Monday, December 05, 2005

Reputable? Surely not!

I'm rather amused to see myself described as a "reputable sceptic" on this blog. I don't know anything about the author, a bit of idle googling merely reveals that he frequents the blogosphere. The epithet is linked to my comments on the recent thermohaline circulation switch-off paper, but I'm puzzled as to where the "sceptic" tag comes from. Of course in the literal sense, every decent scientist is sceptical, but I don't think I've got much in common with the denialist camp that is usually associated with this term. On the THC subject in particular, I think my opinions are pretty well slap bang in the centre of the mainstream scientific opinion. See for example Realclimate's similar thoughts on Bryden et al (and note particularly Martin Visbeck's comment) and Stoat too. Richard Wood also sounds more than a little dubious in this NewScientist article. Not that my opinions in any way define or even influence the scientific consensus on this topic: far from it, I'm barely a bit-part player. The new THC results are interesting, but surely far from the last word on the subject. In fact, if I was a betting man (and rumour has it that I might be), I would put money on future results indicating a much smaller or even negligible effect.

And for the rest of climate science, "sceptic" seems even harder to justify. Sure, I've poked a bit at what I see as one or two excesses from the alarmist wing, but not half as hard as I've kicked at the septics who lie and dissemble and run away when challenged to back up their beliefs with hard cash. It's early days, but I am optimistic that the forthcoming IPCC AR4 will represent a balanced summary of the state of climate science that I will struggle to find much fault with, as the TAR before it did. I would have thought that such a statement pretty well rules me out of the sceptic camp. I'm not sure that "traditionally pro-warming scientist" is quite the best choice of words either, but the intention seems clear.

So if he thinks I'm a sceptic, I wonder what he thinks the mainstream is - Greenpeace, perhaps, or the Monster Raving Green Party?


Anonymous said...

Point taken. I was trying to distinguish in quick way between scientists such as yourself, who know the field and parse the studies with exquisite precision...and Exxon-backed hacks like Steven Milloy of FOXNews who simply look for any and all reasons to deny the very possibility of anthropogenic climate change.

What I think is not generally understood in the public at large is that climate change is serious and real but not necessarily disastrous (contra "The Day After Tomorrow"). As James Hansen said, it's still possible to act decisively, although that possibility is retreating rapidly. What's more--and this has barely even become part of the conversation--climate change will mean vastly things for different parts of the world.

As Charles Keeling wryly noted in his autobiography: "Perhaps convincing proof [of global warming] will be acknowledged to have arrived when a substantial number of US Congressman are discovered to have secretly purchased real estate in northern Canada."

My endeavor, and my hope, is that we don't have to wait that long.

Anonymous said...

If I never see the words "smoking gun" and "icon" again in connection with AGW I will be a happy man.

James Annan said...


Funny you should mention Canada...I was about to do a post on that. But on the main point, I absolutely have not set out with the aim of picking holes in the literature - I'm merely pointing out some stuff where I think the truth has been stretched to breaking point and beyond. I'm disappointed when this happens as I think it reflects poorly on us as a group and damages our credibility. It's hard to deny the common septic accusation that some of the AGW scare stories are highly exaggerated. And I say that as someone who is fully convinced that we face substantial ongoing and future climate change of a magnitude and rate which is historically unprecedented (in the last couple of thousand years at least).

Anonymous said...

I respect anyone interested in truth..although I must say that the risks of doing nothing about global warming seem to me far greater than the risks of doing something. That's why I focus mostly on the hacks and right-wing thinktanks (forty of whom are being funded by ExxonMobil, as Chris Mooney showed in an April piece in "Mother Jones") who look for every possible reason to deny the existence of global warming, much as tobacco companies for decades funded researchers who searched high and low and all around for any and all possible arguments against tobacco regulation, and delayed the inevitable for decades.

But actually you raised an interesting question in your original post when you asked what would be a term for a mainstream scientist...perhaps a "consensus climatologist?"

Anonymous said...

Loved your Freudian-slip reference above to "septics"!

EliRabett said...

I think the best description of the sane thing to be re the THC is unconvinced at this time. The same with anthropic effects on hurrican intensity, e.g. there is reason to think that there is an effect, but the data is not totally convincing at this point, concerning, but not convincing.