Climate scientist – yes, we avoid debate


Steve Sherwood admits in The Australian today that climate scientists avoid debate, but attempts to justify that by claiming that it’s impossible to get their position across in a the short time normally allowed in debates.

Sherwood also claims the science is settled – an interesting juxtaposition of conflicting arguments. On the one hand, the debate’s over, but on the other, there just isn’t time to explain why!

Sherwood’s analogy with a criminal trial is shaky at best:

[…] it helps to think of the present state of climate science as if it were a high-profile and complicated murder trial that had just ended.

After a month of courtroom arguments and careful deliberation of the testimony and evidence, the jury announces its verdict: the accused is innocent. But not everyone likes the verdict.

Gnashing of teeth and unhappiness ensue. The victim’s family, the police and many others want to believe the perpetrator had been arrested, and want them brought to justice.

Some commentators, who don’t know any of the jurors, begin saying they are soft on crime, were bamboozled by crafty lawyers or suffered from a conflict of interest because the government paid jury fees.

A politician enters the fray, asking why the community should accept the judgment of a “monopoly” of only 12 people on such an important matter. He proposes that the verdict be disregarded and the case judged democratically instead.

He suggests that each solicitor present arguments and evidence on evening television, for 30 seconds. Afterwards, the people will decide, by plebiscite, based on each 30-second presentation whether the accused committed the crime.

It is hard to imagine how this would be regarded as fair. It is clearly a travesty of justice.

But climate scientists are being asked to participate in exactly this kind of arrangement when debating contrarians in public forums.

“The accused is innocent.” Or in the case of carbon dioxide, guilty. That would be the flawed assumption in this argument. The science is settled, is effectively what Sherwood claims. The climate models accurately reflect every single element of the climate system, and we have little more to learn. But as we have discovered from Donna Laframboise’s recent book, the IPCC, that impartial arbiter of all things climate, on whose pronouncements climate policies are decided the word over, is nothing of the sort – it is a politicised and compromised organisation, with a very rigid agenda. Is that what you mean by the accused is innocent? Because the IPCC says so?

It’s the same old story – just trust the scientists and let us get on with it. We know best. Shut up, he explained.

The basic physics of global warming may be simple, but the potential complications revived in perpetuity by contrarians took years for experts to sort out. They cannot be adequately explained in an hour or a day.

A solicitor with integrity, faced with 30 seconds to deliver trial evidence, would refuse to participate in such a scheme.

Climate scientists are refusing to enter public debates for exactly the same reason. (source – behind a paywall now…)

Sorry, but I think the reason is much simpler. Scientists avoid debate because they hate having to answer questions about the politicisation of the scientific process, the corruption of scientific integrity at the IPCC, Climategate and the Big Green bandwagon of funding that keeps most climate scientists in work.

Given Sherwood has used a trial analogy, here’s a slightly different one to think about:

CO2 is on trial for assault on the planet. The prosecution consists of the UN, virtually every national government, academic institutions the world over, all funded by a massive revenue stream running to billions of dollars. They have massive departments, massive budgets, banks of supercomputers, and corporate Amex cards. The judge, who is also from the UN, has also said publicly in the past that CO2 is guilty – before the trial even starts. The night before, the judge is spotted out partying with the prosecution – they’re all good mates and have known each other since the good old days of Bert Bolin.

On the other side sits the defence: a few retired scientists in threadbare suits, with no money and no glory and barely a laptop between them who toil away in the background trying to test the prosecution’s case as best they can with extremely limited resources. When the defence gets a donation from Big Oil, the prosecution (and the judge) are incensed – conflict of interest, they cry! The fact that the prosecution is bankrolled by Big Green, however, seems not to concern the court. Even the judge remains silent.

Links between the prosecution and special interest groups are exposed, revealing that this is nothing more than a political show trial. Twenty odd years ago, a bunch of environmental hard-cases got together in Villach and decided they could make a tidy profit and help them achieve global power by stitching up poor old CO2. The judge and a number of the prosecution team are all in on this, and will make significant profits if CO2 is found guilty, yet no-one bats an eyelid.

The evidence is presented. The prosecution relies on incomplete and flaky computer models that “prove” that CO2 is guilty, despite the fact that they omit a range of key factors that would significantly influence that result. They rely on data that have been “adjusted” to remove any trace of uncertainty about CO2’s guilt. Witnesses are called who misrepresent and utter falsehoods under oath, but oddly that seems OK too. The judge remains silent again. 

When the defence attempts to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses, however, the judge rules that the witnesses don’t have to answer. They can simply refuse to provide the code for their models or their raw data. The defence are astonished! Is this how the trial system works?

Despite these challenges and obstacles, the defence exposes significant weaknesses in the prosecution case. Their own witnesses are empirical observations of the real world. The prosecution objects – empirical observations aren’t as reliable as the outputs of our computer models! The judge agrees. The models take precedence and the empirical data ruled inadmissible.

Furthermore, the defence are drowned out by continual interruptions from the prosecution, who insult them and call them names like “denier” and “flat-earther”. The judge joins in the chorus of insults too – he knows CO2 is guilty, so why should he have to listen to the ramblings of the morally bankrupt defence team?

The prosecution insist that everything presented by the defence must be peer-reviewed (by the prosecution), but ensure that their own case can be built from newspaper clippings and WWF leaflets and other “grey literature”. The judge agrees – sections of the defence evidence is excluded, but the prosecution evidence is admitted in full.

The media report favourably on the prosecution case, with graphic daily stories of CO2’s past misdeeds, frequently illustrated with heart-wrenching pictures of polar bears drowning [or maybe just swimming?]. The defence are portrayed as a bunch of kooks. But the public aren’t fooled. They can smell corruption when they see it. The proportion of the population that believes CO2 is guilty is plummeting like a stone. But no-one cares. It will be a long time before the public will have their say again.

In the end, the judge rules “the case is over”. He doesn’t want to hear any more debate. The defence are on their feet – how can this travesty (© K Trenberth) of justice be allowed? The judge rules in favour of the prosecution, CO2 is guilty as charged.

CO2 is condemned – and as a result, Western economies are turned upside down. The poor long-suffering public now find that since CO2’s conviction, they can no longer afford to heat their homes, or buy food. They also notice that despite CO2’s incarceration, there are still terrible things happening in the world – floods, cyclones, droughts – they all happen with exactly the same frequency and intensity as before. Temperatures go up, and down, and up, and down, and up and down again. Nothing has changed – except that they are broke and all their jobs have moved to China. Maybe it wasn’t CO2 after all, they begin to think, and all this was for nothing.

And then a climate scientist writes glibly in a national newspaper that they don’t debate the science in public any more because the court has already found that CO2 is guilty…

And they all lived unhappily ever after.


  1. Ken Ward via Facebook says:

    Yeah it takes 250 years to prove the global warming theory, so just give all your money to the Communists for now and if its wrong they will give it all back to your great great grandchildren, if you have any.

  2. Sherwood can avoid debate if he pleases, however he cannot then claim to be a scientist, since true science includes exposing your methods and data to others, allowing them to verify and/or find fault; this is equivalent to debate, and is not time-limited.

    The courtroom analogy is invalid, since science is always ongoing. If it were a correct analogy, we’d still contend that the Earth is flat, and is the centre of the universe.

  3. Just like the barrister, Sherwood’s salary depends upon the jury buying his arguments.
    Climate screamers are all in the industry but forget to mention the financial benefit of a scare campaign.

  4. All climate warmist/scientist are too scared to face serious question like this government climate scientist are chicken to face the reality of there false statements.

    All funding towards this cause should be scraped and put towards things of real benifit. IE health, education. Because the reality is simple. The climate changes and no tax or amount of money will fix it. We do not have the power to change how the earth works. IE we cannot stop earthquakes, floods, rains, drought etc etc.

  5. Lew Skannen says:

    Excellent. This would make a rather intriguing plot for a play.

  6. I get a lot of ACCARNSI emails .
    (I tried to get them to delete my email address, but now I have my email client set to auto delete them.)

    If anyone wants to see some of their junk, I could (reluctantly) un-block them and forward them. I have no intention of wasting my time on them myself though.

  7. Terrific article.

    • That’s not the impression gained by comments under the article. One, by Kelvin Markham of Hobart, opens with a word that sums it up.


  8. In my opinion Sherwood is certainly endeavoring to cement his funding, [snip]. But just imagine how much Mr Al Gore is pocketing from the Clean Energy Consortiums. Makes Sherwood only a very little hypocrite in comparison with the Duke of Deception.

  9. Lisa Hillman says:

    If Steve Sherwood can posit the climate debate as analogous to a murder trial, then I claim catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is like Piltdown Man –v- Galileo.

  10. Mike Sanford via Facebook says:

    He is just another nut job commy

  11. Sean McHugh says:

    I wrote the following comment to that Australian article – I wouldn’t have been the only one. I hate it when newspapers invite comments and don’t publish any:

    Yes, I imagine it would be difficult to explain why the temperature stopped rising a decade ago, when it wasn’t supposed to, and why many countries have, for several years, been experiencing record snow and cold when all that was declared to have ended. I doubt we would ever be able to understand why all the flooding has occurred in Australia when the dams were no longer supposed to fill. And how could we possibly understand why the Antarctic isn’t melting, when it was supposed to? It must also be hard to explain why all the the sinking islands haven’t sunk and aren’t being evacuated as reported. We would also never grasp why the Medieval and Roman Warming periods have been erased from climate history. We couldn’t possibly understand why thermometer readings need to be adjusted upwards (instead of downwards) when being artificially heated by urban effects. It would be similarly too hard to explain the name changes, from “global warming”, to “climate change” to the latest, “climate weirding”. To the layperson, it just sounds [as] if climate science is looking for somewhere safe to hide. I am sure that it is a difficult subject, Steve. I hear the same of theology and astrology.

    • val majkus says:

      Sean that’s a wonderful comment
      I’ve linked to this article and also mentioned your comment on Jo Nova’s latest post
      that’s made my day ‘why all the sinking islands haven’t sunk’

    • Great letter. A bit too close to the truth for printing even at the Australian. Mind you they probably wouldn’t even read it at Fairfax or the ABC.

    • I think they did publish it- I have just finished reading the 58 published responses and recollect some of those words. It is a problem though if they limit publication of responses too much because we can lose touch with popular feeling. In this case, of the 58 responses they did publish I think about 5 agreed with the article and the rest were resoundingly hostile. Well worth looking at, and I think poor old Sherwood will be horrified.

    • Lisa Hillman says:

      My comment (posted above in ACM) to the editor was published in this Weekend Australian in the letters section. I used my married name “Lisa Dunn, Hawthorn”. My vast experience (having had 2/2 strike rate for comments published) is keep short. Of course most of comments here on ACM are vastly more informative and therefore more deserving of being published – but it’s better than nothing.

      • Sean McHugh says:

        Hi Lisa,

        There I was rather talking about a page inviting comments and not publishing any comments. I suspect that that isn’t a selection process issue. Laurie Oakes article, from yesterday, provides a characteristic example:

        Congratulations on having your letter published.

  12. He is NOT just another nut job commy! He is another nut job commy paid for by our taxes.

  13. Sean McHugh says:

    Forgot to add that that was more great satire, from you, Simon.

  14. When support for the AGW theory was running strong, Dr. Sherwoods reluctance might have been a good strategy. But with belief in AGW waning, the refusal to debate is simply is seen as tacitly admitting that the AGW proponent cannot win the arguement. He’s doing is cause and his science no good. But there is hope, when the funding stops (which it surely will) he’ll probably be looking for any soapbox he can find to argue his case.

  15. How can scientists claim they are 100 percent correct when they can’t even get a 7 day weather report 70 percent correct

  16. Sean McHugh says:

    Sorry to be a pain. I need to apologise to the Australian on this occasion. They have published the comments. I have quickly scanned the first twenty of the current fifty-eight and found that nineteen of that twenty are negative (95%). The only comment of nil substance, among that twenty, was the negative one! That contribution was:

    The Deniers will be out in force today….

    That was #18 by Bryan Currie [uppercase added] of Melbourne, posted at 7.52 AM. It’s typical of the leftists, who prefer sneer to substance and defamation to debate.

    • OK Sean, see my reply to your earlier post too. The few later posts supporting Sherwood were equally innocent of substance. It would be great to see all responses uncensored. It doesn’t really prove anything though because if Sherwood’s article appeared in the ABC’s Drum the ratios might be reversed.

      • Sean McHugh says:

        I think I would be much more inclined to trust the Australian not to indulge in blatant cherry picking. I myself have wondered about the selection process and noticed that the timestamps on the posts possibly suggest time windows randomly taken from a stream. During the peak hours, one will see several posts posted within a small time window. It suggests that if your post is earlier or later than that window, it won’t make the cut.

        With the posts in question, the earliest ones were posted in the wee hours of the morning, so one would expect to see wider time separations. Later on though, time groupings become apparent.

        Note also, that there will now be less comment to the Australian. One now needs to subscribe and payment will apply for subscriptions after the free one-month trial period.

        I am only speculating on how the publishing of comments is determined. Perhaps the Australian, or one of the other newspapers, will visit ACM and tell us how it is done.

  17. Good article Simon. Your rebuttal to Steve Sherwood’s analogy of climate science to a criminal trial is spot on.

    Perhaps Sherwood has never heard of the Innocent Project. “The (US based) project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.”

    “Of the first 225 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, more than 50% (116 cases) involved unvalidated or improper (faulty) forensic science.” – see this pdf file.

    Sherwood’s claim of settled science is garbage. Just as science can prove CO2’s guilt on one hand … it can just as easily be used to prove it’s innocence. Science, by it’s very nature, is never settled. Thankfully there are still skeptical organisations who question the consensus so that the truth can finally emerge.

  18. Whether the weather is tethered to humankind’s actions or not, there is absolutely no PROOF that me, and 7 billion (minus 1) others have anything to do with the temperature of the climate let alone the chaos of the cyclones, floods and droughts, period; full stop, finito.

  19. Rick Bradford says:

    Any kind of lunacy is acceptable on Gillardan’s Island…..

  20. The only thing that Sherwood is avoiding is Credibility.

  21. Lisa Hillman says:

    Were all Steve’s publicity shots taken on the weekend? His credibility is not enhanced by his “worked all night in the lab” one day growth.

  22. Richard Peppard says:

    For those who have noted the failure of climate scientists to publicly debate anthropogenic global warming (AGW), it is almost a relief to have the avoidance of the debate acknowledged by Steve Sherwood. Almost … as his strained analogy to a criminal trial, in which the evidence is complete, bears no relationship to the complexities of climate science where the evidence is still being gathered and interpreted. Even so an interim statement by the investigating officers would be appreciated by an interested public.

    The whole edifice of AGW depends on the global warming of the last 25 years of the 20th century being attributed to CO2 rises and not being explained by natural variability as expressed in the climate models. These models are tweaked to “hindcast” this last period but do not account even for the climate fluctuations of the majority of the century; they fail to demonstrate the similar rise from 1910 to 1940 or the cooling from 1940 to 1970, or the rise through the 19th century. Climate satellites and the Argo project of ocean observation are too recent to measure the ocean and atmosphere oscillations which occur over cycles of several years to a few decades.

    After 30 years, the crucial factor of climate sensitivity is still estimated at 1.5-4.5 degrees per CO2 doubling in the models despite recent observational studies suggesting a much lower sensitivity. The models are inconsistent with temperature observations of the oceans and the tropical atmosphere.

    At one extreme, the zealots who protect the AGW orthodoxy, explicitly acknowledge their reverence for Gaia, as they pursue heretics, destroy printing presses (see Climategate), and avoid discussion of the arcane mysteries of the climate models lest the seeds of doubt be placed in the minds of the faithful.

    Are the AGW scientists really in a position to say that the continuing high solar magnetic cycle activity in the late 20th century combined within internal variability of climate oscillations did not account for a significant proportion of warming in this limited period of observation when they remain so uncertain about climate sensitivity? Or do they not want their uncertainty revealed when their funding depends on advice that supports government and UN climate policy? Perhaps they just lack charisma and communication skills.

  23. Analogies can be fun but I’m with Steve McIntyre in thinking they steer the debate off course. We understand scientific concepts so just stick to the base subject.

  24. gyptis444 says:

    Anyone who still believes that ‘…the science is settled’ should visit

    and see how much is still UNsettled.

  25. For a murder trial to proceed, presumably there must have been a murder.
    What is the analogous crime, murder whatever, that the learned professor is alleging has taken place?
    There is no reason to assume that the climate isn’t doing what it has always done.

  26. rukidding says:

    Having had a quick scan through the comments above I don’t see what would be my response to the above court case.That being.

    What if you found out after the court case had finished that all ,not some.of the jury were in someway related to the accused.

  27. His analogy of a court case is a little misguided, we had a Star Chamber, the sentence has been carried out and those who would defend the accused are being called heretics.

  28. The “debate” is happening regardless. Neither side appears to be scared of “debate”. It’s just that one side has done much better than the other at playing to the crowd, and the other side has wised up to it. Brian dunning once did an excellent episode (skeptoid) about why he no longer debates pseudo-scientists, and I think he’s spot-on.

    The trouble with televised/live stand-up routines for the public is that they tend to favor the BS-artists over the people who actually have to explain reality to make their point. The latter takes longer, and requires that the audience is interested in more than just seeing their hero take shots at the evil other.

    The actual science is there for anyone who is interested, to just go and find. And there are plenty of people who are summarising and popularising it for anyone who hasn’t got the time or a subscription to the journals. Nothing you’re going to hear from tim flannery or chris monckton is going to end the argument one way or another for anybody in 10 minutes. They’ll say their little piece and the audience will judge them based on what they already thought anyway, and the commentators will leap upon trivialities and clever bon mots. And one side or the other will declare that the argument is over depending on how well they think their guy performed. But there is actually a reality, and it’s kind of an important one, and no TV debate will get close to examining it because it takes a little bit longer to do it justice.

    In any case, the important argument is taking place with policy makers. They’re the ones who need to be convinced one way or the other. That debate is quite clearly happening, and my impression is that both sides are well-resourced and making their case unimpeded.

    I used to think that I’d like to see a proper televised debate. Not based on scores or one side “winning”, or even structured stump speeches. I imagine two panels. Each panel would have one competent spokesperson, to manage their “case”, and a group of actual experts who’ll ask questions and research answers.

    It’d be filmed over the course of a day or so, so nobody wins by just dumping a bunch of BS on the audience hoping that nobody can call them on all of it in the time available. Because the other team WILL have the time available. Prior to filming, each side will present their case to a moderator and to the other team, who will then get a chance to argue why they believe the other panel’s case is flawed. Questions will be answered, with a short period of off-camera time to research.

    See, I’d actually like to see the two cases answered, properly. I think most honest people would. The standard debate format just can’t do that. There isn’t enough time.

    And enough nonsense about the politics or affiliations of alleged cabals trying to bend the world to their nefarious schemes. Yes, we know that some IPCC appointees are members of WWF or greenpeace, and we know that oil companies don’t like the idea of restrictions on the sale of their products and have lots of money and clout in the US congress. That’s hardly secret knowledge. Just stick to the science.

    • Can’t say as I’ve ever seen any restrictions Matthew on the sale of oil company products. As far as I am aware, oil and its by-products are still legal and no one is talking about placing restrictions on those items.
      Forget simply just sticking to the science … just stick to the facts!

      • I guess I was getting at a tax (or other price), which would indeed encourage people to consume (i.e. buy) less energy as fossil fuels. A cap and trade would be a more direct restriction than a tax. Either way, fuel is sold at a lower rate than it would be, and the fuel sellers would have a financial incentive to oppose that. So it’s still not rocket science.

  29. Matthew,
    To say the actual science is there if you want to find it is certainly true. As a scientist who has sought it out I can tell you that a lot of it is rather thin, and many of the papers cited in the various IPCC reports are in fact opinion pieces, not significant research papers.

    The science fundamentally rests on four things:

    1. A small trend towards a warmer atmosphere, of about 0.6-0.8 C over the last 200 years, depending on which analysis, including Richard Mullers team’s. This data in itself is hard to dispute.

    2. A clearly evident increasing trend towards a higher concentration of atmospheric CO2, which appears to have started around about the start of the industrial revolution.

    3. A corresponding, but very small decrease in ocean pH levels, although this trend is arguable.

    4. The predictions of a gaggle of climate models, of varying degrees of complexity, which it is claimed accurately represent the warming trend. It is important to note that these models, whilst including a range of variables, are all predicated on the assumption that CO2 is the main culprit. It is also important to note that it was not so long ago that the predictions of these models of future temperatures varied by up to 7 C. The key models now conform more closely, which is hardly surprising, if you understand how science often works, and how these models are being tweaked in hindsight.

    None of the models have correctly predicted the cessation of warming that has occurred since the mid 90’s. Even the modellers admit this among themselves and it has had them mightily puzzled. Recent work posits that sulphur compounds released into the upper atmosphere, principally by the massive increase in coal power generation within China, has had a cooling effect. If China cleans up it’s emissions then the warming will resume.

    This effect is not included in the current models. It no doubt will be eventually. Personally, as a scientist, I am very uncomfortable with significant and enormously costly decisions being based on the predictions of a few fundamentally flawed computer models. They are certainly not as accurate as the Professor implies, which also worries me.

    Should the world be doing something to reduce its total (not per capita) emissions? The precautionary principle says it should, but the key is in the word ‘world’. Unless the big ‘tonnage’ emitters such as USA, China, Europe, India make real reductions in their total emissions then nothing a tiny emitter such as Australia does will have any effect. The fact is that China is heavily dependent upon coal for electricity generation, and all the new power stations it is building will be around for at least 50 years.

    Personally I prefer Bjorne Lomberg’s approach to the scenario that is currently being debated. It will cost a lot less and in my opinion have a far greater effect than a lot of the nonsense being advocated by a lot of scientists and bureaucrats who are supping in the hollow logs that the IPCC, and various idealogues are so hel bent on creating.

    • “Should the world be doing something to reduce its total (not per capita) emissions? The precautionary principle says it should,”

      Wow. 10 years ago, that would have been a pretty radical position. 15 years ago you’d have been regarded as the lunatic fringe for saying something like that. Actually proposing that the world artificially (and expensively) cut its consumption of fossil fuels. Madness. Even now, I don’t think you’d get andrew bolt to write a thing like that. Not in his own words. Chris monckton wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

      But right now, that’s basically just what the mainstream of AGW believers agree on.

      “but the key is in the word ‘world’. ”

      Agreed. It’s pointless if we’re the only people who do it. But if you think it’s something that needs to be done (and that’s the impression I get), then you’d have to agree that somebody has to go first. And it isn’t going to be the US, which is financially broke and politically broken. The EU is busted. China wants to lift itself out of the dark ages first (and I’m not sure we have the right to say they’re not allowed to). Russia can’t effectively manage anything it does anyway and india’s doing a fair bit already. If you think it’s something that we (as a world) really should do, then maybe you’d agree that when one person does it, that takes away everyone else’s excuse that they don’t want to go first 😉

  30. One of the main problems is that the man-made climate change
    advocates speak in rhetorical terms – debate, rather than scientific proof/testing.

    They can’t prove it scientifically, so have to being the issue into a different domain, the domain in which they think they can win.
    And we know they’re lying.

    • “And we know they’re lying”

      Really? All of them? They’re ALL lying? That’s a pretty big claim.

  31. stunningly well written, well done

  32. “A small trend towards a warmer atmosphere, of about 0.6-0.8 C over the last 200 years, depending on which analysis, including Richard Mullers team’s. This data in itself is hard to dispute.”

    No real attempt has been made to ascertain just how much the urbanisation effect and the loss of a substantial number of rural temp readings has had on the calculation of the “global average temperture”

    It is hard to dispute that the calculated ‘global average temperature” has increased. but how much of that is down to actually warming of the atmosphere is highly debatable, because no-one has done that work to find out.
    The AGW bretheren sure aren’t going to do it, and that would be the only source of enough funds.
    BEST’s idea of looking at night-time satellite picture to determine urban stations is pretty pointless. What they need to do is to identify CHANGES in all stations and their surrounding area in the last 50 or so years, but that requires some actual work rather than the re-calculation using the same data sets as the other AGW bretheren have used.


  1. […] Australian Climate Madness Climate scientist – yes, we avoid debate […]

  2. […] with a flawed analogy, which ACM covers, Sherwood’s comments earn him the Climate Fool […]

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