.

  2. Hans Erren Says:

    Bankers are human too.

  3. Drasties - Dutch on the World - World on the Dutch Says:

    [...] Thomas Fuller’s advice for “warmists” [...]

  4. JANdeWIT Says:

    Hi Bart.

    Ik heb je stuk geplaatst op drasties – Dutch on the World – World on the Dutch.
    Plus het stuk in Examiner. Ik hoop dat dat ok is.
    Groet JdeW.

    drasties:
    “Hieronder eerst ‘de lezing’ van Bart Verheggen op zijn blog over de discussie en daaronder wat er zich echt heeft afgespeeld, volgens Thomas Fuller.
    De echte, werkelijke waarheid dus.”

  5. Bart Says:

    Jan de Wit,
    Ja, is prima.

  6. Marco Says:

    @Bart:
    Je wordt er anders wel van liegen beticht.

  7. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    Hi Bart,

    you write:

    “the longer we wait with taking measures, the more drastically we have to reduce emissions later, which in the end will probably be more difficult and more expensive.”

    I think the technology development perspective is getting a lot of attention today. It’s clear enough that the cost of emissions reductions in the future is hugely dependent on the technology available then.

    I think it’s also clear that a carbon price of hundreds of Euros per tonne for all greenhouse gases everywhere on the planet is not politically achievable any time soon. There is some scope to tinker with existing taxes (and subsidies) on fossil fuels.

    The question is whether this will make much difference to technology development, and whether there are other means to advance technology development that are more politically feasible than imposing taxes of several hundred Euros per tonne of CO2 in China starting next year.

    In other words, I am dubious whether the most relevant question is whether we need more or fewer measures, but should rather be about what measures are the most effective.

  8. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    One comment on the “science minded folks”. Tom is looking for a term to use that describes what people think about what type of actions follow from our state of knowledge of climate change. I think “science minded” is just another term for “rational” or “objective” or “fact based”.

  9. Eli Rabett Says:

    You know, it is a common tactic of our friends on the out the window right, to demand that everyone else disown those on our side who are effective. Eli would be a hell of a lot more impressed if they first tossed their friends like, oh, lets say Morano and Inhofe on the political side and just for arguments sake, Gerlich and Chilingar on the science fantasy beat.

    Bart, if you even let closet denialists like Fuller get away with that by being quiet, you are playing right into their tactic because its part of their strategy to get rid of anyone who is effective. Take a look at the push back on Gavin and now Wm. Connolley

  10. Bart Says:

    Eli,

    I’ve communicated with Tom Fuller quite a lot lately (i.e. the opposite of being quiet), and criticized most of what he said (though perhaps with friendlier words than you would have chosen). Whether it had any effect is an open question of course. We each have our own style, though I know that I’m at risk of being naive sometimes. So far, I’ve chosen to engage with Tom Fuller, and also with Roger Pielke Jr, as people with whom a decent discussion (and disagreements) can be had. I know that many disagree (see eg the Deltoid thread on Fuller).

    Still, finding common ground with those who have a different position is a useful and perhaps even necessary strategy. By being overly adversarial, we risk pushing those who are more or less open to reason further away to the ‘dark side’ (perhaps best exemplified by Morano and Inhofe). See also here)

    Citing Greg Craven:
    “How about just referring to me and my ilk as a “warmers,” and I’ll stick to calling you “skeptics,”
    (…)
    In any technique of conflict resolution or negotiation, the most useful strategy is always about finding common ground”

    It’s a very pragmatic approach. And it may not be the right approach in dealing with a total ostrich, but it may be a good approach for someone who is at risk of becoming an ostrich, but still has a (blurred) vision of reality. We should be careful not to push someone else’s head in the sand ourselves.

    Also note that I didn’t agree with his ‘advice’ of dissing some vocal proponents of action:
    “I disagree about the people you mention all having been a hindrance to advance public understanding; in some cases quite to the contrary (even if not without faults).”
    And Tom wrote on his site (part 5): “I know many skeptics who would be happy to get rid of Viscount Lord Monckton and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.”

    I am as disgusted as you are with the smear campaigns directed at Gavin, William and climate scientists in general.

  11. bigcitylib Says:

    “I am as disgusted as you are with the smear campaigns directed at Gavin, William and climate scientists in general.”

    You don’t see Fuller and Pielke Jr. as part and parcel of this campaign?

  12. Bart Says:

    BCL,
    Yes, I do. And I have called both of them out on it, both on their blogs and here (nr 9) re RPJr: “I have found your and others’ criticisms off base, besides the point, largely irrelevant to the bigger picture and having the smell of a smear campaign (science-bashing)”

    But I don’t count them with the lunatic fringe, and I still see value in trying to discuss things with them.

  13. Dano Says:

    But I don’t count them with the lunatic fringe, and I still see value in trying to discuss things with them.

    Bart,

    IME Both of them are message dissemination channels for the lunatic fringe. They may not be strictly members, but rather enablers. Whether this is totally different than a nutter or a different fruit in the same bowl should be obvious. Jus’ sayin’.

    Best,

    D

  14. Dano Says:

    Oops. Accidentally hit ‘submit’

    Come now. Tom is writing a quick book on “climategate” and splashes ‘climategaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ all over his blog at every opportunity. Obviously a shill or useful drone.

    Best,

    D

  15. Marion Delgado Says:

    examiner.com is absolutely nothing. it’s an asinine vanity press that pays back on hit-count. PLEASE work towards ignoring it, not promoting it by publicity.

    And Tom Fuller is the worst of the bunch. he’s the equivalent of the people who spam world of warcraft links to earn gold.

    ignore whenever possible has to be a goal, here. Alternately, where would you draw the line? If a naked man with a fifth of rum runs across the street screaming that global warming is an illuminati plot, do we have to refute that, too? if people are paid $5 for every reply they get trolling blog comments, should each identical comment be refuted in detail?

  16. Marion Delgado Says:

    Also, and this cannot be said often enough, Steve McIntyre has no areas of competence whatsoever.

  17. Bart Says:

    Dano, Marion,

    I think we agree on the diagnosis, but we disgree on the treatment. Tom’s going on about “climategate” is definitely over the top, I agree. Still, he’s in a different league than the likes of Singer or Morano. Treating him the same way is not a good strategy I think. Pielke is very different again; he actually brings some good viewpoints to the table at times (and very bad ones at other times, esp when he’s talking about climate scientists).

    I’m not all that sure that me engaging with Tom Fuller has any use; I can’t actually give an example where he adapted his opinion based on a conversation I’ve had with him. Still, I don’t see how or why ignoring him would be any better. He does have a bigger following than me, so it’s not that he gains a lot more exposure by me engaging with him. OTOH, his readers do get to see another viewpoint by me engaging over there (and there are other sane voices doing the same, eg CBDunkerson). I think/hope that it’s doing more good than bad.

    Talking amongst ourselves is interesting, but often amounts to preaching to the choir. We do have to reach out to others as well, if we want to increase public understanding of (climate) science. However, talking too much to someone who is not listening is also a waste of time. It’s striking a balance between these two that’s the challenge.

  18. Eli Rabett Says:

    Well, actually Fuller is not the target, his readers are.

  19. Marion Delgado Says:

    The thing is, I’m a journalist (who’s moved into being more of a news web geek). When I talked shop with Fuller, pointing out that when he said checking facts in stories with sources is not how journalism works, that’s not correct, he freaked out on me.

    The thing is, I have plenty of editors and reporters I can talk to. I can show them crap like fuller said, or Keith Kloor’s should-be-infamous statement when running one of his paranoid-schizophrenic screeds against Joe Romm that when a journalist does an interview he does not have a story in mind in advance, and should not give an editor any more than “I’m going to do a story on geology.” I can gauge their reactions, which usually don’t involve hot drinks if I can manage it.

    Fuller is not honest, not teachable, and bears scientists nothing but ill will.

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