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Lindzen: point by point

Filed under: — group @ 13 April 2006

Daniel Kirk-Davidoff (U. Maryland and one-time Lindzen co-author) provided a more detailed rebuttal of Lindzen’s argument in the comments to our previous post. It deserves to be more widely seen, so here it is again.

Here’s an effort at a point by point rebuttal. I would say that the central flaw in the op-ed is a logical one: if you’re trying to stifle dissent, then you want less funding for climate research, not more. If you’re trying to stop global warming, then you want more money for carbon sequestration research, and you don’t care how much is spent on climate research. On the other hand if you just love climate research as a really interesting intellectual pursuit, that’s when you’ve got an interest in shedding doubt on the reigning view that CO2-induced climate change is a serious policy program, requiring action. Twenty-five years ago, when global warming wasn’t a big public worry, one might expect climate change researchers to hype the problem. In 2006, when public opinion mostly accepts that there’s a problem, scientists who want research money should be emphasizing uncertainty.

In the opening paragraph, Lindzen states that others have claimed that there are connections between recent rare weather events and global warming, and asks where they would possibly get such an idea. It’s not clear where his astonishment comes from though. Heat waves and increased lake effect snows seem like very reasonable expectations for a warmer world. Of course, attribution of any individual such event to presently observed global temperature change can only be fractional, but it’s completely reasonable to say that events like the heat wave of 2003 will be more likely when the mean annual temperature of Europe is a few degrees warmer- this assumes only that the scatter of summer time temperature under global warming won’t be much smaller than it is now.

In his second paragraph, Lindzen makes the uncontroversial claim that society sometimes funds science to address phenomena that seem to offer a threat of harm. Using the passive voice, he asserts a feedback cycle between scientific funding and scientific alarm. This seems really odd: the publlc demand made by scientists who are most alarmed by global warming is precisely not that more money go into reasearch, but rather that money go into research to increase fuel efficiency to develope carbon-emission-free fuel sources. In fact Lindzen himself in his final paragraph seems to be calling for increased funding to address the question of climate sensitivity!

The third paragraph about drying up of funding for dissenting science has been addressed by others. I agree that I just don’t see it. The particular anecdotes I have heard about political influence on the federal grant making process go in the other direction, where people are told that they should not pubish findings supporting large climate sensitvity, at least until after some election.

The fourth paragraph is another weird one. He starts by promissing an opportunity to grasp the “complex underlying scientific issues”, but never really discusses anything complex- I take this as an effort to flatter the WSJ readers on their grasp of these erudite points, bolstering their confidence when they take on the tree-huggers at the water cooler. His rhetorical tactic here is to severely shrink the list of agreed-upon truths to those that we’ve known since 1980, while neglecting the fact that human responsibility for the 20th century warming of global temperature is quite well-established, and that various causes for alarm (for example, substantially reduced water availability in places that depend on snow-pack for their dry-season water) are also very well established. Then he moves the discussion to “outlandish” claims that contradict the “models”. This is the first use of the word “models” in the article, and gets no explanation, which is a little odd for a discussion in a newspaper. He doesn’t explain what the outlandish claims are, so we’re left to wait for the next paragraph.

Here we discover that the outlandish claims involve something about more “excitation” of extratropical storms. I’m not sure where he’s getting this- when I go to, for instance, Ross Gelbspan’s website, the only references to storms I see is to tropical storms, and to more intense rainfall generally. Both are well supported by empirical studies. The increase in rainfall intensity (shift in distribution of rain from more light events to fewer heavy events) as a consequence of global warming is a robust feature of GCMs.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got time for. It’d be nice if Lindzen gave his reader some way of checking the claims he makes about persecution- was Tennekes dismissed because he questioned the scientific underpinnings of global warming, or just after? In what context did Bert Bolin “tar” Aksel Winn-Nielsen? I think Alfonso Sutera’s recent work on baroclinic neutralization is really interesting… is there some missing strand of his research that Lindzen thinks ought to be taken up again? It’s hard to guess.

About the IRIS paper- I really can’t see what he’s complaining about. The paper was published, depite some rather “outlandish claims.” For instance, in the IRIS paper, Lindzen argues that tropical surface temperature and polar surface temperature should be assumed to vary in exactly the same way as CO2 concentrations increase. This is based on the idea that baroclinic neutralization maintains a particular critical temperature gradient, an idea that had a brief period of fashionability in 1978. In any case, there’s certainly been a lively debate about the paper, and if it’s widely viewed as “discredited”, then that’s the judgement of the climate dynamics community. If we’re a bunch of dummies, history will judge us harshly, but we can only do our best.

I see a lot of science in our community that’s being driven by curiosity. At the recent European Geophysical Union conference, there were posters on banner clouds on the Zugspitze, the role of cubic ice crystals in high cirrus formation, and the role of global cooling in the fall of the Neanderthals. Some of this research is being driven by claims that it will address climate change. So maybe this helps to solve the riddle of what Lindzen is really concerned about. People who are really concerned about climate change don’t agitate for more funding for our field- they agitate for funding for fuel efficiency research and carbon sequestration. It’s the people who like curiosity-driven research in climate dynamics who have the real incentive to argue that there’s a lot of uncertainty, because uncertainty allows people with strong intellectual curiosity to make the case that there’s at least some tangential benefit of their work to the climate sensitivity problem.

150 Responses to “Lindzen: point by point”

  1. 51

    #36: “Are Arctic storms becoming more frequent and intense since 1990 when Arctic ice meltback began to accelerate?”

    The answer is yes, despite less steeper baroclinic differences. The reasons are much more complex than I previously thought. But warmer air intrusions “attacking” cold air formations play a major role.

    [Response: This is interesting. I wasn’t aware of this result and would like to learn more. Any paper out on it yet? –raypierrre]

  2. 52
    Lawrence McLean says:

    Re #48
    I feel that the Real Climate folks are doing an excellent job. I have used information on this site to directly enlighten about fifty people. The things you mention need to be picked up by someone (or organization) that already has expertise and resources in that area. Let people do the job that they are best at.

    Sure, I understand that a very dirty war is being waged, even though the salvos are words, I will not call it a game, as the stakes are too high to call it that.

    I agree with you, that the naysayers need to be challenged using techniques that you mention, however Real Climate should stay as is.

  3. 53
    PHEaston says:

    The posting of Lindzen’s article appears to be a case of putting him in the stocks and sitting back to watch the wet sponges fly. This is what happened, with most posters assuming Lindzen to be misguided. This is a newspaper “opinion” – an experienced and respected climate scientist saying “this is what I believe” – so criticising him for not providing substance is not really relevant. The “point-by-point” rebuttal is a combination of differing opinions (which is fine, but that’s what it is – a different opinion) and the politician’s tactic of mis-interpreting points made. For example, Lindzen does not question that a link between global warming and extreme weather has been made. It is predicted for decades into the future in the event of significant temperature rises. What he questions is how recent extreme weather (which has always happened and always will) can be so confidently blamed on global warming (which the media and politicised scientists regularly do). With regard to funding, only those involved in the process can really know. With regard to the scientific consensus, Lindzen is accused of oversimplifying this. However, the media regular report or imply – incorrectly – that there is consensus on the more extreme claims. The recent “Time” article (13 April 2006), after giving a list of recent extreme events (Cyclone Larry, forest fires in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, etc) presented as being caused by climate change, then states “the serious debate has quietly ended”. Criticising Lindzen for not explaining “models” is an irrelevant editorial one, given that anyone who has been following the debate will have some understanding of what they are. The scientific debate continues. It is a reality that politicians and policy makers often need to make key decisions where uncertainty remains. However, scientists (like the UK’s David King) have a duty to be honest to their “clients” and the public about the uncertainty.

  4. 54
    Hank Roberts says:

    Re the response (by Raypierre, I think?) posted within 28, thanks for mention of Posner on ‘Catastrophe’ and I’d welcome pointers to more discussion of that wherever it’s happening — can’t find your own articles, links OK?

    [Response: The “catastrophe” issue with my article and Posner’s is not yet online, but I imagine it will be shortly. The print issue just came out. To read my various articles, go here and look for whatever interests you. I haven’t gotten around to posting some of the more recent writings yet, but the catastrophe article is there. On the subject of catastrophe, if you can read French, I very highly recommend the marvelous booklet by Jean-Pierre Dupuy, petite metaphysique des tsunamis . –raypierre]

  5. 55
    Lewis Cleverdon says:

    I observe two aspects of the media ‘balace’ issue that have yet to be addressed here –

    First – why would anyone assume that a media organ, such as WSJ, will give an honest account of the major threat to its very major advertizers (Big Oil & Big Auto) that provide an essential portion of its revenues, beside having unparalleled influence over other sectors’ advertizers ?

    Surely if they were going to give an honest account before it becomes utterly discreditable in their readers’ eyes to do otherwise, they would have done so by now ?

    Second, as one aspect of the Oil-based status quo’s strategy of “Distraction in total depth”,
    the longer the public debate can be focussed on the reality of AGW, the longer the urgency of coherent global action can be ignored.

    Yet this is merely the next hedge – in stating, however tersely, just how urgent / genocidal is the problem, we are distracted from discussing just what, precisely, are the solutions.

    RC does noble work on propagating sound science in the face of the billions that Big oil could throw at multifacted disinformation if it felt the need,
    but, to be effective (i.e. to practice Applied Climate Science) we plainly need to establish a global focus on the discussion & evaluation of the solutions.

    As I’ve been unable to find any such public forum website, despite diligent searching, I wonder whether RC might be willing, in common with other reputable sites, to host discussion of its formation ?

    For what it’s worth, as far as I’ve seen the ultimate “hedge of distraction” lies in the heavily propagated delusion
    that a clear international consensus across all major states is required before a vanguard of nations can begin formally to discuss the requisite framework of the requisite Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons.

    If others here concur with the need to help establish such a website, then I would propose that getting beyond that final hedge of “Awaiting Consensus” should become one focus within it.



    [Response: I doubt that the problems with the WSJ science reporting are driven by advertising revenue. Other business publications, like The Economist also get a lot of energy industry advertisements, as to general publications like Time , but do not have the same ideological filter on interpreting scientific results. For that matter, many of the WSJ advertisers are not in industries directly affected by energy prices, and some are in industries that are sensitive to climate change. The biggest advertisers are investment banks, which rake in money no matter what happens to everybody else. On top of all that, WSJ is probable less reliant on advertising revenue vis a vis subscriptions than most other newspapers. Newspapers have an institutional culture, and WSJ clearly has an extreme ideology that says something like “Corporations can do no Wrong”. This goes way beyond merely being pro-business. Perhaps the ideological bent is reinforced by what the editors perceive as their subscriber base, and perhaps it represents a perception of what the editors think will make them and the group they associate with richer; I can only speculate. The distressing thing to me is that, while one could hardly fault a paper for letting ideology affect editorial discussions on policy matters, the WSJ takes the ideological filter to an extreme and applies it to science as well — both on the editorial page, and in the coverage of science in the news reporting sections of the paper. Whatever the motivation, the fact that the editors clearly do not understand the way science works, and how to evaluate scientific arguments, is the real scandal here. I wouldn’t want people to assume that being “pro business” or “pro capitalism” necessarily means being like the WSJ. In fact, the way the WSJ reinforces the impression of an unbridgeable gulf between the business community and the community favoring environmental protection is one of the more damaging faults of the paper. Please do note that the problem is most extreme on the editorial page. Some (not all) of the science reporting that appears elsewhere in the paper is quite forthright. Recently, there was a very honest article about Alberta tar sands, which was forthright about the environmental damage that tar sand recover causes. True,there was almost a gleeful streak about how damaging this industry is, but nobody reading the article would be misinformed about the environmental problems. Several years earlier, WSJ had a very insightful front-page article debunking claims that the new oil-drilling technology was so clean you could drill in ANWR without any significant impact. –raypierre]

  6. 56
    pat neuman says:

    re 53.

    RICHARD LINDZEN wrote … Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. … what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man’s responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. …
    Climate of Fear – Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence.

    PHEaston wrote … scientists (like the UK’s David King) have a duty to be honest to their “clients” and the public about the uncertainty (comment 53. in RC).

    Scientists (like Richard Lindzen) have a duty NOT to imply to the pubic that: 1) there is no support for the human human population being responsible for most or all of the warming in recent decades, and 2) NOT to imply that there is only a small amount of warming recently. These are much more than mere distractions. Actually, due to the severe consequences of contributing to people’s attitudes to continue business as usual with respect to GHG emissions, this is much more than just a duty NOT to imply and mislead, this like a 11th Commandment which thou shalt NOT break.

  7. 57
    joel Hammer says:

    It is a weak argument to say the climate reseachers would never fan the flames of alarmism.

    [Response: You are being unfair to researchers. There’s a difference between being “alarmist” and being genuinely alarmed about a problem, and arguing for more research funding as a result. I’m not alarmist — I’m just plain alarmed. –raypierre]

    What do you think medical doctors do when they want more money for research or treating certain disease. Breast cancer and AIDS get huge funding for research and treatment, far more than more serious problems like lung cancer and heart disease, in proportion to the number of victims of these diseases.

    [Response: I certainly wouldn’t argue that the distribution of funding for biomedical research in the US is optimal, but what are your ideas for doing it better? Do you trust Congress to make these decisions for you without input from victims? Do you think that if you shut off input from doctors and victims that the input from other lobbyists would lead to a more equitable distribution of funding? I think the answer isn’t quieter victims, it’s smarter congresspeople. Whatever you think about the equity of medical research funding, you can hardly deny that breast cancer and AIDS are serious problems. It’s hard to see any big waste of money there. ]

    Hysteria over breast cancer and HIV, followed by political action, has been a financial bonanza for certain segments of the health care industry. Just follow the money.

    [Response: If you follow the money, it certainly won’t lead you to climate research.]

    A case in point is the U. Maine. It recently changed the name of its Quaternary Institute to the Climate Change Insititute. I wonder why?

    [Response: Maybe because it’s more descriptive of what they actually do these days. Maybe because they want to make it easier for students to recognize what they do. Lots of good reasons. ]

    Go see for yourself.

    The Climate Change Institute (formerly the Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies) is an interdisciplinary research unit organized to conduct research and graduate education focused on variability of the earths climate, ecosystems, and other environmental systems and on the interaction between humans and the natural world.

    That last phrase, italics added, I sure they are hoping will add millions of dollars in research funds over the years.

    [Response: I can’t speak for the University of Maine, and I doubt that you can either. Besides, there’s nothing wrong in a University hoping to raise funds for work in an area they think is important. Gee, that was pretty underhanded of the University of Chicago to play on peoples’ knee-jerk concern for childrens’ health by opening a Childrens’ Hospital. Must have just been a ploy to get their hands on more of the donors’ money. –raypierre ]

    Of interest, U. Maine researchers recently let Greenpeace use them to put out an alarming press release on the melting of Greenland’s glaciers, with all the usual hype. They actually used a Greenpeace ship to help conduct their research, and came back with the very results Greenpeace wants to hear.

    [Response: Hamilton and one grad student got a lift to Greenland on a Greenpeace ice cutter. Other’s have gotten lifts on goverrnment vessels and aircraft, or even on Gary Comer’s yacht. They and other U. Maine researchers get a great deal more funding from peer-reviewed grants, which provide strong vetting of the science. They publish the results in peer-reviewed journals, and the results regarding what has been going on along the Greenland coast have been verified by independent researchers. It’s hard to make the case that this is a Greenpeace “work for hire.” Greenpeace does sometimes oversimplify scientific results in its press releases, and gets some things plain wrong — though by no means as often as they are accused of doing. If you provide me with the URL for the press release, I can give you my read on it. I couldn’t find it on Google News. ]

    Now tell me, how is this any different from a researcher taking money from Exxon, and then telling Exxon, and the world, what Exxon wants to hear? Or taking money from Big Tobacco and announcing that the link between smoking and ill health is not well defined.

    [Response: Published primarily in peer-reviewed journals, extensively cross-checked by other scientists, primarily funded by peer-reviewed research grants, etc. etc. Guess which research program I’m referring to here. Another clue: How much money does Greenpeace have? How much money does ExxonMobil have? How much money does Phillip Morris have? ]

    I haven’t read any criticism of the U. Maine for this sort of rank opportunism and for letting themselves be co-opted by Greenpeace.

    [Response: “Opportunism?” The dictionary definition of an opportunist is “a person who places expediency above principle,” or “taking immediate advantage, often unethically, of any circumstance of possible benefit.” There’s a difference between “opportunism” and “benefiting from opportunity.” U. Maine could be construed as “opportunist” only in the weaker form of the second definition, in the sense of taking immediate advantage, though not necessarily unethicallly. “Rank” and “Co-Opted?” definitely not.]

    I have only noticed these activities at the U. of Maine because a relative was a grad student there, otherwise I would never have taken any notice. I wonder how much similar opportunistic activity is ocurring around the country at other research institutions?

    [Response: Your definition of “opportunistic” is so broad that it would take in virtual any scientific research a University or other research organization seeks funding for. ]

    Grant money is the lifeblood of scientific research, afterall.

    It is surprisingly easy to be a skeptic.

    [Response: Yes, it is much easier to be a GW skeptic than to think for yourself and try to understand the scientific arguments. See Gavin’s article on How to be a real sceptic –raypierre]

  8. 58

    RE: # 31

    When you read that “the judgments of alarmists” is that global warming is “settled science”, you can be sure that you are about to hear the voice of multinational corporate polluters speaking through their impressive array of public relations firms and political allies. The only people saying that “alarmists” claim that the “science is settled” are right wing think tanks, like Cato, SEPP, and Friends of Science, and industry funded politicians like Inhofe. And now the Catholic Church.

    Suppose that the science is not settled (whatever that means), how does it follow that “It is probable that the case for anthropogenic warming will not hold up” If you don’t know enough to claim that global warming is real, then how can you know enough to claim that AWG won’t hold up?

    Uncertainty, by definition, can go either way. Uncertainty doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about. There is a lively debate in the scientific community about whether increasing hurricane intensity is a result of natural cycles or global warming. If you were deciding whether or not to rebuild your flooded home in New Orleans, would the “unsettled” link between GW and hurricanes is give you peace of mind? Some of the science of GW is not settled, but this should be no comfort to those who prefer to be complacent about the future.

    Most climate scientists, and every credible scientific institution, after decades of research, have voiced confidence in the conclusion that human causes largely responsible for global warming. Clear and present effects have been well documented, and future dangers are based on an enormous body of scientific investigation. To dismiss this by denigration as “alarmist” is simply rhetorical polemic, and not an honest description of the science.

  9. 59
    pat neuman says:

    re 56. under RC’s Lindzen: point by point:

    The eleventh commandment: Do not mislead your neighbor about the cause of severe recent global warming by human activity nor distract from your neighbor effort to save Earth for inhabitants of today and tomorrow.

    Text of the commandments commonly accepted (by Christian and Jewish
    authorities), parts of text removed follow, from at:

    [Response: Summary of the ten commandments edited out –raypierre]

  10. 60
    John L. McCormick says:

    Response to Ray at #55

    Gamblers go to the race track to bet on animals – dogs or horses -running on dirt tracks. These speculators carry newspapers that chronicle the animals recent past and offer some advice on their future. With this set of tools, generally reasonable people hand their money over a hopefully honest syndicate with the intention to collect their winning if the gamble pays off.

    Compare that scene to Wall Street and it is not a stretch to find some parallels. So, why would the WALL STREET tout sheet give a lot of editorial ink to to an honest appraisal of the earth’s changing climate. Some of its most important customers are betting huge sums on what they know best…the performance the companies in their portfolio and price-earnings ratios, etc.

    There is not time to crack the WSJ editorial page but we can appeal to the Boards of Directors of some very influential and vital corporations in the food and grain industry…as have enlightened voices made appeals to the insurance industry. Their message is getting play and internal discussions about flood insurance and other aspects of the underwriting industry are beginning to reflect the concern RealClimate and its serious readers have been aware for about 20 years.

    Lindzen is not the issue, really. He is the image of our frustration. Think past him to the interests that read the WSJ for the sake of knowing the future and direct our knowledge and concern to them.

    Politicians have a two, four or six year lifespan unless they have declared themselves dictators for life.
    Corporate leaders hope to retire with a fortune and they likely never think or hear about how a changing world climate is going to either make them richer or bankrupt.

    Capitalist survival strategies are not the realm of RealClimate but whatever it takes to open minds is worth the effort.

    Name some industries that have or soon will have a dog in the climate change fight and try to find new voices there to drown out the skeptics.

    John McCormick

  11. 61
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Thanks for the continued commentary about the WSJ opinion pages’ and editors’ performance, and for the conjecturing about their motivations, and for the conjecturing about whether or not the WSJ would print a Lindzen-rebutting op-ed — not letter, but op-ed — from a scientist of high stature.

    One of my own conjectures is to disagree with the claim that only organizations with high-powered PR hacks can place op-eds. I’m just not convinced, not yet anyway, that the WSJ would spurn a well-crafted op-ed from, say, James Hansen himself. The WSJ does love to publish big names.

    And more importantly, I have no evidence that anyone has gone past theory and actually run the experiment. When a theory can actually be tested, don’t scientists usually insist on going after the empirical data?

    It seems to me that Raypierre was right to say: “Whatever the motivation, the fact that the editors clearly do not understand the way science works, and how to evaluate scientific arguments, is the real scandal here.” But I do think it’s important to try to assess motivation, if possible, simply because understanding a problem is a step in solving it — even if, as some predict, the only possible solution to the WSJ problem will turn out to be ignoring the WSJ, and its audience, as being hopeless.

    As I say, I’m just not yet ready to buy that prediction, or the belief expressed by some that the WSJ’s editors are just plain liars. I think it’s not that easy. And I have an analogy question about it: In the nineteenth century, powerful journalists claimed that God had ordained a system in which some people owned other people. Were those journalists lying? Or did they actually believe that nonsense?

    I think it’s pretty clear that many of them fervently, ardently believed it. True, one of the flaws in the analogy might be that that wasn’t about science, but it’s also true that a junk-science tradition already existed for justifying odious racial beliefs.

    In following the WSJ’s op-ed choices fairly closely, I track what James Taranto says about climate science in the WSJ’s “Best of the Web.” Taranto, apparently operating out of a depth of ignorance of the principle of sample size in statistics, frequently joshes about a global warming speech that Vice President Gore once delivered on an outlier of a really, really cold day. Taranto appears genuinely to believe that this is a hilarious irony, and that it tends to discredit the scientific climate consensus. Now, if he and his colleagues are just scheming liars — as opposed to being grossly biased like those nineteenth century journalists — it seems to me that it’s pretty interesting that Taranto carries the lying deviousness to this level of pitiful attempted humor.

    Here’s why I think it all matters. I just flat disagree with the verb when someone says that he “suspects” that many influential business leaders get their climate science from the WSJ editorial pages. Suspect? It seems to me that the country, especially its business enterprises, is run by people who follow one more news medium than President Bush does — and that one single outlet is the Wall Street Journal.

    So I repeat what I said in comment 1, but re-phrased this way: if RealClimate, which is intrinsically based on a faith in democratic discourse, is worth doing at all, the Lindzen-rebuttal op-ed experiment is well worth conducting, whether or not directly by RC scientists.

    [Response: I agree in principle, but plead lack of time and low probability of payoff. (I believe some of the rest of us are nonetheless having a go at the NY Times). Something to realize is that with any newspaper, the chance that any given op-ed will be accepted is very low, yet it takes a great deal of time to craft an op-ed that is well-written enough within the word count constraints that it even stands a chance. Thus, even viewed as a scientific experiment, a rejection of a single –or even a few — op eds by the WSJ would tell you very little. I’ve had a lot of op-eds rejected by the NYT, but their editorial policy re climate change coverage is basically fine. Another thing to realize is that newspapers essentially never use op ed space for op eds directly rebutting other op eds. I don’t know why this is, but what journalism professionals have told me seems to be borne out by my own reading of op-ed pages. It’s true that it would be very informative to get together a group to submit, say, a dozen sound-science climate change op-eds to the WSJ over the coming month, and see what happens. I’m not sure the experiment has ever been tried. It’s just that it would be a whole lot of work to do, and most of us feel (rightly or wrongly) that the chances of being surprised by the WSJ are rather small. I do agree that finding some way to establish a dialog with the WSJ readership is critical. Trying to do that through the WSJ editorial pages may not be a particularly effective way to proceed. As for myself, I probably connected with much more of the WSJ readership when I gave a talk at the Winnetka Garden Club than I would through any number of op-eds I might submit to the WSJ. –raypierre]

  12. 62
    Grant says:

    Re: #61

    I wasn’t at first convinced. But you’ve persuaded me that yes, the experiment is worth trying. I would also point out that if the WSJ declines to print the rebuttal op-ed, very little is lost, but if the WSJ *does* publish it, quite a lot would be gained.

  13. 63
    Grant says:

    Re: #61

    One more note: although I agree there’s little *probability* of a payoff, the payoff is so much greater than the loss that the *expectation value* is rather high. As for not having enough time …

  14. 64
    Mark A. York says:

    “the WSJ takes the ideological filter to an extreme and applies it to science as well — both on the editorial page, and in the coverage of science in the news reporting sections of the paper.”

    I find frequesntly the reporting side exposes the editorial page as the misinformed ideologues they are, but I have no idea how often. I applaud Ray’s an RC’s efforts and hope they do so. It’s true that wouldn’t tell us anything we don’t know about subject selectivity at the papers. My op-ed’s are rejected all the time. I once got beat out by Michael Dombeck Chief of the Forest Service who had just been let go by Bush who essentially said the same things I did on the Clinton Roadless Rule. That’s the kind of literary luck I have, but it’s clear I was beaten out by the ultimate big gun. That’s how it works. The important thing was it was said in the public space. The letters to the editor have to concern a specific op-ed.

    I’ll include it here as an example of an opinion piece:

    [Response: The Dombeck piece is indeed a well-crafted op-ed, and I hope people will take the time to read it either through the Times archives or through a link that Mr. York can provide. I’ve edited it out of this comment because the subject matter itself was off-topic and I didn’t want our discussion to get derailed into a discussion of forest policy,important though that is –raypierre]

  15. 65
    Don Baccus says:

    “Something to realize is that with any newspaper, the chance that any given op-ed will be accepted is very low, yet it takes a great deal of time to craft an op-ed that is well-written enough within the word count constraints that it even stands a chance.”

    For a climate science professional living in an area with a reasonably large daily, it shouldn’t be hard to get an op-ed in. I have several friends who’ve written op-eds for my local daily (The Oregonian).

    Not as important or as high-profile as the WSJ or Times, by any means, but still, exposing a few tens of thousands of readers to the real science of global warming is worthwhile.

    And certainly I’m not suggesting it’s not worth trying to get a piece into the WSJ. I’m just saying I know where I’ll lay my bet if a pool’s started on whether or not they’ll publish such a piece :) A sound piece there would be read by many important people.

    But raypierre’s right, op-eds are usually not published if they simply provide rebuttal to a previous op-ed. Better would be to jump on a significant announcement and use that as a platform to build an article on. For instance the last round of corrections to Christy and Spencer’s MSU analysis would’ve provided such an opportunity.

  16. 66
    PHEaston says:

    What about an op-ed in Time to counter their outrageously alarmist article of 3rd April 2006. This starts with “Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever; more and more land is being devasted by drought; rising waters are drowning low-lying communities. By any measure, Earth is at the tipping point. The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame.” This is very much a taste of what follows. As serious scientists, you should be concerned that this will ultimately damage your case by ‘crying wolf’. Unless these statements are true – and no serious scientist would claim this, however convinced he/she is by the truth of Man’s influence on climate change – there will come a time when the public will become jaded and cynical.

    [Response: I can quibble with some of the details in the Time article. For example, the statement that polar ice caps are melting “faster than ever” ought to have some qualification with regard to time frame; how you would work in precision of that sort while keeping to standard punchy journalistic writing style, I’m not sure. The main thing is that the Time article gives a correct overall impression of the nature of the problem, even if it is wrong in some of the details. I can’t say the same for Lindzen’s piece. Will and Novak have already had their shot at countering the Time article, and rather than raising legitimate points where clarification could have been useful, they squandered their chance on baseless character assassination and rehashing of already debunked arguments. –raypierre]

    [Response: Having reflected a bit more on the interesting issue you raise, I’d like to clarify my response. I agree that Time’s science reporting is often rather sloppy. After all, it was Time that brought us the botched 1970 “global cooling” story that has caused so many headaches. In fact, compared to, say, The Economist, there are a lot of pretty shallow and unsatisfactory aspects of Time’s reporting all ’round. All I’m saying is that, given that I see Time’s article as a move in the right direction for their journalism, compared to the even more flawed “false balance” approach, it’s not exactly at the top of my to-do list of crusades. If there were any useful role that Will or Novak or Lindzen could have played in this, it would have been to point out the precise areas where Time went overboard. Chris Shea’s piece in the Boston Globe made a lot of sense in this direction, and deserves wider play. It will be important to keep the pendulum from swinging too far the other way, and implying that there is more certainty than there really is. This will become increasingly important as the discussion moves beyond the amount of warming, and begins to focus instead on the severity of the impacts. Here, we are unlikely to have much certainty in time to take the kind of action that would be required to avoid a dangerous degree of climate change. If it is implied that we can deliver certainty, and if it is demanded that we do deliver certainty, then all hope of taking any action is lost. Policy decisions are always made in the face of uncertainty, and climate change is no different. The role of science will be to discover new bad consequences that need to be considered, and to try to see which of the possible bad consequences can be ruled out in the light of new research. What remains is in the realm of possibility, and must be factored into policy decisions even if the probabilities are uncertain. I’d say that if there is a problem, it is not that scientists have to be alarming in order to get funding. Rather, it’s that politicians never seem to take action unless somebody gets hysterical. I just don’t know what to do about that. –raypierre ]

  17. 67
    raypierre says:

    OK guys — I’ve taken the bait. I’ve just submitted a brief Letter to the Editor of the WSJ, raising a few issues with Lindzen’s op-ed. Please help me watch out to see if it appears. I’m not a regular reader.

    I’ll keep an eye out for a newsworthy hook that would justify an op-ed submission. This may take a little time away from the time I spend responding to RC comments (very addictive, that!)

  18. 68

    About #51, Raypierre, there are no papers yet on this issue that I know of, but there are statellite pictures and surface weather maps, which often show strong winds in the 40 to 70 knot range, sometimes with huirricane speeds, without any significant pressure differences. Suggest the following websites:

    Surface map which may show very strong winds without steep baroclines…

    But in particular look for Infrared signature of a blizzard associated with the strong winds, sometimes occuring without steep baroclinic differences, they can be identified as small 60 nautical miles radius or so, pockets of white, apparently very high turbulent air, definitely turbulent on surface, characterized by very high in altitude blowing snow, appearing brilliant white, away fom apparent storm zones, very misleading often appearing as high cirrus, Must compare surface map link above with
    to see them… Last one seen was April 7 vicinity Resolute Bay, to the south and southwest,, at the edge of a very large but none significant low centered 400 miles awayto the North, part of one of its cloud bands had 3 distinct turbulent zones.

  19. 69
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wayne, do you know anyone who’s published storm frequency/intensity papers based on comparing imagery? Is there a method for using these data?

  20. 70
    Mark A. York says:

    I put the op-ed here:

    It’s not available at the NYT for some reason. I had it on a Lexis-Nexis search.

  21. 71
    Mark A. York says:

    That’s great Ray. I don’t get the paper but the opinionjournal is delivered to my inbox. It’s op-eds exclusively.

  22. 72
    John L. McCormick says:

    #36: “Are Arctic storms becoming more frequent and intense since 1990 when Arctic ice meltback began to accelerate?”

    The answer is yes, despite less steeper baroclinic differences. The reasons are much more complex than I previously thought. But warmer air intrusions “attacking” cold air formations play a major role.

    Thank you Wayne for that reply.

    It would seem the U.S. Coast Guard stations monitoring fishing fleets and providing at sea rescue in the West Arctic would be a good place to ask if recent storm activities have increased.

    I have a copy of the Arctic Environmental Atlas issued in 1999 by the Office of Naval Research and will contact some of the authors and contributors to make inquiries.

    John McCormick

  23. 73
    Eli Rabett says:

    Ray, as you move into the public area, be prepared for a vicious pushback. From a comment that I made about a year ago elsewhere IMHO the point is that for too long the soapbox in the public arena has been the property of those pushing denial. The Lott�s Seitz�, Singers, Michaels and the rest of the gang of six have worked assiduously to get their screeds onto op ed pages of many newpapers where they are read by millions of people while folk who write science have their stuff read by maybe a hundred in some refereed journal or maybe a thousand on some blog such as this.

    They (the gang of six, or maybe twelve) are aided by public relations shops such as AEI who have people talking to editors of editorial pages every day. What Real Climate needs is some funding for its own public relations firm to compete, and the realization of what the game is.

    When anyone threatens to compete for real estate on op ed pages and talk shows there is a huge push back, not just from the few denialists but from the entire public affairs apparatus that is pushing them. That is why you need cover.

  24. 74

    #69. Hank, no publications, not even research on some of these anomalies…. there are some general archives presented in various forms, but there are some weather and sea ice features out there, rarely discussed if not known at all. We can present them, but understanding their mechanisms is far from being achieved, there are clues, such as warm and cold air disparities. The greatest mystery yet, is why 100 cm high tides can rip open the Arctic ocean ice pack shore line for hundreds of miles during new moon and full moon periods.

    The just of the story is Lindzen can’t , I am sure that he knows this, generalize on
    meteorology, as if in one hand we would expect less baroclinic storms when we know that the causes of storms are not at all totally very well understood.

    #72, that is agood idea, Resolute is being hit more often than ever
    with “warmish” blizzards,

    [Response: It’s a pretty robust feature in general circulation models that the midlatitude storm tracks shift poleward as the climate gets warmer. I wonder if the indications you are seeing of an increase in Arctic storminess might be a reflection of this. It’s possible that one could see an increase in Arctic storminess at the same time the maximum global windspeed of midlatitude storms was going down modestly. Certainly, there’s more to life than baroclinicity, so the simplistic reasoning in the Op-Ed is not compelling. To be fair, the old simplistic reasoning — that water vapor would make midlatitude storms more intense — isn’t compelling either. The simplistic reasoning that warming will cause all forms of storms to carry more rainfall does, if you’ll forgive the expression, appear to hold water however. –raypierre]

  25. 75

    Raypierre, that is correct, most recent significant storms, within the last 5 years , headed Northwards, and had extreme wind velocities along with abnormaly warm temperatures. Namely a February cyclone which warmed up South Baffin to +5 to 9.5 C above zero (something like a +40 C anomaly), which stopped moving over Ellesmere, warming it up enormously before fading away. Hats off to the GCM models calculating this…

    [Response: The AR4 suite of GCM predictions for the newest IPCC report are now available online. I wonder whether anybody has yet analyzed these models for storm track and jet shifts, and for what happens to the wind speed and rainfall in extratropical synoptic eddies. With regard to the storm track shifts, I’m most familiar with the results from GCM’s run with idealized boundary conditions (aqua planet and so forth). –raypierre]

  26. 76
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Concerning Raypierre’s response to 61 and his own comment 67:

    It seems to me undeniable that, just as you say, there’s “a low probability of payoff” for you at the WSJ or any national paper in return for the “great deal of time” necessary “to craft an op-ed that is well-written enough within the word count constraints that it even stands a chance.” But as I suggested in 1, why not just send a query instead?

    If they stonewall or outright spurn a query briefly characterizing the op-ed that you’d craft if they would agree to consider it, at least you haven’t wasted your time crafting something carefully for an audience that won’t ever see it. Moreover, in that case, you’d then at least gain a useful datum. It’d be this: the publicizable fact that the WSJ had either refused or stonewalled a request to respond that it received from a scientist numbered among the very scientists that the WSJ and its op-ed authors have been criticizing. Of course, that’s only one datum, but as a next step, you could get another climate scientist of stature to send a query — and then, if need be, another, and then yet another.

    My point has to do with power. These irresponsible people at the WSJ can control their own propaganda, it’s true. But that doesn’t exempt their actions from speaking louder than their words — and it doesn’t preclude earnest, honest, dignified climate scientists from proving to the world that the WSJ dishes it out, but dodges taking it.

    You yourself have now sent a Lindzen letter to the WSJ, you say, but other well-known climate scientists among your colleagues could submit op-ed queries, and for that matter you still could too. And of course, if the WSJ surprises you or one of your colleagues by first agreeing to consider a submission, and then by actually printing it, so much the better. Let their readers, in that sunny case, look at themselves in the mirror and somehow not see that their hands are cupped tightly over their ears.

    By the way, if you guys really believe that, as an expert told you, “newspapers essentially never use op ed space for op eds directly rebutting other op eds,” then maybe it’d be better to offer to engage the denialists’ larger themes anyway: their junk science, their tarring of you all as “alarmists,” their idea that what’s genuinely alarming is really only the concoction of a “science-journalism complex.” If you really think, in other words, that the WSJ would never consider a Lindzen rebuttal, then maybe some of you could offer to rebut the whole problem emanating from them and from others who share their denial. You could see what they say in response to the queries, or whether they stonewall.

    My point is that the lofty editorial page of the WSJ doesn’t have all the power in this equation, not even concerning their own page — and they most certainly don’t control the international discussion, even if they do manage to shelter their powerful readers from it. You guys represent a powerful scientific consensus, after all. Even Nature’s editors said so. That’s a form of power too, whether or not the WSJ knows it. And you, but not they, have been trying to use your power responsibly in this matter. So I still hope you’ll call their bluff. I still hope you’ll make them do right or show themselves to the world as unwilling to do right.

    It may sound distastefully political to those RC readers who (in a way that puzzles me) want you to remain in a condition that they seem to believe is pristine, but my point is that you could do this bluff-calling with dignity and with no cost whatsoever to your scientific integrity — and that you could then just let the WSJ editors choose the manner in which they themselves wish to respond.

    That’s a position into which they most richly deserve to be put, even if they turn out to be too stupid to see that you have put them into it.

    Thanks for indulging my long-windedness, and thanks again for your technocivic efforts.

  27. 77
    Chad Brick says:

    Lindzen does have a point: Alarmism pays. This is not specific to climate change, but to all of science. My field is utterly different from that of most people here, but we all apply for grants the same way – by first stating what the problem is, how that problem is important, and how our science will help solve the problem. Whether we like it or not, there is going to be a bias towards exaggerating the size of the problem. To think otherwise is to think too highly of ourselves. Coupled with self-selection bias (people researching any topic are likely to think that topic is important), and you have a significant bias in the process that we should all be willing to admit.

    [Response: While you are correct in stating that most people are in a field because they think it’s interesting, and they tackle problems thought to be important, it does not follow that is an inherent bias towards exaggerating the size of the problem. Why not? Because the reviewers of the proposals, the panel members and program managers are an extremely critical lot, and at any indication of ‘overstretch’ they mark down proposals accordingly (believe me, this happens a lot). I will grant that funding of the field as a whole is broadly reflective of the importance society as whole thinks it worth (hence the huge funding for NIH and the manned space program), but I disagree that this leads to an incentive to exaggerate or be alarmist. As I pointed out in one of the previous threads, just look at the proposals that NSF actually funds in climate change research – as far as can tell it is all interesting and capable stuff, but you would be hard pressed to say it was alarmist. If what you said was true it would be clearly obvious. – gavin]

  28. 78
    PHEaston says:

    Re: P Neuman (56 and >>>>). Lindzen does not claim “there is no support for the human human population being responsible for most or all of the warming in recent decades” (although he seems not to agree with it). Rather, his point is that the suggestion that humans are responsible for ‘most or all of’ recent extreme weather events is alarmist. With regard to whether there has been only a small amount of warming recently: That doesn’t have to come from Lindzen. Its a fact that mean global temperature has risen no more than about 0.5 degC in the past 27 yrs – as you know, almost identical to the rise between 1910 and 1945, when CO2 emissions are accepted to have been two small to influence, and there’s certainly no indication of it ‘accelerating’. Re 59. I disagree with confusing faith with science. Its quite wrong to suggest a scientist is ‘evil’ (ie by breaking a comandment)just because his views differ from your’s. All he’s doing is stating his beliefs based on scientific research.

  29. 79
    James Annan says:

    I have to say on balance I agree with Chad (#77) here. Of course everyone thinks that their own speciality is important, and thus they end up saying how important it is. In climate science, this often boils down to saying that there is a big threat or problem, or at least risk. IMO it’s better to accept that this tendency exists, and to always read stuff with at least a pinch of salt, than to pretend it doesn’t.

    RC has done a good job of debunking some of the more extreme comments on the alarmist as well as septic side of the debate. IMO it is more realistic to recognise that the extreme wing is not a few “bad apples” among an otherwise honest and upstanding band of citizens, but just the natural tendency to overstep the line occasionally when everyone is trying to get as close to it as possible.

    Gavin, when is the last time you saw a proposal that said “this work, if funded, probably won’t make much difference in the great scheme of things”. Yet I am sure that a significant proportion of research could be honestly described in that way, even a priori!

    [Response: I have probably reviewed a few hundred proposals by now, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a proposal sold, or oversold, on the grounds that it would save the world or head off catastrophe. Why would scientists do that in their proposals, given that they are reviewed by their peers — other scientists — rather than by senators? The temptation to exaggerate or oversimplify results would come in advocacy roles, in communicating with the media and public, and in arguing before Congress (and the equivalent in other countries) for funding of specific scientific programs. It’s a temptation that’s there, to be sure, and I won’t say that scientists never give in to it. There really is almost no indication of this in grant proposals. Naturally, grant proposals are going to try to make the best possible case that their results are going to be important, but that’s a far cry from anything that could be called “alarmist.” I don’t know myself what the “great scheme of things” is, so I can’t say whether a significant proportion of research is known a priori to not matter to that. I can say that most research that’s funded on the basis of peer review is funded because at least somebody believes the results will be interesting, or advance the state of knowledge. Society funds basic research partly because of sheer curiosity, partly because of technological spinoffs, and partly because the answers to some questions are needed to set policy decisions. It’s in the nature of basic research — being inquiries into the unknown — that a lot of what is done will turn out to be in some sense useless. Some of that useless stuff will look useless for a century or more, but then turn out to be the key to something else. Some of it will probably always be useless. All attempts to channel basic research into “useful” or “relevant” directions have only resulted in stifling creativity and making the whole enterprise work less well. Hence my disgust at the required NSF “Broader Impacts” criterion on grant proposals. –raypierre ]

    [Response: Well, in defense of ‘broader impacts’ (though possibly not of the importance they are officially accorded in the NSF process), it is worthwhile now and again to ask yourself why society should be funding our personal interests. Educating the next generation of scientists, communication of interesting results, and indeed, providing the raw material out of which the IPCC reports and such like are formulated are all ‘good things’. Completely blue-sky or off the wall ideas will always have a hard time getting funded when placed in competition with more developed ideas/projects and that has always been an issue that predates the ‘broader impacts’ criterion. Going back to James’ point – there is a big difference in saying funding my research will lead to an important advance in our understanding on this issue (the usual line) and saying you must fund my proposal because the fate of the world rests upon it (an ‘alarmist’ line if you like) . It just doesn´t work that way… – gavin]

  30. 80
    Matt says:

    OK, my turn.

    The bias issue has analogues in ecology. The science of ecological niches asks how a niche was changed by the introduction of a new animal, for example. The ecologist steps back and constructs the niche in the absent ot the new animal.

    We have a hard time doing that, for some obvious reasons. Self interest, we are the dominant animal. The scale, we have never dealt with an ecological niche of this size in ecological terms, the way a forester might be able to. And finally, intelligent self deception.

    But, the climatologists need to theoretically remove man from the niche to understand the tipping points and trends that underly the glacial cycle, especially that this period is recently unique. If we know a tipping point was expected at some time X in the future, then we better estimate the amount of corrective action, we plan better.

  31. 81
    Isaac Held says:

    Re: poleward displacement of the storm tracks in the AR4 models. See, for starters, Jeffrey Yin’s work

  32. 82
    ocean says:

    Re #79.. I am doing ocean/climate research in a small teaching-1 university and NSF has been very generous in funding my research proposals which are for sure not sensational or alarm-worthy. In fact, it has been my experience with NSF that “catchy,” “alarming,” “we must study this or die” type of broader impact statements work against the proposers and are considered mostly naive with “unsound scientific basis.”

  33. 83
    Steve Latham says:

    Re 79, Ray has already noted this but I’d like to underscore it: stating or arguing that something is important is not being alarmist. It has to be needless (whatever that means) and it has to involve exaggerations or falsehoods. I mentioned in #25 that I have seen/heard researchers make statements that they wouldn’t have made if there weren’t funds at stake. An example may be helpful: I was at a workshop regarding Late-run sockeye on the Fraser River where different research approaches were being discussed. There was a significant amount of money available for the research — these fish were entering freshwater more than a month earlier than normal, and picking up a kidney parasite there that killed as many as 90% of them while they were waiting around to spawn. (Yes, warm water temperatures were/are partly to blame.) At the time of this workshop, nobody really knew what was going on and there was a great variety of proposed research — based on their area of expertise, descriptions of postential research evolved into arguments about the importance of understanding trends of chemicals dumped into the river recently, or migration energetics, or salinity in the estuary, or predator trends in the gulf and estuary. Here we had an alarming fact (fish dying) and we had researchers overstating the relevance of their research style for the study of the problem (all were potentially relevant but many statements were more certain than they should have been). This was not alarmism. All ‘salesmanship’ was directed toward determining mechanisms, not toward alarm.

    I doubt that tendancies in climate research are wholely different from the kind of thing involved in my example. If they were, wouldn’t there be trends in, for example, sensitivity estimates increasing over time rather than staying fairly stable? Wouldn’t climatologists be scrambling to claim special expertise regarding clathrates, such that they could access funding which would “no doubt” result from the alarm generated by their potential impact? Or why aren’t clathrates played up in the media by climatologists?

    James, I don’t disagree with you regarding the presence of a bias. But I wonder if you can point to a case within the field where that bias is evident. My argument here is that if alarmism works at a broad level (climate research funding for global warming) for getting funds, it should also work at the finer scale (within climate research). I’m not qualified to address the fine scale. At a broad level, instead what I see is a zoologist/population geneticist (me) pushing global warming alarm with no hope of receiving funding in return.

  34. 84
    Stephan Harrison says:

    On another note…why is the Lindzen post (12th April) closed?

    [Response: I closed it mainly so as to concentrate the substantive discussion here. –raypierre]

  35. 85
    coturnix says:

    Sorry to go OT, but I do not see it tackled elsewhere…Has anyone yet tried to connect climate change with this week’s record levels of the Danube in Europe, causing flooding and mudslides across the Balkans?

  36. 86
    PHEaston says:

    Re 85. I travel a fair amount in East Europe – and was in Belgrade last week. The floods were already predicted then. The flooding is explained by higher than usual snowfall in late winter, followed by a late, but relatively quick onset of spring, with the flooding due more to snowmelt than rain. Spring has certainly come late in much of Europe this year. We’re still looking at bare trees in Brussels. So more snow and extended winter are not explained by global warming, unless you assume this is an early sign of the Gulf Stream switching off. But then, of course, one year doesn’t make a trend.

  37. 87
    Mark A. York says:

    I sent a letter to the WSJ. The address for letters is:

    For op-eds:

  38. 88
    Lee says:

    RE 78:
    “Its a fact that mean global temperature has risen no more than about 0.5 degC in the past 27 yrs – as you know, almost identical to the rise between 1910 and 1945, when CO2 emissions are accepted to have been two small to influence, and there’s certainly no indication of it ‘accelerating’.”

    The claim about warming between 1910 ang 1945 is literally true but potentially misleading. Looking backward from 1910, we see temperature variations of about +/-.2 to .3 C. 1910 is tne most recent absolute low in that variation. Choosing that precise lowest year is ‘cherry-picking’ the start date, ignoring the variation in a way to mazimize the statement of early century warming.

    If one uses the midpoint of that earlier variation to define the start of the 20th century warming trend, one starts at a date closer to 1920, and knocks a full 0.1+ C off the early century warming. If one uses the top of that variation, so that we only consider previously- (recently)-unobserved temperature regimes, one finds that we dont return to the top of the previous range until about 1930, and there is only about 0.25C “novel” early century warming.

    Trend lines are used precisely so as to avoid these kind of arbitrary choice of starting points, and using trend lines, one finds clearly that there is more absolute warming late century than early century.

    All complicated, of course, by the fact that other factors than CO2 (et al) are in play. Failure to find a monotonically perfect reflection of the CO2 trace (or the fossil-fuel CO2 release trace) in the temperature trace is not evidence that the accelerating CO2 levels are not going to overall lead to (short term) accelerating temperature increase. One must correct for other factors as they are understood.

    Sorry to be a bit pedantic; sometimes restating the basics is useful.

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks, Lee. It always helps to be reminded how easily we fool ourselves.

  40. 90
    Vincent Belovich says:


    First of all: Thanks for the website. I first starting coming here after an article in Scientific American a while back (interview with Mr. Mann, I believe), and I have enjoyed it ever since.

    Now for the comment (question?): Has anyone (from this website’s contributors) tried to submit an op/ed and/or rebuttle to the WSJ? Was it published? That, to me, would be the big story!

  41. 91
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Sorry for this being a bit off-topic: There has been a lot of debate whether climate science is being ‘politicized’ by scientists. Very rarely have I felt this being the case – and never on this site. But I am deeply troubled by recent statements by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser. You can read it here,,1754276,00.html.
    I know he is in a very difficult position by being both a scientist, supposed to advise the government, but holding what is effectively a political appointment.

    He explains that CO2 levels of 550ppm will probably mean around 3oC warming and have devastating consequences for millions of people. Nothing wrong with that. He also expresses his own – understandable – pessimism about countries like the US and others acting in time to prevent such levels. I am concerned about him speaking about 3oC warming being inevitable (when clearly, in theory, it is probably not at all inevitable). Above all, I am very concerned about his conclusion: “It must be below 550ppm but if we can get international agreement and there’s public agreement around the world behind action required then that can be ratcheted down to, say, 500.”

    This figure is quite arbitrary, based on his understanding of the political reality possibly more than of climate science. I am very worried that Sir David King’s 500 ppm figure will be adopted and in effect ‘water down’ the current EU position of stabilising the climate below 2oC warming. I would compare this to Hansen’s warning why levels above 400ppm could cause dangerous climate change – and he didn’t then add ‘but hey, be realistic about the negotiations, I think if we can settle for an extra 100ppm we will have done pretty well’.

    I wonder if anybody has similar concerns – or whether my reading of this is wrong or unfair?

    [Response: I think you left off a decimal point on those temperatures — it should be more like 2.0C or 3.0C, not 20 or 30. Remember, that the amount of warming that goes with any given CO2 level is uncertain to within about a factor of 2. These warmings you are quoting are more or less mid-range warmings. Now, as to whether the target should be 400ppm or 500ppm or something else, keep in mind that there is no magic number below which the climate changes are inconsequential and above which catastrophe occurs. There are ‘abrupt switches” in the system, but there are a lot of them, not just one. The higher the CO2 goes, the more effects you’ll see and the greater the chance that you’ll hit an unanticipated tipping point of some sort. Hence, we can say that 400ppm is safer than 500ppm, but there is really no magic number in the system. 500ppm does give you a quite substantial climate change. However, 1000ppm would give you even more, and the way things are going, if we could come to an agreement that led to capping CO2 at 500ppm, that would already be good progress. It would be a start, and then in the next decade or two as technology emerges, maybe some way to do better than a 500ppm cap will start to look more feasible. –raypierre]

  42. 92
    PHEaston says:

    Thank you Hank Roberts, you are so right. If you look hard enough at the data, you can find the ‘right’ answer. My data are from NASA. If I were to cherry-pick, I would have chosen either 1907 as a minimum (-0.39) or 1917 (-0.4). Then for a maximum, I would chose 1944 (+0.2) to give a rise of 0.6 degC. As it happened, I just took 1910 as a round date from a trend line graph. The truth is, that whichever data you cherry-pick, you cannot demonstrate that the current rising trend is significantly different than between approx 1910 and approx 1945 (when CO2 could not be to blame). Also, between 1979 and now, despite the claims that climate change is ocurring ever more faster, the temperature data show no indication of an increasing rate – unless of course you want to cherry-pick. However keen you may be to demonstrate my arguments are misleading, I am afraid to report I am simply a scientist who feels stongly about protecting our natural environment, and who agrees global warming is a potential risk, but yet who remains unconvinced by the generally alarmist claims that the end of the world is nigh.

  43. 93
    Hank Roberts says:

    Raypierre, Almuth is trying to represent the “degree” symbol (superscript circle) with a lower case letter “o” there — 2oC is supposed to indicate two degrees C.

    My motto — if it’s not ASCII, spell it out (wry grin). This font stuff is implacably error-prone.

  44. 94
    Hank Roberts says:

    Re 92 — nope, I’m not agreeing with you PHE, I’m agreeing with Lee.

    Half the carbon burned by people was burned before 1970, plus CO2 from soil erosion since agriculture.

    The trend lines Lee pointed out are pictures based on the data — what we know about forcings and trends that are slowly being worked out and summed up.

    Picking just one date, or one forcing, or one feedback is a debater’s argument, not a scientist’s approach. Read any field biologist who’s published in this area about recent changes.

  45. 95
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Yes, sorry, I meant to say 2 degrees C – not 20 degrees! Completely agree that there is no ‘safe level’ of further CO2 increases – but still worried by Sir David King having upped his ‘target to go for’ from 450ppm to 500ppm over the course of a year, and certainly not because of any reassuring findings about the climate. I know, the way climate change negotiations are going, it’s a lot better than business as usual, but I also worry about any excuse for the EU to move away from their present 2 degrees C max policy, given that the UK have just effectively scrapped their medium-term emission reduction promises which were made over years…

  46. 96
    Lee says:

    PHEaston: as a scientist, why are you picking ANY arbitrary start and end dates in noisy data sets, rather than fitting trend lines (preferably with error ranges)?

  47. 97

    Re #92 It could be true that the warming in the first half of the 20th Century was caused by the increase in carbon dioxide. In fact, in 1938 a British amateur climatologist Guy Callendar did suggest that the warming was caused by CO2, and at one time the greenhouse effect was called the Callendar effect! However it is interesting that the gradient in the first and the last thirds of the 20th C. were similar. Whether they were both caused by global warming or not, it would be nice to know why they are the same. Even it that was a coincidence, it would also be interesting to know why the gradient during the middle third of the century was flat.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  48. 98
    Grant says:

    Re: #92

    I disagree. You don’t have to cherry-pick the “turning points” in temperature trend, you can deduce them from the data themselves. The results of my analysis are quite clear: the rate of warming from the last turning point (1976) to the present is ~ 2.5 deg.C/century, faster than that of the early 20th century (1919-1942) at 1.8 deg.C/century.

  49. 99

    Re #95 I don’t think Sir David is implying that it is now safe to go to 500 ppm rather than the previous 450 ppm. He seems to me to be saying that it is inevitable that we will reach 500 ppm. Moreover, he is implying that when that happens, perhaps billions will die! If he had said that explictly, then he would be called a scare monger and no-one would believe him.

    The best scientific guess is that 500 ppm will lead to a 3C global rise. That means a rise of 6C in land temperatures and 2C in the oceans. Then there is polar amplification so the 6C in in the tropics will be 12C in the northern mid latitude continents where most of us live, and 24 C at the poles. It has happpened before. Perhaps you can see now why Sir David is so worried.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  50. 100
    David B. Benson says:

    In today’s The New York Times, on the op-ed page, Paul Krugman has a piece entitled “Enemy of the Planet”, regarding “ExxonMobil: the real scandal”. I quote just one sentence: “The people and instituions ExxonMobil supports aren’t actually engaged in climate research.”