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Groundhog day

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 June 2009

Alert readers will have noticed the fewer-than-normal postings over the last couple of weeks. This is related mostly to pressures associated with real work (remember that we do have day jobs). In my case, it is because of the preparations for the next IPCC assessment and the need for our group to have a functioning and reasonably realistic climate model with which to start the new round of simulations. These all need to be up and running very quickly if we are going to make the early 2010 deadlines.

But, to be frank, there has been another reason. When we started this blog, there was a lot of ground to cover – how climate models worked, the difference between short term noise and long term signal, how the carbon cycle worked, connections between climate change and air quality, aerosol effects, the relevance of paleo-climate, the nature of rapid climate change etc. These things were/are fun to talk about and it was/is easy for us to share our enthusiasm for the science and, more importantly, the scientific process.

However, recently there has been more of a sense that the issues being discussed (in the media or online) have a bit of a groundhog day quality to them. The same nonsense, the same logical fallacies, the same confusions – all seem to be endlessly repeated. The same strawmen are being constructed and demolished as if they were part of a make-work scheme for the building industry attached to the stimulus proposal. Indeed, the enthusiastic recycling of talking points long thought to have been dead and buried has been given a huge boost by the publication of a new book by Ian Plimer who seems to have been collecting them for years. Given the number of simply made-up ‘facts’ in that tome, one soon realises that the concept of an objective reality against which one should measure claims and judge arguments is not something that is universally shared. This is troubling – and although there is certainly a role for some to point out the incoherence of such arguments (which in that case Tim Lambert and Ian Enting are doing very well), it isn’t something that requires much in the way of physical understanding or scientific background. (As an aside this is a good video description of the now-classic Dunning and Kruger papers on how the people who are most wrong are the least able to perceive it).

The Onion had a great piece last week that encapsulates the trajectory of these discussions very well. This will of course be familiar to anyone who has followed a comment thread too far into the weeds, and is one of the main reasons why people with actual, constructive things to add to a discourse get discouraged from wading into wikipedia, blogs or the media. One has to hope that there is the possibility of progress before one engages.

However there is still cause to engage – not out of the hope that the people who make idiotic statements can be educated – but because bystanders deserve to know where better information can be found. Still, it can sometimes be hard to find the enthusiasm. A case in point is a 100+ comment thread criticising my recent book in which it was clear that not a single critic had read a word of it (you can find the thread easily enough if you need to – it’s too stupid to link to). Not only had no-one read it, none of the commenters even seemed to think they needed to – most found it easier to imagine what was contained within and criticise that instead. It is vaguely amusing in a somewhat uncomfortable way.

Communicating with people who won’t open the book, read the blog post or watch the program because they already ‘know’ what must be in it, is tough and probably not worth one’s time. But communication in general is worthwhile and finding ways to get even a few people to turn the page and allow themselves to be engaged by what is actually a fantastic human and scientific story, is something worth a lot of our time.

Along those lines, Randy Olson (a scientist-turned-filmmaker-and-author) has a new book coming out called “Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style” which could potentially be a useful addition to that discussion. There is a nice post over at Chris Mooney’s blog here, though read Bob Grumbine’s comments as well. (For those of you unfamiliar the Bob’s name, he was one of the stalwarts of the Usenet sci.environment discussions back in the ‘old’ days, along with Michael Tobis, Eli Rabett and our own William Connolley. He too has his own blog now).

All of this is really just an introduction to these questions: What is it that you feel needs more explaining? What interesting bits of the science would you like to know more about? Is there really anything new under the contrarian sun that needs addressing? Let us know in the comments and we’ll take a look. Thanks.


1,071 Responses to “Groundhog day”

  1. 51
    alefnula says:

    Excellent post, thanks. However, does it really apply solely to the “skeptical” side of the discussion? I can easily imagine exactly the same paragraphs on quite a different websites… :-)

  2. 52
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Our Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Tony Jones interviewed Ian Plimer after the local release of his book, see: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2554129.htm

    For me two things stood out from this interview:
    1) Tony Jones, unlike many journalists, has informed himself on the topic and does a very good job of attacking Plimer’s science, including Plimer’s repeated assertion that the world has been cooling since 1998.

    2) After Jones quotes scientists criticising Plimer’s book, Plimer replies:
    “By contrast to what Barry Brooks says, this book is not a book of science. It’s a book for the public who have felt quite disenfranchised … and this book is to give the public some information such that they can say, I think we’re being led astray.”

    So there you have it from the horse’s mouth, “this book is not a book of science” – it’s a crutch for sceptics.

  3. 53
    pete best says:

    Most of the relevant politicians have got the message, Europe, the present US administration and China. Regardless of the nonsense spouted by most of the denier sites (WUWT and climate Audit etc) they are not being listened to outside of the blogosphere and those who want to spent their days arguing with them can if they want to.

    The recent post concerning the Antarctic report says it all for those of us who have followed the AGW arguments for some time now and the deniers are just angry people who spout a lot of vitriol and even some of the better deniers with good science available to them should not be posting on those sites but submitting peer reviewable papers. Too many deniers deny peer review, decry not having a voice (but they have nothing to say of any scientific substance it would seem) and hence are just screaming the same old stuff louder and louder.

    At 0.19c per decade we have time, the alarmists (the opposite of denier) would and do tell you otherwise but I do not see the scientific earth science community panicking just yet and we must await copenhagen this year to see if a global plan of action comes about but I feel that modest cuts by 2020-30 will be made and then more serious cuts to come. Renewable energy and efficiency gains creates jobs and a lot of them such is the task and the ball is goingto start rolling.

    I was once fearful of anything constructive being done about the problem and yes positive feedbacks might make things a bit worse but its nothing like what the alarmists are stating could happen. There is a lot of nonsense spouted on both sides of the political divide just to the message screamed across. Its 50 years before 2C is in sight at present AGW warming levels and trends and surely that might be enough time to get a good job done.

    Sometimes though I think that science is not given the respect it deserves especially in the USA but now that they have given Obama the reigns things will progress even though the issues are difficult to get resolved to everyones satisfaction.

    I concur that some nuclear is required regardless of the political green movements objection to it on hysterical grounds. I agree that oil looks like it is going to become economically hard to justify in a few short years time if it peaks. That gas and coal might not be far behind economically and hence that alternative solutions are required. I agonise over the politicians decisions making process when all of the easy stuff has been implemented that might impact peoples lives, that our material existance and hence massive debt in the western world will need to be looked at, that the size of vehicles driven by humans will need to come down, out dietary habits will need to change, walking and cycling might be needed for the masses again etc.

    No one is saying it is going to be easy to cut our emissions by 80 to 90%.

  4. 54
    CM says:

    First, thanks for all your good work. And please keep it up. At a level where you don’t burn yourselves out.

    As a practical matter, Copenhagen is coming up. The controversy-manufacturing industry will be in overdrive. Your site will be the first stop for correctives. So I hope you’ll stay the course for the next six months.

    As an occasional lurker for years, I’ve been coming here for the pure science, for answers to various denials, and for inspiration on setting up similar resources in other policy areas I care about. (And for Gavin’s inline snappy answers to stupid questions.) I think you have been getting it right from the start, and hope you will continue striking the balance between communicating new science, clearing up confusions for the interested layman, and debunking denialists.

    It would be good to improve signal-to-noise in the comments area — but without excluding altogether the off-topic discussions that often helpfully answer the denial du jour. “Tragedy of the climate commons” is at 1.3 kilocomments and rising, itself a tragedy of the commons. Have you considered a technical change, allowing comments to be subthreaded? It would make parallel discussions easier to follow, and the rest of us could easily skip the flame wars between different alternative energy solutions.

    Wish list for new posts:

    – A status report on methane bubbling up from the warming Arctic: what’s happening, what do we expect to happen, how bad could it be?

    – Like someone above, I’d like you to continue addressing the concept of “dangerous” climate change (as you recently did in “hit the brakes hard”.)

    – A pedagogical post on scientific uncertainty in climate science in general, summing up: what are the real uncertainties, as opposed to the manufactured ones, and what do they mean?

  5. 55

    Its 50 years before 2C is in sight at present AGW warming levels and trends

    Pete, that’s an optical illusion. But for the delaying grace of deep ocean thermal inertia, we have 1.5C right now.

  6. 56
    Steve Milesworthy says:

    I’d be quite happy if you addressed the sceptic talking points without addressing the sceptics.

    eg. Do models show the same variability of ocean heat content? What causes the variability? If we don’t know, what amount of additional observations do we need to work out the cause?

  7. 57

    ScaredAmoeba writes:

    IFRs have numerous advantages over conventional reactors. And yes a very few IFRs exist

    I think they’re trying to build them in Finland and running into all kinds of problems, all of which add up to “higher cost and longer construction time than expected.”

  8. 58

    pete best writes:

    I concur that some nuclear is required regardless of the political green movements objection to it on hysterical grounds.

    Bam! Take that, Straw Man!

  9. 59
    Bruce Tabor says:

    To your questions:
    What is it that you feel needs more explaining?
    Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a bit like the answer to the complaint that the preacher’s message never changes – the truth doesn’t change. I use this as an illustration only.

    What interesting bits of the science would you like to know more about?
    I would like to see better coverage of significant conferences/papers.

    Is there really anything new under the contrarian sun that needs addressing?
    By far the biggest issue is effective advocacy of the science in the face of opposition of powerful and well funded vested interests. We are already a decade behind in getting started (in a global sense) in tackling AGW seriously. Significant harm is now almost inevitable. How much harm will depend on how fast vested interests are pushed aside and emissions are brought under control.

    I know politics and advocacy is not your focus – science rightly is as it’s your expertise – but it’s in effective adviocacy and catalsis of political change that progress is truly required. Should this become a major component of RC?

  10. 60
    Matt says:

    Timely post Gavin.
    As for your question- I was going to suggest more on upper atmosphere temperature trends, but looked back at the archives and think that the correction in this post was what I was after:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=58
    (until then never properly understood why incr CO2 should cool the stratosphere)

    So sorry I can’t suggest any specific topics at the present but it did make me think:
    1. now that RC has got to the point where it is covering the same topics/addressing the same talking points again and again, the structure, design and organisation of the site becomes more important- maybe when something new comes up, old articles should be updated rather than a new one started? Or explicit list of links to old articles at the top of each new article, listed in order of relevance (personally I find hyperlinks buried in the text distracting, there’s no way to know the value of each hyperlink before clicking it and then you lose the narrative thread in the original article). Or something more radical- perhaps the standard ‘newest first’ blog format lends itself to short memory spans and repetition, particularly for popular sites like RC which have a continual stream of new readers coming to the front page for the first time.

    2. perhaps realclimate could concentrate more on explaining aspects of climate science that are counter-intuitive to a lay person. Stratospheric cooling is certainly one- why would increasing CO2 cause warming in one part of the atmosphere but cooling in another? This is the sort of confusion easily exploited by the contrarians.

    3. at the end of the day, for this grateful reader, RC has served its purpose. I’m fully convinced that the balance of evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of AGW. While I still check back on RC now and then, I think the focus of the debate is more on policy rather than ‘is there a problem?’ Of course there’s still a need for a good climate science blog written by climate scientists. There are still uncertainties over the rate and extent of climate change, which are very relevant for informing future policy, and new developments in climate science that are interesting in their own right. But as you say, the constant re-hashing of old arguments is a waste of time for almost everyone.

  11. 61
    Mark says:

    “I concur that some nuclear is required regardless of the political green movements objection to it on hysterical grounds.”

    Uh, the political problems with nuclear are not the green movement. The main problem comes from the Hawk politicians. Nucular terrists and “dangerous states” getting their hands on nuclear power (added to the “dirty bobm” scare they love to use on occasion) mean they cannot allow free use of nuclear power.

    And that has nothing to do with the green movement.

    Though it does make a useful shipping boy (“It’s not OUR fault, it’s those whacko greenies, I tells ya!”).

  12. 62
    Chris Rijk says:

    I have a couple of suggestions for future work/posts, in no particular order:

    *) Collect a list of climate predictions made in published peer-reviewed papers (including links to the paper or info about where to find it) and the paper (or papers) where these predictions were proven to be true. Eg, for things like “top of the atmosphere will cool”, “nights will warm more than days” – here’s the prediction, here’s the proof.

    *) A “rough guide” to research that’s being carried out now – to what kind of research we might see published in a few years. For example, what kind of advances are being worked on in modelling.

    *) Maybe a post on how well could today’s climate models simulate an arbitrary Earth-like planet? That is, a planet whose major climate features are like the Earth’s. Raising such a point might help explain models better – that they’re based (as much as possible) on the underlying physics. Maybe the Earth from a few 100 million years ago could be an “Earth-like” planet?

    *) More posts on the potential future costs of climate change. Eg, if sea levels rise 1m, what would be the potential costs to coastal cities like London and New York? What if it’s 2m? 5m? The south of England is sinking in general (because the north is no longer covered by an ice-sheet) – could this make sea level rises significantly worse for London? Maybe a brief look into what this could mean for the insurance industry. I wonder what would happen to land prices once the market starts to factor in non-trivial sea level rises.

    *) Posts focused specifically on the rate of change in global temperatures. Just how unusual is the current rate of increase? What kind of warming rates have been seen in the past and how sure can we be about such estimates?

    *) Maybe a look at regional climate model predictions vs reality to date. For example, the distinct impression I get from long term predictions from models is that the UK (particularly the western side) will warm much less than the global average under a “business as usual” AGW scenario. Yet on the other hand, it seems the UK has already experienced non-trivial real warming and doesn’t seem much different from continental Europe in this regard. That’s my impression at least.

    *) Maybe look at explaining the science from a slightly different angle. For example: Let’s say the sun has just set and then suddenly CO2 levels double – what difference would be experienced by the end of the night? Let’s say that there’s no wind, that there’s 12 hours of night and that normally temperatures would drop by 10C during those 12 hours of night. With the doubled CO2 scenario, would the difference be impossible to measure? Maybe a drop of 9C instead of 10C? A smaller difference? I think something like this could help people understand the immediate effects of CO2 a bit better.

    *) Maybe a permanent set of pages (not blog posts) which offer a set of “quick proofs” and “quick rebuttals”. Basically, a page with a subject, a paragraph of text and links to more info. The idea being to provide a resource others can link to (or reference) in internet discussions elsewhere.

    *) Maybe a post about climate inertia and different ways of looking at this – for example, temperatures are generally not highest at midday (when the sun is strongest) but later in the afternoon. Temperatures are generally not highest on the Summer solstice (of each hemisphere) which generally gets the most solar energy, but later in the summer. Is it reasonable to compare the inertia in AGW warming to such things? On a related note, is the following a useful distinction of weather and climate: take a bet on whether it’ll be warmer or colder tomorrow – generally, the odds would be around 50:50 right? Now, do the same bet on whether it’ll be warmer or colder in 6 months time (assuming it’s not spring or autumn currently and not at the equator) – you’re not going to get 50:50 odds on that (probably hard to make a bet at all in fact). Yet, shouldn’t it be easier to predict the temperature one day in advance rather than half a year? Is such an argument a good example of comparing predicting the weather vs predicting the climate?

  13. 63
    EL says:

    If the general population is the target audience, I would like to see several posts without technical terminology. Explain to me the process of modeling without using any modeling terminology. As the old saying goes, keep it simple stupid.

    If the technical community is the target audience, I would like to see more of a mathematical view of the process of modeling. What type of mathematics is being used to describe the models and their relationships? Give an example of a model or two and use mathematics to show some interesting relationships.

  14. 64

    RC has been an extremely valuable educational tool for many of us, and this is clearly a good time to say “thank you.” I don’t know how you find the time to moderate and post, even at the “reduced” level that you referred to. Much appreciated. . .

    That said, I think there will be a large ongoing need for updates, as there is a lot of research ahead. (And there may even be some new contrarian talking points to consider from time to time.)

    But (among other things) I’m looking forward to research allowing or elucidating:

    –Better characterization of climate sensitivity (which will help determine target CO2 levels);
    –Better regional-scale prediction capabilities, allowing for reasonable prediction of climate change effects in specific regions (hence better-targeted adaptation strategies);
    –More robust results on climate change consequences generally;
    –Further clarification of feedback issues (eg., clouds, magnetosphere/GCR effects if any);
    –Technology issues affecting mitigation/adaptation prospects.

    I do think, too, that there is a need for an analog to RC focussing more on economic issues. For example, the recent debates over cap-and-trade v. carbon tax v. whatever could well merit an authoritative exploration somewhere. Clearly is a different expertise is called for, and just as clearly it would be tough to agree on a “trusted source”, as economics is much more difficult to disentangle from political ideology than physics. But it would help if it could be achieved. . .

  15. 65
    David Heigham says:

    This is almost a ‘Well done thou good and faithful master’ moment. You have enlightened the puzzled, clarified the confused and taught all those willing to learn.

    We, your pupils, must now realise that it is our turn to apply what has been learnt. We will be grateful for occasional further illumination of the argument, when that takes your fancy. We will be referring back and back to the archive.

    However, taking on those that decline to learn, those that are incapable of learning, and those who profit from denial is not a matter of clear reason and argument.. What is needed now is satire, scorn, humor and contumely. That is the fun stuff. Let us at it; while you sweat at figuring out more and more precisely what really is going on in our world’s climate.

  16. 66
    simon abingdon says:

    More on clouds. More on the oceans.

  17. 67
    Nick Gotts says:

    First, I echo many others in thanking all at RealClimate for excellent work done.

    For the future, I’d say stick with the emphasis on the natural sciences, which is clearly where your strength lies. There are a number of issues I’d like to see examined in more detail, mostly concerning those areas where the models still need improvement, such as clouds, precipitation, snow and ice dynamics, and the effects of ~11 year solar cycle. Another possibility would be a regular (monthly?) “new in the peer-reviewed literature” item. Finally, I was disappointed not to see a report on the Copenhagen conference in March, which I attended, and which I know at least one of your regular posters did.

  18. 68
    pete best says:

    Re #60 Mark, sorry but the environmental (green) movement is intrinsically against nuclear power regardless of who else is against it. You comment is moot.

    Maybe it is just that nuclear power is just lobbied out of existamce in the USA by more powerful fossil fuel companies so the excuses role on.

    Plenty of people might be against nuclear outside of the environmentalist movement but it is their main reason for existance from what I have read.

  19. 69
    pete best says:

    Re #54, yes but its only coming at 0.19C per decade regardless fo what id guaranteed. Real climate has stated that 0.8C so far and another 0.6C guaranteed in the thermal intertia of the oceans. To get more we need higher levels of GHGs as I understand it.

  20. 70
    Mike G says:

    One meme that seems ubiquitous in these discussions is that scientists are creating alarmism to secure funding and that those that don’t play along get shut out of the funding. Unfortunately, for most people the granting process is a black box, so this is a pretty convincing argument, yet the rebuttal doesn’t seem to get much air-time in most blogs. It seems like most people I meet think I just write a letter to some politician in Washington and dupe them with BS and then the grants they give me boost my salary. Besides pointing out that claiming to already have the answers is a pretty bad way to secure more funding, whereas disagreeing with consensus is actually a very good way (as long as there is some basis to your argument), perhaps it would be a good idea to give a quick overview of the funding process and how grants affect your take-home pay.

    Talk a little bit about what it takes for a proposal to become a funded study and then the stipulations attached to that money. Also, perhaps talk a bit about how your income is linked to funding (in general terms of course)- i.e. as a researcher at a university my stipend or salary are set regardless of the number or value of grants I bring in during a given year and I can’t keep more money from grants than I would make teaching 1 summer session.

    If you can find data, it might also be interesting to look at the number compare the amount of money going into climate science vs. various other fields of research and maybe even changes in funding over time.

  21. 71
    Icarus says:

    The main reason I come here is to read about new issues in climate science. If I want to learn about well-established science then I can easily find that in many places, but new information and new understandings are often not reported at all in the popular media, or they’re reported in a way that is so trivial and erroneous that they’re useless or counter-productive. So, I am keen to read about changes in ice shelves, glaciers, phenology, drought, ocean acidification, Antarctic warming, new understandings of palaeoclimate and so on. As much as I like to see nonsense, misinformation, talking points, fallacies and strawmen demolished, I think the contributors to RealClimate are better off spending more of their time disseminating the real science that might otherwise go unreported.

  22. 72
    Ron Taylor says:

    Gavin, you and your colleagues do a great job. RC is where I come for a cleansing dose of rationality after encountering some bit of denialist nonsense. It is my personal experience that nothing can be done to convince people who base their conclusions on ideology, rather than evidence. Sadly, they sometimes use all the right terms without even realizing they are turning logic on its head and engaging in Orwellian-speak.

    For me, besides following the overall progress of climate science, I am especially interested in Arctic sea ice, Greenland and Antarctic melting (thus, sea level rise), abrupt climate change and aerosol and cloud effects.

  23. 73
    SteveF says:

    I largely agree with your frustrations Gavin. Like others, I’d be interested in seeing more discussion of cutting edge climate science and less on refuting denialist talking points. Plus, with Copenhagen on the horizon, perhaps some policy discussions. They could be written as guest posts, making it clear that the primary focus is the science but a dip into policy is appropriate every once in a while.

    If there’s one denialist area that perhaps warrants a bit more attention, it’s the surface temperature record. The “skeptic” crowd seem to be getting particularly noisy in this regard at the moment. Plus, more respectable figures like Roger Pielke Sr are publishing papers that point to apparent problems. So that’s one issue I’d like to see dealt with. Pielke Sr, whilst he has a somewhat unhelpful style at times, does seem to raise some more constructive points on occasion and so if you have any desire to engage with the non-mainstream, I’d probably look towards his blog. Other than that, I see no urgent need to engage the typical denialist crowd, unless they miraculously contribute something genuinely new.

  24. 74
    Mark says:

    “Unfortunately, for most people the granting process is a black box, so this is a pretty convincing argument”

    Nope, the process being a black box doesn’t make it a convincing argument. Any more than the Official Secrets Act proves that our government is overrun by Alien Lizard Overlords.

    Those shut out would have proof of the process. The information from, say, NASA would not be edited to show the conspiracy norm (shrinking sea ice) because any monies going to climate research is not available for space programs. And so on for other areas which have evidence of global warming.

    Worse, if you want to continue funding, what you want is confusion, not concordance. If there’s confusion, you get TWICE the opportunity for funding: one to say it is a problem and another to say it isn’t. Best of all, as long as you keep the uncertainty, you NEVER end the gravy train!

    So for many reasons, the black-box state of funding is NOT a method of making the conspiracy theory a convincing one.

  25. 75
    Mark says:

    “Re #60 Mark, sorry but the environmental (green) movement is intrinsically against nuclear power regardless of who else is against it. You comment is moot.”

    But the green movement has been ignored quite easily before. Your demonising them is incorrect. They do NOT cause the holding back of nuclear power. The nuclear powers are holding back nuclear power. The hawk politicals are holding it back. They’ve ignored the green movement for decades. In fact, until the Green Party started up, they were easily ignored and the ONLY reason why they are beginning to get some traction in the halls of power now is that the 10% of voters voting green are voters that the main parties would like to have.

    Same thing as is happening with the Pirate Party: they do NOT want to be in charge, but they want to show how important privacy and restoring sanity to “IP” law is to people and, by collecting 7% of the votes (votes wanted by the major parties to get or maintain power), they know that their single-issue platform WILL be taken up by the main parties.

    But again, it isn’t the greens doing this, it’s the main parties.

  26. 76
    pete best says:

    Re #74, Nuclear power was a scientific lie as far as I can recall. It was deemed to be loads of energy for very little money but turned out to be completely incorrect and hence got the politicians goat.

    I am not blaming the greens per se for the demise of nuclear, just stating that they do not see it as a viable form of energy to replace coal and gas for electricity generation.

  27. 77
    Spencer says:

    Great post! I’ve bookmarked so many of the links it’s going to keep me busy for hours! –Thanks

  28. 78
    Ike Solem says:

    One of the things that realclimate has done well is to take media reports of climate change science, and explain the actual science behind them. As the quality of media reports on climate has dropped and is often apparently biased in wild directions, this is quite a challenge. If it’s any consolation, media reporting on energy science is far worse than it is on climate science.

    Much of this is due to the fact that the U.S. is a fossil fuel nation, and has been for a hundred years – a theme reflected in media, academics and government. Many people are simply psychologically willing to admit that this is unsustainable and will come to an end – thus, you see oil enthusiasts claiming that people will keep burning oil no matter the price – even if it goes up to $500 a barrel – because there is no other option. That’s how gasoline was sold – “the eternal juice of the fountain of life”, etc. The fact that an electric motor is about 500% more efficient at converting stored energy to motion is simply ignored.

    Most people who are ‘incapable of seeing the truth’ would not bother to sit around and post comments on global warming sites – what you are looking at in RealClimate threads is high industry participation. This is no conspiracy theory, the PR firms brag about their accomplishments in this area:

    http://www.desmogblog.com/coal-lobby-pr-firm-memo-boasts-about-manipulating-democrats-and-republicans

    A Virginia-based public relations firm called the Hawthorn Group sent out a newsletter to their “friends and family” outlining the work they did on behalf of a coal industry lobby group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The newletter outlines in quite a bit of detail about how Hawthorn spindoctored coal during the Presidential election.

    So, please don’t take the responses in the comment section as anything other than PR. I would guess this blog draws more attention from the various PR firm bloggers (all anonymous, of course) than any other climate blog – I mean, those are the services that PR firms advertise – loading up blogs with comments that support their employer’s agenda is just part of the advertising world these days, and it is naive to think otherwise.

    On the other hand, realclimate has a disturbing habit of only posting about the nonsensical arguments put forth by people like Monckton and the Heritage Institution, while apparently ignoring the equally distorting arguments put forth by the New York Times and the Washington Post – for example, I was expecting some kind of realclimate response to this NYT headline:

    http://climateprogress.org/2009/05/14/new-york-times-revkin-antarctic-sea-level-ris/

    I mean, how is that any different from the absurdities of Monckton? You can’t really attack the one and ignore the other. Let me point that out again, by quoting from the recent post:

    Our favorite contrarian, the potty peer Christopher Monckton has been indulging in a little aristocratic artifice again. Not one to be constrained by mere facts or observable reality, he has launched a sally against Andy Revkin for reporting the shocking news that past industry disinformation campaigns were not sincere explorations of the true uncertainties in climate science.

    I would argue that Revkin has published multiple distorting articles, especially recently, and seems to be actively working to push the Heritage Institution talking points, which fits in with a whole host of “deliberately deceptive” NYT articles on climate science. So – if you’re not going to analyze those articles, why go after Monckton?

    Personally, reading that some British Lord doesn’t believe in climate science – really, so what? However, Revkin’s distortions are far more likely to be seen as factual by the general reader, aren’t they? What does realclimate think about this Revkin headline: “Study Halves Prediction of Rising Seas”?

    No comment? I think it a wildly dishonest headline that demonstrates a clear bias. We can also note that Revkin covered the Heritage “counter-meeting” to the Copenhagen one, and did not cover the Copenhagen meeting. If we take the same argument on financing for Heritage and apply it to the New York Times, we see two things: one is that the NYT is much bigger than the Heritage Institution. The other is that the NYT board of directors includes fossil fuel interest representatives, and no doubt they want the paper’s coverage to reflect their financial interests. It’s even more obvious in NYT energy reporting. There are no “energy contrarians” in the NYT world – all quotes come straight from the fossil energy lobby. If you take the same argument that applies to Heritage (fossil fuel financing distorts facts) and apply it to much of the U.S. media, you come up with the same conclusion, which is backed up by the actual printed word.

    If realclimate instead wants to avoid discussing difficult topics like media bias, government funding and energy policy and just focus on what climate scientists are doing, that would also be fine. That leads to interesting scientific discussions, at least.

    And, for all the industry bloggers: what a waste of your life, to spend your days doing that.

  29. 79
    JBL says:

    @ Mike G: For good comments on the process the NSF & related use to distribute funds, see the ten or so comments following this one. (In case that link doesn’t work: it’s to comment 159 on the post Michaels’ New Graph.)

  30. 80
    Andy Gunther says:

    One day I hope to be able to look back at something I have created with a sense that it truly has made an important contribution to the world. I think RC is just such a thing, and (along with so many others) I offer my congratulations, gratitude, and encouragement to you and your colleagues.

    I think RC has helped create a large group of people who are willing to engage denialists on many fronts. What would be very valuable is for you to continue to build your index of responses (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/#Responses), remind your readers of its existence, and distribute the URL widely. This will provide a valuable resources for those who are willing to continue the ugly but necessary job of countering the recycled lies, distortions, and half-truths.

    This then leaves you more time to present new and updated information that you think is important, while occasionally taking on a denialist statement that gets broader traction in the media.

  31. 81
    Hank Roberts says:

    Repeating a suggestion I and others have made here and elsewhere–harder work, but if you could do a topic -severely- edited to be a conversation among scientists about an issue, bumping anything inappropriate to a shadow thread (or move such a thread into public view if you have them in private, which might be a better way to ‘draft’ one) — that could be enormously educational.

    Reading science blogs, particularly climate science, is like sitting near scientists who met while taking their kids to a basketball game or amusement park or rock concert. What the scientists say is a lot more interesting than what’s going on all around them. But it’s hard to follow and the distractions are annoying.

    You all are much easier to follow when you’re talking to _each_other_ about one another’s work and interests. You can remember you’ve got the audience, and bring in the rare useful and interesting question from the sidelines to your discussion.

    I wish that could be the format, even for just one interesting research area that needed more exposure.

    It would be slower. It would allow scientists who may follow this but don’t comment to think about responses and make them. And it’d end the copypaste stuff or move it elsewhere; respond to the low level noise, others could do that, if useful, but outside the science thread.

    Curious for more:

    Et al. and Le Quere, the biological side of climate feedbacks, maybe; that would focus on what’s happening in the polar seas.

    Peter Ward, following up this post, whenever he can:
    http://www.realclimate.org/?comments_popup=596#comment-97202
    (update, his TED talk video did, finally, become available)

    The current state of Al Gore’s slideshow, do a diff against the one captured in the movie, discuss how what’s known about the science has changed in that time and how to keep up with that kind of presentation.

    None of those would do well under the barrage of copypaste (and yes, I know you filter _most_ of it. But the remainder is still far noisier than the scientists who are posting, and must deter many scientists from posting. All would be fascinating to listen to with less noise.

  32. 82
    Carrick says:

    While as a scientist I remain firmly convinced that the Earth is warming, that human activity is playing a major role in it, and that immediate steps need to be made to ameliorate the harmful effects of this human activity, if there were any changes to RealClimate it would be in your comment policy.

    Thinking back to Eric Steig’s post from last week and his handling of comments on that thread, I have myself been enmeshed in extremely heated scientific controversies, and I can tell you that not all or even most scientific debates get settled inside the journal articles. I still have a very thick stack of correspondence with other scientists, and many of these were very publicly circulated (including one that made it into a letter to the Los Angeles Times!).

    [Response: Excuse me, but while there are certainly accusations of my having edited comments on that thread, the fact remains that I didn’t do so. –eric]

    While I certainly don’t think that long-winded back-and-forths with trolls is productive, neither is controlling the debate to the extent where you edit the content of comments from people asking critical (but constructive) questions while allowing through the ad nauseam stream of echolalia from non-critical “true believers”.

    You are of course free to run your blog as you choose, and if all you want to be is a cheer leader for people who will champion a particular political cause, that is fine. But if the purpose is to advance the science, you might consider some changes to the comment moderation policy more in line with one that advances the science, and not just a particular economic and social policy.

    [Response: Our comment moderation has nothing to do with any economic or social policy (indeed, look at the tragedy of the commons post which was the most policy-related one in a while). Instead, it is enabled to improve the signal to noise ratio, and cutting out repetitive continuous cut-and-pasted talking points from people with whom there is no point in having rational discussion. By and large that works. – gavin]

  33. 83
    Carrick says:

    By the way, the letter that I am referring to is that written by Dick Feynman to the Los Angeles Times on January 15, 1986.

    Dick’s comments were later proven wrong, the paper in question did not contain it’s own disproof. The back of the envelope calculation he made to arrive at his conclusion was in error.

  34. 84
    Rich Creager says:

    This is not a suggestion for a blog topic, but for my money the best climate education on the web occurs when Gavin or the other moderators write a two or three sentance in-line response to a question in the comments. In most threads I find several questions posted which interest me but are never addressed, at least not with the concise authority the writers bring to the table. I’d like to see more brief in-line comments on not-simplistic but not overly technical questions questions in the comments.

  35. 85
    EL says:

    Hank Roberts – I think a forum would be very useful because it allows multiple discussions to take place.

  36. 86
    KSW says:

    thanks for the opportunity to request information formally; I made this request previously but had to jam it in the comments section where it didn’t belong and wasn’t explained correctly.

    I am interested in reading a synopsis of the top climate problems that climatologists currently face. What are the unknowns, the uncertainties and what areas of the science are not settled?

  37. 87
    sidd says:

    My thanks to the authors on this site. I would like to see fewer refutations of bad science and more exposition of current research. In no particular order may I suggest i) a detailed post on ocean circulation with emphasis on mixing times ii)an analysis of the AOGCM models explaining the methods used for coupling fluxes across the ocean-air interface and for parametrization of subgrid effects iii) a lesson on current and proposed ice sheet models

    I do realize the authors are very busy, and I am very grateful for whatever posts they make.

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    An aside: I’m following the Air France story, seeing comments and postings from pilots and ‘weather’ experts saying they know what happens in the atmosphere in the intertropical convergence zone.

    It’s amazing how sure the aircraft folks are about what happens there — how much temperature varies from inside a cumulus that’s pushed up into the stratosphere, compared to the temperature of the dry warm stratospheric air being displaced, for example.

    This guy’s just amended his site
    http://www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/ after reading recent research someone pointed him to, which may change his idea of what happens to aircraft. That’s a good sign. But the researchers have been looking at this whole area for a while, it’s a big unknown for climate.

    Here’s his earlier image:
    http://www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/af447-profile.jpg

    Something about what we know — and don’t know — might be helpful.
    Maybe from here:
    http://www.atmosp.physics.utoronto.ca/SPARC/Announcements.html
    Stratospheric Processes And their Role in Climate
    A core project of the World Climate Research Programme

  39. 89
    MarkB says:

    “All of this is really just an introduction to these questions: What is it that you feel needs more explaining? What interesting bits of the science would you like to know more about? Is there really anything new under the contrarian sun that needs addressing?”

    Contrarian nonsense aside (their arguments have been dissectedn sufficiently), I’d prefer to see analysis of new studies on climate science. Let’s examine studies on impacts, such as attribution of heat waves, droughts, extreme precipitation events, and projected impacts. I’d also like to see a specific post on short-term variability of ocean heat content.

    I’ve read the first 20 pages or so of your new book. I was expecting mostly photos with a little commentary but it also appears to be a good introduction to climate science for the layperson. I look forward to reading the rest. For contrarians who haven’t read it, I suggest at least checking it out from your local library (you won’t have to worry about spending your money on that “AGW hoax”) and giving it a good open-minded read.

  40. 90
    Martin says:

    It seems to me that some people I know aren’t particularly interested in forecasts of what the world will be like at the end of this century.
    Short term forecasts, i.e. 10 years or less, preferably specific to the country or state that they live in would be much more relevant.
    I would like to know more about what is possible in this respect. What are the trends regarding local forecasts on this timescale?

  41. 91
    Mark says:

    76: “I am not blaming the greens per se for the demise of nuclear, just stating that they do not see it as a viable form of energy to replace coal and gas for electricity generation.”

    That’s OK, but your assertion is not borne out by the historical documents:

    53: “I concur that some nuclear is required regardless of the political green movements objection to it on hysterical grounds.”

    68: “Re #60 Mark, sorry but the environmental (green) movement is intrinsically against nuclear power regardless of who else is against it.”

    Does look like “blaming” to me…

  42. 92
    Ellen Thomas says:

    If you really were thinking that the ‘climate debate’ would be anything else than a very long groundhog day you have never looked at the debates on ‘creationism-evolution’ – still going strong now we’re at the 150 year publication anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species’. For those of us who are (micro)paleontologists: the whole set of techniques and mode of debate of the ‘climate skeptics’ tends to be a groundhog day experience – great resemblance to the evolution/creationism experience. So have the courage to keep going for at least another 150 years – even if by that time global warming is even more obvious than today, the debate whether it’s anthropogenic may well be going strong..

    [Response: Indeed! – gavin]

    [Response: Thanks for dropping by Ellen. For those interested in the evolution/ID debate, Randy Olson’s “Flock of Dodos” is an absolute must see. Randy’s new book will almost certainly qualify as “must read”. – mike]

  43. 93
    dhogaza says:

    Maybe a permanent set of pages (not blog posts) which offer a set of “quick proofs” and “quick rebuttals”. Basically, a page with a subject, a paragraph of text and links to more info. The idea being to provide a resource others can link to (or reference) in internet discussions elsewhere.

    Check out this resource:

    How to talk to a climate skeptic.

  44. 94
    MarkB says:

    Other possible topics (I apologize if I’ve missed posts on these)

    Model details – what are the key differences between models (some show more internal variability than others, for example)

    Sea level rise projections – we see anything from the IPCC range to more recent projections of a meter or more. What are the details that account for the differences in these projections?

    I also wonder what the targeted audience is for this blog. I notice many of strong expertise frequent this blog. At times the posts are quite technical from my point of view and seem geared towards other scientists (as opposed to your recent book). Perhaps this deters some from reading. Of course, “dumbing it down” risks losing important information. Maybe each post could have summary sections for the layperson and details for everyone else (or the layperson with some proficiency).

  45. 95
    Steve L says:

    Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me that there is increasing interest in short term phenomena. For me, at least, that’s not simply a reflection of the La Nina and the resulting “planet is cooling” stuff. It’s more that, as a fisheries biologist, the long term stuff is less relevant in many ways. I understand that a lot of things will balance out over the longer term, but the variations around the trend have consequences.
    More specific things I have been wondering about are Arctic Ocean currents (e.g., how fast is freshwater mixed in or lost?) and whether the Moon adds thermal energy to the Earth’s surface via tides (e.g. friction) that will lessen as the Moon’s orbit grows. The second is not an important question, but I find some silly questions to be quite fun.

  46. 96
    Peter Joseph says:

    Keep up the great work, all you real scientists, and thanks for hanging in there. Your \problem\ may be that you simply think differently from the deniers and inhabit parallel universes. You also earn your livelihoods from honest hard work. Regarding the public, it’s partly a communications problem, so check out the work of Peter Sinclair from The Climate Project: Climate Denier Crock of the Week at YouTube. He’s done a wonderful job at myth busting.

  47. 97
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    So, where’s Andie MacDowell?

    [Response: The movie gets a mention in our original post of the same name. – mike]

  48. 98
    Fred Magyar says:

    People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage point that totally transforms systems.

    You could say paradigms are harder to change than anything else about a system, and therefore this item should be lowest on the list, not the highest. But there’s nothing physical or expensive or even slow about paradigm change. In a single individual it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a new way of seeing. Of course individuals and societies do resist challenges to their paradigm harder than they resist any other kind of change.

    So how do you change paradigms? Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the seminal book about the great paradigm shifts of science, has a lot to say about that. In a nutshell, you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you come yourself, loudly, with assurance, from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.
    Donella Meadows: Leverage Points – Places To Intervene In A System

  49. 99
    Wili says:

    This site is essential. It is a good idea not to engage with trolls, but do refer those who might be mislead to places they can go for clear answers to the predictable, repetitive pseudo-questions.

    More discussion of how global warming is unfolding around us would be interesting:

    Updates on rates of ice loss in the Arctic especially in the next weeks and months would be timely and vitally interesting.

    Discussion of any modeling that might tell us what an ice free summer Arctic will do to climate in the north hemisphere (at least) would be of particular relevance for many of us.

    A discussion of the recent shift to a “dipolar” wind pattern in the north that is bringing Arctic air down as far as Texas and warm air deep into the Arctic circle would be useful.

    And do keep us abreast of the latest on atmospheric methane levels (these stats seem to be hard to find this year) and methane release from tundra and clathrates.

    Thanks again from your great work, and don’t let the bastards grind you down!

  50. 100
    Rick Brown says:

    Pete Best #69:

    . . .”To get more we need higher levels of GHGs as I understand it.”

    We’re getting them, as I understand it.


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