This Is Why You Can’t Reason With ‘Climate Sceptics’

knmi logoYesterday Bob Tisdale published the blog post titled ‘Open Letter to the Honorable John Kerry U.S. Secretary of State‘ (archived here) on the blog Watts Up With That (WUWT). He also published it on his own website.

My opinion of that letter from Tisdale is that it doesn’t accurately represent the IPCC and their latest release. There are a lot of reasons of why I hold that position and what I wrote for ‘No, Global Warming Hasn’t Stopped‘ gives a good introduction about his mistakes about climate models. I can also recommend the article ‘The new IPCC climate change report makes deniers overheat‘ by Michael Mann for a better understanding of how the latest IPCC report often is misrepresented.

When I started on my open letter to Tisdale I knew we would never reach any sort of agreement on his points about climate research or the IPCC. That’s why I focussed on the following in his letter:

The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) is concerned about the IPCC’s focus. See their document titled Submission by The Netherlands on the future of the IPCC. Under the heading of “The IPCC needs to adjust its principles”, KNMI begins:

We believe that limiting the scope of the IPCC to human-induced climate change is undesirable, especially because natural climate change is a crucial part of the total understanding of the climate system, including human-induced climate change.

Now consider that suggested change of focus came from a country with 20% of its land surface below sea level and about 50% of it only a meter above sea level. If any country should be concerned about climate change, it’s the Netherlands, and they have asked for a better understanding of natural climate change. I suggest to you that the United States should also ask for that same change in research scope.

This is an incorrect interpretation of what the KNMI is recommending with that passage. I saw a similar interpretation by Marcel Crok when he wrote about this and I dealt with that interpretation in my blog post ‘Dutch Meteorological Institute KNMI Critical Of IPCC?‘.

In that blog post I explain that I already suspected this might be a misinterpretation on what the KNMI intended to convey with this passage. Simply because the IPCC reports already deal with natural variability in the climate system, without that you can’t make any statements about how much of global warming is caused by humans (or if it all).

But that was just a suspicion, hardly something worth writing about. So I did what anyone should do in this situation: ask the KNMI if they could clarify what they meant with that particular passage. And they did (translated from Dutch, emphasis and link mine):

In response to your question, I must inform you that the mandate of the IPCC (Principles Governing IPCC Work) states the following:

“2. The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of *risk of human-induced climate change*, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.”

So here they only (explicitly) mention the anthropogenic component. We (the Dutch IPCC delegation) believe it is important that the scope of this statement should be widened, namely that natural variability should be explicitly mentioned in the mandate of the IPCC.

In practice, the IPCC reports (WG1 and 2) on climate change mention natural and anthropogenic factors, simply because of the fact that the human factor only gains credence when compared to natural changes.

The proposed change from the Netherlands is that the mandate of the IPCC should be much more in line with what they’ve been doing for years. This also makes clear that the response in the media is not true, namely that the Netherlands find that natural variability is more important than the human influence. As this isn’t the intent of the Dutch submission.

So it’s indeed not about the IPCC ignoring the natural components of climate change; it’s about this not being mentioned in their mandate (the principles document). The response from the KNMI even clearly states that other interpretations in the media aren’t correct (they give one example of an incorrect interpretation).

The person who sent me this response was Rob van Dorland. He works as a climatologist at the KNMI and is part of the Dutch IPCC delegation. The same group who wrote the document ‘Submission by The Netherlands on the future of the IPCC‘.

That’s why I thought that Tisdale and I could at least agree that he had inadvertently misinterpreted what the KNMI was conveying with this passage. With maybe an interesting exchange of ideas on how these types of documents can convey their intent and meaning more clearly.

However, Tisdale’s first response to me caused some big cracks in my hopeful attitude (the exchange is archived here):

I quoted the KNMI document directly. I have in no way misrepresented what they wrote in that document.

Not what I intended to convey, my point was about how he interpreted the passage and that this interpretation is the cause for the misrepresentation. You can after all correctly quote someone but then misrepresent what they said by using that quote out of context or by misunderstanding what is said. That it was a misunderstanding should have been clear from the clarification the KNMI sent me.

I explained this to him. I also repeated multiple times that this was a response I received from the KNMI, written by someone who is part of the group that wrote that document. I also told him that if he didn’t believe me that he could contact the KNMI to verify this. After all, I’m citing an email that he doesn’t have access to. If I were in his position I also would want to verify that this message was authentic and that it was represented correctly.

To give him a place to start verifying this email I pointed him to the blog post ‘The Dutch view on the future of the IPCC – what it does and what it does not say‘. This was written by Hans Custers on the blog of Bart Verheggen, Custers also received an email from Rob van Dorland that gives the same clarification (translated from Dutch by Custers):

The IPCC mandate (Principles governing IPCC work) states:

“2. The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of *risk of human-induced climate change*, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.”

This only (specifically) mentions the human factor. We think it’s important to widen the scope, and include natural variability in the IPCC’s mandate.

In reality, the IPCC assessment reports (WG1 and WG2) do already deal with climate change caused by both human and natural factors, simply because the human factor can only be weighed against the natural changes. So, in fact there will hardly be any change in the focus of the assessments.

With the Dutch proposal, the IPCC’s mandate will be much more in line with what is already common practice for years.

Again confirming that this is about the mandate of the IPCC, not a change of focus in the reports.

This should have ended the discussion about the intended meaning of the passage, but unfortunately it didn’t. Tisdale responded to me with a bullet list of 5 points that I will now address:

1. Contrary to what you wrote, I did not misrepresent what KNMI stated in the KNMI document I linked. The document I quoted is available from the KNMI website. Anyone can confirm that I have not misrepresented what KNMI presented.

Yes he did misrepresent what the KNMI stated in their document, the response from the KNMI shows this. This can be an honest mistake as the used language in the document isn’t exactly very enlightening for anyone not familiar with the subject. Even those that are familiar with the subject often gave a “huh?” type of response.

So that’s a valid point of criticism towards the KNMI. But you can’t dismiss their clarification by saying “I quoted the KNMI document directly.”

2. You have provided a quote from the IPCC that does refute what was written by the KNMI.

What Tisdale is referring to here is the quote from the principles document that states the current mandate of the IPCC. However, that wasn’t me quoting the IPCC, that was Rob van Dorland. He quoted the document to explain what the KNMI wants to change and how this relates to the passage they wrote.

It doesn’t refute what the KNMI wrote, it’s part of their explanation of what they meant.

3. Regardless of what someone emailed to you, you have provided nothing to indicate that what I quoted was a misrepresentation of what KNMI wrote in that document from their website.

That “someone” was Rob van Dorland. He was the one that answered my request for a clarification from the KNMI. He sent me this response via an email address, the official one they use for their climate desk. He also identifies himself as speaking for the Dutch IPCC delegation that wrote the document when he said “We (the Dutch IPCC delegation)”.

You can’t dismiss those statements. You can however say that you want to verify that this email is genuine; but so far Tisdale hasn’t done that.

4. I will ask that you correct your blog post to reflect the above.

No, I will not “correct” my blog post to reflect the above. What the KNMI says about the meaning of that passage takes precedence above Tisdale’s interpretations of said passage.

5. I will ask that you end this discussion. You are wasting your time and mine.

This was indeed a waste of my time to engage Tisdale in the comment sections of his blog and on Watts Up With That; but not because any fault on my part. It was a waste of my time as Tisdale doesn’t recognize the response from the KNMI as genuine/valid, and doesn’t attempt to verify if it is a genuine clarification from them.

I went into this exchange with the hope that we could find common ground on something as simple as this. There shouldn’t be any discussions on who is right or wrong when I provide a clarifying statement from the organisation that wrote the document.

Marcel Crok showed the same behaviour when I engaged him on a similar misrepresentation of the KNMI document:

So instead of you and me discussing this on a very detailed level, I think it is much more important that the Dutch delegation better explains what they mean exactly by these two sentences.

That was after me giving Crok the clarifying response from the KNMI, explaining how I got this response, and who wrote that response.

It’s things like this that always frustrates me when engaging those that call themselves ‘climate sceptics’. As I’m someone who is active in the sceptic community on the internet I find this a misnomer and is the very reason I call them so-called sceptics. They’re not sceptics, they in general misuse the term to hide their own biases and their inability to accept evidence that shows they’re wrong.

I have no problem whatsoever to change what I say when I (inadvertently) misrepresent someone, or when my statements are shown to be factually incorrect. With the responses Tisdale gave me it shows that he has an inability to do this. Tisdale also went from inadvertently misrepresenting the KNMI document to deliberately misrepresenting the document by dismissing the response from the KNMI that explains the intended meaning.

Behaviour like this is why I find that most of the ‘climate sceptics’ can’t be reasoned with.

Please forgive me for any sentences that are a bit wonky. I’m sick at home thanks due to a cold throwing me for a loop (it took me most of the day to turn this into something that is coherent). If you see anything that’s incorrectly written or that is unclear please leave a message and I’ll correct it as soon as possible.

Wotts pointed out a comment made by the user Sisi on Watts Up With That that gives a good summary of what I said in this blog post. Sisi also points out to Tisdale that he should contact the KNMI if he doubts my statements. Sisi also refers to a blog post written by Wotts stating how confusing this statement is in the context of the IPCC reports.

The most interesting part is the response from Tisdale to this comment:

Additionally, Sisi, the fact that Collin discussed it earlier in blog post is meaningless. As is your comment!!

As to the WottsUpWithThat post you linked, did you bother to read it? Obviously not, unless you were providing it as additional misdirection, assuming no one would bother to click on your link.

The author of that WottsUpWithThat post was wondering why KNMI wrote their recommendation. In other words, WottsUpWithThat did not understand it. But that’s not surprising. WottsUpWithThat obviously fail to grasp much of what goes on in climate science.

The funny part is that I’m in the comment section of the blog post written by Wotts where I also express my confusion. I also mention that I contacted the KNMI and gave updates on the situation as I got them. What Sisi cited shows how confusing this passage is if you’re not fully aware of the context. It also shows that Wotts and I don’t mind changing what our position is based on available evidence.

Tisdale so far has only entrenched himself further in his stance despite multiple people pointing out his mistake. Denying statements from the KNMI that show that your interpretation is incorrect isn’t what a sceptic does, that’s pseudo-scepticism.

Update 2013-10-02 @ 8:33:
Yesterday I left a comment on Tisdale’s blog and on Watts Up With That to notify Tisdale of this post and to give a summary. This is the response I found on Watts Up With That this morning (Sisi’s comment he’s referring to can be found here):

Sisi and Collin: You’re wasting your time here. Anyone with reading comprehension skills can understand the KNMI statement I linked and further understand that I have not misrepresented that document. What you claim to have quoted from your email does not change the document from KNMI.


Tisdale also stated on his blog that he will remove any new comments from me in which I raise this issue again.

I just can’t wrap my mind around how he manages to convince himself that his argument is valid when the email from Rob van Dorland shows it isn’t.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.