Category Archives: Science Communication

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?

Jo Nova and the ABC

Jo Nova has just posted for the second time on her interview with ABC. For those unfamiliar with Jo Nova, she is the most well known Australian skeptic, and her website attracts considerable attention. As a result, the Australian ABC chose her, and her husband, to represent the skeptical side of the climate change debate. Having seen other skeptics abused in the editing process, Jo asked for an independent cameraman to film the interview as insurance against bad editing. I forget her exact words, but it was something along the lines of ‘protecting our reputations’. Jo has now published the full copy of the interview, and contrasts it with the way that their views were presented by ABC. Jo gives an account of what was used from 2 hours of interview for herself below:

Jo:                Carbon dioxide.

Jo:                There’s some small immeasurable amount.

Jo:                The data says –

Joanne:      (Laughs)

Jo:                The planet is not going to be destroyed.

Jo summarises how they presented their argument thus:

David and I made it absolutely clear that we held our positions because of the evidence (between us we mentioned the word “evidence” nearly 100 times). But this wouldn’t have fitted with the theme later in the show where Smith and Nasht get psychologists to explain that it’s really all about “ideology”, and skeptics are skeptics because they’re old white males. (Like Jo right?) An honest doco would have taken care to at least let David and I explain our position. David showed four pieces of evidence that showed the models are wrong, yet the editors completely removed any reference to three of the four key pieces of evidence. This is despite the graphs being filmed twice, and referred to repeatedly by both David and myself in preps and in the filming. Indeed, I mentioned “28 million radiosondes” five times (a reference to the missing hot spot).  Later, David pointed out that ignoring the poor siting of thermometers is one way the modelers conceal the failure of their models. The editors jumbled these two aspects together with tricky snipping to suggest that the photos of thermometers were one of our “two” key points of evidence for the failure of the models.

That number is important: we clearly presented four pieces of evidence (1. models overestimated air temperatures from 1990, 2. models overestimated ocean warming since when we started measuring it properly in 2003, 3. models predict a pattern of atmospheric warming — responsible for most of the warming in the models — that is entirely missing from copious weather balloon measurements, and 4. models predict outgoing radiation increases with surface rising surface temperature when satellite measurements show the opposite). But they moved David’s words around (by cutting and pasting) to make it appear he said he presented two pieces (which he never said), and to make it appear as if the dodgy land thermometers were one of those two pieces of evidence. Net result: they actively concealed from the audience, by trickery, the evidence that mattered and that we presented four independent sets of data in support of our position.

In looking at the transcript and video, it is very apparent that they were, in no way, presented fairly in the ABC documentary. Indeed, an emphasis on the evidence by Jo and her husband David was the main theme of their argument. In response, the interviewer instead continually pointed to authority (e.g. the IPCC) instead of actually engaging with the argument based upon the evidence, or turned the subject to smears regarding funding. There were a few exceptions, but these simply highlighted the interviewer’s poor knowledge of the science in question.

Overall it is a very shabby incident. For those who are new to the climate change debate, I would strongly recommend taking a look at the video of the interview. It delves into some technicalities which are difficult if you are unfamiliar with the climate change debate, so parts of the interview may be hard going. However, if you can take the time to watch it, note how the debate plays out; the presentation of observational evidence that contradicts the climate models, the refusal of the interviewer to engage with that evidence (mostly), and the switches to appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks. In the final edit for the documentary, the arguments put forward by Jo and David are distorted, and the result is, by any reasonable standard, an extremely biased presentation. If you have any doubts, the transcript of the broadcast can be found as a link at the bottom of the page here, annotated by David.

I highlight this as it is a good illustration of the problems with the portrayal of the skeptical case. There are no startling revelations in the interview, but a presentation of the skeptical case based upon evidence. To those familiar with the debate, there is nothing new, but for those unfamiliar with the debate, it gives an opportunity to see how a media outlet may be in thrall to alarmist arguments, and seek to hide/distort the skeptic view. It is important for this reason alone; for those unfamiliar with the debate, it shows that much of the media cannot be trusted on this issue.

BBC and 28Gate – Follow Up

I was a little foolish when first viewing the BBC 28Gate scandal. I foolishly thought that it would garner some attention. The BBC, as an impartial broadcaster in principle, neglecting to follow those standards would be of interest in the rest of the media. By the time I wrote my post on the subject of 28Gate, I had shifted my opinion.

In particular, I wrote about ‘right thinking’ people, the group mentality of the media that agrees that all right thinking people will agree on point x, y or z. So, there is a real scandal at the BBC, and one that is in its broader implications is more worrying than the Jimmy Saville affair. Nevertheless, the abandonment of impartiality by the BBC makes no news traction. The problem is that so many media outlets are following the same path. All ‘right thinking’ people know that humans are destroying the planet, so the BBC has done no wrong.

In the echo-chamber of right thinking, the actions of the BBC in abandoning impartiality on the issue of climate change is justified. ‘So what?’ is the silent cry. Who cares that they did so on the basis of a meeting largely comprised of activists. They were right, because all ‘right thinking’ people agree, and it does not matter what the source of the justification of the BBC might be. As long as they are ‘right thinking’, that is all well and good. For a couple of days, I scanned the news waiting to see if the story would break. I guessed it would not. It did not. Instead, a few of the usual suspects, and I mean usual suspects in a positive way here, published condemnations of the BBC. Overall, the story has fizzled out.

That is the tragedy. That ‘right thinking’ might see such a story buried. We agree, so we ignore the faults. Never mind journalistic and editorial integrity, as long as it is about right thinking, that is enough.

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.

Who cares about the ‘consensus’

This is a very quick post, as I am a little challenged for time at the moment.

I came accross a very good post over at Climate etc. regarding the ‘consensus‘. One of the most interesting arguments that I picked up was that we should not care about the consensus argument, as consensus is not the benchmark of good science. Judith Currie wades into the question with the following:

The climate community worked for 20 years to establish a consensus.  The impact of the consensus probably peaked in 2006-2007, at the time of publication of the AR4.  Courtesy of the CRU emails, we now understand the sausage making that went into creating the consensus.  Manufacturing a consensus in the context of the IPCC has acted to hyper-politicize the scientific and policy debate, to the detriment of both.  Its time to abandon the concept of consensus; consensus matters far less than simply being right and the arguments themselves that ought to be the focus for discussion.

My concern about the use of the supposed consensus to stifle the debate is more mundane. For most people, there is only a limited interest in the climate change debate. Unlike those who take an active interest, they are not going to delve into philosophy of science, or read the complex discussions about what is good and what is not good science. I suspect that, for many people, the idea of a consensus of scientists will simply be taken as being an indicator of the truth of the argument.

I agree that there is a difficulty of what the consensus might be about – e.g. the planet has warmed versus we are all doomed if we do not change our behaviour – but this is perhaps not how most of the public might see it. The way that the consensus is presented is that there is broad agreement on the latter of my two examples.

As such, I think the promotion of the idea of a consensus really matters. It is important that we take into account the nature of the interest of most people in the climate change debate, and recognise that those who are less interested will often only take home simple messages from what they hear/see/read. The message of a ‘consensus’ is powerful, and is therefore worth addressing.

The Impact of Climategate II

There has been a lot of talk of that Climategate 2 has had less impact than the original climate gate. My own contribution to the revelations was to reveal the horrendous story in which the ‘team’ sought to have a journal editor sacked for allowing the publication of an article that disagreed with their views. It was a clear case of an attempt to corrupt peer reviewed science. As such, I was pleased to find an open letter in the Wall Street Journal, which is written by scientists concerned at the nature and tenor of the debate on climate change. This is the discussion of the sacking.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

It is indeed very sad that association with positions  contrary to some people might be met with this kind of behaviour. However, the letter also covers some other points worth mentioning. For example:

A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about “global warming.” Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In September, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever, a supporter of President Obama in the last election, publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: “I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: ‘The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.’ In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?”

I remember reading the Ivar Giaever open letter, and should really have posted/commented upon it. I have also read about other shenanigans in which some have tried to manufacture the consensus through manipulation of statistics for support for climate alarmism (sorry, no reference to hand).

My guess is that, without the fear of career damage, the quest for grants, the dubious ‘consensus’ would look even more threadbare than it already is. For example, many years ago I heard a BBC Radio 4 interview* in which an anthropologist was researching the impact of climate change on hunter gatherers in Scandinavia. The interviewer was interested in climate change, but it was very clear that all the anthropologist wanted to do was discuss the interesting facets of the culture of the people under study. No doubt, the addition of climate change in his application for a research grant was useful.

Perhaps one day it will be possible for climate science to return to ‘normal science’ (I am aware that this is a problematic phrase, but seeking to stop contrary views is not ‘normal’ science in any reasonable interpretation). It certainly seems that the right questions are now being asked. In some ways, this may be of benefit to the wider realm of science; as anyone who is involved in critical positions on any subject will tell you, the effort of getting critiques of established thinking is always a challenge. I can only hope that, in addition to all of the negative aspects of climate science, there is a possibility that it will, in the end, raise some fundamental questions and encourage a more open approach to science.

In the meantime, sadly, the climate debate will be restricted by an oppressive system that seeks to stifle any contrary views. To be more positive, this may be on the road to change…..

*I am sorry to have two items unreferenced. For the 2nd example, it really was a long, long time ago…..

A (belated) Congratulations to the New Zealand Herald

My apologies for the lack of posts of late. This one has been at the back of my mind for some time. I have previously been very critical of the coverage of climate change in the New Zealand Herald. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to have seen an article which questions the validity of alarmist warming predictions by Jim Hopkins. I quote some sections below:

If you’re worried about all the things you have to worry about, cheer up. Here’s one thing you won’t have to worry about any more. Global warming (remember, this was a prediction) will be the Great Disappearing Act of 2011. It will sink like a stone, exit stage left and generally melt away. Whoopee! [and]

We just don’t need to worry about it any more. That’s all. The prediction holds. Global warming has disappeared.

It is refreshing to see that such a piece published. My view is that there is a debate, and the media should address both sides of the debate. That is, that the media should cover both the alarmist and the skeptical view points evenly, or at least give some kind of balance. As such, I am in the surprising position of saying congratulations to the New Zealand Herald.

However, before getting carried away, a quick search for the term climate change also pulled up an article reviewing the year for the US, and which says (emphasis added):

Pipeline opponents, who included thousands of protesters outside the White House, blasted it as a retrograde step that deepened fossil fuel dependence even as a biblical succession of extreme weather – tornadoes, floods, fires, droughts and hurricanes – associated with climate change saddled the economy with 12 US$1 billion events.

There is no evidence that links these kinds of extremes with climate change (e.g. see here for a commentary on a recent IPCC report by Judith Currie). The New Zealand Herald is not alone in attribution of extreme weather events to climate change, which seems to be a commonplace in many media outlets. However, it is the kind of reporting that feeds into public alarm, and does so with no science to back up the alarm.

However, having put this niggle out of the way, the Jim Hopkins article is a good start. All we need now is some reporting on the findings of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (regarding the dodgy dealings on the New Zealand temperature record), and perhaps some reporting on the murky involvement of NIWA employees in the manipulation of peer review.

However, all credit to the NZ Herald for publishing a view from outside the alarmist camp!

Happy New Year and let’s hope for more balance in 2012!