Category Archives: Questionable Science

The New Hockey Stick

First of all, please accept my apologies for not posting for so long. I have been writing a paper based on some research, and have been working 7 day weeks on it for a long period. It is a challenging piece of work, with some results which undermine a body of theory. In order to get it published I have had to be more thorough, and go into depth that would not normally be required, and still it will be a fight to get it published. This is the nature of challenging the orthodoxy.

On the other hand, if you write something that is in line with the orthodoxy it is relatively easy to publish, even if the standard of the work is not very impressive. This brings me to the subject of this post, which is the Marcott et al (2013) paper, with the abstract as follows:

Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

I typed in the word ‘Marcott’ into Google News search, and the first headline that greeted me said ‘We’re Screwed: 11,000 Years’ Worth of Climate Data Prove It’. I don’t think it is possible to be more ‘alarmist’ than this. The article is found in the Atlantic, and the article lifts the following diagram from the Marcott et al paper:

marcott-A-1000.jpg

The article goes on to say that:

Back in 1999 Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann released the climate change movement’s most potent symbol: The “hockey stick,” a line graph of global temperature over the last 1,500 years that shows an unmistakable, massive uptick in the twentieth century when humans began to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s among the most compelling bits of proof out there that human beings are behind global warming, and as such has become a target on Mann’s back for climate denialists looking to draw a bead on scientists. [emphasis added]

The article goes on to propose that the Marcott et al paper vindicates Michael Mann’s long discredited hockey stick chart. The hockey stick chart of Mann has always been a key plank of the alarmist argument, as it is the ‘evidence’ that the warming that took place in the 20th century was unprecedented; it was the ‘smoking gun’. In particular, it removed two key elements from the temperature record, which were the medieval warm period, and the little ice age which followed in the wake of the medieval warm period. In a post in Climate etc., Rud Istvan explains it thus:

The MWP has progressively ‘disappeared’ over the course of  the IPCC reports. FAR and SAR showed it to have been much warmer than the present—and nothing to do with CO2. By TAR the MWP was gone, leading to the hockey stick controversy and climategate.

While the MWP did not completely disappear in this new paper, it turned into a <0.1°C blip colder than 1961- 1990. This is quite curious. The MWP was not a blip for the entire northern hemisphere, as illustrated by this figure adapted from a 2010 paper by Ljungvist.

The diagram referenced is given below:

Ljungqvist 2010

As is evident in the Atlantic article, the media bandwagon has started rolling on the findings of Marcott et al, but the problems are already starting to appear. The data used for the paper was made available (which is certainly a positive), but this has allowed others to look closely at the findings. For example, at Suyts blog, Hank ‘discovered that only nine of the 73 proxies contained data that extended to 1950. Of those nine, only two contained data that extended to 2000′ [and] Starting at 1,500 before present (BP), I graphed the nine proxy datasets. And here’s what I got:’

clip_image004

The hockey stick is not apparent, and this is why:

This new 73 proxy study has alarmists convinced that this is an independent verification and vindication of Mann’s hockey stick. It isn’t. The hockey stick blade at the end of the reconstruction is resulting from an adjustment of the proxy data to agree with Mann’s treemometer study. That, or it is an outright splice of Mann’s data directly.

Inevitably, Steve McIntyre, who played a key role in discrediting the Mann hockey stick, has weighed in. In what Bishop Hill calls an ‘astonishing’ post, McIntrye observes that:

Marcott, Shakun, Clark and Mix did not use the published dates for ocean cores, instead substituting their own dates. The validity of Marcott-Shakun re-dating will be discussed below, but first, to show that the re-dating “matters” (TM-climate science), here is a graph showing reconstructions using alkenones (31 of 73 proxies) in Marcott style, comparing the results with published dates (red) to results with Marcott-Shakun dates (black). As you see, there is a persistent decline in the alkenone reconstruction in the 20th century using published dates, but a 20th century increase using Marcott-Shakun dates. (It is taking all my will power not to make an obvious comment at this point.)

The graph comparing the two is given below:

alkenone-comparison

There is plenty more to the critical analysis of the work, for example the absence of the hockey stick in Marcott’s thesis, or the lack of resolution of the proxy data. As a headline from Wattsupwiththat put it, ‘Tick, tick, tick – how long will the new Marcott et al hockey stick survive?‘ My purpose is not to review the many gaping holes appearing in the Marcott et al paper but to consider why this paper has appeared now. The first point to note is that the data was released with the paper. This is important, as it is an admission that hiding data is no longer acceptable practice. However, this presents a problem for alarmists who present questionable work; they are damned if they do not release the data and damned if they do.

As the data comes under increasing scrutiny, it is becoming very apparent that this paper is extremely problematic, and that the conclusions trumpeted by alarmist media sit upon extremely shonky foundations. The authors, unless very naïve, must have been aware that there paper would not hold up to close scrutiny. However, in having a paper accepted in the peer reviewed literature, they have managed to potentially reinstate the hockey stick – and this might now appear in the next IPCC report. In publishing this work, the authors may have sacrificed their credibility to some degree, but in doing so, they have gained membership of the faction in climate science that dominates the literature (see here for why this matters).

The publication of this paper has been important for the alarmist position as the science of climate change, and the alarmist position, is bumping up against the harsh wall of reality. In particular, the models that are so important in the alarmist case are having trouble with the recent stall in warming; they cannot explain it. There is a very good summary of the problems created by the stall in a report issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, written by David Whitehouse. This is from the executive summary, but I recommend reading the whole report (about an hour to read):

The standstill observation was first made in 2006; the global annual average temperature had not increased for the previous five years, even though many climate scientists, and the media, were talking about an ever-warming planet powered by strong anthropogenic global warming. The initial debate was couched in cautious scientific terms but, because it ran counter to popular opinion, many dismissed it and questioned the motives of those pointing out these observational facts. But to the amazement of many, and the obvious annoyance of some, as the years passed all the major global temperature datasets showed no warming throughout the first decade of the 21st century and beyond. As this report shows, as the statistical significance of the standstill increased, the debate about its potential importance grew among many branches of science, even though many prominent scientists and institutions, and almost all of the media, were steadfastly looking the other way.

The problem for the alarmist position is that, as David Whitehouse points out, even some of the most prominent alarmists such as Hansen are now having to accept the reality of the stall, albeit they are using various dubious methods to deflect attention away from it. When crying that the world is heading for catastrophe, it is more than a little problematic when the world does not conform to the narrative. As such, it becomes ever more important to shift focus away from the harsh reality of the evidence that contradicts the narrative, and refocus attention on something that might support the narrative.

Perhaps I am wrong, but it is possible that Marcott et al have made ‘a pact with the devil’ (just a metaphor!). In return for creating the right narrative, they join a privileged elite of alarmist climate scientists, but do so at the cost of selling their scientific souls as the price. They have provided a paper which may be highly questionable, appears not to stand up to scrutiny, but have provided the material that is needed by both the media and IPCC to continue an alarmist narrative – in the face of evidence that is increasingly problematic for the alarmist case. In career terms, Marcott et al may have won from this. Their future work will undoubtedly be looked upon kindly by the gatekeepers of climate science.

However, only Marcott et al know their own motives, and I can only speculate on them here. On the one hand, there is a possibility (and one I would like to believe, even if I do not) that they think their paper is ‘sound’ but, in light of the problems in the paper, and the way it has been presented this would be hard to believe. On the other hand there is the possibility they made the trade-off. I can only wish that the former is true, because the latter is just depressing.

Note: The new batch of climategate emails are starting to cause a new stir. I am very pleased that the use of the emails has (so far) been cautious, and attention has been given to preventing non-climate science related emails being kept out of the public domain. We will undoubtedly find some interesting new insights as the tedious task of going through the emails progresses.

Marcott, S. A., J. D. Shakun, et al. (2013). “A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years.” Science 339(6124): 1198-1201

The BEST Article Finally Published – Sort of….

I have just found a post on Watts Up With That (WUWT) reporting that the BEST paper has finally been published. For those who are unaware of it, the ‘preview’ of the paper is given below:

We report an estimate of the Earth’s average land surface temperature for the period 1753 to 2011. To address issues of potential station selection bias, we used larger sampling of stations than having prior studies. For the period post 1880, our estimate is similar to those previously reported by other groups, although we report smaller error uncertainties. The land temperature rise from the 1950s decade to the 2000s decade is 0.90 ± 0.05°C (95% confidence).

This is what WUWT said about the publication:

After almost two years and some false starts, BEST now has one paper that has finally passed peer review. The text below is from the email release sent late Saturday. It was previously submitted to JGR Atmospheres according to their July 8th draft last year, but appears to have been rejected as they now indicate it has been published in Geoinformatics and Geostatistics, a journal I’ve not heard of until now.

(Added note: commenter Michael D. Smith points out is it Volume 1 issue 1, so this appears to be a brand new journal. Also troubling, on their GIGS journal home page , the link to the PDF of their Journal Flier gives only a single page, the cover art. Download Journal Flier. With such a lack of description in the front and center CV, one wonders how good this journal is.)

Well, I thought I would do a quick confirmatory check, and took a look for the journal in ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports, and check whether this is in any way an established journal. ISI JCR is probably the most important of all of the citation tools:

Progress in science is driven by the publication of novel ideas and experiments, most usually in peer-reviewed journals, but nowadays increasingly just on the internet. We all have our own ideas of which are the most influential journals, but is there a simple statistical metric of the influence of a journal? Most scientists would immediately say Impact Factor (IF), which is published online in Journal Citation Reports® as part of the ISI Web of Knowledgesm (www.thomsonreuters.com/products_services/scientific/Journal_Citation_Reports).

The result of my search Geoinformatics and Geostatistics was:

***** No matching journals were found. *****

For those who are unaware of the way journals work, you should know that anyone can establish a journal. Anyone. As an academic, I quite often receive spam invitations to submit to journals which are entirely without repute, and where they charge a ‘publication fee’ or ‘review fee’. The journals are real, but they have no reputation, and will get no reputation. It might be noted that even some reputable journals charge fees (which is outrageous but not the subject of the post), although I am lucky that this is not the case in my field. However, there are also periods during which a new and serious journal has no reputation, and it takes time to build that reputation.

The interesting thing about this new journal is the publisher. I took a look at the other journals that they list as their own publications, and typed all the journal names listed under ‘A’ into the ISI JCR, and all of them returned the same result:

***** No matching journals were found. *****

I was more than a little surprised, and thought that perhaps it was a problem with the database, so typed in ‘Geophysical research letters’, but it came up with a result (57964 citations). If the sample of journals beginning with the letter ‘A’ is indicative of the standing of the publisher, then this is indicative of a very poor or not yet established academic publisher. I also took a look for journals from my field, and found only one in a related area, and had not heard of it, and this also was not included in the ISI database.

Bearing all of this in mind, we have two options to explain the publication. One is that the BEST group got together, and because they could not get published, decided to simply create their own journal in conjunction with a few allies. The choice of publisher is telling if this is the case. Having a new journal with a launch article that will undoubtedly be cited might help raise the publisher’s profile. For BEST, they can then say that their paper has been peer reviewed and published, but it is all very dubious. The other option is that this is a genuinely new journal seeking to fill a gap in the literature. Again, as the BEST paper will guarantee citations, it will help give the journal an ‘impact factor’ from the start, something which is hard to achieve. In this case, it would be very much in the interest of a new journal to publish such an article.

In both cases, it is all a little dubious. If a study is of a high quality, and is important, it is most unusual that anyone would choose an unknown journal. I know that, in my field, there are the important ‘go to’ journals, and I select from the most prestigious where it has a chance of publication, and with the best fit for my work. This is the same with everyone I know. I am not in a position to judge the article itself, as it is out of my area of expertise, but I can say that the choice of journal and publisher is most odd if the paper is sound and important. Most odd.

The Halt in Warming

For those that read widely on the subject of climate change, you will no doubt be aware that there has been a long halt in warming temperatures and even James Hansen has accepted this as fact. One interesting thing about the story is the way that the story has been treated. For example, David Rose wrote about the halt in the UK’s Daily Mail back in October of last year, only to create a storm of indignation:

Last week The Mail on Sunday provoked an international storm by publishing a new official world temperature graph showing there has been no global warming since 1997.

The figures came from a database called Hadcrut 4 and were issued by the Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University.

We received hundreds of responses from readers, who were overwhelmingly critical of those climate change experts who believe that global warming is inevitable.

But the Met Office, whose lead was then followed by climate change campaigners, accused The Mail on Sunday of cherry-picking data in order to mislead readers. It even claimed it had not released a ‘report’, as we had stated, although it put out the figures from which we drew our graph ten days ago.

The Met Office response referred to can be found here. In response to the hail of criticism, David Rose responded with a question at the head of an article; ‘so who are the “deniers” now?’ and it is a very apt question. He writes about the criticism of his article before saying (emphasis added):

But then last week, the rest of the media caught up with our report. On Tuesday, news finally broke of a revised Met Office ‘decadal forecast’, which not only acknowledges the pause, but predicts it will continue at least until 2017. It says world temperatures are likely to stay around 0.43 degrees above the long-term average – as by then they will have done for 20 years.

This is hugely significant. It amounts to an admission that earlier forecasts – which have dictated years of Government policy and will cost tens of billions of pounds – were wrong. They did not, the Met Office now accepts, take sufficient account of  ‘natural variability’ – the effects of phenomena such as ocean temperature cycles – which at least for now are counteracting greenhouse gas warming.

Surely the Met Office would trumpet this important news, as it has done when publishing warnings of imminent temperature rises. But there was no fanfare. Instead, it issued the revised forecast on the ‘research’ section of its website – on Christmas Eve. It only came to light when it was noticed by an eagle-eyed climate blogger, and then by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the think-tank headed by Lord Lawson.

Then, rather than reporting the news objectively, Britain’s Green Establishment went into denial. Neither The Guardian nor The Independent bothered to report it in their paper editions, although The Independent did later run  an editorial saying that the new forecast was merely a trivial ‘tweak’. Instead, they luridly reported on the heatwave and raging bushfires in Australia.

For those of you who do not read widely on the subject, this halt in warming might come as something of a surprise. For example, I did a search of the New Zealand Herald, and there was lots of reporting of alarm, but no article that seemed to cover the halt. I say ‘seemed’, as I only looked at the headline and summaries for most of the articles. However, I did look at some in more depth, such as this editorial, from which I will provide a quote:

In a review of climate study this week, we reported that New Zealand might fare quite well under the predicted 4C increase in average global temperatures. Here the expected rise is 3C.

Victoria University’s Dr Jim Renwick, a lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel’s next report, said the North Island’s climate would be closer to Queensland’s and the South Island would have the North Island’s conditions. It does not sound so bad.

Melting polar ice caps would raise sea levels a metre, and droughts would be more frequent in eastern regions of New Zealand.

It remains wiser to contribute what we can to international efforts that might reduce or at least slow the rate of warming.

The next IPCC report will examine engineering responses to climate change, such as extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sending sun-reflecting particles into the stratosphere.

It is something to ponder as we bask in another hot, sunny weekend. And spare a thought for Australia where temperatures are predicted to set records this weekend.

If this is a symptom of global warming we are all in it together.

Oddly, there is no mention of the halt in warming. At least one thing is to their credit; although they tenuously link climate change to the recent heat wave in Australia in the quote, at least they suggest in the introduction that ‘Heat waves in Australia and NZ may not be a symptom of climate change’. This is at least a little better than the reporting elsewhere, including in one of their other articles, which clearly linked recent heatwaves to global warming, and also included this:

And Australia won’t be the only country to suffer from rising temperatures.

A recent study done by Britain’s Met Office showed that 2013 is on course to be the hottest ever globally.

This is odd, as the UK’s Met Office is actually predicting several years of a pause in warming. In fact, when all is said and done, the reporting of the halt in warming is distinctly odd. Very odd. Or rather the absence of headlines is odd. As David Rose suggests, it should be trumpeted. It should be headline news.

The Significance of the the News

The real significance of the news is in what it confirms about the state of the science, and in particular about climate models. For example, GWPF have helpfully translated a Spiegel article, and it includes these comments (emphasis added):

Scientists previously thought 14 years without further warming could be brought into line with their forecasts – but not “15 years or more,” as NASA scientists stated four years ago in the journal “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society”. In an email to colleagues a renowned scientist wrote on 7 May 2009, at a time when the warming standstill had already lasted for eleven years: “the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.”

[and they ask scientists for their views]

However, climate models do not represent stratospheric water vapour “very well”, admits Marotzke. The forecasts remain vague.

[and]

Thus there are plenty of plausible explanations for why global warming has temporarily slowed down. However, the number of guesses also shows how inexact the climate is understood. Could La Niña, for example, continue to have a cooling effect? “The jury is still out on this”, NASA explains.

The article includes several theoretical explanations for the halt, but none of them are given as firm explanations but are instead competing unconfirmed theories lacking in evidential support.

Does this look like the science is settled? It looks far from settled, and only serves to highlight that the climate models used by researchers are, at best, incomplete. Now at this point, you would expect that this would be a cause for celebratory headlines. After all, the story so far is that ‘we are all doomed’, and this narrative is derived from the very same models that are demonstrably inadequate. So what is the reaction of the alarmists to this? The Huffington Post calls the Met Office’s revisions a ‘distraction’ and simply asserts:

Our focus must at all time be on debating and researching new technologies and efforts to tackle climate change – repeated debates about whether climate change is happening or not are extremely unhelpful and distracting at this critical point in time. The argument should be long gone now!

I really like the exclamation mark at the end! The distraction that is being referred to is whether the science is settled. I picked the Huffington Post as an exemplar, as it is arguing that:

[…] climate sceptics are constantly looking for gaps in how climate science is being reported in order to exploit them and fundamentally question whether climate change is actually happening.

It is not gaps in the reporting that are interesting to skeptics, but the gaps in the science. In this case, the failure of the models used to predict catastrophic global warming to predict the climate. They are not working. There are gaps in the science, and these reflect in the models. If the models are wrong, then the output of the models cannot and should not be trusted, at least not at present.

There is nothing to say that the models cannot be improved, but when there are competing and debated explanations for the current halt in warming there are some tough questions that need to be addressed. What is very apparent in the Spiegel article is that there are some very fundamental questions about climate science and this will reflect in the models as they stand. However for the future, assuming that any of the theories are correct, which one goes into revisions of the models? Each of the explanatory theories is different, and the use of each will therefore create a very different model. Each theory is contested or lacks evidential support. Or perhaps the models should use more than one of the explanatory theories but how will they be used together?

And this is exactly why this news should be headlines. Climate scientists cannot even agree on the explanation for the halt in warming. We have been told that the science is settled, that there is consensus on the science, that the debate is settled…and on and on….but it is not settled, and there is no consensus.

Instead, there is uncertainty, unknowns and debate over theory. Furthermore, when being told all these tales of certainty, we were being lied to. Faced with the failure of their models, they have been forced to admit the critical gaps in the science. Yes, they will update their models, perhaps using one, or a combination of the theories (hopefully with some evidence in place by then). The models might even improve. But will this change the tune that is sung? I very much doubt it. Instead, the media will continue to pour out the lie that the ‘science is settled’. This will be promoted by the very same scientists who have been falsely claiming that the science has been settled up to this point in time.

For all of the scientists who have claimed that the science is settled, there is a very basic question; why should be believe you in the future, when it is apparent that you have lied? In other words, the scientists who have claimed consensus, that the science is settled, and even described skeptics as ‘deniers’, have a problem with credibility. ‘Trust us, we’re scientists’ has been the underlying refrain but they have lied to us, and they have been caught lying. There never has been the certainty that they have promoted and there never has been a consensus, not even amongst those who have supported the catastrophic warming theory. It was all lies. After all, if they cannot explain and agree on the recent absence of warming, where is the consensus and certainty?

The Leaked IPCC Report: The Sun’s Influence

[updates at end of post- I am not so sure that the issues are as I originally laid out – comments welcomed] I was a little cautious about one element of the critique of the leaked IPCC report. This was the strong claim made by Alec Rawls that the leaked IPCC report highlights the importance of the sun in driving climate change. There was a backlash to this. For example, the New Scientist said this:

Climate scientists are lining up to debunk this claim, and to explain that the bloggers have simply got it wrong. “They’re misunderstanding, either deliberately or otherwise, what that sentence is meant to say,” says solar expert Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London.

The sentence in question is the bold sentence in this passage:

Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system (e.g., Bond et al., 2001; Dengel et al., 2009; Ram and Stolz, 1999). The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link. We focus here on observed relationships between GCR and aerosol and cloud properties.

Alec Rawls has provided a rebuttal of the critiques. It is long, and I believe quite complex, and can be found here. As such, I thought I would have a go at simplifying the point that he is making (in as simple language as possible), although do so at some risk I will get it wrong. I am not very familiar at all with this area of  science, but I think I have grasped the key principles of his argument:

  1. There is good empirical evidence that links the activity of the sun and global temperature
  2. One of these influences is total solar irradiance
  3. Total solar irradiance (which is known and can be accounted for) is, of itself, not sufficient to explain the linkage between the activity of the sun and the correlations with global temperature.
  4. Therefore something else must explain the linkages i.e. there is some other forcing mechanism from the activity of the sun that explains the linkage or ‘something’ is ‘amplifying’ the influence of the sun
  5. This might be the theoretical mechanism (backed by results from experimental work) in which solar activity impacts upon cloud formation

This is (in very simple terms) what I think is the gist of the paragraph quoted. There are points to note here.

  1. Observations are indicating a role for the activity of the sun on temperatures beyond what is currently being used in used in climate models. The models include solar irradiance, but not the other still uncertain/undiscovered amplifying mechanism.
  2. The passage accepts that the sun has a greater role in temperature than is currently used in climate models.

As you will have seen, there has been a response to Alec’s discussion which suggests that the context of the whole gives a different understanding. Indeed, there are even suggestions of ‘cherry picking’ and even outright dishonesty in the discussions of Alec’s argument. Central to the claim that the rest of the IPCC report is dismissive of the point in the paragraph is that other sections of the report cast doubt on the cloud formation theory.  Therefore, they claim that the rest of the report does not support a greater role for sun activity in the climate, and this is why there is nothing in the report which supports a greater role in climate change for the sun.

However, this is a very, very large problem, if that is their logic. For the moment we will accept their claim that the cloud theory is poorly supported (which is questionable). That merely means one explanation of the larger role of the sun in temperatures is poorly supported, and does nothing to argue against the evidence that the sun is a larger influence on temperature than is currently accepted in the climate models.

It just means that scientists should be looking harder for explanations of the larger role of the sun in the determination of climate [Update: RichardC reasonably points out that some scientists are already working hard on this, but the IPCC is uninterested]. In the interim they should still alter their models to include the larger role of the sun in driving climate [update: see John Hutlquist’s comment below for reasonable questions on this subject]. Whilst they might argue that they do not know what the additional amplifying mechanism is, they still need to accept the evidence that there is indeed an amplifying mechanism.

In summary, the argument in the IPCC report pretends that by casting doubts on a theory that exlains observation, they can then ignore the real implications of actual observations. These are not theory, and are observations. Casting doubts on a theoretical explanation of observations in no way makes the observations any less real! To pretend this is the case, is a sleight of hand, a magicians trick. It is getting you to look over there, whilst making the subject of interest disappear. If I have understood this correctly (and I am not certain of this), this is either a result of incompetence, or purposefully hiding an ‘inconvenient’ piece of evidence.

Important Note: In light of stepping out of my ‘comfort zone’ I welcome comments and corrections; for those who are reading; you should therefore check the comments below to see if any corrections have been made. Please note there may also be some comments which are from people who will seek to obscure rather than clarify the discussion that I have presented.

Update: In response to a comment below, I have added a large quote from the Economist, which discusses some of the science regarding the sun, climate and cloud formation. Being the Economist, it is well written, and for a lay audience. There is also a video with the original article which, if I remember when I first read the article, is very good.

Clouds are formed by the condensation of water vapour in the atmosphere around clusters of molecules such as ammonia and sulphuric acid. Ions created by the passage of cosmic rays can trigger the formation of such molecular seeds—a process of particular interest because the arrival of cosmic rays is regulated, in part, by the sun. The 11-year solar cycle, which governs the appearance of sunspots, also changes the sun’s magnetic field. That, in turn, affects the passage of cosmic rays (which are mostly protons released by distant supernova explosions), and thus the number of such rays that make it to Earth. Since clouds help regulate the climate, by reflecting sunlight back into space and cooling the atmosphere, some researchers think cosmic rays are a means by which changes in solar activity are translated into terrestrial climate change.

Just how much cosmic rays affect cloud formation has, however, remained elusive. A team at CERN, led by Jasper Kirkby, therefore decided to recreate both the solar cycle and the atmosphere in a lab. Their “cosmic rays” are generated by one of CERN’s particle accelerators. To simulate the atmosphere, they have built a special cloud chamber of their own, with the air manufactured from scratch, using liquid nitrogen and oxygen together with precise amounts of trace compounds, including sulphuric acid and ammonia.

A typical run at CLOUD, as the experiment is unimaginatively named, begins by tracking the growth of seeds from single molecules into clusters in the presence of ultraviolet radiation, which is known to encourage such growth. An electrical field removes any ions present, so the rate of seed growth should be equivalent to that in nature with no cosmic rays around. Next, the field is switched off, allowing actual cosmic rays to permeate the chamber for a while. Finally, a beam of artificial rays from the accelerator is added to the mix.

By comparing rates of seed formation during the different phases of the experiments, the researchers have been able to put a figure on cosmic rays’ contribution to the process. The results, reported in this week’s Nature, suggest naturally occurring rays enhance seed-formation rates by a factor of ten. That implies the rays’ varying intensity could indeed affect the climate.

Dr Kirkby and his colleagues remain cautious about the result, however, because of a second finding. To their surprise, they discovered that the seed-formation rates for sulphuric acid and ammonia are between a tenth and a thousandth of those needed to account for the cloud seeding actually seen in the atmosphere. That suggests other compounds are important, too—and this, in turn, implies that current climate models, which assume most seeds are made of ammonia or sulphuric acid, may require revision.

You may also wish to see this earlier article in the Economist, which gives further background, as it highlights the theory of Henrik Svensmark, who is a key theorist on the subject of cloud formation. I believe the science has moved ahead since these articles, but they do give a sense of the science at issue.

Another update in response to the comments and a little more consideration: This is with regards to the findings of correlations between the activity of the sun. There is a well worn statement that correlation does not equal causation (I recently stumbled across an interesting history of this, but forget where I found it, sorry). The best example I have seen as a simple illustration is that ice cream eating is highly correlated with hot weather, therefore eating ice cream causes hot weather (or the sun to shine). The point here is that correlations need a causal explanation. This is why the cloud seeding theory is important, as are other theories that link the activity of the sun to climate. However, as John Hutlquist points out in his comment, there are some correlations that are hard to ignore.

As you will note, I am starting to rethink a little on this issue. Science is about theory and observation, and that theory should be tested to see whether it is a true description of reality. There has to be theory in addition to observation. Added to this we have the question of intuitive plausibility. It seems intuitively plausible that the major driver of climate is the sun, but that does not make it true. However, when considering an intuitively plausible explanation and a less intuitively plausible explanation (i.e. the plausibility that human derived CO-2 emmissions are more influential in climate change than the sun), then it seems that there should be a desire to examine the more plausible explanation in great depth before settling on the less plausible.

In other words, we have some interesting observational evidence that is suggestive that the sun is more influential as a driver of climate than manmade CO_2. However, the mechanism for how the sun might have greater influence than the know solar irradiance is still a subject of hypothesis and theory testing. It appears, however, that certain members of the scientific community are resistant to the possibility of the sun as a more significant driver of climate than CO_2, and wish to stick with their own (less intuitively plausible) explanation in the face of a more plausible explanation. They do not seem to want to engage with those who are engaging in the process of testing of an alternative hypothesis. Further, whilst their current hypothesis has resulted in model predictions, the predictions are not doing well in face of observation. This should be a driver towards greater interest in the alternative (and more intuitively plausible) hypothesis.

As I have pointed out earlier in the post, I am not in a position to evaluate the science, but I think I am starting to see something of the questions raised in the IPCC leaked report. If they can demonstrate that the current theories of amplification of the influence of the sun are wrong (which I gather they have not), then they could argue that there is no mechanism given for how the sun might be a more important driver for climate than CO_2, and then argue that without a mechanism, the observations are nothing more than coincidence. Correlation and causation are not enough. However, their own theory, as expressed in models, is failing to predict, meaning that their theory is problematic, and that the observations of solar drivers of climate seem to better fit observations of the climate.

In these circumstances, rather than seeking to discredit the sun as a more significant driver of climate, they should be actively looking themselves at the possibilities, and seeking their own explanations. Instead, their minds seem made up so that, whatever faults there are in their own theory, it must be defended to the hilt. After all, the big ball of energy that is the sun seems a plausible candidate for being a major driver of the climate. This stiff-necked approach now seems to me to be the issue at hand. Why are the IPCC scientists so resistant to the alternative explanation for climate variability in the face of the problems with their own theory? There are observations, there are possible causal mechanisms, there are interesting questions which should spur scientific interest (all science commences with questions). Why the disinterest?

Note: A second thanks to John for his comment on models, which spurred this rethink. I think he was gently making the correlation/causation point in the question about models.

It was the Romans who cooked the planet….

As regular readers will know, this blog does not often delve into the science of climate change. However, I have picked up on some news that is floating around the blogosphere which is discussing perhaps one of the most silly pieces of ‘science’ that I have yet seen. Apparently us nasty humans have been wrecking the planet since Roman times, and the medieval warm period was apparently down to us too….

The full story can be found here, and there is a critical evaluation here. This new addition to the ‘evidence’ was reported on ABC news:

A period covering the heyday of both the Roman Empire and China’s Han dynasty saw a big rise in greenhouse gases, according to a new study.

The finding challenges the view that human-made climate change only began around 1800.

A record of the atmosphere trapped in Greenland’s ice found the level of heat-trapping methane rose about 2000 years ago and stayed at that higher level for about two centuries.

Methane was probably released during deforestation to clear land for farming and from the use of charcoal as fuel, for instance to smelt metal to make weapons, says lead author Celia Sapart of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

“Per capita they were already emitting quite a lot in the Roman Empire and Han Dynasty,” she says of the findings by an international team of scientists published today in the journal Nature.

As others have pointed out, never mind that the populations of the even the Han and Roman empires were miniscule by comparison with modernity (which they admit, but note the point about per capita in the story), they were guilty too.  I mention this news because it is so utterly silly, that it is indicative of desperation. When human wickedness to the planet is back-dated to the Roman and Han empires, you know that the activist scientists are metaphorically not just scraping the bottom of the barrel, but that there is very little barrel left.

However, in some respects, the response that examines the ‘science’ is giving too much dignity to the paper and may be a strategic error. The ABC report is classic alarmist reporting,  and the paper has the potential for wider reporting by alarmist media but……it might have been better to leave this paper alone, and let it ‘travel’. By this, I mean let it have some space to gain traction. It is quite simply so silly, it does not really need the forensic examination that has been so effective in the past. Or at least not yet.

When people read that the Romans and Han dynasty started to ‘cook’ the planet, the less interested observer of the climate debates would surely just go ‘Huh???? What, no SUVs, no coal power stations, no major industry and they were STILL starting to cook the planet???’

I am being a little flippant here to make the point, but I hope that I do make the point. The paper and reporting of the paper can only serve to raise further questions in the minds of people who already have doubts, but do not have the time or inclination to delve into the forensic examinations of  alarmist positions. People are not stupid. The silliness of the ABC report would make most people do a metaphoric double take. That in turn might prod them enough to look at the rest of the ‘science’ of alarmist positions.

That is no bad thing.
Note: None of the use of terms such as ‘alarmist’ is applied to the many honest scientists who might agree with the AGW thesis, but who continue to examine the science of the climate, and their area of that science, as objectively as possible. Here I refer to the scientists who accept uncertainty/doubt and seek to honestly find the truth.

The Lewandowsky Affair

It has been impossible to miss the significant amount of attention that had been given to a paper by Lewandowsky which essentially claims that climate ‘deniers’ are a bunch of conspiracy nuts. Climate Audit has taken the research, the analysis and claims made in the paper to pieces, and pretty well all the skeptic bloggers have piled in to discuss the problems with the paper. I will ask forgiveness for not linking to the many discussions of the problems of the paper, but there is simply too much. However, I will link to one discussion which was in turn linked to from the Climate Conversation Group. The post in question is William Briggs, a statistician:

One day a terrific psychological study is going to be written on the madness and mass lunacy which arose after climate change swam into the public’s ken. I don’t mean the actions and thoughts of the man-in-the-street, which were and are no different in this area than they were and are in any political matterhe . No: the real curiosity is what happened to academia, inside departments which haven’t anything to do with climatology.

There, surrounded by people eager to agree with each other and fueled by infinite estimates of their own intelligence, great hoards of degreed non-experts, people who couldn’t derive the Omega equation if you threatened to remove their tenure and who think Vorticity is a town in Spain, lectured all of mankind on why The End Was Near, Unless…

Unless they, the non-experts, were hearkened to, esteemed, feted, moneyed, and just plain listened to, dammit.

What I really liked about the post was the idea that Lewandowsky, who is not a climate scientist, claims enough expertise to claim (in effect) that the science of climate change is settled, and settled on the ‘alarmist’ side of the debate. His argument is one which implicitly suggests that we should listen to the scientists, and just accept their findings. This is how William Briggs put the point:

  • Mistake 1: Lewandowsky is not a domain expert, and by his argument is not qualified to speak on matters climatic, yet speak he does.
  • Mistake 2: His opinion about how to consider the science of climate change is therefore no more valuable than any other non-domain expert’s (about the physics), but he considers by this act of publishing that it is.
  • Mistake 3: He conflates voting with truth. His fallacy is to suppose that because the majority of domain experts say X, X is therefore true.
  • Mistake 4: He conflates numbers with weight of evidence. His fallacy is to suppose the minority of domain experts who do not agree with the majority are not to be listened to because they are only a minority.

I actually agree with William, but I think he misses an essential point. He discusses the point about domain expertise, but is there actually a climate change domain of expertise? For example, if we look at psychology, it might have been considered a distinct discipline in the early days of study, such as when James was publishing, but it is now increasingly tangled up with neuroscience, which is in turn tangled up with other disciplines such as chemistry and so forth. A psychologist may specialise in a particular area and draw on the expertise of other related but distinct disciplines.

For example, evolutionary psychology draws on a diverse range of disciplines, such as anthropology, archaeology, and ethology. An evolutionary psychologist can reasonably claim to be an evolutionary psychologist, but their domain of expertise is fuzzy, and the title is a convenience. Some evolutionary psychologists will specialise in religion, some in kin relationships, and so forth. Each sub-specialisation in turn draws upon different fields of science to different degrees. Evolutionary psychology is a lumping together of a group of people who draw upon a range of domains to try to explain human behaviour. Whilst there is expertise in some respects, the nature of that expertise is ‘fuzzy’.

If we think of climate change scientists, it is a similar picture. It seems that many people who are given the title ‘climate scientist’ have a narrow domain of genuine expertise, but draw upon the expertise of other groups of scientists. The question that needs to be asked is where a domain of expertise starts and stops. It is a question that matters. For example, were an evolutionary psychologist to pronounce that human psychology is founded in the process of evolution, this would be a reasonably (I guess) uncontroversial thing to say. However, if an evolutionary psychologist were to pronounce with absolute certainty that all human behaviour is only the result of evolution, they might find many colleagues that disagree. Quite reasonably, the said colleagues would identify the complexities of causation of human behaviour.

Our confident pronouncer might have a particular area of expertise, and that area of expertise and their own studies might indicate the primacy of evolution in their particular area of study. Here, I am stretching somewhat, but I hope I will be forgiven as it is an analogy. However, even if finding that there is a primacy of evolution in their area, it does not qualify them to make the general pronouncement; that all human behaviour is only the result of evolution. However, the equivalent is taking place in climate science. Said ‘climate scientists’ are making these kinds of pronouncements.

A riposte might be that there is a consensus amongst evolutionary psychologists that human psychology is founded in human evolution. This is no different to the so-called scientific consensus on climate change; this is equivalent. However, even if there were such a consensus, it is not equivalent. Human behaviour is complex, and attribution of causation of behaviour is an issue of complexity. In psychology, they are self-critical over the issue of attribution. For example, Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan’s (2010) highlight that many studies that present generalisations about human psychology may be studying the narrow psychology of one culture i.e. cultural influences are being ignored. As such, in evolutionary psychology they increasingly proceed with caution. The difference with many climate scientists is that they offer no such caution, and make pronouncements with certainty in the face of equivalent complexity.

We can present a consensus that might be equivalent to the consensus in evolutionary psychology, but it is a consensus that many will not accept. In studies  of evolutionary psychology and climate, attribution and causation are complex, and uncertainties abound. In both disciplines, caution is needed before making pronouncements of certainty, regardless of what is found in the narrow domain of a particular scientist’s expertise. A real and valid equivalent to the consensus in evolutionary psychology might be something like this; carbon dioxide is a factor in determining the climate of the planet, but the complexity of climate and climate change make the degree of influence of carbon dioxide on the overall climate an open question. It seems that this is something that should forge a consensus.

So we return to the Lewandowsky affair. He commences his paper with a belief that there are a body of ‘climate scientists’ that are able to pronounce with certainty; they may be specialists in one area of climate science, but that in no way qualifies them to pronounce on the whole field of climate science. They may pronounce that, in their narrow area, they find evidence of attribution of factor x, but it is in their narrow area, and the findings of others who study climate need to be considered. That they lack this modesty and acceptance of the scope of their findings is a problem. That they can pronounce certainty in a complex system is a problem. They may be scientists engaged in the study of the climate, but the field of their study is limited and they are studying an area of complexity.

Whilst some climate scientists and their supporters claim a consensus, it is apparent that the consensus fails to acknowledge the limitations of their field of endeavour and the scope of the huge field of climate science. Moreover, it should be remembered that consensus, even if it exists, does not make science. In the case of evolutionary psychology, it is a field that has overturned the standard social science model of human behaviour in which human behaviour was seen as the product of learning and culture. Evolutionary psychology provides an exemplar; it recognises that human behaviour can be attributed to our evolution as well as culture and learning. It recognises that attribution in the face of complexity is a task that requires caution. Lewandowsky makes the error of believing that a ‘climate scientist’ might pronounce on their own field of study, but this in no way carries the weight to pronounce over such a wide domain of study.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61–83

Update: I have just visited Jo Nova’s blog and found that it is showing that the account has been suspended. Anyone know what is going on? It is a worry, as her blog is often very good value. It is quite strident in some respects, and I wonder whether this is a hacking attack, as I am aware there has been a similar problem before.

Update 2: I just visited Watssupwiththat, and it appears that Jo’s site has been hacked again. An interesting approach to debate; seek to shut down the voice of those who disagree with you……

The Australian Temperature Record

There is a great piece over on Jo Nova, which tackles the Australian temperature record. This is a quote from the start of the post:

A team of independent auditors, bloggers and scientists went through the the BOM “High Quality” (HQ) dataset and found significant errors, omissions and inexplicable adjustments. The team and Senator Cory Bernardi put in a Parliamentary request to get our Australian National Audit Office to reassess the BOM records. In response, the BOM, clearly afraid of getting audited, and still not providing all the data, code and explanations that were needed, decided to toss out the old so called High Quality (HQ) record, and start again. The old HQ increased the trends by 40% nationally, and 70% in the cities.

I have added one of the findings of the independent audit at the end of the post. I am not as familiar with this case as with the New Zealand temperature record, so only include it as additional information. Nevertheless, here is the fun bit of the post, if ‘fun’ is the correct word:

To make it all look o-so-convincing, the BOM asked three experts (from NOAA, NZ, and Canada) to look over it all, and score the BOM against its peers. But the peers standards are not too high in the first place: NOAA was caught with 89% of it’s own thermometers in the wrong spots near air conditioners and whatnot, and NZ’s records were so bad, they disowned them themselves. (NZ adjustimongered their temperature trends from 0.06C right up to 0.9C, got caught, and their response under legal pressure was to say but it’s ok, “There is no “official” or formal New Zealand Temperature Record”.)

It’s all too wonderful to be true. Discredited institutions vouch for the work of other discredited institutions, and thereby give credibility to each other. Bearing in mind that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has given lukewarm support for the New Zealand temperature record, it is more than a little worrying. More to the point, when confronted with the problems in their records the BOM simply moved the goalposts, and did so to avoid an audit. Why would they do this? I will leave you to work out that one for yourselves (as I am guessing it is not too difficult).