Monthly Archives: August 2014

The consensus was wrong

In an article in the Guardian, Richard Tol wrote that “There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong”. He didn’t give examples there – perhaps he thought this was so well known that it wasn’t worth commenting on, or perhaps space was too limited.

Here are a few examples of where the consensus has turned out to be wrong (thanks to @Fastcomm, @intrepidwanders, @DerrickByford, @nmrqip and @Beautyon for suggesting many of these). More examples welcome! 
Yes, I know, these stories are all greatly oversimplified.

Copernicus, Galileo and the Sun. For some time after Copernicus wrote his book saying that the Earth goes round the Sun, most scientists continued to believe the opposite.

Ernst Chladni and meteorites. The consensus was that meteorites came from the earth, perhaps from volcanoes, until, around 1800, some nutter suggested they might come from outer space.

Cholera and John Snow. The consensus was that cholera was caused by ‘miasma’ – bad air, until John Snow identified a link with a contaminated water pump in the 1850s.

Semmelweis, hand-washing and puerperal fever. His results were rejected because they conflicted with the consensus of scientific opinion.

Evolution. The consensus was that God created species in a few days. Darwin was so worried about the consequences of what he’d found that he sat on it for many years.

The Aether and the speed of light. It used to be thought that light travelled at a certain speed relative to a background known as ‘aether’. Experiments and then Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that this was wrong.

Wegener and continental drift. Wegener was attacked and ridiculed for this theory.

George Zweig and quarks. The consensus was that protons and neutrons were fundamental elementary particles until Zweig and Gell-Man came up with quarks.

Barry Marshall and stomach ulcers. The consensus was that gastritis and ulcers were related to poor diet and stress. in 1984, Marshall had to ingest the bacteria, helicobacter pylori, to show he was right that this was the cause, and eventually won the Nobel Prize.

Stanley Prusiner and prions The consensus was that disease agents needed nucleic acids. Prusiner’s theory of prions in the 1980s led to incredulity, personal attacks and then a Nobel Prize.

Barbara McClintlock and “jumping genes”. Another Nobel Prize winner whose work wasn’t accepted at first because it went against received wisdom.

Maybe all those people insisting on how important it is to convince the public that there’s a consensus on climate change need to take a basic course in the history of science.

And Then There’s Hypocrisy

Wouldn’t you hate people to think that your judgement of a piece of work is based largely on your biases, rather than a thoughtful analysis of the actual work?

This comment at Bishop Hill comes from the worthy scientist who at his own blog says-

On Rupert Darwall and Murry Salby:
“I haven’t read the article, but…”

On Roger Pielke and his critics:
I haven’t read the paper, so…

In fact, commenting on things he hasn’t read is a common theme throughout his blog.

He also has a post on “What works in science”, which includes reading papers as something that works.

(HT Harry Passfield at BH)

Update January 2015:

There’s more hypocrisy

Wotty, or Anders, has now been ‘outed’ by the Poptech blog, based on some careless statements he’d made that effectively identified him to anyone prepared to undertake a thorough search. So we can now call him Ken. But his identity is rather less interesting than the fact that before starting his Wotts blog attacking WUWT in April 2013 he ran another blog called To the Left of Centre (there’s no doubt it’s the same person – the two ‘about’ pages are very similar and he started having a go at WUWT there). Why would he start a completely new blog, when he already had one running, without making a link between the two? Draw your own conclusions.

The lefty blog provides a useful insight into where Ken is coming from and why he seems to ignore the basic principles of science – a point that has puzzled me and others such as Blair King and Jim Bouldin. There’s a post on a lefty rant by Mark Steel at something called the “People’s Assembly”, a criticism of Milton Friedman, various grumbles about wealth inequality, several posts complaining about cutbacks and austerity, and one on “anti-privatisation”. The hypocrisy is that he himself on his new blog claims that “It’s clear now, though, that much of the rejection of climate science is associated with someone’s political beliefs and ideology” (by reference to Comrade Maslin). So the man with strong left-wing political motivations, that he tried to hide, is accusing climate sceptics of being politically motivated.

Another nice example is here, where the anonymous blogger who made no mention of his political blog wrote “My issue is that the lack of transparency (and this applies to all, not just the GWPF) means that one doesn’t always know if there are vested interests at play”.

Another illustration of hypocrisy is that the blogger whose tag-line was “trying to keep the discussion civil” allowed through a comment calling for Anthony Watts to be “frogmarched to The Hague”, saying in response “I’m in two minds about your comment. You’ve phrased it as an opinion, so I will leave it”. He removed it later, after Anthony drew attention to it at his blog.


Here are a few of his lapses of understanding.

One of the worst examples is discussed by Brandon Shollenberger here, here and here. Briefly, In this post Ken claimed that Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick has not been debunked, despite what people might say (McIntyre & McKitrick 2005 has numerous easily explained issues)”. He did not say what any of the issues were, despite the fact that they were easy to explain. When Brandon questioned this, he claimed that “What seems indisputable, though, is that the 10 hockey sticks presented in MM05 (one of the papers, you probably know which one) were not selected randomly from their sample of 10000.” In fact, neither of the MM05 papers presents 10 hockey sticks – again he was giving his confident opinion on something he hadn’t read properly. The end result was that Brandon (like me) got banned from Ken’s blog, while the “easily explained issues” remain unexplained.

As noted by Poptech, he seems to have something of an obsession with Richard Tol. In this tweet he said “Sussex economists testifies at US HoR, saying that all his colleagues are biased and unprofessional”. Tol said no such thing – he just said that he took his name off the IPCC WG2 SPM because he thought it was unduly biased towards alarmism.

In this post he tries to make an analogy between climate modelling and gravity. This is a ridiculous and misleading false analogy, as he is well aware. The underlying physics is vastly simpler, the parameters are known with vastly more accuracy and the equations are vastly simpler to solve in the case of gravity.

In I think I need another break!, while whining about the treatment he got at Bishop Hill, he went into a long discussion of boundary conditions: “I was also trying to stress the importance of the boundary conditions. Our climate’s boundary conditions are essentially the albedo, the solar insolation, and the composition of our atmosphere…”. The problem is, these things are not boundary conditions, as any competent undergraduate science student would know. When I pointed this out in a comment, he promptly banned me from his blog.

Feb 4 2015:
In a blog post on Hostilities he wrote “I’ve criticised both Rose and Ridley in the past, but have never said anything remotely offensive”. Richard Tol wrote a comment saying “Short memory”, possibly referring to this post in which Ridley is described as “an exceptionally over-confident fool”. Ken’s reply to this was edited by his own moderator, but is preserved (warning, strong language) in this tweet. Yes, the blogger who says he’s trying to keep the discussion civil, and that he’s never said anything offensive, has to rely on his moderator to cut out his own swearwords. See Friday Funny: ‘civil dialog in the climate world’

April 16 2015:
More hypocrisy – on this BH thread he asks “what is your response to people who seek to deny others the freedom to speak out …”. Nobody at BH is seeking to deny others the freedom to speak. He’s the one doing that, banning people from commenting at his site.

Update Nov 4 2015:

I suspect many regard ATTP as dishonest

On Nov 2, ATTP wrote a sneering post about an article at our new blog, saying amongst other things that it was “a site I suspect many regard as having a title that is slightly disingenuous”.  In a comment at our blog early the next morning I said that he “falsely accuses our title as being disingenuous”, as well as pointing out yet another instance of his hypocrisy – the man who has banned many people from his blog and blocked them on twitter going on about how one should talk to a wide range of people, and inviting disagreement in the comments.

During the rest of that day I was subjected to a temper tantrum of incoherent ranting accusatory tweets from him followed by more demanding to know why I hadn’t replied immediately (about 20 altogether).  During the day I was lecturing and doing tutorials and other work (perhaps his university pays him taxpayers’ money to spend the day tweeting at me?).  Eventually in a comment on our blog, which we binned, he explained that the source of his foaming at the mouth all day was that he hadn’t said that our blog title was disingenuous, he had merely said that he suspected that many regard it as so. As if that was completely different. This is the kind of childish behaviour he indulges in.

This is one of the reasons why, how shall I put it, ah yes, I suspect that many regard ATTP as dishonest.

Update March 2016:

The new joint blog is lightly moderated, allowing ATTP to make a complete fool of himself, an opportunity he frequently makes use of. In fact the WordPress stats say he’s the most prolific commenter, which is ironic since he’s banned me from commenting at his.  This thread is a fine example of his stupidity and lack of self-awareness.

He starts off with his classic “I haven’t read the paper, but” approach discussed above. Comment first, read later, if at all.

Then, the hypocrite who started off calling himself LeftofCentre, then switched to the pseudonym wottsupwiththat, and then the anonymous label andthentheresphysics, criticises somebody else for using a pseudonym!  “Any chance you’re gointg to say who you are, or are you only comfortable throwing out your insults under the protection of a pseudonym”.  

After being ridiculed for this, he accused me of being childish – the guy who saiddid criticising your hero, Anthony Watts, make you cry?” is accusing somebody else of being childish!

Update May 2016

Manicbeancounter notes another instance of ATTP’s hypocrisy.
ATTP’s comment policy has a section on “Constructing an argument”, including advice such as “try to actually construct a coherent argument. Provide evidence (links to other work).”
He himself fails completely in this regard at the linked comment thread, saying nothing of substance but throwing out unsubstantiated remarks like “bizarre”, “silly”, “pathetic”.

Update September 2016



Fooling themselves

Adam Corner’s Talking Climate blog provides another example of the activist wing within social sciences fooling themselves.

Victoria Wibeck believes that there is a “persistent and problematic paradox”. Despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change and the high levels of concern people express, we still are not taking action on climate change. We are concerned about climate change, but not engaged. Previously I called this The Norgaard Delusion, after Kari Norgaard’s puzzlement over the fact that people said, when asked, that they were concerned about climate change, but didn’t talk about it all the time and continued their normal lives. The blog post goes on to consider “How can cli­mate change be made to feel mean­ingful in people’s everyday lives and how can they be encour­aged towards col­lective, affirm­ative action?”

Wibeck’s post provides a good example of confirmation bias – she selects survey results that tell the story she wants to tell, and ignores things that don’t. She cites a Special Eurobarometer survey that was all about climate change, to support her belief that climate change is a high priority (circular reasoning). If she had looked at the Standard Eurobarometer 80 survey she might have seen this:

And it’s a similar story in the US.

She also quotes from the “Climate Change in the American Mind” survey, picking out the third bullet point but ignoring the first one that says “There has been an increase in the proportion of Americans who believe global warming is not happening (23%, up 7 percentage points since April 2013)”.

There is no paradox. Wibeck and others in the groupthink-circle are fooling themselves. Time for another Feynman quote:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists.