Having just read Eli being unhappy on the APS I’m struck by a thought, which is that no-one at all seems to think they might learn anything useful about actual climate change from the APS statement or its revised version. All anyone is doing is picking over it to see whether the miscellaneous physicists have managed to understand the research. So: why do these people bother have a statement at all? Would they have felt left out of the party otherwise? Its just the tedious old physcis arrogance again.


* http://physicsfrontline.aps.org/2009/11/10/aps-council-overwhelmingly-rejects-proposal-to-replace-societys-current-climate-change-statement/
* http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm


  1. #1 carrot eater

    Why pick on the physicists in this respect? It’s not as if they’re the only professional society to make a statement. Is the ACS in any better or worse position to issue a brief statement than the APS? Are they arrogant, too?

  2. #2 Eli Rabett

    The problem with the report to the Council is that they relied on reports (WG 1 and the 2006 North report) for which the research was from 2005, out of date by four years and did not mention, more recent summary reports such as those from the US Climate Change Science Program, let alone individual publication, or equally important developments on the WG II and WG III areas. Eli would guess that no one on the Committee, with the exception of Adair, had an agenda, or much information on the matter, thus the arrogance of physicists.

    In other words, this was a committee that was packaged up and ready for hijacking ;)

  3. #3 Steve Bloom

    Even so, 1) the petition was rejected and 2) the statement remains in place, and 3) it was referred back to the committee that originated it for updating, a process that seems likely only to strengthen it.

  4. #4 bigcitylib

    Groups like the APS tend to develop statements like this because people want to know their position on the issue–ie they find themselves getting asked. For example, I am pretty sure that the Canadian Jewish Congress has a (strong) position on AGW. Are they arrogant?

    [I had a look but I couldn’t find it. If you’re a group with nothing in particular to add, you should just say “we accept the IPCC report” because there isn’t anything much better to say. The APS doesn’t have anything to add. I could believe that, say, a group of doctors might have a useful medical perspective -W]

  5. #5 Luke Warmer

    All this talk of committee/council structures within a “trade association” ‘settling the science’ really does validate a social construction of science argument. QED.

    A big flaw with “Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science” by Levitt (RIP) and Gross was that such ardent positivists also expressed climate skepticism – a position you can’t square. Now we’re seeing the reality played out in front of our eyes. The stuff you, Mr Wabbit etc. are all talking about is politics pure and simple.

    Next you’ll be moving onto ‘black-balling’. One of you must have enough independance and moral courage to see this.

  6. #6 bi -- IJI

    Shorter Luke Warmer:

    Scientific practice is a social construct, therefore there’s no such thing as truth, therefore what I say is true.

  7. #7 Luke Warmer


    Yes and I am lying to you now.

    The point of your non sequitur is?

  8. #8 SCM

    What is kind of frustrating about the APS statement is that there must be plenty of atmospheric physicists, and other physicists working in climate related areas, within the APS ranks. Why cant they simply ask these subject matter experts to help them formulate a statement.

    However, I do think it is reasonable for the APS to have a position statement *because* of he arrogance of physicicts, by which I mean primarily individual physicists (especially retired ones) wading into areas, like climate science, way outside of their expertise with little regard for their own limitations. A statement from the staid official APS body goes some way to putting these guys to bed.

    I regard this phenomenon (arrogance of physicists) with some bemusement since I am a physicist, of a rather modest kind, myself. I think a lot of it comes from the rather macho/arrogant culture of certain fields of physics (esp nuclear, theoretical – think of a certain czech for instance) where the participants have spent their whole lives being the ‘smartest guy* in the room’ and somehow fail to realize there are smart people working in other fields too.

    *Nearly always ‘guys’ not gals – the worse fields for arrogance are also very female-unfriendly – I don’t think this is a coincidence.

  9. #9 John Mashey

    As best as I can tell, I think there is a lot of misreading going on, in part because people may not have calibrations of the people involved, some of whom are not obvious.

    In particular, my understanding (from I can’t recall where) is that APS has a climate statement because *AGU* asked them to. If AGU didn’t, then I’d have expected AAAS (whose physics section’s governance is APS people) would have. I’m not sure how that’s arrogance.

    It’s fairly hard to totally ignore a petition, even a silly one, that has 4 NAS members on it, presented to the APS Council by one of its members.

    As for stacking the 6-person panel, I advise reading Allan M. Brandt’s The Cigarette Century for the description of Surgeon General Luther Terry’s construction of the 1964 panel … despite having the tobacco companies have an absolute veto over membership, and with half the panel being smokers.

  10. #10 Luke Warmer

    SCM you’re wandering into William’s ‘going Emeritus’ turf together with Monbiot’s over 70s claim.

    If as you say they are “way outside of their expertise with little regard for their own limitations” you are setting a strange precedent. Expertise can be viewed as limited specialist knowledge (the old knowing more and more about less and less) but I think you should acknowledge a more subtle dichotomy – contributory and interactional expertise (from Collins) – and allow that some, however old, retired or removed from the current field still can interact with the discipline in an intelligent way. Experts do not always agree so basing expertise with whether they agree with a specific issue is a very dangerous precedent.

    Expertise is also the conundrum of the age – witness the KCL ‘drugs Nutt‘- even from the radio headlines about relative degrees of drug safety, a non-expert like me can figure that there are so many factors – acute v chronic that however scientifically it is dressed up, however fancily you do your scoring, it would still inevitably come down to a subjective value judgement. That is my non-expert opinion.

    So what do the experts say about drugs? Well, so far I’ve seen three “experts” talk on this issue and these have been their views:

    1. Nutt’s science is right, government’s behaviour wrong
    2. Nutt’s science is wrong. govt’s behaviour wrong
    3. Nutt’s science is right, gov’t’s behaviour right

    Which expert do I trust? More perplexingly can they be expert enough to answer both questions?

    Also, you have the nested or coupled expertise problems. Imagine a field which requires expertise in a specialist branch of science but also expertise in statistics. Can someone truly be expert in both? We have already seen one expert witness discredited for overstepping the mark on the cot deaths case and I’m not even going to mention the HS. Oh, bugger (/red rag).

    I hope this shows how complex the issue is.

  11. #11 SCM

    Luke – I agree that people can interact (and do) with new fields outside their original area but it requires a humility and willingness to do ones homework properly that these ‘arrogant physicists’ seem to lack.

  12. #12 Luke Warmer

    SCM – Rutherford’s quote “All science is either physics or stamp collecting” is rather arrogant and is still a common view but its sentiment is on face value interesting.

    There is a kind of hierarchy to science but it’s exact split is not easy to pinpoint. Economics, for example, is one of the few social sciences to acknowledge its positive and normative split. And most economics that you read in the press and popular books is opinion from the normative side, biased by political or other viewpoint, frequently.

    That’s why I chuckled when I read William’s SuperFreakonomics ‘review’:

    “I liked Freakonomics, so I’m a bit sad to see the (inevitable) sequel being so hopelessly wrong.”

    Yet, the first book was actually pretty much wrong on most things (or at least IMHO and you can find papers showing this) but as soon as the authors talked about climate change it touched the nerve and lit the blue touchpaper. (Something like what Michael Crichton (cue eyes roll) called the Murray Gellman effect.) In fact, even as a skeptic I dislike ‘that’ Superfreak. chapter for its chatty, all so smugly f’in obvious style. “Hey we bumped into this guy in the valley who must be dead smart ‘cos he made loads on a tech IPO and gosh who’d a thunk it, could cure the climate with hosepipe, a balloon and some match heads – aren’t we swell and ever so slightly patronisingly clever. Next week we’re going to show how increasing returns to cane toads through breeding are great at pest control, after we’ve banked the book profits.”

    But my concern is that you seem to view doing “ones homework properly” as simply agreeing with IPCC. This is almost paradoxical as the IPCC covers more than one area of expertise. If you read the IPCC reviewer comments (and yes you’ve got some emeritus skeptics there) even this non-expert can see underlying debate and opinion at the sharp-contributory end of many issues which is being railroaded.

    Don’t forget that there are also many examples of non-experts or amateur experts being contributory – ignore a certain patent clerk or that young Indian maths chap who wrote a letter – there are cases like the Cumbrian Sheep Farmers, post-Chernobyl and HIV activists in SF. Nothing galvanises expertise like having a real need to act/ respond.

    Finally, your point about women is interesting and not one I’ve dwelt on but off the top of my head I can only recall one women around this whole issue – Judith Lean? – and none who are in top activist scientist IPCC peacock mode. Remember, you might see arrogant male physicists, but many of us skeptics see arrogant (male) modellers with little or no interest in reality who have moved on to a level of political and economic activism way beyond their ‘expertise’. I don’t see women talking about coal death trains or runaway cc etc.

  13. #13 Rattus Norvegicus

    I would offer as a prima facie example of an arrogant physicist Freeman Dyson and his endorsement of intelligent design. This is an extreme example of the phenomenon, Dyson has no expertise in biology, yet he thinks that he knows better than all those silly biologists.

    Granted the mechanisms of biology are much farther removed from physics than the mechanisms of climate change, yet someone who is well versed in theoretical physics is no more qualified to make a contribution to climate science, which is the study of a complex system which is governed by well understood physical principals, then they are to make a statement about complex biological systems, which are at their base also governed by physical principals.

    Of course after a concerted study of said system, basically yet another Phd. it becomes reasonable. A statement by the APS which makes sense would be: “we accept the well established physical principals on which the greenhouse effect is based. The physical evidence suggests strongly that humans are contributing to the increase in greenhouse gasses. The evidence for change in climate is clear, but we leave it to other disciplines to judge the magnitude and seriousness of the changes.” This would be the weakest statement that could be made consistent with the scientific evidence. Better would be to just accept the IPCC findings, which is what the current statement does.

    Over the years I have learned to be very wary of statements made by scientists operating outside of their area of expertise. Luke, you should be too.

  14. #14 bi -- IJI

    Shorter Luke Warmer:

    Your summary of my non-sequitur shows that you’re throwing out non-sequiturs! Also, “doing one’s homework properly” is a Marxist construct. The correct, capitalist, freedom-loving way to do science is to simply do no research, do no sums, make a lot of noise, and compare yourself to Galileo.

  15. #15 Luke Warmer


    This part of your comment I kind of echoed
    “there’s no such thing as truth, therefore what I say is true.”

    But this preceeding it makes it a non-seq.
    “Scientific practice is a social construct, therefore …”

    And it was SCM who talked about doing homework hence my quotes. When you have a point please make it.


    “yet someone who is well versed in theoretical physics is no more qualified to make a contribution to climate science” – but they’re also no less qualified if they happen to make a contribution. It’s not about qualifications. To mix threads – if expertise is about qualifications and experience then surely those just about to go emeritus have the most of both?

    Your final statement is funny – for many of us the opposite statement “Over the years we have learned to be very wary of statements made by scientists operating inside their area of expertise.” would be equally if not more true. Stick with your “learned to be very wary” whatever the source, that’s the best approach.

    Science is a fallible process as is shown time and time again. At the time of every controversy there are experts who are ‘certain’ on both sides.

  16. #16 bi -- IJI

    Shorter Luke Warmer:

    Once more, your summary of my non-sequitur shows that you’re throwing out non-sequiturs! NON-SEQUITURS! NON-SEQUITURS! NON-SEQUITURS!

    And, by doing zero research in the field of climate science, emeritus non-climate scientists are obviously the most qualified people to comment on climate science!

    I mean, take someone who actually does the gruntwork of programming climate models and stuff. Then, take someone who simply throws out conspiracy theories about WEALTH REDISTRIBUTION!!! to THIRD WORLD KLEPTOCRATS!!![1] Is there a possibility that the first guy is wrong, and the second guy is right? Obviously! Therefore, we should put equal trust in both guys. In fact, if the second guy is an Emeritus Professor, then we should put more trust into him.

    [1] S. Fred Singer

  17. #17 Luke Warmer

    Capitals – hmmm!

    When you have a point please make it.

  18. #18 Maurizio Morabito

    Also shouldn’t one claim to do a “shorter”, do it shorter?

  19. #19 Arthur Smith

    Having actually talked to several people who were at the council meeting and some previous ones…

    The argument goes that the reason why APS even has a statement on this is because *not* having a statement would be seen in itself as a statement that APS had no opinion on the matter. That was actually the situation until very recently. The current statement only came out in 2007, after the IPCC AR4 report – and basically echoes that, though that could have been more explicit.

    No, the statement certainly doesn’t add anything to the scientific discussion of the matter; it’s relatively conservative compared to AGU and AAAS etc. But it does put the reputation of yet another well-respected scientific organization on the line in essentially an endorsement of the IPCC.

    The only way our honest “sceptic” friends can maintain their belief system is to also believe in the corruption, mal-intent or incompetence of all those scientists who have been pointing out the real serious problems with our fossil carbon emissions. They have to pretend that the numbers on the “pro” side are small, that the numbers on their side are large. The effect of statements such as this from the APS is to tear away at that belief system – or else to succumb to an ever-expanding conspiracy. Which you can see in the various reactions out there.

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