Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What to say. Bob Carter, 1942-2016.

Bob Carter, one of the very few qualified scientific experts who disagreed with the scientific consensus on climate change, died recently at age 74.

It's hard to figure out the appropriate thing to say in this situation. There's what to avoid, first of all. Christopher Hitchens occasionally wrote hate obituaries of people he disliked. The only thing to say in his defense is he probably wanted someone to write a hate obituary for him when he died, but I'm still not going to follow his example. Another example to avoid are denialists (some of them) who attacked terminally-ill Nasa scientist Piers Sellers for his dedication to climate change work.

An example to follow instead is Matt Yglesias' response to being attacked by economic historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson has written a lot of economic nonsense in recent years heavily seasoned with vitriol, including an attack on Yglesias. Matt responded by highlighting the - apparently - very good work that Ferguson had done in earlier years on World War I and the value of alternative history.

I'm not knowledgeable enough to do the same with Bob Carter, but I have read from people who are that he did good work on marine stratigraphy and was supportive of young scholars.

I hope we address the challenge of climate change quickly, and that in the long run the good that Carter did in building up science will be the most important part of his work.


Bernard J. said...

Carter did do good work in statigraphy, just as Ian Plimer, an old lecturer of mine, was a good lecturer in his areas of geology. In remembering Carter the world should not forget his positive contribution... nor should we forget his negative ones, and what the background was to his misplaced commentary in the face of strong countering evidence.

Personally it saddens me when folk such as Carter (and Tim Curtin) shuffle off this mortal coil. I really wish for them long and healthy lives so that they might eventually see the errors of their personal triumphs of ideology over parsimonious and defensible science, and to in light of any such revelation to perhaps make some reparation for the serious damage that their pseudo-scientific advocacy has brought to the planet.

Bernard J. said...


...and in the light of...


dc said...

I'm sure Bob Carter did some good work once and believed he was doing the right thing more recently. His death is a sad time for his family and friends regardless.

But, uncharitable as it may be, I can't help thinking of Max Planck's famous observation about how science really advances...(https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Max_Planck)

Based on his comment at WUWT (reproduced in full below), Roy Spencer apparently has similar thoughts, though he predictably blames a conspiracy of funding rather than increasing acceptance of a sound theory for the inevitable advance..

Bob was a great guy, a class act.

And I fear this is the beginning of the end. There are only a handful of us skeptics who publish in mainstream journals, our average age probably exceeds 60 now, and young researchers risk their careers if they go down the skeptic route…they simply won’t get funded. For example, we have no one to take over production of the UAH satellite dataset when John Christy and I are gone.

As Marc Morano recently said, we win the science battles but we’re losing the war on the political front. Our only hope is that the public is still largely on our side…but it remains to be seen whether that even matters anymore in the policy arena

Anonymous said...

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.

david lewis said...

How will historians view people such as Carter who provided what intellectual cover they could for all those who wanted nothing to stop the burning of all the fossil fuels? After the damage is done, will it matter?

I know how I feel. Good riddance. His arguments were preposterous when they weren't outright lies. He advocated doing nothing when the fact is civilization faces an existential problem.


The final word is best left to Bob's inimitable friend, James Delingpole :

They'll always have Paris.

PG said...

Russel I think the final word belongs to David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne

I posted this on CE earlier.

Nick said...

".. we have no one to take over production of the UAH satellite dataset when John Christy and I are gone"

Is Spencer saying that he and Christy run a 'skeptic' data unit? And only a 'suitable boy' can succeed them?..

Whatever, if he can't find anyone to succeed him, that's a failure of planning on his behalf. Is such succession planning part of his role?

Really, Spencer is just being irritating, playing to the idiots. Will UAH seriously let the project go? If so, it will be budget consideration, not the ideological eccentricity of Spencer, that decides...or it will be precisely because Spencer has so 'personalised' the project that it's too tainted to continue.

jgnfld said...

Spencer's comment is odd. Does that mean he cannot attract any grad students/post docs?

Is Curry attracting grad students/post docs?

Brian said...

I fall in Bernard's camp - I find it really sad that people who had done good work in the past sometimes end up where they do. I'd also like them to come around to reality before they die but that seems pretty rare.

Lovelock is a rare example of an over-alarmist, who then overreacted to what seemed to him like a warming pause in 2012. At least he was reacting to information, though. Not sure if he's still active.

Would love to see Dyson come back around to a scientific perspective before it's too late for him.

Everett F Sargent said...

Another One Bites the Dust

Too bad Farrokh Bulsara passed away in 1991. He is still sorely missed.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me.
Too late, my time has come,
Sent shivers down my spine,
Body's aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.
I don't wanna die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.
Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me.

Anyway the wind blows.

RIP Freddie

Bernard J. said...

Freddie was indeed one of the deaths that most struck home... There have been quite a few recently, not the least of which was Alan Rickman.

It's curious to do a personal weighing of how each of these deaths affects, and of the reasons why one might wish each individual a longer span. In light of this Bob Carter goes into a very different pile than the others...

Anonymous said...

The appropriate way to remember Bob Carter is as a cautionary tale for scientists. Science has grown well beyond the ability of any scientist to comprehend all of it. We specialize or we have no impact at all. And with specialization, it is inevitable that we will not fully comprehend the methodology of scientific disciplines well beyond our specialty--not without a concerted and sincere effort we won't. Without such an effort, we are as ignorant with the layman, but with an additional danger--the hubris that we understand "science", and that whatever does not conform to that understanding is not science.

Bob Carter succumbed to that hubris and became an object of derision to his fellow scientists. A cautionary tale indeed.

cRR Kampen said...

No comment.

Brian said...

I forgot that in 2006 I offered Carter 2:1 odds that temps would rise in a decade. He declined the bet, saying temps are a random walk.

Me: ....

Re-reading stuff about him now makes me feel less generous. It's still sad though.

Mal Adapted said...

Quoth Spencer: "As Marc Morano recently said, we win the science battles but we’re losing the war on the political front."

Heh. Candor broke through deceit. I guess Morano isn't satisfied with the money his fossil-fuel-billionaire patrons are making by forestalling the transition to a carbon-neutral economy for as long as they have.

KAP said...

The evil that men do lives after them.
The good is oft interred with their bones.
-- Shakespeare


Had Planck followed Humboldt to Bergakademie Freiberg, he might have remarked instead that the geological column grows one stratigrapher at a time .

OTOH, there are always contrarian stratigraphers .

Kevin O'Neill said...

Russell, if we simply replace 'firmament' with 'the pause' you can understand Anthony's lamentation: ...what we view as the pause can be taken from us in an instant ...


Stay tuned for the Rev. Watts sermon on heat island effects in the Ocean of Heaven

BBD said...

KAP beats me to it.

Unknown said...

Billy Bob Hall.

Re Bob Carter - Christopher Monkton summed it up perfectly:

"We will remember him. He was our clearest voice of truth."

And Anthony Watts:

"He not only bore the slings and arrows thrown his way by some of the ugliest people in the climate debate, he reciprocated with professionalism and honor, refusing to let them drag him into the quagmire of climate ugliness we have seen from so many climate activists. His duty, first and foremost was to truth."

Too true. RIP Bob.

PG said...

Steve my knowledge of Bob is limited so I cannot comment but I know Monkton and Watts well. They are both misanthropic lying arseholes.

Tom Gray said...

IMHO, nicely done piece by Graham Readfearn: http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/01/22/veteran-climate-science-denialist-bob-carter-dies-heart-attack