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Who ya gonna call?

Filed under: — gavin @ 22 August 2007

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann

Scientific theories gain credence from successful predictions. Similarly, scientific commentators should gain credibility from whether their comments on new studies hold up over time. Back in 2005 we commented on the Bryden et al study on a possible ongoing slowdown in the North Atlantic overturning circulation. In our standard, scientifically cautious, way we said:

… it might be premature to assert that the circulation definitely has changed.

Our conclusion that the Bryden et al result ‘might be premature’ was based on a balance of evidence argument (or, since we discussed this a few days ago, our Bayesian priors) for what the consequences of such a slowdown would be (a (unobserved) cooling in the North Atlantic). We also reported last year on some data that would likely help assess the uncertainty.

Well, now that data has been properly published (reported here) and it confirms what we thought all along. The sampling variability in the kind of snapshot surveys that Bryden et al had used was too large for the apparent trends that they saw to be significant (which the authors had correctly anticipated in the original paper though).

Score one for Bayesian priors.


107 Responses to “Who ya gonna call?”

  1. 51
    Jim Cripwell says:

    First let me thank all those who have replied to my original message, and for keeping the discussion scientific; and apologize for a rather lengthy post. The thing I deplore on the issue of climate change is the lack of scientific discussion between the two sides; it is a dialogue of the deaf. I will attempt to keep these thoughts scientific. The first thing I would note is that no-one has challenged the scientific validity of the reference I gave viz.
    http://www.griffith.edu.au/conference/ics2007/pdf/ICS176.pdf
    Whether this is because no-one read it, or because it is scientifically wonderful, I am but sure. But it is central to this message. Let me establish a few facts. First there is no question that the earth’s temperature rose in the latter part of the 20th century. Whether this trend is still continuing is less certain. The question is what is going to happen in the future, and the answer to this will be easier to find if we can agree on what caused the observed rise. There are two rival ideas; that it is AGW, and that it has been caused by extraterrestrial effects.
    The case for AGW is made by the extensive writings of the IPCC. If AR4 to WG1 is scientifically correct, as it is written, then the case for AGW is indisputable. However, the error in this document is not what it includes; it is what it excludes. And the key place is Chapter 2.7 under the sub heading Natural Forcings; what I prefer to refer to as extraterrestrial effects. This part of the report occupies some 4 pages, of which three and a half talk about solar irradiance. This is an excellent review of the subject, and quite rightly concludes that the effect of changes in solar irradiance is negligible. The other half page dismisses all other extraterrestrial effects as being inconsequential.
    I am neither a solar physicist nor astronomer, and I do not pretend to have kept up with all the literature from the past few years. I do not know if it is now general accepted, since the neutrino experiment in Sudbury, that the solar system is the remnants of a supernova which exploded 5 billion years ago, and the sun is an unstable neutron star surrounded by the remnants from inside the orbit of Mercury. However, I am aware of some of the omissions from the key section of the IPCC report. It includes Svensmark and Marsh 2000 and 2001, but omits Svensmark et al. Proc. Roy. Soc. A October 2006, and The Chilling Stars Svensmark and Calder February 2007. More importantly it omits Tobias and Weiss 2000 Resonant Interactions between Solar Activity and Climate. Journal of Climate 13. 3745-3759. Specifically “The IPCC dismissed any significant link between solar variability and climate on the grounds that changes in irradiance were too small. Such an attitude can no longer be sustained”. I would submit that any publication that has to do with solar physics, and which ignores Nigel Weiss, Professor Emeritus of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics from Cavendish Laboratories, Past President of the Royal Astronomical Society, needs to be viewed with some suspicion.
    The issue to me is simple. It is well established that the sun affects the earth’s climate. The question is how much? Is it negligible, as the IPCC claims, or is it dominant as the denialists believe? Surely the way to answer this question is not by papers like Lockwood and Frohlich, but by understanding the physics of how the sun affects climate. Once we know the physics, we can calculate what the sun’s effect is, and if is really is negligible, so be it; we denialists are wrong. Surely it is in both our interests to find out precisely how the sun affects climate.

  2. 52
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Cripwell,
    I finally looked at your paper. First, I note that the journal is not typically one that carries climate papers. Second, the references sprinkled through the piece are mostly not to peer-reviewed climate journals. Peer review is critical here, as it is what separates the musings of an individual scientist from actual science.
    Second, you have grossly oversimplified the position of the IPCC. They acknowledge that the Sun is important. The question is how much of the CHANGE can be explained by solar variability. The problem with the work of those supporting an extraterrestrial cause is that they don’t have a workable mechanism. Svensmark posits that changes in the heliomagnetic field affect GCR fluxes, which in turn affect formation of clouds. Leaving aside the handwaving nature of the argument, the main problem here is that GCR fluxes are not changing–certainly not since the ’70s when we started measuring them with satellites and very, very probably since at least the ’50s based on neutron flux measurements. So the proponents have either a cause with no mechanism or a mechanism with no cause–neither leads to a workable theory. Some have tried to get around this by positing that there is some sort of “delay”, but this puts us into the realm of fantasy–there’s no mechanism I can think of by which the theory of Svensmark can be saved in this way.
    On the other hand, the greenhouse mechanism is based on known and validated physics. We know it happens in nature. We know we are increasing GHG concentrations. We know from the models that the changes seen are capable of producing the observed warming. It seems to me that the astroclimatologists have a double problem: Not only must they come up with a mechanism by which their astro-influences can impart energy to the climate (which they’ve failed utterly in so far). They must also explain what a known mechanism suddenly stops working once we’re above ~280 ppmv CO2.

  3. 53
    Bill Tarver says:

    Hi Jim,

    I’m not a member of the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society, but am a member of the much humbler British Astronomical Association. I have read a lot of reports about what the sun might or might not do in the next solar cycle and it seems to me that you may as well flip a coin: the next cycle may be more or less active than the last one and proponents of both defend their respective corners equally convincingly. The trend of the last three cycles does seem to be slightly towards the less active, but not by much.

    I did read the paper you originally indicated, but I can’t see how the sun can move through its own magnetic field. Surely the sun’s magnetic field is an integral part of the sun, not something that’s fixed for the sun to move about in.

    I read some of Svensmark’s papers. There was some interest in his idea of an extra flux of cosmic rays causing cloud seeding, but it didn’t look convincing.

    I did ask the Astronomer Royal for Scotland – a solar expert – for his opinion and he didn’t think that the solar contribution could account for the amount of global warming we see. Taken altogether, there is a solar component, but not enough of one.

    If we had another Maunder minimum (and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t) there is no telling how deep it would be or by how much the climate would cool. But even if we did, I don’t think that’s any excuse for inaction on the carbon front because, at best, the problem would simply be postponed for 40-120 years. When the sun comes out of any minimum, AGW would hit with a vengeance, as there would be a strengthened solar component plus all the CO2 accrued from years of doing nothing.

    The most rosy outlook is if we have a Maunder minimum that does cause a cooling, but at the same time, we use the opportunity to replace hydrocarbons. But it’s probably a long-shot.

  4. 54
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 48 & 50

    re 50 – California suffered unusual winter storms that trashed the winter crop, crops are dying in the South from the unusual heat, and the midwest appears to be drowning. The unusual weather seems to be more and more noticeable.

    re 48

    The pentagon assessment is in many ways a “What if the most extreme scenario occurred…”

    http://www.grist.org/pdf/AbruptClimateChange2003.pdf

    There is another study/report by 11 retired Admirals and Generals, released recently, that is much more sobering in terms of being closer to what we’re likely to see:

    http://securityandclimate.cna.org/report/National%20Security%20and%20the%20Threat%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf

    A good primer, btw, is Brown’s book on sustainability, Outgrowing the Earth, which does a decent job of outlining what we’re facing in terms of resource supply…

    http://www.amazon.com/Outgrowing-Earth-Lester-R-Brown/dp/0393327256/ref=pd_bbs_2/104-4087203-8651903?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187968526&sr=8-2

  5. 55
    Peter Webster says:

    The new Bryden paper catches Professor Gray in a bit of a pickle. First it was the thermohaline circulation speeding up that explained the warming of the tropical Atlantic (and the rest of the tropical oceans for that matter) and hence the increase in hurricane intensity and frequency. Then with the first Bryden paper he blamed it on a slowing down. Actually, in his AMS presentation, he covered both bets and had a speeding up and a slowing down in the same presentation. I think he eventually fixed that and settled on a slowing down. What next, I wonder?

  6. 56
    tamino says:

    Re: #51 (Jim Cripwell)

    Since no one else responded to the reference you posted, I will. I’d guess the reason no one else responded is that the theory in that paper is a crackpot theory.

    Have you ever read Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision”? The author contends that astronomical events were responsible for the miracles recorded in the bible; at the time, it was an extremely popular book and generated much discussion and thought. If you talked about it with an astronomer, you’d be likely to hear something along the lines of, “The astronomy was utter nonsense, but the historical/archaeological discussion was fascinating!” If you talked about it with a biblical archaeologist, you’d be likely to hear something along the lines of, “The archaeology was utter nonsense, but the astronomical discussion was fascinating!” The truth is, both were utter nonsense, but they were exciting ideas, argued in a way that was extremely persuasive to those who didn’t know the subject.

    The SIM theory is just the same. The fact that you say, “I am neither a solar physicist nor astronomer” reveals why it’s so persuasive to you.

    You also need correction on a few other points:

    The case for AGW is made by the extensive writings of the IPCC.

    No, it isn’t. It’s made by the truly vast body of literature in peer-reviewed scientific publications. The writings of the IPCC are just an overview/summary of that vast body of literature, which is so extensive that even an overview/summary seems to you to constitute “extensive writings.”

    I do not know if it is now general accepted, since the neutrino experiment in Sudbury, that the solar system is the remnants of a supernova which exploded 5 billion years ago, and the sun is an unstable neutron star surrounded by the remnants from inside the orbit of Mercury.

    It is not generally accepted, because it is just plain impossible. I don’t mean improbable; just plain impossible.

    Surely the way to understand the impact of solar variation is not to attach yourself to crackpot theories when you lack even a basic understanding of the physics of how the sun behaves, or affects climate.

  7. 57
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I do not know if it is now general accepted … that … the sun is an unstable neutron star …

    Doesn’t look much like a neutron star — wrong color, wrong size, wrong rate of rotation, wrong mass, and has planets. We’re here.

    > any [physics] publication … which ignores Nigel Weiss … needs to be viewed with some suspicion.

    You can click a link to find out whether an article has been cited by anyone, as here:
    http://ams.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=forward-links&doi=10.1175%2F1520-0442%282000%29013%3C3745%3ARIBSAA%3E2.0.CO%3B2

  8. 58
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #55, actually, I’d sort of think that a slowing down might increase hurricanes, since the hot water would be left there to get hotter in hurricane alley.

    In fact, can anyone answer this: If and when there is a slow down or halting of the N. Atlantic overturing circulation, which would likely cause a cooler Europe and NE U.S. (than would be expected with GW), wouldn’t that also mean (considering the 1st law of thermodynamics) that the southern areas, like my place near the Gulf of Mexico, would get hotter (than they would if the NAOC did not slow down or stop)?????? So it would be GW + this extra heat?

    I’ve never gotten an answer on that.

  9. 59
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tamino brings up an excellent point about the perils of cross-disciplinary studies. It is quite rare for a single individual to have sufficient expertise in multiple disciplins to ensure the study makes sense. This is one reason why so many of the scientists who are contrarians have expertise that pertains ever so slightly to one small aspect of climate studies. I refer to it as the SEP (somebody else’s problem) phenomenon–for busy people it is often tempting to look into an issue just enough so that you THINK you understand it. The thing is, though, you have only peeled back one layer of the onion.
    The situation is even more fraught for the layman, who has no way of assessing the credentials of so-called experts and no way of judging whether their argument really holds together technically.
    As advice, I can only offer this: Do what scientists do. Look and see what they guy has published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that are directly pertinent to the subject he/she is writing about. Look how often their work is cited by other authors in peer-reviewed journals. By that criterion, I have no problem dismissing Weiss or Svensmark or a host of others who have no real credentials in climate science.
    Or said another way, if you are being led in your opinions about a field of study by people who have no record of publication in that field, you are most assuredly on the wrong path.

  10. 60
    Robin Johnson says:

    I’ve always been a bit confused by the THC discussion with respect to slow down and speed up. It seems to me that if the salinity decreased then the top level water would simply get pushed further north because it doesn’t sink as far south. But eventually it would become colder than the underlying water and sink anyway – just further north. So it would seem to me that a reduction in salinity should lead to no change in absolute current speed – just the overall length of the current. Warmer water would make it further north hence potentially precipitating a warmer European Arctic.

  11. 61
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Steve, #39, yes, there are many different types among the AGW believers, and underlying this might be (as I posted under the previous thread, “Musings about Models,” #84) the difference between:

    (1) THE SCIENTIFIC MODEL: Scientists usually require 95% or greater confidence to make a claim. They need to protect their reputations, so that people will go on believing them — so making false claims (alpha error) is much worst for them as professionals, than failing to make true claims (beta error). They cannot be the boy crying wolf. If they are, they get cut out of the loop.

    and the

    (2) THE MEDICAL MODEL: Victims and potential victims of environmental harm, and environmentalists, and the general public (you’d think), would like to avoid environmental harm in the first place. They would be reticent to continue a practice that MIGHT be harmful to them or others. They would be greatly averse to failing to avoid a true harm (beta error). As are doctors and their patients when viewing test results — doctors will not tell their patients they are only 94% confident the lump is cancerous, so they won’t operate, and to come back next year to see if it’s made the 95% confidence interval.

    Ordinary people concerned more about the world’s life support systems (we call them environmentalists) than their scientific reputations, would likely take the tact of “hope for the best, but strive to avert the worst.” So in their minds, they’d be interested in what the very worst case scenario might be. I guess that would even be (in many minds) worse than losing civilization — it would be the extinction of our species, if not due to GW and its environmental harms directly, then perhaps bec we nuke each other over dwindling life-supports. That doesn’t mean most environmentalists think that’s likely, only that it’s possible, and to be avoided.

    So how do you classify someone who agrees with the bulk o economists and other experts that the effects of AGW will not exceed a few % of world GDP…?

    I might say “neo-classical economists” or THE ECONOMIC MODEL. Their thinking might work pretty well in a healthy environment with seemingly limitless resources and no environmental harm externalities. However, in the real world, esp that of today’s AGW world, their model crashes.

    They tend to view things in terms of “exchange value” (based on supply and demand, etc) so that a bottle of vodka or an inkjet might be equivalent (in terms of currency) to a bag of food.
    However, in the real world we have biological needs that include non-toxic water, air, and a balanced diet of several different types of foods (with their different vitamins, minerals, etc.).

    For a better economic model, we need also to include the “use value.” For instance, being stuck on a desert island for 6 months with no water or food, but a mountain of diamonds (you’d think) would be less preferrable to being stuck on an island with fresh water and plenty of food, but no diamonds. [When I present this dilemma to my students, they actual hesitate a bit :) ]

    So neo-classical economic assessments of how much GW under a BAU scenario will cost, or their cost/benefit analysis of mitigating GW is going to be exceedingly faulty and unreliable re a prudent policy that will ensure sustainability for the world’s population.

    As I’ve said before the expensive things like gold and diamonds won’t be harmed much by GW, only those cheap things, like bread.

  12. 62
    Michael says:

    ‘It is quite rare for a single individual to have sufficient expertise in multiple disciplins to ensure the study makes sense.’

    How rare? Do you know of anyone at this level of expertise in global climate science? Could you drop a few names?

  13. 63
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Once again, thanks for all the comments. I want to concentrate on one issue, so let me quote from what Bill Tarver (#53)said. “ I did ask the Astronomer Royal for Scotland – a solar expert – for his opinion and he didn’t think that the solar contribution could account for the amount of global warming we see. Taken altogether, there is a solar component, but not enough of one”. At college my mentor was the great Gordon Brimms Black McIvor Sutherland. Amongst many other things, he taught me to trust my own instincts, and to never accept anything in science unless it could be proved beyond all doubt. Opinions do not matter.
    I think we agree that the sun has some effect on climate. I think we also agree that no-one knows what the physics is, as to how the sun affects climate. Until we know precisely how the sun affects climate, how can we calculate quantitatively how big the effect is? And until we know quantitatively what the sun’s effect is, how do we know how much, if any, of the recent increase in global temperatures has been caused by the sun, and what is going to happen in the future? Maybe AGW is enough to explain global warming, but I have seen no “smoking gun” that proves, beyond all doubt, that this is true.
    I cannot see how we can conclude that the sun’s effect is negligible until we know, quantitatively what the sun’s effect is. Can someone explain this to me please.

    [Response: "beyond all doubt"? If that is truly your criteria for accepting something, you might as well stop reading about science in any field, since that is never achievable. I find it hard to believe you mentor ever meant such a thing. - gavin]

  14. 64
    Andrew Sipocz says:

    Re: #51 The paper cited is a memorialization, i.e. an obituary. It is not peer reviewed science. I don’t know how it ended up in the Journal for Coastal Research which usually contains peer reviewed articles on coastal geology and ecology.

  15. 65
    Jerry says:

    Re #60

    (1) First, the surface water at those latitudes is already near freezing — it can’t get much colder.
    (2) The surface salinity decreases with increasing latitude
    (e.g., see http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Water/images/salinity_big_gif_image.html)
    Thus, the water “futher north” is already below the density threshold required for sinking.

  16. 66
    Dave Blair says:

    re:#50 and others,

    Unusual weather is the norm. Just like the “average man” – there is no “average man”.

    That’s one of the reasons why people like to talk about the weather (and that’s not new either).

  17. 67
    Rafael Gomez-Sjoberg says:

    Re #51
    Jim Cripwell,
    do you know what a neutron star is?
    Search for it in Wikipedia.
    NASA also has a good brief description of them here:
    http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l1/pulsars.html

    If you knew, you would realize how utterly nonsensical the proposition you mention is:
    “… the sun is an unstable neutron star surrounded by the remnants from inside the orbit of Mercury.”

    I’m sorry, but the fact that you can entertain the thought of this non-sense being true casts a long and very dark shadow on everything else you say. If you want to be taken seriously you should study a bit more, but make sure you study the real science and not some fringe pseudo-scientist writings. You don’t need to have a PhD in astronomy or astrophysics to understand the few basic facts that help you distinguish between valid propositions and crack-pot theories.

  18. 68
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #51: Jim, I agree that Nigel Weiss cannot be ignored. Here on his home page it says:

    “Following a misleading account of my views in the Toronto National Post in February, a number of right-wing lobbyists have asserted that I claimed that an impending drop in solar activity would lead to global cooling that would cancel out the warming caused by greenhouse gases. On the contrary, I have always maintained that any temperature changes caused by variations in solar activity — while interesting in themselves — are not significant compared to the global warming that we are already experiencing, and very small compared to what will happen if we continue to burn fossil fuel at the present rate. On April 11 2007 the National Post published an apology and withdrew its allegations.”

    Try to learn something from this.

  19. 69
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Gavin wrote “[Response: “beyond all doubt”? If that is truly your criteria for accepting something, you might as well stop reading about science in any field, since that is never achievable. I find it hard to believe you mentor ever meant such a thing. - gavin]” Not at all. I believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I believe Boyle’s Law, Kirchoff’s Laws, Newton’s Laws of Motion with their limitations, Wein’s Law, and on and on. I believe we can prove the inverse square law of attraction of electric charges to something like 15 significant figures. Where there is overwhelming experimental evidence, then we can have proof beyond all doubt. Are these laws going to stay true for all time? Who knows. That is what science is all about. Questioning the basis of everything, and only relying on hard, reproducible, expermental, quantitative, etc. data.

  20. 70

    Re #63 where Jim Cripwell wrote:

    At college my mentor was the great Gordon Brimms Black McIvor Sutherland. Amongst many other things, he taught me to trust my own instincts, and to never accept anything in science unless it could be proved …

    At my Royal College (of Science and Technology) in Scotland no-one bohered to mentor me, but I still managed to deduce that the Universe was curved in four dimensions, long before the publication of Stephens Hawkings’ A Brief History of Time. In fact it was so long ago that at that time there were two theories of the Universe – the Big Bang and Continuous Creation. It seemed obvious to me that Continuous Creation must be the correct paradigm, but when even Fred Hoyle abandoned that idea I then realised that I could not even trust my own deeply held convictions (instincts.)

    So Jim you mentor was correct, and you should not have even trusted him since he could not prove he was correct. He was wrong, and you cannot trust you own instincts. If you do, you will only see what you want to see.

    You claimed that there was no smoking gun. The North West Passsage is smoking now, and has been for several weeks, ever since the perennial ice there disappeared. Moreover, worldwide an outbreak of forest fires are wrecking havoc from California to Albania and Greece. Last year it was the turn of Victoria, Australia to burn.

    The rain in Canada that you believed everyone had heard of, has been repeated in Britain and China. Climate change is global, but you won’t see it if you do not look for it.

    OTOH, your mentor was correct to tell you not to trust the scientists. They, like your mentor, distrust everyone except themselves. Their climate models are based on the false thesis that greenhouse gases radiate back to the surface, but if that were true then the surface could never be colder than the air, which is not the case.

    Moreover, with their model the greenhouse effect can never raise the surface temperature to more than twice a planet’s effective temperature, yet for Venus that factor is four. The melting of the Arctic sea ice is completely unpredicted using the current models, but the failure of the surface radiation models is well known, except by the modelers who, like all computer programmers, will not admit that their code is wrong.

    Jim, it is not just you whose instincts tell him that he is right. Gavin is also prey to that fallacy!

  21. 71
    Robin Johnson says:

    Re #65: Hmmm. That image seems to show the far North Atlantic-Barents Sea as perfectly salty enough. I thought I was arguing that the THC effect would simply occur further north. If were to argue that it doesn’t sink at all – then it would have to slosh back under the pressure from the current and gravity. This would, by itself, cause sufficient mechanical mixing to enable the THC effect. Of course, wind driven current pressure piles up water forcing deep water below to be squeezed southward due to the topography of the ocean floor in the North Atlantic. So it would seem that if the THC effect shut down entirely – there would be considerable current flow. Just the fact that warm water is less dense in the tropics would allow a circulation to develop – regardless of wind or THC effect.

  22. 72
    John Mashey says:

    A suggestion: some number of threads get filled up with:

    “what about THIS paper”
    followed by back-and-forth rounds of debunking.

    Sometimes THIS is new; sometimes it’s been an explicit thread; often its debunking is spread around and not so easy to reference.

    How about creating a new category under climate science called “Dubious papers” or something like that, and then:
    a) When a moderator sees one of these, create a new thread and tell people to go there. [This means eager debunkers should hold off instant responses.]

    b) Then, the new thread can be focussed on that one paper and avoid cluttering the existing thread.

    c)And there would get to be nice repository of really bad papers in one place, which would be *really* useful. In particular, one of the most valuable things of watching for a while is that one can tell the difference between:
    - “Is there anything to this?”
    and
    - “X (debunked), Y (debunked) … but ANY explanation that isn’t AGW.

    For some people, bad papers are truly stange

  23. 73
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 63:

    Amongst many other things, he taught me to trust my own instincts, and to never accept anything in science unless it could be proved beyond all doubt.
    =======================

    Um, I’m not a scientist, just a layman, so perhaps you could explain how this applies to:

    Relativity
    Quantum Mechanics
    Evolution
    Gravity
    The Big Bang

    After all, they are all theories, just like AGW.

    Now, removing my tongue from my cheek, perhaps I could presuade you to read “Antiscience”, an essay by the late Carl Sagan, found in his wonderful collection of essays entitled “The Demon Haunted World”. He does a bang-up job of explaining why your basic premise re “beyond all doubt” doesn’t really hold up.

    Then again, perhaps the phrase is accidental hyperbole and not what you meant, eh?

  24. 74
    Matt says:

    #46 pete best re: salty oceans…

    Article you referenced noted the seawater is becoming saltier due to global warming (more evaporation).

    June 17 2005 issue of science referenced Ms. Curry of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution claiming the oceans were getting less salty due to global warming (more fresh water run off).

    Hmmm.

    [Response: Saltier or not? -mike]

  25. 75
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Cripwell said:
    “I cannot see how we can conclude that the sun’s effect is negligible until we know, quantitatively what the sun’s effect is. Can someone explain this to me please.”

    Hmm, I had always thought that the Sun’s effect on climate was quite well defined. It puts out LOTS of radiant energy, which heats the planet. Period. Beyond this, there is zero evidence that the Sun has any significant effect on climate.
    So now you are proposing not only that the greenhouse effect must be demonstrated beyond doubt (not even reasonable doubt), but that we also have to go chasing after some chimerical mechanism by which the Sun could explain the observed effects. You are proposing that we scrap a perfectly viable, reasonable and well supported theory and take off over hill and dale looking for a mechanism we have no good reason to even think exists. Now really, Jim, did you really manage to maintain a straight face as you typed this?

  26. 76
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 69

    “Not at all. I believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I believe Boyle’s Law, Kirchoff’s Laws, Newton’s Laws of Motion with their limitations, Wein’s Law, and on and on.”
    ====================

    Um…if I may be so bold…you are engaging in a dodge, a subtle rhetorical fallacy, selective omission. Claiming to believe in a Law of science is nice and all that, but what you really seem to be doing is inferring that Laws are somehow a step up on the hierarchical scale from Theories.

    Which is, as my dear, departed granddad was fond of saying, balderdash.

    Roughly put, a theory is an assemblege of facts that best explain how a phenomena works, as in the theory of gravity.

    A Law addresses the observable, consistant effects of a phenomena, as in the case of the Law of Gravity or Newton’s Laws of Motion.

    A law does not explain how a phenomena “works”; it only discusses the observable results of the EFFECT of a phenomena. Simply put, a Theory is a scientific explanation of a phenomena; a Law is the consistant observable effect of the phenomena – two different things…

  27. 77
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 66

    Unusual weather is the norm. Just like the “average man” – there is no “average man”.

    That’s one of the reasons why people like to talk about the weather (and that’s not new either).
    ===================

    Perhaps.

    The difference is when you start to see changes on a yearly and decadal basis that suggest something is changing.. In the past ten years we’ve been seeing weather in my region that is inconsistant with what we know to be norms.

    There is a certain point, in other words, where it stops being simple something to be dismissed as “talk about the weather” and something that perhaps we should be paying attention to…

  28. 78
    Rod B says:

    Alastair (70), a correction from the peanut gallery. I don’t think Fred Hoyle gave up on the basics of Continuous Creation. He just modified the periodicity and lumpiness of the process, though enough that “continuous” would not be accurate.

  29. 79
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan Says: So neo-classical economic assessments of how much GW under a BAU scenario will cost, or their cost/benefit analysis of mitigating GW is going to be exceedingly faulty and unreliable re a prudent policy that will ensure sustainability for the world’s population.

    Thanks, Lynn and others that responded.

    However, it seems your arguments boil down to that the economists are wrong, and that your non-expert opinions are right.

    It is possible that you are right, but as far as classification goes, I think that you have to be classified as economic skeptics (or even economic denialists in some cases), if you are going to classify those who question the climate science as climate skeptics.

    With 2 dimensions, most simply there are 4 quadrants:

    1. climate believer – economic skeptic (many here)
    2. climate believer – economic believer (me and others)
    3. climate skeptic – economic believer (many elsewhere)
    4. climate skeptic – economic skeptic

    I have not seen many in #4…

  30. 80
    pete best says:

    Re #74; Ah that clears it all up then. Thanks again RC, it looks like the media only tell half the story or else I am a bit thick and jump to conclusions to readily.

    Complex stuff this earth science, makes you wonder at the real consequences of AGW.

  31. 81
    Deech56 says:

    Two replies: #61 (Lynn): I have always enjoyed your perspective, and I found your observation about the Scientific and Medical models especially thought-provoking (it might be old hat to you, but it’s new to me – although it could be the way you expressed it). It’s really about what information people use to make decisions in a less-than perfect world using less-than perfect science. I work in the biological realm where uncovering the mysteries of one black box often reveals more black boxes, and where using the tools we have we do the best we can to measure what we can.

    RE #69 Jim: If the only science you believe is that which can only be described by known physical laws, you would have a very limited scientific worldview indeed. Physicians give drugs to people knowing that there is not a 100% chance that the drug will work (based on studies in which a fraction of patients is sampled) using a schedule that is based on “average” drug pharmacokinetics (YMMV) hoping that the patient is not part of the minority that would experience a serious adverse event. None of this can be boiled down to F=MA, but decisions are still required – see Lynn’s post. You claim that science is about “Questioning the basis of everything, and only relying on hard, reproducible, expermental, quantitative, etc. data.”. True enough – so check to see what has been reproduced, what has been shown to be independently verified, etc. Above all, apply this same skepticism to the skeptics. Look to see whether their work stands up to criticism by their peers and whether it has been independently reproduced or verified by independent measurements (e.g. satellite vs. surface measurements, independent data handling, independent modeling).

  32. 82
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Re #73 “Um, I’m not a scientist, just a layman, so perhaps you could explain how this applies to:

    Relativity
    Quantum Mechanics
    Evolution
    Gravity
    The Big Bang

    After all, they are all theories, just like AGW.”

    Simple. Where is the experimental data to support any or all of these theories? If it exists, then there is a good chance that the theories might be correct. When the experimental data is overwhelming, then we have proof beyond all doubt. To look at a few examples. For relativity, a simple experiment was done when two atomic clocks were flown in opposite directions around the world, and the difference in time was measured. Gravity was one of the first things to receive experimental data, with Gallileo’s law of odd numbers. Evolution; we have the evidence of how bacteria have adapted to antibiotics, and the failure of Lysenko. It would take far too long to discuss all these in detail, but the “umpire” in science is, was and always will be the experimental data. “To the solid ground of Nature trusts the mind that builds for aye” William Wordsworth.

  33. 83
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 82

    “Simple. Where is the experimental data to support any or all of these theories? If it exists, then there is a good chance that the theories might be correct. When the experimental data is overwhelming, then we have proof beyond all doubt. To look at a few examples. For relativity, a simple experiment was done when two atomic clocks were flown in opposite directions around the world, and the difference in time was measured. Gravity was one of the first things to receive experimental data, with Gallileo’s law of odd numbers. Evolution; we have the evidence of how bacteria have adapted to antibiotics, and the failure of Lysenko. It would take far too long to discuss all these in detail, but the “umpire” in science is, was and always will be the experimental data. “To the solid ground of Nature trusts the mind that builds for aye” William Wordsworth.”
    ==============

    Interesting.

    Do you accept these theories and their conclusions as the best answer possible for the phenomena they attempt to explain? If not, can you name something that does a better job of doing so? If so, why do you accept them, yet engage in an inconsistant argument (in relation to this apparent acceptance) against the theory of Global Warming, which has more than satisfied the same criteria that these other theories have satisfied?

    I ask this as you said in 63 something needed to be “proven beyond all doubt” to be accepted as science. (“…never accept anything in science unless it could be proved beyond all doubt.”) Yet here you are apparently accepting the results of the theoretical science (though, equally interesting, you appear by your posts to remain blind to the relation to Global Warming theory). Simply put, you are being inconsistant by the standards you set for yourself.

    Why is this?

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Simple. Where is the experimental data …

    Well, for carbon dioxide, there’s a huge market in CO2 lasers; that’s the basic physics, turned to technology.

  35. 85
    James says:

    Re #69: [I believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I believe Boyle’s Law, Kirchoff’s Laws, Newton’s Laws of Motion...]

    Maybe I’m belaboring the obvious here, but I’m pretty sure all of those have in fact been shown to be incorrect, Newton’s Laws of Motion, for instance, are incorrect for very fast or very small objects.

    A lot of people seem to get this backwards: natural “laws” aren’t rules which the universe is obliged to follow, as though it were a model and the laws the source code, They’re just our best attempts to figure out how the universe actually works. Thus believing in them is futile: if it comes to a conflict between law and the universe, the universe wins.

    When it comes to global warming, a lot of the denialists seem to be following a variant of this belief fallacy. They don’t want the world to be acting the way observation strongly suggest it is, therefore they invoke a belief in some alternative law, which they go to great efforts to contrive.

  36. 86

    [[the sun is an unstable neutron star surrounded by the remnants from inside the orbit of Mercury]]

    The sun is a main sequence star. Neutron stars are formed after both the main sequence and the red giant stage have passed, and only for stars substantially more massive than the sun.

  37. 87

    [[At college my mentor was the great Gordon Brimms Black McIvor Sutherland. Amongst many other things, he taught me to trust my own instincts, and to never accept anything in science unless it could be proved beyond all doubt]]

    I don’t mean to be offensive, but he sounds like a scientific illiterate. Science isn’t in the business of proving things, it can only disprove (falsify) them. Scientists believe in AGW because the theory has survived a long time despite repeated and ferocious attempts to knock it down.

  38. 88

    [[ Their climate models are based on the false thesis that greenhouse gases radiate back to the surface, but if that were true then the surface could never be colder than the air, which is not the case. ]]

    Alastair, we know the atmosphere radiates back to the surface. We’ve measured it. And the surface can never be colder than the air only if you restrict yourself to radiative effects alone. In reality there are such things as inversions.

  39. 89
    catman306 says:

    If I were a high school science teacher I’d require my students to read these discussions. Not so much for the real science found here, but instead for the exposure to the process of critical thinking. Young people can learn how science works here at RC and watch critical thinking at the same time to see how and why it works. Our world desperately needs many more people with this skill.

  40. 90

    Re #88

    Barton, the clouds radiate back to Earth but without them the surface gets cold, for instance frosts in the Sahara.

    And if the surface can never be colder than the air, how do you explain that ground frosts happen when the air is still?

  41. 91
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #79, economists are not so much wrong, as their sphere of study is narrow, and they tend to hold those variables outside economics constant (to be deleted from the equations). Some economists are trying to develop other standards besides GDP & GNP (which really only measure the monetization of an economy, and do not distinguish between “goods” and “bads”).

    For instance, if village A grows its own food (each family growing much of its own) and barters without money, it has zero GDP, but village B might grow only cash crops they sell on the market, and they might be malnurished (while village A has a rich, healthy diet), bec village B’s profits are not enough to feed them adequately.

    Society A might have a higher GDP per capita than society B, but it might be because society A people are on the whole a lot sicker, and require lots of medical services (which pump up the GDP, but reflect “bads (disease)” and not good health). Or Society A might have full employment and tremedous building projects…bec the mega-hurricanes keep knocking everything down.

    You could have “profligate society” using up its resources, including topsoil, lickety-split, and polluting its air and water…..but its GDP looks great, though the society doesn’t have long to live. And “prudent society” could be protecting its resources and life supports so that its generations can go on into the far distant future, but its GDP per capita doesn’t look as good as “profligate society.” So I guess the question is, do we want to live it up now, carelessly & wastefully, and to #@&#@ with the children, or do we want our human societies to go on into a good and healthy future.

    Some economists are trying to address “quality of life” issues, along with “quantity of money.”

    I’m an anthropologist, not an economist, so I follow a more holistic approach. Economics deals with the production and distribution of goods and services — it’s a social dimension, not a material one. Subsistence patterns (within cultural ecology), OTOH, deal with how people eke out a living from the environment, e.g., hunting/gathering wild animals/plants, horticulture, pastoralism, plow agriculture, industrial agriculture (with tractors, etc). That’s not economics. Economics has to do with what happens to the resources once they are taken from the environment, and also with the work groups and division of labor involved in taking the resources out and producing products (although neo-classical econ is more into commodities than products, even tho these are one & the same thing). However, the resources themselves (the flora, fauna, minerals, water, etc) are more the purview of cultural ecologists and biologists and geologists, not economists. Economics also has to do also with modes of exchange — reciprocity, redistribution, and market economy. But, again, neo-classical econ is more into studying only market economies, not these other types which have been with us much much longer than markets.

    So economics is narrow, and neo-classical economics is even more narrow. I’m sure economists are very good at what they do within their narrow confines.

    However, economics alone, and esp neo-classical, is not up to dealing with serious environmental problems or with policies involving life & death decisions — unless it turns those non-economic “constants” into the variables that they are, and is able to deal with externalities.

    If everyone had to keep all their pollution and GHGs within a private cubicle of land, water, and air allotted to them (and not pass them on to future generations), there’d be little problem getting people to reduce their harmful pollution that now gets passed onto others, esp future generations.

  42. 92

    RE alll the neutron star stuff. This is a folk bastardization of the Bircher/RBN/LaRouche/Rense crowd’s explanation for solar (not global) warming – namely that “Planet X,” a neutron star headed for us (mentioned prominently on the Bad Astronomy site) is not only going to wipe us out (but “they” don’t want us to know – presumably because we’d enjoy moments of sweet freedom or realize the mystical truth once we realized the end was nigh) – but it’s also incidentally the source of solar-system-wide warming. It’s so obvious! Sometimes Planet X is a brown dwarf, others a neutron star.

    I like the touch of making the sun itself a neutron star though. If that’s the case, a little heatproofing and we can probably slingshot out through a wormhole if we spin the sun Just Right.

  43. 93

    [[And if the surface can never be colder than the air, how do you explain that ground frosts happen when the air is still?]]

    I didn’t say the surface can never be colder than the air. I said the exact opposite.

  44. 94
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #79 [However, it seems your arguments boil down to that the economists are wrong, and that your non-expert opinions are right.]

    That would be so if neoclassical economics had the same scientific status as the physics underlying AGW, but it doesn’t. Rather, it is one among a number of competing schools of thought – social sciences are after all the hard sciences, where “hard” means “difficult” :-). I’d mention particularly behavioral economics (e.g. take a look at Camerer, C., G. Loewenstein, and M.Rabin (2003). Advances in Behavioral Economics, Princeton University Press and references therefrom), but the names of Herbert Simon (Nobel prizewinner in economics), Samuel Bowles, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman are worth googling in this context; and institutional economics, the tradition of which goes back to Thorstein Veblen, but more recently Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, D.W. Bromley, Arne Vatn and Geoffrey Hodgson may be mentioned. Very recently, “neuroeconomics” has grown out of behavioral economics. A feature common to these approaches is that (with the arguable exception of a subschool of institutional economics called “new institutional economics) they deny that people act as neoclassical economics says they should, as rational utility-maximisers. I authored a review paper (Gotts, N.M., Polhill, J.G. and Law, A.N.R. (2003) “Agent-Based Modelling in the Study of Social Dilemmas”, Artificial Intelligence Review 19:3-92 which includes a survey of some of the evidence to this effect in the particular case of social dilemmas. So while I’m not an economist, I ground my scepticism concerning neoclassical economics on the work of many who are, as well as that of others (such as sociologists and social and cognitive psychologists) who are professionally expert in overlapping areas.

  45. 95
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds, It is often quoted that economists have predicted 10 out of the last 4 recessions, so it is not entirely unwarranted that some skepticism might apply. One area where I’ve noticed that economics consistently fails is in the impact of technology. Economists seem to have lost sight of the fact that technology developed to do cutting edge, curiosity-driven research almost always winds up benefiting the economy. Then, too, they often assume that substitute technologies/resources will become available to replace those that become prohibitively expensive. For example, I believe that most of the studies that have anticipated that costs of climate change in the single digit percentages of global economy have assumed that other crop lands will become available as climate makes traditional lands untenable. This is a gross simplification that is unlikely to bear out in practice. The Canadian shield is unlikely to become the breadbasket of North America.
    I would also contend that economics tends to be driven by ideological factors more than the hard sciences: It used to be that you had a hard time finding any text book that agreed with Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek. Now it’s hard to find economists who don’t parrot them.
    That said, we ignore economists at our peril. This is particularly true when it comes to how nations will choose when it comes to tradeoffs between long-term environmental and short-term economic risks. In the end, despite all the disinformation the science has had to overcome, the most difficult hurdle for a proactive policy will be demonstrating economic necessity and viability.

  46. 96
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Lynn, just like climate science and clouds, there are some aspects of economics that are not well modeled.

    Nick, just like in climate science, there are prominent economists that disagree with the consensus.

    Ray, just like a few climate scientists predicting cooling in the early 70s, some economists make bad predictions.

    My point is not who is right or wrong here, just that there is a symmetry in the arguments of climate science skeptics and climate economics skeptics.

    Maybe that is a reason for each side to respect the other a little more.

  47. 97
    pete best says:

    It is interesting to note that new scientist reports on HIV causing AIDS denial much like the denialists on climate change for their is political and financial ramifications to this to. For some reason it looks like science is not in the ascendency here and many people do not want to hear the rational scientific message.

  48. 98
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #96 [Nick, just like in climate science, there are prominent economists that disagree with the consensus.]

    No, in economics there really isn’t a consensus. The few climate scientists who are holdouts seems to publish little, and to be pretty much bereft of ideas. This is far from the case with non-neoclassical economists – just use Google Scholar on the names I gave. Ray is right to mention technological innovation as an area where neoclassical economics has little to say. Look for R.R. Nelson, S.G. Winter, G. Dosi, G. Silverberg to mention a few.

  49. 99
    Hank Roberts says:

    > economists

    Sure, there have been some attempts made at economic models, even by physicists. Here for example (his group abandoned the forecasts in 2005; one curve out of many done then look like a success now).

    http://www.ess.ucla.edu/faculty/sornette/prediction/images/20050819_FigVAY.gif

    You can follow that up here: http://www.er.ethz.ch/.

  50. 100
    John Mashey says:

    re: #98 Nick
    I’m still trying to catch up on reading, but in the meantime, since you seem to have a broad view of economists, do you have any opinions on these folks (that I mentioned in another thread here):

    Hall, Lindenberger, Kummel, Kroger, Eichhorn, The need to reintegrate the natural sciences with economics. BioScience vol 51, no 8 (August 2001), 663-673.
    http://www.ker.co.nz/pdf/Need_to_reintegrate.pdf.

    Ayres & Warr, Accounting for Growth: the role of physical work.
    Structural Change & Economic Dynamics, 16(2): 181-209.
    http://www.iea.org/Textbase/work/2004/eewp/Ayres-paper1.pdf


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