A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Friday, April 07, 2006

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Position Statements Hide Debate

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At April 07, 2006 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Please note that Oreskes published a correction explaining that her search was for "global climate change" rather than "climate change". The latter phrase produces more like 10,000 results.

  • At April 07, 2006 5:36 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks, I have made the correction.

  • At April 10, 2006 9:43 AM, Blogger Lucid Dream said…

    I dont find such a search using keywords very convincing concerning consensus since it is highly sensative to exactly how scientists word their papers. This is more more like doing a Google search, than a serious examination of papers of whether they support, or do not support anthropomorhic climate change. If you applied this same process using google, but typed in "flat-earth" you would come out thinking that a majority of people beleive in a flat earth!

    A much better method would be to do a poll/questionaire of major scientists to see what their positions are.

  • At April 10, 2006 10:00 AM, Blogger coby said…

    I tend to agree that there is nothing truly definitive in a study such as Oreskes and it is bound to be subjective to some degree. But I don't think your point about exact wording is significant as I don't see it introducing any bias, only perhaps leaving out some papers. A study like this only adds a little more weight, but does not "prove" anything.

    I recommend trying the google search Peter Norvig suggested in his review of this issue. You can thus use any phrase you chose, or combinations.

    Polls are good additional information, sure, but they have the disadvantage of mixing expert with non-expert opinion and depending on how carefully it is done can end up very questionable in its meaning. When you look at published research in reputable journals you at least have some fiter in terms of expertise.

    I think the IPCC report is the best possible determination of what is and isn't the scientific consensus.

  • At November 06, 2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    On Oreskes comments, has anyone tried to replicate the search? (limited to the same time period)? There seems to even be some question even to its voracity.


  • At November 06, 2006 8:09 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Did you follow the link to the article on Benny Peiser?

    Regardless of what I wrote there, he has completely repudiated his own surey though (surprise surprise) has not seemed to abandoned the conclusion.

  • At March 29, 2007 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    (formerly known as anonymous)


    thanks for the prompt answer on the other thread re higher confidence for future predictions than for past observations (I haven't expressed that well, but I got your gist).

    While the large volume and technical detail of this material places practical limitations upon the extent to which changes to these Reports will normally be made at Sessions of Working Groups or the Panel, "acceptance" signifies the view of the Working Group or the Panel that this purpose has been achieved. The content of the authored chapters is the responsibility of the Lead Authors, subject to Working Group or Panel acceptance. Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.

    This is from the 2007 IPCC Procedure for Reports.


    I had thought that the streamlining of the reports to match the summary was a copy-editing issue, a language issue, but this paragraph strongly suggests to me that they will change the scientific data to align with the summary. What's going on?


  • At April 01, 2007 5:58 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Barry,

    Sorry to be late responding on this one.

    I think your concern would be more legitimate if we were discussing the presentation of original research. Don't forget that what the IPCC report is is an overview of the existing literature. Such a body of literature will always be full of papers with differing focci, overturned results and a wide range in levels of establishment. What we have is a group of experts who gather literature they are already familiar with, evaluate and discuss and assess and arrive at general conclusions to be presented to a lay audience. I would take the editing of the body of the report to match the summary as an effort to ensure that the basis of the conclusions is crystal clear to its target audience.

    You are wildly extrapolating to think that actual data or primary research papers will be altered to suit a presumably unjustified conclusion. Is there an element of subjectivity? It can not possibly be otherwise. But given the huge amount of detailed scrutiny these documents come under and the nearly unanimous approval of the main conclusions by often antagonistic gov't's science agencies and relevant institutions around the world it is impossible that this is not a reasonable reflection of the state of climate science.

    Thanks for bringing it up, I hope to make a new post out of it soon.

  • At April 03, 2007 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the reply. Hope you're recovering well from the operation.

    Wanted to state my 'agenda' here. Starting from a position of acceptance of the general consensus, I have been debating climate change with some sharpish critics.

    That said, I'm not interested in getting 'ammunition'. If an interlocutor presents an argument that I find compelling, I try to approach it scientifically. That can be a bit of a challenge when trying to parse instructions.

    The political innuendo game would seem to be based (if at all) on socio-political/psycho-social models that I imagine are much less well validated than climate change theory.

    Anyways, I read around for some other comment on the guidelines, particularly the bit one of my challengers noted, which I cited above, as well as reading the guidelines themselves again.

    The guidelines also say that alternative theories must be included for balance, that any changes post-'acceptance' (the first in the tri-stage process leading to the summary) must be recorded, and that the summaries must be consistent with the assessments. Therefore, "Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes..." would be against the guidelines were they to include altering the science.

    Regarding the guideline definitions, "acceptance" is the first port-o-call in the report validation sequence, before line by line comparisons are made between the reports and the SMP. The next level is "adoption", and finally "approval".

    From the guidelines;

    Approval of the Summary for Policymakers at the Session of the Working Group, signifies that it is consistent with the factual material contained in the full scientific, technical and socioeconomic assessment or Special Report accepted by the Working Group. Coordinating lead authors may be asked to provide technical assistance in ensuring that consistency has been achieved. These Summaries for Policymakers should be formally and prominently described as: (etc)

    A scientist working on the IPCC report responded to the question on guidelines my friend cited above.

    Your mistake is in thinking that because we are changing the body of the report, we are altering the research to suit the summary for policy makers, or some other non-scientific purpose. The summary is the extension of the report. It's when everyone sits down and thinks very carefully about what the report does and does not say. It is wholly based on the research in the body of the report. When we've finally fixed (as in "set in stone", not "corrected") the language in the summary, then we change the body of the text--not because the research in the body was wrong, but because the body (due to sheer size) was not vetted as carefully as the summary. The language that gets changed in the body is not changing the science; it's changing the descriptions of the science in a draft that has been edited, re-edited, re-edited, and re-edited to make sure the conclusions in the text are every bit as precise as the carefully considered summary.


    (comment #132)

    Of course, the IPCC report co-author could be lying. Some of my 'opponents' don't see the contradiction when they rely on uncertainty in climate models to 'disprove' the general consensus, and yet are content to rely on innuendo to rubbish the scientists.

    IOW, science serves as long as it is convenient for rebuttal, and when that falls through, politics.



  • At April 03, 2007 1:59 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks for all that detailed material, barry. I understand where you are coming from and certainly admire your thoroughness. The RC folk are certainly the best source and your quote is well written stuff.

    I quite agree that the double standards climate sceptics apply to arguments, depending which side of the debate the come from, can be truly astounding!

    I think you have a great approach to the issue and I look forward to you curing me of one or two of my own inevitable assumptions or oversights!

  • At July 11, 2008 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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