Anatomy of a Collapsing Paradigm


A framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a scientific community.

Paradigm Shift:

These examples point to the third and most fundamental aspect of the incommensurability of competing paradigms. In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. One contains constrained bodies that fall slowly, the other pendulums that repeat their motions again and again. In one, solutions are compounds, in the other mixtures. One is embedded in a flat, the other in a curved, matrix of space. Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another. Equally, it is why, before they can hope to communicate fully, one group or the other must experience the conversion that we have been calling a paradigm shift. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all.

–Thomas Kuhn, 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Vol. II, No. 2 p. 150

What is the current paradigm?

  • Human activities, primarily carbon dioxide emissions, have been the primary cause of the observed global warming over the past 50 to 150 years.
  • The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration had stabilized between 270 and 280 ppmv early in the Holocene and had remained in that range prior to the mid-19th century when fossil fuels became the primary energy source of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are causing the atmospheric concentration to rise at a dangerously rapid pace to levels not seen in 100’s of thousands to millions of years.
  • The climate sensitivity to a doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide concentration “is likely to be in the range of 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C,” possibly even much higher than 4.5°C.
  • Immediate, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary in order to stave off catastrophic climate change.
  • The scientific consensus regarding this paradigm is overwhelming (~97%).

Why is the paradigm collapsing?

  • There has been no increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature since the late 20th century.
  • Every measure of pre-industrial carbon dioxide, not derived from Antarctic ice cores, indicates a higher and more variable atmospheric concentration.
  • The total lack of predictive skill in AGW climate models.
  • An ever-growing body of observation-based studies indicating that the climate sensitivity is in the range of 0.5 to 2.5°C with a best estimate of 1.5 to 2°C, and is very unlikely to be more than 2°C.
  • Clear evidence that the dogmatic insistence of scientific unanimity is at best highly contrived and at worst fraudulent.

The paradigm is collapsing primarily due to the fact that the climate appears to be far less sensitive to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations than the so-called scientific consensus had assumed.

One group of scientists has steadfastly resisted the carbon dioxide-driven paradigm: Geologists, particularly petroleum geologists. As Kuhn wrote,

“Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another.”

Petroleum geologists tend to be sedimentary geologists and sedimentary geology is essentially a combination of paleogeography and paleoclimatology. Depositional environments are defined by physical geography and climate. We literally do practice in a different world, the past. Geologists intuitively see Earth processes as cyclical and also tend to look at things from the perspective of “deep time.” For those of us working the Gulf of Mexico, we “go to work” in a world defined by glacioeustatic and halokinetic processes and, quite frankly, most of us don’t see anything anomalous in recent climate changes.

So, it should come as little surprise that geoscientists have consistently been far more likely to think that modern climate changes have been driven by overwhelmingly natural processes…

APEGA is the organization responsible for certifying and licensing professional geoscientists and engineers in Alberta, Canada.

This study is very interesting because it analyzes the frames of reference (Kuhn’s “different worlds”) in which opinions are formed. Skeptical geologists are most likely to view climate change as overwhelmingly natural. Skeptical engineers are more likely to view it as a matter of economics or fatalism. The cost of decarbonization would far outweigh any benefits and/or would have no measurable effect on climate change.

The Obsession With Consensus

In nearly 40 years as an Earth Scientist (counting college), I have never seen such an obsession with consensus. In geology, there are many areas in which there are competing hypotheses; yet there is no obsession with conformance to a consensus.

The acceptance of plate tectonics was a relatively new thing when I was a student. This paradigm had only recently shifted from the geosynclinal theory to plate tectonics. We still learned the geosynclinal theory in Historical Geology and it still has value today. However, I don’t ever recall papers being published claiming a consensus regarding either theory.

Most geologists think that granite is an igneous rock and that petroleum is of organic origin. Yet, the theories of granitization and abiogenic hydrocarbon formation are not ridiculed; nor are the adherents subjected to “witch hunts.”

One of the most frequent methods of attempting to quantify and justify the so-called consensus on climate change has been the abstract search (second hand opinions). I will only bother to review one of these exercises in logical fallacy, Cook et al., 2013.

Second Hand Opinions.

These sorts of papers consist of abstract reviews. The authors’ then tabulate their opnions regarding whether or not the abstracts support the AGW paradgm. As Legates et al., 2013 pointed out, Cook defined the consensus as “most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic.” Cook then relied on three different levels of “endorsement” of that consensus and excluded 67% of the abstracts reviewed because they neither endorsed nor rejected the consensus.

The largest endorsement group was categorized as “implicitly endorses AGW without minimizing it.” They provided this example of an implied endorsement:

‘…carbon sequestration in soil is important for mitigating global climate change’

Carbon sequestration in soil, lime muds, trees, seawater, marine calcifers and a whole lot of other things have always been important for mitigating a wide range of natural processes. I have no doubt that I have implicitly endorsed the so-called consensus based on this example.

The second largest endorsement group was categorized as “implicitly endorses but does not quantify or minimize.” Pardon my obtuseness, but how in the heck can one explicitly endorse the notion that “most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic” without quantification? This is the exmple Cook provided:

‘Emissions of a broad range of greenhouse gases of varying lifetimes contribute to global climate change’

Wow! I contributed to Romney for President… Yet most of his campaign warchest didn’t come from me. By this subjective standard, I have probably explicitly endorsed AGW a few times.

No Schist, Sherlock.

One of the most frequent refrains is the assertion that “climate scientists” endorse the so-called consensus more than other disciplines and that the level of endorsement is proportional to the volume of publications by those climate scientists. Well… No schist, Sherlock! I would bet a good bottle of wine that the most voluminous publishers on UFO’s are disproportionately more likely to endorse Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a documentary. A cursory search for “abiogenic hydrocarbons” in AAPG’s Datapages could lead me to conclude that there is a higher level of endorsement of abiogenic oil among those who publish on the subject than among non-publishing petroleum geologists.

These exercises in expertise cherry-picking are quite common. A classic example was Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009. This survey sample was limited to academic and government Earth Scientists. It excluded all Earth Scientists working in private sector businesses. The two key questions were:

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

I would answer yes to #1 and my answer to #2 would depend on the meaning of “human activity is a significant contributing factor.” If I realized it was a “push poll,” I would answer “no.”

Interestingly, economic geologists and meteorologists were the most likely to answer “no” to question #2…

The two areas of expertise in the survey with the smallest percentage of participants answering yes to question 2 were economic geology with 47% (48 of 103) and meteorology with 64% (23 of 36).

The authors derisively dismissed the opinions of geologists and meteorologists…

It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.

No discipline has a better understanding the “nuances” than meteorologists and no discipline has a better understanding of the “scientific basis of long-term climate processes” than geologists.

The authors close with a “no schist, Sherlock” bar chart:

The most recent example of expertise cherry-picking was Stenhouse et al., 2014.

The 52% consensus among the membership of the American Meteorological Society was explained away as being due to “perceived scientific consensus,” “political ideology,” and a lack of “expertise” among non-publishing meteorologists and atmospheric scientists…

While we found that higher expertise was associated with a greater likelihood of viewing global warming as real and harmful, this relationship was less strong than for political ideology and perceived consensus. At least for the measure of expertise that we used, climate science expertise may be a less important influence on global warming views than political ideology or social consensus norms. More than any other result of the study, this would be strong evidence against the idea that expert scientists’ views on politically controversial topics can be completely objective.

Finally, we found that perceiving conflict at AMS was associated with lower certainty of global warming views, lower likelihood of viewing global warming as human caused, and lower ratings of predicted harm caused by global warming.

So… Clearly, 97% of AMS membership would endorse the so-called consensus if they were more liberal, more accepting of unanimity and published more papers defending failed climate models.  No schist, Sherlock!

What, exactly, is a “climate scientist”?

35 years ago climatology was a branch of physical geography. Today’s climate scientists can be anything from atmospheric physicists & chemists, mathematicians, computer scientists, astronomers, astrophysicists, oceanographers, biologists, environmental scientists, ecologists, meteorologists, geologists, geophysicists, geochemistry to economists, agronomists, sociologists and/or public policy-ologists.

NASA’s top climate scientist for most of the past 35 years, James Hansen, is an astronomer. The current one, Gavin Schmidt, is a mathematician.

It seems to me that climate science is currently dominated by computer modelers, with little comprehension of the natural climate cycles which have driven climate change throughout the Holocene.

Climate scientist seems to be as nebulous as Cook’s definition of consensus.

What is the actual consensus?

The preliminary results of the AMS survey tell us all we need to know about the former…

89% × 59% = 52%… A far cry from the oft claimed 97% consensus.

Based on BAMS definition, global warming is happening. So, I would be among the 89% who answered “yes” to question #1 and among the 5% who said the cause was mostly natural.

When self-described “climate scientists” and meteorologists/atmospheric scientists are segregated the results become even more interesting…

Only 45% of meteorologists and atmospheric scientists endorse the so-called consensus. When compared to the 2009, American Geophysical Union survey, the collapsing paradigm sticks out like a polar vortex…

In reality, about half of relevant scientists would probably agree that humans have been responsible for >50% of recent climate changes.  And there might even be a 97% consensus that human activities have contributed to recent climate changes.

However, there really isn’t any scientific consensus if it is defined this way:

So… Why is there such an obsession with a 97% consensus?  My guess is that it enables such demagoguery.


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