Tag Archives: non-climatic causations

How to Settle the Patrick Brown Affair

From Climate Scepticism


A suggestion for Dr Ken Rice

I had the idea this morning that it would be a good thing to watch Dr Ken Rice being interviewed on a podcast in which he shares his wisdom regarding the Patrick Brown affair. The podcast runs to the best part of an hour and so my decision had the potential of ruining a Sunday morning. Fortunately, I had the good sense to bail out at the point when Dr Rice and his interviewer started to discuss the evidence for there being any editorial bias regarding climate change attribution papers. Despite Dr Rice’s promise to steelman, it seemed to me quite obvious that he was actually strawmanning. How is it, asks Dr Rice, that Dr Brown can claim bias on the basis of just one paper (with no more than an allusion to a single other paper that got rejected)? Absolutely, agreed his interviewer. Surely you would need to run some sort of extended, controlled experiment. Snorting and sniggering throughout, like Beavis and Butthead, the two professors could not hide their disdain for the flimsy evidence that Dr Brown was deemed to be offering.

Well let me see if I can help Dr Rice out. What Dr Brown is asserting is that the attribution papers that get published invariably control for non-climatic factors in order to isolate the strength of climatic causation (see, for example, everything that Friederike Otto has published). This is all very well, of course, but to complete the causal analysis one should also control for the climatic in order to isolate the strength of the non-climatic causations. Only then can you make meaningful comparisons.

So there is no need to run an experiment, Dr Rice, and no need to just take Dr Brown’s word for it. Just survey the published literature (you might want to start with Nature) and count up the number of published studies that control for the non-climatic and then do the same regarding the climatic. If the papers are about equal in number then you can reject Brown’s allegations. If controlling for the non-climatic is prevalent then an explanation for such an imbalance will be required. Simply saying that it reflects the relative importance of the climatic factors would be begging the question.

And before you even think about it, remember that Dr Brown was referring to a failure to quantify causation, and so pointing to papers that just mention, consider or discuss non-climatic factors will not count. The quantification is essential because only then will you have a measured basis upon which to formulate a correctly prioritised risk mitigation.

Finally, once you have performed the exercise, write it up in a paper and get Nature to publish it.

I look forward to reading the results.