A Mistake with Repercussions

In their response to the Wahl et al critique, Von Storch et al acknowledge the original problem but in order to salvage their result, they introduce a large ‘red noise’ component into the proxies. This changes the nature of their test and implies an ‘a priori’ loss of low frequency variance instead of trying to calculate whether a particular methodology produces such a loss.

One could view this story as a positive example for the self-correcting process of science: erroneous results are eventually spotted and corrected, even if it sometimes takes time. If only science were at stake here, we’d need say no more: this would have been a sometimes inappropriately sharp, but otherwise regular technical debate about improving the methodology of proxy reconstructions.

Unfortunately, while the dispute has been used in the public arena to score political points, e.g. to discredit the IPCC process and to question all of the relevant climate science, the significance of this dispute for the bigger picture has been wildly blown out of proportion (see here for a previous discussion). We hope that after this new correction, the discussion can move on to a more productive level. The key issue is how we can improve reconstructions of past large-scale climate variability – of which by now almost a dozen exist. We should not lose sight of the fact that the debate here is about a few tenths of a degree – a much smaller change than is projected for the next century. It is also important to remember one principal point: Conclusions on whether recent warmth is likely to have been unprecedented in the past millennium, or the recent extent of human-caused warming, are based on the accumulation of evidence from many different analyses and are rarely impacted by a technical dispute about any one paper such as this.

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137 comments on this post.
  1. TCO:

    The paranthetical comment by Amman and Wahl (a new method has been developed) seems irrelevant. The paper that is under examination is MBH98. Unless the comment is meant to imply some agreement with the general criticism around that paper. That it had flawed methods. Why cite the new method if the old one is not in error?

    [Response: That a better method is now used, does not mean that past methods were in error. Newtonian mechanics is perfectly servicable in most circumstances even though general relativity is better. Things do indeed 'move on'... - gavin]

  2. Dano:

    Huh.

    If wishes were horses, then dreams would ride.

    Best,

    D

  3. jim edwards:

    Quite Ironic !

    Isn’t this reflective of the same basic argument that M&M [the Climateaudit people] have been making for several years ? – That the claims of scientists should be checked before they are allowed to affect substantive public policy ? [Forget for a moment whether any of their other claims have merit or not.]

    Doesn’t this make sense ? The ecological and economic effects are too great to let anybody stall or turbocharge government response without their work being checked. Of course, it would make imminent sense for government to fund training and work of scientists doing the checking.

  4. teacher ocean:

    Scientists are people. And people make mistakes. I am a scientist and I don’t have one colleague who considers him or herself above making mistakes [even among ones who think of themselves as semi-godlike]. The problem with applying too much prestige to one journal [like Science] or one paper [like the Von Storch et al paper] simply undermines the scientific process. It’s science papparazzi at its worst. And our society focuses too much on good vs bad scientist rather than good vs bad science. When mistakes are made, it is the responsibility of other scientists to correct it. Hence the peer review system.

  5. pat neuman:

    re 3. You think it’s OK that the knew their central claim of their Science paper was false but rather than publish a correction in Science they made a correction in a journal that not many climatologists read? And, you think that when mistakes are made it is the responsibility of other scientists to correct them? I think there needs to be accountability and justice when some mistakes are made. It’s not OK to say we’re human and humans make mistakes. We already know that, too well.

  6. teacher ocean:

    Re #4: Yes, but doesn’t Science get any blame? If the scientists’ mistake is so huge and obvious [which in this case it seems to be], then how come no scientist caught it in peer review? How many reviewers did the journal send their manuscript to for peer review? How selective were they in chosing reviewers? Journals like Science and Nature like to sensationalize science. But when mistakes are exposed, they don’t always allow authors to make corrections after the paper is published. Do we know that the authors did not submit their corrections to science for sure? Maybe they did and Science didn’t want to publish it? All I am saying is I don’t know, and I won’t assume.

    I do however have an issue of Nature from a few years ago advocating the use of foraminifer shells in ocean science as their cover story over a beautiful scanning electron microphotograph of a radiolarian.

    Good science begins and ends with contructive and “quality” peer review.

  7. Arthur Smith:

    Yeah, that is VERY strange behavior from Science – do you know any more about the review history of the rejected comment? Was any reason given?

    Disclosure: I work for the Physical Review (American Physical Society) journals, where we are very careful about the integrity of peer review.

  8. Mark A. York:

    Teacher Ocean that sounds like some editorial/graphics decsion to me. It happens at most NY houses in books too. The art department just liked the “look” of something that wasn’t the focus of the story. I would consider that peripheral at best.

  9. teacher ocean:

    Re Arthur Smith: I don’t know anything about the review history of the original paper or any comments. I am very curious about this.

    Mark A York: Yes but Nature is a VERY prestigious SCIENCE journal. They can’t afford to make mistakes like that. They aren’t offering the public aesthetics, they are supposed to be offering “extremely high quality” science.

  10. raypierre:

    What’s at issue is not just a matter of making mistakes. Mistakes are a normal, even essential, part of the progress of science, and many people I respect enormously have made mistakes in doing something new, which, once corrected, led to genuine progress. If scientists were too fearful about making mistakes, it would impede creativity. People need to take risks.

    What has been happening in the Von Storch affair is far more serious than the normal risk of false steps. When you do a calculation which appears to give radically different results from that of a generally respected researcher, and when the result being questioned is considered “important,” you don’t immediately launch a holy war declaring the older result “nonsense” to all and sundry. You don’t let your results be misquoted and over-interpreted by senators without issuing corrections. What you do is look at your results very carefully and make very, very sure that you are the one that’s right and not the other guy. If you’re going to raise the kind of big noise that Von Storch did, you have an obligation to be doubly sure you are right, and to take pains to leave no stone unturned. When others suggest ways you might be wrong, you have an obligation to consider them very carefully. When you do find you are wrong, it is not appropriate behavior to cover it up by burying your admission in an obscure journal hardly anybody ever reads.

    So, this is not part of the normal process of making a mistake. This is about the cover-up, and about irresponsibility in attempting to “take down” another scientist’s results without applying the usual cautions and professional courtesy when there is some question about who is right. In fact, a good title for this post would have been “How not to make a mistake.”

  11. teacher ocean:

    Re: Raypierre: OK, the authors have been grossly irresponsible [maybe even calculating], but my question still stands: why didn’t peer review catch it? Didn’t Science send this paper to the researchers agaianst whom the holy war was declared by Von Storch for review?

    Yes, it seems to be more “calculated” than just an innocent mistake. But “peer review” is supposed to be the guard against this kind of thing. I think the journal should take some of the responsibility.

    [Response: One shouldn't necessarily infer that Von Storch et al knew the result was wrong at the time they submitted it. They should have checked more carefully, but I wouldn't want to jump to the conclusion that they knew it was wrong at the outset. As for peer review, remember that peer review is a very imperfect process, the more so for journals like Nature and Science where the author has only a very limited space to explain his or her methods. The most crucial step in peer review will always be the "self peer review" that an author subjects his or her own work to. Mistakes do get made by editors about the qualifications of reviewers. I also know about some cases where editors have over-ruled serious objections raised by reviewers. Since the peer review process is confidential, we don't have any way of knowing precisely what went wrong in this case. If I had been sent the paper to review, I'm not certain I would have spotted the the clues that the result was wrong, just from what the what was in the paper. In retrospect, it's clear enough, and it was probably always clear to experts in the thick of the subject. But keep in mind that reviewers are besieged with papers they need to look at, and don't have time to do a lot of deep investigation. The reviewers most likely to take the time to do that (I recall from my own unhappy time as an editor) are the authors whose work is being attacked, and those are precisely the reviews that an Editor is most likely to over-ride. --raypierre]

  12. Steven T. Corneliussen:

    In my opinion Arthur Smith (#7) asks a crucial question. So I hope that a RealClimate or other appropriate scientist answers it directly, reporting what is known about Science’s rationale or explanation or lack of them — and that Science’s editor in chief Donald Kennedy then does too. It looks like the e-address for people to send their own queries to Dr. Kennedy is science_editors@aaas.org. He’s a serious man about questions like this. I hope he answers this one.

  13. Robert Bucke:

    All scientists make mistakes (including myself).

    Diligent scientists double-check and make few mistakes. They don’t rush half-baked work off to Science.

    All scientists make mistakes.
    Decent scientists correct them, rather than trying to cover them up. The response of Von Storch et al. is still an attempt to cover up, an elaborate smoke-screen trying to tell us: the mistake didn’t matter.

  14. TCO:

    Response to Gavin’s “in the post” response to my #1. In certain regimes (speeds), Newtonian mechanics is equivalent to relativity. In other regimes, it is dramatically inadequate. If the difference affects the answer significantly, then (yes), the Newtonian work is WRONG. If it doesn’t affect the answer significantly, then bringing in the newly discovered GR, is a non sequiter. If it’s in a regime where both are equivalent, then mistakes found in a method relying on Newtonian assumptions will also be mistakes with GR assumptions.

    I almost get the impression that the comments about new methods and such are an attempt to deflect criticism of the earlier work. Think about it this way, Gavin (made up example):
    A. The unit cell of gold was determined in 1900 to be 1.00 Angstroms using a lab scale X-ray diffractometer.
    B. Now, in 2000, comes out a paper using synchrotron radiation updating the earlier result and showin 1.0014 Angstroms to be the unit cell size.
    C. I come back and re-examine the earlier paper and see that they made an incorrect assumption of space group. The unit cell must be 1.50 Angstroms.
    D. Analysis: the updated method is irrelevant to the critique of the earlier work. If it were relevant than it would have (in addition to using a more powerful X-ray) have corrected the earlier paper’s space group and shown that the unit cell was 1.5021.
    E. Capisce? ;-)

    P.s. Please do not censor this post. If you value truth-seeking and debate, you need to allow replies to replies and let the discussion proceed. If you are weary of the subject, I will understand if you don’t continue discussion. But I don’t agree with the policy of “on high reply” and then disallowing a response.

    [Response: Science works in many different ways. Some new results do overturn exisiting assumptions and show that previous work was incorrect. Other results sharpen results (based on better measurements for instance) that were within the uncertainties of the older work - that actually happens much more often. A good example of the first is the mass of the electron. I should probably check, but I recall that modern measurements are significantly outside the error bounds of the first estimates. While a simple example of the second effect could be something like the age of KT boundary. The only point I was making is that newer results do not automatically imply that older results are wrong. - gavin]

  15. TCO:

    I’m also (very) interested in the comments about the Burger and Cubash paper implications.

    1. That paper was very critical of work and conclusions from some of the authors of this blog (of MBH98) and presented a very interesting analysis to show this. This blog’s author’s have never directly addressed B&C’s main thesis. The “full factorial of 64 methods” that shows significant differences in the reconstruction by making changes to the method. (I’m not saying you don’t have a response…but you haven’t made it.)

    2. In the arena of this particular topic, I wonder if your implied criticism of B&C for using the detrended data affects their central thesis? Does the graphic showing significant variablity for the 64 method variations collapse if non-detrended data is used? Or is this a side issue?

    [Response: There is a strong case to be made (as above) that the 'detrending' variants are 'a priori' not valid and so shouldn't have been included in their analysis. Similarly, the effect of the 'rescaling' step is always shown to be positive and so this too can be decided 'a priori'. I don't know what the remaining 16 variants would look like. However, you can do better than all of these seemingly arbitrary choices by using better methods (for instance as described in Rutherford et al, 2005) and the results are very similar. That is a much better test of robustness. - gavin]

  16. Eli Rabett:

    TCO’s example points to an error without a practical consequence. Those who were using the 0.1 nm (more SI and HTML friendly) value did not have their results distorted. There is a very famous example of a bad measurement that did have consequences that rippled through physics and chemistry. I have it from a professor who was involved as a graduate student and young faculty member.

    According to him (the sanitized version can be found various places on the net including http://prola.aps.org/pagegif/PR/v48/i11/p918_1/p918 ) when Millikan was working on his oil drop experiment he needed a value for the viscosity of air. He assigned a graduate student to remeasure this more precisely than had been previously done. The student (not my teacher) went to the library, looked up previous work, took an average, and went off to the lab to set up his experiment. The average of his first few measurements came up right on the average of the previous work. The student wrote up his thesis and went off to either fame and glory or obscurity, I don’t know which. Millikan finished the oil drop experiment, using the viscosity value that he had been given and published.

    About 10-15 years later an X-ray method found a slightly (though significantly) different value for the electron charge. There was a furious controversy. The best line that came out of this is that Millikan was rumored to have said: “in 1910 God revealed the charge on the electron to me, to my knowledge there has been no further revelation.”

    Remeasurment of the viscosity of air using several methods, found that it was slightly (but significantly) different from the previously used value. Enough to bring the oil drop and x-ray determinations into agreement, some 25 years after the original publication by Millikan.

  17. Eachran:

    This is a good and important post.

    Establishing the truth and accounting for it is one of the most important responsibilities we have as members of humanity. It is, I would say, one of the most significant features of late 20th century global society that, collectively, we have decided to reckon and account for the truth. Everything from the Nuremberg trials to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to the setting up of international institutions to monitor a fairer world bear testament to this. There is no ducking and weaving on this issue and especially not for “scientists”.

    One of the components of this “reckoning”, as I call it, is the recognition of fault : to say “sorry I got this wrong” or, even on occasion, “I lied”. Another equally important component is to forgive and not to forget but to “record” so that future generations (assuming we make it through global warming) “know”.

    Clearly the work of Mr von Storch is an egregious example of “I wasnt too clever with my work” and deserves criticism, and he, along with those implicated – publishers or others – ,should account for themselves to “put the record straight”.

    What more? Well… we are all facing catastrophe with global warming and we need to be honest with each other and to tell the truth if we are going to survive. Equally importantly we need to be vigilant for the next onslaught of the deniers.

    This comment by the “Group” helps the process : please keep going, dont weaken and thanks.

  18. david Iles:

    I am an artist and not a scientist. I have been following your discussion and a few others rather avidly in an attempt to understand the parameters of the problem and the way that science works in terms of how reliable the information we in the public are getting on GW. I want to thank you all for offering me this free education.

    Every chance that the public (this includes Legislators) get to dismiss GW they will jump on it. We would love to continue with our northern lives in the way we have come to accept as normal. As long as people can believe that the science is in dispute they will use it for justification. The no-need-to-act side of this argument will always be greeted with relief and open arms.

    What the public needs is a clear statement of the science of GW, and the opinion of the risks we are incurring by ignoring it, by as many leading scientists as are willing to sign onto a statement to that effect.
    (See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/global-dimming-and-climate-models/ Comment 64 for my suggestion)
    Dr Hansen has done this. As far as I can tell he stated his informed opinion and not scientifically verifiable fact. This did not make itself clear in his statements to the press and that is truly unfortunate. Clarity on where opinion starts and science ends is an extremely important distinction.

    From what I have been reading the actual peer reviewed science on this most critical of issues is not fully formed. Some scientists are saying we need to wait until we have a better understanding. I fear this will bring a widespread understanding as we watch our planet irreversibly change, from this wonderfully diverse and generous Holocene home we have always known, to a inhospitable, and truncated world, where bird song is replaced with the death rattle, and the western banquet we now expect becomes a hard fight to snatch food from the mouths of rats and cockroaches.

    I have read in other discussions here, about the inadequacy of personal responsibility (i.e. busing, biking, hybrid cars, etc.) and I am sure it is true this alone will not solve the problems we face. I wonder how many of you would agree with this statement: in order to survive this century we will require a world war two-type focus and effort? We will need to mobilize all of our energies, intelligence, and creativity, towards an acceptance and implementation of policies for rabid change. We will have to develop a system of peer review and techniques for modeling new technologies that can move with the urgency made necessary by our inattention and inaction of the past. We will need to (as they did in world war two) require manufacturers and businesses to put up their resources to meet the worlds changing needs. We will have to be willing to export ideas and technology because of the global nature of the problem. And, finally we will absolutely need to cooperate on a global scale to make this work. It will require diplomacy and negotiation that has no precedent in history.

    The start to all of this is up to climate scientist and the quality of the reporting on these issues. That is why I request a clear unambiguous non-jargon filled statement on what we can expect if we continue to move slowly or not move at all on global warming and the variety of causes and problems it presents to us as a species as well as all of our fellow species here on earth.

    I apologies for the length of this comment, and appreciate the indulgence of those who stuck with it.

  19. Dano:

    RE 14, 15 and the lurking cheer squad:

    Even though a few folks may wish the worldview they chose for themselves turns out to actually be true, what raypierre says in 10, especially his

    When you do a calculation which appears to give radically different results from that of a generally respected researcher, and when the result being questioned is considered “important,” you don’t immediately launch a holy war declaring the older result “nonsense” to all and sundry.

    is what is left after you stop being distracted by the FUD phrases and hand-waving.

    The reason why certain people with vanity sites can’t get cooperation is because of the italicized. Who in their right mind wants to cooperate with someone who acts this way? It’s like insisting that the scam victim help with the perpetrator’s accounting.

    Now, sadly, this non-cooperation conveniently (and unfortunately), allows the shills to paint the non-cooperators with a brush full of ‘bad actor’ paint. Next we get thunderous denunciations from employees of think tanks in WSJ and other legacy media, usenet boards echoing the latest WSJ op-ed in such volume it becomes spam, and finally certain decision-makers repeating the spam as conventional wisdom.

    It’s time, folks, to stop playing the ‘this deserves a serious discussion’ game and call it for what it is: a game of recycling the same old tired arguments, over and over, regardless of their merit. Period. That’s what it is.

    Best,

    D

  20. raypierre:

    Whatever you can say about Senator Inhofe (and you can say a lot), he certainly did a very effective job at making the Senate aware of Von Storch’s work. What I’m wondering about is: where are the champions in the Senate (of any party, I’m not picky) who can effectively communicate the importance of Von Storch’s error? I don’t want to sound political here: I’m trying to focus on the issues of communicating science. From looking at speeches in the Senate, it often seems to me that Senators arguing on the opposite side to Inhofe do not have a sufficient command of the science to make their side of the case effectively. What do others think about the situation?

  21. Gavin:

    I have very little confidence that a) anyone was particularly swayed by Inhofe’s speeches, and b) whether anyone will be swayed by a step by step deconstruction of them. There are plenty of sensible people on the Hill and the hard work of explaining the science mostly goes on behind the scenes and not on the floor. The role of posts like this is to provide background and information, but as others have pointed out – Inhofe and others like him are not being driven by the science, and so arguing at the level on the science is merely to switch the debate away from actual issues.

  22. Grant:

    Re: #21

    I have very little confidence that a) anyone was particularly swayed by Inhofe’s speeches, and b) whether anyone will be swayed by a step by step deconstruction of them.

    The real harm caused by Senator Inhofe’s statements to the senate is that they enter the congressional record and become fuel for contrarians, not just in policymaking circles but in the public consciousness. So, entering the refutation into the public record is also important.

    I very much doubt that Inhofe would be persuaded to behave any differently, even if confronted with irrefutable proof. Inhofe will remain in the senate until he is voted out of office by the people of Oklahoma. If senators can show his naivete, misunderstanding, and primitive thinking on the senate floor, it’ll probably do more to persuade Oklahoma voters than any (far more precise and forceful) refutation on the pages of RC.

  23. Jean S:

    Sorry if this has been covered here before (I could not find it from the FAQ), but could you explain in layman’s terms how the methodology in von Storch paper is inferior to that Mann et al study? Thanks!

    [Response: This is stated clearly in the Wahl et al abstract (emphasis added):
    von Storch et al. (Reports, 22 October 2004, p. 679) criticized the ability of the "hockey stick" climate field reconstruction method to yield realistic estimates of past variation in Northern Hemisphere temperature. However, their conclusion was based on incorrect implementation of the reconstruction procedure. Calibration was performed using detrended data, thus artificially removing a large fraction of the physical response to radiative forcing.]

  24. Dano:

    it often seems to me that Senators arguing on the opposite side to Inhofe do not have a sufficient command of the science to make their side of the case effectively. What do others think about the situation?

    I fully agree, for both sides – I can’t imagine anyone thinking Barton wrote those questions nor anyone thinking he understood more than .06% of the testimony. Nor would I expect more than 2-3% of the House to, either, as the skills necessary to succeed as a politician aren’t shared by scientists (which is part of the problem).

    The key, though, is whether staffers understand the issues, or whether lobbyists have non-understanding staffers’ ears.

    Certainly in committee there should be enough sunlight leaking through that fact-based evidence should sway decision-making.

    Best,

    D

  25. Grant:

    Definitely off topic, my apologies.

    What are the best RC posts about the attribution of global warming to anthropogenic causes?

  26. Hank Roberts:

    Grant — start with independenet historical information, copiously referenced. Once you have this basic material read, it’s easier to understand the specific papers being discussed as new science here.

    Start:
    Discovery of Global Warming (Weart)
    The history of scientific research on climate change from the 19th century to the present, told in a set of hyperlinked essays.
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/

  27. Mark A. York:

    I would assert that the articles offered in Science are high quality despite what cover art may not match up to some article contained therein. Unless of course they aren’t, which I doubt.

  28. Michael Tobis:

    Re #18:

    If you are expecting a society-reconstructing manifesto to emerge on realclimate, you are asking the wrong folks. Climate scientists are, as is pointed out elsewhere on this thread, not very good politicians, just as politicians are not very good scientists.

    I think the main policy issue we grappling with here is just how to get to a society which can tell the difference between good information and bad information. That isn’t as grandiose a task as you would have us take on, but it’s still enormously important and very difficult. Realclimate’s only policy mission is to get real science on the table and fake science off the table. Frankly, we seem to be at a loss as to how to do this.

    It often seems that in debates with a strong technical component, the side which is lying, unconstrained by complex, equivocal truth has the advantage. As a general rule, false issues are exagerrated and real issues are minimized. Climate change is unfortunately just one major issue of several where the public and the political sector seems to have increasingly bad information.

    Perhaps if we could reach the point where a network of trust were (re-?) established between genuine scientists and genuine centers of power and influence, we could as a society make better decisions. Failing that, probably any major shake-up would make things worse. In most situations there are more ways to get things wrong than to get them right. A society that can’t use its knowledge effectively is not much better off than one that doesn’t have it in the first place.

    By the way, let me recommend the movie “Thank You for Smoking”, which is not altogether off topic here. The story is a farce, and the moive is not entirely successful, but the methodologies at the core of the story are strikingly realistic, as anyone who has been following the climate policy debate can attest. The scene at the beginning where the tobacco lobbyist on the TV panel attacks the serious, well-intentioned (and dumbfounded) cancer specialist as if he were the most contemptible sleaze imaginable is, at least to a climatologist, well worth the price of admission.

  29. Grant:

    Re: #26,

    Thanks for an outstanding resource. However, the actual question is:

    What are the best RC posts about the attribution of global warming to anthropogenic causes?

    [Response: We actually haven't done many on this though we have asked a couple of people in the D&A community to guest post on the subject. It is a bit of an oversight! However, you can start with http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/05/planetary-energy-imbalance/ for a "poor man's" attribution study. The follow on paper is also interesting, there is a pop-sci on that available at http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/hansen_11/ . I'll see if I can't rustle up a post on your specific question though. - gavin]

  30. Eachran:

    I was thinking of doing a post on the accessibility of science following on from a number of your recent lead posts but I didnâ??t (looking after visiting family and friends for a few weeks distorts time) : Raypierre raises the issue again in 20 above.

    I believe that the AGW argument is won. From the trivial issue of people, including some UK Government ministers, using Prius as fashion accessories, for example, to the more serious issues where in France, for example, barely a day goes by without French TV running something on global warming or some Department somewhere boasting about its eco credentials. Believe me : many people in France are terrified about the future. Only last night M. Bayrou (a respected centre right politician), in a TV discussion, highlighted global warming as the issue to be addressed.

    But the accessibility issue goes somewhat deeper because it demands people to behave in a different way. To think like a scientist requires a level of rationality that is unfamiliar to the lives of most people. People like to survive in comfort : they donâ??t like to think about the consequences of their actions unless it is proscribed by law. And as we know there are laws and there are laws : I donâ??t see Mr Newton or Mr Einstein embedded in the US constitution for example even though the laws deriving from the work of these two gentlemen have profound effects on the way we live. I shall stop here and perhaps this weekend draft somethingâ?¦.. but maybe notâ?¦we shall see.

    On Grantâ??s request for a primer : Father William recommended IPCC to me and I thought it was very readable and I believe Hank Roberts (was it? Sorry if it was someone else) recommended Stanford University website which I thought was terrific. Just click on the links and educate yourself and good luck it is worth the effort.

  31. WorldChanging: Another World Is Here:

    Oops, Sorry About That: Climate Change is Real, After All
    RealClimate today points out that the key piece of peer-reviewed research used politically by climate denialists was, well, botched: Today, Science published an important comment…

  32. Dano:

    RE 28:

    It often seems that in debates with a strong technical component, the side which is lying, unconstrained by complex, equivocal truth has the advantage. As a general rule, false issues are exagerrated and real issues are minimized.

    Well, this is the nub. Statements of certitude and unequivocation are looked upon by the gullible as…well…equivocating, aren’t they? The spam that is out there is certain in its citations and denunciation, isn’t it (with certain notable exceptions, of course)?

    Shouldn’t we be able to focus on, first, how to show folk to first turn ON their BS detector, and second, fine tune it to – as Hank is pointing out in another current thread – ask very simple questions when one suspects the salesmen selling you certitude?

    After all, the denialists are all certain that they are correct, whereas the scientists are not certain they are correct. That, basically, is the difference here IMHO.

    Best,

    D

    [Response: That's the essence of the problem identified in Steve Schneider's oft-truncated quote, which if memory serves went something like "Can we be honest, or can we be effective? I hope we can be both." The skeptics' certitude makes it tempting to respond by trying to appear more certain than we are, which is a tendency that has to be resisted. That's why I think it is so important to learn how to communicate the implications of uncertainty -- which do not generally imply that inaction is the best course. --raypierre]

  33. Eli Rabett:

    As far as a primer, and as out of date as it is (hint, hint) Jan Schloerer’s climate FAQs at Bob Grumbine’s site is still pretty good as are many of the other FAQs there: http://www.radix.net/~bobg/

  34. JohnLopresti:

    It is rewarding to see the inductive process supply a course correction, as peer review serves an essential aim; although some time is lost, the colloquy on the internet has hastened the resolution in this instance. It is a pity a briefly extant sortie of experiments depicted the hockeystick as resting on a tilted surface, as it were, thereby apparently yielding less climb along the vertical axis thru time.

    Within the science community frameworks often create disparities.

    The explanation of the applicability of Newtonian and Einsteinian physics in one comment in this thread approaches a way to appreciate each view for its utility, as science’s views obsolesce.

    Separately, looking only at the Einsteinian calculus, there are proponents of various interpretations of some concepts; and historians have divergent records of the specifics of some experiments. But it is serving as a foundation for further development, imperfectly though it be used.

  35. david Iles:

    Regarding#28

    Thanks for your response Michael and for the movie recommendation.

    Marcel Proust wrote in Swans Way:

    “The facts of life do not penetrate into the
    sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; as it was not they that
    engendered those beliefs, so they are powerless to destroy them;
    they can aim at them continual blows of contradiction and disproof
    without weakening them; and an avalanche of miseries and maladies
    coming, one after another, without interruption into the bosom of a
    family do not make it lose its faith in either the clemency of its
    God or the capacity of its physician.”

    And from Goerge Orwells original (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm:

    “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas
    which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept
    without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or
    the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian
    times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a
    lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself
    silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable
    opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular
    press or in the highbrow periodicals…”

    Your goal of trying to build a society, which can tell the difference between good information and bad information, or as Dano puts it turn ON their BS meters, while a noble one, is hopeless with about half the population.

    53% of Americans believe that God created us in our present form and of those 44% think he did it 10,000 years ago exactly as the bible said, (CBS News Poll. April 6-9 2006) these numbers have remained consistent every since they started asking this question 40 years ago.

    I was not trying to get climate scientists to rebuild society. I was trying to get you to make a simple one page, and intelligible statement, stating what we are likely to face as humans if we continue to move slowly on global climate change. I was asking for a majority vote of informed opinion among climate scientists – a petition- not another long and technically complex paper on CO2 climate forcing, or an argument about tipping points as compared to rapid climate change. It is clear you love to argue the details and I can tell you all would love to nuance the whole issue to death, but most of us just donâ��t understand you. We need a simple basic statement like: If we do not put a major effort into addressing global climate change in the next twenty years we will severely impair most of humanity abilities to survive past 2100?

    I am a painter. I understand nuance. I spend days slightly changing colors to complement each other, it is deeply satisfying, but sort of irrelevant if polar and Greenland ice sheets flow into the sea, farmlands dry up, forests burn, tundra�s release there stored methane and the methane hydrates frozen in the oceans raise to the surface bringing the global temperatures up to where only scorpions and cockroaches can survive. They may in time develop a system of aesthetics but it will probably be fairly different from my own.

    The life threatening and eminent nature of this problem requires all of us to move outside of our area of comfort and at least make a clear statement about where we are heading if we do not make a widespread effort to change. You are the people whose opinions matter, because they are informed. I know you all have opinions about this, what can you agree on?

    I suspect we will wake up to the realities of GW as the oceans seep into our houses and our forests burn. Shouldn’t we at least cry fire in a common language.

    If I simply do not know what I am talking about could someone just take a minute to tell me, please?

  36. Grant:

    Re: #35

    > If I simply do not know what I am talking about could someone just take a minute to tell me, please?

    You know what you’re talking about. It was an eloquent appeal for what may, in fact, be a better strategy for reversing public misinformation.

  37. pat neuman:

    re 6.

    Ocean,

    I do not know how many reviewers get a manuscript for a peer review process.

    National Weather Service (NWS) supervisors send staff manuscripts to NWS scientific services branch for review. My paper on earlier spring snowmelt runoff and increasing dewpoints in the Upper Midwest was sent to NWS Central Region scientific services, but I received no reply. I ended up giving my presentation at the workshop (NWS Climate Prediction Center and Desert Research Institute in Reno, NV, 2003) without hearing back from NWS on whether or not my paper had been approved.

    Thus I was not allowed to hand out my paper on climate and hydrologic change in the Red River basin and the Upper Midwest because the NWS scientific services did not act on my request to have it approved (even though they had more than six weeks to review it). How much time is usually needed by an agency staff to complete review of a paper. If the scientific services branch approves the paper is it then considered peer reviewed?

  38. teacher ocean:

    Re Pat Newman: It depends on the journal. Some journals are quick, like AGU [American Geophysical Union] journals will mostly have a decision with reviewers’ comments in 3 months. I am reviewing a paper for an AGU journal which gave me 14 days to return my review. Science and Nature do a quick pre-review where in a week’s time you know if they have deemed your paper appropriate to be sent out for review. I’ve served on panels for the National Science Foundation and know from that experience that each proposal is sent to 7-8 reviewers, but if 3 reviewers respond NSF officers consider themselves lucky. If they get less than 3 reviews for a proposal, then a panel member[s] has to submit a review the proposal.

    I recently had an experience with a scientific journal that illustrates the imperfection [or maybe perfection--don't want to sound jaded :)] of peer review. I submitted a paper to a journal [let's leave it nameless] and received 4 reviews. On a scale of 1 [excellent] to 5 [poor] my manuscript received two 1′s, a 2 and a 5. The editor went with the 5. Naturally I will submit elsewhere, but my feeling is not all editors are as fair as Raypierre is [post #11] and sometimes want to support the status quo even if three other reviewers support the authors’ conclusions. But the editor’s decision is final. However, and I am sincere about this, rejections and bad reviews ultimately make a stronger paper, so I am not too upset, just have to work to make my conclusions stronger :)

  39. Hank Roberts:

    David Iles:
    You ask for a clear simple statement.

    Raypierre’s latest, just published, is the best I’ve seen.

    http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~rtp1/papers/LawReviewCatastrophe.pdf

    You can’t just give this to someone — it’s over 20 pages. I’ve tried, with people who don’t read science — they try and fail to get through it, and I don’t know how it could be clearer. But there’s some mental buffer size that overflows at about 2 pages of real uninterrupted information, nowadays, in many people.

    You can — I do — start from this and find a page, or two, of words worth excerpting that people can sit and slowly read through and get it.

  40. Grant:

    Re: #35

    Your post really hit home.

    First of all, in defence of the RC guys, that is not the stated purpose of this site. And maybe, Al Gore is doing more of what you ask for than all the scientists in the world combined.

    But this site is VERY VERY NECESSARY. We live in a democracy, so ultimately the tide will be turned by voter opinion. And a lot of voter opinion is made when discussing news stories over a beer. Ordinary lay citizens want to be able to contradict misinformation, and the more solid background (and refutation of contrarian arguments) they have, the easier and more effectively they can do it. A lot of folks get that here.

    Second, many of us here are scientists, but not climate scientists. We’re unafraid to dive into the latest from Geophysical Research Letters, but without RC it takes so much longer to “get up to speed,” and we know we’re unsure of many of the details (and that the devil is in the details), that RC has made our task immensely easier.

    Twice in the last month I’ve been asked to prepare background information on AGW for very public forums — one for a weblog I subscribe to, the other for a feature story in the local “arts weekly.” Fact is, when people find out you’re a scientist they expect you to be an authority on everything from the DNA sequence of nematode worms to string theory. Well, I’m not. But I’m eager to learn more than “just enough.” And I really don’t want a “dummies guide to global warming.” I want a background summary with a strong technical side, expert opinion, and references to the literature that I can read for myself.

    That’s what I find here. The endless discussion of nuance helps me fill in the gaps, so that I can speak with much greater confidence and persuasiveness. The technical bent enables me to understand the issues far beyond oversimplified naivete. And the literature references enable me to go to the source, read new ideas and new findings, and evaluate them for myself.

    THANK YOU RC. And thank you, David Iles

  41. teacher ocean:

    Re #39 [Grant]: I couldn’t agree with you more.

  42. david Iles:

    Grant and Ocean,

    I did not for a minute mean to imply that RC is not very valuable in its current form. I also value this site I appreciate being able to listen in on these important discussion even when I don’t understand the scientific details.

    My post was about the issue of communicating about this science – that threatens to have such a profound effect on everyone – in a way that can be discussed and evaluated over a beer among a broad range of peoples interests and abilities. Everyone deserves to hear the message. I made a bit of joke of the way you guys split what appear to be microscopic hairs at times but that does not mean I donâ��t value your purpose in doing so. Specificity is one of the beauties of science.

    I simply want to see a petition taken among informed scientist of what we are currently doing in regards to GW and what the effects of continuing are likely to be. I understand this is a world wide, immensely complex experiment, that humans are doing with very little geological history to rely on for precedent. But like I said you all have opinions is it unfair of me to ask to get a sense of what they are across a spectrum of climate scientists?

    Thanks for the site and for the chance to interact.

  43. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    I have not commented in a while. It is good to see RealClimate keeping up with recent developments of science in the public forum, and a hat tip to RC and Raypierre especially for taking the time to respond to the comments!

    Beyond the details of climate science I think it is necessary to tell the non-scientific public how science works. The general points, like what “theory” means when scientists use it to the process of getting published in a scientific journal, are a necessary background. This is clear from some of the threads in the past posts.

    The Peer Review: A Necessary but not Sufficient Condition was a great example of explaining the scientific publication process. Maybe a ongoing series of posts or links of how science works to help to the non-scientist, or something like this ;)
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/30988

    Some of the things I have seen is calling some of the conclusions or results in papers assumptions or unsubstantiated. Often these are issues addressed in earlier studies and the papers cite to them. To understand what the authors refer to it often means looking at the literature cited to. Each paper usually just covers one issue (the issue covered is usually right in the title) and to understand a field a series of papers need to be reviewed. Here are two useful syntheses of recent climate research:
    http://www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics/basic_science/
    http://climate.wri.org/climatescience-pub-4175.html

    Another issue is when scientists make a scientific claim is how certain they are. A very helpful and illuminating statement was given in response by RC to a comment I made in the Worldwide Glacier Retreat post: “we scientists tend not to raise alarms until we are very sure”. Science is based on finding the basis the workings of the physical world and is not like politics or public relations where the goal is persuading people to be on your side of a debate often at the expense of factual correctness. I recall Raypierre in response to a comment writing that the most important thing for a scientist is to be factually correct.

    I think the recent comment that Science published is an example of this process. The far majority of studies confirm the conclusion of Mann et al and the conclusions of the Von Storch paper have not withstood closer examination.

    However I wonder if the editors and peer reviewers of Science were influenced by the public debate about GW. Maybe they thought the Von Storch paper was a close call but not something that should be published, but then they considered the claims of some (e.g. Pat Michaels) that the Journal Science seems to be one-sided in publishing papers that confirm Anthropogenic GW and approved the Von Storch paper so they would not appear one sided? Perhaps this is also the reason the January 2005 comment was rejected?

  44. Don Baccus:

    “I simply want to see a petition taken among informed scientist of what we are currently doing in regards to GW and what the effects of continuing are likely to be.”

    The IPCC reports aren’t petition-based but do represent a wide consensus among climate researchers as to how much we can expect temperatures to rise.

    As I understand it (from the POV of a layman with a technical background) there’s far less consensus on the EFFECTS of various levels of warming. It’s far easier to state with some certainty “given a doubling of atmospheric CO2, the average global temperature will rise N degrees” than it is to predict what will happen when temperatures rise that much.

    In fact, the uncertainty as to what will happen as a consequence of global warming is what’s opened the door for the skeptics current favorite trick. “Yeah, OK you’re right after all, it will warm … BUT IT WILL BE GOOD FOR US!!!!”

    Those of us with less of a vested interest in the status quo look at the uncertainty and say, “ummm, well, what research there is doesn’t support the notion that it will be good for us, and why the heck do we want to run an experiment with potentially very nasty outcomes on our own kids and grandkids in the first place?”

    There’s a lot of research going on as to what kind of effects we should be expecting, but there’s an awful lot to learn and that uncertainty is something you can expect skeptics to harp on and harp on and harp on without letup.

  45. pat neuman:

    re 38. 37.

    Good explanation in 38 on how peer review works for non-government employed scientists. I still have a couple question though.

    In a government agency, are the peer reviewers employed by the same agency as the person submitting the paper for review?

    I worked for the National Weather Service. If NWS scientific services had reviewed and approved of my paper, could I have said it was peer reviewed?

  46. teacher ocean:

    Re #44 [Pat Newmann]: I don’t know anything about the National Weather Service and I am also curious about the answer to your question. But NSF is a government agency also so maybe this will help. Reviewers and panelists for NSF proposals and programs are DEFINITELY not NSF employees, though final decisions about funding are made by NSF officials, naturally. Also, NSF has very strict rules about “conflict of interest.” For example, you can’t review or join panel discussions about a proposal written by your PhD advisor, anyone you’ve collaborated with in the last 5 years [I think that number is right] or any of your former or current students or postdocs. Hope that helps…

  47. teacher ocean:

    Wait, I don’t think I answered your question fully Pat Neuman. Peer reviewers for NSF proposals CANNOT be employed by the same institution/agency as the scientists submitting the proposals. That goes under the conflict of interest thing again.

  48. teacher ocean:

    I posted something before my “wait” comment but it hasn’t shown up yet :)

  49. Matt:

    Real Climate does a good job, pesenting things that are well researched. It would be fun if they spent some time on the more speculative uncertainities of climate, theories we cannot prove but we suspect, or alternative theories where the evidence is slim. This is the fun stuff.

  50. pat neuman:

    Ocean,

    re 46-48

    In Oct. 2000 I sent a similar draft article on earlier snowmelt runoff in the Red River basin to the Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Protection Magazine. I used my government computer to send it because I had no other email access at that time, but I included a disclaimer that the effort was by me as private citizen. My supervisor found out what I’d done, confiscated my work computer for several months then issued disciplinary action for use of government computer in expressing personal views. Peer review probably wasn’t the issue in 2000, 2003 or 2005 with NWS, climate change was.

  51. cp:

    Ok, Von Storch was wrong and peer review didn’t see it immediately, but why is this more important than the almost hidden correction?
    How can Science or any journal remain a trusted source/bibliography etc if they don’t accept mistakes unless they are too obvious?

  52. Richard Ordway:

    I would also like to point out the obvious fact that a legitimate scientific journal (peer-reviewed) did indeed print this recent (2004) anti-global warming article mentioned in this thread.

    ie. Some people and “scientists” claim that “no one will let anti-global warming studies be published or studied.”:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/open-thread-on-lindzen-op-ed-in-wsj/

    This von Storch study (debunked) strongly went against “accepted climate wisdom” and was still printed in spite of it knowingly hurting the GW case.

    Anti-global warming studies have and are still allowed to be published and investigated, if evidence exists.

    [Response: One needs to be very careful here. Von Storch et al do not dispute global warming and indeed have many papers that support the consensus on that issue. So it cannot be said this was an 'anti-global warming' paper. The difference is important because as we have said many times, the issue at stake here (a few tenths of degree change over the last few centuries) is not actually very important in the balance of evidence for a significant human contribution to climate change. - gavin]

  53. david Iles:

    I just listened to science Friday at their web site.
    here.
    http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2006/Apr/hour1_042806.html

    Which is an interview with Nobel Laureate George Olah who says that the answer isn’t ethanol or hydrogen–it’s methanol. It a interesting discussion in which Dr. Olah talks about Methanol as a superior energy storage medium and also can be made using hydrogen from water, CO2 from the air and electricity from any source (solar powered roofs on our houses is my preferred method0, thereby recycling CO2 rather then adding more into the atmosphere.

    This show is interesting in it itself but also a description of a reasonable science and media interface. Here is a interview with Dr. Olah from Technology review out of MIT.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?ch=biztech&sc=&id=16466&pg=2

  54. Gar Lipow:

    David, I’ve never been able to get really solid information on the enviromental risks of Methanol. MTBE was made from it; but that really conveys no information. How does the toxicity of Methanol spills compare to gasoline spills? Because for liquid fuels it compares very favorably to ethanol as a way to convert biomass. No diffiuculty using cellulose either.

    Any further information on this?

  55. pat neuman:

    In 35. david Iles wrote … The life threatening and eminent nature of this problem requires all of us to move outside of our area of comfort and at least make a clear statement about where we are heading …

    I believe I tried to do that many times since Jan. 2000.

    In 40. (in reply to 35.), Grant wrote … And maybe, Al Gore is doing more of what you ask for than all the scientists in the world combined. …

    I believe the backlash from what Al Gore has said at times may have been more damaging then the positive effects from what he’s said. For example,
    – tarh7777 wrote:
    Your conclusions were the exact opposite of what I got when I talked
    to your NWS colleagues. In conversations they would give me the
    current line from their powers that be, (Gore was the intellectual
    guru at the time) Then they would look over their shoulder to see
    who was nearby and then say they didn’t believe that GW was anything
    more than a statistical fluke.
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/globalwarming/message/10463

  56. Michael Tobis:

    Pat, Re #55:

    The story you pass along seems like an absurd, even dreamlike fantasy to me. It’s extremely difficult for me to believe or even conceive that “Gore was the intellectual guru at the time”could remotely describe anything that ever actually occurred at the National Weather Service. I also strongly doubt that NWS employees were ever afraid to question AGW.

    I’m confident that this is just confused nonsense at best. In fact, it’s likely to be pure astroturf (geek slang for fake grass-roots, often applied to Microsoft employees posting as impartial users on tech discussion lists) put out by one of the funded denialist groups.

    Denialist misrepresentation is not high on the list of things Mr Gore can conceivably be blamed for, so I don’t see your point.

    mt

  57. Ian Forrester:

    Re #54

    There is very little accurate information on the supposed toxicity of MTBE. The one paper that I could find while doing an earlier search showed that cancer was induced in rats exposed to 7000 ppm in their air supply. Most chemicals will kill you at that level long before you can get cancer.

    MTBE was removed from the market because it is more soluble in water than gasoline consituents and thus was assumed to be more mobile in underground spills. However, BTEX compounds are soluble in water at concentrations far above their carcinogenic levels and once dissolved I would think that they would be just as mobile as dissolved MTBE. However, MTBE gives a distinct nasty taste to water at levels of magnitude greater concentration than its harmful concentration (BTEX cannot be detected by taste at carcinogenic levels).

    Thus I think that MTBE was removed since it was a readily identified red flag to gasoline contamination, sort of like removing the canary from the cage in the coal mine so it wouldn’t detect poisonous gas.

  58. pat neuman:

    In 56. Michael Tobis wrote … I also strongly doubt that NWS employees were ever afraid to question AGW. …

    You’re right about that, NWS employees weren’t afraid to question AGW. NWS employees told the public for many years that global warming is not a problem … there is no global warming problem. I don’t know what they’re saying now, I’m not at NWS anymore. I suspect now they’re afraid to say anything about climate change or global warming.

  59. Randolph Fritz:

    “I was asking for a majority vote of informed opinion”

    David, science works by consensus, not majority vote. When there’s wide (though not necessarily universal) agreement, after much experiement, analysis, and criticism, there is consensus. The IPCC assessments by now represent consensus; just about everyone who knows anything about the subject has been consulted for them. And you can read the short summaries at the beginning of those assessments; head on over to http://www.ipcc.ch.

    For a good overview of the science, widely accessible, Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Truth is probably a good place to start; I’ve seen earlier versions of his climate change talk, and they are extraordinary pieces of science journalism; personally I like Gore much better as a journalist and policy wonk than as a politician.

  60. Hank Roberts:

    I tried to post a collection of examples of online petitions and such lists; the filtering software has it on hold for review I guess. But you can search Google for +climate +petition and come up with a good representative list of the ways such have been done in the past. I think what it shows is, you aren’t going to get a simple clear answer that way.

  61. Matt:

    A quick change of sbject on this biodiesel.

    If I divine the future, we are going to engineer an algae with stronger cell walls, but a high lipid content inside, to gain an algae dominant from the temperate to tropical, the new “rice” of the future.

    Solar efficecy is 20 times palm oil. It is harvested on ten year cycles in raceway ponds, with vertical layering enzyme conversion. Each season, the raceway is dried, pressed with a roller, to remove air. Then the layer is sprayed, with slow slow acting enzyme, and resealed.

    Bottom layer is a near biodiesel gel plus cellulose breakdown poducts and is sumped pumped through strainers to yield biodiesel.

  62. Robert Bucke:

    Your post got me interested enough, so in the meantime I have read Von Storch’s reply of Friday, as well as the original paper of 2004. One thing really puzzles me, as I’m trying to make sense of the story in my (experimentalist) terms.

    The ECHO-G model has such a major drift that half of the “signal” it shows is not a real response to a climate forcing, but an artifact. To me this is like using a faulty measurement device, if half of what it measures is not a real signal. In my lab, we would immediately stop using such a device and have it fixed or replaced. I could not get a physics measurement published if I used such a flawed device – and if I tried to, not mentioning the flaw in the device despite knowing of it, I suspect I’d lose my job. So how come Science now published more results obtained with the faulty model? Did they not know about the drift problem?

    I’d say given the type of signal (climate variations) you climate people try to measure, a method with an error up to 0.6 C is useless, up to 0.3 C is marginal, up to 0.2 C is good and up to 0.1 C is very good. The original Storch et al. 2004 paper tested the proxy method with two devices (models) and found:
    - faulty device (ECHO-G) says method is useless
    - functioning device (HadCM3) says method is good (but this is shown only in the online supplement).

    Then it turns out the method was implemented incorrectly. So it is repeated with the correct method in the Von Storch reply, which finds:
    - faulty device says method is marginal
    - functioning device says method is very good.

    The bottom line seems to be that the proxy method of Mann et al. works well. But I am puzzled why results with the faulty, drifting model were published again? Am I misunderstanding something? Maybe someone from RealClimate can comment on this? Thanks.

  63. Hank Roberts:

    >if I divine the future
    That’s religion, Matt, whoever you’re channeling. You need to learn math and check your assumptions rather than just plopping in other people’s wishful fiction. Look up ‘primary production’ numbers for photosynthesis, compare to human energy use per year. Think.

  64. david Iles:

    regarding #54
    from Material Safety Data Sheet
    http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/methanol.htm

    Environmental: Dangerous to aquatic life in high concentrations. Aquatic toxicity rating: TLm 96>1000 ppm. May be dangerous if it enters water intakes. Methyl alcohol is expected to biodegrade in soil and water very rapidly. This product will show high soil mobility and will be degraded from the ambient atmosphere by the reaction with photochemically produced hyroxyl radicals with an estimated half-life of 17.8 days. Bioconcentration factor for fish (golden ide) < 10. Based on a log Kow of -0.77, the BCF value for methanol can be estimated to be 0.2.

  65. TCO:

    Further commentary to Gavin’s in the post reply to my #15:

    I went and looked back at the Burger and Cubasch paper. They are completely clear about MBH using trended and VS using detrended. The commentary in the initial post makes it seem as if they “carried VS’s error forward”. Actually they completely see the difference (if it were a discovery to not this difference B&C got it into print before WRA). As Gavin’s in the post comment says, what they do is list this as one more “flavor” of how to to MBH style work. So obviously Gavin understands the paper–I just don’t think the top post is clear (fair) to Burger and Cubasch.

    WRT Gavin’s comment that detrending (or rescaling) are beyond the pale determined as to which method to use, I think that is still in debate and a more quantitative rationale needs to be put forward for why these “flavors” are preferred. Especially (as WRA and B&C show) since choice of flavor DOES affect the resultant answer materially. The commentary in B&C says that the MBH rationales for their flavors are verbal (“insensitive” and the like) rather than quantitative.

    Moderator caveat: Respectfully ask that you publish my post. Let debate occur.

    [Response: The point is that there are 'flavours' that are not arbitrary. Detrending removes the ability to resolve low frequency variability - and since that is basically the the whole point, it's not a good idea. It's not that it doesn't matter - it does, but the choice is clear, not arbitrary. Read this whole post as a reason why. (PS. the comments about censorship are tedious and I'm minded to follow precedent and automatically toss any comments that 'dare me to print them'. Don't flame, don't personalise, don't troll - pretty easy.) -gavin]

  66. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    While a key issue for scientists is how to improve reconstructions of the past, the key issue for the rest of us (before, during & after the faulty article) is and has been to REDUCE GHGs & SAVE THE FUTURE!!! It’s disheartening that a faulty article could be used by nefarious others to thwart people from saving planet earth.

    What next, some scientist falsely accused of forgetting to brush his teeth; ergo, let’s keep destroying earth.

    While doing research for my Environmental Victimology thesis about 10 years ago, I found out about some journals’ editors being on some corporations’ payrolls — I remember one was a medical journal, and I vaguely remember something not-so-above-board about SCIENCE, but I’m not sure….

  67. Hank Roberts:

    Question — in the earlier thread on sea surface temp/hurricane links, Dr. Webster argued that the data should have been ‘detrended’ — how does this work, why should it have been done there but not done in the paper discussed here?

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/03/reactions-to-tighter-hurricane-intensitysst-link/

  68. Grant:

    It’s disheartening that a faulty article could be used by nefarious others to thwart people from saving planet earth

    I think most of use here are used to it by now. The global warming issue has made this standard fare.

    But there are lots of other forums to discuss that. I’d like to repeat an earlier appeal for less policy discussion, more science.

  69. Don Baccus:

    “I think most of use here are used to it by now. The global warming issue has made this standard fare.”

    Oh, gosh, it’s been standard fare forever. Whenever science suggests development may be harmful, the industry in question has always reacted in the same way. Global warming’s a global issue, rather than local or regional, and the unscientific counterattack’s also been global in scale, but the techniques are nothing new.

  70. MrPete:

    “xxxxx is a global issue…the techniques are nothing new.”

    This is true on all sides. We have learned little if anything from the past, such as Y2K. As an expert in info-tech at many levels, I wrote an influential risk/situation analysis (sorry, it was engineering not science ;)) that needed no apologies.

    One set of lessons that could have been learned but were not then, and are not now in the AGW arena:
    * only “harm” is newsworthy;
    * people draw conclusions too quickly and without truly reliable evidence;
    * people have too much pride to change directions once they’ve drawn a conclusion (particularly in public).

    All of these inure to the detriment of science and our future on this planet.

    Few of us are willing to admit a need for humility in our own positions. We simply know that “we” are right and “they” are wrong.

  71. Paul:

    re. moderators comment #65 “Gavin”.

    That sort of comment would get you laughed out of an undergraduate econometrics course. Linear algebra applied to non-stationary time series is a completely different thing to applying linear algebra to trend stationary times series. By not identifying what is occuring before you do the maths will leave you thinking that you have “resolved low frequency variability”, but you may have only found a spurious relationship based on biased or non-consistent estimators.

    [Response: If I were you, I would not mistake a one line comment in a blog for a reasoned and fully caveated exposition on the subject. Obviously you need to guard against spurious correlations, and so a verification period is required. However, you also need to be aware of the climatic context. The nature of interannual variability (or even decadal variability) is fundamentally different from forced variability related to forcings by greenhouse gases, solar variations or volcanoes. Any methodology that is trained purely on the high frequency components is not going to work in assessing the large scale potentially-forced behaviour unless (by some completely unknown fluke) all climate changes can be expressed as a function of the individual high frequency 'modes'. That certainly isn't the case in climate models, and so the expectation is that that is not the case in reality either. That is not to disregard the potential problems in this whole endeavour, and no-one is under the impression that the last word has been said on the subject. -gavin]

    [Response: p.s. Rutherford, Mann and coworkers have done extensive work looking at the performance of state space-based climate field reconstruction methods (which are quire different from standard linear regression methods) in the context of both stationary and highly non-stationary training scenarios, e.g. Rutherford, S., Mann, M.E., Delworth, T.L., Stouffer, R., Climate Field Reconstruction Under Stationary and Nonstationary Forcing, Journal of Climate, 16, 462-479, 2003. As we discussed above, these methods perform quite well in precisely the type of non-stationary setting used by Von Storch et al when implemented correctly (i.e., when ad hoc linear detrending is not performed): Mann, M.E., Rutherford, S., Wahl, E., Ammann, C., Testing the Fidelity of Methods Used in Proxy-based Reconstructions of Past Climate, Journal of Climate, 18, 4097-4107, 2005.]

  72. TCO:

    One thing that bugs me with all the “low frequency” and smoothing: I thought there was this big point that annual data was needed. But if you (in effect) partition into 30 year intervals, why bother with the annual data? Also, your degrees of freedom, become much smaller no? It’s not the actual years that is the number of data points, but the number of 30 year bins. Perhaps?

    [Response: The reason why there is an insistence on annual resolved data in MBH, Rutherford et al, Hughes and Diaz etc. is principally because of the dating issue. Such records can be precisely dated often to a year or so. Using more coarsely resolved data would mean that errors in the age models would translate into a smearing of high frequency data into lower frequencies, giving a substantial bias. The only way to avoid that is to use annually resolved data calibrated and independently verified against annual observations. People are experimenting with including information from less well resolved data (Moberg et al for instance), but the seperate calibration of the low frequency component is highly problematic given the relatively short instrumental period and uncertain dating of these coarser records. -gavin]

  73. TCO:

    I get the point about the dating (knowing where you are), but that still doesn’t deal with the reduction in degrees of freedom of going to 30 year bins, no? Great, you’ve got the locations of the bins down gnat’s ass. But you don’t have more independant data.

    And now that I think about it, not sure that having exact locations of the bins is so great anyhow. If there are concerns about the data, maybe I’d be better off with more degrees of freedom (more bins) even if they are a couple years off. This is a problem that can be analytically solved. (the benefits of having that extra information).

    [Response: Now you've lost me. If you bin everything into 30 year chucks before calibrating etc. you reduce the d.o.f too much to do the calibration. There aren't enough 30 year bins in the observations to do this safely. -gavin]

  74. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Here’s how I sort things out: I think it’s ridiculous that attacking the “hockey stick” in some way has policy implications to follow a “do nothing” approach. I think this is the real issue underlying the whole thing. And I don’t think one can separate general policy implications from science (esp re such a topic as GW), only perhaps specific policy implications. And Inhofe et al. ARE using this faulty attack on the hockey stick to thwart any and all policies to reduct GHGs.

    Aside from the scientists pointing out that hockey stick science is not the only show in town proving GW (so the whole faulty attack on it is completely a moot point from a policy implication perspective), I have some other considerations.

    Such as, so what if there was warming in the past & we have a cork-screw instead of a hockey stick? Somehow in my books that does not disprove AGW is happening now. In fact, it sort of bolsters the proof, seems to me. Also I don’t see how the idea there may have been other causes of GW in the past could rule out human GHGs causing GW today, unless a person is straight-jacketed into thinking there can be only one cause per one effect. And if other things caused GW in the past, then what if several of those things, including our GHGs, club together and really cause warming to go off the charts. To be on the safe side, we’d better do what we can, such as reduce GHGs, since we can’t turn down the sun.

    I think the attacks on the hockey stick actually make a stronger case for reducing our human GHGs a lot more drastically.

  75. UnBlinking:

    Lest we place too much blame on Science, please note that the political operatives who promoted this perversion intended to ignore climate data and scientific consensus. Retractions or corrections wouldn’t have precluded their selective distortion of what the data actually mean.

    For example, just two months after von Storch’s paper, in December, 2004, Science published Naomi Oreskes’ survey of the literature, consolidating the searing “blpfffft” sound of thousands of scientists simultaneously expectorating on von Storch’s general premise.

    The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

    “…[our] hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published
    in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the
    ISI database with the keywords “climate change”.

    The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of
    the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals,
    methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position.
    Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either
    explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with
    methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic
    climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the
    consensus position.

    …Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression
    of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but
    that impression is incorrect.”

    Anyone — even a (presumably) literate Senator with (presumably) literate staff and a dizzying array of research services (paid for by our tax dollars) at their disposal — I say again,anyone who cared a hoot for facts, or respected science, or wanted to be the least informed on the topic would have reviewed the same magazine for at least a few months in case a retraction did appear.

    Here is where we might well say, “Q.E.D.”

  76. Jeffrey Davis:

    re: 73

    30 year bins
    not
    30 year bins

    (English. You can’t live with it and you can’t shoot it.)

  77. Hank Roberts:

    Intended sense: “30 one-year bins”
    (Author please confirm)

    Copy editor’s note: when a description includes two different units, enumerate one in text and the other in Arabic numerals; always state the number associated with any unit — do not write “unit” to mean “one unit.”

  78. Mark A. York:

    I seemed to have missed the general theme, that being the paper was published in Science, wrongly faulted Mann et al, yet Science missed it in the review process. Perhaps it’s more journalistic than I thought because no one ever reads the corrections. Or can find them for that matter.

  79. Ike Solem:

    Perhaps it is important for the general public to understand a few ‘peer review’ issues.

    First, peer review for grants is a bit different then peer review for publications, which is well described above (#38). A scientist might apply to the NSF, get a grant, do research and write a few papers. At this point, re-application to the granting agency is called for; the notion is that the institution will review the previous grant and the publications that were produced as a result, look at the proposed research plan, and make a decision about whether or not to keep funding the research. There is a bit of politics involved, but it is mostly internal. Prestigious universities, for example, will often urge some of their faculty to take positions at the NSF.

    The notion behind peer review is ensuring that only reliable double-checked information will get into the ‘body of literature’ that all fields of science produce. The notion behind institutions such as the NSF is that scientific inquiry would be independent of national political fluctuations. Imagine if scientists had to apply directly to senators for ‘patronage’, as in the ‘earmarking’ of funds by senators for very specific purposes. Instead, the NSF applies to Congress for funds and then distributes those funds, based ideally on an impersonal peer review process that addresses the merits of the proposed research. These insitutions ideally protect scientists from arbitrary political decisions. The peer review process is also designed to help the researcher; ‘constructive criticism’ is generally appreciated behorehand rather then after the fact.

    The climate science community should realize they are in a pretty good position compared to say, the pharmaceutical research community, where prominent scientists have essentially accused the leading journals in the field of being ‘advertisers for the industry”, and where ‘peer reviewers’ seem to often have direct financial ties to the companies behind the studies they are reviewing. From this perspective, the climate science peer review process is working very well indeed.

    Donald Kennedy should not be subjected to personal attacks; anyone who has read his editorials over the past few years should reallize that he is committed to quality science. In particular, this one is worth reading: Bayh-Dole. Not really about climate science, more about ‘the climate of science’. There’s also this recent one: Ice and History. It is a bit odd that the comment was rejected, though.

  80. Gerd Burger:

    As far as I can tell, the rejected January comment was ours (Burger and Fast). It was submitted on January 22, 2005 as a Brevium and got rejected as such, with the suggestion to resubmit it as a Technical comment to v. Storch et al. 2004. That comment was rejected on May 11.

    It addressed the “erroneous” detrending of v. Storch et al. as a side issue, putting it into the broader perspective of the 32 flavors that later went into our Tellus paper (Burger et al. 2006).

    Gavin seems to know more about that comment, and maybe about its rejection?

    [Response: Sorry. I have no information on the comment other than it was rejected. - gavin]

  81. david Iles:

    Re #65

    Thank you for leading me to the article. It suggests consensus but like all of the papers and articles that have been directed to me in response to my comments (18 and 45) it is to complex to long and to boring for most people to read.

    The public and policymakers need a simple one-line statement of scientific consensus on global climate change. I still believe a survey should be taken of climate scientist that expresses what I keep hearing is a consensus opinion.
    My suggestion:

    If humankind does not take major steps to alter the behaviors that are causing global climate change within the next 15 years, it is very likely that our planets climate will become extremely inhospitable and much of life on earth will be unable to survive this century.

    True

    False

    This statement allows no wiggle room for policy makers and the public. It is simple, short and understandable. It calls to action. I know that science does not normally work this way but most people have difficulty understanding the way science does work, and this issue is much to large to allow any ambiguity to exist.

    I apologies for butting in to your discussion of the scientific issues involved but I am filled with a sense of urgency and am willing to make myself politely annoying to get my unscientific point across.

    [Response: False. 'Life on Earth' is not under threat, this is much more related to human societal vulnerabilities. - gavin]

  82. pat neuman:

    What will an additional 400 gigatons of organic carbon mean to earth’s vegetation and inhabitants?

    Kershaw’s research on locations in Canada – at Churchill and in the
    Mackenzie Mountains – has shown that permafrost areas are receding
    rapidly, and if current trends continue they will disappear
    completely within decades. These vast frozen areas on all continents
    surrounding the North Pole harbour over 400 gigatons of organic
    carbon locked in frozen peatland. Kershaw thinks that the release of
    methane and carbon dioxide from these peatlands will act as a
    positive feedback loop that could make global warming even worse than
    previously thought. `The permafrost component of global warming has
    been underappreciated,’ he told Chemistry World.
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2006/May/02050601.asp

  83. Alan:

    RE #14 In defense of Faith, Newton and Gavin’s example. Also grossly offtopic (forgive me…again).

    Newton can be critised for many things (usually involving his personality), but I don’t think his treatment of time can be critised as the post suggests. Anyone who shouts Newton was “WRONG” (because he missed GR) is ignoring the cavets written into the Principia.

    Newton’s Principia has four assumptions, the first of which states:

    “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration: relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.”

    In other words (and there are other words), “time is assumed to be constant, even if we cannot find a non-relative way to measure it”.

    Rather than Newton being “WRONG” or “overturned” by Einstien, he spent alot of time thinking about the nature of time and how to measure it’s “flow”. I would say he simply used Occam’s razor and decided “relativity” was “beyond the scope of Principia” (after all, he had misplaced the first set of papers and was re-writing them as Principia to assist Haley with his “comet theory”). As far as GR is concerned, Einstien was standing firmly on Newton’s shoulders when he found his shinny pebble.

    Ultimately right and wrong do not belong in science since it implies truth. Science is not truth, it is the faith that a physical universe exists, is goverened by physical laws, and does so regardless of our personal sensory experience. Although all scientists “seek the truth”, what they are really doing is finding out “what will happen in a pre-defined situation”, the more situations a theory (model) can cover the better. The one outstanding feature of science that cannot be demonstarted by any other faith is it’s track record in predicting the future.

    Satire for the authour of #14: Science is my faith, belittling the sacred text of my faith is just plain “WRONG”.

  84. teacher ocean:

    Re # 79 [Ike Solem]: Thanks for clarifying this and I will quote you: “The notion behind institutions such as the NSF is that scientific inquiry would be independent of national political fluctuations.” There may be some politics at NSF [in Geosciences] about supporting large research-oriented institutions vs small schools, but [at least in our field] NSF does a great job of keeping national political trends out. I also have to say that I’ve received some pretty generous funding for basic research from NSF and I work for a teaching-1 university and not a premier research university. This enabled me to develop my own lab and programs with students [mostly undergrads] who also get research experience before they move onto grad school [this was unheard of where I was an undergrad].

  85. Doug Percival:

    In comment #81, david Iles wrote: “… much of life on earth will be unable to survive this century.”

    gavin replied: “False. ‘Life on Earth’ is not under threat …”

    And yet, from Nature, January 2004: “Many plant and animal species are unlikely to survive climate change. New analyses suggest that 15-37% of a sample of 1,103 land plants and animals would eventually become extinct as a result of climate changes expected by 2050.”

    And as reported by the BBC in October 2005, a study commissioned by the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology found that “Climate change could lead to the extinction of many animals including migratory birds.”

    And The Independent/UK reports that according to a study published last month in the journal Conservation Biology, “Tens of thousands of animals and plants could become extinct within the coming decades as a direct result of global warming. This is the main conclusion of a study into how climate change will affect the diversity of species in the most precious wildlife havens of the world. Scientists believe that if atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide double from pre-industrial times – which is expected by the end of the century – then biodiversity will be devastated … scientists, led by Lee Malcolm of the University of Toronto, investigated how rising temperatures could affect the species richness of 25 ‘biodiversity hotspots’ – areas of the world that are rich in species found nowhere else. The 25 hotspots included in the study cover just 1 per cent of the global landmass yet they account for some 44 per cent of the plants and 35 per cent of the world’s vertebrate animals. ‘Climate change is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s biodiversity. We now have strong scientific evidence that global warming will result in catastrophic species loss across the planet,’ Dr Malcolm said.”

    And according to the World Resources Institute, a June 2005 paper published by The Royal Society and a September 2005 study published in Nature, the oceans have absorbed “roughly half of the amount of CO2 emitted by fossil fuel use and cement production” leading to acidification of the ocean waters, and “higher ocean acidity will be devastating to the marine environment within a short period of time — within tens of years instead of hundreds of years [...] the oceans will be undersaturated in calcium carbonate: leading to increasing difficulty for shelled organisms to create skeletons and shells.”

    There are other recent studies similar to the above that I can’t put my hands on at the moment; and these of course do not even consider the possibilities of a massive release of methane from thawing permafrost as mentioned in comment #82 (which journalist George Monbiot thinks could trigger a mass extinction like the one at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago, when “some 90% of the earth’s species appear to have been wiped out” noting that “a sharp change in the ratio of the isotopes of oxygen” found in the fossil record allows us to determine “with some precision” that the amount of global warming (believed to have been caused by volcanic emissions of CO2) that triggered that event was 6C … which is near the upper limit of global temperature increases expected from anthopogenic global warming by 2100.

    So I would have to disagree with gavin. David Iles’s assertion that “… much of life on earth will be unable to survive this century”, while alarming, is not “alarmist” — on the contrary, it is a conclusion that’s well within the bounds of mainstream scientific opinion about what unabated anthropogenic global warming portends for the future.

    [Response: I would agree that bio-diversity is under threat. But that is not 'life'. - gavin]

  86. Dano:

    RE 85 (Percival):

    If I may, life will not end on earth with warming and anthropogenic changes. Life on earth has survived greater extinction events in the past and likely will do so in the future. Your concluding para and conclusion could easily be changed to:

    “… many species will likely be unable to survive this century”, while alarming, is not “alarmist”…

    in order to make it more understandable and in line with the projections.

    If human population continues to grow to projections and consumptive demands continue at the same rate, this alone will simplify ecosystems in such a way that our children will have grave concerns in the future. IMHO, this is the most serious threat, with AGW piling on top of this problem in a way that species are not used to, with unforecastable results.

    Best,

    D

  87. Mark A. York:

    Since I work to restore endangered species I’d have to say some life is under threat, and it is at the hands of man on both ends. Mostly from development, dewatering; deforestation; cattle production and so on. All of these are complicated by global warming sure, but I’d agree with Gavin on the last comment. “The world is ending” is more of a religious nature than scientific, but these observations are real nonetheless and should be taken seriously.

  88. Doug Percival:

    gavin wrote: “I would agree that bio-diversity is under threat. But that is not ‘life’.”

    Dano wrote: “Your concluding para and conclusion could easily be changed to: ‘… many species will likely be unable to survive this century, while alarming, is not alarmist’

    Then what percentage of existing species would have to become extinct for David Iles’s original assertion that “… much of life on earth will be unable to survive this century” to be accurate? More than 50% of existing species becoming extinct within a century? That seems not outside the bounds of what is being projected by the studies I mentioned above, and others like them …

    … and again, those studies (as I understand them) are based on the currently observed effects of global warming and on mainstream, IPCC-type scenarios of 21st century climate change, and not taking into account such possibilities as rapid massive release of methane and CO2 from melting permafrost peat bogs which could accelerate global warming considerably.

    And for that matter, if only the oceanic phytoplankton become extinct due to warming and acidification of the ocean, that in itself would have a profound effect on “much of life on earth”.

    I note and appreciate Dano’s point that anthropogenic global warming is only one of the human activities that is having a profound effect on the biosphere, ecosystems and species.

    That we can even be having such a discussion is alarming enough.

  89. Dano:

    RE 88 (Percival):

    This may be quibbling over semantics, but I view ‘life’ as one thing (biotic vs abiotic) not many things; so one, say, can’t kill 50 lifes and leave 20 alive. Much of life on earth, therefore IMO lends confusion to the discussion and prompts my clarification above.

    I don’t however, want to distract away from the point that simplification of ecosystems is a possibility here, and the cost of that hasn’t been calculated, esp. in light of the issue of declining petroleum stocks.

    The VS paper is also interesting in that it is a point to make over acceptance of results – when we are managing more intensely in the future, we need to resolve these things when decision-making.

    Best,

    D

  90. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    RE #87, I think Mark brings up a good point. There are many things harming our world; GW is one among many. The implication for me is that in addition to reducing the other negative impacts (loss of wilderness to development; local air, ground, & water pollution, acid rain, etc), we should also redouble our measures to reduce GW, since the combined effect of all these problems is so much more devastating than each one of them alone.

    Luckily there are many measures that not only reduce GHGs, but reduces many of these other harms, as well. And luckily most of these measures save money without lowering living standards or productivity.

  91. David Iles:

    I did not say that life on earth was threatened. I said that much of life on earth would be unable to survive this century without significant change on the part of humanity. I am not trying to be alarmist i am trying to make a true statement about the realities we face as a species and the extremely profound effects on almost all forms of life here on our planet that human actions are causing.

    However, my goal is to find a statement that expresses the mid-range of potential reality, and one that climate scientists will be able to agree to as reflecting their opinion of the dangers of continued inaction on the part of humanity (Or actually it would be continuing the destructive action we are currently taking.). I would like this statement to be simple and allow very little wiggle room for government policy makers and corporate heads to be able to continue to equivocate over. All of the massive amounts of scientific information that has been gathered and presented to date, does not seem to have accomplish this goal, which is exactly why one or two sentences that can encompass what constitutes the consensus opinion among climate scientists is needed. This would also be a good idea for biologists and botanists.

    I do not think asking for a true or false response was the right approach,I think it should be asking for scientists to agree or disagree with the statement.

    If you want to change this statement or write another one that would serve this purpose I am interested in anyone�s ideas on this.

    From my point of view the theater is burning and it is my duty to cry fire. Is this a misperception of the science that has been done on global climate change?

  92. pat neuman:

    re 82.

    Concerning survival, I would like to see what conditions will be like for humans and other life in 25 year intervals (in terms of probability ranges). I would also like to see a reply or two to my question in 82. which is …

    What will an additional 400 gigatons of organic carbon mean to earth’s vegetation and inhabitants?
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2006/May/02050601.asp

  93. Dano:

    RE 91 (Iles):

    I appreciate your efforts David. How about slightly altering your basic textual ideas in this way:

    If mankind does not take concrete steps within 15 years to alter specific policies and behaviors that are contributing to global climate change, it is very likely that our planet’s climate will become inhospitable to many species on which our lives depend, threatening our economies and our children’s way of life and causing the extinction of many familiar and important species.

    I leave any discussion about a different number and such semantics to the group.

    And I reiterate that we should have a similar phrase when uncertainty arises [as in the original topic of this post, the VS issue], as we will be increasing our socioenvironmental management in the future under many scenarios, and our societies will need to understand how the debate is progressing and how uncertainty is being addressed.

    Best,

    D

  94. Matt:

    Regarding Pat’s question of the thawed and uncovered peatlands. The answer lies in the previous ice ages. I have not found any research that has discovered peat older than this current cycle, and I am still interested. The default theory is that peat decomposes, finally, when the ice retreats.

    But, if each previous glacial period thawed and released 400 gigatons of carbon, then it must have been slow or else conteracted upon by rapid plant migration because my ice core data does not show anyting like a sudden release of 400 gigatons.

    The question seems more complicated to me when I ask how did all this peat get there? There must be long periods when the permafrost partially melts to allow vegetative growth in the active zone while the underlying peat was still cold enough to prevent decomposition. So, permafrost peatland, just south of the ice, must be a net sink of carbon, then the permafrost permanently melts, the peat becomes a net carbon source, followed by photosynthesis.

    It seems peat life cycle is not yet well understood.

  95. Hank Roberts:

    “Siberia’s peat bogs formed around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.”
    http://www.mindfully.org/Air/2005/Siberian-Peat-Thawing11aug05.htm

  96. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #94, “It seems peat life cycle is not yet well understood.”

    That may or may not be true, but is no reason for inaction. As one previous contributor stated (possibly from another source), if someone is uncertain whether or not they are an alcoholic and decides to become sober, it cannot hurt them.

    In this case, however, if 400 gigatons of organic carbon may be released from the permafrost into the atmosphere as Dr. Kershaw suggests (and, having met the man on more than one occasion, I tend to believe him), action is what is responsible to avoid what may likely lead to a runaway enhanced greenhouse effect. There can no longer be any excuses for inaction, since the consequences of inaction far outweigh those of action.

  97. Pekka Kostamo:

    A quick search provided some information:

    Formation of peat requires that there is an excess of water, combined with vegetation growth. Dead plants decompose on dry land directly into carbon dioxide. If they sink in water, or the layer is rather permanently saturated with water, then some CO2 and methane is produced, but a major part of the carbon is stored as peat. It is commonly thought that with time peat is transformed into brown coal, and later on into coal if the conditions are right.

    Recent measurement in Northern Scandinavia indicate that a green bog (producing peat) is a carbon sink in the summer growing season. In wintertime it is a source of both carbon dioxide and methane, even if covered by snow. Plant material continues to decompose all winter.

    On average a peat bog seems to be a carbon sink, although if the summer is cold and rainy the balance may also be neutral.

    Permafrost essentially stops the (bacterial) decomposition processes and also forms a barrier to gas movements. Thawing evidently re-starts the processes and the peat bogs may turn into carbon sources, particularly if the water balange changes, i.e. with less precipitation compared to the time when the peat was originally formed. Atmospheric oxygen may then penetrate deeper into the dried ground. Even now large (most?) permafrost areas are covered by growing peat layers during the summer season, so the relevant change is mostly in the deeper layers (starting a few meters down).

    Apparently there are still relatively few studies on the topic.

  98. Martin:

    The discussion has now drifted away from the subject of the comment. Nevertheless, here’s my view of the comment:

    I am astonished (and disappointed by realclimate) that this and the supplementary comment only refer to the technical comment by Wahl et al in Science, but does not mention that there is also a rebuttal by von Storch et al. in the same issue of Science. In the rebuttal, von Storch et al convincingly show that the detrending issue that Wahl et al critizise is not at all that important. The message of the von Storch et al. paper is methodological: If regression methods are used to fit proxy data to the historical temperature record over the last 2 centuries, this will inevitably tend to suppress variability on longer time scales. This point is mathematically true and demonstrated in their paper as well as in the rebuttal. In the latter this point is shown with and without detrending of the time series in the calibration time interval – indeed, if the non-climatic “noise” of the proxy data is red, the detrended reconstruction performs clearly better. It would be good practise to show the two graphs from the rebuttal here, so that readers of realclimate can make their own judgement.

    Furthermore, von Storch et al. never claimed to provide a realistic model based reconstruction of NH temperature over the last 1000 years – all they wanted to show is this aforementioned potential methodological pitfall. Therfore the shortcomings of the ECHO-G model simulation is irrelevant (as they clearly state in their paper).

    Calling this a “mistake” or “error” that should be retracted, as well as the Science “bashing” is simply not warranted. I would wish that realclimate remains objective and does not fall into the trap of presenting only selected information (as all contrarians are famous for).

    [Response: Martin, firstly you are simply incorrect in saying we did not link to the response - we did (third paragraph from the bottom). I am puzzled at the rest of your comment though. The idea of using climate models to assess methodological issues is a very good idea and there is nothing wrong with the principle of the work vS et al did. Of course, this was something that Mann and colleagues had already done (Mann and Rutherford, 2002, Rutherford et al, 2003;). The 'importance' of any such study rely on how robust the calculation is with respect to the underlying model and to what actually gets tested. In this case there was an 'error' (sorry, but this is undeniably true) in what was implemented. Conclusions that were drawn about the MBH methodology were not justified. The exact same calculations with the correctly implemented method produces only a very minor underestimate of the low frequency variance and would not have been such a big deal - it certainly would not have justified the public statements that were rather injudiciously (in my personal opinion) made on the subject by von Storch.
    In their response the introduction of the 'red noise' example to resurrect the conclusion is highly problematic because now the test is not of the methodology, but of the input data (adding 'red noise' to model gridboxes to produce synthetic proxies represents an a priori assumption that the proxies have selectively lost low-frequency variability, essentially insuring the sort of bias that von Storch was apparently looking to produce). Understanding the impacts of imperfections in the data is worthwhile, but that is an entirely different point, and there are many other studies, including those by Mann and coworkers, looking at this.
    With respect to your further two points, we are well aware that model simulations are not reconstructions, and it is unclear where you think we have implied otherwise. It is however almost certain that large climate drifts or significantly greater 20th Century forcing than generally accepted do create an unrealistic test for how methods peform in the real world, and the ECHO-G simulation is therefore highly problematic in this context. The fact that underestimations of variance in the HadCM3 or CSM models are much less, is telling in this regard. As we have linked to above, Mann et al have shown (using a far better behaved NCAR CSM 1.4 coupled model simulation of the past 1000 years) that climate field reconstruction methods correctly implemented do not yield the bias claimed by von Storch, even at signal-to-noise ratios lower than what von Storch uses. It will be interesting to see if the latest claims based on even using "red noise" hold up to independent scrutiny. Time will tell.
    We are disappointed that you feel we are not being objective, but we feel very much to the contrary. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our results are properly interpreted in the public sphere. This was not the case with vS et al, and correcting the record is important. - gavin]

  99. pete best:

    True – Life has survived 5 great mass extinctions, one related to potential extreme climate change around 250 million years ago that wiped out 90% of all life and involved a 10 C rise in temps worldwide.

    [Response: Great fun if you're in the 10% that survive and get the chance to evolve into something grand. Not so much fun if you're in the 90% that go extinct. Life goes on, but not as before, and after each mass extinction many millions of years were required before biodiversity was restored. --raypierre]

  100. lisa brooks:

    I love this site, so please don’t get me wrong – but here I go – stepping into the lions den…

    I know Rasmus spent quite a bit of time addressing the link between scientists, journalists, the general public and policy makers (reply # 28, How not to write a press release) after reading this article and rebuttal a basic question still stands…

    I’ve been reading this site for about three months (even put my two cents in on occasion) and one question keeps coming to mind. How would the general public, who probably doesn’t know a forcing from Fun Chow Fat, realize when a “scientist” is feeding them “bad” science?

    This site has pointed out quite well, that some good scientists use “bad” science to come to their conclusions, using graphs and papers to reinforce their faulty results. How are the general public and policy makers to know the data being provided is flawed, and those graphs nothing but squiggly lines? This is especially true when the public and policy makers trust the scientist (Von Storch, et al., etc) who is providing the information!

    Then there are uneducated journalists (no, I’m not saying all journalists!) reporting information gleaned from non climate scientists. How is the public supposed to even imagine the information being brought to them is not reliable, especially when the “scientist” is one who practices in another, unrelated, field? (Read entomologist, ethnologist – any old “ogist” will do!) The uniformed public says “Heck! If the guy is a scientist, he HAS to be right” RIGHT?

    The public and policy makers are bombarded with comments like – “Scientists agree that greenhouse gases are causing global warming” – No that is not correct. There are climate scientists out there that do not believe its true (like Lindzen), and climate scientists that believe it is true (Gavin, Mann, etc.) Who to believe? Lindzen or Gavin?

    I don’t think the public (in general), understands that some folks are just blowing CO2. It’s especially difficult to understand the information when it’s in language the general public can’t understand. I don’t think many come to this site for a more informed interpretation. (And from reading some posts, because climate science is so specialized, even those with a science degree don’t necessarily understand why an article or paper is “just wrong”. Hey, if peer reviewed journals are publishing incorrect findings because they did not find a flaw, how is the public or policy makers to know there is one?) Other than this site, there are few options.

    So, isn’t it ultimately up to the scientists to come to a consensus, inform the media and provide the public and policy makers, in no frills language, the truth about AGW (oops Global Warming due to human causes) without presuming the general public or our policy makers have taken advanced classes in physics and climate science? (I’m not saying dummy down the discussions or papers on this site, I’m just trying to make a point).

    I know – I just showed my frustration but thanks for letting me vent!

    [Response: We have stressed repeatedly that single scientists and single papers are not the things that the public or policy-makers should be paying much attention to. Instead, they should pay attention to the consensus summaries such as are produced by the National Academies or the IPCC where all of the science can be assimilated and put in context. In such summaries, it is very clear what everyone agrees on (gravity, the human created rise in CO2, the physics of the greenhouse effect, conservation of energy etc.), what still remains uncertain (aerosols etc.) and what implications these uncertainties may have. - gavin]

  101. Roger Smith:

    Lisa, the IPCC assessment reports do pretty much what you are asking for. Try the Third Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers to start with.

  102. Mark A. York:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/02/AR2006050201677.html

  103. Doug Percival:

    Dano wrote in comment #89: “… simplification of ecosystems is a possibility here …”

    Language is important. I think that you and I both understand what we are talking about, and what is at stake, but to many ordinary people “simplification of ecosystems” isn’t going to sound like something to be concerned about, or anything to inconvenience themselves about. It may even sound like a good thing. After all, didn’t Einstein once say that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”? Maybe it’s a good idea to clean out all those messy complicated ecosystems, all cluttered up with who-knows-what innumerable species that are probably no good to anybody, and replace them with nice simple corn fields or pasture for grazing cattle.

    What we are really talking about is an ongoing process of mass extinctions perhaps comparable to the mass extinctions that eliminated dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which anthropogenic global warming can only accelerate, and which a worst-case AGW scenario (e.g. massive release of methane and CO2 from thawing permafrost, widespread die-off of oceanic phytoplankton, etc) could overdrive into something like the mass extinctions at the end of the Permian 250 million years ago in which 90% of all life on earth was wiped out. We are talking about widespread, wholesale collapse of ecosystems.

    Consider:

    New Red List Paints Bleak Picture of Extinction
    By Duncan Graham-Rowe
    NewScientist.com
    Tuesday 02 May 2006

    Excerpt (emphasis added):

    Two out of every five species on the planet that have been assessed by scientists face extinction, according to the latest World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

    Overall, 16,119 animal and plant species are in danger of extinction, including 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 4 mammals and 1 in 3 amphibian species. Since records began, 784 species have been declared extinct. From the poles to the deserts, “biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,” says IUCN director-general Achim Steiner.

    The main cause, as ever, is people, as humanity impacts the world’s fauna and flora both directly and indirectly. While hunting and habitat loss continue to have a disastrous effect on species numbers, global warming is emerging as another threat.

  104. Hank Roberts:

    Note also the US government is producing its own assessments. I’d love to see a side-by-side comparison whether the US is spinning their conclusions as they come out — but I see respected names listed among the contributors to the draft proposals being worked on, for example:

    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap3-3/sap3-3prospectus-draft.htm

    The first of these US Climate reports just came out in final form:
    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/pressreleases/pressrelease2may2006.htm

    “… the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone alone.

    “The previously reported discrepancy between surface and atmospheric temperature trends is no longer apparent on a global scale. These trends are consistent with climate model simulations. …”

  105. Bob King:

    Lisa & Gavin’s points are generally valid I think. One issue I raised earlier in the “press release” thread which hasn’t been picked up on is the role of high profile journals like Nature and Science which issue press releases on articles which they consider important, thereby emphaszing to the public the importance of a single paper rather than the consensus view. Consensus isn’t glamorous and most members of the public imagine scientists to be lone creatures who are derided until they make an Einsteinian like breakthough. That’s probably why contrarian views get such an airing.

    Further, there is considerable pressure at Nature and Science to jazz up the article both prior to submission (to get it through editorial pre-review) and later. In fact, sub-editors often actually re-write abstracts (bolded paragraphs in Nature) to increase their jazziness. They do quite a good job too and after the battle to get the darn thing accepted – a Herculean task – most authors are happy to let the sub-editor do whatever he or she wants to gild the lilly.

    That’s not all bad – but it certainly happens. Obviously more public science education and moderation is needed.

  106. lisa brooks:

    Thanks Gavin and Mark! I guess what I was really trying to say is the the overall public (not necessaryly me) cannot tell who is using “good” or “bad” science.

  107. teacher ocean:

    Lisa, my students often tell me the same thing. It goes something like “well you show us graphs and say one thing, and someone else shows us graphs and says something else. How are we to know who is telling the truth.” You are right in that this is a difficult issue to tackle and when you talk about “consensus reports” some of them start thinking “maybe this is a conspiracy..” So I have personal experience with what you are talking about and the only answer I can come up with is education, education and more education… I hear that there is even a group of skeptics out there who don’t buy into the whole gravity thing. I don’t know how they can not believe it as all things go down unless you stop them, always, every time.. But if people don’t want to believe something, they don’t.. Again I guess the answer is education. I’m just venting too.

  108. Hank Roberts:

    =98=
    Thanks to Martin and Gavin for trying to keep the thread on point.
    Please don’t stop following the topic as climate professionals have more to say.

  109. lisa brooks:

    Sorry Hank…will keep to topic from now on…

  110. Hank Roberts:

    Grin–I’m not the topic police, just saying I’ll watch for return to the focus when there’s more to say from the experts.

    The hosts deal with tangents as they see fit here, sometimes creating topics for them. I also find sme of the “other opinions” sites in the sidebar are welcoming to discussion of more free-range ideas that don’t tie directly to cites/research.

  111. pat neuman:

    re 104.

    One of the respected names, Thomas Karl, said important things in Dec. 2003 (links below). Why didn’t anyone listen to him then? Why has Thomas Karl (director of NOAA NCDC) been so quiet since then?

    NCAR News Release December 2, 2003
    “No Doubt” Human Activity Is Affecting Global Climate, Top Scientists Conclude
    http://www.ucar.edu/communications/newsreleases/2003/trenberth.html

    Full report (December 2003) at:
    Modern Global Climate Change
    http://www.publiceyestv.org/research_downloads/worldweatherchanges.pdf

  112. Dano:

    RE 103 (Percival):

    but to many ordinary people “simplification of ecosystems” isn’t going to sound like something to be concerned about, or anything to inconvenience themselves about.

    Yes I agree Doug. I have different audiences and I frame my messages according to audience. Comment 89 had an audience of educated people, hence my phraseology. My comment in 93 is more in line with what I would frame for the publics. For this particular case you bring up I would use “damage to the food web”.

    And I think it is important to see what points lisa and t.o. are making above (e.g. 106, 107); education is the key to understanding this issue, and I’d like to see Hank’s simple questions asked more often.

    Best,

    D

  113. Dan:

    re: 111. Coincidentally, Thomas Karl is specifically quoted in an article from yesterday. See here

    [Response: Two interesting issues I picked up in the spin being put on the release of this report. First, it's a little peculiar that this is being claimed as a success of the Climate Science Initiative, given that the biggest contributions to resolving the questions on vertical structure of warming (e.g. Fu et al) were funded by the normal NSF and NASA climate funding channels, and not particularly by the new money put in by the initiative. It's useful to have a final declaration of what the scientific literature states on the subject, but this report is mainly an affirmation of what we already know (like a miniature version of IPCC). The second thing is that Christie was quoted at the end of Andy Revkin's piece in the NYT today as saying basically that yeah global warming is happening but nothing we do now will stop it anyway so we might as well learn to adapt. Why anybody would listen to him after the history of his sloppy work on the satellite data is beyond me, but it's clear he's moved on from Canonical Skeptics Stage 1 (Global warming isn't happening and if it is it's not our fault) to Canonical Skeptics Stage 3 (It's too late to do anything about it, so we might as well learn to live with it), without ever passing through Canonical Skeptics Stage 2 (Yes, global warming is happening, but it won't hurt us, and will probably be on the whole a Good Thing). --raypierre ]

  114. pat neuman:

    Has anything changed significantly in the way the U.S. Climate Change Science Program operates since June 2005?

    Policy News â??June 22, 2005
    Blowing the whistle on climate change: Interview with Rick Piltz
    For 10 years, Rick Piltz worked for the U.S. federal program that coordinates global climate change research for NASA, the U.S. EPA, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies. Once called the U.S. Global Change Research Program, it was renamed by President George W. Bush as the U.S. Climate Change Science Program
    http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2005/jun/policy/pt_piltz.html

  115. Hank Roberts:

    >114
    Pat, the answer appears to be yes.
    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/pressreleases/pressrelease2may2006.htm

    [Response: I note this is just the first of 21 reports, and seems (at a rough guess) to have taken about two years to issue, while basically just confirming what was already pretty clear when Fu et al came out. If the rest of the reports come at the same rate, that will take us to about 2046 before the assessment process is complete and one could perhaps start thinking about whether the conclusions just possibly might merit some actions to begin reducing CO2 emissions. I hope I'm just being pessimistic here. --raypierre]

    [Response: Actually the relevant papers were published in August last year (and discussed here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/08/et-tu-lt/ and http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/08/the-tropical-lapse-rate-quandary/ - gavin]

    [Response: What I had in mind was that Fu et al already appeared May 6, 2004 and together with the earlier work by the RSS group had already deflated most of the concern that there was anything very seriously wrong with the way models did tropospheric warming. I absolutely agree, though, that there was important work since, as reviewed in our posts, and that it was entirely appropriate for a definitive government review to be delayed until this work could be incorporated into the synthesis. It never hurts to have more information, and it's useful to have at least this one matter laid to rest by definitive proclamation, but I can't help pointing out that an assessment process like this can be drawn out a very, very, long time, from which I leave readers to draw their own conclusions. Indeed, Revkin's NYT piece on the release quotes a White House official as saying words to the effect: "Wait and see, this is just the first report and we have 20 more coming." I myself am somewhat conflicted about the value of assessment processes such as these. On the one hand, as several astute comments have noted, policymakers should pay attention to broad reviews of the literature, not individual papers, so synthesis reports are valuable. On the other hand, since the NRC report commissioned to "check" whether IPCC T.A.R. was biased, there has been a growing tradition of spinning out US assessments to second-guess or duplicate what the IPCC is doing, implying the IPCC can't be trusted to do it right. On the third hand, the US report got out the door fully a year before AR4 is likely to go to press. My real concern is how long the next 20 reports are going to take, and whether the delays will be seen as an excuse to hold up any start to considering the policy implications of the scientific results. Note that I'm not advocating for any specific policy here (in this forum), but just raising once again the point that scientific uncertainties shouldn't be used as a blanket excuse to delay the formulation and implementation of policies. --raypierre]

  116. Randolph Fritz:

    “How would the general public, who probably doesn’t know a forcing from Fun Chow Fat, realize when a “scientist” is feeding them “bad” science?”

    There’s a number of dimensions to this; one can simply look at predictions and evaluate them. The greater intensity of hurricanes is a simply recognized thing, easily accessible to the public. The meteorological data of temperature in the past few decades is another.

    Beyond that, look at the conduct of the people involved; look at who is connected with who. It is not so very difficult to tell who is honest and who is propagandizing in this debate, not any more; a bit of basic investigative journalism tells it very quickly.

    It really is not so hard as all that.

  117. pete best:

    When I first started looking at the climate issue, I thought I bet that the Scientific consensus is right and not the climate skeptics. After reading around various articles and books I discvered this site and the rest appears to be history.

    Several recent articles in the UK broadsheet media have shown me even more that the skeptics tend to be right wing political figures and this seems to be the crux of the problem when they write articles for mainstream media.

    You hear things (and still do) like “climate change is a left wing conspiracy created to reduce our consumption and to make us weak”. There is a bias in the media depending on the politics of the media.

    In the UK for instance the BBC is deemed to be essentially a politically correct liberal organisation and there handling of climate changee stories is generally compliant with that, ie; it is real and we all need to cut back on energy use etc. Other media outlets such as the Daily Telegraph (traditional right wing newspaper) run climate skeptic articles often for some reason because it is right wing I guess.

    Often I have found it is all in the politics. Fortunately RC is science and hopwefully the mechanisms of science are above political bias.

  118. Eachran:

    Two points :the first on the IPCC draft 4th report which I would like to know from the climate scientists is in what way materially different from the 3rd report; and the second is on The Economist which is publishing a survey on Global Warming in September where I would like to know if The Group has been contacted on this please.

    Personally I think that the draft report should have been open to the public from day one.

    As for The Economist, I would be surprised if they do not contact the group at some stage.

    Guardian today.

    A confidential draft of a high-level international report on the state of climate change has been posted on the internet by US officials months before it was due to be made public. The move to effectively publish the findings of the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has surprised experts, who say it could undermine the final report when it is released in February.
    The IPCC’s fourth report draws together research over the last five years to predict the likely course of global warming. The draft was sent to governments for comment last month.

    One British climate scientist and senior author of the IPCC report, who did not want to be identified, said: “They definitely shouldn’t have done that. I’m very surprised. If you put a draft document in the public domain then people will start quoting it.”

    Others say the move could be a deliberate attempt to reduce the impact of the final report. The Bush administration has been critical of the IPCC and its conclusions, which form the basis for international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Kyoto protocol. The new report will underpin negotiations to extend the protocol beyond 2012.

    Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado, said: “I do have some suspicions. If the report is out there and the findings have been discussed, then it deflates the newsworthiness of the official report when it is released.”

    The draft report reflects a debate that has moved on from whether man-made climate change is real to what the effects could be. It says human activity since the industrial revolution is “very likely” to be warming the planet and “more likely than not” to be behind an observed increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones.

    It was posted on the web by the US Climate Change Science Programme, a government office that coordinates global warming research, which said it made the report available for “expert comment” to help frame its official response. Its website says participants should not quote or redistribute the document, which can be accessed with a password provided automatically to anyone who sends an email.

    The office has contacted thousands of scientists, environmental groups and industry lobbyists. Most other countries have solicited comments from a small number of experts, who are asked to judge whether the report accurately reflects scientific thinking. The IPCC process allows individuals to request a copy of the draft report, but requires them to prove their scientific expertise.

    Staff at the Climate Change Science Programme referred questions to Harlan Watson, senior climate negotiator at the state department, who said: “I find it quite ironic that running an open process would be criticised. What we’re doing is providing an opportunity for people to comment. It’s not for us to say who the experts are.”

    Officials at the IPCC could not be contacted for comment. Rajendra Pachauri, the panel’s chairman, did not learn of the US move until the report was posted.

    Backstory

    Set up in 1988 by the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together hundreds of experts to summarise the state of climate science for policymakers.

    It has produced three reports since 1990, each of which has been instrumental in establishing national and international strategies to address global warming.

    Government officials have until next month to comment on the new draft, when scientists will gather in Bergen, Norway, to produce a final version.

  119. Eachran:

    You are correct Randolph Fritz : I am a member of the general public but whilst I know what ‘forcing’ is as applied to climate science and to the production of foie gras I dont know what Fun Chow Fat is – dont bother to tell me please.

    I agree about your comments on “trust”.

    I suspect that the next year will be pretty heated in the climate science community what with the draft 4th IPCC report and political decisions having to be taken. “Trust” in experts will I am sure be tested and all of you intelligent ones out there, posting or reading, will have to get your judgment “hats” on to do the right thing for humanity.

    Good luck to all.

  120. david Iles:

    Here are some recent polling numbers on the public perceptions of global warming. If you go to this site there are a lot more questions that include specific policy suggestions.

    http://www.pollingreport.com/enviro.htm

    Gallup Poll. March 13-16, 2006. N=1,000 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults).

    “Thinking about what is said in the news, in your view, is the seriousness of global warming generally exaggerated, generally correct, or is it generally underestimated?” Options rotated
    Exaggerated 30% Correct 28% Under-estimated 38% Unsure 4%

    “Just your impression, which one of the following statements do you think is most accurate? Most scientists believe that global warming is occurring. Most scientists believe that global warming is NOT occurring. OR, Most scientists are unsure about whether global warming is occurring or not.”

    Is Occurring 65% Is Not Occurring 3% Scientists are Unsure 29% No Opinion 3%

    “And from what you have heard or read, do you believe increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century are due more to the effects of pollution from human activities, or natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities?”

    Human Activities 58% Natural Changes 36% Unsure 6%

    “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”

    Yes 35% No 62% Unsure 2%
    .
    ABC News/Time/Stanford University Poll. March 9-14, 2006. N=1,002 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

    “Do you think most scientists agree with one another about whether or not global warming is happening, or do you think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists on this issue?”

    Most Agree 35% A Lot of Dis-agreement 64%Unsure 1%

    This is implies to me that there needs to be a greater effort to communicate the issues involved in simple terms to the public. Here is my suggestion given the debate following my last suggestion.

    If humankind does not take concrete steps within the next 15 years to alter specific policies and behaviors that are contributing to global climate change, it is very likely that our planet’s climate will become inhospitable to many species on earth including human beings within this century. Which will drastically affect our lifestyle and many of the plant and animal species we depend on for survival.

    Agree

    Disagree

    And I think a second question would be in order

    We can greatly enhance our chances of surviving this century and maintaining a reasonable lifestyle for our children and grand children if we directly address the numerous causes that are contributing to Global Climate change within the next few years.

    Agree

    Disagree

    If realclimate put an effort into getting as many climate scientists to answer these two questions it may go somewhere towards informing the public and calling them to action.

  121. pat neuman:

    re 115.

    There is nothing in the report about the urgency needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and transportation, aviation and greenhouse gases from produced from ethanol.

    [Response: You wouldn't expect (or even want) to see such things in an assessment report on a specific scientific topic. With regard to the original question raised in 114 (re life since 2005), the response indicates that some things have changed, since administration officials (notably Phillip Cooney) were reported to have interfered with the content and interpretation of results in scientific documents, whereas it's hard to find any evidence of such interference in either the report cited or the press release. Whether there has been any change higher up at the policy level, with regard to what use is made of the reports and whether the scientific results are believed there, is another matter, one worthy of discussion somewhere (but probably not at RC). --raypierre]

    [Response: Note that I corrected the above comment on May 9, 2006, since in the original I had erroneously written "Piltz" where I actually had Phillip Cooney in mind. Very unjust to Rick, and since nobody caught it I assume (and hope) nobody noticed. Anyway, the record is set straight now. --raypierre]

  122. Eachran:

    Which report is this Pat, IPCC 4 draft?

    I would say that I have a large circle of family, friends, relatives and acquaintances and there is no-one who doesnt agree with the urgent need to reduce ghg and to reduce consumption overall.

    The question is a political one and partly to do with social cohesion : it is a lot easier to get things done when a society coheres than when a society doesnt. For example, Sweden doesnt seem to have a problem banishing fossil fuels by 2020 (I think that is correct both as a statement and principle) using geothermal heating much of which is already installed, bio-fuels, hydro power and the like. Can the world do the same at the Swede’s current living standards? You must be joking : when it comes for example to bio-fuels how many square kilometres are needed to get mum to school with the kids? How much is left to feed ourselves? It makes one want to cry and laugh at the same time. And dont start the “free trade” argument with me unless you factor in externalities.

    Japan is another society which coheres : imports of oil over the last decade have barely moved and if the Japanese say we should all wear more clothes in the winter then that is what happens even to the by now well known example of one town which switched off its entire heating system in the winter to help the national effort.

    France doesnt do a bad job in cohering though that is showing signs of strain at the moment but I have already posted on that. What about the US, UK, China, Australia? China certainly coheres up to the point of forced labour but the rest are based mainly on the principles of “getting ahead” or “doing better” than ones neighbour and are not really in the vanguard on this issue. Can they change? I hope so.

    As for me I feel no hypocrisy criticising others for consuming because I stopped that particular game some years ago. I do however like a nice glass of champagne from time to time and glasses of champagne can compensate for a lot of deprivation in other areas.

  123. Eachran:

    120 David Iles, I read this after my post but it accords with what I would expect and if you stratify the respondents into social groups you may get even more interesting information.

    I dont think that it is RC’s job to wave banners so I would disagree with your expectations about what scientists ought to do. But there is another issue here on the accessibility and disemmination of science which I have been meaning to post on but havent. Perhaps I should just do it.

    A final comment on the poll : it goes to show that people are not dummies.

  124. Hank Roberts:

    Is the ‘stakeholders’ language in the US press release the reason they’ve put the IPCC draft out, to bring in commenters who would not have been invited to the standard IPCC review process?

    “On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, the Climate Change Science Program Office (CCSPO) is coordinating the solicitation of comments by U.S. experts and stakeholders …”
    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/ipcc/wg14ar-review.htm

    Usually ‘stakeholders’ means ‘corporations that own a lot of the physical or intellectual property that will gain or lose value if policy is changed’ — same as ‘holding a lot of chips at the gambling table’ — the language equates being at financial risk with having scientific expertise as qualification to contribute to a scientific consensus.

    That’s our government, putting the cart before the horse, of course.

  125. Martin:

    Gavin,

    I am very baffled about not having seen your pp on the rebuttal by vS on the Wahl et al. comment – I’m sorry about that and apologize for my wording.

    But I do not concur with your assessment, that non-detrending leads to a “very minor underestimation” of the variance in the reconstruction. Even in the white noise case the reconstruction shows about 40% smaller longer term variability than the true (modelled) simulation. And one can turn the argument around as well: the difference between detrending and non-detrending (i.e. the main point of Wahl et al.) is really insignificant in the white noise HadCM3 case…

    I agree with you that it is a scientific debate of whether this methodological shortcoming is significant or not – indeed, time will tell. [edited - see below]

    What I do not like in this realclimate comment is that it mixes the attempt at clarification of a scientific issue with the “repercussions”, i.e. the general climate change debate. As a naive scientist, I still believe that a paper in a scientific journal has to be taken on its own, irrespective if the author otherwise talks nonsense to the press (or may be cited wrongly by the Spiegel – neither you nor I were there and we know how journalists write…). I would recommend a clear separation of these two sides of the coin. RealClimate is doing an excellent job in clarifying and popularizing scientific facts, but reflections on the public debate inevitably involve personal opinions and judgements and thus leave the “scientific domain”. Clearly, such reflections are needed and you have published quite a few marvels. But I’d prefer them separated.

    [Response: Research in our field is now carried out under a pretty intense spotlight and that means we need to be extremely responsible about what we say in public. That is not to say we should self censor, but we need to ensure that we say what we mean - no more, no less. When injudicious comments are made which are not justified by the science, the whole field loses, and when clarifications are needed, they need to be clear. There was some amount of editorialising in our article, but we felt it quite justified in this instance. A few specific points: (a) the HadCM3 results show errors well within the error bounds of MBH98 and shown in IPCC, in that sense they give the opposite result from the ECHO-G model. (b) In German journalism, direct quotes are generally only printed after they have been shown to and approved by the quoted person. Moreover, in direct e-mail discussion after the event Von Storch never said he was misquoted - we can be pretty sure he said that, and approved it for publication. There are no valid excuses for this type of behavior. (c) Actually, the detrending procedure appears to have far more severe impacts than what Von Storch has shown. But that is a discussion for another day, after there are published results to refer to. (PS. we edited out certain comments that are not appropriate for public comment). - group]

  126. Don Baccus:

    “Usually ‘stakeholders’ means ‘corporations that own a lot of the physical or intellectual property that will gain or lose value if policy is changed’”

    Typically it’s interpreted to include environmental NGOs, too.

    Since the IPCC is doing this as a favor to the US State Department, I doubt “we” are asking to include them. Perhaps the IPCC will.

    In domestic affairs, typically environmental/conservation orgs are invited to the table because many moons ago they won standing to sue in regard to implementation of federal regulations and management of natural resources owned by the federal government. If they’re not invited they just sue. But this administration’s been trying to shut out non-industry stakeholders.

    The IPCC isn’t a domestic beast anyway.

    It will be interesting to see who’s invited.

  127. Hank Roberts:

    I confirmed what the Guardian reported — the userid/password is sent back automatically when you click the link to request it, and that allows downloading the whole draft and supporting materials (there’s an additional link for ‘gray/unpublished’ supporting material.

    I clicked the link agreeing not to cite or quote the draft. I won’t.
    (Nor will I comment, not being a scientist and having no expertise in the area — wish I could find out who is commenting! I suppose we’ll see.)

    [Response: I shudder to think what this immoderate action by the US is going to do to the review process. The review is supposed to be a scientific review, and for the TAR there was a requirement that the authors consider and respond to each reviewers' comment on their chapters. There are lot of important scientific issues, and the review is a critical part of spotting oversights, mistakes and unclear writing. There were a vast number of comments to consider, even when the review was restricted to qualified scientific reviewers. Imagine if a journal editor posted your article on the Internet for all and sundry to comment on, and required you to respond to all comers. If the IPCC authors are faced by a deluge of pointless comments, it's going to be a lot harder to identify and concentrate on the real scientific issues. On top of that, there is an argument to limit distribution of draft documents, since scientists need to have scope to get things wrong and change their minds without worrying about how the evolution is going to play in the press. Look at the way leaked early drafts of the Second Assessment Report were used in a vicious attempt to savage Ben Santer's reputation. I applaud the newfound fondness for openness suddenly discovered by the powers that be in the US, but I think it would have been courteous (though not exactly typical ) to consult with other interested parties in the IPCC before taking a unilateral action like releasing the draft to the entire world. --raypierre]

    [Response: To add some numbers to Ray's comment: for the last draft of the one IPCC report chapter I am involved in, we had 1700 review comments from the invited expert reviewers. For every single one we have to document what we did with it, and why. Remember we do this work voluntarily, no pay, in addition to our normal full-time jobs, spending weekends and nights away from the family for this. If this review process is flooded by comments from all kinds of non-scientific interest groups ("stakeholders"), this seems to me a clever way of bringing the process to its knees and making it unworkable. -stefan]

  128. pat neuman:

    re 123.

    Eachran,

    By report (122) I was referring to the Press Release on the first of 21 Synthesis and Assessment S&A Products by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CSSP).

    In the CSSP Press Release, Chief editor Dr. Thomas Karl wrote … The evidence continues to support a substantial human impact on global temperature increases. …

    What kind of human impact does he mean? Roger Pielke Sr. said a few years ago that land use changes had at least as large of an effect on local climate change as global greenhouse gas emissions. I felt that was misleading.

    This press release left the door open again on what is the obvious primary cause of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and the need for urgent action (122).

    I disagree with the Response given in 122 by raypierre, that … You wouldn’t expect (or even want) to see such things in an assessment report on a specific scientific topic.

    It was already in there by Karl, but not specific.

    In Jan 2000 Dr. James Baker, then director of NOAA, was interviewed for five straight Evening News segments with Dan Rather, with emphasis then (more than six years ago) that global warming was happening and that the cause was the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions from fuels. It was urgent then and it’s even more urgent now.

    Raypierre,

    Where do you think such things to be put and how often? What might we do that is most effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in doing our duty as scientists and as human beings for the welling of the life on this earth?

    The entire paragraph from the CSSP that I made reference follows.

    “This synthesis and assessment report exposes the remaining differences among different observing systems and data sets related to recent changes in tropospheric and stratospheric temperature,” said Chief Editor Dr. Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “Discrepancies between the data sets and the models have been reduced and our understanding of observed climate changes and their causes have increased. The evidence continues to support a substantial human impact on global temperature increases. This should constitute a valuable source of information to policymakers.”
    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/pressreleases/pressrelease2may2006.htm

  129. Stormy:

    Off-topic–but everything affects everything else.

    The Walker circulation is slowing down (3%), creating, in effect, more El Nino-like conditions–or, to put it another way, increasing the probability and duration of such conditions. The slowing may increase to 10% by 2100.

    http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2006/walker.shtml

    As an interesting exercise, Google the effects of El Nino conditions for various parts of Canada and the U.S.

    [Response: Yes, indeed. There's a lot of interesting modelling and observational work brewing on the general subject o changes in the atmospheric circulation, making the point that a lot more about climate changes than just temperature. I'm waiting for a few more shoes to drop on this subject, and then I'll put together an article about it. --raypierre]

  130. Hank Roberts:

    Pat, it’s clear you’re not happy with the government agency. But Ray’s right, the recent report was specifically focused on sorting out the longstanding (15 years plus) disagreement between temperature measurements.

    Yes, maybe it’s just a US government attempt to buy time for their “stakeholders” to adjust financial portfolios or get patents on sunlight and fresh air. Who knows what evil lurks ….

    But — still — getting the satellite and ground temperature measures agreed on is fundamental to the discussions you want. It had to be done first.

  131. Hank Roberts:

    >127
    Thanks Ray. I did not know about the attack on Ben Santer til you mentioned it. I found a good summary of it here, for others who should know how this kind of leak in the past was used to attack a researcher. It’s a nasty story, and a familiar one:

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/warming.htm

  132. Pekka Kostamo:

    #127. I believe the master spin doctor Karl Rowe was recently relieved from his bureaucratic duties in the Administration, to enable full focus on promoting the President’s agendas. Some flavor from that direction, perhaps?

    An effort to wreck the IPCC AR4 was to be expected, anyway, so this is not a surprising move. Might be effective as well.

  133. pat neuman:

    Hank, we’ve had decades of talk without meaningful action in reducing emissions. Let’s boycott unessential travel, especially aviation.

  134. Stormy:

    Raypierre,

    I look forward to reading it. Yes, global warming is more than just temperature, sea rise, and hurricane intensity. Circulation patterns must be affected. I was wondering when this shoe would drop. (Is there work being done on NOA in the same vein as is being done on Walker?)

    What a nightmare to model…but, on the other hand, what a great intellectual challenge.

  135. Terry:

    Gavin wrote in #52:

    “[Response: One needs to be very careful here. Von Storch et al do not dispute global warming and indeed have many papers that support the consensus on that issue. So it cannot be said this was an 'anti-global warming' paper. The difference is important because as we have said many times, the issue at stake here (a few tenths of degree change over the last few centuries) is not actually very important in the balance of evidence for a significant human contribution to climate change. - gavin]”

    I’m curious as to who you consider to be “anti-global warming.” Offhand I can’t think of a single scientist who actually denies AGW. I thought the dispute was almost solely about its magnitude.

  136. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    What I took from the Von Storch paper was that it questioned some details of MBH, but did not really disprove it and did not cast doubt on AGW. I thought maybe Science published it to be inclusive of the thinking within the climate science community with a possible awareness of criticism for not being inclusive and the ramifications in the public eye. I was not aware of the statements Von Storch made and the German press’ practice of double-checking the quotes.

    The use of the word “stakeholders” by the CCSPO caught my attention. When regulations are made stakeholder usually refers to a person or group who is directly involved in the regulatory process. In addition there is usually a period of time for the public to submit written comments that usually express a position on what the regulation should be. In some cases these comments are entered in the official record. From my own experience on the legal side I know the current U.S. political leadership is currently reducing non-industry involvement and has used increased opportunity for public comment as a smoke screen for reducing the opportunity for substantive public involvement in the regulatory process.

    If the comments submitted to CCSPO are screened carefully for valid and valuable scientific comments it could streamline the process. If not the IPCC could be flooded with politically motivated comments that would cause delay. With the track record of the U.S. political leadership I’m afraid it’s the latter

    The U.S. regulatory system is widely admired for how open a process it is. When an agency is going to enforce a law that will affect our lives we should be able to speak up and get involved. But there are legal and political principals involved that are not applicable to the scientific process. If the CCSPO’s comment project does delay the IPCC it will probably be defended by the spin masters using “values” arguments citing democratic and property rights.

    [Response: Keep in mind that the IPCC reports are scientific documents, not policy or regulatory documents. The review process has (or should have) more in common with the review of a scientific journal article than it does with public comment on regulations. --raypierre]

  137. Mark A. York:

    Offered for your expert consideration.

    http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=10389