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In praise of scepticism

Justin Rowlatt | 13:31 UK time, Thursday, 17 December 2009

The word "sceptic" is in danger of becoming a term of abuse. A "climate sceptic" is used to mean someone who rejects the evidence of global warming. But scepticism is actually a healthy instinct and should be celebrated.

royalsoc2_226bbc.jpgWe are lucky here in Britain to be home to the most august scientific institution in the world, the Royal Society. It celebrates its 350th anniversary next year. Its motto is "nullius in verba" which means "take nobody's word for it" - which is pretty much a charter for scepticism.

It is a fitting motto, because healthy scepticism is the foundation of good science.

The urge to question accepted truths, to doubt received wisdom, to investigate things for yourself, is the basis of scientific enquiry.

So let's not damn people for being sceptical of the climate science... unless, that is, they don't make the effort to make a reasonable examination of the evidence.

The opinion polls suggest that almost half the people in Britain are not persuaded that man is causing global warming.

So Newsnight decided to do a little (and very unscientific) experiment of our own.

We challenged two leading British scientists to try to prove the science of global warming to a group of people whose views very loosely reflect national opinions.

And, as if that wasn't tough enough we asked them to do it in my kitchen.

Can they do it? Well, you can see for yourself.

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Obviously, we had to radically cut down the scientists' presentation to squeeze it into the tight TV time constraints but if you want to dig a bit deeper into the science of global warming the best place to go is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Science Museum's site is more accessible to non-scientists, or you might try the Meteorological Office's site which has a section on climate change science. There's also loads of stuff here on the BBC site.

Get stuck in!

I'm happy to celebrate the instinct to question authority because scepticism is also the basis of journalistic enquiry.

Right from the get-go, the idea of the Ethical Man series was that it should be a sceptical inquiry into what ordinary people can do to reduce their impact on the environment.

cars_afp226.jpgThat's why I have no problem reporting that micro wind turbines don't work or that cars can sometimes be more carbon efficient than public transport - if that is what the evidence suggests.

But not everyone is comfortable with scepticism.

A couple of days after my blog on cars was published, I was shocked to find an e-mail from an environmentalist who said it should never have been posted. He made no effort whatsoever to refute my claims, his argument was simply that it undermined the debate to publish such heresy.

That instinct to suppress evidence that challenges preconceptions is very dangerous. Any hint that the climate change science is anything other than transparent will - understandably - encourage people to be even more sceptical.

If it looks like that's what people are trying to do, the scientific community should be very clear in its condemnation - as Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, was in my kitchen.

Because, if our "experiment" says anything it says that people are hungry to understand the science of global warming and that when the evidence is explained clearly, lots of people find it very persuasive.

So let's celebrate scepticism and follow the Royal Society's injunction to interrogate accepted wisdom. But let's do it with an open mind and on the basis of a reasoned examination of the evidence.

That's how scientific hypotheses get proved and - yes - disproved. And wouldn't it be great if someone proved the science of global warming was wrong?

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    If climate change was about science that would make these decisions easier. Climate change is about the influence of the fossil fuel industries and how money corrupts governments. We are reaching a point where the illusion of citizen participation in governmental decision making can no longer be maintained. What has happened with the banks and governments clearly shows that the two colluded to insure that the banks and financial institutions could create a scheme that when brought to the attention of governments would be ignored. After the governments ignored the warnings and the collapse occured the banks were rewarded. It shakes the mind to watch this process and not see an overthrow of governments and bankers not put on trial. The corruption is just that great. Current Copenhagen talks are about taxing citizens to clean up the environment that the fossil fule industries polluted and refuse to diminish their profits to address and their government lackies that do their bidding in public while they vacation. The establishment of the "right to pollute" and governments in their never ending need for revenue to keep the poor and middle class in their place. We should all find comfort in that individual coutries no longer abuse citizens but now it is a collective venture so comparisons can't be made.

  • Comment number 2.

    Have a look at this web site and you will see that even the scientific community has a large number of sceptics :
    This site examines Global Temperatures fluctuations over a time frame of thousands of years not just a few hundred years
    http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/ice_ages.html

  • Comment number 3.

    Love your series, but sorry I might be sceptical on mannmade global warming, but not on small windturbines. They work and work very well - when used in the right place. E.g. on board a sailing boat there is no better way to generate electricity for navigation equipment etc. (But we had one on our house in 2000 and not only did it not produce much electricity, not only did it shake the whole house so that I was in fear of structural damage, but there is a serious risk of damage if not injury if the blades fail and get thrown off)

    As for scepticism. The cardinal rule of science is that we are sceptics. Unlike arts, a scientist does not accept anything until there is proof. So for a scientist to be called a sceptic is a badge of honour to be worn proudly.

    In contrast, for someone to call a scientist a sceptic believing it is some form of rebuke, tells you that they are not scientists.

    As for mannmade global warming. Hot air causes air to rise, hot air will not fall until it has lost the heat, that heat has to be lost through IR emission, and CO2 increases the rate of heat loss due to its higher emissivity.

    QED CO2 is a cooling gas, we are all doomed because the world is going to cool - after all the science is very clear more CO2 does cool the atmosphere.

    Junk science in pop bottles might be fun, but it is still junk science!

  • Comment number 4.

    The debasement of the word "sceptic" started with the term "Euro Sceptic" to mean anti-european, xenophobe, little englander with a side orders of cutting off one's nose to spite your face and warmonger.

    You, in the media, started the destruction of the positive meaning of the term sceptic and climate sceptic continues in the same vein.

    The problem with the climate change debate is that there is a large chunk of anti-scientific nonsense built into the term. (For example: and explicitly, CO2 is NOT a provable cause of Climate Change and further there is no scientific connection between CO2 levels and warming or cooling.)

    There are many reasons to work towards looking after our planet, but Carbon Trading is not one of them. Carbon Trading is in fact a reason to be depressed and give up all hope of rational behaviour. It is just an excuse for bankers and their fellow travellers in the financial community to divert assets from the poor to themselves to no advantage to anyone other than themselves. It is crookery!

  • Comment number 5.

    Please - some more about that infamous pop bottle CO2 experiment.
    You can't ignore the criticisms posted on the previous blog.

    2 words = Validity & Reliability

  • Comment number 6.

    This was a typical BBC attempt to look as if they are not biased about AGW. The experiment to show the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide was OK but, as far as I know, not even the most passionate sceptic thinks that it isn't. So that bit was rather pointless.

    With reference to the selective facts given by David King, some of his comments were highly selected to be as frightening as possible. Some of them were actually incorrect.

    If the BBC really want to get the AGW message across, why don't they arrange a real, public debate between serious climate scientists from both camps?
    In fact,if sceptism is really praiseworthy and if global warming is as potentially catastrophic as they say, the BBC has a duty to give full exposure to all sides of the argument.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hello Justin,

    I was very disappointed with this program. There has been a torrent of alarmist global warming programs on the BBC recently, Hot Planet, Climate Wars, etc. all seemingly designed to promote the orthodox view, and scare doubtful viewers into being believers.

    Here we have a demonstration that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which no reasonably intelligent viewer would have an argument with. Then we have a scientist telling us what would happen if all the ice on Greenland melted, and some very cagey discussion about the East Anglia emails. Incidentally, do we know for sure that it wasn't an internal leak? This would disprove the assertion that it would require a sophisticated attack.

    What have we learned here? Nothing that would make any sceptics with any knowledge atall about the subject, change their mind!

    Recent polls show that there is a large percentage of people are justifiably undecided about "global warming", it's time the BBC did them justice, and staged an open discussion with leading protagonists from both sides of the argument. This subject is far too important to be drowned in propaganda!

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm afraid your tabletop experiment was fatuous in the extreme, when it comes to the goal of "proving the science of climate change".
    What you demonstrated was that an atmosphere with more CO2 traps more heat. (And incidentally, theories are never "proven" in science - a little background reading in "Scientific Method 101" may be in order).
    No one disputes that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere initially traps more heat there - that's a basic physical fact. The question is what happens next to that CO2, and to that heat, in the real world. Does it stay in the atmosphere? Or, for example, is the heat taken up by the oceans, or the CO2 taken up by increased plant growth? And what are the consequenes, for phenomena like weather patterns?
    Your plastic bottles didn't have oceans, or plants, or anything that actually simulates the real world beyond a simple atmosphere.
    At the moment, climate models are the best guesses to answer those questions - but they are still guesses. They could be wrong. In fact, that is good news - if they couldn't be proven wrong, then they would by definition not be "scientific".
    I'm a research-active environmental scientist, but one whose research is field-based, rather than involving computer modelling. Consequently, many of my colleagues and I are actually very wary of the extreme predictions of climate models. As we work in the "real" world, we are continually reminded of how complex it is, and how little we actually understand it.
    Now just because the extreme predictions of climate models could be wrong is no reason not to act - the "precautionary principle" can still be invoked. If not wearing my seatbelt means I have a ten percent chance of being killed in a car crash, then I still choose to wear my seatbelt. But in the case of climate change, where the "seatbelt" involves restrictions to economic growth, that is a decision that society as a whole, and not just science, should make. And so, rather than trying to convert your sceptical audience using a "deficit model" approach to winning them over, you should also be listening carefully to their concerns.
    As for your two "guest" scientists in this stunt: one was an astronomer who wants to get into TV presenting (and ticks all the BBC boxes in that regard). The other was the former Chief Scientific Advisor, but his scientific background is in catalysis chemistry, not environmental science. Neither of them has ever published a single scientific research paper on climate change.

  • Comment number 9.

    The piece last night was one of the worst examples of science I have ever seen. There is no dispute that if you add significant amount of CO2 into the air, as was demonstrated, that it will lead to a higher temperature. There is also no dispute that the same would happen if you increased the concentration of many gases into the atmosphere so you could have repeated that experiment many times, with many gases, and proved nothing about the greenhouse effect. What’s more, I did not notice that your scientist carefully adding the required amount of CO2 to replicate the concentration increasing by about 50 parts per million, i.e. an extremely small amount.

    Nor, of course, did she demonstrate the effect of shining a lamp with a bigger wattage bulb to demonstrate that effect too, replicating the impact of the sun. To portray this experiment as proof that the small amount of Carbon Dioxide humans create has directly led to an increase in temperature , whilst ignoring the unbelievable numbers of factors affecting the climate (never mind the many other facts that contradict this theory) was simply weak. To add to that, the comments of David King were unbelievably vacuous and ill-befitting a man of his position. His response to the email-scandal was pathetic, his claims of massive sea-level rises are without justification and are designed to cause alarm.

    The issue of climate change is an extremely complicated but but contribution to the debate last night was simply weak science and weak journalism.

  • Comment number 10.

    The scientist said that if the Arctic melted then the sea levels would rise 20feet.
    Untrue.
    If you place ice cubes in a glass of water and allow the ice to melt - see what happens.
    The level stays the same.
    The concentration of CO2 in the containers was extreme compared to the amount of CO2 that we could ever produce by man in the atmosphere.
    Not true experiments.
    The skeptics need accurate and true experiments.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good piece.

    Yes, there is a failure to communicate. As somebody who actually gives presentations on energy use, including the impact of anthropogenic global warming, in the Deep South US, I have a few suggestions.

    First, the scientists seem unaware of the CO2 mass balance. The amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere since 1900 is less than the amount generated by humans. In order to get close to a mass balance you have to include the pH rise in the world's oceans. The mass balance indicates there was a meta-stable equilibrium (which is of course shifted by volcanoe eruptions, etc.) that we have significantly disturbed.

    Secondly, the initial response to the East Anglia goings on was finger pointing. No, the second response was clear. The behaviour by those supposed "scientists" IS reprehensible. Furthermore the science WAS bad. McIntyre (the target of the e-mails) IS correct. Being in computational fluid dynamics I have to use statistical methods from time-to-time and OF COURSE one keeps sampling until one gets the same answer. The hockey stick folks DID cover up. Call a spade a spade.

    Third, the one guy who said let's insulate RIGHT ON. 35% of the need mitigation comes from things that actually SAVE money. The US (see for example McKensey reports on GHGs) can CUT 30-40% of its GHGs and SAVE MONEY. Hello world....

    Yes, the climate change politicians (not the IPCC) seem to have another agenda in mind since they cannot communicate the obvious (the science in the home experiment, BTW, is about 2 centuries old).

  • Comment number 12.

    "That's how scientific hypotheses get proved and - yes - disproved. And wouldn't it be great if someone proved the science of global warming was wrong?"

    This language is unscientific because infinite knowledge is required in order to prove something. Further, if something is proven then it means that the interpretation of the data is completely true. Moreover, to those not familiar with the interpretation of scientific data, the use of the word proof is irresponsible and dangerous.Therefore, and especially in the context of climate change, it would be wise to use language to the effect of "the evidence suggests......".

  • Comment number 13.

    The purpose of the experiment was to show that scepticism is OK. The problem I have with the CO2 debate is not whether it exists as a problem, but is it the sole cause of global warning?

    A case of over simplification spoiling the argument. Also those doom ladened adverts just make me want to turn up the gas, drive my car quickly and keep all my incandescent lights on. And I believe that man made C02 has a part in climate change.

    What is disgraceful is that most of the world's poltical leaders have zero understanding of scientific method and how to handle scientific material. I would like to have an OU 'Coast' type series that explains the issue in a lively way. Like coast it would be split and inserted as 5, 10 or even 15 minute progs. That way people would be informed. The financing would come from the profits of Oil Companies.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hmmm.

    Would this be the same Royal Society that a few years ago wrote letters to mayor corporations to persuade them to stop funding research into skeptic AGW science.

    Would this be the same Royal Society that wrote letters to media bosses to tell them suppress writing about skeptic AGW science.

    Surely it can't be the same as the Royal Society you mention here?

    If on the other hand it is the same there are words that describe this behavior. 'ETHICAL' is not one of them.

  • Comment number 15.

    Justin

    Your points about scepticism are fine as far as they go. Can you be more sceptical on our behalf though.

    Can you ask Sir David King to show how he arrives at his claim that the melting of all the ice in Antarctica will raise the sea level by 100 metres please?

  • Comment number 16.

    What a disgraceful piece of journalism. As a science teacher, I would fail any student who used this experiment to prove man-made global warming. Even you have said that it was "unscientific," so why even try to use it as proof.I won't repeat previous criticisms posted here, but agree with them all.
    When you announced there would be two scientists, I thought,"great! a balanced debate," but, of course, no; they both sang from the same songsheet.
    Why are you so afraid of debating with eminent scientist on this matter, such as: Professors Freeman Dyson, Ian Plimer, Richard Lindzen (disillusioned former IPCC member,)Will Happer, or Doctors Buzz Aldrin or Tom Segalstad.
    You set yourself up as " ethical man," implying that anyone who disagrees with you is unethical and therefore "a bad person."
    How dare you judge!
    You say that you applaud scepticism as essential for true scientific investigation, but that's not really true is it? It seems that you only applaud scepticism as long as can be knocked and mocked by the climate zealots.
    Also you encourage people to take a balanced look at the scientific theories available by looking at the work of the IPCC. I think you've missed the point. It is their one-sided, skewed and questionable statistics that cause so many people to doubt the science,especially
    when we are constantly and aggressively lectured on their views by the likes of you.
    I have followed your articles with interest, but on this occasion, as a journalist, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Comment number 17.

    I was terribly disappointed by this program. The BBC seem to be largely ignoring the implications of what's emerging from the leaked CRU e-mails and treating AGW scepticism as something that can be dismissed with a trivial science experiment.

    A *serious* investigation of the CRU story is called for. We have been repeatedly assured that the science was settled, but it seems to be far from the case. Even people within the CRU are uneasy about some of the published data.

    The BBC should also investigate the story of the "Harry Read Me" file that emerged in the leaked CRU material. It appears that the CRU's database is in a very poor state and that much of the data is unreliable, with the programmer making comments like:

    "I am seriously worried that our flagship gridded data product is produced by Delaunay triangulation - apparently linear as well. As far as I can see, this renders the station counts totally meaningless"

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm no global warming denial, but did anyone notice anything wrong with this experiment?

    At 2:49, just before she counted "1,2,3", she had the blue hose going in the bottle on the left, but when the camera zoomed out, the blue hose had magically pulled out, and the bottle suddenly had a cap on it, in a split second. This is obviously due to video editing, but it's very relevant to the experiment, and here's why.

    The earth is an open system, the bottle used to duplicate the earth, had a cap on the top, thus making it a closed system, so of course the temperature will increase... because it's CLOSED. If the bottle had been left open, it would've been a little more closer to the actual earth, and she would've gotten a totally different result. The fact that the bottle had suddenly gone from open to close, from a barely noticeable video editing, makes me wonder what the point of this experiment is in the first place. A bit misleading really.

    Please anyone, correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 19.

    The experiment is a bit of a cheap trick - by releasing CO2 into the bottle the scientist has increased the amount of gas and thereby increased the pressure. Based on the ideal gas law PV=nRT, we see that pressure and temperature are directly related. The temperature in the bottle goes up because the pressure is higher from adding additional gas, NOT because the CO2 in the bottle absorbs more heat. This is exactly why we cannot really believe what climate scientists are telling us, its all so politically charged and there is a lot of funding at stake...

  • Comment number 20.

    I am all for TOTALLY open and unbiased scientific study of climate change (and any other controversial topic, evolution vs. Intelligent Design, etc.). It is true you can twist statistics to prove any point you want. ALL the data has to be analyzed, not just what proves your point, but ESPECIALLY investigate thoroughly any data or study that potentially disproves your hypothesis. If your hypothesis survives this type of scrutiny, your conclusions will have far more credibility. If your wrong, than your wrong, man-up, admit it. Your next bright hypothesis will start out with that much more initial interest from the public and your peers as you will then have a greater reputation for integrity.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am very worried that the "Media Hype" is taking over here.
    Too many times have I heard that the world is doomed because "Scientists say so" a generic quote on every news site.

    The problem I have is that 'Chinese whispers' are actually the source...

    Who did you hear it from? Media... Where is the authenticated evidence.... Media ( If you actually LOOK at the data, even 1000 years has no correlation to the global timespan!!!)

    I feel we are in an episode of Monty Python when anyone tries to give an alternative (non fashionable, conformist) view of global warming is a pariah.

    NO ONE EXPECTS THE CLIMATE INQUISITION!!!
    Fashion and Passion, the driving force of the bored western populous (The greatest force are on the unemployment benefit and never had to want. They should try a third world undeveloped country where your single weekly meal is your only worry...)

  • Comment number 22.

    Great comments by Alex (8) and Jontyman(16).
    Ethical man, you are absolutely right that we should have open debate and stop slagging off "flat earthers" as Brown so helpfully described people who beg to disagree, or at least to debate (Brown et al seem to think that they can treat debate about this enormously complex issue as part of parliamentary question time).
    And yes, you really should give the "sceptics" some air time alongside the AGWers.

    By the way, just by calling them sceptics makes them sound somehow the poor misguided who need to be brought to see the light. By all accounts in many places they actually should be called the silent majority.

    Could you also look at the "green jobs" fad. If we accept that to retool our energy system we will need to replace or upgrade equipment, that clearly "creates" jobs. But it also means that "old energy" equipment jobs are lost. Also after the initial burst of investment renewable energy investment should decline rapidly (renewable presumably means "lasts longer"). So green job creation in the industry may not be all it is cracked up to be. And then there is the wider impact on the economy. If I spend $1 per hour on energy and then have to spend $2 per hour because the renewable stuff is more expensive, it stands to reason that either I or my customers have less money to spend on other things, which means less jobs. So the multiplier effect of an ill-defined but probably not very major job growth in one sector is more than offset by the decline in other sectors. And just to add insult to injury the Chinese are busily using cheap capital to create all these green industries and undercut the competition. Can we have some people who are much cleverer than me debate this one?

    Now, it may well be that we should be paying more for energy and clean-up, and that that will make us more efficient over time, and that we should be taking better care of our environment. But please can we not be treated like simpletons. Tell the truth; it will cost money to be cleaner and more efficient but done sensibly, locally, over time that is an acceptable cost (excluding debatable CO2 theories). I think a lot of people would accept that.

  • Comment number 23.

    I hope that pointing out that the "leading British scientists" in the Newsnight experiment have no background in climate change research (post 8) is not misinterpreted as an ad hominem criticism.

    The point is that attitudes to climate change may well conform to the "certainty trough" proposed by sociologist Donald MacKenzie. That is to say: those closest to the work (i.e. actual climate change researchers) are often *less* confident about the certainty of their predictions than those one step removed from the research (e.g. journalists, science communicators, science advisors, and politicians).

    So it is vital that actual climate change researchers get involved here, and talk about their work, rather than leaving it to others, who may be likely to have a "certainty bias". It is a great shame that Newsnight couldn't produce any actual climate change researchers here.

    Your "experiment" appears to have done little to engender public trust. This is not surprising; people's objections on topics involving science do not necessarily arise from a lack of knowledge of the science involved, but often from wider social concerns. Take the GM foods debate: providing more information about the science involved did not convert people into supporters of the technology - their concerns were often related to issues such as potential corporate control of food chains, in that instance.

    Here, you need to *listen* to the concerns of the public on this topic, and explore them with some real journalism - rather than try to deliver a road-to-Damascus conversion of their attitudes via a tabletop magic show.

  • Comment number 24.

    When will everyone realize climate change is a vain attempt by socialists and neocommies to take control of everyones' lives?!?

  • Comment number 25.

    Yes I agree it would be great if someone proved the science of global warming were wrong; that is the problem, I think, and not a conclusion to be trumpeted. Unfortunately for Ethical Man - and other sceptics - it is easy to show that CO2 produces global warming, and that human activites are responsible for increasing levels of it in the atmosphere. The article, it seems to me, indicates that many people, including the author, would prefer to believe whatever makes them feel comfortable, rather than make a jugdement based on science.

  • Comment number 26.

    First time on this Blog, interesting to see some of the old "protagonists" from Richard Blacks reports. First impression reading the comments favourable from the point of view that less dismissive comments being made..from both sides. Lets hope this is par for the course here.

    I agree entirely with the article.In particular..the final conclusion.

    "And wouldn't it be great if someone proved the science of global warming was wrong?"

    Yes.it would be great!!!! Doubled in spades!!!

    But it won't happen Despite John-from-Hendon's third paragraph in #4.

    There is only ONE way to prove this issue. Carry on doing what we are doing for the next 100 years or so and see what happens.

    The problem there is quite simple. None of "US" will be around then to "see what happened". Our descendants will be (maybe!)

    12. At 5:30pm on 17 Dec 2009, David wrote:
    This language is unscientific because infinite knowledge is required in order to prove something. Further, if something is proven then it means that the interpretation of the data is completely true. Moreover, to those not familiar with the interpretation of scientific data, the use of the word proof is irresponsible and dangerous.

    Having spent time in both "pure" research (where I actually by demonstration which was entirely repeatable by myself or others) proved a certain chemical reaction could and did occur despite the current belief (in another published paper ) that it couldn't, and having spent more time in "applied" research showing that something "can be done" despite assertions from others that it can't, then I have to conclude that "infinite knowledge" is not "ALWAYS" a prerequisite. However......

    "........especially in the context of climate change, it would be wise to use language to the effect of "the evidence suggests......". (actually "data" would be a better word than "evidence" here but that's being picky)

    On this point, I couldn't agree more! And...........funnily enough.....if you spend time reading the IPCC report part 1 and interpret their conclusion in layman's terms, that is exactly what they are saying. In fact they say it with such compulsion..........."there is more than a 90% probability"...that the "decision makers" (ie governments that signed up to the 1992 Rio Agenda) have no option but to respond accordingly.

    16. At 6:19pm on 17 Dec 2009, jontyman wrote:

    Why are you so afraid of debating with eminent scientist on this matter, such as: Professors Freeman Dyson, Ian Plimer, Richard Lindzen (disillusioned former IPCC member,)Will Happer, or Doctors Buzz Aldrin or Tom Segalstad.

    What makes you believe that all these people are eminent "climate " scientists? And...incidentally...very recently the Australian Media gave Ian Plimer the opportunity to do just that with Monbiot.....a journalist, not a scientist, and guess who came off woefully the worse.

    17. At 6:21pm on 17 Dec 2009, the_sky_is_falling wrote:
    "We have been repeatedly assured that the science was settled, ....

    Maybe this assurance has appeared in many articles BUT the IPCC NEVER claimed that the "science" was settled. They simply conclude that, based on all the data available at the time of writing the original report (1990) the risks were too great to ignore. Subsequent reports have not altered that view despite several of them and that includes some people at the CRU being "uneasy" about some of the published papers.

    So...back to that final sentence...... "And wouldn't it be great if someone proved the science of global warming was wrong?"

    Let's just ask a simple question.

    Since the sceptics have had almost 20 years since the initial IPCC report, why haven't they proved them wrong?








  • Comment number 27.

    This experiment is pure junk science. First of all the bottle containing CO2 is also loaded with water vapour from all the fizzing from the exothermic reaction of vinegar (acid) and sodium bicarbonate (base). Have vou ever put you hand over a glass full of freshly poured soda soft drink???

    Nevermind the additional heating from the reaction warming the water and CO2. Water vapour generated from the evaporation of all the tiny water droplets suspended in air that fizzed up from the reaction will a) heat up very nicely and b) transfer heat very effectively to the thermometer in the bottle. Hence you will get a much higher temperature reading for this bottle than for the bottle full of dry air.

    Furthermore, comparing a more dense atmosphere with ~90% (CO2+H2O) to the other normal house air bottle with 0.04 % (yes it's true!!) CO2 + ~20% H2O only lends credit to the well founded belief that the environmetal movement exaggerates constantly.

    AND the fact that this experiment is flawed for the very same reason as the climate models - they can't include water evaporation, cloud formation or precipitation properly (all that rain water that causes all those floods came from somewhere!).....they should give up.

    I will add that it worries me that most people don't seem to know where the wood of trees, the flesh of fruits or the meat in our lunch came from originally. It doesn't come from the ground. It sure doesn't!! In the end we are expected to freak out because the CO2 concentration will increase a tiny fraction of a percent when we are basically living on what could be described as an enormous, vastly extended CO2 filter?! We are even made up from the carbon of CO2.

    Finally, it must be stressed that climate studies is not a proper science like say physics or chemistry. Climate studies and even Astronomy are only OBSERVATIONAL sciences. It is not as rigorous a discipline since it is not possible to control your system to test a hypothesis (you can't switch a weather system on and off for example). There are serious limitations to this approach that these climatologists probably aren't even fully aware of enough to take it into consideration.

    For a more light-hearted and funny perspective watch " George Carlin - Saving the Planet " clip on youtube.

  • Comment number 28.

    Regarding public opinion, in my view the media is at least partly responsible for the misunderstanding and distrust of climate science. At best, this is due to the their habit of telling "both sides of the story," while at worst it is because of hidden agendas, as well as corporate and political influence. As a result, members of the public often think that scientific opinion is thoroughly divided on the issue of man-made climate change, while in reality the climate skeptics are in a severe minority. Of course, there is and will always be some disagreement among scientists about everything, but that's actually a good thing, because it's how science works. The truth is that global warming is about as much of a scientific fact as you can get; the media might as well interview a flat-Earther every time they speak to someone from Nasa or Esa. Oh, and let's not forget the people who think that Elvis is still alive somewhere in South America! For goodness sake, on this very important subject, I wish the media, including the BBC, would give far less air-time to lobbyists and other mouthpieces of the fossil-fuel industry. Even better, the BBC could spend some time showing how that industry regularly attempts to influence the media and mislead the public.

  • Comment number 29.

    Re:-22. At 7:12pm on 17 Dec 2009, simon wrote
    And yes, you really should give the "sceptics" some air time alongside the AGWers.

    I hope you have read all of my contribution in #26

    I am amazed at how often pro-AGW lobbyists are rebuked for their lack of "climate science experience" and at the same time the anti-AGW lobbyists (sceptics) continue to quote scientists , some of whom maybe eminent in their respective fields but equally have little or no experience, or have ever written any published papers in "climate science".

    Quite extraordinary!

  • Comment number 30.

    I am "man made climate change" sceptic.

    I am happy with the evidence the climate is changing. I am not a climate change denyer.

    I am not convinced that man is causing the changes. Yes there appears to be a correlation between mans activity and the increase in CO2 levels but there is no proof that man is causing the changes in CO2 levels..
    There is no proof that it is man made CO2 that is causing the climate to change..

    However I do support the drive to get off fossil fuels to conserve the resource.
    I do support drives to reduce energy waste because waste is morally bad
    I support drives to plant trees because they are pleasant on the eye
    I'd be happy to turn off all the street lights so I can see the stars

    Building windmills all over the skyline is environmentally damaging as building houses in the same places

    I define myself as green but there is a lack of evidence to prove that this rather puny bag of organic compounds has deflected the huge physical momentum of the plant.

  • Comment number 31.

    The fools game keeps being played in the media. Those who oppose the ideas of climate change challenge the data, and yet have no science to back up the challenge, then claim a conspiracy that doesn't allow the papers to be published. The media is a business too and must have viewers/readers and therefore promotes this all with strange headlines that attract viewers and/or readers. Now, is the plan correct to deal with the issue, absolutely not, but it is political and not scientific. There is money to be made in opposition and advocacy and of course political nonsense to pretend that they are looking out for the public interest. This is all about business. When politicians propose solutions using science....some of their friends will be getting rich(er). The pre-agreement by the developed countries was to establish a "emissions tax" to refill the treasuries that the banks emptied and let the financial services industry make more money selling the "right to pollute" trading scheme as they have a good record in insuring that governments do not provide oversight or require ethical decisions. What was once called corruption is now accepted as "business as usual."

  • Comment number 32.

    That the BBC is allowing a piece on its site "In praise of scepticism" is a sign that the great CO2 - Global Warming bubble has finally burst.
    For several years the BBC has acted as a Pravda type propaganda machine, using the fanciful apocalyptic projections of the climate modellers and AGW cabal to support the anti - capitalist, anti - development political agenda of many of its senior producers.In the process it has destroyed what little remaind of its reputation as a supplier of factual objective news and information and completely undermined its credibility on any topic.
    The proponents of AGW have consistently set up strawmen in the very terminology which they use."Climate sceptics " - no - one denies there is a climate. "Climate change deniers" - everyone accepts that the climate is always changing. "Global warming deniers" I know of no - one engaged in the debate who denies that the climate warmed from about 1850 to about 2000.
    What the "sceptics" are actually saying is that, according to the CRU's own SST data ,2008 was cooler than 1997 .That during this 11 years CO2 rose 6% without any warming - in contradiction to the IPCC models.
    That temperatures rose from 1900 - 1940 , fell 1940 -1970 and rose until 2003 while the CO2 curve rose continuously. The temperature rise causes the CO2 rise - not vice versa. Anthropogenic CO2 probably added a little to this natural warming trend but we know so little about the natural variation that at this time we can't even calculate the anthropogenic contrbution with any confidence. The geologic record shows that the sun is the main climate driver, The sun is now entering a period of inactivity which could result in serious cooling for 30 or more years during which more CO2 not less would be helpful in maintaing food production.
    Climate models simply regurgitate the assumptions of the inputs in a form suitable for making power point slides. They are little more than drafting tools. Even Gavin Schmidt of Real Climate admits that they make projections as opposed to predictions.
    To embark on vastly expensive CO2 emission control schemes on the basis of what we actually know about climate at this time is sheer idiocy. To oppose such schemes doesnt amount to scientific scepticism - its simple common sense - which the British people fortunately possess to a far greater extent than their politicians and the chattering classes.

  • Comment number 33.

    What a dumb experiment.

    Everyone knows PV=nRT.

    The bottle with the CO2 added is at a higher pressure, therefore the application of a constant heat load leads to a larger equilibrium temperature for the gas.

  • Comment number 34.

    It is this type of simplistic experiment that causes me to doubt scientists who shout about human causes of global warming. First, as another person stated, adding the CO2 mix starts an action increasing pressure in a closed system thereby increasing temperature. How much temperature rise was caused by the pressure increase? Second the CO2 in our atmosphere is about 370 parts per million I believe. Pretty small. What was the CO2 content in the experiment? I should think it greatly exceeded 370 parts per million.
    To be more persuasive the experimenting scientist should have given this information. She should not have waited until someone asked, which apparently no one did. I remain a sceptic. That said I do agree that we should be reducing the level of pollutants that we now put into our air.

  • Comment number 35.

    Re:- 23. At 7:50pm on 17 Dec 2009, Alex wrote:

    So it is vital that actual climate change researchers get involved here, and talk about their work, rather than leaving it to others, who may be likely to have a "certainty bias". It is a great shame that Newsnight couldn't produce any actual climate change researchers here.

    I think you have a very good point here. The problem as I see it , is that they are so wrapped up in "scientific jargon" that the average "Joe" would have absolutely no hope of understanding what they were trying to convey.

    As the saying goes (mine entirely) try telling the average "pop star" the theory of Relativity and the response would be something like ..."who the heck was he....when was he top of the charts, granddad?"

    Those in the communications field have long known that communication proceeds far better on a peer-to-peer level, no matter where that level may be. Which is why all the big organisations and government departments employ PR people to speak for them whenever there is an issue to explain to the general public.

    In my opinion (for what that is worth, probably not much) too many of these research organisations are too busy with their noses stuck on the grindstone to realise that tha public should be kept in the loop and since they themselves are unable to communicate at the appropriate level, they need to be employing PR people who can. That might avoid the need from time to time to try to get the message across with somewhat simplistic experiments.

    At least give credit where credit is due. Jeremy himself stated that the experiment was "unscientific".

  • Comment number 36.

    Good to see an attempt to question the current thinking. IPCC and the Met Office are not really unbiased places to start to question. IPCC is little more than a political lobby group and MO have swallowed the whole thing hook. line & sinker. Some links to sites that ask the serious, underlying questions and come up with different interpretations would be a step towards true scientific reasoning.

  • Comment number 37.

    Their seems to be a widespread pretence that climate change is not a political debate; however, if you are a political conservative you must reject climate change on principal as a liberal plot (or of any other group that you can tack...'brigade' onto) to try and destroy the lifestyle of those who have worked hard for that privilege. (in England you can throw class into the mix as well, the Lumpen Proletariat joining in the jeers with the Lumpen Reichen). The real issue is not climate change, whether proved or not proved to be man made, but the profligate exhaustion of all the earth's resources that demand a change of lifestyle and this is what threatens those who claim to be sceptics. It is time to be sceptical about the sceptics motives.

  • Comment number 38.

    Anytime an assertion is made by one that imposes a burden on another scepticism is in order. The claims about global warming and the burdens imposed by the proposed solutions are of gigantic proportions and must be met with extreme scepticism. No one in the scientific community should be resentful or disdainful about scepticism directed toward the global warming theory. Science is a method of discovering truth, reality, the world as it actually is, and must be inherently sceptical and welcome rigorous questioning and debate of any proposed theory. If it doesn't it is not science, but has become politics, a form of Idealism, the land of wishful thinking, and Idealism, as Nietzsche noted, is the worst form of intellectual cowardice. Lying or shading the truth in any way is a betrayal of the scientific process. Lying only serves to make planning and decision making more difficult because it makes it more difficult to find a solution and it places a cloud of suspicion over those who make false claims. The intelligent and well educated human cultivates scepticism. Some call it critical thinking. An intelligent person is able to think independently, sceptically, rationally, logically, and analytically. They are able to observe reality clearly without the fog of bias. They approach all assertions with scepticism, and accept them based only on the solid evidence of their truthfulness. The global warming debate does not encourage independent, rational, analytical thought, nor the questioning of what is considered “settled science.” When blind faith and dogma are invoked, as they have been, scepticism must be increased.

  • Comment number 39.

    RE:-
    27. At 8:05pm on 17 Dec 2009, scienceperspective wrote:
    "........it is not possible to control your system to test a hypothesis ..."

    Thank God a sceptic came up with this quote. This is exactly why the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Principle 15 (read it for yourself) determined that the Precautionary Principle was the correct approach in just these very circumstances.

    Then investigate exactly what the precautionary approach involves and get of your high horse about "proper sciences like physics and chemistry" (that from a retired chemical engineer)

  • Comment number 40.

    Final comments for today.

    Good to see you here,Ghostofsichuan, looks like the moderators are suffering from "systems overload" like most of the governments of the world.

    Now, better things to do.

    Cheers

  • Comment number 41.

    Thanks for the experiment - I may reproduce it at home.
    I will keep the thermometer on for a long period of time and use sun light (sadly unavailable the day chosen). But part of the problem is that the experiment proves something that is not at issue - do green houses heat up - yes - that is not the issue in question. Greenhouses block convection, a fundamental mechanism in the transfer of heat.

    In a real world there is no glass lid trapping what ever gas heats it will rise and cooler gas falls replacing it. If your gas adsorbs heat quickly well - it will also re-radiate that quickly as well thus equilibrium will be maintained, something that can not be tested in a system as simple as a milk bottle.

  • Comment number 42.

    Global Warming, Climate Change, Melting Icecaps, CO2 Rising, Rising Sea Levels etc... All these are, are symptoms.
    When you go to the doctor and the doctor asks you to stick your tongue out and say arrrrr they are checking for symptoms... Initially unless more severe, they will give you a prescription for something to suppress the symptoms versus resolve the cause, partly because most of the time they are unable to resolve the cause because its time dependant and has already happened.
    If you have a cold, you don’t stop a cold, you first let the cold runs it cause, while you take something to suppress the symptoms then when you are feeling healthy if you wanted to resolve the causes, you might decide on ways to inhibit the ability to catch another cold i.e. healthy life style, eat more healthily etc and that way your immunity will repress colds more efficiently.
    And here is the dilemma, analogous to a doctor, many scientists believe their role is to collect data and leave it up to complex computer models to somehow come up with an answer. There is definetly merit in this, however there is flaw in the thinking.
    Collecting data is symptomology. Symptomology is very different from an epistemology. Epistemology is to understand what level of awareness a system is at that created x i.e. an anomaly and then shift that level so the anomaly can be resolved.
    Einstein so eloquently said "a problem cannot be resolved from the same level thinking or systems from which the problem was created".
    For Einstein to even understand this he was operating at a level higher than the words he was using.
    Another way of expressing Einstein’s quote for the subject of climate change is to say "a Cause cannot be resolved from the same level of system that created the cause in the first place"...
    So the question is why we are focusing on the symptoms, because the models only represent data, data over a period, and if we forecast this data its only data which is still symptom.
    Simply put we haven’t made the shift to the level of thinking or systems that would enable us to understand what actions need to be taken to resolve the symptoms.
    Here is an epistemologist shift for you:
    What if the symptoms are natural? What if we are natural (i.e. nature)? What if nature (which includes us) is responsible? The key isn’t about whether the its nature or natural as is this is just another symptom in the conversation.
    It’s about choice…. Does nature have choice or as do we a species have the ability to influence our ecology and habitat. The answer of course is that we DO have the ability to choose and influence, so thus we have the choice to continue to pollute or not pollute right?
    So, what if 99.9% of the tipping point to a global catastrophe was natural (i.e. nature created without mans choosing (I know this epistemologically impossible) and thus a catastrophe won’t occur as it would require a full 100% tipping point.
    THE BIG $1M Dollar Question is: Would we as a species want to be responsible for influencing through our choices of a 1% of the 99.9% tipping point to a global catastrophe?
    I will leave this with you to ponder...
    Marc West Center for Emerging Leadership http://www. Leadership20.com

  • Comment number 43.

    I'm a first-time reader of this column. Any lingering stereotypes about the British being smarter than Americans have been put to rest by this little demonstration with the water bottles and the baking soda. Wow! Now I see that C02 must be the cause of climate change, and thanks to the Authority Figure who suggested that Britain will be underwater in a few decades (sounds like Al Gore's now infamous speech at Cophenhagen this past week), I understand not only this causal relationship but also the other one: it's man-made C02 in specific that's the culprit. So I guess I'll just forget about the scientific literature that says we don't yet know and can't yet prove that C02 causes global warming (and what about the recent cooling trend -- you know, the one the East Anglia people were trying to hide with a few statistical tricks -- is that also caused by C02? Maybe C02 both warms and cools the planet, as well as making seltzer). Having witnessed the water bottles and the baking soda on the kitchen table, I now know what I need to know to make up my mind since, obviously, that's exactly the way our climate works. In fact, if you look through a decent telescope, you can actually see the big plastic jugs in the stratosphere. God, they're beautiful!

    That said, I can't help but feel fond of Justin Rowlatt because he reminds me of Steve Coogan in Knowing Me, Knowing You, With Alan Partridge, one of my favorite comedies.

    (BTW, Mr. Rowlatt -- the websites to which you guide your readers belong to precisely the folks (e.g. the UN's IPCC) that have been pushing the East Anglia agenda, so I'd hardly consider those links conducive to scientific skepticism. )

    -- A skeptical New Yorker (but I have English relatives and my favorite actors and comedians are British so really I'm an insider here and demand to be treated as such)

  • Comment number 44.

    It's interesting how most of us would be appalled by the idea of "internal investigations" and "self regulation" with respect to government and industry, but somehow believe that "peer review" is without flaw, bias, bureacracy or trend. Is this to say that "science" is flawed? No, but it does show that there is a high level of trust--dare say *gullability*--on part of the populace when it comes to whatever a new study concludes.

    People even accept such fundamentally flawed concepts as "scientific consensus". Science is not about opinion, it's about fact. When it descends into "consensus" it means there is no verifiable conclusion that can be made. It also means that the evidence is inconclusive. Worse is when "models" are used as evidence. Anybody can make a model, and anyone can choose data to fit a model, or ignore *other* models that may be more influential. Rarely is the evidence questioned or verified either. Is someone going to do more sampling of the same locations to verify the ice cores? Has anyone even seen the ice cores other than the first sources? Of course not, and why would they? It'd make people question the science even more.

    That brings up another issue: research is a business. You don't want to dry up your funding with inconclusive results. Nor do you want to make it seem that there is no problem or there won't be any more funding at all. If someone suddenly found irrefutable proof that some other source was causing these short term climate fluctuations, do you think there would be any more "climate change" funding? It's big business. This isn't to say that the data is falsified, but when you're *seeking out a specific conclusion* you're going to find data, and ignore data, to support that conclusion.

    So there really is a lot to be sceptical about, especially when it is going to have major effects on economies or other things. One thing I don't want is to have my economy ruined by unnecessary climate change legislation, or participate in artificial wealth distribution with a makebelieve "carbon credits" system. Fad science, pseudo or not, has nearly always stymied scientific progress. We need to rely on hard evidence, not flimsy models and oxymoron scientific consensuses.

  • Comment number 45.


    Ian Plimer's "Heaven and Earth" takes an intediciplinary approach in examination of the actual data surrounding the global warming debate. His work integrates data from every relavent scientific dicipline available. Read through his process of examination of the evidence and conclusions and see if you can still keep a straight face the next time you hear Al Gore speak.

  • Comment number 46.

    Re:10
    I am sooo fed up of people using the ice cube in a glass of water argument.

    1) The water level does go up, fractionaly admitidly due to the small volumes involved. Think about it for a second, let an ice cube melt, how much water is actually there? Not alot as water expands when freezing.

    2) Even if the water level rose by about half a millimetre in a litre of water, an increase that would be almost impossible to measure without care and a good eye, the volumes involved are tiny. If you apply that to the oceans volume you get a significant sea level rise.

    3)If you leave the glass in sunlight to melt the ice then some of the water will evaporate so the water level will go down not up. This is because the system is not closed and water evaporating can escape. Try doing it with a plate over the top of the glass if you wan't a propper experiment.

    3) Alot (I think about 60%, may be wrong) of the ice on the planet is acytually on land not floating in the oceans. Therefore the ice cube in the water is not a fair analogy. Try doing it with one ice cube in the water and one suspended over the glass so the water drips in.

    It supprises me that someone complaining about needing acurate and true experiments would bring up such a cliche and flawed experiment to proove their point.

  • Comment number 47.

    For several decades now, since the fading from memory of Einstein, Oppenheimer and several other similar 'household names' of latter days, "scientists" have been seen by the 'average man' almost solely through television advertising. Scientists had to find a corporation with a marketing department in order to let the public know they even existed!

    So now that they are telling us we are doomed to something other than whiter whites and younger looking skin, they suddenly get mostly scorn.

    It's a social problem with extraordinarily dire consequences for nearly everyone except people in North America aged 50 and up (like me, btw).

  • Comment number 48.

    We have a volume of Time/Life Nature-Science books, dated 1969, recording the fact that Vikings settled in southern Greenland for several centuries (circa 1000 to 1400 A.D.), and had to abandon their settlement about 1420 because the growing season for agricultural crops had become shorter and cooler.
    To my knowledge, no one on the anthropogenic global warming proponents has accounted for the warmer period when southern Greenland could support agriculture. And 1969 was too early for oil company lobbyists to be bribing the publishers of Time magazine on this issue.
    Has the southern coast of Greenland, in 2009, again become warm enough to allow a self-sustaining agricultural settlement?
    TeaPot 562

  • Comment number 49.

    The key part of the article is:-

    "So let's not damn people for being sceptical of the climate science... unless, that is, they don't make the effort to make a reasonable examination of the evidence."

    There are problems with the theory, all theories have problems. The whole point of science is too look nd think for yourself with an open mind.

    There is a massive difference between being sceptical and learning about the subject and being sceptic but not listening to anyone who has views that go against you own. There are so many cliche arguments that are very easily shown to be flawed, some of whic have been mentioned here.

    There are alot of people who blatently misunderstand the science. These people are on bot sides of the argument.

    In my view, given the evidence I've seen and read I think our climate is probably changing, I think it's probably CO2 that is causng it and its probably human activity that is making the difference.

    Probably, not definatley, not certainly, not prooven, but on the balance of probabilities given our current knowledge and the evidencewe have.

  • Comment number 50.

    Re:PV=nRT

    Work it out.
    The pressure increase is very small causing an even smaller increase in temperature. When you cancel out the effect of the pressure there is still an increase in temperature from the absorption of light by CO2. This experiment has been recreated in laboratories on countless ocassions for over a hundred years. It has been proven both experimentally and theoretically that CO2 causes and increase in temperature, it's as close as you can get to a scientfic fact.

  • Comment number 51.

    Why would the world allow a group of Global capitalists to link their agenda to such an important issue as climate change?

  • Comment number 52.

    Too many people talk blithely about how we must all study the science for ourselves. But very few people can do that - even the few that might actually have the time to do that, never mind the advanced thinking involved -- nearly all scientific stuff is 'advanced' and we all know that, don't we!

    It is much better, and easier, and in fact safer, to instead just learn how to judge the sources of the information, in terms of their motivations and credentials. Anyone can do this, but it has to begin with being a bit smarter than to assume things like "all climate scientists are dishonest and wrong" have much chance of being true.

    If, as a species, we really ARE able to assume that overall, scientists are just a bunch malevolent liars trying to harm the world as much as they tell us GW is harming the world, well then we should entertain the notion that, as a species, we don't even deserve to survive.

  • Comment number 53.

    Good luck to anyone trying to prove so called scientific facts to a Web, TV or Studio audience.
    The problem is not a matter of intelligence or even the willingness of the public to understand. No, the real problem is the complexity of even the most simple so called scientific fact and to top that, the fundamental nature of the entire scientific endeavor. This problem is why the scientists themselves don't all agree on the scientific facts even when they read the same journals and know how to interpret the same raw data.

    Science is the study of the physical world, using a rigorous and objective approach termed the scientific method, that aims to construct useful models of reality. We tend to call these models of reality, scientific facts. At best, they are a consensus opinion about what the data, generated from our cumulative scientific endeavors, show and the most likely interpretation that can be made of these data. Scientists do not form a cohesive community all producing the same results and interpretations. On the contrary, the scientific community is often fragmented and in fact many scientists consider any other scientist working in a similar field of research to be their deadly enemy rather than fellow collaborator. Due to the nature of science funding they are all competitors for money as well as for information and truth. Scientists are people too. This does not help to establish an accurate idea of what the consensus is on any particular issue or even begin to help work out whether the consensus opinion is more correct than contrary minor opinions.

    Science does not and cannot come up with definitive statements of truth. It strives and reaches for truth but the nature of the process means that there is an implicit acceptance that what we have is probably not the whole truth and maybe not even close. Undeniably, it is the next best thing but the hard part is to know how close to the truth and which of the competing explanations of the data to believe. This is pretty inconvenient for all of us. It is particularly galling if we are trying to explain science to non scientists, particularly if the science in question is some of the most complex we are currently tackling, namely that of the Earths climate and weather.

    We can fall back on crude demonstrations of scientific principles but whilst clever and entertaining, and maybe even educational, they are most certainly do not constitute proof of anything. Successful science demonstrations are just designed to attract your interest and are really just props in a show - just like a magicians cabinet. The success of the show does not validate what the showman is saying just because he says it does. That is not how science works.

    The overwhelming complexity of Climate science (the experiments, the data and the utter reliance on computer modeling with its attendant assumptions) inevitably seems to defeat any attempt to prove the validity of climate science facts. It may be theoretically possible to prove it - but my point is that it is so complex you cannot communicate that proof very easily. All you can do is show a summary of what you believe, backed up with another brief summary of the data that most strongly supports this position. The audience just has to take what you say on trust. You don't show all the raw data, you don't discuss the fine detail of the experimental method and you certainly don't discuss the thousands of papers in the literature upon which your entire work is dependent. This simplification takes the meaning out of the message and asks for trust in its place. IN the end you are not even trying to prove your case. You just summarise your case in a convincing sounding context of graphs and pictures and ask for the trust of the audience that you would only say it if it was true.

    The public will not gravitate automatically to the truth any more than will the entire science community. They know that there are competing views and they do not trust easily.
    Success in getting your science message across is a matter of good PR and not good science.

    Roll on 50 years - some of us will see what happens in the end.

  • Comment number 54.

    Good luck to anyone trying to prove so called scientific facts to a Web, TV or Studio audience.
    The problem is not a matter of intelligence or even the willingness of the public to understand. No, the real problem is the complexity of even the most simple so called scientific fact and to top that, the fundamental nature of the entire scientific endeavor. This problem is why the scientists themselves don't all agree on the scientific facts even when they read the same journals and know how to interpret the same raw data.

    Science is the study of the physical world, using a rigorous and objective approach termed the scientific method, that aims to construct useful models of reality. We tend to call these models of reality, scientific facts. At best, they are a consensus opinion about what the data, generated from our cumulative scientific endeavors, show and the most likely interpretation that can be made of these data. Scientists do not form a cohesive community all producing the same results and interpretations. On the contrary, the scientific community is often fragmented and in fact many scientists consider any other scientist working in a similar field of research to be their deadly enemy rather than fellow collaborator. Due to the nature of science funding they are all competitors for money as well as for information and truth. Scientists are people too. This does not help to establish an accurate idea of what the consensus is on any particular issue or even begin to help work out whether the consensus opinion is more correct than contrary minor opinions.

    Science does not and cannot come up with definitive statements of truth. It strives and reaches for truth but the nature of the process means that there is an implicit acceptance that what we have is probably not the whole truth and maybe not even close. Undeniably, it is the next best thing but the hard part is to know how close to the truth and which of the competing explanations of the data to believe. This is pretty inconvenient for all of us. It is particularly galling if we are trying to explain science to non scientists, particularly if the science in question is some of the most complex we are currently tackling, namely that of the Earths climate and weather.

    We can fall back on crude demonstrations of scientific principles but whilst clever and entertaining, and maybe even educational, they are most certainly do not constitute proof of anything. Successful science demonstrations are just designed to attract your interest and are really just props in a show - just like a magicians cabinet. The success of the show does not validate what the showman is saying just because he says it does. That is not how science works.

    The overwhelming complexity of Climate science (the experiments, the data and the utter reliance on computer modeling with its attendant assumptions) inevitably seems to defeat any attempt to prove the validity of climate science facts. It may be theoretically possible to prove it - but my point is that it is so complex you cannot communicate that proof very easily. All you can do is show a summary of what you believe, backed up with another brief summary of the data that most strongly supports this position. The audience just has to take what you say on trust. You don't show all the raw data, you don't discuss the fine detail of the experimental method and you certainly don't discuss the thousands of papers in the literature upon which your entire work is dependent. This simplification takes the meaning out of the message and asks for trust in its place. IN the end you are not even trying to prove your case. You just summarise your case in a convincing sounding context of graphs and pictures and ask for the trust of the audience that you would only say it if it was true.

    The public will not gravitate automatically to the truth any more than will the entire science community. They know that there are competing views and they do not trust easily.
    Success in getting your science message across is a matter of good PR and not good science.

    Roll on 50 years - some of us will see what happens in the end.

  • Comment number 55.

    For the ordinary person, who knows nothing about science - he is blameless. For those who do not believe in global warming, they have good reason to. But for those who go out of their way to disprove climate change, that is, they are not formally trained in science and "don't make the effort to make a reasonable examination of the evidence," they are guilty of distorting truth. By deliberately withholding information, these people collect a few key scientific facts, a partial portion of the complete picture, and use their sophistry to market their ideas to laymen and educated alike for money and attention.

  • Comment number 56.

    The BBC will not give balanced coverage on this subject and they are not impartial. The following is a reply to a recent complaint, and using this argument the BBC if German would have supported Hitler and his plan to exterminate the Jews!!

    We forwarded your concerns to Dominic Groves, one of the output Editors for
    the 'Today' programme who explained that:

    "We do give space to climate sceptics from time to time. But our obligation
    is to offer 'due impartiality' which in practice means we must reflect the
    balance of existing opinion. And despite recent controversies there remains
    broad scientific agreement that climate change is real and mostly man made."

    I can assure you that your complaint has been registered on our audience
    log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many
    BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel
    controllers and other senior managers.

  • Comment number 57.

    To reiterate my concerns: (Climate Change vs CO2)

    There are quite a lot of sources of historic temperature analogues (ice cores) and rather fewer for the levels of CO2 throughout history (trapped air). All of the 'data' are indirect measurements of historic data and all require interpretation. Let us for the moment assume that this interpretation has been done accurately and professionally for both CO2 and Temperature. (This is a very big assumption!)

    Scientifically, for one thing to cause another the agent that causes some event MUST precede the caused event. (The light switch must be flipped BEFORE the light comes on.)

    However the data that is available shows CO2 rising (some of the time) AFTER the Temperature has risen. (See the IPCC datasets)

    So logically how is it scientifically possible to argue that a rise in CO2 'caused' a rise in Temperature - the other way round perhaps, but certainly NOT that CO2 caused a Temperature rise as where and when it did rise CO2 rises after the Temperature had risen. (And not always then.)

    And why do none of the climate models predict the fall in global temperatures since 1999 even though CO2 has continued to rise?

    What we have in Copenhagen is disproved junk science that is supported by the financial community's desire to trade Carbon Credits.

    Protect the planet by all means (and it would be a very good idea) but please do not think that limiting Carbon Dioxide emission will control Global Temperatures for there is ample scientific evidence that it will have no effect at all.

  • Comment number 58.

    I think the Post 54 sums it up.

    Its all guesswork, s1@t happens.

    Who is to say that the natural evolution of this planet is not for humans to die out?

    If the Green/Ecologist lobby really get down to grass roots (Cough!)

    They would realise that they are meddling with the natural progression of the planet where we become extinct and the ants and Cockroaches are the next dominant species!
    Cést la Vie!

  • Comment number 59.

    To xtragrumpymike2
    What makes you believe that all these people are not eminent "climate" scientists?
    Research! Simple!
    Usual zealot tactics...... verbose, tedious, patronising, inarticulate, inaccurate blather!

  • Comment number 60.

    "The problem as I see it , is that they are so wrapped up in "scientific jargon" that the average "Joe" would have absolutely no hope of understanding what they were trying to convey... since they themselves are unable to communicate at the appropriate level, they need to be employing PR people who can" - xtragrumpymike2, post #35.

    I think you've identified one of the key problems, but I have some doubts about your proposed solution. As a scientist who has seen their research mangled by PR people, I think that scientists are actually the best people to talk about their own work, rather than giving that important task to others. And in Newsnight's experiment, the task was taken on by people who, with respect, were not climate change scientists.

    Yes, it is true that some scientists are lousy at communicating their research to wider audiences. But many are not. As John Steinbeck once wrote (in The Log from the Sea of Cortez):

    "It has seemed sometimes that the little men in scientific work assumed the awe-fullness of a priesthood to hide their deficiencies, as the witch-doctor does with his stilts and high masks, as the priesthoods of all cults have, with secret or unfamiliar languages and symbols. It is usually found that only the little stuffy men object to what is called 'popularization', by which they mean writing with a clarity understandable to one not familiar with the tricks and codes of the cult. We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields?"

    Being able to communicate with non-specialists is a skill that can be learned, and thankfully training in this area is now being provided for science PhD students. I think that equipping scientists with those skills, and encouraging them to get involved where appropriate in wider societal debates that involve their work, is the way forward.

    I would not be comfortable performing a TV demonstration of science outside my own field, nor would I comment on it in an "expert witness" capacity, as the scientists in the Newsnight piece were perhaps misleadingly portrayed. Let's get some actual climate change researchers on TV, to talk and listen to the public about their work.

  • Comment number 61.

    I am a skeptic. I question authority -- I want to know how things work.
    Unfortunately, I cannot be an expert in everything.
    Therefore, I use critical thinking to evaluate what people say, and form an opinion based on the opinions of those for whom I have a greater respect.
    I'd love to believe that AGW is not happening. However, I have no choice to believe that it is. Why? Because a great many (not all) climate scientists present evidence that it is happening, and the so-called "skeptics" have not produced anything close to a believable counter-argument. Worse, the "skeptics" use emotion, sarcasm, bullying, and ridicule. This is unacceptable behaviour, and what's more, a clear indication that they have no real logical argument to rely upon.
    In fact, the arguments we read everyday to deny AGW are so incredibly bad, so laughable, that it is depressing to think that so many people stick so steadfastly to them. In many cases, the arguments are very simply false.

    I'll give some examples from this very blog:

    @10. At 5:14pm on 17 Dec 2009, kingy83 wrote:

    "The scientist said that if the Arctic melted then the sea levels would rise 20feet."

    No, actually, he did NOT say that.

    @18. At 6:47pm on 17 Dec 2009, Ben Newman wrote:

    "The earth is an open system, the bottle used to duplicate the earth, had a cap on the top, thus making it a closed system, so of course the temperature will increase... because it's CLOSED."

    Actually, the Earth is a closed system. "Being closed" is not an argument for why temperature would increase.

    @19. At 6:50pm on 17 Dec 2009, Ed wrote:

    "by releasing CO2 into the bottle the scientist has increased the amount of gas and thereby increased the pressure. Based on the ideal gas law PV=nRT..."

    @33. At 8:22pm on 17 Dec 2009, dubman wrote:

    "The bottle with the CO2 added is at a higher pressure"

    No. Both bottles were at atmospheric pressure. The bottle with added CO2 was open to the air when the CO2 was added. In any case, the pressure generated by a vinegar/baking soda reaction is negligible.

    @20. At 6:52pm on 17 Dec 2009, EbAmerica wrote:

    "I am all for TOTALLY open and unbiased scientific study of climate change (and any other controversial topic, evolution vs. Intelligent Design, etc.)."

    Nice sentiment. Unfortunately it is not possible to do a scientific study of Intelligent Design because ID is not scientific.

    These comments just go to show how a little bit of knowledge give arrogant people a false sense of superiority, when in fact they know LESS than if they knew nothing at all.

    @27. At 8:05pm on 17 Dec 2009, scienceperspective wrote:

    "...the bottle containing CO2 is also loaded with water vapour from all the fizzing from the exothermic reaction of vinegar (acid) and sodium bicarbonate (base)."

    Actually that reaction is endothermic (absorbs heat). Nice try though.

    "Water vapour generated from the evaporation of all the tiny water droplets suspended in air that fizzed up from the reaction will a) heat up very nicely"

    Actually, evaporation absorbs heat. Why do you think you have to add heat to water to boil (evaporate)?

    @30. At 8:14pm on 17 Dec 2009, bluest-man wrote:

    "Yes there appears to be a correlation between mans activity and the increase in CO2 levels but there is no proof that man is causing the changes in CO2 levels.."

    I have to ask, blue-est man, where do you think the CO2 coming out of your car exhaust comes from, and where is it going? If I shovel manure into your living room, does the fact that you don't understand how a shovel works mean that there is "no proof" that the increase of manure in your living room is caused by me? This is you talking: "Here's some carbon compound that was dug out of the ground after being buried for 300 million years. Here is me burning it, releasing the carbon into the atmosphere as CO2. No, I did not increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere." Does that seriously make sense to you?

    @37. At 8:34pm on 17 Dec 2009, kesap wrote:

    "...if you are a political conservative you must reject climate change on principal[sic] as a liberal plot..."

    You are a kook.

    @38. At 8:39pm on 17 Dec 2009, askeptic wrote:

    "Anytime an assertion is made by one that imposes a burden on another scepticism is in order. The claims about global warming and the burdens imposed by the proposed solutions are of gigantic proportions and must be met with extreme scepticism."

    No. Are you saying that if I claim the moon is made of green cheese, that this should not be met with skepticism simply because it doesn't matter to anyone? In science, the degree of consequence (political, social, economic) does not change the level of skepticism with which one views a hypothesis. To do otherwise would not be science.

    @44. At 8:48pm on 17 Dec 2009, Bionic-Badger wrote:

    "People even accept such fundamentally flawed concepts as "scientific consensus". Science is not about opinion, it's about fact. When it descends into "consensus" it means there is no verifiable conclusion that can be made. It also means that the evidence is inconclusive."

    You don't have a clue how science works, do you. All evidence is inconclusive. Science is about guessing (making a hypothesis) and then trying to invalidate that guess. Experiments are subject to error, and human foibles. So if 100 scientists replicate an experiment and 99 get the same answer, the CONSENSUS is that the 99 scientists got the right result, and the one outlier made a mistake.

    "Worse is when "models" are used as evidence."

    Models are not used as evidence.

    "Is someone going to do more sampling of the same locations to verify the ice cores? Has anyone even seen the ice cores other than the first sources? Of course not..."

    You may believe "not", but you are wrong. Naturally these pieces of information are independently verified. It wouldn't be science otherwise.

    ...sigh... Unfortunately the media doesn't understand science either, and so we have a preponderance of hyperbole, such as Ethical Man claiming that they were going to "prove" AGW with an unscientific experiment (better labeled a "demonstration"). Not helping, Ethical Man...

    I think nick2hats got it exactly right:

    25. At 7:55pm on 17 Dec 2009, nick2hats wrote:

    "The article, it seems to me, indicates that many people, including the author, would prefer to believe whatever makes them feel comfortable, rather than make a jugdement based on science."

  • Comment number 62.

    Right I've heard the science, read the comments so how about a bit of common sense:

    Two questions:
    1. Is climate change happening?
    If the answer to the above is yes, then
    2. Is man primarily responsible?
    If the answer is yes, why is nobody suggesting cutting the population?
    Surely that is the ONLY sustainable solution.

    I believe nature is far more powerful than man so nothing we do will make much of a difference, except to ourselves. The planet is quite capable of looking after itself.

  • Comment number 63.

    Ahhh! A Denier!!! Bring the Infidel before me! The Mighty Imperial Wizard of Climate Orthodoxy, Dr. Michael Mann and his peer council of the Immortal Doctorati, shall subject the Denier to harsh punishment before burning him at a stake of low carbon brush and waste.
    Let the Deniers know fear and then their ilk and their children will forever cower before the Might Imperial Climate Wizards for generations to come! Only then, will they gratefully pay the United Nations an endless tithing without protest or cry!

  • Comment number 64.

    Thank "god" someone called xtragrumpymike2 mentioned the Precautionary Principle of DOOOOOM!! a.k.a the favorite tool of dictators world wide...brilliant!

    fact:
    As a Precaution we should best avoid the Precautionary Principle when clearly, the attitude of the CRU towards the scientific peer-review process indicates that these are the last people you should trust to re-assess their original assumptions.

    As for the OBSERVATIONAL science distinction, it exists as a distinction for a reason, not just to annoy chem eng. These disciplines of science can't perform experiments of the same scale as the system studied. And if you can't do that while supposedly trying to understand emergent phenomena, well there is no hope.

    You tell me I tell you:
    (active researcher mol.phys.)

  • Comment number 65.

    Well, I know this lot are hardly climate scientists, but I let's face it, they know which side their bread is buttered. They made a tidy amount of money by paying out less in claims than they took in premiums and this could be a fly in the ointment. Or an elephant ...


    From a Guardian article in 2001:

    The insurance bill for extreme weather events and rising sea levels is set to increase tenfold - from £20bn a year to £200bn a year by 2050 - making parts of the world uninsurable, the world's leading insurers have warned.

    "Climatic changes could trigger worldwide losses totalling many hundreds of billions of dollars a year," Dr Gerhard Berz, head of research for the largest re-insurance company in the world, Munich Re, told the United Nations' Environment Programme (Unep) in Nairobi.

    "There is mounting evidence of increasing frequency and intensity of natural catastrophes. Major windstorms set new loss records almost annually, while innumerable flood, tempest, drought and forest fire emergencies now seem to occur more frequently than ever before."

    Losses caused by the weather in the 1960s totalled £30bn (in today's prices); in the 1990s that figure rose to £250bn. But as greenhouse gas pollution increases, the bill is set to rise more dramatically, to £200bn per year by 2050.

    Dr Berz fears the losses will bankrupt parts of the industry and wants government action to halt climate change. "There is reason to fear that climatic change in nearly all regions of the Earth will lead to natural catastrophes of hitherto unknown force and frequency," he said. "Assessing these developments could jeopardise the future of entire industries in some regions."

    Before 1987, only one hurricane - Alicia in Texas in 1983 - cost £1bn in claims. Since then, 29 have cost that much.

    ...

    The cost of premature death due to rising numbers of heatwaves is put at £14bn a year within the EU and £11bn in the US. Worldwide, the cost of premature death caused by heatwaves is put at £50bn.


    They might not even offer you a life insurance policy in future. Or insure your home. Or your company's office. Outrageous!

  • Comment number 66.

    I watched your little movie foras long as it took to learn that you had hired a couple of warmist scientists to "prove" AGW to these people, but hadn't troubled to engage scientists with contrary views. That was enough to tell me my time was being wasted.

  • Comment number 67.

    I like your defence of scepticism - I am not a 'denier', I think we should be working towards sustainability and green energy regardless of global warming, but I seek confirmation and do not accept everything that I am told (particularly by the media and activists who know very little) - especially when it comes to raising billions in tax to go into mysterious worldwide 'funds'

    But as I have some scientific knowledge I have some concerns about the bottle 'experiment' - how much carbon dioxide was she putting in? The atmospheric CO2 level is 0.038% - even a doubling of that wouldn't be 0.1% - it wasn't made clear if that bottle was just full of CO2, and how much was added, from what I could tell all that showed was that CO2 increases temperature - obviously if you pumped our air full of the stuff it'd heat up, but we're talking about rising of 0.00x% here

    Secondly, as many mentioned - if we're pumping gas into a bottle the pressure increases, which would increase temperature

    I suppose I can let the lack of a control go...

  • Comment number 68.

    To draker top marks. It was a nice try. Whatever, the point of this junkscience experiment is to heat the gases in the bottles with the lamps. The important bit is the water vapour. Small enough droplets will vaporise under the heat from the lamp.

  • Comment number 69.

    Draker writes

    "You don't have a clue how science works, do you. (A BETTER ONE THAN YOU, MATE) All evidence is inconclusive. Science is about guessing (making a hypothesis) and then trying to invalidate that guess. Experiments are subject to error, and human foibles. So if 100 scientists replicate an experiment and 99 get the same answer, the CONSENSUS is that the 99 scientists got the right result, and the one outlier made a mistake." The CONSENSUS may be as you say, but in truly scientific terms that consensus has no value. See Einstein "“No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”" You really don't understand how science works, do you, Draker?

    He then goes on to make the astonishing claim ("Worse is when "models" are used as evidence.") that:

    "Models are not used as evidence."

    Huh? Can Draker point me to ANY evidence of CO2/AGW that does NOT rely on computer models?

    What a strange person....

  • Comment number 70.

    "wouldn't it be great if someone proved the science of global warming was wrong?"

    That will never happen, but why would anyone want it to be wrong?

    If that much of our understanding of our world is wrong, we are in real trouble, and we have one less reason to rid ourselves of our most expensive, dangerous and unhealthy invention. (private motor vehicles)

  • Comment number 71.

    I am still a skeptic. Its unfortunate that you invited Mr. King... (with reference to Christopher Booker's book 'The Real Global Warming Disaster"}
    Mr.King's so called 'expertise' was called into question. Mr King went to Moscow to a high level seminar in July of 2004 and leading scientists from around the world were invited to discuss some of the central issues. Mr. King's behaviour at that seminar and his inability to answer questions pertaining to his theories of global warming was a disgrace.
    All skeptics AND believers in global warming should read this book.... its an eye opener.
    Do not be fooled....global events are cyclical.. this "global warming" is another method of trying to force persons to part with hard earned cash in the form of greater taxation and more control handed over to the politicians. " keep them ignorant and they will keep voting for me".
    Of course one should protect one's environment as best as possible... but this issue right now has gone to extremes and many renowned scientists are still unable to conclusively state the actual causes of global warming!

  • Comment number 72.

    I suggest we look again at the sequence of events depicted in the video.

    1 min 57 sec - temperatures are "21.2 and 21.4" according to Dr. Maggie

    2 min 45 sec - the lights are off

    2 min 52 sec - lights switched on

    3 min 11 sec
    top temp (flask with CO2) - 34.0 deg C
    bottom temp (without CO2) - 35.6 deg C

    3 min 19 sec
    top temp (flask with CO2) - 34.7 deg C
    bottom temp (without CO2) - 35.5 deg C
    -------------
    Now the magic of television happens .....
    - fade to black to indicate the passage of time
    - "that was about ten minutes" according to a subsequent statement by our Ethical Man on the spot
    - we return to the kitchen
    -------------
    3 min 38 sec
    top temp (flask with CO2) - 38.7 deg C
    bottom temp (without CO2) - 34.6 deg C

    So, after ten minutes of heating from a light bulb, the temperature in the flask without CO2 has gone ***DOWN***.

    I seek an explanation from Justin Rowlatt, "the BBC'c Ethical Man".
    I seek an explanation from Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a "top British scientist" apparently.

    My wild guess (or hypothesis, if you will) is that heat from the camera lighting was creating problems with the temperature sensors and it was decided, in the interests of televisual fun, to "simulate" the expected results.
    Sadly, this sort of nonsense does not help convince the TV viewer of the integrity of BBC journalists, "top" British scientists or "impartial" observers.
    I am available, should the BBC wish to employ me as a consultant for the ethical presentation of science ... "to educate, inform and entertain".

  • Comment number 73.

    Press PLAY - Starts March 2000 to present day, watch the build up...
    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/GlobalMaps/view.php?d1=MOP_CO_M#

  • Comment number 74.

  • Comment number 75.

    Paint-by-Numbers Science

    Imagine a paint-by-numbers kit with 12 colors of the spectrum — from purple and blue, green to yellow, orange and red, each numbered. When you finish coloring the areas in the coloring book or canvas with the appropriate color number, you have a color painting for the fridge.

    Suppose you got a version with only the number 1 and 2 colors marked. You have the colors — but what you end up with is a patchwork of two colors on a white background, with lines defining other areas. You could guess about the other colors, but the end result may not be what the original creator had in mind.

    Believe it or not, this very simple analogy applies to the claims of global warming.

    In the climate change map of the world, where the Earth is depicted as flat (and skeptics are called flat-earthers, naturally) and with a latitude/longitude grid as the “to be colored” areas, the purples and blues represent cold temperatures and yellows, oranges, and reds represent warm. It appears the stations chosen in Russia were those that were likely to be warmer — reds and oranges. Further, with no information on what color to use for the areas where stations were ignored, guesses were made to fill in the empty grid boxes by extrapolating only from the warmer subset of stations.

    More reds and oranges.

    Partners in Crime: NOAA and NASA Complicit

    Russia was not the only area that underwent cherry-picking, nor is CRU the only cherry-picker.

    NOAA’s global climate database (GHCN) — according to CRU’s Phil Jones in the following email — mirrors the CRU data under attack:

    Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.

    And NASA uses the GHCN, applying their own adjustments............

    http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/daleo-and-just-like-that-the-warmings-gone-pjm-exclusive/

  • Comment number 76.

    Excellent points about skepticism. Thank you for this article.

    I also appreciate what you've tried to do with the group discussion but really the short conversation was only a beginning. I would be extremely interested to see whether a longer discussion could be more convincing to those who were still skeptical. This would be MUCH better than reality TV.

  • Comment number 77.

    Firstly, reducing waste and pollution are correct and commendable actions for any individual and community irregardless of whether is global warming or not. This is a step in the right direction and certainly efforts should be focused here whether there is a link or not.

    Secondly, we are seeing global warming from our observation of the planet's temperature patterns and its radical rise in recent history. The planet's climate is changing as a result of this. This is the problem statement and it is clear-cut.

    To address this we can either have corrective actions to reduce climate change or we can have actions to prepare ourselves for the climate change. As the planet's dominant population I believe we have the ability and responsibility to do both. Sitting-by and doing nothing is not an option.

    So as the argument rages on the origins of the problem, which has merit, don't get me wrong, I am going to leave it in the background for the moment and support the solutions that we do have, instead of throwing cash away at useless efforts like producing arms and waging unnecessary wars.

  • Comment number 78.

    Very interesting article Justin.
    Thanks.
    Not directly related to climate change, but I wonder when, in the scientific world, scientists will be able openly to be skeptical of evolutionary theory without being labeled as cranks and having their careers jeopardized...

    Rgds

  • Comment number 79.

    Further to my earlier comment ( 72. above ), the deception is somewhat greater than I suggested.
    Looking at the temperature readings on screen between 3 min 20 sec and 3 min 26 sec I was unable to read them, even when viewing the video in full screen.

    However, when I went to the BBC iPlayer and viewed the same section of the broadcast, I *was* able to read the temperatures - due to the higher resolution available.
    And what were the temperatures shown?

    at 3 min 26 sec - approximately equivalent to 18 min 00 sec in the full iPlayer video of Newsnight Wed, 16 Dec 2009

    top temp (flask with CO2) - 23.3 deg C
    bottom temp (without CO2) - 23.8 deg C

    Footage has been used from multiple "takes" of the "experiment" and treated as a drama presentation.
    This video is not journalism.
    This is not science.
    This is fiction.

  • Comment number 80.

    The problem with these experiments as the skeptic I am is that they are not realistic. The bottle does not resemble the earth and the amount of CO2 is not proportionate at all. The atmosphere contains about .03 % CO2 which is claimed to have risen from .015% CO2. Even though it is believed CO2 has doubled it is still minimal to what is actually in the atmosphere. Compared to Water Vapor which is almost 5 % at times and is a much more stronger retainer of heat than CO2 how does it sum up. Let me see a real experiment where you have two rooms with the proportions of CO2 and all other gases ignoring all the other contributors and then see how much heat is retained.

  • Comment number 81.

    Teapot562, you have wittingly or unwittingly brought up the crux of what "Climategate" is all about.

    A more detailed explination can be found on the site realclimate.org (McIntrye, the one being bullied by the East Anglia gang, helps run the site along with 3 IPCC folks), I will endeavor to simplify things.

    You are correct Teapot. I married a liberal arts major and since the probability of exciting her with early 19'th century experiments showing that greenhouse gasses absorb heat (which was the experiment; it is a classic), well, read medieval literature. There are the Icelandic sagas. You are correct.

    The historical record CLEARLY shows a warm period peaking at 1000 AD. This is called the Medieval Warm Period.

    Enter the hockey stick crowd. The original hockey stick paper got rid of this through serious bad statistics. McIntyre challenged the conclusion. This is what the e-mails are all about.

    I support the conclusions of AGW but rejected (always have) the hockey stick. AGW is going to happen from first principles. Arrhenius demonstrated this with considerable imprecision at the dawn of the 20'th century.

    Getting back to the serious bad communication of the scientists. This is not our forte; fortunately I have a communication generalist to work with (drives him nuts, I am sure, since I don't tow the party line but cannot deviate from it... happens in a company. All words are negotiated).

    Okay, Greenland and Antartic ice sheet melts. Not governed by the Archimedes principle unlike Arctic Ice. So like why are you scaring folks with your 60 meters? The IPCC projects a couple of meters (probably conservative IMHO). Scaremongering. It should be noted that the antarctic ice gap is still growing owing to the lingering effects of the famous "ozone hole", another potential man-made disaster that was averted. The international treaty to ban CFC's was negotiated under no less than Lady Maggy Thatcher and The Honorable Ronald Reagan no less. The ozone hole is still there, but it is shricking. Antarctic ice will start melting soon....

    The Al Gore lies (look, he has publically said that he is exaggerating the problem, which is a lie) have born their fruit... skepticism. As a scientist in non-linear computational fluid dynamics ALL models are wrong. The IPCC correctly uses an ensemble with different assumptions. All are wrong. Alls they give is a trend. This is not "truth". Stop calling it "truth". They are hurting the case for doing something about AGW.

    Why are some defending the hockey stick with such vehemence? So they can say that it is warmer than it has been for 2,000 years. Hockeypuck :) (and quite frankly immaterial). What is the risk is that of continuing to pour CO2 into the atmosphere unabated.

    The Chief Scientist even engaged in conspiracy theory! Silly, to say the least.

    As for myself, I like to save $$$. I noticed on an earlier blog that the average Brit uses 125 KwH/D.... my entire family of 5 (US, no less) uses 100 :).

    Can we get with the program and save $$$s (not to mention seriously reduce GHGs). Why do we need a carbon tax (or cap and trade) to do what is rational? Inslate, ductwork, windows, appliances, roof (big issue in the southern US). Run, tackle, block.

    Lastly, methinks I will perform the same experiment here in the Southern US. Obviously when talking about AGW here one needs to cover their basis. The piece (a good one!) is a classic study on, well, communication, and the hypothesis is the scientists communicated badly. Or, to quote the famous "Cool Hand Luke" movie set in the Southern US:

    "What we have here son is a failure to communicate".

  • Comment number 82.

    Come on Justin what kind of ethics was that video set up. Bringing on a joke experiment full of flaws followed by a bunch of propaganda from 2 dare I say scientists. If you are trying to be truly ethical and skeptical you should at least have introduced 2 scientists 1 for and 1 against instead of all this propaganda for the uninformed audience. These kinds of experiments "proving man made global warming" is indicative of the dumbed down science around this subject.

  • Comment number 83.

    If you analyse the over 9800 comments posted concerning the Copenhagen conference, you will find the following result:

    Those who believe that global warming is man-made - 25%

    Those who believe it is not man made - 60%

    Unrelated comment - 15%

  • Comment number 84.

    So Grahamtuer (62)

    Are you going to be the first not to have kids?, because if that is your point, then it is the developed world where fewer people would make the most carbon saving. Most people in the developing world emit next to nothing. People think they're so original talking about population but every country in the world which has it's population under control is a high-emitting country. Any child born in an OECD country is locked into a high emitting infrastructure.

    The reason population isn't explicitly discussed is because the best contraceptive is economic growth but that simply means fewer people emitting proportionally a lot more.

    You cannot talk about population without the associated consumption. We need to revolutionise our energy systems. This is the only fair way to deal with reducing carbon emissions.

    I presume you would be fine with Gordon Brown instituting a child bearing limits, and if not, then why should anyone else?

  • Comment number 85.

    It would be more than great if someone proved the science of global warming to be wrong, it would be a true miracle. Why? Because nobody is going to be allowed to prove it wrong.

  • Comment number 86.

    Firstly, the BBC should be congratulated on this programme, and the very clear and simple demonstration of why carbon dioxide is so important! for our climate. There were a couple of comments made by the participants that weren't addressed in the programme, but which are important...firstly, the scientific community has responded to the scandalous hacking of the UEA data - 1700 of the UK's scientists signed up to it over the space of a couple of days. It can be found on:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6950783.ece. Around the same time, the UK Royal Society, the NAtural Environment Research Council, and the Met Office issued a statement reiterating the level of confidence in the scientific community that climate change does present a real and urgent threat requiring global attention. This can be found at:http://royalsociety.org/Content.aspx?id=4294969083. The Royal Society (the UK's science academy which has 350 years of history based on providing scientifically INDEPENDENT advice) has also independently issued the following statement on the science of climate change http://royalsociety.org/Royal-Society-restates-the-science-for-Copenhagen/ .
    A couple of participants also asked about the relative importance of natural vs manmade contributors to warming - which may have been answered in the programme but wasn't shown? It's very simple! Noone is saying natural causes don't play a role (clearly they do as the historical record shows). BUT the key point is that these natural causes CANNOT explain the level and rate of change being observed GLOBALLY at the moment. Only by including the human sources (of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases) can current trends be explained. That's pretty compelling.
    Finally, one of your participants was absolutely right. The scientific community does have a responsibility to improve the way that it communicates the science to the public - (while noting that it is a hugely complex area and so is difficult to communicate in detail). This is a specialist task and one that is not typically well funded!! However, at the end of the day whether you believe what the science is saying will come down to your philosophical viewpoint and who you choose to believe. There is a heap of information available if people want to read it (just try google)- most just choose not to! For more on this look at the IPCC website which DOES provide as close to a consensus on what the scientific community says on climate change as you will ever get in the world of science, or read the Rough Guide to Climate Science.


  • Comment number 87.

    @grahamtuer (#62): "Is man primarily responsible? If the answer is yes, why is nobody suggesting cutting the population? Surely that is the ONLY sustainable solution."

    Absolutely right. Climate change debate aside, unconstrained population growth is the greatest threat to the environment (at least from our perspective; the world will carry on just fine without us, of course).

    So here's a dilemma question for the BBC's "Ethical Man": what do you think of British American Tobacco? Through their product, they are perhaps one of very few organisations worldwide who are actually doing something towards curbing population growth, particularly in the developing world. Should they not therefore be feted as one of the world's most environmentally-friendly companies? Or is that kind of hard logic too much for woolly-thinking greenies to stomach?

  • Comment number 88.

    @Rach (#86): "the scientific community has responded to the scandalous hacking of the UEA data - 1700 of the UK's scientists signed up to it over the space of a couple of days".

    I received the email encouraging us to sign up to that petition, which did the rounds at the institute where I work. I did not sign it, for the following reason: like any profession, science has its fair share of both principled and unprincipled practitioners (just look at the recent Hwang human cloning fraud - a respected and successful scientist did go on to commit scientific fraud). In the case of the hacked emails, I don't yet know whether they provide any evidence of scientific misconduct - I haven't read them all, and don't have time to do so. So I will wait for the independent inquiry to deliver its findings, as should we all.

    If the inquiry exhonorates the scientists from accusations of misconduct, then that's great. But there is always a possibility that it might not; I don't know, and neither does anyone else yet. So before giving my unqualified support to those involved, who I do not know personally, I think we should wait for the inquiry to complete its work.

    Of course, even if the emails are found to contain evidence of misconduct, that doesn't rubbish all the other climate change science out there.

    I actually think the hacked email affair has done society a service, by opening up the debate about how we deal with the small probability of the most extreme impact predictions from climate models. The government is trying to scapegoat science for *political* decisions (e.g. lending money to Mugabe, and raising taxes), when those decisions should be taken through consultation with society more widely.

  • Comment number 89.

    Tom Forrester-Paton is an even stranger person.

    I thought draker had it right because science is about consensus. Einstein's point is that we don't know anything for sure because it has to be open to falsification but the current consensus of course has value. No one has proved the existence of an electron but look how useful consensus on that has been! We don't know for sure what causes gravity, but dare you throw yourself of a building and test the prevailing consensus that it would slam you into the ground at 9.81m/s^2? You may find willing collaborators and even some seed money to help you with this, should you decide this is a worthwhile experiment.

    I am confused as to why, with your superior knowledge of science and how it works, you haven't come up with the one silver-bullet experiment that can put this matter to bed.

    Stop showing off about how smart you are and get busy!
    We need you Tom Forrester-Paton. Start a revolution.

    Now the boring bit about models/evidence:

    Evidence include measurements of temperature, CO2, ice-core data and other paleoclimatic data.

    Models simulate the earth-ocean-atmosphere interactions based on our understanding of physics and chemistry derived from theory and observations. Using scenarios (different assumptions about system feedbacks) a range of values for future climatic variables are produced.

    No one can predict the future, but you can produce a range of outcomes and a likelihood associated with each one. This is not evidence, merely a statement of what we understand and where it might be going. The problem may lie with the common usage of the term, scientists know the technical difference.

    I don't know how you can talk about evidence for things that haven't happened yet.

  • Comment number 90.

    I am a sceptic because I have always accepted Popper's refutational logic - it’s the job of good science to attempt to refute rather than to confirm. In the 'hard sciences' like chemistry and physics this is a relatively straightforward job, but subjects like cosmology, global science and economics have very limited opportunity for direct controlled experiment hence the reliance on the analysis of past data and the development of models that attempt to link theories of causation with observational data. The problem, as Lakatos, a student of Popper made clear is that theories are inevitably surrounded by ceteris paribus clauses and observations themselves are laden with theory. This central problem in science that observation is never pure and every test of a theory is always a joint test led Lakatos to the idea, very much in tune with Thomas Kuhn's work, that science is cyclical. Scientists in a discipline 'buy into' certain core concepts which they accept as 'givens' and then the science progresses or degenerates as it gathers empirical content.
    Global science, like monetarism in economics, has certain core concepts which all members of the club agree with. In the case of global scientists, there is consensus that there is a positive feedback mechanism amplifying the impact of changes in CO2 on average planetary temperatures. Surprisingly few scientists engaged in this topic would disagree that there has been some planetary warming over the last 100 years. How much is debated, but certainly enough to cause a recession of arctic ice and some rising of sea levels. None would disagree that altering the concentration of CO2 will cause some warming. It is also agreed that on its own the impact of CO2 would be very limited. But, any warming of the atmosphere should translate into a slight warming of the ocean with a consequential release of water vapour. The argument is about what happens next. Climate scientists propose that the increase in atmospheric water vapour (which in the volumes released is much more significant than the increase in CO2 level) will induce commensurately more warming, increasing ocean temperatures further and hence the warming in what could be, ultimately, a catastrophic global temperature shift. What they have developed then is a theory of causation which cannot be proven by evidence but is supported by modelling of the climate system.
    Now the sceptics argue that this theory of causation is incomplete. Increasing water vapour raises precipitation and clouds causing a homeostatic process to occur which mitigates the warming effect. Clouds at certain levels are highly reflective and the increased cloud cover can bounce away a greater proportion of sunlight hence cooling the planet. So if this negative feedback effect does occur (and such homeostatic systems are the rule rather than the exception in natural systems) then effectively the planet engages in a process akin to 'sweating' to keep its temperature stable.
    If this is the case, why has there been any warming at all? This is where the sceptics suggest that solar forcing begins to play a significant role. What is proposed, and there is some modest evidence to support it, is that it is not the fluctuations in solar radiation which is decisive but rather the ability of the sun's magnetosphere to protect us against the bombardment from the interstellar 'cosmic radiation' of high energy particles that appear to be complicit in cloud formation. In this we can see another problem affecting this debate. The global scientific community has proposed a simple and quite brutal process which they argue will lead to catastrophic changes in planetary temperature. The core contrary argument is that planetary temperature is moderated by a system of subtle interactive effects which when taken in isolation appear to be minor but when put together create a system which is far more adaptive and complex than just the sum of its parts.
    So the real nub of the debate about global warming is not the empirical evidence of a warming planet, retreating ice caps and rising sea levels but rather a complex, dynamic theory of causation which climate scientists see in very simple terms and which sceptics argue is far from simple. In fact this debate goes to the heart of the problem with the conventional approach to science. Global scientists (like many in other sciences) stick rigidly to the application of Ockham’s Razor: simple theories are better than more complex ones and the scientific process is one where we ‘reduce’ complex behaviour to simpler and simpler levels of explanation. However, there is no necessary law that says that with two competing theories the simpler one is truer than the more complex one.
    It is true, as some claim that some sceptics have vested interests in the outcome of this debate. Inevitably the same is true of global scientists as well who benefit from the reputational rewards of their scientific club and considerable levels of funding to support their science. For my part I take the view that there is an urgent need to develop energy technologies which create a long term sustainable future. We need oil for certain energy applications (it is highly concentrated energy and is mobile). We need better static sources for power generation and renewables and nuclear are better suited to this purpose. But, if the theory of positive causation is wrong what we do not want to do is to choke off economic development or divert resources into carbon capture and such schemes if they are unnecessary. The resolution of the global warning debate is not a choice between conservation and gluttony but rather between alternative strategies for a sustainable future.

  • Comment number 91.

    I think that the biggest difference between true scepticism and most of the critics of climate change science is that when a sceptic questions an argument, they should be open to the possibility that their concerns are addressable. This form of robust questioning has been a pillar of scientific reasoning for centuries and the result is that a theory is either toppled or strengthened. Either way, all parties accept the result and move on.

    The point is that the sceptic should be willing to admit when they are wrong about something. This isn't exactly a common trait amongst climate science critics (certainly not if some of the quixotic responses to this blog post are anything to go by). As anyone who has ever tried to engage in a scientific debate with one of these people can testify, when pressed on a specific point, the climate science critic always ends up either trying to change topic or reverting to a "how can we be sure?" line, regardless of how unequivocal a particular fact is. This is why I have a hard time referring to these people as 'sceptics'.

  • Comment number 92.

    Do you think Justin Rowlett is proud of this farcical experiment and to rely for support on David King, who by any measure, is a joke? Do they have a conscience when they must know they are trying to con the public. But fair play to the BBC their brainwashing has convinced 50% of the population.

  • Comment number 93.

    James A: I agree with your very valid comments that much of the arguments advanced by sceptics and, to be fair, climate scientists are simplistic and serve to muddy rather than clarify what is a very important debate. What we need is much more of some of the high quality contributions, pro and anti which have graced this blog. As I said in my letter to the Guardian on Tuesday what we need at this juncture is the best of science so that we can achieve the best strategy for a sustainable future.

  • Comment number 94.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the others on here calling for an honest and open debate.
    We are constantly assaulted by hysterical messages of doom (mainly I might add from the BBC) and then we here legions of AGW believers informing us that we should accept the "consensus".
    Let's be clear. Consensus is irrelevant. Just because some noisy people incorrectly say there is no dissent does not prove a shaky hypothesis.
    Let's hear both sides and then let each side deal with the issues which arise.
    It's like having a trial where the jury in court hear the case for the prosecution and the case for the defence is carried out by postal vote.
    Get the two sides together and let them tell us why they are correct.
    Rocket science it is not!

  • Comment number 95.

    Hi Justin,
    I guess you're not a science graduate then! This would not pass muster at even GCSE level - it's worse than useless. I know you said it was an unscientific but surely, you didn't mean this bad.
    What I really liked though was the reaction to the increase in temperature at the start in the 'doctored' bottle. You should have really stopped everything there as that certainly proved a point, although not the one you were setting out to prove.
    Please, if you're going to set yourself up as a sceptic, do it sceptically, which means employing a higher degree of self analysis and self criticism than you have shown in this piece.

    Andrew Barker

  • Comment number 96.

    Justin

    Did you not find the whole thing completely embarrassing? The bogus gas in the bottle stunt? Then introducing King as a scientist when it was clear he was there as a politician.

    No self-respecting scientist would let themselves be associated with the gas in the bottle trick. No-one denies that CO2 has the potential to raise temperature. Can you not see that presenting stuff like this as an 'experiment' actually harms the AGW cause?

    Did you not notice that King used a favourite alarmist tactic of referring to massive sea level rise and when he was specifically asked over what period of time this would happen, he did what all politicians do, he answered a different question! No real scientist believes sea level is going to rise hundreds of metres in the next 100 years.

    Then he was straight onto another emotive topic beloved of politicians - the children and the grandchildren. Oh yes! Think of the children. It's to be hoped that he does not try to frighten his grandchildren with the drivel about London being under water in the next ten minutes.

    And what does he know about mobile phone conversations that the rest of us dont?

    And of course the leaked data from CRU is a sophisticated conspiracy. At least, Justin, you did not let him get away with that.

    Unbelievable drivel.

    If you want to redeem yourself and you have any real interest in scepticism, why dont you invite all those people back to your house and give them ten minutes with Lord Monckton and then ask how many of them believe in AGW?

  • Comment number 97.

    A good analogy to the climate change debate is the following,

    Your about to cross the road.
    About 5 people shout look out.
    1 says 'nah your ok mate'.
    What would you do?
    You'd look for yourself, wait just in case or go somewhere safer to cross the road.
    If you couldn't see from your position if there was anything coming what would you do?
    You'd wait just in case or go to a different crossing point.

    In the unlikley event that climate change isn't happening, I'd rather have greener technology and renewable energy generation and be wrong than carry on and have serious consequences but be right.

    Three key things to remember if you want to be properly sceptical.

    Be prepared to be convinced either way.
    Be prepared to increase your knowledge on the subject.
    Be equally sceptical of arguments made by both sides.

    And please, don't fall into the trap of believing in conspiricies.

    As Einstien said about a letter signed by 100 scientists, 'If they were they right it would only take one to convince me' (Can't remember the specific phrasing but thats the jist of it). Although a concensus doesn't necessarily mean that you are right, the 'scientific' concensus will follow the evidence and the best theories/explinations.

    I think everyone will agree that polution is a problem that should be tackled and moving to reliable renewable technologies and away from fossil fuels can't be a bad idea in the long run anyway, regardless of the climate change argument .

  • Comment number 98.

    @Bob Ryan,

    I agree with everything you said except your assertion that "climate scientists are simplistic and serve to muddy rather than clarify". If you spend any time at all reading the scientific journals or attending the conferences, you'd know that climate science is a very lively research field with plenty of heated debates. While there is this mythical image of climate scientist all conspiring to dumb down and simplify a complex system, the reality is very different; over the years the measurements, models and general scientific understanding have improved dramatically both in terms of accuracy and complexity and there is (and always has been) very heated competition between groups to be the ones behind the best science possible.

    On that note, it's been a long time since anyone has published anything credible that attempts to disprove the effect of CO2. In spite of what the contrarians would have you believe, that particular part of the science has stood up to scrutiny for decades and is by now very old news in mainstream scientific circles.

  • Comment number 99.

    Re:96
    This was done to show people that CO2 does have a heating effect, ok it's not a perfect analogy for the atmosphere but it illustrates the point.
    There are many people out there that don't understand the science, theres not a small number of people in the UK who don't have a C grade GCSE or O level in science. How are we going to explain the argument to them with overly complex experiments that assume a decent level of scientific knowledge when they arn't confident about the basic physics behind the laws of motion, photometry adn thermodynamics etc.

  • Comment number 100.

    This was done to show people that CO2 does have a heating effect, ok it's not a perfect analogy for the atmosphere but it illustrates the point.

    You could have put just about anything into that bottle and the temperature would have gone up.

    To add insult to injury, as highlighted earlier, the editing was so poor that the temperature readings were transposed in mid "experiment" and a wide angle shot earlier in the piece showed temperatures were completely different to those shown in close up.

    It was disgraceful propaganda with one intention - to deceive, and it failed miserably.

 

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