Citizen science as the new skepticism?


Over at Keith’s, I got engaged in a discussion with Judith Curry and others about the well educated skeptics who self identify as ”auditors” of climate science. She claims that

this group is definitely interested in moving the science forward.

The existence and flourishing of technical climate blogs that take a critical stance towards the mainstream scientific view shows that the dualistic view of professional scientists on the one hand and the amateur public on the other hand is too simplistic (especially if the public is deemed ‘ignorant’ of the science). It is clear that there is a continuum of interest, knowledge, skepticism, sincerity, etc amongst the public.

I agree that it’s not constructive to dismiss the expertise and energy of the more scientifically minded critics (“citizen scientists”). But then I would suggest that those sincerely interested clearly distance themselves from the contempt and suspicions raising crowd, since that are the public face of the critics, and it’s severely hampering communication with mainstream scientists and their supporters. Problem is, McIntyre himself has had a major influence in instilling contempt and suspicions into his very wide following. It doesn’t just raise my ire; it’s entirely un-constructive to moving the internet discussion with critics forward (regardless of how it all started). I suggest that those critics who are sincerely interested in moving the science forward engage more with scientists (rather than raging against them).

Citizen science

Judith Curry compares the technically savvy critics with citizen scientists in other disciplines, e.g. biology and astronomy. I think that comparison is only superficially true. In none of those other fields are the citizen scientists contemptuous towards the professional scientists (and vice versa). The ‘normal’ way for citizens to contribute to science is by providing observations; not so much in the interpretation. In none of the other cases I know of are the citizen scientists strongly critical and suspicious of the mainstream science.

Even in cases where the ‘auditors’ have superior technical skills, scientific intuition and broad background knowledge of the field is very important in placing results in context and in making a coherent scientific argument. These (especially the context) are what’s missing in many (not all) of the citizen scientists efforts regarding climate change, and yet, the conclusions are often uncritically taken to be of paramount importance for the field as a whole (e.g. talk of paradgim shift, Galileo and stuff like that).

Oftentimes, the specific details that the citizen scientists focus on and criticize are presented as needing to be resolved before the rest of the science can be discussed, and long before we may discuss policy options. That’s exactly what concerned scientists and citizens fear: That it’s used as an option to delay action (whether intentionally or not).

A constructive discussion about the best public actions to address global warming does notdepend on these technical details at all. That’s the crux of the matter. They make people not see the forest for the trees, in a very effective way. If that’s not McIntyre’s purpose, he should really rethink what he’s doing.

Michael Tobis made the observation that he agrees with the “citizen scientists” on many of their main points, but not on the policy direction. If they would be primarily interested in what they proclaim their key points are, and not in (obstructing) mitigation politics, the rational response would be to welcome Michael as an ally. However, he is “cast as an opponent, even as an extremist”. This is a very important point, and indeed, it suggests that their “real priorities have nothing to do with scientific process”.

In response Judith said that Michael’s stance on mitigation and uncertainties is what the self proclaimed “auditors” respond negatively to. The first point (on mitigation) is exactly what leads to Michael’s conclusion: Their primary interest is politics (disagreeing on the need for mitigation). The second point is untrue and unfair to Michael. He is most definitely not “in denial of uncertainty” as Judith later claimed.

Rather, he often makes the following pertinent points that I wholeheartedly agree with:

  • Some things are known more accurately than others.
  • The big picture of where we’re heading is clear, and this is what’s relevant for policy making.
  • Uncertainty cuts both ways. Combined with the knowledge about the big picture direction and the inertia in the system, uncertainty makes the case for action stronger rather than weaker.

I see a lot of self proclaimed “skeptics” mix up uncertainty with knowing nothing, and use that as an excuse for delaying action on mitigation. That is probably the number 1 argument to delay action. It is a policy statement, masquerading as a concern for science.

Genuine and pseudo skeptics

Undoubtedly climate skepticism comes in many shades of grey (as does climate concern). How can we distinguish between genuine skeptics and pseudo-skeptics? Undoubtedly, all self styles skeptics see themselves as genuine. I don’t really have an answer to that question. But the comparison with other areas of citizen science begs the question of why those in the climate change arena are predominantly critical, contemptuous even, about the mainstream scientific view? If their primary interest was in data analysis or observation quality, such an attitude wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I’d expect a group of citizen scientists to also have a spectrum of opinions on the science, but to see that spectrum go off in a totally different direction than the spectrum of views of professional scientists, is odd. Even if I’d take their criticism on the details at face value (which I don’t; call me skeptical), it doesn’t logically follow that their opinions of the science as a whole, let alone on mitigation, would be dramatically different.

The fact that many “citizen scientists” seem to be have such different views of the big picture makes me think that a sizeable proportion of them did come into this debate with preconceived notions. Something must have picked their interest in the science. Perhaps it’s more likely that they came to this debate with a skeptical inclination, rather than purely based on a love of the science in question, as is the case with archetypical examples of citizen science. This skeptical inclination could have extra-scientific reasons (e.g. psychological, ideological, political, etc) or it could be that criticisms they read about (e.g. from McIntyre) made them question the validity of the science, which they then decided to explore themselves. It’s important to distinguish between the details and the big picture. To what extent do they question the validity of the big picture, while exploring the details? And conflating the two? Without knowing the big picture, the McIntyrian way of looking at things probably sounds very convincing, especially to those from specialized technical fields.

The existing polarization, and subsequent defensive attitude of some spokespeople of mainstream science, may also have contributed to technically savvy people being drawn to ‘the other side’. That’s something we shouldn’t discount as a potentially important factor, and we should try to learn from it. It is clear that mainstream scientists (and their supporters) have not come to grips with these new skeptics, citizen scientists, technically savvy critics, auditors, or whatever name you’d want to give them.

See also some recent posts by Michael Tobis here and here.

Let me end by naming some constructive examples of citizen science:

Clear Climate Code

The making of a sea level study

Temperature reconstructions (and my reply to Lucia at Comment#46143)

Recent examples of citizen journalism also make clear that the less judgment is (perceived to be) passed onto the subject of study, the better it will be received.


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57 Responses to “Citizen science as the new skepticism?”

  1. Scott A Mandia Says:


    This is a superb analysis of the current “debate” and I agree with everything you write. IMO, there are very few citizen scientists and very few true skeptics. McI is not a citizen scientist by my standard.

    I see overwhelming evidence for AGW and very likely severe negative impacts. There is certainly enough support for action that action needs to be taken now. We appear to be talking about the cause of a house fire instead of squirting water on it. It is quite shameful.

  2. Tom Fuller Says:

    Hi Bart,

    Nice post. I hope that interested people outside the scientific community are encouraged to contribute.

    One thing you might want to keep in mind, however, is that for many outside the scientific community, there is a strong perception that contempt started with some scientists and radiated outwards, not vice versa.

    I also really think you’ve misread McIntyre completely, but I’ve told you that before. Remember he went to Annan (or Wahl, I forget which) with an olive branch and an offer to work together on resolving their differences.

    I hope we don’t get hung up too much in a ‘he started it’ argument, and that this proves to be a positive step forward.

  3. Anna Haynes Says:

    and Audubon bird counts, magpie surveys, etc.

    Let’s not call it “citizen science” when it’s citizen suspicion-of-science.

  4. sod Says:

    very good post Bart.

  5. MapleLeaf Says:

    Very nice post Bart.

    Don’t forget the work of Zeke Hausfather, JeffId, RomanM.

    Oh, and Mr. McIntyre, real citizen scientists do not ask to get paid to reconstruct the global temperature record.

    A question, are the scientists who volunteer their time to contribute to the IPCC reports not engaging in citizen science?

  6. Bam Says:

    Your analysis quite well fits mine (never written down, though), Bart. Well written.

    Tom Fuller, You probably mean Ammann. And I’m not surprised that Ammann (or Wahl) are not interested in McIntyre’s olive branch. When you are vilified on someone’s blog (see for example a title like “Caspar Ammann, Texas sharpshooter”), few people would be inclined to be nice at a later point.

    MapleLeaf, JeffId’s work on the temperature reconstruction may be of interest, but much else of what he does is filled with invectives or strawmen. Cf:
    It’s one of the more disingenious lists of myths I’ve ever seen, and one that shows a clear ideological angle.

  7. Bart Says:

    Thanks for the nice responses, guys. It’s interesting that both Sod, MapleLeaf and Tom Fuller find this a good post. Perhaps there’s some common ground to be found here (or perhaps -being cynical- I was just so vague and wordy that everybody can find something to their liking).

    I mentioned the constructive nature of the various temperature reconstructions at the end. They exemplify constructive engagement indeed.

  8. mikep Says:

    I don’t think this is helpful at all, but is probably a mistake to say so. I don’t understand why you think McIntyre is so unhelpful He has published clear and convincing critiques of high-profile climate reconstructions in the peer-reviewed literature. He has continued analyses on his blog with open methods, clearly stating where his data comes from and giving code. Most of his criticisms seem to me to be spot on. It’s true that much of the work is critical, but that does not mean it does not advance science. I think the reaction of the paleo-climate people, and in particular that of Michael Mann, has done more to call into question the reliability of parts of climate science. Answering legitimate criticisms in the peer-reviewed literature in a temperate way would have been a better tactic to convince people like me.

  9. Nick Barnes Says:

    I reject the label “citizen scientist”. I am not a scientist. I have degrees in Mathematics (not a science) and Computer Science (also not a science) and am a software professional. In other words, my education and experience equips me to do sums pretty well. I also have a lifelong interest in science and in its history and philosophy (I was married for many years to an expert in that field). This equips me to read and understand science papers, and to distinguish between science and pseudo-science. Finally, I have spent quite a bit of time reading climate science, communicating with climate scientists, and doing sums relating to climate science (e.g. ClearClimateCode). This equips me to understand the relevance, credibility, and impact of many pieces of climate science. But I am not a scientist, and to claim the label for such as myself would be to denigrate both the experience and the vocation of actual scientists. What ClearClimateCode does is not science.

    Of course, if I don’t consider myself a scientist, then the many, many bloggers and other commenters who make a lot of noise about climate science without having relevant experience or expertise, without reading any science, without doing anything constructive in the field, let alone doing any actual science, are certainly also not scientists. I don’t need to name names here.

    If one considers the non-scientists who – like myself – do work constructively to understand, clarify, and communicate climate science, then I suspect a majority of us accept, rather than rejecting, the consensus.

  10. Nick Barnes Says:

    But: good article, and thanks for the CCC compliment.

  11. Chris S. Says:

    As an entomologist I come into contact quite regularly with ‘citizen science’. In fact in my field some of the leading lights have been amateurs, who have provided great insight into entomological taxonomy, ecology and phenology whilst also holding down regular jobs. R.S. George, the UK’s leading expert on Siphonaptera (and ex-fighter pilot) springs to mind in this regard. Similar amateur contributions come in other ecological fields and, I’m sure, other areas too.

    How do these amateurs communicate with the rest of the researchers in their field? They publish. In entomology the likes of Entomologist’s Record, Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine and Field Studies house papers by amateur researchers side-by-side with those of professionals. Here is where the citizen science as I describe it and that of ‘blog science’ differ.

    Many leading scientists have no inkling of the wide array of the work that Bart (and others) describe above (and elsewhere). In part this is a generational issue – many of the top scientists I know can barely work a computer & often delegate anything requiring computers to others, from creating graphs to, in some cases, writing emails. But it is also a methodological issue – scientists get their science from journals, not other people’s notebooks whther they be on paper or online. There are of course exceptions – an example: Tim Sparks is forging a career in digging up phenological records from wherever he can find them & working them into papers – but they are just that – exceptional.

    The fact remains that science is communicated through the published medium, if ‘citizen scientists’ fail to do this then their work will remain un- or underappreciated by mainstream science.

    On a side note I find it amusing that Tom Fuller of all people seems surprised by a scientist failing to work with someone who apparently vilified him in print.

  12. Bart Says:


    McIntyre in my opinion has a negative influence on scientific understanding of the public. As DeepClimate once said it, he provides fodder for the “skeptics”, and he does so very effectively. With McIntyre, the problem as I see it is that he misses the forest for the trees in his various criticisms, and seems all to happy to let people walk away with the impression that the science is seriously flawed. His feeble excuse when called upon it (“but that’s not what I said”) deep in a comment thread is not convincing, as it’s not followed up by making very clear what he means and doesn’t mean next time around. That coupled with his nearly continuous harassment of individual scientists and casting doubts about a whole scientific field (whether intentionally or not) makes my opinion of him very negative indeed. He seems to actively work to lower science’s credibility (whether intentionally or not). See for an example of what I mean here.

    Nick Barnes,

    I don’t care much for labels, but by citizen scientist I mean someone who contributes to the science not out of their profession but otherwise. You seem to be a good example of that, as what you do definitely contributes to (a tool used in) the science, but you’re not a climate scientist by profession.

  13. willard Says:


    Citizen scientists should engage in scientific venues. The more scientific the venue, the better. We can take Science of Doom as a testbed, but we can add others. If a self-proclaimed citizen scientist comes around bragging about how much he wishes to advance science, we could ask him to go join the fray of science bloggers.

    If he does not comply, that would mean that the alledged citizen scientist is here to talk science policies, energy policies, rhetorics, political generalities or worse. Like everyone here, it seems.

    It should be obvious I am here for rhetorics.

  14. Eli Rabett Says:

    Perhaps in a sharper manner, these thoughts occurred to Uncle Eli many years ago

    Uncle Eli has always admired astronomy, botany, and zoology as sciences with important amateur participation. By nurturing the large community of those interested in the science these fields have built important support groups, and amateurs have made important contributions. Many amateurs become obsessed with relatively narrow and previously trodden areas. Within those areas their knowledge often exceeds that of professionals. To Eli the most important thing is that people get to experience the joy of science. The smartest thing NASA ever did was reserve time on the Hubble for amateurs and some good science has resulted.

    What amateurs lack as a group is perspective, an understanding of how everything fits together and a sense of proportion. Graduate training is designed to pass lore from advisors to students. You learn much about things that didn’t work and therefore were never published [hey Prof. I have a great idea!…Well actually son, we did that back in 06 and wasted two years on it], whose papers to trust, and which to be suspicious of [Hey Prof. here’s a great new paper!… Son, don’t trust that clown.] In short the kind of local knowledge that allows one to cut through the published literature thicket.

    But this lack makes amateurs prone to get caught in the traps that entangled the professionals’ grandfathers, and it can be difficult to disabuse them of their discoveries. Especially problematical are those who want science to validate preconceived political notions, and those willing to believe they are Einstein and the professionals are fools. Put these two types together and you get a witches brew of ignorance and attitude.

    Unfortuantely climate science is as sugar to flies for those types.

  15. Hans Says:

    I consider myself a skeptic, a citizen scientist (biology). I have indeed a skeptic inclination, but I have a profound love for science and the scientific method.
    Observations lead to climate-models. If the climatemodels are clearly proven wrong by new observations and new discoveries, the models must be revised.

    I object to your insinuation that skeptics merely focus on specific detail and they got a preconceived notion of the bigger picture.
    When you are scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you….. and that understanding empowers you.

  16. MapleLeaf Says:


    “Observations lead to climate-models.”

    I’m sorry you are mistaken. It is true that some processes in the models, are by necessity, are parameterized, parameterization schemes which are empirically based. But what is wrong in basing a parameterization scheme on observed real-world data (and no, I am not talking about the SAT record)? Would you rather that they guess or omit the process in question? The AOGCMs and NWP models are continually evolving and improving as computing speed increases, as new data assimilation methods are incorporated and parameterization schemes are improved etc. They are not stagnant as you suggest, not even close.

    Anyhow, what has this to do with citizen science?

    You say “When you are scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you….. and that understanding empowers you.”

    Are you suggesting that Dr. Verheggen or climate scientists are not “scientifically literate”?

    “Skeptics” like McIntyre do in fact nit pick, and his “findings” have had no discernible impact on the big picture when it comes to the paleo reconstructions or SAT record (referring to the NASA GISS error)– he has been very successful though at feeding the skeptics and playing at dog whistle politics.

    In my extensive experience with ‘skeptics’ they have pretty much exclusively had preconceived ideas (i.e., AGW is a hoax/fraud) nor have they applied their ‘skepticism’ symmetrically.

  17. Nebuchadnezzar Says:

    I think that any scientist has to do two things to be a scientist. If you do only one of the two, you aren’t really a scientist.

    First you have to be critical – sceptical if you like – of ideas new and old, of your own ideas and those of others.

    Second, you have to generate new ideas.

    You can’t be a scientist without a fair balance between these two. If everyone was critical all the time and no new ideas were generated, science would grind to a halt and we’d never learn anything new. If everyone had lots of ideas, but didn’t assess them critically, we’d drown in the resulting intellectual slurry.

    Until recently, many amateur climatologists suffered a fatal imbalance. Some lacked in the second aspect, suffering a paucity of novel ideas. They took stock criticisms and applied them to the data. Or they failed in the first aspect. They looked at the data in a superficial way, saw something they didn’t like and cried foul without looking closely at what they had done. Blogs seem to perpetuate this. It’s easy to blog now, think later.

    Steve McIntyre, for all his good work, has explicitly stated that he’s a climate auditor. He’s critical of the body of scientific work, without feeling the need to add to it. I wouldn’t class him as a scientist in that respect.

    For a ‘professional’ scientist dealings with these people can become tedious. For the first few years, they might find it stimulating to engage with the ‘amateurs’, but it eats up time. Some correspondents ping back email after email, sliding from one attack to another, or sink into confusing thickets of verbiage (I imagine that feeling is mutual). The scientist is left wondering what’s in it for her. The answer is, not a lot.

    Whereas a lengthy exchange of emails with another scientist, might result in some kind of improved understanding, collaboration, or even (oh, joy) a paper, the exchange of emails with ‘amateurs’ often results in nothing but the incremental disillusionment of both parties.

    Even with self-appointed and eminently qualified ‘auditors’ there seems little to be gained in lengthy interaction. The best that can happen is you answer all emails promptly and politely, turn over all your data and code and it gets… ignored. Below that is a sliding scale of time-consuming and fruitless pain – lawyerly emails reproduced alongside your replies (heavily abridged), snarky blog postings, FOI requests, accusations of fraud and, often, a light rain of abusive emails from the hangers-on. If all this wins you a citation for your work it’s from a paper that’s heavily critical of it.

    If you share your finite lot of time with someone it should be in the hope that there *might* be a positive outcome. In this respect, I’m not sure there should be a compulsion on scientists to allow everyone who wants a piece of their time to have it. But, I’m open to having my mind changed on this.

    Thankfully, things are changing. People are doing exciting and interesting things. The surfacestations project is a fantastic resource. The Steig et al. Antarctic reconstruction wasn’t just criticised in the blogosphere, the world ended up with a better reconstruction thanks to the efforts of blog science. There are now several more quasi-independent reconstructions of global temperatures, which, with luck, will appear in a journal near you soon and on into the next IPCC report. A roll-call of bloggers were named as coauthors on Knappenberger’s Heartland presentation, which seems to be an improvement on similar analyses (like the slightly confusing Knight et al. paper).

    A wider range of people are generating new ideas as well as picking everything over thoroughly. I think those who participate fully in this process really are scientists (despite their modesty). The professional scientist is a relatively recent innovation anyway, the growth of ‘citizen’ science simply reflects the fact that a greater proportion of the population has the free time, education and facilities that were latterly the preserve of the independently wealth gentleman scientist.


  18. Bart Says:


    Very good points indeed.


    You’re right about the tediousness and finite time for engaging with all critics. Often, there’s not much in it for the scientist, and if insinuations or worse start to get used, the scientist will of course disengage, perhaps even feel abused. You’re also right that there are some promising new initiatives (as I also noted at the bottom of my post).

  19. DLM Says:

    Tedious or not, when a scientist won’t show his work, it is cause to believe there is something wrong with the product. If a used car salesman won’t allow a buyer to have his mechanic check the car out, he don’t buy the POS.

  20. Bill Stoltzfus Says:

    Bart said:
    “A constructive discussion about the best public actions to address global warming does not depend on these technical details at all. That’s the crux of the matter. They make people not see the forest for the trees, in a very effective way. If that’s not McIntyre’s purpose, he should really rethink what he’s doing.”

    As far as I can tell, that’s never been McIntyre’s purpose, and he’s stated that clearly on a number of occasions. His blog concerns itself with only what he is personally interested in (trees number 14, 39, 78-82, and 145 of the forest), and it has a narrow focus as a result. Now, one of the consequences of that narrow focus may be that he pays less attention to the broader implications of the topics that he opines on, but it’s his blog and he can do what he wants on it.

    Whether you think that means that he is guilty for not initiating his readers into what scientific uncertainty means with respect to the broader discussion is another matter. A lot of people can’t reconcile uncertainty in one or more parts of a discussion with confidence in the direction of that discussion as a whole. I am still one of those people and am working on that, and as a result of that I’ve branched out from CA and WUWT to Lucia’s, yours, scienceofdoom, Tamino, chriscolose, and others. It’s gonna take me a while (and I’ll probably still never understand the math) but eventually I’ll get up to speed on the science as a whole and the attendant policy implications.

    I don’t hold McIntyre responsible for my climate science education. I can see that he has his special areas of interest and rarely goes beyond them, so I don’t search for those kind of answers there. The people that stay there and only there are not likely to be swayed in the long run.

    The kind of big-picture role that you’re talking about is probably the one that RC was supposed to fill, but I don’t know that it does. Scientists have a hard time explaining things to laymen with whom they don’t even share a common language–as an obvious example the word “significance”, which means very different things to both groups and causes confusion at every turn when not delineated beforehand.

    WUWT has such a huge following because it is so accessible–it requires little background knowledge, and they have a sense of humor. The kind of background knowledge that RC requires necessitates a steep learning curve, and I rarely see humorous posts there. It’s definitely more of a somber mood. I think those blogs I mentioned earlier (Lucia’s, yours, scienceofdoom, Tamino, chriscolose, etc.) are doing an excellent job of filling that accessibility gap in the meantime, though, and I hope they continue to do so.


  21. Bill Stoltzfus Says:

    Re previous post–“guilty” in the third pargraph is wrong. Let me re-phrase to “Whether it is his duty to initiate his readers…”

  22. dhogaza Says:

    WUWT has such a huge following because it is so accessible–it requires little background knowledge, and they have a sense of humor. The kind of background knowledge that RC requires necessitates a steep learning curve, and I rarely see humorous posts there

    Actually, I’d suggest a proper understanding of WUWT does require a steep learning curve, because it takes a certain level of background understanding of science to be able to readily see how they Watts and Goddard, in particular, lie to people.

    They say or do things that seem “commonsense” until you apply some critical thinking.

    For instance, recently Goddard “proved” that there was a record spring snowpack in the western united states by averaging the percentage-of-normal snowpacks for the various states – WITHOUT WEIGHTING FOR THE AREA OF EACH STATE.

    Likewise Goddard has “proved” that “arctic sea ice volume is greater now than in the last several years” by multiplying a model’s ice thickness + pixel area together without taking into account concentration (a pixel with 50% concentration will have half the volume of one with 100%).

    Of course, there are some who point out the fallacies over at WUWT, if you wade your way through the cheering throng, but you need to have some basic background (in these two examples, algebra would suffice) in order to see through the falseness.

    If you can’t quickly catch one major fallacy in each of Goddard’s posts, and in almost all of Watts’, then you definitely have some catching up to do …

  23. Bill Stoltzfus Says:

    dhogaza–I do have a long way to go. I have said before that the maths will probably always be beyond me, and since a lot of the fallacies seem to involve knowing which statistical tests can be applied in which situations (or in which order), that will take me longer. I have noticed that in the past few months the posts have seemed a bit more “on the fringe” than normal. Whether that’s because they are in an absolute sense, or just in relation to me knowing a bit more about the science, I am not sure yet.

  24. Rattus Norvegicus Says:


    It was worse than that, he couldn’t even get the averages correct!

  25. superstore Says:

    Steve McIntyre, for all his good work, has explicitly stated that he’s a climate auditor. He’s critical of the body of scientific work, without feeling the need to add to it. I wouldn’t class him as a scientist in that respect.

    For an auditor, he seems to be curiously quiet about the endless errors at WUWT. He finds plently to criticise about the accepted AGW science, (the parts that he ‘audits’), but is silent about Goddards statistical errors and fallacies. The end result is that he gives the impression that there are only errors with the accepted AGW science and no errors with the ‘skeptics’. I don’t see how that advances the science.

  26. Bart Says:


    If you call the car salesman all kinds of names and insinuate that he’s a liar, then insisting very obnoxiously that you want to see his financial administration from the 15 years, he’ll probably laugh at you and tell you to bugger off.

  27. Bishop Hill Says:

    Bam said on June 24, 2010 at 07:54

    “I’m not surprised that Ammann (or Wahl) are not interested in McIntyre’s olive branch. When you are vilified on someone’s blog (see for example a title like “Caspar Ammann, Texas sharpshooter”), few people would be inclined to be nice at a later point.”

    McIntyre’s olive branch was proferred at AGU in December 2005. The (Texas sharpshooter article is from August 2008. I don’t think you can characterise McIntyre’s piece as vilification either – Ammann did redraw the bullseye. Surely no-one can deny it.

    Bart – I’d value your opinion on this point.

  28. Bam Says:

    Bishop Hill, I’d say the 2008 article merely shows McIntyre didn’t really mean his olive branch. Note the language in the post: “Paleoclimate Kim Jong Il” and “redneck vote manipulation”; not exactly value-free language…

  29. Bishop Hill Says:


    The paper was a disgrace – wouldn’t you agree?

  30. Scott Mandia Says:

    I think McI’s true motives were revealed in the way he manufactured the Yamal “controversy”. Frankly, I am stunned that Dr. Curry thinks that he should be part of the dialogue. McI was shameless.

    Bart, I continue to tell people that this “is the best blog you are probably not reading”. Do you check the stats? I am curious if now your blog actually is one of the top visited?

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    My Global Warming Blog
    Twitter: AGW_Prof
    “Global Warming Fact of the Day” Facebook Group

  31. Bam Says:

    Bishop Hill:

    No, I do not agree. I cannot agree, because I lack the advanced skills in statistics to check the results of either Ammann or McIntyre. However, I do know that it is not difficult to find two statisticians who violently agree over methodology. I’ve tried that myself once. Highly amusing, I must say, and not surprising.

    But even if the article were a disgrace, the terminology used by McIntyre shows disdain and disgust, and most certainly does not reflect the behavior of someone who has offered an olive branch. Perhaps he considers it necessary to use this type of language to keep his audience happy, but then he (and his audience) will just have to accept that he is not making friends. Au contraire, I would even say.

  32. Bishop Hill Says:


    The story goes like this. Ammann issues a press release saying he has refuted McIntyre’s work. At AGU 2005, Ammann refuses to say what verification statistics he has from his replication of the Hockey Stick. McIntyre offers an olive branch – a joint paper setting out their differences and how to resolve them. Ammann refuses saying it would be bad for his career. McIntyre repeats the offer in writing, Amman doesn’t respond. Ammann’s paper proves not to represent a refutation of McIntyre’s work but a confirmation of it. Ammann’s paper presents findings as if they were his own and implying they were missed by McIntyre. The paper is rejected when McIntyre points this out. Ammann eventually has to admit that his paper fails its verification R^2. He then has to reinvent Monte Carlo methods to enable it to pass another verification statistic.

    I’m sorry but after this, disgust is a perfectly reasonable response.

    You say it’s difficult to find two statisticians who agree on methodology. Here’s a challenge for you: see if you can find a reputable statistician who believes that Ammann’s RE benchmarking was reasonable.

  33. DLM Says:

    Bishop Hill intrudes with the facts. Most refreshing.

  34. pough Says:

    I think McI’s true motives were revealed in the way he manufactured the Yamal “controversy”.

    For me it was the 1934 “controversy”. Truly, it was a fabulous lesson in how to mislead with technically accurate statements. Either that or a lesson in how not to communicate effectively.

  35. J Bowers Says:

    superstore Says: June 26, 2010 at 07:20
    “For an auditor, he seems to be curiously quiet about the endless errors at WUWT. He finds plently to criticise about the accepted AGW science, (the parts that he ‘audits’), but is silent about Goddards statistical errors and fallacies.”

    He occasionally goes one step further and republishes posts from WUWT with Watts as author.

    While I’m here, and as comunication is being discussed, I’d also like to point to what I consider to be a model description of an important aspect to climate science to the layman, posted in comments at Climatesight by climate scientist David Greenwood. Concise, unambiguous, informative, clear.

    See his following comment for an explanation of how he used to be a sceptic (geologist) but not anymore, and why.

  36. Bam Says:

    @Bishop Hill:

    I can understand you believe McIntyre on his word. I myself am not so sure it is entirely accurate. Sorry, I’m a bit skeptical on those matters :-).

    I won’t go into a discussion on the details, as, I repeat, I do not have the proper background to get into that discussion. However, I have no doubt I will find a reputable statistician who would agree with Ammann. For example, I would not be surprised if Doug Nychka agreed with Caspar Ammann.

    Moreover, apparently another “reputable statistician” also supports the Ammann result:

    Click to access 10_05_11climateSmith.pdf

  37. Derecho64 Says:

    Would a legitimate citizen scientist use a campaign of harassment (using FOIA requests as a bludgeon) against a professional scientist? That’s what McIntyre promoted, aided, and abetted against Jones. That loathsome act alone puts any claim of McIntyre being any kind of scientist right in the rubbish bin.

  38. Paul Kelly Says:

    Yet another climate blog post dissecting skepticism shows the wasted effort generated from trying to define things in terms of climate. These posts are ever more frequent, an attempt to understand why the public isn’t accepting ACC and is opposed to the proposed policies called for by climate.

    For the big picture, divide people up on if they believe in energy transformation. Those that don’t can stand on the sidelines. Those that do should stop arguing angels on pinheads and get on with it.

  39. MarkB Says:

    “He [McIntyre] seems to actively work to lower science’s credibility (whether intentionally or not).”

    As pointed out here, a goal of most “citizen skeptics” is to stop/delay emissions-reduction policies. One way to do that is to elevate their perceived status in relation to the “scientific establishment”. One route would be to make careful and robust scientific arguments and taking the time to attempt to publish in the peer-reviewed literature. Such a strategy is not very fruitful for their goals in this regard, as the “citizen skeptic” usually lacks a robust argument or the desire to further science. Instead, constant slinging of mud at key scientists, along with pseudo-analysis that sounds good to the layperson (but generally can’t make it past expert review), is something that catches the media’s attention. The hope is that policymakers will turn to their favorite blogs to become acquainted with climate science, instead of scientific bodies. It’s purely a political game. It’s both a personal (at the very least, fame and recognition beyond what could be achieved through respectable and constructive behavior) and political game for the McIntyres of the world.

    Curry’s characterization of Tobis regarding uncertainties is indeed inaccurate. The contrarian camp is certainly selective regarding uncertainties. Only the lower bound on climate sensitivity matters, for example, and taking it a step further, unless we can be certain the lower bound is near the mean estimate of typical models, we don’t know enough to take action.

    Uncertainty can be grossly inflated as well. Roy Spencer was recently asked what would convince him of the human influence on climate. He responded that there is no unique human fingerprint on climate (can’t be distinguished from other forcings). He blows off stratospheric cooling, and perhaps is unaware of other evidence:

    As Bart writes, skeptics claim if there are uncertainties in any observations, it means we know nothing.

    Instead, only a 5 C rise in temperature would be enough to convince Spencer.

    Funny…I would think most genuine skeptics would be convinced much sooner – but since Spencer is obviously not convinced by any primary evidence, it’s unlikely he’d be convinced by secondary compelling evidence such as the rapid recent rise in temperatures.

  40. Hans Says:

    @Mapleleaf: we are still haunted by the graphs from the IPCC-report. Politicians still talk about warming of 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.
    New data and research, improved models have not yet replaced the graphs and the 2 degree-projection.
    Have you seen the oceans cooling ?
    What is causing the drop in temperature ?

    Please view the YouTube-video in my reaction.
    My quote from Neil de Grasse Tyson is just about myself.
    I am scientifically literate and I see the world in a different way.

  41. J Bowers Says:

    Hans says: “Have you seen the oceans cooling ?”

    Without thermal expansion due to extra heat in the oceans, and/or ice sheet melt and deglaciation, it is not possible for sea level to rise, and sea level is most definitely still rising.

    There are no signs of the oceans themselves cooling, but quite the opposite. Even if it wasn’t due to thermal expansion, then the alternative (ice melt) is a sure sign of extra warming anyway.

  42. cassandraclub Says:

    @J Bowers: SST are plunging. Please explain to me why the seasurface is losing so much heat so quickly.
    In theory the CO2 in the atmosphere should prevent cooling of the seasurface.

  43. Nick Barnes Says:

    @cassandraclub. Why do you say that “SST are plunging”. It doesn’t look that way to me. Look at charts here: Current global SST anomaly is about +.4K.

    “Weather” affects heat flows between the sea-surface and the atmosphere, and between the sea-surface and deeper waters. So SSTs vary with weather (especially ENSO). But climatically, they continue on an upward trend.

    Also “In theory the CO2 in the atmosphere should prevent cooling of the seasurface” is hugely over-simplified. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere will increase SSTs.

  44. J Bowers Says:

    Re. cassandraclub June 30, 2010 at 22:21:

    Please cite your sources on how sea level rises without thermal expansion and/or ice melt.


    Thanks in advance.

  45. WTH Says:

    “Judith Curry compares the technically savvy critics with citizen scientists in other disciplines, e.g. biology and astronomy. ”

    Something that’s been bugging me – what’s the difference between a “citizen scientist” and an “amateur scientist”? I’m very involved in astrophotography and refer to myself as an “amateur astronomer” as do all others I know, but none of us call ourselves “citizen astronomers”. Even those that engage in astronomy for science (ex tracking minor planets) call themselves “amateur astronomers”.

    If there’s no difference, then what reason is there for coining a new phrase when one has been in wide use for decades?

  46. Bam Says:

    WTH: there is no difference. The terms are both in use. In fact, the Society for Amateur Scientists has a magazine called “citizen scientist”.

    I will note that to some people “amateur” has a negative connotation.

  47. Bart Says:


    Good question. I took over the word used by Judith Curry. The name “amateur scientist” may be more common, but apparently some people whoi self identify as (fans of) “climate auditors” are easily offended by the the adjective “amateur”, as if it it somehow demeaning (see Michael Tobis’ latest foray into ClimatAudit).

  48. Hans Says:

    J Bowers:
    @J Bowers: satellite temperatuyres indicate SST are dropping fast

    Again my question: why is the seasurfacetemperature dropping, like it did in 2007 ?
    Where is the heat going and shouldn’t the high CO2-concentration prevent rapid cooling ?

  49. Distinguishing deniers from skeptics | Klimapolis Says:

    […] tried to reframe activities of civic skeptics as “citizen science” (discussed here and here). To the degree that blog posts are actually intended to advance science, or to learn what’s […]

  50. Frank Davis Says:

    I can’t help but feel that the author of this piece regards the opinions of “professional scientists” as carrying far more weight than those of the “amateur public”, as if the former were an anointed priesthood preaching to an ill-educated laity. The information flow is strictly one way: the scientists speak, and the public listens. Except that recently this hasn’t been happening properly as it should do.

    This authoritarianism comes through again and again whenever AGW advocates appeal to authority. “They’re professional climate scientists, so you must listen to them!!” The first thing they want to know about anybody is whether they are an accredited expert – i.e. an ordained priest -. If they’re not, they’re nobody, and don’t deserve a hearing.

    One reason why WUWT and Climate Audit have become award-winning websites is because there’s an almost complete lack of this sort of authoritarian hierarchy. Everybody’s equal. Critical comments won’t be deleted. They are almost co-operative societies.

    It’s just like the confrontation between the authoritarian Roman Catholic church and the Protestants back in the time of the Reformation. Martin Luther? Who’s he? Is he a bishop or a cardinal? He’s not, I hear you say. Then who cares what he thinks? He’s a heretic.

    There is every reason why ordinary people should be concerned. AGW advocates are calling for the decarbonisation of western civilisation. This is an inherently political goal, the achievement of which will require considerable suffering. Why should they take climate scientists on trust? Why should they accept their authoritative declarations without demur?

    Particularly when it is more and more apparent that the raw temperature data is being continually adjusted, and climate models are ineffective, and the practitioners of the science conceal data and methods, try to stop critics publishing, hide the decline, etc, etc.

    So it was with the Catholic church circa 1500. It had become corrupt. It was in need of a reformation. So it is again today. And now, as then, the reformers are coming from the bottom rather than the top.

    What we’re seeing, I would suggest, is not a mere collapse of public belief in climate science, but a collapse in belief in science far more widely. And it’s a good thing. The result, in the long run, will be a more humble attitude on the part of scientists, a greater readiness to engage with ordinary people and their (very real) concerns, and a willingness to explain, and to provide data and methods, regardless of who requests it.

    But judging from the above article, it would appear that its authoritarian author hasn’t moved an inch in this direction.

  51. Bart Says:

    Frank Davis,

    I guess you don’t give more weight to your doctor’s opinion on your state of health than on your neighbor’s (assuming he isn’t a doctor)? Well, I do, as I think most would, as it’s the sensible thing to do.

    At WUWT comments are deleted if Watts doesn’t like them. At CA comments are sometimes snipped.

    CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here. The HadCRU temperature reconstruction agrees with those of other institutes, with those currently undertaken by bloggers (some ’skeptical’; some ‘consensus’), and also with satellite reconstructions.

    There is overwhelming willingness to explain, but not enough people capable to do so. There are vast numbers of people who say they want an explanation, but some of them don’t want to listen for some reason or the other.

    It’s not a good thing at all that trust in science in general in down. There are a great many things in modern society depending on science.

    Don’t compare scientists to priests. It shows your contempt for science. Your comment will be deleted next time you do so.

  52. Rick Says:

    Bart – nice article
    About Frank Davis – I have noticed a lot of denialist bloggers like him who either try to be the first or last on a post or article about climate change …even the mainstream media articles. Many times they ONLY make the first or last post. Is this some type of strategy? One wonders how they have the time for this or if they are getting paid.
    About citizen scientists – I believe there are legitimate ones – especially in phenology studies but unfortunately many on climate discussions are not citizen “scientists” but merely citizen bloggers wo spend their time gleaning information from the internet.

  53. Bart Says:


    Yes, I’ve noticed that as well, the drive-by shooters who seem to basically copy and paste old and tired talking points. It usually takes more time to refute their claims than to make them, so energy-wise it’s an effective strategy for them.

  54. J Bowers Says:

    Hans asked: “why is the seasurfacetemperature dropping, like it did in 2007 ?
    Where is the heat going and shouldn’t the high CO2-concentration prevent rapid cooling ?”

    Hans, why would I know precisely where the heat is going? You probably know quite well that is what Kevin Trenberth published about recently. However, we do know that more energy is coming in than going out.

    Likewise, please explain to us why the troposphere is warming while the stratosphere cools, and why nights are warming faster than days, without the cause being greenhouse gasses.

  55. adelady Says:

    As for the language. I think you’ll find this is a cross-pond issue. Brits historically have admired and favoured amateur endeavours of all kinds and use of the word amateur conveys implicit admiration. Not so in the US. Amateur is often read as equivalent to inadequate.

    As for amateur scientists, hunters, fishers, and all the members of the various clubs interested in gardening, entomology, birds, lizards, native plants, rocks are really keen to get to lectures at museums and the like. Having known a few of these people, I’d say the big difference between them and what I see, with an occasionally sinking heart, on various blogs is the attitude to the acknowledged experts.

    The amateurs (club members) are eager to share any observations of their own and they’re willing to listen to explanations and descriptions.

    And …….. they are willing to spend. their. own. money.
    on books, papers, models, equpiment.

    They don’t expect others to provide whatever they fancy they are entitled to. They’ll even raise funds for Prof. Bloggs to spend a bit more time investigating pest problems on some obscure plant or other.

  56. fugstar Says:

    my ears pricked up when you wrote ‘scientific intuition’

  57. Dumb America – wmconnolley: archive Says:

    […] the tone of this post, you might find somewhat similar ideas expressed in a more measured way by Bart (and links therein to mt).] It would be funny – were it not sad to see so many victims of […]

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