The Primacy of Doubt

Recently Judith Curry published a series of articles on the topic of blackouts. Since attempting to prevent such things is my “professional” speciality I’ve spent a bit of time over at “Climate Etc.” recently. Hence I couldn’t help but notice Judith’s article on Tim Palmer‘s new book, entitled “The Primacy of Doubt”. According to Judith:

This book is a physics-intellectual feast.  Must read.

Hence I immediately rushed online and bought a copy from, which arrived today. A more detailed overview will follow once I’ve had a chance to read the whole book, but leafing through it this evening I couldn’t help but notice this quotation from Richard Feynman at the very start:

Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle. Permit us to question — to doubt, that’s all — not to be sure.

My gaze also alighted on the final paragraph of chapter 10 – “Decisions! Decisions!”:

Just as with weather prediction, a cost-loss analysis can help you make a decision about whether to take anticipatory action regarding climate change…

Based on the way we value our own existence in other areas of life, there does indeed seem to be a strong argument that we should act now, uncertainties about future climate change notwithstanding.

But this is ultimately a decision which each of us must make, e.g. in deciding which politicians to vote for.

Of course being a citizen of the once Great British banana republic I don’t get to vote on our next Prime Minister!

I think I’ll go and pass this news on to Judith and her denizens forthwith. Meanwhile here’s a quotation from the back cover. According to Suki Manabe, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics:

The Primacy of Doubt is an important book by one of the pioneers of dynamical weather prediction, indispensable for daily life, describing how the approach can be used for prediction in other areas, such as climate, health, economy, and conflict.

[Edit – October 22nd]

I’m still rather busy trying to help keep the UK’s lights on, so I have yet to even begin reading “The Primacy of Doubt” from cover to cover. However here is another brief extract, from the chapter on “Climate Change”:

We understand these [water vapour, albedo] feedback processes reasonably well. However, there is another feedback process associated with water that we understand rather poorly. This is the cloud feedback process.

[Edit – October 25th]

Here’s another extract from chapter 6 (page 115):

The question of whether clouds act as a positive or negative feedback on climate change can’t at present be answered unambiguously: indeed, I would say it is the biggest unsolved problem in physical climate-change science.

Watch this space!

29 thoughts on “The Primacy of Doubt

  1. “Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle. Permit us to question — to doubt, that’s all — not to be sure.”

    Climate science is the only branch of science that does not permit criticism or challenge, any dissent is ruthlessly suppressed.

    When the IPCC was formed in 1988 its charter specifically deemed anthropogenic climate change to be a fact and the IPCC’s mission was to investigate how to deal with this “fact”.

    But who decided that AGW was a fact? To this day no government, scientific organisation or the UN have ever held a conference or investigation to determine the cause of our current warming cycle!

    But we are repeatedly told “the debate is over and the science is settled”.
    Albert Einstein said “100 experiments can never prove me right, but a single experiment can prove me wrong” meaning that NOTHING in science is ever settled.

    So that means AGW is founded on faith, not science and that makes it a religion, a cult where doctrine is beyond challenge.

      1. I looked it up: apparently it was Richard Feynman.

        Then I googled for his views on climate change and couldn’t find any.

        I truly wonder what he thought about climate change.

  2. Jim,

    I have no idea about what the cat herder cartoon means and also have no idea what specifically you disagree with about what I wrote.

    1. There has never been a debate about AGW.
    2. The IPCC charter states that AGW is a fact.
    3. In science, a theory can never be proved right, but in climate science the theory can never be proved wrong.


  3. I asked you what the cartoon meant and you just answer with sarcasm and personal attacks. I still have no idea what it means.

    I asked you to comment on what I actually said and you just ignore and you refuse to engage.

    Jim, I have an open mind and welcome debate on these issues but you rely on ad hominem attacks, red herrings and appeals to authority and not once have directly challenged any specific point I have made.

    1. Did you and/or Neil click the link, watch Peter Cox’s presentation and/or download his slides? Or even read the helpful explanatory extract therefrom?

      You have not provided any links to any “data” other than “newspaper clippings” to support your “opinions”. Please do so.

      At the risk of repeating myself, in answer to your specific points:

      1) Where is your evidence for this assertion?

      2) Where is your evidence for this assertion?

      3) Where is your evidence for this assertion?

      And whilst you’re at it please also respond to the numbered points I raised over at:

      Thanks in advance.

      1. 1. There has never been a debate about AGW.
        You said “Where is your evidence for this assertion?”
        What an absurd answer Jim, it’s up to you to show me where and when debates happened that were organised by a government, scientific body or UN. But you cant because there none.

        2. The IPCC charter states that AGW is a fact.
        You said “Where is your evidence for this assertion?”
        Here it is….
        “IPCC role as defined in the “Principles Governing IPCC Work” 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…”
        So from the very start the IPCC mission was not to investigate whether the current warming cycle is natural or anthrogogenic but to “understand the scientific basis of risk of HUMAN-INDUCED climate change”.

        3. In science, a theory can never be proved right, but in climate science the theory can never be proved wrong.
        You said “Where is your evidence for this assertion?”
        Whether it’s hot or cold, rain or drought, snow or no snow or whatever, AGW can never be tested or falsified. From Popper…..
        “The Falsification Principle, proposed by Karl Popper, is a way of demarcating science from non-science. It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific it must be able to be tested and conceivably proven false. ”

        It can be shown scientifically that CO2 causes a small amount of warming but the relationship is logarithmic so the temperature response gets increasingly smaller.

        To counter this, warmists dreamed up the theory of positive feedback which says that warming causes more evaporation which cause more warming which cause more evaporation etc but it is impossible to test this theory and many scientists believe the feedback could actually be negative because of the actions of clouds.

        Without positive feedback AGW is dead in the water.

        There is NO repeatable testable science that validates AGW, it’s all theory, models and predictions of doom.

        In true science nothing is ever “settled”, the “debate” is never over, challenges to the theory are treated respectfully and consensus is irrelevant.

        In climate science, the science is settled, the debate is over, challenges to the theory are ruthlessly suppressed and consensus is demanded.

        You may challenge the theories of Newton and Einstein but it is considered heresy to challenge the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

        1. I note you still haven’t provided any links.

          1) What an absurd answer Peter. Now you’re qualifying your assertion? Would you like to qualify it further?

          2) For some strange reason you left out this bit:

          The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988. It was set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to prepare, based on available scientific information, assessments on all aspects of climate change and its impacts, with a view of formulating realistic response strategies. The initial task for the IPCC as outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 43/53 of 6 December 1988 was to prepare a comprehensive review and recommendations with respect to the state of knowledge of the science of climate change; the social and economic impact of climate change, and possible response strategies and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate.

          3) It seems you still haven’t read about the IPCC’s cat herding activities?

          What’s more there are numerous philosophers of science who quibble with Popper. Including you apparently. I’ve already falsified your “all the top Arctic climate scientists in the early 2000’s were gleefully announcing that the Arctic was in a death spiral” assertion for example.

  4. I am following the Jim / Peter discussion with interest.
    I don’t understand the cat herding cartoon either.

  5. [Doug appears to be driving by, commenting without reference to the OP. Hence most of his comment is redacted.

    However I will leave this bit here for posterity – Mod]

    It’s sad that Dr Tim Ball has passed on, but he correctly called this the biggest scam in history. And it is. It must be defeated and it will be because truth will prevail. Here in Australia I will (by next year) be organising a class action against the CSIRO by major companies that a financially affected by legislation based on the fictitious, fiddled physics of climatology. I will easily defeat any climatologist face to face in a court room.

  6. One thing there is no doubt about is the result of our £1000 bet Jim. Had you not had a problem with the DMI my charity would now have an extra £1000 to spend this year.
    Given you were the only person out of many i asked, including some Arctic “experts” with enough conviction to take on a bet back in 2014 on Arctic sea ice extent (though to be fair you only took area, no one was brave enough to bet on extent) i thought you might have done a small piece on the blog regarding it.

    Maybe if you had won the bet you would have been more motivated to do a post 🙂

  7. Intriguingly Judith has now published an article by Nic Lewis that leans heavily on cloud feedback. However Judith, Nic and 80 odd commenters all failed to draw a connection with Judith’s previous article, until I added a comment of my own to the effect that:

    I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that nobody seems to have mentioned Tim Palmer’s new book “The Primacy of Doubt” in this context!

    According to Nic:

    This week Die Zeit published an interview with Bjorn Stevens. Die Zeit is the largest German weekly newspaper (circulation well over one million), and has a highly educated readership.

    Bjorn Stevens is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the principal German climate science research and modeling centre. He is very well known for his work on climate sensitivity, aerosols and, particularly, clouds. Professor Stevens is an excellent scientist and a key figure in the climate science establishment…

    ZEIT: Are [clouds] warming or cooling the planet?

    Stevens: Both. The energy balance of the earth has two parts: firstly, the incident sunlight and secondly, the heat given off by the earth, i.e. infrared radiation. All clouds have a cooling effect by reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface. And all clouds have a warming effect by absorbing the earth’s infrared radiation so it doesn’t escape into space – the greenhouse effect. The balance sheet shows: Water-rich low clouds over the tropical ocean have the greatest cooling effect and low-water ice clouds at high altitudes have the strongest warming effect. Overall, the cooling effect is greater.

    ZEIT: And how does this balance change with global warming? Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) recently published a worst-case scenario. It also mentions that by the end of the century our planet could get so warm that all the clouds are practically evaporating and we are doomed.

    Stevens: That’s nonsense. Put simply, the atmosphere wants to be cloudy because air rises. It’s hard to get rid of clouds.

    ZEIT: Why do the Potsdam climate researchers claim otherwise?

    Stevens: You’ll have to ask them that. I can only admire how the colleagues there comb through the specialist literature for the most alarming stories. I find it a pity that these are then presented uncritically…

    The original German version of the above interview, updated October 19, 2022 at 4:50 pm, is available here.

  8. Here is my own translation of the exchange about PIK:

    “ZEIT: And how does this balance change with global warming? Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) recently published a worst-case scenario. It also mentions that by the end of the century, our planet could get so warm that all the clouds will have practically evaporated, and we are doomed.

    Stevens: That is nonsense. Put simply, the atmosphere will be cloudy because the air rises. It is hard to get rid of clouds.

    1. Thanks very much for the independent translation Kasia.

      Would I be correct in assuming that Die Zeit is rather like a German language version of the once United Kingdom’s Daily Torygraph?

      Evidently Max Rauner is being somewhat “economical with the truth” in his article. For example, the “PIK paper” he links to is nothing of the sort. The lead and corresponding author is Luke Kemp from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge. The abstract explicitly states that:

      “Prudent risk management requires consideration of bad-to-worst-case scenarios. Yet, for climate change, such potential futures are poorly understood. Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic.”

      Needless to say the paper goes on to explore that topic! The nearest I can find to Max’s “evaporating clouds” reads as follows:

      There are even more uncertain feedbacks, which, in a very worst case, might amplify to an irreversible transition into a “Hothouse Earth” state (although there may be negative feedbacks that help buffer the Earth system). In particular, poorly understood cloud feedbacks might trigger sudden and irreversible global warming. Such effects remain underexplored and largely speculative “unknown unknowns” that are still being discovered. For instance, recent simulations suggest that stratocumulus cloud decks might abruptly be lost at CO2 concentrations that could be approached by the end of the century, causing an additional ∼8 °C global warming. Large uncertainties about dangerous surprises are reasons to prioritize rather than neglect them.

      That sounds much more like Tim Palmer’s position, described briefly above and in much more detail in his book.

  9. “economical with the truth” is such a pathetic Englishness, the use of euphemism. The Zeit and Max Rauner are lying, just that.

    [Image changed, as discussed – Mod]

  10. Peter is now “on moderation”.

    5 of his comments which contained no links to any “evidence” for his numerous assertions and have nothing to do with the philosophy of science, Tim Palmer’s book in general or cloud feedbacks in particular have been redacted.

    Here is a brief extract from one of them:

    “LOL! Needed a good laugh this morning.”

  11. It seems that Max Rauner isn’t the only person who has been writing about Kemp et al. (2022), AKA “Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios”.

    According to Burgess, Pielke Jr. and Ritchie in “Catastrophic climate risks should be neither understated nor overstated“:

    Kemp et al. argue that catastrophic climate change scenarios—including societal collapse and human extinction—should be studied explicitly but are currently underexplored. We agree that such scenarios should be studied, and society should prioritize avoiding catastrophic outcomes. However, history also shows risks in overemphasizing the likelihood of calamity. Mindful of this, we argue Kemp et al. understate the degree to which recent scientific and public discourses already prioritize catastrophic climate scenarios…

    In their reply Kemp et al. have this to say:

    We thank Burgess et al. for their contribution…

    We agree that studying catastrophic climate scenarios and extreme risk mitigation is imperative.

    We disagree that catastrophic scenarios are already adequately or excessively studied. Counting the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5 scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR6 Working Group II report is not a good proxy for catastrophic climate risk assessment. The scenarios only account for anthropogenic emissions (each with a range of temperature outcomes), not extreme risk assessment. Even just for high-end warming scenarios, more granular text-mining reports show these are under-studied relative to their likelihood and lower-warming scenarios. This is supported by literature sampling and reflections by popular writers who have synthesized the climate risk literature. The normally used cutoff date of 2100 in modeling also contributes to an underappreciation of long-term higher warming and catastrophic scenarios…

    Neither article explicitly refers to cloud feedbacks.

    1. Furthermore Skeptical Science has published an article critical of Burgess et al.’s critique of Kemp et al.:

      Compared to Burgess, PIelke Jr. & Ritchie who after all are selling their “speculative doom mongering” quite hard, Kemp et al. are positively, sincerely soothing. Not a surprise, really; stick with mainstream science (and citations) and language automatically stays cool and dry. Conversely by leaning on popular literature the atmosphere of words can become hot and humid.

      After we’ve mopped and dried our brows, breathed deeply ten times, et voilà! We see that no substantive argument against “it’s good to know more” has been offered by our trio of etiquette coaches.

      But if we need some epic, scenery-chewing delivery of middle paragraphs built on archetypally sub-sophomoric citations and plunging us off our rockers and into a dark world of histrionics, now we know who to call. BPR have got it down.

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