Is climate science just a belief?

The alarmists in the climate debate have what they think of as this magic ace of trumps card, called peer review. If they actually knew something about the peer review process, perhaps they’d realise it isn’t a guarantee of anything much. It really isn’t.

In brief, the process is as follows. A scientist does some research, writes up the results in the form of a paper and submits it to a scientific journal for publication. Whether it’s published or not, is an editorial decision. The editor, who obviously can’t be an expert in all branches of science, has to seek advice from other experts in the field the paper is dealing with. For each area, the editor will have two or three experts he can ask to review or referee the paper. Some journals ask the author for a list of potential reviewers. The reviewers are usually unpaid and working scientists themselves.

There is no reviewing standard. Time and circumstances allowing, some will just flip through it, making the odd comment on anything that catches their eye. Some will go through it in fine detail. Either way, they come back with some comments and a recommendation to the editor. The recommendation will fall into one of four categories; publish it, publish after comments have been addressed, reject it outright or reject it for resubmission after rework at a later date.

What’s important to note here, is that even if the recommendation is to publish, the reviewers are not giving any guarantee that the science is correct. The most they’re saying about it is that it’s plausible and uses generally accepted methods of research. That’s it. Nothing more.

There are some very serious concerns about the peer review process, and they all revolve about our old friend human nature. In terms of quality assurance, it’s very light and there is a complete assumption of integrity on the part of the author submitting the paper. Unless the numbers look very strange, the reviewer assumes they’re truthful and accurate. If the numbers are being generated by a computer model, then because they don’t have access to the model, they’re obliged to accept them. They’ll go with anything that looks reasonable.

Another more difficult problem is what’s commonly referred to as gatekeeping. When a reviewer is looking at a paper which is critical of, or suggesting an alternative theory to the one the reviewer is a fan of, it’s an understandable temptation to reject it for publication. Essentially, any alternative view is being excluded from the literature. It’s also not unheard of for a reviewer to give a paper a hard time out of no other reason than personal spite.

If there’s one thing the climategate emails reveal, it’s gatekeeping of the consensus about global warming. They even conspire to intimidate journals by starving them of papers, if the journals publish any papers in disagreement with their favoured theories. It’s okay to mount a spirited defense of a theory you believe in, but to actively suppress a contradictory viewpoint, by threatening to put a publication out of business, is really beyond the pale. As far as integrity in science goes, it’s pretty much the dark underbelly. Every one of the so-called enquiries into climategate, steered well clear of this blatant subversion of the whole peer review process.

There are a number of other minor concerns, but the major one I have is that the whole peer review process is stacked against innovative science. Again, despite what many people think, peer review in science is a quite recent development, only coming into widespread use in the 1950’s. You really have to ask yourself what chance a patent clerk in Switzerland, with nothing more than a teaching qualification, would have of getting his paper, which was going to turn our very understanding of the universe on its ear, into a physics journal nowadays. It simply wouldn’t have happened if peer review had been in place then. Too much of establishment physics would have had too big an investment in a Newtonian view of the universe. Under a peer review system, my feeling is that Einstein simply wouldn’t have been published.

So, if the peer review process is no indication that the science is actually correct, what is?

There are two ways to attempt to verify the science. The first is simply to test the theory by thinking up an experiment, which if the theory is correct, will give the results predicted by it. If the results differ from what is predicted by the theory, then the theory is quite simply wrong. If the results are as predicted, then it’s indicative that the theory is correct. It’s important to note, that while a theory can be tested, it can never be proved. A theory can only be disproved.

The second method is replication. The experiment or research, as described in the paper, is repeated using the same data and methods. If the results differ, then there’s a problem with the paper. If they don’t, then again, it’s indicative that the science is good.

If you can’t test a scientific theory by doing one or both of these things, then it’s not a scientific theory, it’s a belief, masquerading as science.

Underpinning and generating the alarming predictions being made by climate science, are computer models. Whatever they’re predicting the climate will be like in a hundred years, there’s simply no experiment that can be done to verify or disprove the assertions being made. When the same models are used to make seasonal predictions, they’re hopeless, as evidenced by the UK’s Meteorological Office recently giving up on making seasonal predictions, in the light of the last five years of hopelessly inaccurate ones. Even if the short-term predictions had been accurate, it’s still no indication that the long-term predictions would be accurate as well.

Since there’s no way to test the models, all that we can fall back on to verify the science, is checking and replicating the published research. To do that, access to the raw data, and in some cases the computer models, is required. In too many cases, the independent researchers cannot get access to the raw data, and there’s no good legal, scientific or ethical reason for that.

The only explanation is an unethical one, and again it’s revealed in the climategate leak of emails. What they show is a systematic and endemic pattern of withholding raw data, deleting data, hiding behind loopholes in Freedom of Information legislation, the abuse of real world data to make it conform to specious prognostications and the wilful deletion of emails to further withhold information. Again, none of these activities were ever looked at hard by any of the investigations into climategate.

In the end, independent researchers have had to resort to Freedom of Information laws, to force the release of the data, but even now, nearly three years after climategate, the same pattern of withholding data, for a plethora of dubious reasons, is still at work. Quite frankly, when I look at some of the papers being published and the pattern of behaviour being exhibited to prevent the verification of the science, I’m reminded inescapably of the terminal phase of an outbreak of pathological science.

The answer to the above question is simple. If there’s no means to check it, then climate science is just another belief.


Related articles by Pointman:

Global warming and pathological science.

The Seductiveness of Models.

How climategate destroyed the science of global warming.

Click for a list of other articles.

22 Responses to “Is climate science just a belief?”
  1. omanuel says:

    Yes, AGW is a belief not justified by experimental observations.

    The believers have selectively ignored the experimental measurements and observations on Earth’s heat source summarized here:

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo


  2. Petrossa says:

    pal review. It’s an almost certainty. The idea that scientists are these superhuman people free from all earthly things like hobbyhorses, infighting, clique forming, blind alley storming, powerplay etc are a nice daydream that got lost when science became a profession rather then a calling..

    Take the Higgs Boson. No way they found it. They just risk losing funding.


    • Robin Guenier says:

      I have no way of knowing whether or not they found it. But at least particle physicists seem to be real scientists: having hypothesised that the Higgs Boson must exist (a hypothesis supported by computer modelling), they set up a complex and expensive experiment to determine whether or not their hypothesis could be empirically verified. Climate “scientists” in contrast assert that the world must accept their hypothesis without empirical verification. (And much of the world seems happy to accept that.)


      • Petrossa says:

        Well to me they are halfway between them. whilst they do empirical research they also practice a form of alarmism in the sense that when funds are drying up suddenly a particle has been ‘almost’ found. I maybe overly skeptic, but to my mind this is very dodgy.

        I’m sure they had some result, i’m just not convinced (and neither are they if you read their statements fully) that it’s the result the press claims. And though ofcourse it’s up to the press to not blindly copy a pressrelease, it also can be said that due to the nature of the subject no one can be expected to do such research. There is not a living soul on earth that really knows what’s going on. So when scientists proclaim loudly: “WE HAVE FOUND IT maybe” they count on the maybe to go lost in translation since it was written in jargon. Which is largely on the way to ‘Climate Science’ Science.


      • Mindert Eiting says:

        I see your point. It would have been better if the physicists had predicted the mass of the Higgs. Now they have something of 125 GEV. But this still is science. The hall mark of pseudo-science is reporting verifications but ignoring falsifications. A true theory cannot have false consequences. A false theory has both true and false consequences. By cherry-picking the true ones, you can remain a believer forever. This is what hypochondriacs do (thanks for your comment further on).


      • omanuel says:

        Yes, There is not a living soul on earth that really knows what’s going on. So when scientists proclaim loudly: “WE HAVE FOUND IT maybe” they count on the maybe to go lost in translation since it was written in jargon.

        You may figure out what’s going on by paying attention to the sequence of events like this:

        1. The solution to the Solar Neutrino Puzzle was reported in March 2001
        _ .

        2. “WE FOUND SOLAR NEUTRINO OSCILLATIONS maybe” in June 2001
        _ .
        _ .

        Only four (4) authors on report #1; One hundred and seventy-eight (178) authors on report #2.


  3. Jack Wilder says:

    The development of the peer review system must have been in response to a perceived problem at the time. For every Einstein there must have been a load of chancers too. Just look at that quack Lovelock…


    • Randall says:

      Lovelock has done some wonderful science and is often cited as the inventor of the electron capture detector (he holds various patents on it, I believe). In some respects, his Gaia was taken by others well beyond what he meant. I could accept, eccentric or quirky, but I know him not a quack.


    • omanuel says:

      Anonymous peer-review and formation of the United Nations in the aftermath of “nuclear fires” that consumed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 are at the base of

      1. Loss of integrity in government science

      2. Loss of constitutional limits on government


      1. J. M. Herndon, “Corruption of science in America,” The Dot Connector Magazine 2, 25-32 (2011):

      2. O. K. Manuel, “An Open Letter to World Leaders, Editors and Publishers of Information for the Public and for the Scientific Community,” (2012)


  4. PaleoSapiens says:

    Another example of garbage science hiding in plain sight (importance of CO2 versus H2O in Earth’s Atmosphere):

    Note CO2 is measured as parts in DRY atmosphere. In other words, air samples are taken and ALL traces of H2O are removed. Further reading reveals that the removed water vapor is NOT factored back into official data results (if this is incorrect, please show where).

    The reason given for dry air measurement is accuracy. A very sound explanation.
    – However, why are removed, significant, portions of Earth’s atmosphere NOT included back into the final results?
    – Is this not MASSIVELY fraudulent?
    – Why is there no outcry, or has everyone forgotten that the devil is, often, in the details?….The questions are rhetorical…


  5. Deadman says:

    As the awarmists have appropriated terms such as “climate change” and “science” and “consensus” and perverted them mischievously, so they have taken the fine term “peer-review” and willfully bent it to their own purposes. We have had, for centuries, the best sort of peer-review whereby scientists publish and their peers then test, attempt to reduplicate, and commend, refine or rebut their claims; now, however, a closed, insular process of pre-publication-review is considered the bees’ knees of reviews—the best and only sort worth mentioning—but we all know it aint so, and those who make a fetish of pre-publication-review expose themselves as partisan perverters of process.


  6. Mindert Eiting says:

    Nice post, Pointman. Quite often AGW-alarmists make me think of a condition for which I only know the French name: Maladie Imaginaire (MI). It’s an obsession about diseases. MI-people are obsessed by signals from their body, feeling the whole day their pulse. Think about all those thermometers we have put in Mother Earth. Day by day they become more convinced about their heart condition, whatever they feel. If your friend has MI, you certainly should not say that he has not a heart condition. Distraction may be better. In that case the blogosphere causes the opposite and we are part of the problem. Well, just some thoughts.


  7. theduke says:

    Pointman: like Andrew Montford, you have a talent for making these issues accessible and understandable for laymen like myself. There’s nothing like good, clear explication. Thanks.


  8. Blackswan says:


    Your care in using terminology easily understood by the average non-science reader is greatly appreciated. Jargon so often excludes many of us from truly understanding the issues under discussion, but your posts are an island of clarity in a sometimes confusing blogosphere.

    Thank you.


  9. NoIdea says:


    The benevolent lazy tyrant
    Slept deeply unimpressed
    Atop a pedestal of laurel
    Kept quietly ignorant

    This grim king of greed
    His impetus is apathy
    Paralysed indeed
    Consuming bread and cake
    The circling circus feed

    The strangely strident scientist
    Vexed and in distress
    Stopped in mid denial
    Their bias is what they missed



  10. Pointman says:

    Police end ‘ClimateGate’ inquiry.

    Some very big sighs of relief at UEA, I’d imagine …



    • orkneylad says:

      Phil Jones avoids testifying under oath yet again . . . . more slippery than a bar of Pentonville soap.


    • The biggest sighs of relief came from world leaders, especially friends of the scientific community and the news media, including

      1. The Nobel Prize Committee, the UN’s IPCC, the UK Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, other national academies of sciences worldwide,

      2. Editors of formerly prestigious research journals like Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Monthly Notices of the Royal Society, etc., etc., and

      3. Publishers, editors, reporters and commentators at The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, etc.


    • meltemian says:

      “Some of the e-mails released appeared to show scientists at CRU and their collaborators in other institutes deviating from accepted academic standards in an attempt to paint an alarmist picture of climate change.

      However, examination of the broader context by three separate investigations resulted in the scientists being cleared of malpractice.”

      What a surprise eh?


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