Richard Alley: Why Climate Scientists Aren’t Conspiring to Fool you

November 10, 2015

Climate denial is at root, a conspiracy theory, one that presumes that every major scientific group on the planet is part of a giant over-arching scheme to bring on the AntiChrist. Or something.

Penn State’s Richard Alley reminds us why that’s utter nonsense, and why the scientific method tends to root out error, much as a well tuned market will root out inefficiency.

From John Cook’s series on Denial 101.

57 Responses to “Richard Alley: Why Climate Scientists Aren’t Conspiring to Fool you”

  1. omnologos Says:

    Sadly one doesn’t need a conspiracy to explain how scientists can fool themselves. For decades, for example, scientists, journals and learned societies were almost unanimous in denying the simple fact that a fossil like this is, in fact, a fossil

    (note how clear it is, that it is a fossil – and yet, the very idea was blocked from publication for a long time, until finally one Famous Scientist decided to take it seriously)

    The scientific method worked out in the end for sure, some 88 years laters. With the first IPCC report dated 1990, it would be quite ironic for the scientific community to come out and say sorry in 2078.

    It’s not difficult, it’s science. But I am sure John Cook understands nothing of Newton’s quote about pebbles. And he has never heard of the quip about funerals. And wouldn’t be able to read a single sentence by Feynman. Etc etc.

    And so he finds refuge in “debunking” an absurd conspiratorial meme, leaving all serious questions unanswered.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      climate science has been exposed to the scientific process since Fourier, so, almost 200 years.
      this includes huge research efforts by the US Gov in the pursuit of heat seeking missiles, where the radiative properties of each atmospheric component were painstakingly worked out.
      And of course, we now have observations that show very clearly that the predictions of the science are correct.

      • omnologos Says:

        Exposure to the scientific process doesn’t guarantee Truth. That’s basically what Newton meant, with his quote about pebbles.

        It only means the current paradigm is stronger than any before. I agree with that. But this also alas doesn’t mean it is strong enough to be useful in policy decisions.

        In other words climate science is better than ever but…is it good enough, as yet? If it is not, scientists might be honestly saying stuff now that won’t withstand the test of time. They might be pushing policy decisions affecting 2078 in 2015, only for other scientists to contradict them in 2078 when of course climate science will be even better than now. No conspiracy needed.

        For an unrelated example, look at the decades of polemics in physics about the wave or particle nature of light. See how the two paradigms gained and lost through time, and the ironic way the debate got settled.

        • petermogensen Says:

          With that logic…. how do you really know that “it’s a fossil” ?

          You said: “The scientific method worked out in the end for sure”

          But how do you know it’s “the end”? … With your logic – that we can’t really know anything at all because science only reach results “in the end”. … I could dispute your claim that it is in fact “a fossil”, but just doubting the integrity of you “famous scientist”.

          … You are simply just arguing that we can’t know anything – ever. That’s the conclusion from your logic.

          • Exactly what he’s saying. That’s what I call philosophy. I wouldn’t call it scientific thought.

          • omnologos Says:

            That’s an old and trite polemics against science. Yes we know stuff. If we’re familiar with the scientific process, we know how to tell what isn’t true, and we know the limits and usefulness of our knowledge. Science is a process, and the the great ocean of truth will lay mostly but not totally undiscovered before us.

          • petermogensen Says:

            But it was your argument… Not mine.
            You argued that science had previously been shown to be wrong for 88 years, so we couldn’t possibly know if the current consensus position had any truth … though somehow you magically know that the correction in your example 88 years later is actually the correct one.

            Science is a process – yes … and we have to always act upon our best understanding of the current results.

            So what was your point about the fossil?

          • omnologos Says:

            peter – I never said what you seem to have read. Please stick to my words.

            John Cook is trying to argue that skeptics _have_ to believe in a vast conspiracy by climate scientists, all agreeing to do dastardly deeds including fooling the world population into feeling alarmed by climate science. Peter our host thinks that’s a winning argument, and reposted here the video.

            My answer to that is that “one doesn’t need a conspiracy to explain how scientists can fool themselves”. I explained that point with examples from history, of scientists fooling themselves. This doesn’t mean the scientists only fool themselves, or that science is foolishness.

            It is _simply_ a straightforward remark to show that the initial point “Climate denial is at root, a conspiracy theory”, is nonsensical. People who don’t follow the current prevailing scientific paradigm aren’t _necessarily_ conspiracy theorists.

          • petermogensen Says:

            I don’t know it it’s a “winning” argument, but… I’ve debated creationist long enough to know that deniers happily believe in such massive conspiracy theories and you would be lying if you denied that that wasn’t also the case for at least some global warming deniers (you’ve probably seen Monckton wave “world goverment” theory).

            And I also recognize the argument of picking one single historic example of fraud or temporary failure of the scientific method to sow doubt about the current result.
            (Look up “Haeckels embryos”)

            I’m not impressed.

          • omnologos Says:

            Peter Mogensen – I have never “denied” that some people “believe in such massive conspiracy”.

            For the last time, stick to what I write. As long as you reply to your own fantasies, you are just another dumboldguy.

            As for “picking one single historic example” it seems you have not read the other example, about the wave or particle nature of lights. Or perhaps you’d like to discuss the idea that chains of lunar craters “demonstrate” their volcanic origin?

            I could continue for a long time, beyond the well known examples of stomach ulcers or Lord Kelvin stating there is no future in radio or or or.

            This has nothing to do with “sowing doubt”. If you do not have “doubts” you do not know science.

          • petermogensen Says:

            Oh come on …
            Calling out the “sowing doubt” strategy (as described in “Merchants of doubt”) as the manipulation it is, is NOT the same as not knowing science and real skepticism.

            What a dishonerst argument…

          • omnologos Says:

            “light” not “lights”. Apols.

          • omnologos Says:

            Yes you are dishonest. I have never made any point about sowing doubt. You did. You have not made any attempt in replying to my point, that by now you either know very well or never will.

          • petermogensen Says:

            So let me get this straight… You did NOT mean to imply by your fossil comment that there was other reasons to suspect main stream climatology got it wrong – without the need for conspiracy?


          • omnologos Says:

            You have claimed that my argument was about “can’t know anything”, then that I was denying that some “deniers appily believe in massive conspiracy”, and then that I was “sowing doubt”.

            That’s three massive failures on your side. We know our ‘pebbles’ like Newton did. Some skeptics do believe in massive conspiracy, wasting a lot of their time. There is no doubt to sow, because science is not about believing in a Truth, hence doubt is part of it -actually, one of its foundations.

            Now you suddenly got the gist of my point – there ARE other reasons to doubt mainstream climatology – without the need for conspiracy.

            And such doubts can come in differing degrees, from total rejection to a hunch that not all details won’t sustain the test of time in one way to another.

            John Cook is the one stupidifying the debate in “all skeptics are bad people who believe in a conspiracy”.

          • petermogensen Says:

            was that a “yes’, or a “no” ?

          • omnologos Says:

            “now you suddenly get the gist of my point”

            let me guess

            what could it possibly mean

            who knows /sarc

            ps yes

          • petermogensen Says:

            well… can you blame me for not thinking your “yes” is very convincing, since at the same time you claim that you did not intent to sow doubt, you explicitly say that there “ARE” reasons to doubt mainstream climatology.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            That’s Omnologic in action.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “omnologic” is an oxymoron of the highest order.

    • The fossil pictured is a Dickinsonia which is found in Australia. It is about 550 million years old. In the web pages I found describing it, there was no mention of it being denied as a fossil. Please provide us with a website describing this denial. Thank you.

    • Your problem, though, is that you can’t just say it ain’t so, and then offer up no alternative explanation. And science has come a LOOOOONG way since then. Satellites, trips to the outer planets and beyond, solar panels aka surface chemistry.

    • Science is always “flawed”. That’s what makes it science. The scientific method is such that it works out the flaws over time.

      So what is your choice on any subject? You can accept the prevailing theories, or go with the critics. In the case of anthropology in the 1920s you had two choices: human evolutionary theories of “big brained apes”, or “Adam and Eve”. The big brained ape theory came from the Piltdown Man, which turned out to be a fraud– discovered by scientists and carbon dating, not by Creationists. The big brained ape theory was still better than what the bible thumpers were coming up with.

      Later fossil discoveries set science in another direction, which emphasized upright posture and walking rather than “big brains”. Better, but I think the anthropologists need to focus on weapons use rather than walking for the earliest fossils.

      It’s a game of “successive approximations”. We’re still going through that now, but climate science and it’s scientists still beat the climate deniers and their junk science.

      • omnologos Says:

        The alternative between prevailing theory and “critics” is false. To accept a paradigm doesn’t mean to be blind to its flaws, impervious to any change to it and ferocious in fighting those who think differently. Ultimately it’s a personal choice. And if I choose a side, I make sure it won’t take me for a ride (cit.)

        • Here’s your problem. You might have to decide to act on what amounts to a limited theory, or not act at all, which may produce serious consequences. My example would be the time in medicine before the germ theory.

          Back in the 19th century a German doctor noticed that doctors were spreading disease by not washing their hands. He didn’t know why, but observation indicated that this was the case. Many doctors at the time scoffed that the idea because it was based on the simplistic notion that dirty hands spread disease.

          So your idea would be to advise the doctors not to wash their hands because the theory of dirty hands was not sufficient? There are parallels here with climate science.

          • omnologos Says:

            no – my idea is to advise the doctors to make their own judgement about the disease-trasnmitting-hands suggestion, with an open and inquisitive mind, considering the pros and cons, “first do no harm”, etc etc

            In fact, it is your suggestion to stick with the prevailing paradigm that would force doctors to dismiss the clear evidence found by Semmelweis. And that’s what many did, with tragic consequences.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Omno misses the point—-AGAIN!

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Excellent, excellent analogy. Same thing with the cholera epidemic in London in the early 1830’s. Germ theory was only theory, but observation led to the connection between cholera and polluted water supplies.

          • omnologos Says:

            yes dumbold faced with having to choose between scientists’ consensus and observation, some had the temerity not to just choose the consensus. but you will never get this point.

          • jpcowdrey Says:


            There was no scientific consensus about the cause of infectious disease. Until Pasteur it was a big unknown.

    • Oh please! Comparing paleontology and medicine with physics is comparing apples with oranges. Physics has a much tighter feedback from reality. They call it experimental physics. No one doubts the Schrödinger equation. Who drives a car should not doubt thermodynamics. Who uses electricity nowadays should not doubt atomic physics. Etc. etc.

      Climate science is based on undoubtable laws of physics. Who denies the greenhouse effect should not trust his car, should not use a computer and regard electricity as magic.

      Omno could you please act serious and stay in your cave? Or maybe, according to pure Darwinian speculation, return to your tree.

      • omnologos Says:

        Florifulgurator – I cannot reply to your comment because you are not commenting what I wrote. Please try at least to start addressing the point: in order to doubt -at whatever level- the prognostications of future clmates, it is _not_ necessary to believe in a vast conspiracy.

        In fact, scientists themselves doubt their findings and projections enough to continue studying the topic.

        • jpcowdrey Says:

          The level of doubt raised by scientists about their findings is not whatever level.

          Whatever level of doubt maurizio and his cohort manage to mangle in their telling is just sophistry. Pretty lame sophistry at that.

          It isn’t so much that denialists believe in a vast conspiracy (they, of course, deny it), it’s that a vast conspiracy is a logical necessity to support their beliefs.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, and the denier conspiracy is a tough one to break into. I went over to WUWT to check out a link that the lying POS denier Russell Cook posted here, and was appalled by what I saw there. I engaged some of the morons in discussion and was banned after only 4 days and 15 or 20 comments. Anthony Watts has a VERY thin skin.

            MY very first comment on WUWT:
            November 8, 2015 at 6:14 am

            So let me see if I’ve got this straight.
            1) A group of “activists” held a conference over three years ago.
            2) At this conference, they discussed going after big oil in the same ways that were used against big tobacco.
            3) They published a thoughtful and intelligent report that outlined how this could be done.
            4) All the above was done in the open and with full disclosure.
            5) Three years later, someone has discovered that Exxon has sinned and Exxon is finding itself in the same pickle as big tobacco.

            Now you’re whining about the fact that this effort has borne fruit, and talking about some sort of “orchestrated” conspiracy and a small “shadow organization” being behind it all?. Guess what, Anthony? UCS, Greenpeace, Climate Central, Scripps, Stanford, Oxford, and Harvard are NOT “shadow organizations”, even though it suits your purposes to try to ignore their involvement. And the real conspiracy is the one you and the deniers are engaged in—attempts to obfuscate the truth about AGW.

            I sincerely hope that once they are finished with Exxon, the RICO prosecutions will reach down to the level of the denier blogosphere and sweep you and the rest into the AGW denial conspiracy net.

            I had this and several other early comments held in moderation because “denier” is a “pejorative” and insulting on WUWT. These “pejoratives” directed at me, however, are OK.

            these religious whackjobs pushing the “man-made climate change” fraud.
            dumboldguy schmuck
            arrogant boob – dumboldguy –
            this ignorant putz
            dumboldguy – the blathering nincompoop
            climate catastrophe quacks pushing the AGW fraud
            Obozo and his fellow National Socialists
            what is claimed by the hysterical (and duplicitous) AGW alarmists
            seriously delusional, hopelessly brainwashed troll like Dumbo

            All the above were contained in only TWO replies to me, and “warmist”, “alarmists”, and similar “pejoratives” appear uncounted times..

            The end of the story 4 days later.
            Anthony Watts
            November 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm

            I hadn’t noticed the very first comment from “dumboldguy”, as pointed out above, until now. This statement:
            “And the real conspiracy is the one you and the deniers are engaged in—attempts to obfuscate the truth about AGW. I sincerely hope that once they are finished with Exxon, the RICO prosecutions will reach down to the level of the denier blogosphere and sweep you and the rest into the AGW denial conspiracy net.”
            and coupled with:
            “Now Anthony and minions (how many “mods” are there anyway?) are showing hostility and animosity and making threats?”
            …says all that needs to be said about the character of this person. We are enforcing blog policy against your disruptive and ugly behavior, clearly stated here:
            Get off my blog. Your’re banned. I don’t need to take your personal abuse and neither does anyone else here.

            Yes, anyone who questions the little wizard behind the curtain at WUWT and the morons that inhabit his site is “ugly and disruptive”. LMAO. Go to WUWT if you need to be entertained (and sickened). Take a look at this linked thread below, and look particularly for Tucci78, who is really a medical doctor named Richard Matarese and has some serious problems.

            WUWT is a combination of Faux News, the Rush LImbaugh Show, and a “Cheers” type bar where all the denizens are angry 10th. dropouts with IQ’s in the lower quarter of the range. Everyone talks at the same time and makes multiple dumb comments, so you’ll have to scroll down 2/3 of the way to find Tucci78


          • Regarding “dumb old guy”‘s brief career commenting at WUWT, could one ask for better proof that I live rent-free in this fellow’s head? And he claims hypocrisy when folks call him names when right from the start he hurls ad hominem attack at them, both there and here? Had he tried the equal ‘questioning’ minus all the unsupportable “denier” / “tobacco industry parallel” rhetoric, along with all his other subsequent name-calling, I highly doubt that he would have been met with all the words he objects so strongly to. And one more thing: isn’t it quite likely that if I had arrived here at ClimateCrocks spewing nothing but animosity, profanity (disguised or abbreviated) and baseless attack devoid of anything to back up my words, wouldn’t I have been banned in 4 days flat rather than be allowed to come in here for more than a year now?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Actually, Russell, Peter has said more than once that you are allowed to come to Crock because you are such an excellent “bad example” for all—-a moronic and deluded denier with a one-note to sing. Every village needs an idiot, and you are actually the junior idiot here on Crock—Omnologos is senior to you (and actually not as sick).

            As for WUWT, it is nothing but a cult and a club for the angry right wing whack jobs that are destroying this country. They travel among Faux News, the Rush Limbaugh Show, right wing and racist blogs and websites, and visit WUWT only to “round out” their shared ignorance with rants about the climate change “hoax” and reading denier bullshit from “guest writers” like you. Once I saw what a waste WUWT was, I had no intention of trying to prolong my stay as a “commenter” there. I am not a whore like you, and have no need to lie and curry favor with the sick and ignorant.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Nobody here is doing Science. We’re recommending policy positions based on Science. So, claiming ‘sometimes Science is wrong’ is useless. Policymakers must follow the current Science, unless they’re prepared to become Scientists themselves. AGW is our best example of how that works out – poorly. Scientists have been saying the same thing for half a century. As Alley points out, through gritted teeth, as they personally WANT to be the guy who magically conjures up the new explanation. So, saying ‘sometimes Science is wrong’ is a little like saying ‘sometimes the mechanic doesn’t fix whats wrong with your car’. Is this reality some invitation for you to become your own mechanic? And, if you did that, would you be less often wrong than your mechanic was? Regarding AGW, if your job is policy, your not doing your job if you decide to become your own Climate expert. Instead, you’re doing both policy and Climate Science poorly.

  2. Tom Bates Says:

    The title of this headline is basically a lie. The scientists are not in a conspiracy, they are simply changing all the actual lower temperatures upward, thousands and thousands of them. They change the temperatures upwards because God is on their side as otherwise why would they change 99.999 percent upwards? Up is towards god so it must be correct even if they have zero evidence the actual measured temperature is wrong. 66 percent of the Giss data set is an estimate, 92 percent of US data is an estimate. Must be gods work.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      clearly, scientists are conspiring to make you look like a gibbering loon.

    • You are either a Poe or an idiot of epic proportions. Your comment is brilliantly moronic on many levels.

    • neilrieck Says:

      More than 200 years ago at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, scientific explorers like Alexander Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland (to only name two of many) made detailed observations of flora and fauna throughout the world. It was Humboldt who first noticed biological similarities between “increases in latitude” and “increases in elevation” which now goes by the name Elevational Diversity Gradient. So it should be no surprise that all these lines in all locations have moved higher in the past 200 years. Here is one recent publication of many: quote: The plants on the highest mountain in Ecuador have migrated more than 500 meters (1640 feet) higher during the last two centuries. This is determined in a new study, in which researchers compared Humboldt’s data from 1802 with current conditions.

      Now if you want to deny Humboldt and others then you can shift to the tens-of-thousands of sketches and paintings made by non-scientists since then. Just compare those paintings then to what you see now. All the snow lines and tree lines are moving upward.

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    I have spent some time over the past couple of days sparring with some morons over at WUWT who make Omno look like Einstein, so I’m a bit more charitably inclined toward him today. Other commenters have done a good job of taking Omno to task and awarding him his usual quota of “thumbs down”, but I have to comment on his “…an old and trite polemics” and “…the great ocean of truth will lay mostly but not totally undiscovered before us”.

    Lord love a duck, but that’s worth a WHAT-WHAT-WHAT? and three lines of ZZZZZZZzzzzzz………!!!!!

    In contrast JohnEric and Neil make perfect sense and are NOT soporific. Well said, gentlemen.

    • There is an excellent book on the cholera epidemic in London: “The Ghost Map”. It showed how researchers located point zero on the map of London where there was a poisoned well that started the epidemic.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I’ll look for it—sounds like fun. I’ve seen references to the “poisoned well” in many books and articles—-many lessons to be learned there.

  4. Lionel Smith Says:

    Omno’s squirrel here is to be expected but then even churchmen (Buckland) in the early days of fossil collecting and attempts at identification realised what they were looking at. The sheer scale of geological time that these fossils hinted at took rather longer to gather recognition from some in that quarter.

    The anthropogenic contribution to warming and climate change is no longer in dispute although many details are yet to be teased out. None of these are likely to induce a paradigm shift though.

    BTW NotSodog


    Enter that string, or even a four character shortened form, into early versions of Word (c Win 3. era e.g. version 6) and you could get a rather surprising spell check suggestion.

  5. Kiwiiano Says:

    The thought that the scientists are in a vast co-ordinated conspiracy to tweak ALL thermometer readings upward boggles the imagination. That’s readings from all over the planet, by many different techniques, combined with fudging observations of biosphere changes, melting ice, shifting seasons, the whole vast caboodle, all fiddled, by people whose careers depend on proving their collegues wrong….. words fail me!

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    May I suggest that we have fed the fat little troll enough on this thread? His head is about to burst (as in the scene from Mars Attacks) from all the facts and logic that we have thrown at him, facts and logic that he will never understand.

  7. omnologos Says:

    New Scientist, that famous bastion of denialism and conspiracy theory, has just provided the newest example of why science is a process and people who use it can be wrong without having to be dishonest, and when it is good science it can change one way or another and again and again.

    (links broken to avoid the spam filter)

    “Corals face catastrophe”

    “Growing corals bathe themselves in acid without suffering damage”

    And now before the idiotic howling starts:

    1. I am not claiming NS _is_ more right in 2015 than in 2000

    2. It is _highly likely_ that the science of 2015 is stronger than the one in 2000

    3. It is _not unlikely_ that new science in 2030 or before will revert our understanding so that corals indeed do face “catastrophe”

    There are two lessons for anyone not stupid enough to live in la-la-land: science is a process, and hasty decisions made in name of that process can look very silly a few years down the line.

    Decisions should be taken for policy/democratic reasons, not just the latest science. Simple.

  8. dumboldguy Says:

    Peter, PLEASE! Save Omno from himself! Give him a timeout.

    And his last little Gish Gallop of OmnoSpeak requires that we trot out the Duchess (modified) for a return visit.

    “I quite agree with you,” said the Omnomoron; “and the moral of that is–‘Be what you would seem to be’–or if you’d like it put more simply–‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'”

    “I think I should understand that better,” the Crocker said very politely, “`if I had it written down: but I can’t quite follow it as you say it.”

    “That’s nothing to what I could say if I chose,” the Omnomoron replied, in a pleased tone.

    “Pray don’t trouble yourself to say it any longer than that,” said the Crocker.

    (Alice’s Adventures in Omnoland, Chapter 9)

  9. redskylite Says:

    Your picture of a fossil and an unsubstantiated story is extremely lame Omnologus, to say the least.

    Today’s news from two universities suggest that the polar melt is accelerating, and I consider the advise from renowned American geologist and Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, author of many distinguished books, much more sound than yours.

    The trouble I have with you, you accept the science from scientists like E.F Codd and even earn a crust with his designs and ideas, if travel you benefit from scientists knowledge on transportation systems, if you are sick you are helped (even saved) by scientists medicinal efforts. yet you arrogantly think you know better is one small part of the disciplines.

    Wake up and smell the roses.

  10. omnologos Says:

    Unsurprisingly we’re running in circles. I’ve been told that policymakers ought follow the best advice, and that the best advice comes from the experts.

    Alas that wasn’t the topic of discussion.

    The topic, as established by the blog host, is to discuss if skeptics necessarily believe in a vast conspiracy by the experts. In other words you can only doubt the experts if you think they’re evil.

    I’ve provided examples showing that that isn’t the case. People have doubted the experts in the past without thinking them evil. Experts themselves have doubted other experts. That’s science. New papers contradicting old ones can’t be used to state that the old papers were authored by Bad People. Corals are thought dying in 2000 and robust in 2015.

    I can count one answer to that, namely that skeptics that say they don’t believe in conspiracy are “lying”. That’s very thoughtful especially among three year olds.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      In addition to being congenitally confused, is it possible that Omno has a drinking problem? Too much Chianti with his Spaghetti alla Carbonara, perhaps?

      I am not half-kidding this time when I say WHAT? to this incomprehensible gibberish. It made my head hurt to read it.

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