RealClimate logo


Science at the bleeding edge

Filed under: — gavin @ 6 July 2009

The vast majority of mainstream media items about science are related to new hot-off-the-press studies, often in high profile journals, that report a new breakthrough, or that purportedly overturn previous ideas. However, while these are exciting news items, this preponderance of coverage given to these state-of-the-art studies compared to assessments such as from the National Academies, can give a misleading impression about the state of a scientific knowledge. The more mature and solid a field, the less controversy there is, and thus the fewer news stories. Ironically, this means the public is told the least about the most solid aspects of science.

One effect of this tendency is that quite often news stories are focused on claims that turn out to be wrong, or if not actually wrong, heavily reduced in importance by the time the dust settles. This is not deliberate, but merely how science works at the frontier. People push measurements to the limit of their accuracy (and sometimes beyond) and theories are used slightly out of their domain of applicability. In recognition of that, Richard Feynman had a useful rule of thumb that the last data point on any graph should be discounted because, if it had been easy to obtain, there would have been another one further along.

Scientists are of course aware of this, and are usually very cautious about adopting new studies that appear unless they’ve been confirmed independently. The blogosphere and Marc Morano? not so much. There have been many times when seemingly dramatic new climate studies have been widely (and wildly) touted where RealClimate (amongst others) have suggested that more caution is warranted. That caution is usually based on what can be loosely describe as “Bayesian priors” – the accumulated wisdom that underpins most of the ‘balance of evidence’ arguments supporting how we understand the real world. Conclusions that aren’t built on single pieces of evidence, but are the most likely explanation to fit a whole set of observations, are generally pretty robust to revisions to single parts of the evidence.

In the news last week was an attempted replication of the surprising finding in 2007 by Pope et al. that a key reaction rate related to polar ozone depletion was very different to what had been supposed. In a guest posting here, Drew Shindell cautioned that this was unlikely to stand since it would make good observations of related effects almost impossible to explain. And so it has proved. New methods to pin down this reaction rate have placed it very close to where people thought it was before the 2007 paper. This is not of course the final word (despite the Nature News headline), but it does illustrate how science deals with the inevitable anomalies that always crop up.

Another example of this was a paper back in 2005 that described a possibly dramatic slowing down of the North Atlantic circulation over the last 30 years. Our prior knowledge about the likely impacts of such a thing (cooling in the North Atlantic for instance) which hadn’t been seen, made us cautious about the interpretation of such a result. And a couple of years later, that caution was vindicated by much higher frequency sampling of the data which revealed a great deal more variability than had been expected, implying that the signal in the earlier paper was more likely to have been an artifact.

Similarly, in 2006 we reported being baffled by a story on plants producing methane, which lead to an unfortunate rash of erroneous ‘Trees cause global warming‘ stories (which weren’t justified even if you fully accepted the paper’s results). A few years and many attempted replications later, the potential for methane fluxes from living plants has been dialed down almost to zero.

These are just a few examples, but all of them illustrate the importance of context in interpreting new results. Not every surprising new finding will be wrong, but seeing what other scientists say about it is a good indication of how likely it is to stand. The key importance of this back and forth though is, as Marcus Rex points out in the Nature News piece on the ozone chemistry story: “Even though [the] results now seem to be wrong, his study did prompt other groups to think about alternative approaches”.

And that is a big part of what scientific research is about.


72 Responses to “Science at the bleeding edge”

  1. 1
    Andy Revkin says:

    There’s much much more on this vitally important theme, and the obligation of journalists to convey what’s (boringly) well established even as they sift for the “front-page thought,” here on Dot Earth: http://bit.ly/dotWhiplash
    http://bit.ly/dotPageOne

    and here in a chapter I wrote for a 2005 guide to science reporting:
    http://bit.ly/DailyPlanet

  2. 2
    FishOutofWater says:

    Following the tobacco industry lead on creating fear uncertainty and doubt to attack well established science – that cigarettes cause cancer – the professional Exxon funded global warming deniers use the uncertainties inherent in cutting edge science to manipulate non-scientists in journalism and policy making positions.

    Thanks for getting to the root of this pernicious problem.

  3. 3

    One might compare this phenomenon (news stories examining the latest i.e. short term perspective based on the ‘new’ study) to climate vs. weather (short vs. long) assessment.

    Unfortunately the talking heads feed upon headlines to sell advertising and gain market share and of course suffer the blight of editorial deadlines as Andy Revkin has so well pointed out (and RC as well).

    Headlines are short term, science is long term
    Weather is short term, climate is long term

    Context is key.

    Peer review is important, surviving peer response is more important.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/peer-review-a-necessary-but-not-sufficient-condition/

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/peer-review-ii/

  4. 4

    #1 Andy Revkin

    Darn it Andy, you beat me to the plug ;)

    Though I was thinking about that other piece you did. Can’t find the link though. It’s the article you did about the process and deadlines and how articles get to release. If you know which one I am referring to, please post it. That was a great piece on the issue.

  5. 5

    What a wonderful subject, connected to everything!

    RC has widely posted on the physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics of global climate destabilization – lets call it science of future studies. Fascinating. Not only is it vitally important to the future of our civilization, but it connects with explorations into political science, social science, behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, and abnormal psychology. And more.

    Many thanks.

  6. 6
    Joe Hunkins says:

    Several excellent, thoughtful points here about the importance of cautious interpretations. Statistics generally do NOT lie, but they are often misinterpreted.

  7. 7
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Being a practicing journalist, Andy Revkin’s remark on the obligation of journalists to convey what is already known carries a lot of weight. True it is.

    As a non-journalist but somebody who used to be involved in the arrangement of broadcast news schedules crammed into the 24 hours of a day, I feel obliged to pipe up and say that it’s not called “news” for nothing; journalists are not obliged and really don’t have the resources to chant the same facts until they are bludgeoned into the heads of the general populace.

    (This was public broadcasting, not the Michael Jackson News Network…)

    This is not to say that providing context and background is not a vital part of good journalism, just that “old” news must necessarily fade in prominence. Meanwhile we in the general populace are obliged to listen to and integrate the information being presented us. We have to participate at least at that level if we want to have a functioning civil society.

  8. 8
    Chris Dudley says:

    One of the different things about science is that it is not rude to say “I told you so,” as this post does several times. We are not blaming or disrespecting when new work is criticized, we are just doing half the work. If skepticism about a new idea turns out to be correct, then one area of uncertainty is reduced because the subject has been more thoroughly studied. Being wrong in an interesting way is probably among the most fruitful contributions one can make to science because of the work inspired by that effort.

    I don’t really agree that the public is less exposed to the more established subjects though. It is just that the exposure occurs in school rather than in the newspaper. Remember, it was in the newspaper seventy years ago. It just isn’t news now.

  9. 9
    Paulk says:

    I think I may just use this post for my critical thinking class to help my freshmen understand how academic research functions in the academy (versus the media). I tell them something fairly similar, but this is very well put.

  10. 10
    John Mashey says:

    This is another instantiation of the well-known maxim in military intelligence:

    Google: “the first report is always wrong”

  11. 11
    Henry chance says:

    I was disappointed on another blog. They were describing the use of fortran and code I used for modeling in the early 70′s. From a technology, it gave a feel of government spending in huge budgets used to process data the old ways. Then we found flaws in the data. I remember writing programs on key punch cards.

  12. 12
    Bill DeMott says:

    As someone who spends a lot of time as a reviewer, editor and writer of scientific articles, I am still often surprised by the number of articles that pop up on Google Scholar searches. Scientist have difficulty keeping up with the literature in their own specialities. It takes a lot of effort to get up to speed with literature when making a moderate shift in one’s research topic. In my opinion and based my experience teaching college students, journalist and the general public have no idea of the depth and strength of evidence that support current scientific theories. Of course, the really exciting parts of a scientific topic are those of current controversy and active research.

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:

    A bit of cutting edge new science:

    http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/nexdat/headliner/CloudSat_Oceans_final.pdf

    Much else there, always something new in satellite observation for weather and climate. Try:
    http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/nexdat/headliner/Contrails_Jan09.pdf

  14. 14
    Bernie says:

    #2 Fishoutofwater
    Methinks you should read gavin’s comments again.

  15. 15
    Karen Kohfeld says:

    Gavin, thanks for this excellent description of both the scientific process and how it can be interpreted by someone who is not used to skimming through Science and Nature every week. I teach physical sciences to future environmental managers, some of whom are gaining their first exposure to natural science. This post provides an excellent (and brief!) perspective on how one should approach new results. It may just become a required read.

  16. 16

    In the original post, Gavin says:”Similarly, in 2006 we reported being baffled by a story on plants producing methane, which lead to an unfortunate rash of erroneous ‘Trees cause global warming‘ stories….”

    The return of the “killer trees”. No less an authority than our 40th President once said:”Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” — Ronald Reagan, 1981.
    http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Trees_cause_pollution

    Thank you for an instructive post. One good lesson-proceed with caution.

  17. 17
    Dean says:

    This issue of media and science has also been an issue with diet and health, where the media likes to report on a study that indicates some odd impact. Today there was one that was reported to show that 5 cups of coffee a day defends against alzheimers.

    And there is the parallel issue of science and blogs. Are they a good place to debate science? Roger Pielke Jr said so on his blog but Roger Pielke Sr apparently doesn’t think so since he doesn’t allow it.

  18. 18
    Eli Rabett says:

    One of the keys here, and also in another recent case, is the method by which extraordinary and important results are confirmed is not by checking the details of the original publication, but by figuring out a way to measure the same thing differently. By coming at a problem from a different angle you don’t buy into the same set of assumptions, errors and gotchas. It is only at that point that you can sensibly ask (and profit from the answer) what went wrong, and even then there is no guarantee of an answer.

  19. 19
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Sorry to hear that trees don’t belch or break wind. It was the kind of strange possibility that helps to brighten a dull landscape.

    reCaptcha: that weir

  20. 20
    Bob Clipperton says:

    Good article RealClimate

    In my opinion, this article completely supports the extended ‘scientific’ peer-review process.

    Many people, including those with a fair amount of scientific knowledge would suggest that if a paper has been published in a respected journal after ‘peer-review’ then it is ‘truth’.

    Therefore, I always recommend ‘verification’ or ‘validation’ of the work in my debates elsewhere with AGW deniers.

    They obviously don’t like it because almost without exception, (anybody know of any ?) their ideas have not been verified/validated.

  21. 21
    Tony O\\\'Brien says:

    From the outside it sometimes difficult to workout whether a different result is change or better data.

    Over the years there have been estimates of the size of the cavity under the Amery ice shelf, each one showing that the cavity is bigger. Now is the cavity growing or is the science, data and equipment improving?

    I suspect mainly the latter, that the first estimates where conservative. That the cavity was at least that big, but probably bigger.

    Similarly with the newly discovered variability of the North Atlantic Current, new or new data. Given the expansion of oceanic desertification related to reduced upwelling and the reduction of deep-water creation off Greenland, perhaps we should consider the possibility that the Meridional Overturning Circulation is starting to stall.

  22. 22

    16.Lawrence Brown: ‘… our 40th President once said:”Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”’

    At least in isolated circumstances, that can be true. The Smokey Mountains are called that for a reason.

  23. 23
    Robert Reiland says:

    I’ve often relied on this blog for perspective when new results have been prematurely touted in climate science. My own perspective is that even peer reviewed papers announcing something new should only cue one on what to look for in the future rather than pointing to anything settled.

    An example from cosmology is that for a long time cosmologists were in two camps as to the Hubble Constant. One group was confident that it was close to 50 Km/s/Mpsec. Another that it was close to double that value. Both groups had good papers backing their claims. We now have good confidence that it’s within 2% of 72 Km/s/Mpsec. There are now very few cosmologists who think otherwise.

    This might not make news in the same way that previous disagreement did, but it is more interesting to me that something with such big unknowns could be resolved so well so quickly.

    In arguing with people about climate science or cosmology, I have gotten into the habit of using only the solid results while saying that I’ll be willing to talk about the latest results when they have been refuted or given much more support.

  24. 24
    Mark says:

    re 22: Especially since where you have a lot of trees and no roads…

  25. 25
    tamino says:

    Re: #22 (Steve Reynolds)

    You really should investigate before saying things like this:

    At least in isolated circumstances, that can be true. The Smokey Mountains are called that for a reason.

    Indeed they are, but not for the reason your comment suggests. From Wikipedia:

    The name “Smoky” comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance.

    Fog is not pollution.

    As for Reagan’s statement, you should have read the link given:

    Reagan was disingenuously referencing the photochemical reaction that causes ground level ozone pollution (GLOP), also known as photochemical smog.[2] Smog is created when automobile and power plant emissions are broken down into ozone and other chemicals by strong sunlight. These reactions are amplified by the presence of various volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.[3] During hot weather many tree species release volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, notably terpenes and isoprenes[4] (pine pitch is a terpene). Other VOCs that contribute to GLOP include gasoline, kerosene, paint, paint thinner and other industrial solvents.

    Reagan’s statement was disingenuous because volatile organic compounds produced by trees do not cause pollution any more than the sun causes pollution. Reagan might as well have said, “the sun causes more pollution than automobiles do”. Photochemical ozone pollution is created when automobile and power plant pollution is broken down by strong sunlight in the presence of any number of volatile organic compounds.

  26. 26

    I’ve added a couple of new pages to my web site. This one deals with the famous “800-year lag” of CO2 to temperature in the ice cores:

    http://BartonPaulLevenson.com/Lag.html

    And this one deals with the “cooling trend since 1998:”

    http://BartonPaulLevenson.com/VV.html

  27. 27

    Re: #20. This is an important point, and well put. In my discussions with the public, I’ve found it helpful to point out that peer review is not a high bar, but a relatively low one. Peer-review generally (though certainly not always) assures the reader that no obvious errors have been made. But publication then initiates the ‘extended peer-review’ that you mention, involving the broader scientific community, not just the three or four referees.

  28. 28
    Steve Reynolds says:

    25.tamino: “You really should investigate before saying things like this…”

    You could look a little more as well and give a peer reviewed reference rather than Wikipedia. See the last sentence of this abstract:

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/110452719/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

    Identification of some organic smog components based on rain water analysis
    R. A. Saunders, J. R. Griffith, F. E. Saalfeld
    Chemistry Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. 20375, USA

    Abstract
    An analysis has been made of a sample of rain water collected in Washington, D.C. following a sustained photo-oxidant smog alert which was accompanied by haze and low visibility. The analysis was effected by purging the organic content from the water with helium gas and identifying the constituents by means of gas chromatography – mass spectrometry. The predominant compound was found to be 3-methylfuran, a possible intermediate or end product of the atmospheric decomposition of terpenoid hydrocarbons. The analysis suggests that the smog resulted from the air oxidation of hydrocarbons evolved from Appalachian forestation rather than from manassociated activities.

  29. 29
    glen says:

    i wonder what Gavin thinks about this paper; science from the bleating edge of climate change.

    “People push measurements to the limit of their accuracy (and sometimes beyond) and theories are used slightly out of their domain of applicability.”

    [Response: Can I use that? – gavin]

  30. 30
    David B. Benson says:

    “The Sun Has Spots, Finally”:
    http://www.livescience.com/space/090706-sunspot-activity.html

  31. 31
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: 28
    Hey Steve,

    Terribly funny that that study should point to terpenoids when spruce-fir tree distribution is primarily found on the ridges, surrounding the balds and at elevations greater then 5,200 feet. The main body of the region is generally defined as temperate deciduous forest, with the primary population being oak and maple, (with old growth maples filling in for the loss of the American Chestnut).

    I think reviewing the body of the referenced study would be worthy of further analysis… After all I have not heard of many tourists going to the “mountains” to watch the pine needles fall in Spring versus the leaf color change in the Fall.

    Cheers!
    Dave Cooke

  32. 32
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Evolution and global warming — the denialosphere will erupt like a supernova!

  33. 33

    #29 glen

    Gavin, I don’t think there is any copyright on titles as I recall, (from the 1986 copyright act (last time I read copyright law)).

    Hmmm… I smell something? It’s not the sheep albedo though… Is there a connection between sheep size and …?

  34. 34
    ned says:

    Gavin, the science supporting global warming is essentially settled though, isn’t it? When I get into debates with neanderthals about the why the Climate Bill is necessary now that’s what I’ve been saying anyway.

  35. 35
    Thomas says:

    I’ve seen some sciencedaily references to a new study which claims that the ElNino phase of ENSO is changing form. I don’t have the reference, but I’m sure Gavin and company have heard of it. They only seemed to be interested (at least press overview-wise) in the connection to Atlantic hurricanes. The claim is the warm phase was starting to affect the central pacific rather than the eastern. This might make an interesting future topic, “is the character of ENSO changing, what is the evidence, and if true what are the implications?”

  36. 36
    Eli Rabett says:

    You don’t get smog without NOx and SOx mostly produced by high temperature combustion (read humans). That’s the difference between Atlanta and the Smokies and pollution from human sources is creeping in there too turning the blue haze (terpenes) into smog.

  37. 37
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thomas, if you’re thinking about this
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5742/1844
    you’re asking for a perfect example
    “what if … true” for this topic.

    You can count on a flurry of what-if stories–the scientists have explained the questions are premature speculation: a discovery of something for which we simply don’t have enough decades of records available, so we can’t tell if it’s related to long cycles or to something new happening.

    Now if ANDRILL, say, or someone else with a seabed or lake or ice core covering that area and a long time span comes up able to identify a reliable proxy for this “same but different” pattern, that’ll become interesting.

    I’m sure whoever may be looking is not going to be speculating in advance of the data, though.

    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/45259/title/New_cyclone_predictor

    “… Data suggest that episodes of central Pacific warming have occurred more frequently since the 1960s, Webster notes. Because relatively few sea-surface temperature data were collected in that region before the 1950s, scientists can’t yet discern whether this increased frequency is a symptom of long-term global climate change or is merely part of a long-term climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which typically lasts around two to three decades.”

  38. 38
    dhogaza says:

    You don’t get smog without NOx and SOx mostly produced by high temperature combustion (read humans). That’s the difference between Atlanta and the Smokies and pollution from human sources is creeping in there too turning the blue haze (terpenes) into smog.

    It’s clear now, as it was then, that Reagan was talking about something he didn’t understand.

  39. 39
    Hank Roberts says:

    There are times I just weep. I was out in the street just now watching the space station go over, and a couple of 20ish guys looked at me and I told them what I was doing and pointed, and got the ‘really?’ — and walked across the street to keep it in view as it went through sunset, changing color.

    And one of them asked me “where did it take off from? Florida?”

    And I said “It’s been up there for ten years.”

    And he said “No way.”

    I said “Really. It’s that thing they keep flying up to, taking up more parts, making it bigger.”

    And he said “no way!”

    And I said “It will be back in about 90 minutes, way higher in the sky as it goes overhead on its next orbit.”

    And he looked at me like I was from some other planet.

    Maybe he or his silent friend will remember to look it up.

    Science education. It would be a good idea.

  40. 40
    Hank Roberts says:

    More from the edge, hat tip to: http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=2029
    Let’s see what becomes of this one. Brief excerpts from the blog:

    Short-term declines in global temperature predicted by GCMs
    A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters (Easterling and Wehner 2009) argues that short term periods of no-trend or even cooling (nested within longer term warming) are in fact predicted by Global Climate Models….

    http://www.climateshifts.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Fig-1-300×280.jpg

    http://www.climateshifts.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Fig-2-300×203.jpg

  41. 41
    Ike Solem says:

    Here’s another example of this kind of thing:

    NEW YORK, July 7 (UPI) — Cooler than average weather patterns in the U.S. northeast, attributed to the solar cycle, will likely persist for the rest of the summer, forecasters said.

    There will be spikes of summer weather, AccuWeather.com reported Monday, but weather patterns that have prevailed so far will probably last.

    This year represents a low point for sunspots, NASA said. Studies indicate the lower the sunspots, the less bright the sun, which could translate to less heating of Earth, although many other factors could also be pertinent.

    One, I don’t believe that NASA is attributing the cool summer to the sunspot cycle, correct? Thus, this is obviously slanted language that attempts to tie NASA to that conclusion. What UPI apparently did is to copy some elements of the “Accuweather.com” story by their ‘senior meteorologist’, Alex Sosnowski, who also played the same game with NASA. Not exactly the first time that Accuweather has done such things, but pretty surprising that they’d use such a thorughly discredited concept. For some background:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Accu-Weather%27s_science_for_hire

    However, they are hardly alone in this. Take a look at the headline provided for Andy Revkin’s story on seal level change in the NY Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/science/earth/15antarctica.html

    “Study Halves Predictions of Rising Seas”

    At best, that’s an incredibly distorted headline that completely misrepresents the actual study. For why, see:

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

    Second, the posting of a note by Don Easterbrook as fact by Andy Revkin is also very misleading:

    Here is the note from Don Easterbrook: Editor’s Selection at the NYT.

    This is the cool water phase of the PDO and it isn’t going to change for at least 2-3 decades (at least it never has in the past) and it is unaffected by atmospheric CO2 as shown by the three PDO switches this century

    Here is why it so nonsensical:

    In reality, the Pacific Decadal Wobble and the El Nino/Southern Wobble are not “oscillations” like a mass on a spring produces, but rather fluctuations with a large random component and a small periodic component.

    Regardless of whether the PDO is a real phenomenon or not, it is obviously a good deal weaker than ENSO, and everyone recognizes that global warming will affect ENSO and many other features of the climate, and any reasonably competent journalist should be able to look that up, or at least seek out other oceanographers for their opinions on the issue (try Scripps, Woods Hole, Princeton, etc.).

    So, I don’t really think the New York Times is qualified to comment on what is and what is not good climate science reporting, based on that alone – and there are many more examples from recent stories that have similar basic problems. The NYT is hardly alone – CNN has been publishing even worse material since they laid off their entire science team.

    Stephen Schneider called this the “one fax-one story” approach to journalism – but real journalists do background work, they don’t just act as stenographers, and they take responsibility for what they write.

    There is a big difference between legitimate scientific debate and the kind of things seen above, which fall into the “Well, it’s possible that HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS” category.

    P.S. That is even more true for the claims surrounding coal carbon capture and sequestration, which are nonsensical in the extreme – I still think that there should be an independent scientific review of that entire program, carried out by the APS along the lines of their cold fusion review.

  42. 42
    Chris S. says:

    John @33

    Is there a connection between sheep size and …?

    Well…

    http://www.indopia.in/India-usa-uk-news/latest-news/616214/FeaturedArticles/14/54/14

  43. 43
    Vincent van der Goes says:

    Re 26 (Barton Paul Levenson):

    Sorry for getting off-topic here, but I would like to thank you for the work. Your climatology pages are great – clear, insightfull and to the point. Your review of Miskolczi was the best I could find. Keep it up.

  44. 44
    Mark says:

    Chris #42, there IS a relationship between cold winters and the death of the weaker, smaller sheep.

    It’s why we wrap babies up warm.

  45. 45
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Hank, I’m right there with you. I was on a flight back from London (I bought offsets through NativeEnergy, btw) and next to me was a lovely lady who was returning from a human development project in Uganda. I asked if climate change was evident in Uganda, and she laughed: “I think they have much bigger problems there!”

    Seeing an opening, I casually asked what she thought of the mechanism of global warming, and she said, “Doesn’t the ozone hole let in more heat?” I used the opportunity for a little education, which I hope didn’t bore her too much.

  46. 46
    Peter Mc says:

    Jeffrey @19

    Biology ‘o’ level (old UK 16 year old exams) howler from about 1984 – ‘trees can break wind for up to 300 yards’.

    It was followed in the round up by ‘the lens focuses light on the rectum’.

  47. 47
    pinkithebrain says:

    the only think we realy know is, that CO2 must have a T forcing in the atmosphere and we know about the absorbation reality and capacity of this molecule.
    nothing else is clear. we do not know, if water vapor forcings will “help” CO2 forcings to create a greater warming.

    if you know it realy, please tell me an the rest oft the world, thank you!

  48. 48
    Mark says:

    “nothing else is clear.”

    To you, maybe.

    We DO know if water vapour forcings will create a greater warming. For the same reason we know CO2 creates warming.

    I think you’re projecting your pinky. Snoik!

  49. 49
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #41 Ike Solem:

    What a weird coincidence; I took a course that Don Easterbrook phoned in to us hapless undergraduates whilst afflicting us with muzzy xerox copies of the draft of his latest textbook, used as the basis for the course (geomorphology, natch), something like a quarter century ago. Nothing wrong with using your own book in a course you’re teaching, of course, -if- the chapters arrive on time. Looking at Professor Easterbrook’s body of work on AGW, I see he still likes his place in the limelight. I was happy with my grade, he was a decent lecturer when present, but I wish he’d made more of a commitment to doing the course with us as opposed to waltzing around around in the mountains, posing for goggled hero shots in layers of photogenic technical apparel.

    Dr. Easterbrook has self-avowedly staked his reputation on sunspots overwhelming C02 as an influence on climate, apparently regardless of the amount of C02 we put in the atmosphere (sunspots calibrate themselves against C02? how does that work?). But then there’s not much at risk, there. His profile has only increased since crossing the boundaries of his field of expertise and volunteering to revise climate science. He’s emeritus, he’s reached academic Valhalla, he’s been pastured to make room for younger people, so he can sling material like this:

    “There’s a huge uproar in the scientific world because in the last ten years, the climate has cooled slightly, but the media won’t tell you that. This year is a big downturn, you can’t miss it. Global warming simply ended in 1998, but the public doesn’t know it.”

    “Every year they recalibrate their computer model and put in the observed temperature. So, as they go along, the curve that trails behind is perfect. It’s like predicting the morning’s weather at six-o’clock in the evening.”

    “Do you know what drives them? Money. I’m talking about money, period.”

    “It all goes to the CO2 people who build little fiefdoms; they have grant money coming out of their ears.”

    “The CO2 effect is tiny. The eight one-thousandths of one-percent contributed by human activity won’t do much. Human–caused warming is dogma, pure and simple.”

    “Al Gore will go probably down in history as the guy who claimed to have invented the Internet and human-caused Global Warming, and they’re both bogus claims. It’s a hoax, frankly.”

    [Professor Easterbrook seems particularly incensed w/Al Gore, to the point that he's frothing about the old Internet myth.]

    “There’s nothing we can do by stopping CO2 emissions that will affect climate in the next several hundred years. Nothing.”

    “The Farmer’s Almanac predicted it would be a cold winter. And how do they do that? Do they talk to squirrels or something? It turns out, they apparently look at sunspot cycles. Their projections are apparently based on sunspot cycles!”

    A wee bit lacking in judicious selection of words and claims, but in Dr. Easterbrook’s favor the interviewer who extracted those pearls seemed pretty good at pushing his buttons.

    http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~dbunny/research/global/interview3_27_08.pdf

    Amazing, really, the variety of multiple personalities folks assume depending on their audience. From his letter to the Times you’d never guess Professor Easterbrook leaned on the Farmer’s Almanac as evidence in support of his sunspot hypothesis.

  50. 50

    Re #41:
    “..That is even more true for the claims surrounding coal carbon capture and sequestration, which are nonsensical in the extreme – I still think that there should be an independent scientific review of that entire program, carried out by the APS….”

    There are currently projects that are taking place on an international level:
    http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/01/22/f-carbon-capture.html

    This link reads in part-
    “At the moment there are three big capture programs already underway in the world, which proves the idea can work:

    .Norway’s national oil company is stripping one million tonnes a year of CO2 from the natural gas it is mining under the North Sea and re-injecting it back into empty wells.
    . British Petroleum is doing the same with an oil well in Algeria and planning a similar project in California.
    .And a (coal-gasification) utility in Beulah, North Dakota, is shipping approximately 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year over 200 kilometres by pipeline to Weyburn, Sask., where it is being re-injected into an old oil field to help with the recovery of new deposits.”

    Two of those listed above aren’t coal carbon capture,though the injection process in these projects seems to be working.


Switch to our mobile site