How the brain resists when presented with scientific consensus on controversial issues

You’re chatting with some friends—educated, intelligent people, who act rationally in their daily routine and whose opinions seem to be grounded in reason and evidence. That’s true when you agree—for instance, that seat belts are a good idea. But things can go awry when the conversation shifts to politically charged topics—where positions can be guided by personal beliefs, rather than science.

It’s no fun to see a friend reject science in favor of ideology. It’s even worse when it happens with politicians charged with deciding public policy. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight to this odd, counterproductive behavior. But science is starting to show us why it happens.

Research suggests that certain brain structures, such as the amygdala and the insula, are less active during rational thinking, and more active while a person maintains irrational beliefs in the face of counterevidence. It’s showing the opposite in other brain areas, and in doing so science is elucidating the neurological basis of the embrace of woo.

Different levels of woo and what people are missing

The topic could be astrology, homeopathy or some other pseudoscience where beliefs are easily disproved through scientific analysis. Often, a person is equipped in high school with enough knowledge to challenge the foundations of these practices.

astrologyIn the case of astrology, for instance, the idea that distant planets affect human physiology and emotions, flies in the face of virtually everything humans have learned about physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology over the past 2,500 years. And in the words of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins: “Astrology misleads the public, denies scientific progress, and belittles the universe.” Similarly, homeopathy could be challenged by any 6th grader, once they’ve been told what homeopaths posit: that water, after a compound dissolved in it has been diluted, so much that not even a molecule remains, is different from other water.

On the other hand, there are topics where the problem is not a denial of basic concepts, but rather a distrust of scientists and public health professionals. This includes objection to vaccines or GMOs, where scientific understanding does depend on grasping the basic biology –what a gene is, what DNA is, how the immune system is primed, and what happens to ingested proteins. But the understanding also depends on knowing the plethora of safety studies; on knowing how to sort through relevant scientific literature; on knowing how about peer review and meta-analyses; and knowing how those things differ from an ill-informed Google search.

Relevant brain centers

Climate change denial, creationism, fears of biotechology, belief in psychics and astrology –holding to these beliefs in the face of reasonable arguments and evidence has a basis in neuroscience. Some people, especially if they are young, will back away from strong beliefs if exposed to the scientific perspective over a long time period. But in some instances, people hold even tighter to their beliefs, when challenged with facts. It’s a baffling phenomenon, yet science has come a long way in understanding the underlying brain functions.

climateSpecific areas, such as the orbitofronal cortex and the insula become active when people are resisting reason. These same areas are stimulated by crude emotional reactions to chemical stimuli, such as bad odors. This dovetails with another revelation of neuroscience, that people tend to give more racist answers, more emotional, less logical answers, when questioned in an environment that smells like garbage, than in one that smells of roses.

Let’s back up and consider the neuroanatomy that comes into play. In 2016, University of Southern California psychology researchers Jonas Kaplan and Sarah Gimbel and neuroscientist Sam Harris of Project Reason published a fascinating and revealing study in Scientific Reports, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how different parts of the brain relate to beliefs, especially those that are politically charged. Findings of the study have to do with the holding onto beliefs, and the defense of those beliefs when a person was challenged with counter evidence.

Related article:  What foods have pesticide residues? When do the chemical traces pose dangers?

As opposed to the standard MRI that you may have experienced in a clinical setting, where doctors needed a clear image of something inside your body, fMRI allows scientists to see which parts of the brain are active at a particular point in time, such as when a subject is asked to perform a specific activity, or to think about a specific topic.

The various neural structures that act differently in the presence versus absence of a strong belief are part of a kind of circuit in the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is something that we humans have in common with other mammals, but not with reptiles. Scientists have known for a while that this circuit is intimately involved in processing emotions.

Subjects who resisted evidence in order to stick to their beliefs were shown to have higher activity in one area called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex. When subjects changed their minds on an issue after hearing an evidence-based presentation, they showed reduced activity in a region called the insula and another structure called the amygdala compared with subjects that resisted. For a long time, the amygdala has been well-known for its role in the stress reaction and its response to odor stimuli.

FMRI xEqually intriguing is what the Los Angeles-based team found in terms of which areas of the brain become most active as the brain process challenges to beliefs. Such activated areas consist of the more forward part of the temporal lobe, part of the prefrontal cortex (the middle forward part of the cerebral cortex), and certain regions of the parietal lobe, including an area called the precuneus. Also highly activated as the brain considers the challenges is an area called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). This is underneath the outer part of the cerebral cortex that many people recognize, and above the equally famous corpus callosum, which connects the left and right brain. Together, all these areas are known as the default mode network (DMM), whose activation is known to be associated with one’s representation –or you might say branding– of one’s self, plus the DMM has a function in enabling the mind to disengage from the external world.

To review, here we have the precuneus and PCC both activated during belief challenges, plus earlier we mentioned that the amygdala is less active in people who are more open to changing their minds compared with those who do not. Related to this, several years ago, a research team at Tufts and Harvard Universities demonstrated strong activation of amygdala, precuneus, and PCC (along with some other areas) in connection with the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from psychological trauma. To be sure, PTSD is very different from political and social branding, but it does feature a kind of rapid stress response to mental stimulation that the brain perceives as threatening, and that interferes with cognition.

Putting all of these new discoveries together, there is an emerging idea that the tendency to hold tightly to beliefs in the face of counterevidence may be the result of a kind of stress response. Feeling threatened, the brain may be drawing on a neural pathway that evolved long ago for a particular purpose –to alert the person of physical danger, to stimulate protection of offspring– but now utilizing that pathway to process signals from what the emotional mind perceives as threatening. The model is very speculative at the moment, to be sure, but it does dovetail with the puzzle that neuroscience has begun to unravel.

David Warmflash is an astrobiologist, physician and science writer. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @CosmicEvolution.

104 thoughts on “How the brain resists when presented with scientific consensus on controversial issues”

    • I don’t think anyone “believes” in gravity, a good point.

      There are people who observe the effects of gravity and don’t question it. There are a small group who observe the effects and attempt to understand it, and in so doing advance hypothesis concerning its nature. Some of the later group employ scientific method to assist in their understanding of the phenomena, Albert Einstein is a classic example of a person involved in that research.

      To date, science hasn’t offered us much in the understanding of the mechanics of gravity, certainly not an understanding of how it actually works; and so the adventure continues :)

  1. Climate change as a physical phenomenon which can be studied and described, or “Climate Change” as leverage to give unlimited power to the government to remake and re-order society as per the ethics of “Climate Change” promoters?

  2. I love how the socialists posing as science promoters have now turned to “science denial”. Interestingly, they never mention DDT, one of the greatest chemicals ever discovered by human beings. The science behind the development of new human life is also something of which they don’t like to discuss. The science behind nuclear energy is also often ignored. GMO’s? Cyclical glaciation?

    “Science denial”? Coming from the same group of people who promoted eugenics a century ago.

    • Don’t forget the global warming scam which is totally unscientific (look up the SCIENCE behind CO2 concentration and its effect on greenhouse light absorption), and the spontaneous generation of life/evolution scam which are totally discredited using true scientific principles of thermodynamics, probability mathematics, and chemistry. Science so called (junk science is actually called out in the Bible as a scam in I Tim 6:20) has been used throughout history as much or more for bullying people into submission as to further understanding.

  3. Which areas light up when challenged with the fact that fMRI studies have many issues including statistical rigor and whether the actual premise of blood flow equals cognition? Why not focus on actual science instead of this silliness?

  4. Please test these statements i your MRI:

    -If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.
    -If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.
    -The minimum wage does not reduce job supply
    -Organic foods make you healthier
    -Organic do not use pesticides
    -Religion kills more people than socialism
    -Guns kill more people than alchohol and cars
    -Bill Clinton did not rape Wannita Broderick

    • You forgot some important ones;
      – CO2 is a pollutant
      – American SUVs are destroying the planet
      – Evolution scam is a science
      – Spontaneous generation of life is settled science

  5. I notice that the author used a cartoon of a so-called climate “denier” to decorate the article. If I recognize that merely 25,000 years ago that northern Illinois was under a mile of glacial ice, am I a denier? If I notice that Vikings raised crops of barley and herds of cattle in Greenland, but were driven out by colder weather, am I a denier? If I notice that from 1408 until 1814 the Thames River froze so solid that Frost Fairs were held on it some two dozen times, am I a denier?

    I would hope not. But when I notice that the vast majority of solutions and changes demanded by those who claim to be alarmed by the current climate seem to converge on socialism, then I am called a denier.

      • I don’t deny that the consensus of climate models have failed miserably when tested against the ongoing climate observations. In one example that I saw, the average of 105 climate models diverged from observations to such an extent that it would embarrass me if one of those models had been mine.

        But for too many people, the model is the reality and the reality is something else entirely. Far be it from me to deny what the models project. But until those models have a track record that reliably anticipates future observations, it would be irresponsible of me to make any policy recommendations based upon them, let alone use them to justify a substantial reordering of society and the economy.

          • Except that the ‘Catastrophic’ part of Anthropogenic Global Warming depends entirely on the models. And the models are demonstrably false.

          • You better check your source again. Even the Guardian graph has at least 85% of the models running too hot – as explained by Dr. Judith Curry:

            “More than a dozen other observation-based studies have found climate sensitivity values lower than those determined using global climate models, including recent papers published in Environmentrics (2012), Nature Geoscience (2013) and Earth Systems Dynamics (2014). These new climate sensitivity estimates add to the growing evidence that climate models are running “too hot.” Moreover, the estimates in these empirical studies are being borne out by the much-discussed “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming—the period since 1998 during which global average surface temperatures have not significantly increased.”

          • And you’re just another climate hysteric who thinks snark is cute. Let me know when you’re the Chair of a Science dept at a major tech school.

          • You’re as legit as Chicken Little, Malthus & Ehrlich. And at least as credible as this guy:

            “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change… There will be more police cars [since] you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”
            Dr. James Hansen, 1988, in an interview with author Rob Reiss.
            Reiss asked how the greenhouse effect was likely to affect the neighborhood below Hansen’s office in NYC in the next 20 years.

          • The good thing is that I don’t need to be credible. And neither do you. We have a world full of scientists who have more than enough credibility and agree almost unanimously on this issue.

            Lucky us!

          • Yep. You’ll be as lucky & successful with your ‘consensus’ approach to science as the Catholic Church was versus Galileo.

          • Now you’re just showing ignorance.
            Where do you think knowledge & science was kept in the 15th Century? Or where universities started?
            The Church was the scientific “consensus” & Galileo the “denier”.

          • So then you consider the 15th century Catholic Church to have been a very scientific organization? I suppose that could explain your inabilty to accept evidence that differs from your preconceptions.

            You have a good day….. ok?

          • To be a learned man in the 15th Century, what was the first requirement? To learn Latin. Guess where they taught that?
            From Wiki: “the modern university system has roots in the European medieval university, which was created in Italy and evolved from Christian Cathedral schools for the clergy during the High Middle Ages.” So to answer your question, “the 15th century Catholic Church” was the only “scientific organization”. You’re welcome to point out where else higher education was taught. Absent that, have any kind of day you want, but I’d suggest trying a little learning before spouting nonsense.

          • Got a name, a link, a country for this “very scientific organization”? Where are their universities now (the West having 100s of respected institutions started by Christian churches)? And what were “they” teaching regarding Earth as the center of the universe & how did they support Galileo?
            (the 1st step to avoid cluelessness is recognizing that you don’t have one)

          • You’re in luck! I have learned something. Apparently you climate nutters are exactly the same as the gmo and vaccine nutters. Deny everything & make up what ever facts are convenient to your argument. And all seem to have s total inability to admit when they’re wrong.


          • “Oh look! A squirrel!” is a typical response when you’ve lost an argument. Then comes the projection, “total inability to admit when they’re wrong”.
            But rest easy, you’ll always have ‘Oxford’, which (in the 15th Century), was headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, so no Church connection there, for sure (/sarc off).

          • Ahhhh, I see. The goal post has been moved from the church being the ONLY scientific organization to the church being associated with one of the many universities that existed throughout Europe in the 15th century.

            Got it. My mistake.

          • You’re the one who came up with the single data point of Oxford. I concede it wasn’t started by the Church, but still had a close association with the Church.
            On GMOs you’re spreading lies; “Republicans divide evenly on whether genetically modified foods are safe or unsafe. Independents rate them unsafe by a 20-point margin; Democrats, by a 26-point margin”, from
            And more lies on vaccines (from your source, The Guardian) –

          • No.
            You referred to “the university system” (hint – that’s more than one).
            I asked “Where are their universities …” (hint – that ‘s’ on the end of “universities” means plural).
            And you still spread GMO & vaccine lies.

          • Got a name, a link, a country for this “very scientific organization”?

            This sounds like a request for a singular example. If that’s not what it was intended to be, then I misunderstood.

          • Fair enough. But it makes no difference.
            The simple fact remains that the Catholic Church (& Christian offshoots) in the 15th Century were the repository of (almost) all the old ‘knowledge’ from the Greeks/Romans, created (almost) all of the University system in Europe & provided 99% of the instruction. The Church was the ‘consensus’ & Galileo the ‘denier’. And it’s not like scholars from Oxford were sitting beside Galileo, offering support for his Earth-not-the-center-of-the-Universe thesis.

          • Ciao is like aloha…. it can be hello or goodbye. But, considering that conversations been over a week ago. It’s safe to say I left.

          • Well, in a nutshell yes, you have been preaching hysterics and that’s the point.

            There’s no doubt some warming has occurred since 1975, what caused it remains a mystery. Why did it get so cold between 1940 and 1980? No one knows that either.

            Chicken Littleism comes from jumping up and down yelling the sky is falling. That’s what catastrophic AGW proponents have done, much to the detriment of their credibility. It’s what you’re doing too; it’s hysterics.

          • Jason, I get that you’re an AGW fanboy and consider yourself well educated on the subject. Either that or you’re just a troll looking for cheap entertainment.

            There isn’t now and never has been a single repeatable experiment or even observation that links human activity to global warming, or even the broader “global climate change”. Not one. Ever.

            Of course you can believe anything you like, but it’s not science. And don’t bother with the consensus argument, that’s an opinion poll. Science isn’t about votes.

          • And I get that you’re a science denier just like all the GMO science deniers and all the vaccine science deniers. When you can explain the evidence that’s contrary to your pre-existing beliefs, you just deny it exists. I’m gonna bet that you’re sold that “Big-whoever” is out to get you. Am I close?

            I guess I have little tolerance for nutters like you. Call it a personality trait, I guess.

          • That’s truly funny Jason. I’m a retired atmospheric scientist, I spent 4 years doing postgrad work at both NASA and NOAA. I’m a professional scientist who’s done real, “on the ground” (actually in the air) research on the subject, in fact I crewed on the Galileo II, the ship that we flew through the ejecta cloud when Mt. St. Helens erupted. I was a member of the team that designed and tested the microwave radiance sensors we flew on the NOAA birds that measure and report global tropospheric temperature.

            It’s your “pre-existing” belief system that’s messing with your head; real scientists can’t afford to have preconceptions and never prebeliefs.

            What you’re practicing isn’t science Jason; it’s religion. You’ll either have to get used to the way people perceive you, or adopt a scientific approach. There’s no middle ground.

            Luckily, as a former professor, I have to have tolerance for “nutters like you”. We call them undergrads ;) After they grow up, sometimes we call them leaders of their field.

            Beginners Mind Jason; study it?

          • You too. I was raised Christian and still practice their holidays and appreciate much of their philosophy, but I’ve been a practicing Zen Buddhist most of my life (though you’d never know if you asked me to spell it :)

          • Since you are a former professor, please would you use your real name so that we can read some of your work that relates to this topic. Otherwise, all we can do is trust you.

            Even better, given your expertise, can you post a couple of links to articles that would allow a scientifically literate person—but who is not a climate scientist—to learn more about this topic?

          • Thanks for asking, Peter. I’ve been lurking and had the same question(s). In this case, the speaker’s comment history is closed, so even that small amount of information is unavailable to provide additional context.

          • I’m just as confused as you K. I can’t look at my own comment history most of the time. I don’t know why that is.

          • I can’t speak to why you sometimes can’t see it without more information, but am fairly confident that we cannot because your profile is set to private. Have you tried clicking on your avatar or user name? That should take you to your profile, from which you may access settings if you wish to review or make changes.

          • Peter I can’t reveal my real name, it wouldn’t just compromise me , it would compromise my associates. As you must know, few papers are written in isolation. If I were to publish both my honest opinions and my name, it would reflect on my co-authors and the institutions I was funded by. I can’t do that in good conscience. But I’m not, and would never, ask anyone to accept my position on the subject based on my authority anyway. I don’t appreciate being labeled anti-science though and I’ll continue to express my credentials informally. Look up the NASA Mission Director’s name for the Galileo II in 1979, his name was Lou Haughney. I doubt anyone who wasn’t associated with the program would know him. His associates were Carl Gillespie and James McClenahan. All three were Mission Directos for NASA’s Medium Altitude Missions Branch (MAMB).

            It’s possible Jim wouldn’t give a hoot about any of this. He was a rogue Scotsman who took a preternatural joy in pissing people off. He enjoyed sheep ranching. He actually liked stinking up the cabin with the scent of canned menudo at diner. Jim was a character in his own right.

            I regret this situation. I’d like to speak freely, but there’s a reason I can’t. My opinions aren’t politically correct. I hope someday I’ll have the freedom to express myself in my own name without fear of retribution against myself, my friends and family. But for now, it is what it is.

          • Fair enough, but what about my second point? Why not give us a concept to consider and some relevant material to read about your objections to AGW? Perhaps it would be too hard for me to understand; perhaps not.

          • You are gracious here, Peter. Me, not so much— I call bs on Pfc. Parts claims and explanation. I agree with your previous reply to Go Free Markets about most scientists being happy to go on record about their views.

          • Hoffman, I don’t think you understand the scientific method.

            A person advances a hypothesis, which is supposed to have predictive power (e.g. carbon released by humans causes an increase in average global temperature). You then perform experiments that either prove the predicted result or fail to. That’s done by comparing the predicted result to the null hypothesis (that carbon released by humans does not effect AGT).

            In this example, the models fail to predict, the null hypothesis is then accepted, and the AGW hypothesis is discarded.

            You’re asking for citations that simply can’t exist. The models are either predictive or they aren’t. In this example you compare the predictions with actuals (empirical evidence). This has been done on many occasions, the most famous being Dr. Roy Spencer’s treatment. All you need do is look up Dr. Spencer’s work. The conclusions should be self evident.

          • You could learn a trick or two in “gracious” here Hoffman. Please refer to my extended comment bellow.

            Although I suppose a perfect correspondent may have addressed Peter’s second question in his first reply, I’m neither perfect or a professional correspondent. I sincerely appreciate your understanding.

          • Peter –

            It’s difficult since I began this journey as an advocate of the AGW hypothesis in 2000. I began my research on this specific subject with a paper by Mann titled “Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries” published in Nature, 1998. I was perplexed by the precision of the proxy data and began following his references per his statement that “We use a multiproxy network consisting of widely distributed high- quality annual-resolution proxy climate indicators, individually collected and formerly analysed by many palaeoclimate researchers (details and references are available: see Supplementary Informa-tion).”

            When I began to follow “Supplementary Information” as suggested, I found nothing to support the precision of the measures used in the models presented. Instead I found what I considered extreme conclusions based on very sparse data that were used well outside the calibration range of the empirical models developed by dendrochronologists.

            I should mention my specialty is in the use of statistical methods in the design of experiments. The paper cited above is the one that set the IPCC ablaze and was the foundation of the ensuing Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (cAGW) hypothesis that was to follow, however I found it almost baseless in its claims.

            Further research over the course of three years failed to reveal any actual evidence to support the cAGW hypothesis. The situation has only become worse since then, with “the Pause” occurring between 1998 and the present, a time that also saw the largest release of carbon by humans ever measured. Over 30% of all carbon ever released was released during a time there was no statistically significant increase in average global temperature.

            The nature of scientific investigation doesn’t result in disproving a hypothesis; rather the hypothesis is advanced and experiments are performed to establish it’s ability to predict. There are no papers I can refer you to that disprove the cAGW hypothesis. All I can point you at are it’s complete failure as a predictive hypothesis, as evidenced by computer models purported to predict AGT based on carbon released. None are predictive, so the hypothesis is discarded in favor of the null hypothesis; that carbon has no measurable effect on AGT. That’s basic scientific method.

            There are no citations of experiments specifically designed to disprove the cAGW hypothesis. I can’t direct you to the absence of something.

          • pfc,
            You claim that there is a “pause” in global warming? Not according to NOAA, below, which states that of the 17 highest recorded mean temperatures, 16 have been since 2000. (These data do not rely on dendrochronology).

            You say “carbon”; do you mean CO2 or methane? CO2 continues to rise rapidly; surely this just adds to the existing climate forcing, so we would expect the added effect to take a significant time to reach a maximum.

            You say that you believe that increased levels of atmospheric “carbon” have not been demonstrated to affect temperature.
            1) why wouldn’t you expect this?
            2) if not GHG, what is responsible for the rising temperature?

            Perhaps your objection is that the current models do not EXACTLY match the magnitude of the change in temperature? Or do you have some more fundamental objection?

            (I admit I’m a novice in this field, but is your position so technical that I would not be able to understand it?)



          • Hi Peter, good to hear from you again :)

            I really hate these narrow comment windows, it makes it difficult to read and artificially shortens sentences. It’s been shown that the use of short sentences is a threat gesture among us higher apes, so please excuse me, it isn’t my intention to use short sentences, but in the end, Marshall McLuhan rules the day.

            So, into the debate:

            Q: You claim that there is a “pause” in global warming?”

            A: Yes I do, based on satellite measures obtained between 1978 and present, as provided by Remote Sensing System (RSS), a non governmental organization (NGO) that runs data collection and analysis from the several multi-million dollar satellites the US has launched over the years to collect data on the temperature of Earth’s troposphere and stratosphere.

            I compare those measures with another independent data source led by Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

            Measures from those sources confirm no significant warming since 1998. We’re still waiting to see if the post El Nino event over the past 3 years will settle on an AGT not significantly different from the one observed post 1998. It will likely be a year, perhaps more, before we have that data.

            Q:“You say “carbon”; do you mean CO2 or methane?”

            I meant “carbon”. That would include both gasses you mention and it’s the reason I used the word.

            Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) is considered a “well mixed gas” in Earth’s atmosphere; it takes very little time to reach equilibrium (such as it is). Its effects can be measured in minutes or seconds in the laboratory. There should be no delay in its effect in the wild. There’s no reason to believe there would be.

            Q:“You say that you believe that increased levels of atmospheric “carbon” have not been demonstrated to affect temperature.

            “1) why wouldn’t you expect this?

            I don’t expect it. The cAGW hypothesis predicts it. It’s not happening according to prediction. I don’t expect anything. I’m only an observer. That’s what we do in the sciences much of the time; long periods of boredom interspersed with brief periods of intense excitement.

            Q:“2) “if not GHG, what is responsible for the rising temperature?”

            A: Good question. I have some ideas but nothing firm. It’s clearly not CO₂ though. I think we’ve settled that.

            There are changes in solar output, changes in orbit, changes in precession, and possibly even changes in interstellar gas. Remember we’re all on a moving planet in a moving stellar system, in a galaxy that appears to be accelerating way from just about everything else. My personal theory is solar output dims and brightens due to interstellar dust and natural variation of output.

            The Earth’s orbit changes over time, sometimes we’re further from the sun than others. The precession of the Earth changes over time along with its magnetic field. These might all effect the incident sunlight reaching our planet. All of them. Each and every one would have an effect that literally dwarfs the effects of CO₂.

            Q:“Perhaps your objection is that the current models do not EXACTLY match the magnitude of the change in temperature?”

            A: Yes, that’s my objection. In fact they don’t match observation within one standard deviation and the departure from observation seems to be accelerating.

          • Picking a single year of high temperature (1998) as a reference point for a trend is curious, and smacks of cherry-picking. Climate changes over decades, not single years. The atmosphere is though to absorb only about 10% of surplus heat; the majority is absorbed by the oceans.

            The trend in land+ocean temperatures over the past half century seems hard to refute (unless you disagree with the data from NOAA posted in the image below):

            Regarding CO2. A major fraction of the excess CO2 added to the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, both as dissolved CO2 and from the buffering action of calcium. It’s my understanding that (IMUT) it will take hundreds of years for the ocean to reach equilibrium with atmospheric CO2.

            Regarding solar irradiance. IMUT there has been no multi-year fluctuation. IMUT changes in orbit occur over much longer periods of time than the recent increase in temperature.

          • Does it “smack of cherry picking?”, well yes it does, but that’s the playing field. Current climate scientists look at 30 year trends to characterize “climate” as opposed to “weather”. I think that’s very short sighted personally, but it is what it is. It’s been 20 years since 1998. It’s not all the way to 30, but it’s a decent indicator I think, given the rules set down by the advocates of the cAGW hypothesis.

            My personal opinion is the natural variation in Earth’s climate hasn’t been established, which makes any attempt to discuss a change in climate caused by humans pointless; we have no idea what the uncertainty of the measures are or their attribution. We’re just making up stories, which is what I believe you’re attempting to accuse me of. I admit it. I’m just making up stories and so is everyone else, the point being that this isn’t science.

            PS: what does “IMUT” stand for? I’m not familiar with it.

          • I presented data from NOAA on temperatures up until 2016, together with a link. If you think these data are incorrect, please provide data that you believe is more relevant, and explain how you interpret it. I have no problem changing my views 180 degrees, based on better evidence.

            (You still haven’t justified why you picked 1998 as a reference point).

            BTW I don’t find “cAGW” to be a useful term in the context of this discussion — it’s more rhetorical and political, rather than scientific; it gets into predicted consequences of GW, and depends on how you define “catastrophic”. But that’s your choice.

            (Our discussion is unfortunately getting spread between multiple threads: Disqus has its limitations.)

          • Peter –

            Q: “I presented data from NOAA on temperatures up until 2016, together with a link. If you think these data are incorrect, please provide data that you believe is more relevant”

            When I was a much younger man, I spent 4 years working for NASA and NOAA in support of their infrared astronomy and remote sensing programs. I was lucky enough to be assigned to support Dr. Peter Kuhn of NOAA, Boulder CO. Dr. Kuhn’s experiments and prototype sensors provided the foundation for our microwave radiance sensors later flown on the birds managed by RSS and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) today, an effort led by Dr. Roy Spencer.

            Those sensors provide us with many advantages over ground based monitoring, not least being the same instrument is used to measure the entire globe. There’s no inherent instrument variation (noise) in the signal, it’s self-calibrated between every measurement by intentionally going off axis to a standardized target. These instruments are the most accurate, precise and expensive devices ever produced by humans for the express purpose of measuring global tropospheric temperature. For that reason I favor them over the global land record, which is subject to all sorts of well known error and also large areas that have no installed instruments, which has resulted in numerous corrections, adjustments and outright fabrication of measures over the past two centuries. The satellite record has been corrected a total of 6 times I think, corrections having to do with variations in orbit. I find the satellite record the least speculative measure of Average Global Temperature (AGT).

            Q:“(You still haven’t justified why you picked 1998 as a reference point).”

            I didn’t think it required justification. It’s more accurate to say 1998 chose me than to say I chose 1998.

            It was a simple reverse search through the satellite data sets I’ve mentioned to find the point at which warming flattened out; it was 1998. I don’t know why, it just did and that was the year it happened. Is it “cherry picking”? Not really. I noticed exaggerated claims being made in the popular press about “warmest ever” years in succession, but in each example the data had been tortured into submission. All of the so called “record” high temperatures were declared within the known uncertainties of the metrics, which captured my attention. When I examined the data I found no such records had been broken at all, and in fact AGT had been statistically stable since 1998.

            The more interesting part of this is that during the time between 1998 and the present, over 30% of all CO₂ ever released by humans in the history of CO₂ measurement (which really means since the mid 1950’s) had been released.

            So we’re left with a conundrum; why is it the largest release of CO₂ in history resulted in no measurable change in AGT?

            Q:“BTW I don’t find “cAGW” to be a useful term in the context of this discussion — it’s more rhetorical “

            Not at all. Warming and cooling are both documented characteristics of Earth’s climate. The question on the table is whether or not warming in this example (1975 to present) is different from earlier warming trends, is caused by human activity, and is catastrophic. That’s the question on the table and yes, it is political. But it’s still the entire point of the debate and it can’t be denied or swept under the rug. It’s the central topic.

          • PPS: Peter, Henry’s Law establishes the fact that as liquids (oceans for example) warm, their ability to sequester dissolved gasses (e.g. CO₂) is diminished.

            It’s a well accepted relationship. This means that our oceans can’t be both sequestering CO₂ and warming at the same time. It isn’t possible according to our current understanding of physics.

          • Yes, the solubility of CO2 in the ocean decreases at higher temperature, but the amount of dissolved CO2 is rising in response to rising atmospheric partial pressure.

            Perhaps you are thinking about the behavior of a chemically-inert gas, such as nitrogen, where the application of Henry’s law is relatively simple?

            Separate from the solubility of CO2, the vast majority (>99%) of CO2 in the ocean is not as a dissolved gas, but the result of a chemical reaction which forms bicarbonate and protons. This is why the surface of the ocean is becoming more acidic in response to rising atmospheric CO2. In this way, the ocean helps to moderate the warming effects of rising atmospheric CO2 levels. (Oceans contain several other chemical and biological processes that further complicate this process.)

            To summarize, the capacity of the oceans to absorb CO2 is dominated by chemistry.

            Personally, I suspect that ocean acidification poses a much greater long-term threat to the earth than increased surface temperature.

          • Peter writes: “Personally, I suspect that ocean acidification poses a much greater long-term threat to the earth than increased surface temperature.”

            So far I haven’t seen any compelling evidence this is a problem and so I don’t give it much credence. As you mention, the life in our oceans depends on carbonates and it very efficiently sequesters it in a much more permanent form than dissolved gas.

            If I had a worry, it would be that free CO₂ will end up locked in carbonates at the bottom of the ocean. Before we began releasing the carbon that had been sequestered in petrochemicals, our planet was on the verge of dying for its lack. Most folks would agree our biosphere is currently “tuned” for a CO₂ level of between 2000 and 4000 ppmv. Below about 180 ppmv, all but the hardiest plants die, subsequently killing off all insect and animal life. We were dangerously close to that level just prior to the industrial revolution.

            CO₂ is actually very beneficial in concentrations below 20,000 ppmv (about 2%). Since, as you note, oceanic buffering is so efficient, I don’t worry about “acidification”. In fact, our measurements of oceanic pH show a very large natural variation between successive waves. Recall also that life on the planet evolved in an atmosphere much richer in CO₂ than it is now.

    • Agreed, also I saw data that there has been no warming since 1989, that ice caps partially receded on mars the same time it did on earth (Are there humans on Mars?), that wiki leaks “scientists” colluded on falsifying data, that the hockey stick protections never came true, and they never allowed their data to be peered reviewed? The 97% of scientist agree is a fraud nobody but a few of us drilled down on what that actually meant. I could list 10 other things to prove global warming isn’t science, or is even true. Yet, I’m the one who is called the “denier.” LOL.

      • The contrary evidence is actually stronger than you suggest. During “The Pause” between 1998 and now, humans are estimated to have released 30% or more of all carbon dioxide every released in the history of humans. For nearly 20 years now “average global temperature” (a problem in and of itself) hasn’t changed.

        In any other science, that observation alone would be sufficient to relegate the AGW hypothesis to the dustbin of history. The only folks holding onto it these days have an emotional or financial investment in it, there’s no science behind it at all.

        It was a beautiful hypothesis though. Richard Feynman had some choice words on that subject :)

        • Yes but …. but …. the oceans ate all that gobal warming. You see the oceans cover 3/4 of the earth’s surface but the ‘climate scientists’ forgot about that in their earlier models.

          • Nonyo, you make a very good point here.

            Not only do the models not account for the oceans that cover most of the planet, there are many other factors they don’t account for. In this way, they are unequivocally flawed; they just don’t work.

            And, as it turns out, they can never work. The IPCC itself admits this. We don’t have the mathematical ability to model a complex, chaotic, thermodynamic system such as Earth’s climate. This isn’t a computational limit, it’s mathematical.

            Do some investigation of the Navier-Stokes problem. It very conclusively proves we do not, and perhaps never will, have the ability to arrive at a unique solution to a system of partial differential equations, which is required for successful modeling of Earth’s climate. In short, it’s mathematically impossible. Note the word “impossible”, it’s very important.

            “A man should know his limits.”

            — Clint Eastwood

  6. Typical Marxist strategy. If you even doubt Climate Change you are a “denier”. That word is chosen purposely so it invokes thoughts of “Holocaust Deniers”. There is no “Global Warming”. The atmosphere is 0.04% CO2. This is all a hoax for the purpose of herding the sheep into the global-Marxist ant colony.

  7. “…positions can be guided by personal beliefs, rather than science.” I assert that “positions” are not guided by personal belief or science, positions are personal beliefs. Few people allow themselves to be guided completely by science, and until science settles everything (still months away) it wouldn’t be possible. I like to be informed by science, but I know doctors are frequently wrong, economists are mostly wrong, physicists don’t agree among themselves about the fundamental nature of reality and climate science is in it’s infancy. So forgive me if I don’t hook my cortex up to Scientific American.

  8. Science deniers – just more BS from those who don’t practice what they preach. Using false data to prop up lies does little to encourage good science. Publishing bogus studies and fictional findings in journals does little for the credibility of said publications. Name calling under the banner scientific PC advances no logical field or thoughts. In short, we were headed for another Ice-Age until we weren’t. We were headed towards a cataclysmic cycle of Global Warming until we weren’t. Decades ago, the rising waters were to be submerging our coastal cities and yet they continue above the water line. A good science, it was and continues to be just out of reach for so many who believe they are teaching it.

  9. When one side is trying to shut down the discussion and call their opponents names the side that is ant-science becomes clear. if taking one side improves your chances for funding and tenure but taking the other side gets you fired what do you suppose happens?

    CO2 levels have only increased significantly in recent history since 1945. Climate has warmed and cooled long before that. The AGW people agree that ‘something other than CO2’ caused these climate changes but assure us that ‘something other than CO2’ is not the cause of any post 1945 warming. They ‘know’ it is CO2. How is that science?

    The 97% consensus is so often cited it should be easy to find the exact methods used and also to replicate the result today. Neither is true.

  10. Communists used to encourage people to focus on the hypothetical future rather than the present and the past. The future would be glorious after the scientific socialist 5 year plan results were achieved. So ignore the crappy present and don’t be skeptical about the scientific socialist 5 year plan and don’t examine the results of the past 5 year plan. 5 years later the present still sucks but you are to focus on the hypothetical future. Repeat.

    The AGW people created models of the future which did not come to pass. So we are expected to ignore the scientific method and the failure of their models and instead believe in their future projections starting today. CO2 levels have been increasing for 20 years. What happened in the past 20 years? What is the sea level change? how many hurricanes? Etc.

    • And so we accept the null hypothesis, that carbon dioxide has no measurable effect on Earth’s climate, and so are trapped in admitting the scientific method is impotent in the face of something as complex as planetary climate. Society tells us to put on the dunce cap and stand in the corner.

      That we’re pilloried for this shortcoming is human nature; no one wants to be on the losing team and they’ll follow the herd before admitting they just don’t know what causes climate change.

  11. Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk. The author, consciously or not, ignores the most important scientific fact in the entire history of science — half of what you know is wrong. People were burned at the stake for denying the cosmos revolved around the Earth. The respectable Western scientific community’s consensus regarding combustion was the release of elemental phlogiston. There are thousands of examples. Don’t even get me started about medicine and biology.
    Need I continue?

    That doesn’t make me a denier of science. Today’s science is better than yesterday’s but will be proven wrong tomorrow.

  12. As a geologist I cringe when I read of climate models and ‘prediction’. In my 4 decades in the sciences, climatology takes the prize as being the ‘most pathetic’ and allowing agenda and ideology to influence methodology.

    I’m happy ‘to deny’ that the UK won’t experience snow after 2010 and polar bear numbers are in decline…that famine is sweeping the world and that large swaths of southern Europe are seeing malaria epidemics.

  13. “Climate change denial” is an example of using a crude slur as scientific argument. It’s also simply false, as no one denies the climate changes.

    What part of the brain convinces gender “scientists” that someone can be male without a ‘Y’ chromosome?

  14. As a scientist, I find that my scientific skepticism is often interpreted by others – including the author, apparently – as science denial. So when I claim that I have looked into the issue of anthropogenic global warming and find the case weak (or almost lacking), I am called out as a Faux News watcher, a bible beater, and so on (I don’t watch TV news, am a Buddhist, a libertarian, and a physicist). Even scientists such as David Warmflash seem to get swept up in popular opinion rather than fact.

    Further, I have far more respect for someone who does not believe in, say, evolution
    – because they have truly thought about it and found it too incredible to accept – than I have respect for your average sanctimonious Joe who knows zilch about it and yet lords their superior acceptance over the others. If you don’t understand it you don’t get credit for aping your belief: That’s called “virtue signaling” , and science can explain THAT as well.

    And yes, I understand molecular biology and accept the theory of evolution.

    • Which part of AGW do you disagree with: the rapid rise in CO2 (and other gases, such as methane and N02); the effect that these gases have on climate; whether humans are responsible for the changes in gas levels? Or perhaps you consider that the warming is primarily caused by a non-human factor that is independent of atmospheric gases?

      I try to be open to changing my views on these topics, since I only have a superficial knowledge of the field, but if you want to be persuasive, you need to offer strong evidence to refute the current consensus. My suggestion: use simple prose to summarize your objections, followed by relevant scientific references for us to review at our leisure.

      BTW all the scientists I have ever known were quite happy to use their real names in support of their ideas: here’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is.

      • Excuse me please for interceding here Peter, I was drawn back into this thread while attempting to address your earlier complaints about one of my replies. I’ve been busy the past few days with the “real world” and haven’t had the time I’d like to respond.

        You write: “Which part of AGW do you disagree with: the rapid rise in CO2 (and other gases, such as methane and N02); the effect that these gases have on
        climate; whether humans are responsible for the changes in gas levels?”

        All good questions, but not really on point; There is no doubt there has been a rise in the gases you mention, and only some doubt humans are entirely responsible.

        You might think “well, if humans aren’t responsible, who is?” and that’s a worthy line of investigation.

        One answer comes to us from Henry’s Law of dissolved gases; as temperature increases, the ability of water to hold dissolved gases decreases. You can observe this effect yourself in the kitchen with two cans of soda. Put one in the refrigerator and leave the other on the counter. After a few hours, take the one in the fridge out and place it next to the one on the counter. Open both. Observe the outgassing that occurs. Which outgasses the most volume? The warm one.

        This also happens to Earth’s oceans and accounts for the increasing fraction of so called “greenhouse” gas specimens in our atmosphere. Not all of it, but quite a bit of it.

        In fact, this effect was projected to be a component of so called “runaway” warming. As it turns out, no such runaway was observed.

        In the end, the problem is reduced to observation; has increased CO₂ resulted in increased temperature in a mathematically predictive way? The answer is no, it hasn’t. This conclusion is based on the performance of models developed to predict the effect of rising CO₂ on Average Global Temperature (AGT) over the past twenty years. The models have consistently failed to predict, causing us to reject the cAGW hypothesis in favor of the null hypothesis (which is that we don’t know what causes warming).

        I hope the original author of this comment won’t take offense at me entering the debate, but if so will join in the conversation and make their intentions clear.

        • I agree that Henry’s Law is relevant (the effect of temperature on the solubility of a gas). However, my understanding is that the CO2 concentration in surface waters of the oceans is actually increasing, resulting in increased acidity — and corresponding vulnerability of corals an other creatures with calcium-based shells.

          Presumably, the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been dampened by increased absorption by the oceans.

          Personally, my hunch is that climate-related changes to the ocean might pose an even greater risk to the future of the planet than changes at the land surface. (Yes, a hunch is not an argument.)

          Overall, I get the sense that you think that the challenges of mathematically modeling the mechanisms of climate change trumps the importance of effect. This would be fine as an intellectual exercise or a rigorous laboratory experiment, but unfortunately, we only have one world, so the stakes are much higher.

          To make a crude analogy, if your brakes fail when you are going downhill, it’s less important to validate that your acceleration is what would be expected, based on the slope and momentum of the car, and far more important to figure how to prevent a crash.

          • Hi Again Peter –

            and thanks again for making a cogent response.

            You ask:“Presumably, the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration has been dampened by increased absorption by the oceans.”

            No, you have that backwards. Oceanic uptake of CO₂ is reduced by temperature by Henry’s Law. It doesn’t cut both ways. Oceans, in the face of rising temperature outgass. Lowering temperatures cause an incearased uptake.

            Oceans are not becoming more acidic through the uptake of CO₂, they can’t. By Henrey’s Law, as the mean ocean temperature increases, dissolved CO₂ decreases and pH is maintained. It’s just the way water works.

            Q:“Overall, I get the sense that you think that the challenges of mathematically modeling the mechanisms of climate change trumps the
            importance of effect.”

            A: I don’t understand this comment. Overall I think the mathematics of climate change, as expressed by the CMIP-5 set of models, doesn’t agree with observation. I thought I’d made that clear?

          • Uh, Pete, your “brakes” analogy would be apt only if you set up your scenario thus: …if, while routinely driving down a familiar hill, your favorite radio station interrupts your favorite music with a breathless, frantic, high volume hand-wringing tear-jerkng infomercial (from a franchised brake sales shop) that your brakes may have failed…or they could fail…that mathematical models predict that your brakes have, indeed, failed and you and your family and other motorists are now toast!!!!!!

            So, logically, you and other concerned motorists immediately panic and promptly run your cars off the road, upside down into a nice safe ditch…without every considering the source or motivation behind the “news flash” or even tapping your brake pedal to see what might happen (heh, you would have found plenty of braking power, just as always).

            But, hey, with your car now upside down it will make it so much easier for the brake salesmen and technicians to reach and install those pricey new rotors and pads, eh? Won’t even need to run it up on a lift. Your car is sorta wrecked, but you will have shiny new brakes, and that’s the only important thing…in the moment. So, a silver lining to the trendy hysteria, after all!

          • Colorful analogy, FwaD, but can you explain where we can find this “brake pedal” for climate change? World war doesn’t count, because the pedal tends to get stuck.

          • Oh, I’d say a lot of us have been tapping the brakes in response to the rampant scare mongering around climate change, just checking those binders occasionally. Even driving a little more defensively, too. That’s what calm professional drivers do.

            Heck, Pete, a lot of us actually live and work out here in that precious environment that, according to over-complex, over-sold mathematical models and cloistered activist fear merchants, is all but destroyed already. It isn’t. Heck, we are always taking readings and drawing informed conclusions out here, as we always have. Having tapped the brakes, I can report they seem to be wearing about as expected, they still function acceptably, maybe not due for routine maintenance or replacement right away…regardless of high-pressure infomercials to the dire contrary. If we drive sanely, we should be just fine, as usual for a good many more miles. The high-pitched squealing we hear doesn’t seem to be the brakes so much as it is the screeching of hysterical bystanders.

            Surely, Pete, you aren’t so far gone that you cannot acknowledge progress that’s been made in understanding and even reducing our GHG output? So, yeah, those of us who’ve continued to trade up to more fuel efficient equipment, who’ve availed ourselves of technologies and methodologies that begin to control CO2 and GHG emissions (particularly those that also improve our productivity and/or save us expense — see, even farmers can figure out that CO2 and smoke are energy and resource losses to us in our various business and personal activities), those of us actually exploring the possibilities only ever get excoriated by a small army of panicked fools who simply have no practical clue what the “brakes” are, where they are, or how to use them effectively. That’s what happens to school kids who’ve only recently been indoctrinated about the theoretical perils of braking, who’ve been chauffeured around or who ride the bus most of the time…unsophisticated little back seat drivers. Way too many, way too impressionable, way too easily frightened, way too shrill back seat drivers…cheered on by way too many more sophisticated folks making fat livings off the “climate change” industry.

          • Peter writes: “However, my understanding is that the CO2 concentration in surface waters of the oceans is actually increasing, resulting in increased acidity”

            Pete, I can’t argue with your excursions into areas that are demonstrably false. You clearly believe what you want to and there’s nothing I can do about it.

            Henry’s Law is called a “law” because it’s been repeatedly observed. No one has ever come up with a better explanation of what’s going on. It’s been confirmed by multiple scientific disciplines.

            You have the right to stand aside and cast aspersions on it. I, for one, think you’re full of beans. I hope that makes you spend more time examining your assumptions.

        • Despite rising ocean surface temperatures, currently, a major fraction of excess CO2 is being absorbed by the surface ocean—both by dissolving and the buffering by calcium. (The fact that there is some local upwelling of cold, saturated deep-ocean water is not the driving factor). Applying Henry’s law would only be relevant if the surface ocean was close to saturation, which it is not. By one estimate, current atmospheric CO2 levels would be more like 500 ppm if it weren’t for the damping effect of the oceans.

          Steady acidification of the surface ocean has been well documented. I do not know how close we are to a point where increased acidity and increased temperature will start to limit CO2 uptake.

  15. Subjects who resisted evidence in order to stick to their beliefs were shown to have higher activity in one area called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.

    I wonder if scientists will ever discover which part of the brain is involved in reducing complex cultural phenomena to neural activity.

  16. To be skeptical about “consensus” science can be quite legitimate, even scientific. Some “consensus” stuff itself is driven by politics, e.g. the lists of signatories condemning “denialists” on CO2-driven climate change, the non-existence of “races”, the technology of WW2 gas-chambers, &c. Popper is worth revisiting on this matter.

Leave a Comment

News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.

Send this to a friend