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Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind

Filed under: — group @ 24 February 2010

Guest commentary from Ben Santer

Part 2 of a series discussing the recent Guardian articles

A recent story by Fred Pearce in the February 9th online edition of the Guardian (“Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors”) covers some of the more publicized aspects of the last 14 years of my scientific career. I am glad that Mr. Pearce’s account illuminates some of the non-scientific difficulties I have faced. However, his account also repeats unfounded allegations that I engaged in dubious professional conduct. In a number of instances, Mr Pearce provides links to these allegations, but does not provide a balanced account of the rebuttals to them. Nor does he give links to locations where these rebuttals can be found. I am taking this opportunity to correct Mr. Pearce’s omissions, to reply to the key allegations, and to supply links to more detailed responses.

Another concern relates to Mr. Pearce’s discussion of the “openness” issue mentioned in the title and sub-title of his story. A naïve reader of Mr. Pearce’s article might infer from the sub-title (“Ben Santer had a change of heart about data transparency…”) that my scientific research was not conducted in an open and transparent manner until I experienced “a change of heart”.

This inference would be completely incorrect. As I discuss below, my research into the nature and causes of climate change has always been performed in an open, transparent, and collegial manner. Virtually all of the scientific papers I have published over the course of my career involve multi-institutional teams of scientists with expertise in climate modeling, the development of observational datasets, and climate model evaluation. The model and observational data used in my research is not proprietary – it is freely available to researchers anywhere in the world.

The 1995 IPCC Report: The “scientific cleansing” allegation

Mr. Pearce begins by repeating some of the allegations of misconduct that arose after publication (in 1996) of the Second Assessment Report (SAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These allegations targeted Chapter 8 of the SAR, which dealt with the “Detection of Climate Change, and Attribution of Causes”. The IPCC SAR reached the historic finding that “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”. Information presented in Chapter 8 provided substantial support for this finding.

I served as the Convening Lead Author (CLA) of Chapter 8. There were three principal criticisms of my conduct as CLA. All three allegations are baseless. They have been refuted on many occasions, and in many different fora. All three allegations make an appearance in Mr. Pearce’s story, but there are no links to the detailed responses to these claims.

The first allegation was that I had engaged in “scientific cleansing”. This allegation originated with the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – a group of businesses “opposing immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

In May 1996, a document entitled “The IPCC: Institutionalized ‘Scientific Cleansing’?” was widely circulated to the press and politicians. In this document, the Global Climate Coalition claimed that after a key Plenary Meeting of the IPCC in Madrid in November 1995, all scientific uncertainties had been purged from Chapter 8. The GCC’s “scientific cleansing” allegation was soon repeated in an article in Energy Daily (May 22, 1996) and in an editorial in the Washington Times (May 24, 1996). It was also prominently featured in the World Climate Report, a publication edited by Professor Patrick J. Michaels (June 10, 1996).

This “scientific cleansing” claim is categorically untrue. There was no “scientific cleansing”. Roughly 20% of the published version of Chapter 8 specifically addressed uncertainties in scientific studies of the causes of climate change. In discussing the “scientific cleansing” issue, Mr. Pearce claims that many of the caveats in Chapter 8 “did not make it to the summary for policy-makers”. This is incorrect.

The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the IPCC SAR is four-and-a-half pages long. Roughly one page of the SPM discusses results from Chapter 8. The final paragraph of that page deals specifically with uncertainties, and notes that:

“Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of long term natural variability and the time-evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes”.

Contrary to Mr. Pearce’s assertion, important caveats did “make it to the summary for policy-makers”. And the “discernible human influence” conclusion of both Chapter 8 and the Summary for Policymakers has been substantiated by many subsequent national and international assessments of climate science.

There were several reasons why Chapter 8 was a target for unfounded “scientific cleansing” allegations. First, the Global Climate Coalitions’s “scientific cleansing” charges were released to the media in May 1996. At that time, Cambridge University Press had not yet published the IPCC Second Assessment Report in the United States. Because of this delay in the Report’s U.S. publication, many U.S. commentators on the “scientific cleansing” claims had not even read Chapter 8 – they only had access to the GCC’s skewed account of the changes made to Chapter 8. Had the Second Assessment Report been readily available in the U.S. in May 1996, it would have been easy for interested parties to verify that Chapter 8 incorporated a fair and balanced discussion of scientific uncertainties.

Second, the “pre-Madrid” version of Chapter 8 was the only chapter in the IPCC Working Group I Second Assessment Report to have both an “Executive Summary” and a “Concluding Summary”. As discussed in the next section, this anomaly was partly due to the fact that the Lead Author team for Chapter 8 was not finalized until April 1994 – months after all other chapters had started work. Because of this delay in getting out of the starting blocks, the Chapter 8 Lead Author team was more concerned with completing the initial drafts of our chapter than with the question of whether all chapters in the Working Group I Report had exactly the same structure.

The reply of the Chapter 8 Lead Authors to the Energy Daily story of May 22, 1996 pointed out this ‘two summary’ redundancy, and noted that:

“After receiving much criticism of this redundancy in October and November 1995, the Convening Lead Author of Chapter 8 decided to remove the concluding summary. About half of the information in the concluding summary was integrated with material in Section 8.6. It did not disappear completely, as the Global Climate Coalition has implied. The lengthy Executive Summary of Chapter 8 addresses the issue of uncertainties in great detail – as does the underlying Chapter itself.”

The removal of the concluding summary made it simple for the Global Climate Coalition to advance their unjustified “scientific cleansing” allegations. They could claim ‘This statement has been deleted’, without mentioning that the scientific issue addressed in the deleted statement was covered elsewhere in the chapter.

This was my first close encounter of the absurd kind.

The 1995 IPCC Report: The “political tampering/corruption of peer-review” allegation

The second allegation is that I was responsible for “political tampering”. I like to call this “the tail wags the dog” allegation. The “tail” here is the summary of the Chapter 8 results in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers, and the “dog” is the detailed underlying text of Chapter 8.

In November 1995, 177 government delegates from 96 countries spent three days in Madrid. Their job was to “approve” each word of the four-and-a-half page Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s Working Group I Report. This was the report that dealt with the physical science of climate change. The delegates also had the task of “accepting” the 11 underlying science chapters on which the Summary for Policymakers was based. “Acceptance” of the 11 chapters did not require government approval of each word in each chapter.

This was not a meeting of politicians only. A number of the government delegates were climate scientists. Twenty-eight of the Lead Authors of the IPCC Working Group I Report – myself included – were also prominent participants in Madrid. We were there to ensure that the politics did not get ahead of the science, and that the tail did not wag the dog.

Non-governmental organizations – such as the Global Climate Coalition – were also active participants in the Madrid meeting. NGOs had no say in the formal process of approving the Summary for Policymakers. They were, however, allowed to make comments on the SPM and the underlying 11 science chapters during the first day of the Plenary Meeting (November 27, 1996). The Global Climate Coalition dominated the initial plenary discussions.

Most of the plenary discussions at Madrid focused on the portrayal of Chapter 8’s findings in the Summary for Policymakers. Discussions were often difficult and contentious. We wrestled with the exact wording of the “balance of evidence” statement mentioned above. The delegations from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait argued for a very weak statement, or for no statement at all. Delegates from many other countries countered that there was strong scientific evidence of pronounced a human effect on climate, and that the bottom-line statement from Chapter 8 should reflect this.

Given the intense interest in Chapter 8, Sir John Houghton (one of the two Co-Chairs of IPCC Working Group I) established an ad hoc group on November 27, 1996. I was a member of this group. Our charge was to review those parts of the draft Summary for Policymakers that dealt with climate change detection and attribution issues. The group was placed under the Chairmanship of Dr. Martin Manning of New Zealand, and included delegates from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Kenya, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Sir John Houghton also invited delegates from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to participate in this ad hoc group. Unfortunately, they did not accept this invitation.

The ad hoc group considered more than just the portions of the Summary for Policymakers that were relevant to Chapter 8. The Dutch delegation asked for a detailed discussion of Chapter 8 itself, and of the full scientific evidence contained in it. This discussion took place on November 28, 1996.

On November 29, 1996, I reported back to the Plenary on the deliberations of the ad hoc group. The Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegations – who had not attended any of the discussions of the ad hoc group, and had no first-hand knowledge of what had been discussed by the group – continued to express serious reservations about the scientific basis for the detection and attribution statements in the Summary for Policymakers.

On the final evening of the Madrid Plenary Meeting, debate focused on finding the right word to describe the human effect on global climate. There was broad agreement among the government delegates that – based on the scientific evidence presented in Chapter 8 – some form of qualifying word was necessary. Was the human influence “measurable”? Could it be best described as “appreciable”, “detectable”, or “substantial”? Each of these suggested words had proponents and opponents. How would each word translate into different languages? Would the meaning be the same as in English?

After hours of often rancorous debate, Bert Bolin (who was then the Chairman of the IPCC) finally found the elusive solution. Professor Bolin suggested that the human effect on climate should be described as “discernible”.

Mr. Pearce – who was not present at the Madrid Plenary Meeting – argues that the discussion of human effects on climate in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers “went beyond what was said in the chapter from which the summary was supposedly drawn”. In other words, he suggests that the tail wagged the dog. This is not true. The “pre-Madrid” bottom-line statement from Chapter 8 was “Taken together, these results point towards a human influence on climate”. As I’ve noted above, the final statement agreed upon in Madrid was “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”.

Is “suggests” stronger than “points towards”? I doubt it. Is “The balance of evidence” a more confident phrase than “Taken together”? I don’t think so.

The primary difference between the pre- and post-Madrid statements is that the latter includes the word “discernible”. In my American Heritage College Dictionary, “discernible” is defined as “perceptible, as by vision or the intellect”. In Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, one of the three meanings of the verb “discern” is “to recognize or identify as separate and distinct”. Was the use of “discernible” justified?

The answer is clearly “yes”. Chapter 8 of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report relied heavily on the evidence from a number of different “fingerprint” studies. This type of research uses rigorous statistical methods to compare observed patterns of climate change with results from climate model simulations. The basic concept of fingerprinting is that each different influence on climate – such as purely natural changes in the Sun’s energy output, or human-caused changes in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases – has a unique signature in climate records. This uniqueness becomes more apparent if one looks beyond changes averaged over the entire globe, and instead exploits the much greater information content available in complex, time-varying patterns of climate change.

Fingerprinting has proved to be an invaluable tool for untangling the complex cause-and-effect relationships in the climate system. The IPCC’s Second Assessment Report in 1995 was able to draw on fingerprint studies from a half-dozen different research groups. Each of these groups had independently shown that they could indeed perceive a fingerprint of human influence in observed temperature records. The signal was beginning to rise out of the noise, and was (using Merriam-Webster’s definition of “discern”) “separate and distinct” from purely natural variations in climate.

Based on these fingerprint results, and based on the other scientific evidence available to us in November 1995, use of the word “discernible” was entirely justified. Its use is certainly justified based on the scientific information available to us in 2010. The “discernible human influence” phrase was approved by all of the 177 delegates from 96 countries present at the Plenary Meeting – even by the Saudi and Kuwaiti delegations. None of the 28 IPCC Lead Authors in attendance at Madrid balked at this phrase, or questioned our finding that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”. The latter statement was cautious and responsible, and entirely consistent with the state of the science. The much more difficult job of trying to quantify the size of human influences on climate would be left to subsequent IPCC assessments.

Mr. Pearce’s remarks suggest that there is some substance to the “political tampering” allegation – that I was somehow coerced to change Chapter 8 in order to “reflect the wording of the political summary”. This is untrue. There was no political distortion of the science. If Mr. Pearce had been present at the Madrid Plenary Meeting, he would have seen how vigorously (and successfully) scientists resisted efforts on the part of a small number of delegates to skew and spin some of the information in the Summary for Policymakers.

The key point here is that the SPM was not a “political summary” – it was an accurate reflection of the science. Had it been otherwise, I would not have agreed to put my name on the Report.

A reader of Mr. Pearce’s article might also gain the mistaken impression that the changes to Chapter 8 were only made in response to comments made by government delegates during the Madrid Plenary Meeting. That is not true. As I’ve mentioned above, changes were also made to address government comments made during the meeting of the ad hoc group formed to discuss Chapter 8.

Furthermore, when I first arrived in Madrid on November 26, 1995, I was handed a stack of government and NGO comments on Chapter 8 that I had not seen previously. I had the responsibility of responding to these comments.

One reason for the delay in receiving comments was that the IPCC had encountered difficulties in finding a Convening Lead Author (CLA) for Chapter 8. To my knowledge, the CLA job had been turned down by at least two other scientists before I received the job offer. The unfortunate consequence of this delay was that, at the time of the Madrid Plenary Meeting, Chapter 8 was less mature and polished than other chapters of the IPCC Working Group I Report. Hence the belated review comments.

The bottom line in this story is that the post-Madrid revisions to Chapter 8 were made for scientific, not political reasons. They were made by me, not by IPCC officials. The changes were in full accord with IPCC rules and procedures (pdf). Mr. Pearce repeats accusations by Fred Seitz that the changes to Chapter 8 were illegal and unauthorized, and that I was guilty of “corruption of the peer-review process”. These allegations are false, as the IPCC has clearly pointed out.

The 1995 IPCC Report: The “research irregularities” allegation

The third major front in the attack on Chapter 8 focused on my personal research. It was a two-pronged attack. First, Professor S. Fred Singer claimed that the IPCC’s “discernible human influence” conclusion was entirely based on two of my own (multi-authored) research papers. Next, Professor Patrick Michaels argued that one of these two papers was seriously flawed, and that irregularities had occurred in the paper’s publication process. Both charges were untrue.

On July 25, 1996, I addressed the first of these allegations in an email to the Lead Authors of the 1995 IPCC Report:

“Chapter 8 references more than 130 scientific papers – not just two. Its bottom-line conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate” is not solely based on the two Santer et al. papers that Singer alludes to. This conclusion derives from many other published studies on the comparison of modelled and observed patterns of temperature change – for example, papers by Karoly et al. (1994), Mitchell et al. (1995), Hegerl et al. (1995), Karl et al. (1995), Hasselmann et al. (1995), Hansen et al. (1995) and Ramaswamy et al. (1996). It is supported by many studies of global-mean temperature changes, by our physical understanding of the climate system, by our knowledge of human-induced changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, by information from paleoclimatic studies, and by a wide range of supporting information (sea-level rise, retreat of glaciers, etc.). To allege, as Singer does, that “Chapter 8 is mainly based on two research papers” is just plain wrong”.

In the second prong of the attack, Professor Michaels claimed that a paper my colleagues and I had published in Nature in 1996 had been selective in its use of observational data, and that our finding of a human fingerprint in atmospheric temperature data was not valid if a longer observational record was used. Further, he argued that Nature had been “toyed with” (presumably by me), and coerced into publishing the 1996 Santer et al. Nature paper one week prior to a key United Nations meeting in Geneva.

My colleagues and I immediately addressed the scientific criticism of our Nature paper by Michaels and his colleague Chip Knappenberger. We demonstrated that this criticism was simply wrong. Use of a longer record of atmospheric temperature change strengthened rather than weakened the evidence for a human fingerprint. We published this work in Nature in December 1996. Unfortunately, Mr. Pearce does not provide a link to this publication.

Since 1996, studies by a number of scientists around the world have substantiated the findings of our 1996 Nature paper. Such work has consistently shown clear evidence of a human fingerprint in atmospheric temperature records.

Disappointingly, Professor Michaels persists in repeating his criticism of our paper, without mentioning our published rebuttal or the large body of subsequently published evidence refuting his claims. Michaels’ charge that Nature had been “toyed with” was complete nonsense. As described below, however, this was not the last time I would be falsely accused of having the extraordinary power to force scientific journals to do my bidding.

A Climatology Conspiracy? More “peer-review abuse” accusations

Mr. Pearce also investigates a more recent issue. He implies that I abused the normal peer-review system, and exerted pressure on the editor of the International Journal of Climatology to delay publication of the print version of a paper by Professor David Douglass and colleagues. This is not true.

The Douglass et al. paper was published in December 2007 in the online edition of the International Journal of Climatology. The “et al.” included the same Professor S. Fred Singer who had previously accused me of “scientific cleansing”. It also included Professor John Christy, the primary developer of a satellite-based temperature record which suggests that there has been minimal warming of Earth’s lower atmosphere since 1979. Three alternate versions of the satellite temperature record, produced by different teams of researchers using the same raw satellite measurements, all indicate substantially more warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The focus of the Douglass et al. paper was on post-1979 temperature changes in the tropics. The authors devised what they called a “robust statistical test” to compare computer model results with observations. The test was seriously flawed (see Appendix A in Open Letter to the Climate Science Community: Response to A “Climatology Conspiracy?”). When it was applied to the model and observational temperature datasets, the test showed (quite incorrectly) that the model results were significantly different from observations.

As I have noted elsewhere, the Douglass et al. paper immediately attracted considerable media and political attention. One of the paper’s authors claimed that it represented an “inconvenient truth”, and proved that “Nature, not humans, rules the climate”. These statements were absurd. No single study can overturn the very large body of scientific evidence supporting “discernible human influence” findings. Nor does any individual study provide the sole underpinning for the conclusion that human activities are influencing global climate.

Given the extraordinary claims that were being made on the basis of this incorrect paper, my colleagues and I decided that a response was necessary. Although the errors in Douglass et al. were easy to identify, it required a substantial amount of new and original work to repeat the statistical analysis properly.

Our work went far beyond what Douglass et al. had done. We looked at the sensitivity of model-versus-data comparisons to the choice of statistical test, to the test assumptions, to the number of years of record used in the tests, and to errors in the computer model estimates of year-to-year temperature variability. We also examined how the statistical test devised by Douglass et al. performed under controlled conditions, using random data with known statistical properties. From their paper, there is no evidence that Douglass et al. considered any of these important issues before making their highly-publicized claims.

Our analysis clearly showed that tropical temperature changes in observations and climate model simulations were not fundamentally inconsistent – contrary to the claim of Douglass and colleagues. Our research was published on October 10, 2008, in the online edition of the International Journal of Climatology. On November 15, 2008, the Douglass et al. and Santer et al. papers appeared in the same print version of the International Journal of Climatology.

In December 2009, shortly after the public release of the stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, Professors David Douglass and John Christy accused me of leading a conspiracy to delay publication of the print version of the Douglass et al. paper. This accusation was based on a selective analysis of the stolen emails. It is false.

In Mr. Pearce’s account of this issue, he states that “There is no doubt the (sic) Santer and his colleagues sought to use the power they held to the utmost…” So what are the facts of this matter? What is the “power” Fred Pearce is referring to?

  • Fact 1: The only “power” that I had was the power to choose which scientific journal to submit our paper to. I chose the International Journal of Climatology. I did this because the International Journal of Climatology had published (in their online edition) the seriously flawed Douglass et al. paper. I wanted to give the journal the opportunity to set the scientific record straight.
  • Fact 2: I had never previously submitted a paper to the International Journal of Climatology. I had never met the editor of the journal (Professor Glenn McGregor). I did not have any correspondence or professional interaction with the editor prior to 2008.
  • Fact 3: Prior to submitting our paper, I wrote an email to Dr. Tim Osborn on January 10, 2008. Tim Osborn was on the editorial board of the International Journal of Climatology. I told Dr. Osborn that, before deciding whether we would submit our paper to the International Journal of Climatology, I wanted to have some assurance that our paper would “be regarded as an independent contribution, not as a comment on Douglass et al.” This request was entirely reasonable in view of the substantial amount of new work that we had done. I have described this new work above.
  • Fact 4: I did not want to submit our paper to the International Journal of Climatology if there was a possibility that our submission would be regarded as a mere “comment” on Douglass et al. Under this scenario, Douglass et al. would have received the last word. Given the extraordinary claims they had made, I thought it unlikely that their “last word” would have acknowledged the serious statistical error in their original paper. As subsequent events showed, I was right to be concerned – they have not admitted any error in their work.
  • Fact 5: As I clearly stated in my email of January 10 to Dr. Tim Osborn, if the International Journal of Climatology agreed to classify our paper as an independent contribution, “Douglass et al. should have the opportunity to respond to our contribution, and we should be given the chance to reply. Any response and reply should be published side-by-side…”
  • Fact 6: The decision to hold back the print version of the Douglass et al. paper was not mine. It was the editor’s decision. I had no “power” over the publishing decisions of the International Journal of Climatology.

This whole episode should be filed under the category “No good deed goes unpunished”. My colleagues and I were simply trying to set the scientific record straight. There was no conspiracy to subvert the peer-review process. Unfortunately, conspiracy theories are easy to disseminate. Many are willing to accept these theories at face value. The distribution of facts on complex scientific issues is a slower, more difficult process.

Climate Auditing – Close Encounters with Mr. Steven McIntyre

Ten days after the online publication of our International Journal of Climatology paper, Mr. Steven McIntyre, who runs the “ClimateAudit” blog, requested all of the climate model data we had used in our research. I replied that Mr. McIntyre was welcome to “audit” our calculations, and that all of the primary model data we had employed were archived at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and freely available to any researcher. Over 3,400 scientists around the world currently analyze climate model output from this open database.

My response was insufficient for Mr. McIntyre. He submitted two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for climate model data – not for the freely available raw data, but for the results from intermediate calculations I had performed with the raw data. One FOIA request also asked for two years of my email correspondence related to these climate model data sets.

I had performed these intermediate calculations in order derive weighted-average temperature changes for different layers of the atmosphere. This is standard practice. It is necessary since model temperature data are available at specific heights in the atmosphere, whereas satellite temperature measurements represent an average over a deep layer of the atmosphere. The weighted averages calculated from the climate model data can be directly compared with actual satellite data. The method used for making such intermediate calculations is not a secret. It is published in several different scientific journals.

Unlike Mr. McIntyre, David Douglass and his colleagues (in their International Journal of Climatology paper) had used the freely available raw model data. With these raw datasets, Douglass et al. made intermediate calculations similar to the calculations we had performed. The results of their intermediate calculations were similar to our own intermediate results. The differences between what Douglass and colleagues had done and what my colleagues and I had done was not in the intermediate calculations – it was in the statistical tests each group had used to compare climate models with observations.

The punch-line of this story is that Mr. McIntyre’s Freedom of Information Act requests were completely unnecessary. In my opinion, they were frivolous. Mr. McIntyre already had access to all of the information necessary to check our calculations and our findings.

When I invited Mr. McIntyre to “audit” our entire study, including the intermediate calculations, and told him that all the data necessary to perform such an “audit” were freely available, he expressed moral outrage on his blog. I began to receive threatening emails. Complaints about my “stonewalling” behavior were sent to my superiors at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and at the U.S. Department of Energy.

A little over a month after receiving Mr. McIntyre’s Freedom of Information Act requests, I decided to release all of the intermediate calculations I had performed for our International Journal of Climatology paper. I made these datasets available to the entire scientific community. I did this because I wanted to continue with my scientific research. I did not want to spend all of my available time and energy responding to harassment incited by Mr. McIntyre’s blog.

Mr. Pearce does not mention that Mr. McIntyre had no need to file Freedom of Information Act requests, since Mr. McIntyre already had access to all of the raw climate model data we had used in our study (and to the methods we had used for performing intermediate calculations). Nor does Mr. Pearce mention the curious asymmetry in Mr. McIntyre’s “auditing”. To my knowledge, Mr. McIntyre – who purports to have considerable statistical expertise – has failed to “audit” the Douglass et al. paper, which contained serious statistical errors.

As the “Climategate” emails clearly show, there is a pattern of behavior here. My encounter with Mr. McIntyre’s use of FOIA requests for “audit” purposes is not an isolated event. In my opinion, Mr. McIntyre’s FOIA requests serve the purpose of initiating fishing expeditions, and are not being used for true scientific discovery.

Mr. McIntyre’s own words do not present a picture of a man engaged in purely dispassionate and objective scientific inquiry:

“But if Santer wants to try this kind of stunt, as I’ve said above, I’ve submitted FOI requests and we’ll see what they turn up. We’ll see what the journal policies require. I’ll also see what DOE and PCDMI administrators have to say. We’ll see if any of Santer’s buddies are obligated to produce the data. We’ll see if Santer ever sent any of the data to his buddies”

(Steven McIntyre; posting on his ClimateAudit blog; Nov. 21, 2008).

My research is subject to rigorous scrutiny. Mr. McIntyre’s blogging is not. He can issue FOIA requests at will. He is the master of his domain – the supreme, unchallenged ruler of the “ClimateAudit” universe. He is not a climate scientist, but he has the power to single-handedly destroy the reputations of exceptional men and women who have devoted their entire careers to the pursuit of climate science. Mr. McIntyre’s unchecked, extraordinary power is the real story of “Climategate”. I hope that someone has the courage to tell this story.

Benjamin D. Santer

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow
San Ramon, California
February 22, 2010*

*These remarks reflect the personal opinions of Benjamin D. Santer. They do not reflect the official views of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or the U.S. Department of Energy. In preparing this document, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Tom Wigley, Myles Allen, Kristin Aydt, Graham Cogley, Peter Gleckler, Leo Haimberger, Gabi Hegerl, John Lanzante, Mike MacCracken, Gavin Schmidt, Steve Sherwood, Susan Solomon, Karl Taylor, Simon Tett, and Peter Thorne.

1,047 Responses to “Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind”

  1. 851
    Charlie H says:


    I don’t see any indication from either of those CA links that McIntyre actually “audited” Douglass, et al, in spite of Santer telling him that he’d certainly find something that was right up a statistician’s alley if he did so.

    I do see that McIntyre’s choice of words in introductory paragraphs paints a picture of a scientific environment “unfairly” tilted against Douglass, et al.

    It’s clear that McIntyre isn’t interesteding “auditing” to provide clarity or to enhance accuracy, the man has an agenda.

    I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

  2. 852
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Eli Rabett says: 4 March 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Yes that’s all fine and wonderful but where are the nits to pick? This is a primate grooming exercise, not science.

  3. 853
    Former Skeptic says:

    At least some reporters in the Grauniad are doing their job right:

    “Evidence from a respected scientific body to a parliamentary inquiry examining the behaviour of climate-change scientists, was drawn from an energy industry consultant who argues that global warming is a religion, the Guardian can reveal…

    “The Guardian has established that the institute prepared its evidence, which was highly critical of the CRU scientists, after inviting views from Peter Gill, an IOP official who is head of a company in Surrey called Crestport Services.”

  4. 854
    J. Bob says:

    #840, Amen.

  5. 855
    BobFJ says:

    Sou, Reur 825/p17
    You refer to rainfall stats for Victoria, which for the benefit of other readers here is the smallest mainland state in Oz, and which is dwarfed by adjacent South Australia and NSW. It is true that for Victoria that BOM data shows more continuous low rainfall in the last 12 years or so, and worse than between 1900 and ~1945 in individual durations.

    However, for South Australia and NSW, the low rainfalls between 1900 and ~1945 were very much more severe and prolonged, than in recent times. Furthermore, the recent droughts in both SA & NSW are far less severe than in Victoria. It is thus wrong to say that South East Australia (or all of Oz) has experienced an unprecedented 12-year drought, based on the BOM data. (anomaly graphs) e.g. here follows SA:

    Like I said before, there are regional variations, and there have been worse droughts in the past. (including massive stock losses)

  6. 856
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Steve Fish
    > You seem to be saying [something different than was written down]
    > Please clarify.

    See Eli for clarification and Science.

    I offered a handwaving (or handwarming) thought experiment to show thicker atmosphere attenuates perceptible infrared, no ‘seem to be’ saying beyond it.

    As Eli says, solar infrared is about gone at 3 microns; this goes to 5 microns:

    Anyone have a comparable tool showing the spectrum of outgoing radiation?

  7. 857
    John Stone says:

    An excellent history of what happened at that Madrid IPCC WGI Plenary meeting. I remember it all too well. I was part of the group set up by Sir John to work on the Chapter 8 summary. The only thing I remember differently is that Sir John’s original draft SPM was some 30 pages long – clearly far too long to be discussed line-by-line. In the end we took the outputs of groups like yours.

    All the very best,

  8. 858
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Completely Fed Up — 4 March 2010 @ 2:47 PM:

    I read just fine. That was a nasty comment, but since you have volunteered to answer my question– If the infra red (at frequencies relevant to Hank’s CO2 experiment) are a very small part of sunshine that would mostly be intercepted by CO2 on the way down, how could you detect the warming from this very small component with your hand relative to the primary visible component that heats the earth for the greenhouse effect? Visible light would heat your hand.


  9. 859
    Guy says:

    Forgive me if I missed it – did Fred Pearce ever respond to these 2 RC articles? Just done a search for the word “Pearce” on the last 2 pages and come up with zip…

  10. 860
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Former Skeptic says: 4 March 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Further to IOPGate, how about some cherry picking:

    “The institute says its evidence was based on suggestions from the energy subcommittee of its science board. It would not reveal who sat on this sub-commitee, but confirmed that Gill was a member.

    A spokeswoman for the institute said Gill was not the main source of information nor did the evidence primarily reflect his views; other members of the sub-commitee were also critical of CRU. However the IOP would not reveal names because they would get “dragged into a very public and highly politicised debate”.

    The institute supplied a statement from an anonymous member of its science board, which said: “The institute should feel relaxed about the process by which it generated what is, anyway, a statement of the obvious.” It added: “The points [the submission] makes are ones which we continue to support, that science should be practised openly and in an unbiased way. However much we sympathise with the way in which CRU researchers have been confronted with hostile requests for information, we believe the case for openness remains just as strong.”

    Evan Harris, a member of the science and technology select committee, said: “Members of the Institute of Physics … may be concerned that the IOP is not as transparent as those it wishes to criticise.”

    I like the idea that they’re allowed to throw gasoline on a “highly politicized debate” but get all shy and bashful about the prospect of accountability for supplying more fuel. An exercise in hypocrisy if ever there was one.

  11. 861
    J Bowers says:

    840: Adam says: “I certainly have had the opposite experience, Watts wont post my questions that challenge his nonsense. Has anyone else had the same experieince?”

    Watts sometimes goes one better it seems:

    “In one of my last posting names (Bill, TFP) I was effectively banned when he decided to just about posted the name of my employer (Your electronics company there in the UK has a contract with the U.S. Navy for some avionics test systems). I believe this was a threat to inform my employer that I was posting on their computers (actually in break times!). He’s done this to others who post from universities (I know you post from xx uni – use your real name or do not post again).”

  12. 862
    Donna says:

    Ray 843
    Like you I am struggling with the question – the argument that you presented is one that I think would influence people. The reality is that in some ways AGW is an opportunity for an explosion of new technologies, businesses. The best approaches for dealing with the issue aren’t known and being engaged now, taking a seat at the table instead of allowing your views on a different subject to act like ear plugs is the best way to see that the opportunties aren’t lost.
    I’ve tried to think of analogies – there was a huge resistence to the idea that germs caused disease. Germs were too small and so could not possibly hurt a person. Other things in the past had been ‘proven’ to cause disease. Just being exposed to certain bacteria did not always cause disease so it had to be something else. It all sounds so familiar.
    After a while though the proof just grew too large and once treatments based on the germ theory were really proven to work, then resistence to germ theory became relegated to the fringes of medicine.
    Now most people don’t even know that germ theory was controversial or how hard fought it was. The opponents of germ theory were not dumb people and had they bought into the idea earlier, they likely could have have helped medicine advance sooner so their resistence can be seen as costing lives.
    But these arguments that convince me are because I can “hear” them. If opponents lock down into automatic listening the instant the terms are used, then they can’t hear any of this. I suspect thats why those commercials were made with people like Gingrich saying that AGW was real – trying to get past the filters but even that did not work.
    That’s when I get frustrated. Germ theory got accepted after enough people sickened/even died that advocates of germ theory could prove that they could save. Do we really have to have that happen? Does some catestrophic event have to happen that can be proven to be AGW related to get the resistence moved to the fringes?

    I don’t know – there has to be a better path. Maybe pushing for them to answer the hypothetical like – okay so you don’t think its real etc but if it was, what types of things do you think could be done. Get them talking about ways that the problem can be mitigated using approaches that they feel are good and they just might remove the ear plugs long enough to let some of the facts get heard.

  13. 863
    Donna says:

    Doug 845
    I like the analogy and again – like a lot of others, it is one that would convince me. I wonder though if I would be convinced because I don’t automatically react to the idea of some government regulation with horror.

    I’ll bet some of the deniers launch into a diatribe on all the sins of the New York City sewage system etc. Which might be the opportunity to ask – what would you have done to get the problem resolved differently?
    We’re just at the time when we’re learning and we’ve got the chance now to pick the path forward. If you think that there was a better approach to dealing with the sewage problem, the green house gas problem lay it out now. Maybe if they are moved into showing how it would actually work, then they would have to use the science that they dismiss now to prove that they are right. That would be pretty interesting to see how quickly all the arguments on the science faded since now they need it to advocate for their proposed actions.

  14. 864
    doubting Thomas says:

    @BPL (832)
    1) Sir, regarding my suggestion to send nuclear waste into the sun, please see the forest and not each tree. Surely if we can hit the moon, we can hit the sun. I hope I do not have to present the calculations to prove that assertion. But to speak to your details: I am well acquainted with Newtonian Mechanics. You should have considered that my (personal) kick would offset the inertial movement to orbit the sun, and that my momentum would have been equal and opposite in force to do so. Clearly my mass would have to equal the mass of nuclear waste as well for exact offset – but I am also spinning off into the void …[multiple puns intended :)] I advise you review NASA’s extra-orbital probe missions.
    2) I well understood that the 100 million cars in Brazil are not ALL 75% gasoline. Did you understand (842) above (who apparently lives there) that there are not 100 million but only 25 million cars in Brazil? According to this source [],
    Ethanol accounts for 50% of the fuel, including E25. This number is no doubt volume, which makes the consumption look bigger than the actual work done as BTUs. Assuming at least 25% of the 25 million MAY be diesel/biodiesel (probably the former), my ballpark guess would be that it represents only 25% of the actual BTUs input into transportation. Don’t forget that ethanol (and indeed biodiesel-which are largely glycol-type compounds) is what I term “pre-oxidized fuel”, meaning they already contain oxygen, thereby explaining the lower energy content vs BOTH gasoline and diesel, on BOTH a volumetric and weight basis. Read (& research your facts more) carefully.
    Kindest Regards,

    PS – @Ray (739) – thanks for the info on Thomas at Chennai – I was aware, but am jealous of your trip! As a Xtian chemist & chemical engineer, I think it’s a shame his book was excluded from the decisions at Nicea.
    PPS – Sorry again Gavin…just couldn’t help myself…most humble apologies and THANKS!

  15. 865
    Completely Fed Up says:

    doubting Thomas says:
    5 March 2010 at 11:08 AM

    @BPL (832)
    1) Sir, regarding my suggestion to send nuclear waste into the sun, please see the forest and not each tree. Surely if we can hit the moon, we can hit the sun.”

    Says someone who doesn’t know the first thing about orbital mechanics…

    What do you do with all the gravitational potential energy out here, Thomas? there’s no aerobraking available between here and the sun.

  16. 866
    Sou says:

    @855 BobFJ I still don’t understand what you’re trying to show or say. All I’m saying is that the CSIRO models predict hotter and drier climate in parts of southern Australia and wetter climates in parts of the north.

    That seems to be already happening. Clearly it’s getting hotter. We’ll probably have to wait a bit to see if the rainfall patterns are shifting permanently as well.

    Victoria might be small, but it’s home to about 22% of Australians and is as big as the UK – and I believe the climate of Scotland differs from that of Devon.

    South Australia is the driest state in this second driest continent. The chart you showed for South Australia illustrates its rainfall over the whole State has improved over the years if anything. When it was drier it was cooler, unlike Victoria when it was drier recently it coincided with record temperatures, which only made it all worse.

    It’s a mistake to confuse dry climate or generally low rainfall with drought. If that were the case then the Simpson Desert would be permanently in drought. Drought is when the rainfall is below average for a shorter period of time – from a few months to a few years, not decades. Different parts of Australia suffer drought periodically. Once drought goes for a longer period of time it becomes the new ‘climate’ or the norm. It’s likely that much of south eastern and south western Australia will soon be recognised as being drier than they used to be, accepting that lower rainfall is a permanent feature – and that there’ll be a tougher test for ‘drought’ in future.

    Are you trying to say that climate change isn’t happening or isn’t even going to happen? I wish you’d be more clear, then perhaps we wouldn’t be talking at cross purposes. We might even be saying the same thing – who knows?

    If you’re wanting to disregard local climate and just look at all of Australia, well the temperature over all is rising – even though it’s such a big area and temperature rises in some parts are much greater than others – and in a few rare spots the temperature isn’t rising at all. But you won’t see as clear a trend in total rainfall over the whole country because it spans drier and wetter areas.

  17. 867
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Donna says: 5 March 2010 at 7:58 AM

    “I wonder though if I would be convinced because I don’t automatically react to the idea of some government regulation with horror.”

    Well, you could slightly modify and bring the argument closer to home, asking “If you’re ok with being free to end your household sewer pipe in your neighbor’s yard, will you extend the same freedom to your neighbor, in your own yard?” Which of course leads to the notion of cooperating with your neighbor to have both sewers end somewhere else, which ineluctably and ultimately leads to the concept of civil society and government.

    Hardcore free marketeers walk with their heads in the clouds, I’m afraid, ignoring such prosaic matters as flushing their own toilets. If you can’t get ’em to acknowledge something as simple as that, they’re sadly intractable and must be ignored or shoved aside.

  18. 868
    Hank Roberts says:

    > cooperating with your neighbor … sewers

  19. 869
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Doubting Thomas,
    BTW, the orbital mechanics for solar orbits are quite challenging. Look at what it took to get Messenger to Venus:

    Also, keep in mind that until it loses a lot of energy, what goes in, comes out again, and an accident spreading nuclear waste over the globe would not be a good thing. Orbital mechanics is after all a many-body problem, AND it takes $10000 grand just to lift a coke can into orbit.

  20. 870
    Rod B says:

    Eli said (821), … Up high, the rate at which an excited CO2 molecule can emit a photon is much slower than down low.

    Is that correct? I thought the higher the temp the more likely a vibrational energy level will be filled and the less likely it is to emit its energy. Am I backwards with this?

  21. 871
    Rod B says:

    CFU (865), did you say we don’t have the ability or capability to launch a payload into the Sun?

  22. 872
    doubting Thomas says:

    @Ray(869) Thanks, your response was more constructive than CFU (F=Fed, right?), but perhaps Rod B (871) can instruct CFU in the basics of astrophysics and space flight telemetry calcs(including adjustments for the gravitational pull from multiple orbiting bodies) better than I, since I don’t “know the first thing about orbital mechanics” and Rod B clearly does.

    So, are you saying a payload lift cost is $10million per 12oz? Also, I seem to recall encapsulation and “payload containment” engineering technologies are available to prevent both “global spread” and/or creation of a critical mass if a Challenger/Columbia debacle were to occur.

    [edit – nuclear is OT]

  23. 873
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hey, kids, if you want to use a newfangled thermometer instead of your hand, you might as well add a prism, then you can duplicate Herschel’s 1800 work:….9..217P
    Title: The Infrared Spectrum of the Sun
    Authors: Pierce, A. K.
    Journal: Astronomical Society of the Pacific Leaflets, Vol. 9, p.217

    Then compare noontime to sunrise or sunset on a clear day and you’ve found out that having the sunlight move through more atmosphere (vertically or tangent to the Earth) changes the amount of infrared.

    If you want to get really fancy, read the leaflet cited; that gets you into the 1840 discovery of absorbtion lines, and the 1881 discovery of the water absorbtion band by carrying the gear up Mt. Whitney.

  24. 874
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #870

    the rate at which an excited CO2 molecule can emit a photon is much slower than down low.

    But that is not exactly what Eli wrote in #821 which refers to the total radiation emitted by all the CO2. If it is assumed that the CO2 keeps on bumping into O2 and N2 it is an excellent approximation to assume that the population of CO2 molecules are in “local thermodynamic equilibrium”. This means that the CO2 emission will be like a piece of a Planck distribution (black body spectrum). As everyone knows cold bodies (like high gases) emit heat, but less than hot ones (like low gases) . [Professors get it right some of the time].

  25. 875
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Doubting Thomas–sorry, it’s $10 grand per 12 ounces–teach me to type at the end of the day.

    Yucky mountain is a real mess–a lot more water than they thought, and the rock is a lot more porous, unfortunately. A relative actually worked on the project, so I heard bureaucratic horror stories.

    There was a discussion on Science Friday on NPR on this very subject. Turns out, the geniuses in Congress forbade research on other alternatives once they selected Yucky Mtn. Now that that is off the table, they’re looking at deep injection (~2 miles).

    There’s also the project going on at the NIF at Livermore–maybe we can burn it up using neutrons from laser fusion…

  26. 876
    Septic Matthew says:

    864, Doubting Thomas: 1) Sir, regarding my suggestion to send nuclear waste into the sun, please see the forest and not each tree. Surely if we can hit the moon, we can hit the sun.”

    A better idea is to use most of it as fuel and return the rest of it to uranium mines. A thread devoted to modern nuclear power technology might not be amiss, though this is a forum about AGW.

  27. 877
    Septic Matthew says:

    Here is one of many brief introductions to modern nuclear power:

    It is just one of many.

  28. 878
    Septic Matthew says:

    And more:

    this is a very brief and superficial introduction.

  29. 879
    BobFJ says:

    Hank Roberts Reur 873:

    “Hey, kids, if you want to use a newfangled thermometer instead of your hand, you might as well add a prism, then you can duplicate Herschel’s 1800 work…” blah blah blah

    Well, sorry Hank, but I see that Steve Fish’s 858 makes very much more sense than yours; for instance he wrote in part:

    “…how could you detect the warming from this very small component [of IR] with your hand relative to the primary visible component that heats the earth for the greenhouse effect? Visible light would heat your hand…”

    I don’t know what the albedo of your hand is Hank, but there is no doubt that a substantial proportion of visible light is absorbed by the skin on normal humans. (and beyond left SW; UV which is well known to cause sunburn). Furthermore, visible light penetrates the atmosphere at low elevations better than near infra red, which comprises about 40% of sunlight. Thus, at low elevations, the ~40% near IR has to negotiate more CO2. Need I elaborate more?

  30. 880
    Edward Greisch says:

    [edit – OT]

  31. 881
    Edward Greisch says:

    803 Adam: Try considering the mean free path of a scatterable photon. How many times does it get scattered before it escapes Earth’s atmosphere? The more often the photon gets scattered, the longer it takes the photon to escape. Temperature is a smooth function of the number of scatterings. There is no sudden complete blocking. Venus’s temperature is not infinite. There has to be a smooth curve of temperature vs CO2 concentration because infinite derivatives are forbidden.

  32. 882
    Edward Greisch says:

    803 Adam: PS: “It is not known whether any small spectral lines exist in the 15 micron region”
    Refer to the MIT Wavelength Tables. The MIT Wavelength Tables are the size of an encyclopedia. If what you want is not there, it is surely somewhere. Physicists have been accumulating data on the optical properties of matter for a very long time, like 2 centuries. It is surely known whether any small spectral lines exist in the 15 micron region.

  33. 883
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re : My previous comment:

    Some figures and formulae here:

  34. 884

    Thomas (864),

    Yes, I got the number of cars in Brazil wrong. It was a guess.

    No, you can’t just “kick” the nuclear waste and have it fall into the sun as easily as getting it to the Moon. DO THE MATH. Delta vee to the Moon is 11.1 km s^-1. Delta vee to the Sun is 29.9 km s^-1. dV = c ln R, remember, so we’re talking either about four additional stages or using 15 times as much fuel in one stage (not really possible). It would be far, far more expensive in terms of fuel, energy, and cost to fire waste into the sun. Doesn’t work. DO. THE. MATH. Don’t just guess.

  35. 885
    Gilles says:

    BPL : Thomas (864),Yes, I got the number of cars in Brazil wrong. It was a guess.

    So carry on : would you admit that even with the most productive agricultural technique and a tropical climate, sugarcane can only power around one car for 20 inhabitants, in a country with one of the largest inequality in standard of living (which is not irrelevant for producing cheap commodities for a few rich people), and that is BTW desperately trying to access difficult oil deposits lying below thousands of feet of water and salt … (strange idea, they must be kind of masochists…)

  36. 886

    Gilles, this makes me doubt your statement:

    “Moreover, there is no shortage of good cane land elsewhere in Brazil, where 7.4 percent is under cultivation. Of that, less than 1 percent is used to grow sugarcane, and that amount is already meeting the nation’s ethanol needs.”

    “Does” isn’t the same as “can.”

    From The Detroit News:–Brazil-finds-energy-freedom-with-sugar-based-fuel#ixzz0hP2x6LaE

  37. 887
    Ray Ladbury says:

    As someone who has traveled to Brazil with some frequency, I can attest to the success of the cane-alcohol program. It has brought a measure of prosperity to the Nordeste, which desperately needed it. I has decreased Brazilian dependence on oil imports, decreased CO2 emissions and decreased pollution. And it’s a helluva lot more pleasant being in traffic surrounded by alcohol burning vehicles than it is being surrounded by diesel-burning vehicles. It is simply silly to argue against this program for Brazil. The US would need another program–probably based on switchgrass.

  38. 888
    Rod B says:

    Geoff Wexler (874), this helps me understand what Eli said, but not totally and raises other questions. Theoretically there are two ways for CO2 to emit energy. One is through the translation movement (acceleration) of its polarized charge which emits in a “kinda like” Planck distribution. This emission is more from the atmosphere as a whole of which CO2 just does its part. (Though there is some debate over the amount of radiation as it relates to gases.) The 2nd is the absorption and emission from the vibrational energy bands. The latter is the primary player in GW. The emission is in extremely narrow wavelength bands and does not follow a Planck distribution. This emission, opposite of blackbody-like radiation, tends to increase in colder environs as the probability that a vibration energy level is filled is greater in higher temperatures — ergo more likely to relax through emission in colder environs. (I’m ignoring the collision mechanism of relaxation for discussion.)

    How does this mesh with your and Eli”s statement? Or am I missing the point by possibly getting wrapped up in semantics?

  39. 889
    Rod B says:

    doubting Thomas, thanks for the compliment in #872, but, for the record, Ray Ladbury’s knowledge of orbital mechanics and spacecraft exceeds mine.

  40. 890
    Hank Roberts says:

    >devoted to modern nuclear power technology
    Please go there–anyone who wants conversation about the subject does.

  41. 891
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sorry BobFJ, logic fails here; you can look this up. You can tell the difference between infrared and the temperature inside the body.
    It’s just a thought experiment; the other methods (looking at infrared satellite photographs) will be more convincing.
    “… The heat that we feel from sunlight, a fire, a radiator or a warm sidewalk is infrared. The temperature-sensitive nerve endings in our skin can detect the difference between inside body temperature and outside skin temperature….”
    “… it is important that the pattern of skin heating is known and duly considered. This study was aimed at assessing the skin temperature….”

    Plenty more. Your skepticism is appreciated, but do try to look this up before insisting that logic tells you you can’t distinguish a change in body temperature from a change in impinging IR. Many references say you can.

  42. 892
    Septic Matthew says:

    890, Hank Roberts, thank you. I have read that web page occasionally, but I wanted to provide a page devoted to nuclear power, and then to a specific item about re-using what is now stored as waste.

  43. 893
    Steve Fish says:

    RE– Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 March 2010 @ 12:41 PM:

    Although the peak of radiation from the sun is in the visible range, energy delivered to the earth is about 50% each for visible and infra red wavelengths. This energy is delivered as heat.

    One of the interesting facts about incoming light is that shorter wavelengths are scattered by small aerosols and molecules (Rayleigh scattering) more than the long wavelengths. This property explains the mechanism by which the sun on the horizon is redder and how the sky, blue plants and animals, and blue eyes appear to be blue. There are very few biological blue pigments.

    In the laser experiment a small spot of radiation was used and, like the sky, the infra red is not scattered and is more easily detected because it heats a small area. The equal energy visible light laser spot is scattered over a larger area by the epidermis and is, therefor, less concentrated and less easily detected.

    A better experiment would be to irradiate a large area of skin with a grid of contiguous laser spots with the different wavelengths. In this instance visible light, though scattered, would be much more detectable because scatter from adjacent spots would overlap to provide the same concentration of energy over area as the long wavelength laser.

    To be fair you will have to show how ones whole hand responds to the different wavelengths. It would be under handed to compare someone with a longhand to someone with a shorthand, but I have to hand it to you that you are always very even handed. This is getting a little out of hand, but is fun.


  44. 894
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. @888. OK, Rod, think about this. CO2 is a neutral molecule, right? So if it’s center of mass accelerates (e.g. in a collision), it will not emit energy, right? And if its components (oxygen and carbon atoms) are move with respect to each other (vibrational), then they can only do so in quantized energies, right? OK, now, given this, how is CO2 going to emit a “Planck distribution” of radiation? Answer: it can’t. It can only radiate where it has allowed energy transitions…period. Collisions can broaden these by changing the electrical potential between the atoms momentarily, but the radiation is still quantized.

    Look at it a different way. Look at a sodium vapor lamp. Do you see a Planck spectrum underneath the two yellow lines? Nope. So how is this any different than CO2.

    Rod, this is really the reason why a blackbody distribution is an idealization–matter can only emit radiation where it has energy transitions.

  45. 895
    doubting Thomas says:

    @BPL(884) A tad disengenuous to have admitted guessing and the admonishing me not to guess, don’t you think? But be that as it may, I shall concede your point that is absolutely impossible to plot any course that provides an orbital decay path into the sun that could avoid gravitational interferences of our planetary system for the disposal of nuclear waste. (But like Galileo after the trial mumbled…”I still believe it” can be done.)

  46. 896
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #888: Rod B

    I have tried to do this before on RC but have lost it. So I shall be brief. The problem is to determine the spectrum of infra-red emitted by some CO2. The usual way this is done is to postulate that this is the same as if the gas is locally in thermodynamic equilibrium. This means that it is correct to describe it by a temperature, the same as the one you might measure. Thats just the gas. The question is now a bit simpler. What is the rate of emission of photons emitted by gas in themodynamic equilibrium at a temperature T?

    The problem in reality is that the ground is at a different temperature , and the photons of infra-red have no single temperature ; their spectrum is rather a mess,in other words the photons are out of thermodynamic equilibrium. But the rate of emission of photons from the CO2 does not depend on the photons out there so I shall pretend that the latter are drastically altered. I shall pretend that the photons are themselves in equilibrium with the gas. All that I need to do is to enclose some of the gas in a box and wait for a tiny time. It is reasonable to assume that the gas will not be significantly changed. That does not apply to the photons which will now have their own single temperature, the same as that of the local gas, and also a Planck distribution. Hold on, I am not going to leave them in that condition.

    Now ask the original question again. What is the rate of emission from the CO2? It must be the same as the rate of absorption by the CO2 because we have equilibrium. This latter is proportional to the number of photons whose energy (wavelength) is equal, say , to one of the quantum levels of the molecule. Now take away the imaginary walls. The photons are no longer Planck like but the emission rate from the gas is still Planck like but over a tiny range of energies. This is believed to be an excellent approximation. It can almost certainly be derived by other methods.
    Now to your comment:
    The emission is in extremely narrow wavelength bands and does not follow a Planck distribution

    It is a piece of a Planck distrbution

    this emission is more from the atmosphere as a whole of which CO2 just does its part. (Though there is some debate

    emission from ‘atmosphere as a whole’, at least if you mean the non greehouse gases, is zero to a good approximation. Ditto for debate.

  47. 897
    BobFJ says:

    Sou, Reur 866,
    Thanks again for another thoughtful response from you, in which you seem to confine your concern mostly to long-term drought in Victoria. My comments have included that the definition of drought and its temporal and spatial significance is somewhat subjective. There have always been regional variations in weather/climate, and the BOM records show that rainfall in SA and NSW was far worse between 1900 through ~1945 than recently, and that such recent long-term drought as in Victoria is not reported there either. Furthermore, in Victoria, although it was not so bad in individual durations during 1900 through ~1945, it is arguable that this ~45 year period in Victoria was also severe in net effect.
    Now let me refer you for example to Ray Ladbury 579, where he wrote in full:

    “Yeah, BobFJ, we know: Oz is dry. And it’s getting drier–that’s what you get from statistics that you don’t get from poetry or photos. Try it sometime“.
    Well this is typical of what I say are ill informed claims of unprecedented recent drought in Oz.
    And YES, the regional drought in Victoria through to 2009 has been problematical, but check-out the perspective of these three articles:
    Victorian Farmer’s Federation speech to Press Club
    food production
    Victorian Senate Committee

    You have also brought up the topic of 2009/10 heat-waves in the south, but this topic is far more complicated, involving for instance ENSO and air circulation. (and BTW “cold-waves“). I might come back to that later.

  48. 898
    Rod B says:

    Ray Ladbury (894), thanks for the opportunity. As I understand it an accelerating CO2 molecule can radiate energy with a Planck distribution (when averaged with all of the gas molecules) by virtue of a very minor charge distribution within the molecule, mostly/predominately from electron distribution. Not materially different from the way liquids and solids radiate, although solids in particular are more apt to have “roaming” electrons making radiation easier. I recognize that there is significant disagreement over the ability of low density gases to radiate as such. I can’t prove it one way or another — no different from all of the learned experts evidently — but am of the learned opinion that low density gases do radiate ala Planck. Two questions I have and have had: 1) How is the Universe’s background (read really really low density gas) Planck-type radiation with almost a perfect blackbody spectrum explained? 2) Where does the atmosphere’s back radiation of about 333 Watts/m2, 85% of the earth’s upwelling IR radiation, come from? Though the IR downwelling spectrum is only a very rough fit for a Planck curve, the numbers seem not to add up.

    This radiation is separate from the vibration and rotation energy emission radiation and from the electron level shift emissions ala sodium lamps.

  49. 899

    Thomas (895): I shall concede your point that is absolutely impossible to plot any course that provides an orbital decay path into the sun that could avoid gravitational interferences of our planetary system for the disposal of nuclear waste.

    BPL: I’m beginning to wonder if you know how to read. I never said anything about interference from other planets. For the Nth time, where N increases without limit, I said IT TAKES A LOT MORE ENERGY TO REACH THE SUN THAN TO REACH THE MOON.

    Let me rephrase this so even you can understand it.

    Energy to reach the moon: a certain amount.
    Energy to reach the sun: a hell of a lot more.

    Do you get it yet?

  50. 900
    Rod B says:

    Geoff Wexler (896), thanks for the info. My basic concern/questions are:

    1) Planck-type emission stems from a completely different physical process: Planck emissions result from random variations of accelerating charges associated with molecular/atomic/electron distribution and collisions, versus relaxation of internal molecular energy modes roughly forced by equipartition. The fact that one can consider the latter as a special case of Planck emission is just a convenient mathematical process. Planck is a broadband spectra modified only by sometimes varying emissivity at different wave lengths. But if one, for convenience, assumes it as a narrow band in order to use similar formulas to assess its opacity and such, the mathematics works pretty well. “…It is a piece of a Planck distribution” remains a mathematical construct — not a physics congruency.

    2) the emission or absorption of the extremely narrow band and quantized equivalent vibration or rotation energy has no immediate effect on the thermodynamic temperature of the gas (or molecule) in question. Only the translation energy as determined by Boltzmann distribution affects the temperature. It would seem Local Thermodynamic Equilibrium is not directly relevant, though might have a secondary effect.

    3) Photons per se do not have temperature as a characteristic. Though as above it is mathematically helpful and convenient to pretend that they do and are often given a “characteristic temperature”. In Planck emission an emitted photon can decrease the temperature of the material. When the photon is later absorbed by material B, that material’s temperature is increased so it makes eminent sense to ascribe temperature to photons, even though it is not actual physics — the mathematics still give useful information.

    4) The rate of emission does not necessarily equal the rate of absorption for a CO2 molecule in the routine atmospheric processes. As just asserted the LTE is not relevant. Some absorbed energy into CO2’s internal vibration energy gets dispersed via collision with other gas molecules, not emission. That’s the basis of global warming.

    I’d be most interested in your comments.