Climate Science and Climatology; Specialization and Generalization; Forest and Trees.

by Dr. Tim Ball on February 20, 2017

in Government,Legal,Political,Statistics,Theory

Many jumped to the defense of Dr. John Bates, the former NOAA employee who waited until he retired to disclose malfeasance in the science and management at that agency. Bates claimed he told his bosses about the problem but said they effectively ignored him. The problem is everything was already in the public record. I listened to Congressman Lamar Smith tell the general audience at the June 2015 Heartland Conference that subpoenas were filed requesting full disclosure of all the material. He also told us the requests were rejected, but a follow-up was in progress. The same information was reported in the mainstream media, albeit with a bias. Why didn’t Bates go to Smith in confidence and report what he knew? The Smith requests must have been the talk of the office or at least the water cooler.

All sorts of lame excuses were made for Bates, perhaps the only one with limited merit was that his disclosure was better late than never. The problem is he and his supporters can’t have it both ways. He can’t be a knowledgeable climate scientist doing valuable work, when what he and all the others around him were doing was corrupted, unquestioning, naïve, limited, political science. It has to be more than a deliberately blind Nuremberg ‘just following orders’ situation. The larger question is why did he not see what was going on? Even when he realized Thomas Karl had used cherry picked, inadequate data to eliminate “the pause.” It appears he assumed it was an isolated case. He only saw what he wanted to see because he accepted corrupted science without question. How, as a scientist, could he see the consistent IPCC prediction failures and not ask what was wrong with the science?

The most obvious answer is that being a scientist and a bureaucrat are mutually exclusive. Interestingly, the proof of that statement is those scientists, like James Hansen, who openly advocated, proselytized, and publicly acted for what their political masters wanted, could break the Hatch Act. It was specifically designed to limit such activities. He did it in the most brazen way by being arrested outside the White House. Those who knew what was wrong kept their mouths shut and society suffered.

It is impossible to be a scientist and a bureaucrat because by the definition of a bureaucrat you must do what you are told. Walter Gilbert said,

“The virtues of science are skepticism and independence of thought”

Both are anathema to bureaucracies. There is a larger explanation that encompasses and limits all current understanding, not just science. I wrote about this before and included it in both my books because it is especially true of understanding of climate and climate change. I wrote about it before on WUWT, but the Bates/NOAA case indicates an update is needed. It is a problem of overspecialization that is created by climate science. Almost everybody in climate science is a specialist in another area who happens to apply that specialization to studying climate, usually, because funding was available, and always out of context. Hal Lewis, the late Emeritus Professor of physics, explained the impact,

“the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists… It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.”

“the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists… It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.”

Some portions of the following are from my earlier writings. I say this to illustrate how insane, inane, and illogical the world of research has become when quoting yourself without citation is considered plagiarism. Of course, it underscores the satirical comment that to copy from one source is plagiarism to copy from several is research.

The year 1859 was a pivotal year in human understanding because events occurred that appeared to provide a great advance but also produced a serious limitation. In that year, Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, and Alexander von Humboldt died. We are now reaching a point where the effects of those events require a rethinking of knowledge, understanding, and explanation; an updating of what we call the truth. In the Science credit for Arts course I taught my opening comments told them I was going to tell them today’s ‘truth.’ It won’t be yesterday’s ‘truth’ although that was as real to people then as today’s truth is to us. And, it won’t be tomorrow’s ‘truth,’ but they can be assured there will be one because truth, like science, is never settled. Unfortunately, they are all educated as logical positivists for whom there is only absolute truths.

Alexander von Humboldt, who is currently being rediscovered, is considered the last ‘universal person.’ It is a definitive end because he knew all the known science of his time and the sheer volume of known science is now beyond human capacity to know. One thing von Humboldt’s ability allowed was the production of the first weather map. This is important because he took individual discreet pieces of information, atmospheric pressure at a location, and plotted them on a map. He then connected points of equal atmospheric pressure with a line called an isobar thus creating a pattern for the understanding of weather unavailable from the individual pieces of information.

Darwin’s work, which as Alfred Russell Wallace pointed out failed to mention humans, triggered the scientific need for data from which to produce a theory. His work was aided by Carolus Linnaeus who produced a classification system that provided a sorting system. The problem is, it also limited the analysis because when a creature was found that didn’t fit, the Duck-billed Platypus, they simply created another category without considering that it might indicate the classification system was wrong. Regardless, the sheer volume of data led to the creation of different branches of research that became individual specialties. Western universities expanded from two major faculties, the Humanities and the Natural Sciences, to a new and now largest faculty, the hybrid Social Sciences. Within each, the number of specialist areas exploded until conflicts developed in those areas that were trying to work with the real world beyond the Ivory Towers. Some universities responded by creating what they called Inter-disciplinary studies, but even they were problematic because they overlapped the institutional management boundaries causing turf wars.

All this triggered an intellectual shift as the dictum in academia became that to specialize was the mark of genius, to generalize the mark of a fool. The problem is in the real world each specialized piece must fit the larger general picture, and most people live and function in a generalized world. The phrase “it is purely academic” means it is irrelevant to the real world. In the twentieth century, the western world went from the dictum that there are general rules with exceptions, to there are no rules, and everything is an exception. This manifests itself in society as condemning generalizations and promoting that everything is an exception – the basis of political correctness.

(Self–Plagiarism alert). A frequent charge is I have no credibility because I only have “a geography degree”. It is an ignorant charge on many levels and usually used as a sign of superiority by specialists in the “hard sciences”. My Ph.D. was in the Geography Department at Queen Mary College because climatology was traditionally part of geography. The actual degree was granted in the Faculty of Science.

Climatology, like geography, is a generalist discipline studying patterns and relationships. Geography is the original integrative discipline traditionally called Chorology. In the late 1960s, when I looked for a school of climatology there were effectively only two, Hubert Lamb’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia, and Reid Bryson’s program in Madison Wisconsin. Neither was a viable option, although I was privileged to consult with Professor Lamb about my thesis.

Ian Plimer said studies of the Earth’s atmosphere tell us nothing about future climate.

An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, plate tectonics, palaeontology, paleoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history.

It’s an interesting observation that underscores the dilemma. Climatology is listed as a subset but must include all the disciplines and more. You cannot study or understand the pattern of climate over time or in a region without including them all. He is incorrect in some of these, but that illustrates the problem, for example, meteorology is a subset of climatology. He leaves out many specializations by limiting his list to an understanding of the atmosphere when the list for climate is much longer. Meteorology is the study of physics of the atmosphere but the number of other disciplines required to understand the atmosphere is implied in Figure 1.


Figure 1, a simple systems diagram of weather (After Kellogg and Schneider 1974). Note that three boxes include the word “flux,” but the 2007 IPCC Science Report says, “Unfortunately, the total surface heat and water fluxes are not well observed.

How many specialist research areas can you list from this diagram?

Climate science is the work of specialists working on one small part of climatology. It’s a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Some think computer modelers are generalists. They are specialists trying to be generalists who don’t know the interrelationships, interactions, and feedbacks in the general picture. Wegman’s identified the problem in his Report on the Hockey Stick fiasco.

As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implications of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently, no independent statistical expertise was sought or used.

It was taken to extremes at the Climatic Research Unit and exposed in the leaked emails of Climategate.

The problem of specialization appeared early in climatology and almost precluded wider cross-specialization perspectives from the start. Two early examples illustrate the problem. An early breakthrough in climatology occurred when Ericson and Wollin published “The Deep and The Past” in 1964 outside of academia. It achieved attention because the authors published it as a ‘trade’ book.

Robert Claiborne realized that he was getting different and conflicting time sequences between anthropology and glaciology courses when studying the natural influences on the pattern and sequence of human history. He proposed a doctoral thesis to examine the problem. Again, it was interdisciplinary so was rejected. Claiborne turned outside academia and wrote a trade book titled, “Climate, Man and History”> published in 1970. Apart from the intellectual rigidity that specialization introduced, it also illustrates how the IPCC effectively stopped meaningful research in 1990.

Good examples of researchers struggling to end run the tunnel vision of academic specialization and the later limitations of the IPCC to understand better climate and climate change include;

Good examples of researchers struggling to end run the tunnel vision of academic specialization and the later limitations of the IPCC to understand better climate and climate change include;

  • Sun, Weather and Climate, (1978) by John Herman and Richard Goldberg

  • Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, (1979) by John and Kathrin Imbrie

  • The Manic Sun: Weather Theories Confounded, (1997) by Nigel Calder

  • The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection (2003) by Willie Soon and Steven Yaskell

  • Taken by Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy, and Politics of Global Warming. (2003) Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick

  • The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change, (2007) by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder

Society has deified specialized academics, especially scientists. Consider the phrase “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist” used to indicate “hard science” intellectual superiority. Substitute a different occupation and prejudices emerge. “You don’t have to be a farmer”. Now consider the range of specialized areas required for success on a modern farm. A farm, like so many working segments of society, can only succeed as a generalist operation. I realized the problem when a farmer told me he suspected he had problems with his soil. He went to the University Faculty of Agriculture to learn that they had no ‘soils’ people. They had people who could help with nematodes, clay-mineral complexes, trace minerals, all subsets of soil, but no ‘soil’ person.

Climatology is a generalist discipline that requires incorporating all specialist disciplines. The modern glorification of specialization allowed climate scientists to dominate by claiming their piece of a vast puzzle was critical. IPCC climate scientists misused specialized areas, especially in climate models, to achieve a predetermined result. It is only exposed when other specialists, like Steve McIntyre for example, examine what was done, or climatologists find a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit.

The Bates event is a symptom of a much wider problem. It is much more than just the fear of speaking out about malfeasance in the workplace. It is more than the problem of bureaucrats doing science or people using science for a political agenda. All those exist and require attention. However, they mask the larger problems of our inability to describe, understand, and advance in a generalist world that has developed a research structure that glorifies specialists who know a great deal about a minuscule piece but don’t even know where it fits in the larger picture.