The Citizen Scientist : a paradigm shift in Science.

After several conversations regarding my article: “The Citizen Scientist“, I am beginning think this may possibly be the most important article I have ever written about the climate debate.

What I suggested is that sceptics can be considered as a community of citizen scientists, people from outside academia with an interest in science, joined together by the internet. We are not “anti-science” but instead an alternative community of scientists that now rivals the “official” community and in some (but not all) areas is beginning to exceed the skill and understanding of the “official” community.

This is a new paradigm in science: that science can exist amongst “the citizens” outside academia and outside the academic controlled communication channels of their journals. This is hard for academics to understand because they have what I described as a ‘closed shop’ culture in academia where largely:

science = academic science.

However, it is not only difficult for them to understand but also extremely threatening. “Outsiders” are beginning to threaten the monopolistic position of academia regarding scientific knowledge and authority. This, I think, goes a long way to explain much of the vitriol and hatred we have experienced from “official” science when even world governments appear to be listening to those outside academia on climate.
(The lack of action by world governments shows that governments are no longer slavishly following the “official” advice and so presumably tentatively acknowledging the credibility of the views of those citizen scientists called sceptics.)

Fundamentally, I think we are seeing a change in the power relationship between academia and outsiders. Before the internet, that relationship was the “master” and “student” and academics were looked to for “the answers”. Now, citizen scientists – empowered by the internet – do not simply accept the answers given by their academic  “masters”. Instead the internet allows “citizen scientists” to gain knowledge and develop their own answers.

This is as fundamental a change to academia as internet shopping was to the high street shops. And it is inevitable that this will be worrying to academics because:

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

This, I think, is why we keep hearing academia saying they should “communicate better”. What this really means is that they wish to enforce the old power relationship where academic masters spoke and (student) outsiders listened. But that relationship has broken down in climate, and by extension it is likely to break down in many other areas where academia formerly could expect to be listened to as the single source of authority.

Scientific Authority

And scientific authority is perhaps the single most cherished prize of academia. Because formerly, it could assume that on all matters of science, governments would turn to academia for advice. But that appears to be under threat particularly in regard to the climate where that authority has been severely diminished by their failure to deliver reliable predictions or even admit their failures.

I am old enough to remember when “made in Japan” meant plastic toys that sank in the bath & “made in Britain” meant (was supposed to mean) quality. Within less than a generation, the unthinkable happened and the reputations were reversed.

Science “made in academia” used to be the hallmark of good quality. Now climate science has a very poor reputation.

In contrast, “internet” science has been portrayed (by academia?) as full of fantasy science and conspiracy theories. This is the meme of the attacks from those such as Lewandowsky. But now we are seeing sites specialising in climate (Climate Audit is a clear example) that surpass their academic rivals in rigour and understanding.

What we may be seeing, is that in areas like the climate where there is enough interest and robust informed debate, governments may be more willing to trust “citizen scientists” than what we tend to think as “official” sources.

Is it time to think the unthinkable? That the robust and chaotic exchanges of sceptics are a more credible source of advice to governments than those like the Royal Society?


The growth of “citizen science”, is challenging “official” science, largely as a result of the internet. This is because the internet is making it possible to build a well-informed community outside academia which now challenges it for authority on the subject. And, unless one were to “uninvent” the internet, that community will continue to grow and even flourish and not just on climate. As such we may see “citizen science” increasingly challenging academia for credibility in areas where academia thought it was the only authority on the subject.

This is a paradigm shift: one which is likely to change science and academia perhaps more fundamentally than we can now imagine.

This entry was posted in climate. Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to The Citizen Scientist : a paradigm shift in Science.

  1. Ingimundur Kjarval says:

    Yes you are right, blew my mind.

  2. Ingimundur Kjarval says:

    You say:
    “The lack of action by world governments shows that governments are no longer slavishly following the “official” advice and so presumably tentatively acknowledging the credibility of the views of those citizen scientists called sceptics.”

    This is exactly what I have been saying. The debate has moved out of “approved channels”. I keep up a discussion on the climate in Iceland. nobody in the media would ever dream of giving me the respect of mentioning my name. But still it seems I control the discussion, the truth has a way of seeping through all censorship.

  3. Morley Sutter says:

    In my opinion, your use of the term “Citizen Scientist” is a misnomer. The word scientist often is misused and I think you are confusing scientist with expert. A scientist is someone who does science and that entails systematic observation, making a prediction, constructing a model and testing that model (Jennings, PHYSICS IN CANADA / VOL. 63, NO. 1 ( Jan. / Feb. 2007 ) and citizens you describe do not do these activities usually. All too often they simply read books or search the web and use the information they find as knowledge. In this way, they might qualify as experts but they are not scientists.
    Morley Sutter, retired medical scientist.

    • That is a good question, but if sceptics are not scientists then neither would most so called “climate scientists”

      How many climate “scientists” take “systematic observation”? Does Michael Mann go out and take temperature measurements, or like citizen scientists, does he take the measurements produced by others?

      Any soothsayer can make a prediction. How many climate “scientists” make predictions that work? … in contrast sceptics correctly predicted that the climate would not warm as fast as the climate “scientists” said it would.

      And again regarding models … what matters is whether they work. The sceptic model is this: “it’s largely natural variation” … this has proven more accurate than the climate “scientists” models that failed to predict the global climate, whereas sceptics correctly predicted that it would be difficult to predict because of the large amount of natural variability.

      So are you saying that someone like Michael Mann is not “a climate scientist”?

      • Fragmeister says:

        Is Stephen Hawking a scientist? Undoubtedly he is. Beware the narrow definitions of science and scientist. Philosophers of science, just like philosophers of art, have spent entire careers trying and failing satisfactorily to define science.

        I agree that you have not understood the nature of citizen scientists. They have existed for centuries and, in geology and astronomy, many make significant discoveries. Where your description of citizen scientists falls down is in those that pick holes and then ignore the evidence provided to fill those holes. You can ask the questions by all means but you should also listen to the answers.

  4. Morley Sutter says:

    Yes; he might once have been a scientist but now is an ex-administrator, lobbyist, advocate or activist – take your pick.

  5. Morley Sutter says:

    By the way, climate sceptics might or might not be scientists but all scientists should be sceptical about the results of their research

    • I agree. Indeed it is because many sceptics are more scientific in their approach than most climate “scientists” that I think we have a right to call ourselves “citizen scientists”.

      At the very least, I think it is worth spreading the idea that we are citizen scientists, because this will force climate scientists to define what they mean by “science”.

      • Fragmeister says:

        Call yourself what you like but there is a problem. Read the scientific literature carefully. Scientists, that’s real ones, are highly conservative and will not rush to publication until they have tested their work in many ways. That includes the informal showing it around in the office to presentations at conferences and so on. To make a grand claim and be proved wrong is career ending. Ask Fleischman and Pons.

        • Kent Clizbe says:


          How about asking Michael Mann?

        • Neil Craig says:

          In which case nobody who has predicted CAGW is a scientist because they have not been conservative in their predictions and they have not tested them. However defining science either as something that excludes or includes them all makes it not a very useful term . I am reminded of the way “chemistry” was invented as a term because “alchemy” (literally “the chemistry”) was no longer useful.

          I find the “career ending” point more interesting because it is wrong. How wrong were Fleischman & Pons bearing in mind that the LENR field is definitely producing results, despite minimal funding? Why were the careers of Hanson, Mann & Jones not ended by being wrong? I suspect the answer to both is the corruption of science by state funding.

        • But the big problem that sceptics constantly point out is that much of what is written on climate is far from conservative. Time and time again we see things rushed into print to “refute sceptics” which is nothing much more than a blog posting dressed up as science.

  6. TinyCO2 says:

    Citizen science is not new and all the sciences started with people who just started looking at problems in a more organised fashion. Institutions were the partly the result of those people wanting to share their knowledge but in large part, the drive to be important featured. It’s very flattering to have wide eyed acolytes. Initially pure science had litle reward and was often the pursuit of the wealthy or those with a patron. However, science with a practical application was something that could be followed by anyone who could get on the knowledge ladder. Over time the two types of sciences drifted apart. Where sciences became commercial we recognised that they needed control to stop charletans and profiteers. We set up rules and monitoring bodies to protect the public. Pure science without immediate practical value coalesced into academia and it rightfully persuaded society that such endeavours were valuable and should be funded from the public purse. However, the money available was limited and internal forces kept work reasonably honest. The journey of discovering knowledge had to be valued because sucesses were few and far between. Fraudsters were often uncovered by jealous competitors for the strictly limited funds.

    When climate science emerged it had a pratical purpose and earned extra funding as a limited public service, weather prediction. This could also be exploited as a minor commercial arm, but was not a big money spinner because there’s only so much people will pay for an inexact warning what the weather will be next week. Then along comes global warming. It’s like medecine was invented overnight. Suddenly everyone wants to make money from this new thing. There are no rules or regulations. The public are easily conned because they don’t know what the truth is. Scientists feel that they should be the ones exploiting their science and try to use the method they’re familiar with – publishing papers, conferences, books and advising others. The scientists feel no responsibility for what is done with their science because it’s never been their remit. They haven’t had centuries of repercussions for faulty science that the others have. Climate science hasn’t got the infrastruture for safety that built slowly round the other commercial sciences. It’s the Wild West of science.

    Sceptics are mostly not citizen scientists. We don’t seek to replace scientists we just want to ensure what they are doing is done to the best standards. You don’t need to be an automotive engineer to know that your car doesn’t work and similarly you don’t need to be a climate scientist to know that their predictions are the Trabant of science. They might have the appearance of something useful but you’d be mad to rely on them.

    Citizen science is a sign things are not right with the real thing. That is not to say it’s not useful or even better. The enthusiasm of a motivated public is very hard to manufacture. However it’s a difficult force to be harnessed. Enthusiasm doesn’t ensure accuracy or reliability and it will often evapourate when anyone tries to organise it. I’d rather see the real scientists held to high standards.

    • I was told that when my father first started doing DIY, many builders merchants simply refused to deal with the public. We can all imagine the types of excuses they used: “it’s not safe”, “we don’t want to encourage people to damage their houses” … but the real reason was that building used to be a “closed shop” and DIY building was completely frowned upon.

      Sceptics or “citizen scientists” have very much the same relationship to academic science as DIY builders to professional builders.

      And in the same way that the electricians tried to get the law changed to prevent DIY electricians, so every trade body from academics to builders will attempt to put barriers in the way of “citizens” from doing “their work”.

      The reason this is important

      Is because it explains why when we have pointed out some quite reasonable things, like the poor standard in this subject and the failure of models, that we have received a totally disproportionate and very hostile response.

      It also explains why the climate academics have totally refused to listen to us sceptics.

      So, what is most important is not whether we should be called “citizen scientists”, but whether we are being perceived as citizens who are stepping into the arena of science which academics (falsely) believe is THEIR OWN.

      • TinyCO2 says:

        I seem to remember a similar attitude to women and DIY only much more recent 😉 Truth be told, the more experienced and trained DO tend to better at the job. What has changed is a recognition that people have a say in what happens. If they’re not satisfied with the status quo they can and do change it. Sometmes DIY is better and cheaper than the professional job and sometimes you end up in A&E. To thrive, the professionals have to raise their game. They have to be so good the public think it’s not worth the effort of trying to do it themselves. Climate scientists aren’t at that point… actually I’m not sure tradesmen are at that point either.

        Steve M took the right tone. Despite being qualified to be considered a climate scientist (no ‘citizen’ qualifier necessary) he calls his site Climate Audit. Auditing is a legitimate activity and one most intelligent people can see the value of. If we set ourselves up as a rival organisation to climate science it becomes reasonable for people to ask the same things from us that we ask of scientists. ‘Where’s your working mode?’, ‘where is your data?’, ‘what are your qualifications?’. An auditor is not ecpected to create new work or even duplicate the work of others, just sample it and determine if good practice is being followed. We don’t have the resources to do anything else and we would not be taken seriously if we pretended we could.

        Warmists like to accuse us of being ‘merchants of doubt’ and in many ways they’re right but it’s a necessary function of any important system. We just need to convince TPTB that climate science needs systematic auditing. The weakness of the science would do the rest.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          Should say ‘working model’

        • I remember the first time I saw how the “professionals” put in windows. It was the old box style type and I couldn’t imagine how they “filled in the box” where the counter weights moved up and down. I was surprised to find that they didn’t fill in the box at all and instead of making it good they effectively “botched” the job and hid it with big panels of wood.

          What I learnt that day was that professionals often do a much worse job than any amateur does, but they know how to hide it. That is as true of climate science as it is of replacement windows.

  7. Frank Davis says:

    I entirely agree with the thrust of the above article (and its predecessor). But to me the ‘paradigm shift’ appears to be a return to the way science used to be done, before there was a closed shop of ‘scientists’. And it may result in rather better science than the academics have been dishing up. As I wrote a year ago:

    …all the great scientists (as far as I can see) were just interested individuals following their noses. Isaac Newton wasn’t hired by Trinity College, Cambridge, to ‘do research’ into anything. He was a professor of mathematics, but hardly anyone ever went to his lectures, so he had plenty of time to study whatever interested him, which happened to include optics, mechanics, and the motion of the planets. Same with Charles Darwin. Nobody asked him to come up with a theory of evolution. It was what interested him, and he was rich enough to be able pursue his interest unmolested. And then again nobody asked Albert Einstein to come up with the theory of relativity. He figured it out in his free time when he was working in a patent office in Switzerland.

    If the same three people had been working full time as researchers in universities or research establishments these days, they wouldn’t have been allowed to go swanning off looking at the motion of planets, or the development of plants and animals, or the behaviour of light.

    “No, Mr Newton, you may not study the motion of planets! You’re supposed to be designing an improved bathtub. And no, Mr Darwin, you may not go out collecting plants and insects on company time! You’re supposed to be developing a new line of cheese-flavoured runner beans. And, you, Mr Einstein, must stop gazing out the window at passing trains!”

  8. Neil Craig says:

    I’m with Frank and am going to suggest a different, perhaps overly pretentious, title which shows the historic pattern being reinvented.

    “Invisible college”

    Up until the Renaissance “science” meant following in the footsteps of Aristotle (from whom the word academy derives), and scientists were a church funded group writing to each other in latin.

    Increasing standards of living allowing people to work without such support; the printing revolution & trading links which allowed people to write to each other across Europe without going through the church, or latin allowed the growth of science being done by unapproved people. The net and increased standards of living (eg McIntyre) produce the same effect today. State funding of science today is at least as restrictive as the church was then (and like Galileo we are seeing calls for sceptics to be brought to trial). But, as the fact that not a single scientist who isn’t funded by the state supports CAGW in the same way that Renaissance science didn’t have to say anything supportive about Armageddon, at least as easily disposable.

  9. Morley Sutter says:

    Frank and Neil are correct: science can return to being a curiosity-driven avocation rather than the profession it has become when personal wealth increases. There is however another financial feature that distorts how science is practised. The present system of grants and making application for a grant from some organisation creates pressures on academic scientists to follow the crowd, the present fad, rather than being innovative. Both state support and the multitude of private, usually disease-oriented agencies play a role in distorting what scientific paths are followed.
    This situation was fostered in the US in the 1940’s when the development of the Atomic Bomb proved very successful using a highly-organised group of scientists all working on one project. Subsequently the National Institute of Health, dedicated to “curing” disease was expanded and Medical Research Councils in many countries mimicked this system. I call this organisational development “Non-Radioactive Fallout from the Atom Bomb”. Science and scientists are still very much affected by this “Fallout”.

    • Neil Craig says:

      That’s a lovely phrase Morley which I may rip off. I would include in that fallout, the assumption that “there is no safe level”, originally applied to radiation, is now being applied to everything. It has the great advantage that it is easily calculable by regulators and that as the technology improves there is no level above absolute zero at which more regulation cannot be justified. The disadvantage is that it is bollocks. We are at the stage where so great purity is required that necessary trace elements are being removed and for atomic radiation the “danger” level, decades ago, fell below background radiation in many parts of the world. Also there is clear evidence for the beneficial effect of low levels of radiation and I assume the same applies to other “impurities”.
      However I think science can usefully be driven by profit as well as curiosity. It is just that the state should not be able to replace the market in determining what will be profitable. That is why I advocate X-prizes rather than government grants – they are open to anybody and reward comes from success rather than politically approved activity.

  10. Schrodinger's Cat says:

    During the last few decades academia has become dumbed down and degraded compared with about 60 years ago. Every technical college and poly is now a university complete with professors, lecturers and research fellows, all “expert” in their fields and receiving grants to continue their very important research. I’m not saying that all their output is now rubbish, but there is a huge amount that is, and a massive amount of tax payers’ money being squandered on studies that offer no benefit to the country.

    It is not surprising that academia has become a convenient vehicle for those who wish to pursue political activism (or any other pastime they choose) at the taxpayers’ expense. This is made perfectly possible by having a large number of nebulous and pointless degree topics that are as undemanding as they are useless.

    When one looks in detail at energy policy, for example, it becomes clear that there is much madness that cannot be explained by junk science and political idealism alone. The policy is so destructive as to be almost suicidal.

    It seems that politicians are completely out of their depth and respond to pressure groups who control the myriad of tax payer funded quangos that call the shots and influence expenditure. These bodies tend to involve academics who recognised that they could wield massive political and financial power through the manipulation of clueless politicians.

    Politicians rely on the academics for advice and direction. Climate change is a good example.

    Perhaps the internet is the forum not just for the citizen scientist but for citizens generally who wish to reclaim some control over how their money is spent.

    • Neil Craig says:

      Not just that politicians rely on “expert” advice from faux-experts but that, by controlling the purse strings, determine those chosen as experts are those who tell them what they want to hear. Not just a system prone to error but one in which positive feedback encourages error.

      • However … on the plus side, civil servants are used to areas of public life where the official “experts” are wrong. An obvious example is economics. So, paradoxically civil servants may be more willing to listen to “citizen scientists” than e.g. the Royal Society.

        The only problem would be to maintain standards, but we have in effect through these comments are far more vigorous system than peer review!!

        • Neil Craig says:

          But it is the civil servants, in the long term even more than the politicians, who fund scaremongering “science” and sockpuppet “charities”. For example it was the civil service who funded the Terrance Higgins Trust to push AIDS scares that the politicians, at the time, were resistant to.

          Public Choice Theory predicts this – that just like capitalists, civil servants and politicians are motivated by profit seeking but unlike them itv isn’t in the public interest.

  11. Climate science is not an errant branch of science by accident, it was conceived by the Club of Rome to impose energy taxes with the congenital defect that climate MUST be driven by human emissions and actions. Under Big Bush climate research funding soared from $20 million/year in 1998 to over a billion/year in 1992. All of the excess was for CARBON ENDANGERMENT FINDINGS. If all you fund is findings for danger, danger is all you will find. To complete the FRAUD, only “climate scientists” reviewed their own work, depriving humanity of the required multidiscipline review that would have corrected the obvious errors. Those errors begin with the simplification of a rotating, half lit sphere replaced by a fixed, constant sunlight disc. When this provided a too low of a predicted temperature, a “magic gas” was assumed to provide “back radiation” warming. Carbon Dioxide and water vapor DO ABSORB in the narrow 14 micron Infrared spectrum, but three atom, free moving gas molecules cannot STORE energy except by vibration, which lasts for a billionth of a second. By the Laws of Conservation this vibrational energy loss is accompanied by a “emission” of a lower energy, longer wavelength photon invisible to additional CO2 or H2O capture and incapable of warming the emitting source. This same absorption/emission occurs with incoming solar insolation, cooling by day, but only “warming” for a billionth of a second at night. It is also absurd that there is a linear relationship between temperature and CO2 concentrations, if the back radiation did have effect. We have wasted $160 billion US on over paid, under trained, bobble head professors with a false echo chamber hypothesis. For the correct science visit Publications at the Principia Scientific International site.

    Citizen Scientists are also addressing the defects of ‘sustainable’ energy, ‘peak’ oil and big bang, see “Becoming A TOTAL Earth Science Skeptic” and be skeptical of agenda driven frauds. Science is empirical based observations that are quantitate, predictive and reproducible. Anything else is SUBJECTIVE SUPERSTITION.

  12. Graeme No.3 says:

    There are ‘hard’ sciences and ‘soft’ sciences. The first are the older areas of the pursuit of knowledge and have had to work out what is relevant and what is fantasy. Thus there are restrictions on what you can say, how you say it, and above all explanation on how you arrived at your conclusion. Thus you are expected to explain your experiment or thinking, your methods and results, and possibly the consequences of your reasoning.
    Thus Einstein did no experiments on relativity, but explained his reasoning and predicted that light would be bent by gravity. When this was observed, and only then, did his theory gained wide acceptance.

    On a more rigorous basis, in chemistry you were expected to state your aim, the reactions and the ingredients, and the yield of product, with details of the analysis. And the respected journals make damn sure you do. If your results cannot be reproduced by other competent scientists then you lose credibility. Lack of openness is deplored.

    The secondary sciences are those newer areas which want the prestige of the first, but for various reasons don’t want the restrictions. Thus climatologists seem to routinely hide their data and their methods, and extrapolate their conclusions in a manner which seems to be motivated more by public relations than by any concern for accuracy.

    Another problem is that these areas seem to attract persons with more ego than honesty. I don’t doubt that there are some good scientists working in climatology, but are their names those that come to mind? It is this combination of sloppiness and arrogance, and the disastrous consequences of their prescriptions, which attracts such adverse comments on the internet. And the challenges to this arrogance are what fuels the anger and demands for suppression of unacceptable ideas.

    • Having done several University courses from hard physics through engineering to softer subjects like economics and management “science”, what has struck me is how each area largely sets its own standards of what it means by “proof”. E.g. proof that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo is very different from that of black holes. Proof that “people work best when motivated” is very different from that of a Helmholtz oscillator.

      Science comes from the Greek “to know”. Like you I was schooled in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry. Quite righly these subjects which are indisputably “science” look down their noses at subjects like economics and Environmentalist climatology.

      However, one of the main differences between chemistry and climate … is that you can run a controlled experiment in a chemistry lab, but one cannot run even an uncontrolled experiment on the single earth’s climate. But does that mean it isn’t “science”? If the definition were that it had to be a “hard” science where controlled experiments were possible, then e.g. astronomy would not be a science. Nor would some areas of medicine where some experiments would be unethical.

      And you are quite right about the egos in climatology/climate-science. The phrase “pride before a fall” seems most apt regarding this subject. They have set themselves up as god’s own prophets and as the lack of warming shows, they were clearly wrong to do so.

      However, perhaps we sceptics are similarly wrong about our abilities. Not because we vastly overstate our skills, but in contrast, we vastly under-rate ourselves by not describing ourselves as “scientists”.

      Because (in reference to the end of Animal farm) … as I look at climate “scientist” and I look at the sceptics … I don’t see anything that climate “scientists” have that we do not. If they can call themselves “scientists” … if everyone else calls them “scientists”, then we are wrong not to call the best sceptics: “scientists”.

  13. Pingback: The citizen scientist – in practice | ScottishSceptic

  14. Pingback: The citizen scientist – time to change? | ScottishSceptic

  15. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    So why do so many “citizen scientists” turn to crankery as they get older? They never do find Atlantis, or the Ark, or prove that aliens created the Great Pyramids. It can’t be because they fail to prove their claims, can it?

    • Kent Clizbe says:

      “Citizen scientists” get crankier as they get older? Really?

      How about the official White House Science Czar, the venerable John Holdren. He’s been around quite a while. And he’s left quite a record. The problem is it’s hard to use the superlative with him, as he gets older. He started out whacky as a loon, and has kept his crankiness at that fever pitch for his whole career.

      “In 1971, John Holdren edited and contributed an essay to a book entitled Global Ecology: Readings Toward a Rational Strategy for Man. He wrote (along with colleague Paul Ehrlich) the book’s sixth chapter, called “Overpopulation and the Potential for Ecocide.” (Click here to view a photograph of the table of contents, showing Holdren’s essay on pages 64-78; click on the image to the left to view the cover.) In their chapter, Holdren and Ehrlich speculate about various environmental catastrophes, and on pages 76 and 77 Holdren the climate scientist speaks about the probable likelihood of a “new ice age” caused by human activity (air pollution, dust from farming, jet exhaust, desertification, etc.).”

      2014: “Holdren points out that temperatures in the Arctic have been rising at about double the pace of temperatures at the mid-latitudes, where the continental United States lies. And he cites research that theorizes the shrinking difference between the Arctic temperatures and the mid-latitudes is making it more likely that incursions of that frigid air from the “polar vortex” will happen more frequently in the future.Holdren concludes the short video saying, “But I believe the odds are that we can expect as a result of global warming to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the mid-latitudes and some extreme warm in the far north.”

    • Oh dear!

      .. I suppose as a “citizen archaeologist”, I am going to have to put you straight on this as well. There is a lot of hard work that goes into archaeology and your characterisation of archaeology as being about “Atlantis” and the “Ark”, is pretty typical of those who are ignorant of what really counts as research in the area.

      It ignores the important work being done by amateur groups in documenting historic sites as there is far too little money for archaeology. Yes amateur archaeologists do speculate (although in Scotland the classic ones are Mons Graupius, the Roman legion and the site of various Pictish-period battles) but the real work is pretty mundane and needs help. So, for you to appear to characterise archaeology as a hunt for “crankery” I think is quite insulting to all these amateur people who do put in a lot of hard work.

      Yes it could be done better, yes it needs more work, but no archaeology is not about a hunt for Atlantis.

      If you have real interest in the past (which I doubt) instead of making glib comments here, why not contact a local archaeology group as I’m sure you will find it interesting.

  16. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    Sorry, I’m not that interested in amateur Archeology. Just that the whole Atlantis/Ark/Pyramids thing attracts a lot of attention, so it’s a good example of what I’m getting at. What made me think of it was that I was talking to someone recently who said “oh, it’s been warming for centuries and this is just more of the same.” When I asked him for evidence, he said, “well, we know that Atlantis has been discovered in the gulf of Mexico, and it’s under 60 meters of water” (and Atlantis is really, really old, right?). Ok, that makes a certain kind of sense, but there’s a foundational belief in something for which there is no evidence. That’s very much in line with the kind of thing I’ve heard from other people who are obsessed with perpetual motion, anti-vaccine “science”, or claim that Ford Motors has invented a carburetor that will give you 250 miles to the gallon. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE the guys I’ve met who make claims about this stuff. If nothing else, I respect their willingness to go out on a limb, scientifically speaking. But what makes them cranks is that they either won’t listen to contrary evidence, or because they’re experts in another field (all the ones I’ve met were electrical engineers. Coincidence? You decide.) they won’t go back and learn the basics of the Roman occupation in British history, or viruses, or learn from the history of technology and the search for perpetual motion. Why? Is it because they’re afraid of finding out they’re wrong. As they get older, they feel more and more isolated because educated people in the field won’t talk to them, and their friends and relatives don’t want to hear about their crackpot theories any more. There’s no a clear line when they cross over from being amateurs to cranks, but the results are consistent for the group: they’re mostly men (only I haven’t heard of women cranks except in the anti-vaccination crowd), and a lot of them are engineers. They feel like the world is against them because of their theories, and they’re not able to step back and ask themselves if there’s a bigger picture. No, their Work is too important to change their way of thinking, and it’s what motivates them to get up in the morning. That’s what makes them cranks. Are they still “citizen scientists”?

    Here’s an interesting piece of supporting evidence. At least I think it’s evidence, now hold still while I tell you about my theory! My elderly mother has a gambling habit which caused her to throw away most of her savings. While we were trying to figure out how to deal with this, I found an interesting study that suggested that more than 50+ percent of older folks (55 -60) are likely to become more gullible as they get older. So if someone comes to the door and tries to sell them on some scheme, they’re more likely to “buy” it (in the sense of believe) than a younger person. This suggests that people become less sceptical with age, which is in line with what I’m pointing out above. I’m starting to feel a bit cranky about this stuff, so don’t try to change my mind!

    • When I did the archaeology course I did a few “interesting” essays that took far too much time and then I felt I needed a break and chose something that appeared very simple: archaeological evidence for the Scottish clearances.

      I thought I would just go to the library, find a book and then just regurgitate the evidence on a subject where I had no interest.

      …. but unfortunately, because I’ve studied archaeology in far too much depth, I knew I could get population stats and … I just thought it would be easy to say how much the highland population dropped during the clearances.

      Imagine my surprise, when instead of a population decline … the highland population rose. There was no denying it … the highland “clearances” had resulted in more people in the highland. And when I looked at the available cases … not one of them was any worse than the London slum clearances. Indeed, many highland landlords were the paradigm of virtue providing schools, churches and new housing for the tenants.

      Indeed, rather than “highland clearances” of the 18th century, most of the loss in population occurred much later (much in the early 20th century). The essay took me 4x longer than I had planned.

      And the moral of this story … if you want a simple life … don’t look at the evidence … just toe the line and believe what you are told.

      However, if you want to know the truth, you are better to question the evidence – no matter how unlikely you think it is to be wrong.

      • Ian Forrester says:

        What a load of rubbish. You obviously know as much about Scottish history as you do about science and climatology. You cherry pick and obviously refused to read actual documentation on the horrors that the highlanders had to endure. Here is what happened in just one small part of the highlands which were subjected to the tyranny of the Duchess of Sutherland and her cruel factor Patrick Sellar.

        1821 showed an increase over the census of 1811 of more than two hundred… the county has not been depopulated–its population has been merely arranged in a new fashion. The (Duchess of Sutherland) found it spread equally over the interior and the sea-coast, and in very comfortable circumstances–(but) she left it compressed into a wretched fabric of poverty and suffering that fringes the county on its eastern and western shores.

        Yes the population may have increased slightly but the poverty and suffering increased substantially. People were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes and forced to live in completely new surroundings with no skills to help them survive in their new environment.

        This was repeated many many times during the 19th century.

        Please read more carefully and not as selectively as you appear to like.

        Have you ever been in a glen in the Scottish Highlands? I very much doubt it. The empty ruined cottages are still visible after 200 years. The evictors took to burning all the wood from the cottages they pulled down since the clansmen were very quick at rebuilding them. However, with no wood for the main beams they could not rebuild. What happened was as close to genocide as anything that happened since.

        • I far as I can recall, in the whole of these “atrocities” there was one death, that went to court and a jury found the person innocent.

          Where researchers had followed up incidents they had found that something like half the “cleared”people had been rehoused on the same estate. I think another quarter had willingly emigrated (there are accounts of landlord pleading tenants to stay).

          In contrast to the period of the “clearances” which seemed to be one of economic boom for the highlands, in the 1690s accounts suggest that up to one quarter of Scotland’s population died during what are called the “ill years”.

          So the “clearances” as far as the evidence goes, are a period of relative prosperity and population boom in the highlands sandwiched between the worst disaster in modern history in the 1690s and the mass emigration around in the early 20th century which saw majority of the Scottish population leave many areas.

          And I got something like an A++ from the Glasgow University tutor … so my view is backed not only by the evidence sourced from academic journals but by some of the best academic brains in Scotland.

          And yours: you read it off the internet. Need I say more?

          • Ian Forrester says:

            You know nothing about the clearances. Your dishonesty is shown once again by your use of quotation marks around the word clearances. I can assure you that they happened and that many people died, either killed by police, died from disease because they were thrown into poverty or died of disease while on board overcrowded ships sailing for a better life. Good grief, you show your ignorance and bias in everything you have talked about on this blog.

            Moving people off their ancestral home and putting them in a completely different environment is despicable, these highlanders were not fisherman but were expected to become one in no time flat. There was very little food for them since the lands where they grew crops were now turned into sheep grazing. For you to claim “there was one death” is one of the most egregious lies I have ever come across.

            The funniest bit of your whole nonsense was this:

            And yours: you read it off the internet. Need I say more?

            The internet is a valuable tool for learning. However, one must be educated and intelligent to sort out the correct information from the misinformation put out by so called “citizen scientists” and those who follow blogs like yours and other denier sites. It seems that most of those followers lack both intelligence and education and perhaps also honesty. It seems that you do not understand that it is people like you who have led to mistrust in the internet.

            If you want to find out what really happened during the Highland Clearances the book of the same name by John Prebble is a good start. Also try reading some of the testimony of crofters obtained during the Napier Commission. It will help you understand why your comments are nonsense.

            Here is a photo of the devastation that occurred during the evictions:

      • Yeltin Wanamer says:

        It’s really too bad the image of the “citizen scientist” has been so thoroughly tarnished in films. I mean, look at poor old Seth Brundle working away in his lab. There’s a great Gary Larson cartoon where his wife comes down to get him for lunch, and she pokes her head around the corner and says “Lunch is read…. What? You’re still a fly?” And what about Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future? He’s what every citizen scientist aspires to be: a radical thinker working in the dark, and surrounded by fools who don’t understand any of his ideas. But at the end of the day, he saves the plot by actually making something work.

        He’s the exception who proves the rule though, because I wasn’t able to think of any others who get redeemed along the way. No, the “citizen scientist” is usually portrayed as an outcast, slaving away in some dark corner and building something that will probably mean the end of humanity. I mean, some of those guys are serious cranks! Look at Dr. Frankenstein, the patriarch of citizen scientists. He’s not out for revenge, he just wants to create life! But nobody around him thinks it’s a good idea, so he bravely forges ahead in spite of the pretty darn good advice he’s getting from his friends and neighbours. Typical crank behaviour. I don’t remember if the book says how old he is, but it sounds like he’s finished his career as a “Doctor”, and now he’s free to pursue his own research.

        We can find examples of this kind of mania in real life too. What about the managers of the Manhattan Project who, when told there was a small but significant risk that their atomic bomb test could ignite Earth’s atmosphere and wipe out the planet, heroically decided to carry on anyway? (I know the test wouldn’t have ignited the atmosphere, but they didn’t.)

        No, I think this “citizen scientist” idea sends the wrong message. It’s far too easy for the public to view your ideas as the product of science gone astray; science in the service of some dark fantasy concealed from the view of society. Because that’s what all those scientist guys in the movie are doing! They’re the independent thinkers, scorned by society, working in isolation to achieve a dream that only they can understand. And when it doesn’t work out, do they say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll plant a garden next year.” No, they double down and start wondering if their neighbours are plotting against them, or that the government is stealing their secrets! They turn into cranks. Which is fine if you’re having a couple of pints with them down at the pub. Not so fine if they’re building a death ray in the garage, know what I mean? And who’s that short guy who keeps going in and out with a big sack? What the hell is going on over there?

        Isn’t that why we have public science institutions? So the public knows who’s working where, what they’re up to and can be somewhat satisfied that they’re not going to blow up the town?

        • Kent Clizbe says:


          Your reliance on movie stereotypes of a “mad scientist” tinkering in the tower is getting in the way of your understanding what “citizen science” is.

          The largest, and longest-running, example of citizen science is the annual Christmas Bird Count.

          Every year, rain or shine, sleet or snow, citizen scientists around the US and South America venture out for a sunrise to sunset bird-counting marathon. Every bird is identified and counted. This is science at its most fundamental–data collection in the field.

          “The 114th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place Dec 14, 2013 to January 5, 2014. The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends. Tens of thousands of participants know that it is also a lot of fun. Data from the over 2,300 circles are entered after the count and become available to query under the Data & Research link.”

          None of the people I’ve run across while participating as a citizen scientist remotely resembles your stereotypes of citizen scientists. Some are overly excitable and socially awkward. Some are smooth and debonair man-about-town types. There is no stereotype that would fit. Except they all have binoculars.

          Might want to rethink your own data collection and analysis of the “citizen scientists” all around you.

        • A very thoughtful piece. However, the character in “back to the future” is clearly intended to be an Einstein clone, so I always viewed them as an academic who happened to be “in the community” rather than a citizen scientist.

          Frankenstein is also interesting, because barring the monsters, this is exactly how science was done in the 19th century. The Frankenstein books were about the rise of science and concerns over where it would take us. In some sense global warming is the “Frankenstein Monster” of today. It is the product – not a “science” but of delusional immoral people using science for their own reasons.

          However, a couple of years ago a friends daughter did physics at University and she asked to borrow my physics books which are about 30 years old. I was quite astounded, because when I looked at my father’s books, the physics had been so overtaken that they were only of historical interest. And as for my grandfather – it wasn’t quite phlogiston but it was close.

          However, it does seem that at least in Physics, students are largely taught the same syllabus as I did at University 30 years ago, which tells me that the subject has not fundamentally changed in 30 years whereas it in in the previous 60.

          So I wonder whether science itself has become too “institutionalised” so that it is now stagnating. So perhaps it is time science in Universities celebrated the maverick portrayed in these films as citizen scientists?

  17. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    Kent: so you, a self-proclaimed “CIA Counter-Terrorism Operations Expert”, are trying to tell me that these are just nice people with binoculars. Besides the obvious answer that that’s exactly what they want you to think, I thought this was somehow about scepticism?

    And no, I don’t think bird count participants are the kind of folk we’re talking about here. Scottish Sceptic is talking about people who are actual Sceptics. People who reject mainstream science, and go off and think for themselves, damn the torpedoes and come what may! People who don’t take money from universities or science academies. People who never stop asking themselves “Is this right? Why do Met Office scientists keep telling us the weather is changing, when it’s clearly not?” People whose views make them difficult to employ in regular science roles, so they’re forced to do their work independently. People who can’t afford binoculars. People who reject mainstream science because they just don’t believe it. I’m just asking WHY so many of these citizen scientists turn into cranks, that’s all.

    Sorry if the movie references didn’t work for you. But I really DO think that society paints independent thought in a bad light, which is why the mad scientist guy is such a popular stereotype. And then there’s Monsanto, who really are evil and trying to take control of the world’s food supply, so it works both ways. See? I’ve got my own little theories too.

    I take your point about John Holdren, although simply being wrong isn’t a good crank indicator (if it was, we’d have cranks everywhere). And he was some kind of engineer or scientist originally, even though he’s now a senior government bureaucrat. Which means he can’t really be a “citizen scientist”, right? Or can he?

    • Kent Clizbe says:


      Okay. I’ll try again.

      The original discussion was about Skeptics performing the role of Citizen Scientists. You went off on a rant about Citizen Scientists being cranks, seekers of Atlantis, and movie whackos.

      My point is that Citizen Scientists are performing quiet acts of science, advancing many areas of human knowledge.

      Sorry to have upset you with my professional background, but it’s what I used to do.

      Good luck with everything.

      • Yeltin Wanamer says:

        What kinds of “quiet acts of science” are you talking about, bird counts notwithstanding? Again, I thought this was about scepticism. (Sorry if I got sidetracked with the mad scientist rant!)

        Yes, bird counts are a great example of people getting together and gathering data, which is collected and used by a well-respected science organization. I don’t think that’s what Scottish Sceptic is getting at.

        The essay at the start of this page says things like:

        “We are not “anti-science” but instead an alternative community of scientists that now rivals the “official” community and in some (but not all) areas is beginning to exceed the skill and understanding of the “official” community.”


        “Now, citizen scientists –empowered by the internet – do not simply accept the answers given by their academic “masters”. Instead the internet allows “citizen scientists” to gain knowledge and develop their own answers.”

        That doesn’t sound like birdwatchers to me. That sounds like people going off to do their own “science” because they can’t or won’t understand regular science. They’re saying, “We don’t accept mainstream science, and in fact we know more about (presumably) climate science than the experts.” Exactly where is this knowledge that’s been gained? What’s it based on? Where’s the evidence that the entire current body of knowledge about climate is wrong, for example?

        Incidentally, The Audubon Society is one of those science organizations that believes climate change is a serious issue. These are exactly the people that Scottish Sceptic’s “citizen scientists” don’t want to hear from:

        Leading scientists around the world agree that man-made greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are causing global warming. Effects are already being seen worldwide. Long-term consequences are devastating, and solutions are harder to attain each day we fail to act.

        • Yeltin, you have the gist of the idea and make some interesting points.

          What I will tell you for a fact, is that on the whole, sceptics have very little interest in any other subject than science — which is why we are unlikely to get a lot of comments here.

          As such, they are “hobby scientists” – in the sense that they enjoy reading and commenting on science. A smaller group enjoying investigating and creating articles.

          What I was saying in the article is that the internet has created a means for this rather disparate group to come together and global warming is enough of a “universal” subject, that it doesn’t matter what area of science is your own training … it affects us all.

          The internet provided the means, global warming was the motive, and … I suppose the method was blogging.

          This has created a community like any institution.

          Note – nothing in what I have said implies this group is either wrong or right about anything, I think it is just a fact it exists and I think I’m beginning to understand why it formed

          … actually, the other thing which formed this group were the hostility and actions of people like William Connolley on Wikipedia which prevented this disparate group from contributing to things like Wikipedia and so brought them together on WUWT.

          From the way academia has responded to this group it is clear we are a threat. By that I mean the ad hominem attacks falsely portraying our views as “deniers” and generally acting like some spoilt kid who has been told they have to share their toys (and Lewandowsky is a very good example).

          So why are we a threat? The first possibility is that we are better at the science. That may be true in some areas but seriously? The second is that they don’t want anyone scrutinising their work … but again if peer review worked, why on earth would they have anything to worry about a few citizen scientists looking at their work?

          So, my conclusion is that academia sees “science” as being “its own” area. So much like a closed shop union – they will attack anyone who dares to get involved in anything that they consider to be “their” work. This explains why a lot of people in academia who have almost no knowledge of climate (like Lewandowsky) have spent so much time attacking us.

          OK, you will not accept all this, but the question is this: if this area of citizen science has developed as a result of the internet … what other areas might it develop in and would this also be a problem

          To summarise why it developed:
          *The internet
          *The global nature of this science issue
          *The personal nature of the impact on individuals through taxes
          *The rise of blogging as a means to create alternative media channels
          * The relative inexperience of the subject
          * The politicisation of climate (e.g. James Hansen who is an active campaigner)
          *The heavy handed tactics of environmentalists on Wikipedia

  18. JBSimons says:

    I think it would be fair to summarize Scottish’s essay as follows:

    I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now *I* am the master.

    • Obi-wan is not a bad analogy … someone who used to be important, who then gets left in the desert meets some android has ten minutes of fame … only to get his head chopped off.

      If there is an analogy with stars was it would be this … like the jedi we may not be many in number, we may not have any resources … but when you know the “force” of mother nature is on your side, we know we are going to win so we just have to wait as slowly and surely mother natures refuses to get steamed up as the academics ordered her to do.

      At one time environmentalists were asking for us to be rounded up, tattoed and put in concentration awaiting a decision about our extermination just because we said the state of knowledge was not good enough to produce climate models that could predict the climate.

      When so many told us we were wrong – we have been proved right. I think I have a right to be a just a bit smug.

  19. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    Scottish Sceptic, do you ever read what you write? Saying stuff like

    o the forces of nature are on our side
    o they’re all out to get us
    o we’ve been proved right
    o I’ve a right to be smug

    This sounds like rank egotism, and not sceptical in in the least.

    • A sceptic doesn’t deny facts – and the facts are that we got it right about the warming. It hasn’t warmed in the last 15+ years. In a sense we were just lucky, because it ought to have warmed a bit, but instead natural variation added a cooling trend to totally cancel out any CO2 warming.

      So, if you believe in such things, it does appear that mother nature was on our side.

  20. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    Or not.

    Again I note your complete lack of scepticism regarding facts you’ve determined to be “right”. And this is exactly where “citizen science” falls down – when you decide you’re taking your ball and going home.

    You know that Mother Nature is a personification and not a real thing, right?

    [SS. added: from comment but not sure where to put it]
    Darn – the link fell off: Or not.

    • We said that the state of knowledge meant climate models were not good enough to predict the climate.

      The climate models did not predict the last 15 or more years of no temperature rise.

      This is quite simple. The models did not predict the climate and therefore it follows quite simply that we WERE right. That’s just pure logic – no need for any value judgement to determine that we were right.

      And as I said, we could equally have been right – but instead natural variability could have added to the man-made warming from CO2 and – then I wouldn’t be able to be so smug.

      … we were just lucky, … and somehow mother nature did seem to back us sceptics … or perhaps she just didn’t like your side? Or indeed, if she is the personification of ancient weather gods, then no doubt she will have a trick to play and we will all be left looking daft.

    • The predictions were based on HADCRUT without any additions and were that HADCRUT (or the other series0 would rise.

      Therefore the test of whether these predictions were right must be based on whether the HADCRUT series was correctly predicted.

      All you are doing is supporting what we said, and that is that the state of knowledge was not good enough.

      I’ve no problem with repeating this exercise with time series included for the Arctic and Antarctic, but it would be an entirely new prediction so we would have to wait again to see how well it does otherwise you are proving nothing at all except that if you fiddle the data and models enough, you can eventually get them to match.

      So, what I said is still entirely true: the state of knowledge was not good enough to predict the climate.

      Or let me put that mathematically.

      The prediction was that

      T = f(t)

      The outcome was not T.

      You are now saying that

      T + Poles is closer to what actually happened.

      So, you are saying that the state of knowledge was not good enough. In other words, you are saying we sceptics were right.

  21. Yeltin Wanamer says:

    Darn – the link fell off: Or not.

  22. Erinma Ochu says:

    We just need to work together and take action to mitigate against and prepare for climate change. Why set up a divide when what we need is open science, communication and collective responsibility. Ignore the divide and instead, unite?!

  23. SS: Your claims about “predictions” just a lame excuse to avoid looking at the observational evidence, which says that warming continues and the “pause” is largely a manufactured effort to capitalize on a reduction in the rate of warming. You’re a sceptic when it suits you, and your claims about “citizen science” are nonsense.

    • The prediction in 2001 (the first one with a range) was that the SURFACE TEMPERATURE (I THINK IT WAS HADCRUT) would warm between 1.4 & 5.8C warming – from 1990 if I remember correctly. The warming has long since fallen out of that range.

      In science, you make predictions you compare them to the actual data, and if they do not match, then the scientific terminology is “it has not been validated” – the layman’s “it’s failed”.

      And no, I have not manufactured anything … I have just assessed the prediction. This is what any good scientist would do.

      “Citizen Science” … since it is the sceptics who are scientifically sceptical, and it is us that adheres to the scientific principle of testing hypothesis against the data, we are the ones who are scientists.

      Academics do not have a right to be called “scientists” unless they adhere to the scientific method. They don’t therefore they aren’t. We do, therefore we are.

  24. Nils says:

    you might want to consult a book titled: “Science in Authority” written by Lancelot Hogben.

  25. Pingback: Key Articles | ScottishSceptic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s