The citizen scientist

Ticking bomb project for Project Lab

Ticking bomb project from Project Lab

The House of Commons Energy and Climate Committee have now published the submissions of the review of the IPCC and what an impressive collection it is. It is great to see so many citizens putting in their own time and effort to produce these superb submissions.

In one of the numerous pages that didn’t make it to my submission I introduced the idea of the “citizen scientist” which is the scientific equivalent of the “expert patient”. Reading the submissions, I regret not including it.

The Expert Patient is the phenomenon in medicine, that more and more, doctors are coming across patients, that not only know more about their own illness than the doctor, but even know more about the latest medical research. Initially – and for obvious reasons – many doctors were quite hostile to this phenomena: it fundamentally changes the balance of power and therefore the relationship between doctor and patient.

However, after some initial resistance, it has now been accepted in medicine, as a de facto outcome of the internet, that many patients will be experts in their own condition. This phenomenon is one which doctors have not only learnt to live with, to the extent there are now numerous papers, but some are now encouraging patients to become their own experts.

In a very similar way that the latest medical information can be easily found on the internet and there are communities interested enough to analyse and discuss medical information, there are also numerous other “hobbies” where people have a keen interest. Through the medium of the internet, these people & communities can gain a level of expertise that surpasses the “official sources”.

From train-spotters, to bird-spotters, from environmentalists to climatology, there are now groups of citizen-experts, very much akin to the expert-patient phenomena in medicine. Their interest and the ready availability of information through the internet has enabled them to become experts in their own right. But more importantly, they can do this outside the normal power-relationship between academic and student. As such there is no requirement to effectively “bow” to the supposed superiority of academia which legitimises their authority.

We citizens are no longer students of academia but researchers and even professors in our own right.

This is extremely threatening to academia. It is understandable that when a close-knit group is threatened in this way, that they react viciously. We have seen some very reprehensible attacks from those like Gleick and Lewandowski very much in the vein of the union activist attempting to protect their closed shop; but perhaps a closer analogy is the way the Catholic church reacted to printing (~1500) by introducing the Roman Inquisition (1588) which was responsible for prosecuting heretics like Galileo (1633).

So, just as the expert patient created a tension caused by the change in power in the relationship between patient and doctor, and printing created tension in religion by challenging the power of “orthodox” religion, so the citizen-scientist has created tension in the relationship between science and society. Citizen-scientists have met a wall of official reluctance & even outright hostility from the “orthodox” science establishment.

The class system in science

In areas like bird-spotting, the amateur has always had a place. So, this tension has not developed in the same way. But when it comes to more academic “science”, there has been fairly much a closed shop mentality ever since the founding of the Royal Society in 1660. Unfortunately, much of this stems from the British class system. In the industrial age, a lot of new money was created from manufacturing. This led to a great deal of ill-feeling between the old “gentlemen” scientists and the new monied, working-class “uncouth” industrialists & engineers.

This class attitude is epitomised by the way that in 1761, when John Harrison, a watchmaker, won a prize for a method of determining longitude, the Royal Society refused to give him the £20,000 prize. This is incredible, because John Harrison effectively created the modern world as we know it. Without his timepiece the British would not have mapped the world and had the navigational edge to “turn the map pink” as much of the world came under British control thus spreading British culture, engineering and science to the world. He did not get the recognition he deserved. Not because he did not deserve it but because academia was not prepared to recognise expertise outside its cloistered walls. Not much has changed. The Royal Society still looks down its noses at anyone outside.

But the analogy between Galileo and the catholic church and modern academia is closer than we think. Originally many Universities were set up as religious institutions in order to support the arguments to enforce orthodoxy in the catholic church. We find this religious origin in words such as dean (from Late Latin decanus “head of a group of 10 monks in a monastery”), rector and doctor (“Church father,” from Medieval Latin doctor “religious teacher, adviser, scholar,”). We also see this in the dual meaning of “Professor” as also one who professes a religion, and “lecturer” which is also a junior member of the clergy in the Church of England.

So, supporting the orthodoxy and “repressing heretics” from outside has always been part of the culture of academia. In light of this history, it should not be surprising that science, particularly British Science, and particularly those “upper-class” echelons like the Royal Society, have a culture of being hostile to anything that is “not invented here”.

The anti-industry culture of academia morphs into anti CO2

Unfortunately, from its dominant position, people like those in the Royal Society have engendered a culture in British science that the “industrialist” is uncouth. This has been highly damaging to Britain. I think it is one of the main reason the British pursued the disastrous de-industrialisation policy of the Thatcher era, when something like a quarter of British manufacturing went abroad. An era where “service jobs” supporting economic growth through spending (i.e. borrow to bust) became established as the economic doctrine in place of creating wealth through manufacturing. And we all know where this “borrow to boom” anti-manufacturing culture landed us – in the banking crisis of 2008 just before Climategate.

Although this anti-industry culture in British politics since the Thatcher government was partly a reaction to bad union relations, partly an accident of fate as North Sea oil tipped the balance against UK manufacturing, it was  undoubtedly encouraged by an anti-industry culture in academia.

However, it then morphed into something arguably even more damaging. Because industry was a large-scale user of energy, this anti-industry culture in academia found a new way to express itself in the anti-CO2 global-warming culture which is now so dominant in academia. In effect what academics are encouraging by supporting views that CO2 is a “pollutant” is a view prevalent in left-wing academic circles that private industry is a “pollutant”. So being against CO2 is a proxy for being “anti-industry”: it provides a thin veneer of respectability to what is really a battle between two major power blocks: “public” (low energy use) and “private” (high energy use).

So, it is particularly paradoxical that it was the Thatcher era of “Privatisation”, which saw the real death knell to the private sector in the UK when for example, the House of Commons “science and engineering” committee turned into the “science and [scientific] technology” committee. Engineering and by inference, industry, was written out of British life at the very highest levels and it was replaced by a culture of anti-industrial scientific elitism spread into government by the growing number of scientific advisers.

Even the Starship enterprise had a chief engineer, but not the UK government!

Unfortunately, as academia became more and more embedded in government, the anti-industry culture expressed through CO2 & global warming became self sustaining. The culture of scientific elitism was self-perpetuating. The academic institutions advised government on science and engineering. They ran the grant awarding bodies. They decided who would get grants. They ran the journals by which they (as a corporate body of academic-scientists) controlled access to the journals which defined the subject. But most importantly, they as a corporate body of academia, controlled who would, and would not get on in the subject. They controlled whose theories would, and would not, be considered “legitimate” and they worked as a corporate group to maintain and extend their control.

The academic closed shop

In effect, we have what in industry is called a “closed shop”. The “union” of academics have a “union-members only” policy. If you aren’t a member of the union, you do not get employment in the form of grants. It is an unspoken rule that union members do not work with non-union or “scab labour” and so, as we have seen numerous times, journal editors that break this rule and let in papers from “non-union” authors are viciously attacked, to such an extent editors end up resigning. And those academics, like Salby and too many others to mention, who do not toe the line are ostracised.

In this way science (like most of academia) has enjoyed a closed shop on “knowledge” for much of the past several hundred years. And perhaps even worse, academia was responsible for writing its own history. The effect is that we now see history through an academic white-wash. The science-practitioner: the industrialist, the people like John Harrison, have largely been written out of history. Now if we read history it appears that all knowledge is created and maintained in academia. This is very wrong. The reality is that much of the knowledge of science has always been in the hands of scientific-practitioners like engineers who operate outside academia.

But what could anyone do about it? Nothing! You can’t go to court to fight academia – because who will be the “experts”? academics! Politicians couldn’t take on the academic “union”, because what was the ultimate source of power in our society: knowledge! And who “owned” this knowledge: academia! And it would have stayed that way – at least until the economy of the UK had so collapsed that we could no longer afford any universities – except for one thing.

The Internet Revolution

In a similar way that the development of the printing press around 1500 caused a revolution in religion as this new medium made available fundamental knowledge about the textual basis in the bible, so the internet is creating a revolution in science.

Now, there are areas of science, which formerly were in the tight grip of academia, where the barriers to entry are low enough that “citizen-scientists” empowered by the internet are doing to science what the protestants empowered by printing did to the catholic church. Just as people in the 1500s, could finally read the raw texts that had been used to justify the position of the catholic church, so now citizen-scientists can process the raw data on the climate which the scientific establishment has used to justify its anti-industry, anti-private sector views on CO2 and global warming.

Now most of the information is readily available on the internet, almost anyone with a PC can create a climate model. Rapidly sites like WattsUpWithThat are creating a method for citizen-scientists to get “into print”, which enables them to totally bypass the closed shop of the holy catholic church of science through its control of the academic journals.

In other words, there is no way on earth that people like the Royal Society or Met Office will ever stop the citizen scientists taking an interest and not only criticising what they do, but in many cases (like the expert patient) gaining knowledge that surpasses the “official” sources, particularly in practical experience or in bringing to the subject knowledge learned outside academia.

Medicine has had to accept this fundamental change in power between the citizen and official “expert”. Unfortunately, from these submissions, it is clear the Royal Society, IPCC, Met Office, etc. are still living in the dark ages and only very reluctantly being dragged kicking and screaming into the internet age.

The simple fact, is that short of uninventing the internet, no one, not me, Anthony Watts, not Paul Nurse or the real Pope can stop this revolution. As such …

the Royal Society, IPCC, Met Office, etc. are going to have to learn to live with us sceptics. Indeed, unless they learn to live with us and learn to respect the fact that we bring to this subject skills which in many cases far exceed their own, it is their reputations and not ours which will suffer severely.

The question is not if citizen-scientists will win. Like printing, the change in power relationship between citizen scientist and academic scientist is inevitable. The question is instead whether, like doctors, academics are prepared to accept this fact and break down the barriers of the closed shop of academia to work with those outside, or whether like Galileo, the orthodox church of science, makes itself a historical laughing stock.

From what I have seen in these submissions, I fear academia have chosen the latter course – to attack the citizen-scientists, following in the footsteps of those like Galileo, who dare to challenge orthodox authority.

But like John Harrison’s timepiece, the climate clock is ticking. Unless we citizen-scientists are very mistaken, soon there will be no denying the holy catholic church of science was as wrong on the climate as the catholic church was wrong that the earth was the centre of the solar system. I would not wish to be in charge of one of those “official sources” when the public finds out and this issue finally blows up.


In the original I used Copernicus and Galileo interchangeably. It was Galileo who was prosecuted over the Copernican model of the solar system with the sun at the centre although both were rejected by the church. To make it clearer, I’ve changed all references to Galileo.

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25 Responses to The citizen scientist

  1. Neil craig says:

    Valuable, and as you say, applicable across the board of human experience. Tapping the revolutionary effect of the internet has barely started.

    • The irony is that academia was in a large part responsible for inventing the internet. I cannot help wondering whether the effect of printing which could be seen as leading to the division of the Western church might not be repeated in some way in academia. I am not sure what that means, except that before the rise of protestantism, no one could visualise that catholic church breaking up.

      As “science” is almost a de facto religion, perhaps the effect of the internet could be just as profound.

  2. Derek Alker says:

    “We citizens are no longer students of academia but researchers and even professors in our own right.”
    “the Royal Society, IPCC, Met Office, etc. are going to have to learn to live with us sceptics. Indeed, unless they learn to live with us and learn to respect the fact that we bring to this subject skills which in many cases far exceed their own, it is their reputations and not ours which will suffer severely.”

    The truth will out a lot faster now because of the internet. This IS causing great problems for the old ways, which is probably why there are attempts (from the UN, Obama, etc, etc) to restrict / control our internet access / surfing. So far biased internet search engines have been employed, but I doubt they will be considered “enough” in the near future.

  3. climateismydj says:

    My word!

  4. Derek Alker says:

    “In one of the numerous pages that didn’t make it to my submission I introduced the idea of the “citizen scientist” which is the scientific equivalent of the “expert patient”. Reading the submissions, I regret not including it.”

    A great shame. Very clearly explained.

    “The question is not if citizen-scientists will win. Like printing, the change in power relationship between citizen scientist and academic scientist is inevitable. The question is instead whether, like doctors, academics are prepared to accept this fact and break down the barriers of the closed shop of academia to work with those outside, or whether like Galileo, the orthodox church of science, makes itself a historical laughing stock.”

    I very strongly agree.

    “the orthodox church of science” is already a laughing stock, as are it’s gatekeepers and the controlled two sided “debates” that do not allow questioning of GH “theory”. It is plainly obvious to be in the “debates” one first HAS TO ACCEPT the “theory”, which is actually a failed and unphysical hypothesis.

    To show how bad things already are I would suggest people read my Five Fatal Flaws greenhouse effect “theory” MUST address. It was first posted on the internet in various places about 12 months ago and to date has not received a single rebuttal, but it has been ignored and had plenty of dismissals….

    • Hi, I had a look at your paper. I was quite shocked by the diagrams marked “Real Greenhouse theory” as it seemed to imply that one lot of energy was going into the atmosphere (row T ^4) and two lots of (row T^4) were coming out.

      However, when I went to the Yale link, they clearly had their diagrams marked with Trad & another. Indeed, now I look you have the subscript s & a, although you have the same flux of 239W/m^2.

      On that diagram Te^4 + Ta^4 = Ts^4
      Ts^4 = 2 x Ta^4 (Ta^4 = 0.5 x Ts^4)

      So Ts^4 = 0.5 x Ts^4 + Te^4
      Ts^4 = 2 Te^4

      However, in your diagram you say these are the same temperature. Could you point me to somewhere on the internet where someone does say they are the same temperature?

      However, the important point is that CO2 greenhouse effect isn’t actually part of the global warming theory. It may be cited as such, but in reality, the greenhouse warming of CO2 is a redundant variable, in the sense that whatever the value of CO2 warming, the models will be selected for the same amount of overall warming based solely on a short window of observation. So, double the CO2 greenhouse effect or halve it, and the models would have been chosen to have almost exactly the same predicted warming.

      What sums it up for me is that this whole debacle is based on using the 1998 (I think) version of the HITRAN database of CO2 absorption when calculations by Harde of the CO2 effect using later versions produces 30% less greenhouse effect.

      I cannot believe that they have not tried using the later databases, so it is therefore almost certain, that they tried the later data, found it did not produce the figure they wanted and so have not used the better data because it didn’t produce the figure they wanted.

      This sums up everything we need to know about this subject. It is just corrupt to the core.

  5. Derek Alker says:

    Just for clarity, a link to my paper, where it was originally posted.

    Mike writes –
    “However, in your diagram you say these are the same temperature. Could you point me to somewhere on the internet where someone does say they are the same temperature?”

    The Stefan Boltzman equation (applied in the black body sense – as all explanations of GH “theory” and global energy budgets ARE), if I understand your question correctly.

    • In the paper you linked to, the radiation flux was the same for both atmospheric downward to the surface and surface upward. This is in effect saying the atmospheric and surface temperature are the same. This seemed to be a surprising statement as even a simple IR thermometer will tell you the sky is much lower in temperature than the surface.

      So, I was wondering how you came to the conclusion that the atmospheric temperature is the same as the surface temperature. Is this something that is stated. Or is this an inference from the model used and the values given to the flux.

      Either way, I would like to see this so I could see exactly what was said.

    • Derek Alker says:

      I suppose the point you raise is that the “theory” is that the atmosphere (represented by a line…) radiates twice that which it receives. That is correct, THAT is the “theory”. The “theory” is unphysical.

      P/4 is no better. It can not mean there is a 24 hour 1/4 power sun, so it must mean an average, but, does one cook a chicken for one hour at 200C, or does one cook a chicken at 50C for four hours. Obviously the latter is an “average” that ignores the thermodynamics of reality, but THAT is what the “theory” is.

      Honestly the “theory” is laughable, except so many have unquestioningly accepted it, without ever having understood what the actual “theory” is. It is an unphysical, failed hypothesis, that ignores the thermodynamics of grey body reality, nothing more.

      GH “theory” = what will be THE “historical laughing stock” of all human history.

      • It only radiates twice what it receives if it is the same temperature as the surface. As it is a well known fact to anyone who climbs a hill that the temperature drops with altitude, this seemed a surprising assertion, so I wondered how you got the figures on the diagram.

        • Derek Alker says:

          It is the only way they could get a four arrow diagram, using the IPCC “theory” / global energy budgets. My plot is of their “theory” as was, and still is being taught at all educational levels from the BBC to internationally respected universities.

          The four 239W/m2 arrows.
          Arrow 1 solar constant, divided by four, and allowing for refraction losses.
          Arrows 2 and 3 The atmosphere average weighted mean temp is minus 18C.
          Arrow 4 239W/m2 = minus 18C. That is the temp earth when observed as an object in space is.

  6. Derek Alker says:

    “Or is this an inference from the model used and the values given to the flux.”
    Yes, THAT is the point.

    The “theory” is that earth’s surface is warmed by the sun up to MINUS 18C (P/4), and then atmospheric back radiation warms the earth’s surface up to 30C. ie, 239W/m2 (from the sun) + 239W/m2 (atmospheric back radiation).
    Not my fault as such, THAT is the “theory”.

    P/4 is employed simply to get earth’s surface temperature low enough to REQUIRE a greenhouse effect in the first place, when no such thing happens, or is required in grey body reality.

    • OK, could you give me a link to someone using those figures.

      I did a quick check and got this:

      This is more typical of what I’ve seen, so I’m not sure how you get from this to your diagram

      • Derek Alker says:

        The pdf clearly depicts solar input as 341 – 102 = 239.
        It clearly depicts earth emits 239 to space.
        And, the average weighted mean temperature of earth’s atmosphere is -18C.

        I think the values used for the four arrows of the “theory” stand up to scrutiny.
        THAT is the “theory” my pdf questions.

        • Derek, you’ve obviously put a lot of work into this, but as far as I can see the model you are using is a very simplified one which will inevitably have flaws. So, e.g. where you say “Energy received at the top of earth’s atmosphere, after p/4, is 342W/m2 which
          becomes 240W/m2 at surface. This reduction of 102W/m2 is not depicted as reappearing anywhere within GH “theory”. ”

          This doesn’t match the flows in where there is only 161W/m2 arriving at the surface.

          I’m not saying these models are correct, all I’m saying is that you can’t say the greenhouse theory is wrong when what what you have shown to be wrong is your own model using your own figures.

          • Derek Alker says:

            I merely compiled what was, and still is currently taught, as the pdf you linked to also shows.

            Any google search and images search shows the “theory” I have presented is the GH “theory”, it is not in any way mine.

            There are two “official” versions of the “theory”,
            1) the simple four arrows type plots, and
            2) the more complex global energy budget type version.

            All versions start with P/4, which is unphysical. All versions are completely presented in black body, yet are supposed to depict what happens on grey body reality.

            You have correctly identified the most obvious difference between the 2 version types of GH “theory”, ie, the amount received at earth’s surface. That however does not in any way answer the questions I have presented of the “theory” in it’s simple four arrows version as currently taught. They are not my questions alone, many others have been asking them too, to no reasonable reply.

            The more complex global energy budget versions of the “theory” have many, many more questions to answer. For example they get the basic forms of heat transfer in completely the wrong order of importance at earth’s surface, as I have previously tried to explain in this thread at the GWS forum and accompanying pdf.

            I have also tried to simply illustrate that latent heat losses are the main cooling mechanism at earth’s surface, which is in complete contradiction to the global energy budget version of the GH “theory”. The oily mug experiment is easily repeated in anyone’s kitchen, and there is an ever more dramatic difference between the mugs cooling rate if a fan is used.

            In the end, the simple four arrows version of GH “theory” must answer the questions it itself raises, referring to another version of the “theory” is not an answer. In point of fact, it raises even more questions, which is what I suspect was the intention all along…..

  7. Derek Alker says:

    THE “theory”.

    Please note the page frequently changes.
    Until recently the plot / diagram used looked a lot more like,

    Please note the four arrows….. Exactly as my plot depicts.
    I have represented the “theory” accurately in my pdf, and therefore the five fatal flaws HAVE to be answered. But I do not expect they ever will be. There are more flaws I should have added, it is all in black body for example, no emissivity, but what’s the point?

    People, it seems to me, want to believe in the cold sun and flat earth “theory”, as if it would be too much to admit how fooled they have been. YET, not to question IS unscientific….

    • climateismydj says:

      Derek, I would not waste your time with science. As Mike has eloquently scribed in a wonderfully paranoid vision of Britain, science leads only to the destruction of industry and freedom. Oh, and the Internet, but that is only an ironic side effect, so that particular challenge to industry can be willfully ignored.

      Vive la [industrial] revolution!

      • No, I did not. Science and academia are not the same thing. And I am certainly not suggesting people give up on science – but what academia does and calls “science” is often nothing of the sort. What I actually said in effect is that if your industrial policy is determined by academics it tends to be pro-academia and anti industry and that CO2 is used as proxy through which academics legitimise their anti-industry hostility.

      • Derek Alker says:

        climateismydj says:
        December 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm
        “Derek, I would not waste your time with science.”

        BUT, the best science has always been amateur.

        Government funded science is an oxymoron.

  8. excellent post! Added with link back at Principia Scientific International

  9. Pingback: The Citizen Scientist : a paradigm shift in Science. | ScottishSceptic

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