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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. 901
    David Horton says:

    #897 So, no problem BobFJ? Nothing to worry about? Seen droughts before, seen it all before? You must be living on a different Australian continent to me. And to CSIRO and BOM scientists. The VFF are deniers to a man.

  2. 902
    Mike says:

    The deniers (as apposed to honest skeptics) display various mind sets. There are the free marketeers and conspiracy buffs: any problem the market can’t solve can’t be a problem. There is an increasing but unsurprising overlap with creationists. But, to get a feel for the mind set in its pure apolitical form see Mathematical Cranks by Underwood Dudley. It is a very funny survey of people who are convinced have squared the circle or found a short proof of the four color theorem. “Stupidity” is amazingly hard to understand. The book might give you some addition insight. If not, it is still pretty funny!

  3. 903
    BobFJ says:

    Hank Roberts Reur 891:
    It’s hard to know where to start, but for instance your “NASA for Kids” quote is severally wrong, or maybe naïve is a better word:

    “… 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…”

    a) Only about 40% of sunlight (EMR) is Infra Red, and it is mostly in the Near Infra Red, quite different to the longer IR wavelengths from a warm sidewalk
    b) The skin also absorbs the shorter wavelengths in sunlight via photon absorption, resulting in molecular excitation in the skin. (= raised molecular KE, = HEAT)
    c) The skin cannot distinguish between molecular absorption (heating) from either longer or shorter wavelengths.
    d) Sunlight, (=Electro Magnetic Radiation), is a different form of energy to HEAT. EMR itself cannot be felt by the skin until it is converted to heat via molecular absorption. An analogy is an electric stove-top hotplate, starting from low, with your hand placed thereon. You can’t feel the electricity, but you can feel heat, which has resulted from electricity being “absorbed” by a resistance. (The heating coil, from where it is conducted into the hand in contact)

  4. 904
    Eli Rabett says:

    #870, emission comes from a molecule which IS vibrationally excited and loses that energy by emitting a photon.

  5. 905
    Hank Roberts says:

    BobFJ, you can conclude the atmosphere isn’t blocking all of any wavelengths in the simplest way by comparing midday to sunset/sunrise. Use whatever instrument you have; your eyes; your skin; your prism and thermometer; your prism and thermocouple; your infrared handheld thermometer. Not your hotplate.

    The better the instrument and the better the thinking, the more accurate the results. CO2 doesn’t block all of the infrared. That was an early mistake. It’s still being repeated by people who don’t know it’s wrong, or who are trying to fool people. You know better, right?

  6. 906
    Sou says:

    I took it that you were previously wanting to contradict the Bureau of Meteorology drought statements. The articles you link to do not appear to focus on drought so I’m unclear of their relevance.

    I referred to the changing climate in Victoria because you seemed to be of the view that the recent long term drought in SE Australia was not that important. Victoria constitutes a large part of south eastern Australia, and the Bureau had identified areas of SE Australia as having the longest drought in the recorded history of those areas, comprising extended below average rainfall accompanied by record high temperatures. And I pointed out that this was in line with the CSIRO projections for a change in the climate.

    I think you are still confusing ongoing low rainfall with drought. Drought is different. Areas of high rainfall can be subject to drought – and it can be particularly devastating in such places even if it only lasts a few months. Areas with persistently low rainfall such as large parts of South Australia have different production (or no production) regimes – like very low stocking rates in the pastoral belt in South Australia and lack of any agricultural activity in much of the deserts.

    If you want to redefine drought then by all means go for it. But it won’t mean anything to farmers, pastoralists, horticulturists or anyone else involved in producting food, feed or fibre. To them, drought means no water when they had expected and planned for and relied on water.

    Not sure if I mentioned it previously, but the Dairy Australia website has some articles on climate change if you are interested. Other agric websites also have quite a bit of info, including advice for farmers on how to adapt to and/or prepare for climate change in different parts of the country.

    I’m afraid I still don’t know what your point is. It could be that you are only interested in seeing what the history of drought is in various parts of Australia. This might or might not be relevant to climate change. It depends on a number of factors – such as whether recent droughts are part of a normal cycle or a denote a distinct longer term shift.

    I’ve said enough on the matter for now. Good luck with your research.

  7. 907
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Sou says:
    8 March 2010 at 2:06 AM

    The articles you link to do not appear to focus on drought so I’m unclear of their relevance.”

    The relevance is that the modus operandi of denialist debate is to put up links and say they confirm your point. Whether they do or not is irrelevant: for the audience you’re REALLY trying for, that audience doesn’t read links.

    Even when caught out, this means you have to debunk TWO new arguments: the one that they made and the one that they made that the links were somehow proving their case.

  8. 908
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B says:
    7 March 2010 at 9:57 PM

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

    1) Planck-type emission stems from a completely different physical process: ”

    No, Rod. They occur with exactly the same process. Planck radiation occurs when there are enough collisions to occupy all energy states in a stochastically sound manner that is consistent with the laws of thermodynamics. But the occupancy of the excited levels of CO2 (for example) is such that their addition to the spectra emitted in bulk is as much as it would have been if it was merely a slice of the planck spectrum.

    The Planck blackbody emission is no new physical process, merely a context where simplifications can be made.

    “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.”
    Your conclusion is right, but irrelevant. LTE doesn’t necessarily obtain. However, in the lower atmosphere where most of the earth’s radiation starts and ends, the region over which such excitations exist without collisional relaxation and hence thermalisation, LTE still holds: just here it’s really, REALLY local.

    You’ve asked and had answered this question many times. Will you ever give up resurrecting them?

  9. 909
    Hank Roberts says:

    And, BobFJ, if you want to pursue research on skin perception of infrared,
    here’s a well-cited recent paper, the latest info I know of; it ain’t simple:

  10. 910
    Rod B says:

    Eli (904), I know but my point/question is: isn’t an excited CO2 molecule more likely to relax via emission in colder environs higher in the atmosphere? I know it is more likely because of less frequent collisions but I’m ignoring collisional relaxation trying to understand just the Boltzmann equation effect.

  11. 911
    Rod B says:

    CFU (908), I suppose I’ll keep asking questions until I get credible answers.

    You say, “…1) Planck-type emission stems from a completely different physical process: ”
    No, Rod. They occur with exactly the same process.”

    Wrong. Planck-type emissions stem from acceleration of charge(s) and are not quantized per se. The other stems from a change in internal molecular energy (bond vibration, rotation, electron levels) and are highly quantized. Though you’re kinda correct: the photon emitting from CO2 internal energy changes at 15um looks remarkably similar to a Planck photon at 15 um.

    As to your other comment, “4”, I think we are saying the same thing. Unless I’m misreading it, I don’t disagree with your comment.

  12. 912
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B.@900, So how is your program to redefine stat mech going for you?

    Re: your point 1) WRONG!!!

    Rod, are your electrons bound or free? If they are bound (as in part of an atom or molecule) then they are bound and can only absorb or emit energy in energies corresponding to allowed transitions between energy levels. That is quantum mechanics, Rod. If they are free, then they respond to forces by radiating according to Bremmstrahlung or if moving fast enough Cerenkov radiation–they do not absorb or emit photons otherwise.

    Re: your point 2 WRONG!!!
    An individual atom or molecule doesn’t have a temperature–only distributions of atoms have temperature.

    Re: your point 3 Only partially wrong. An individual photon cannot have a temperature. However a “gas” of photons can have a temperature and comes to do so by interacting with matter. When at thermal equilibrium and so possessing a temperature, the energy distribution corresponds to the Planck distribution. This is what defines blackbody radiation.

    Re: your point 4–you got this one mostly right.

    Rod, physicists have looked at this. I promise you. Read Landau and Lifshitz on blackbody radiation. It’s about as clear an explanation as there is.

    And again, look at a sodium vapor lamp. Do you see a “blackbody curve” or do you just see 2 yellow lines?

  13. 913
    Hank Roberts says:

    The Chemical Educator, Vol. 3, No. 4, S1430-4171(98)04230-7, 10.1007/s00897980230a, © 1998 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

    Using Natural and Artificial Light Sources to Illustrate Quantum Mechanical Concepts

    Fascinating piece, well worth reading on a variety of points, at least to me as an amateur reader. Scientists might want to look at this as a good source for a further post somewhere. (relative intensity of the wavelengths in midday sunlight compared to sunset, well into the infrared range) (low pressure sodium lamp spectrum)

  14. 914
    Septic Matthew says:

    899, Barton Paul Levenson: Energy to reach the moon: a certain amount. Energy to reach the sun: a hell of a lot more.

    Really? I am amazed. Here I was thinking that the rocket energy was used to escape from the earth’s gravitation, and the rest was guidance from much smaller rocket engines.

  15. 915
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Remember, it is not just energy that is conserved, but also momentum and angular momentum. To shed enough angular momentum to reach the sun, you have to apply a significant torque (force x distance). BTW, this is precisely the problem that makes the idea of a reusable space shuttle difficult. With a one-time-use space capsule, you shed momentum by ablating a shielding material as you speed through the atmosphere. You do a lot of thermal damage to the capsule on the way in, but so what as long as it stays intact and insulating.

    A reusable spacecraft on the other hand must shed all that momentum while protecting the body of the shuttle, all the electronics, etc. That’s why the thermal tiles are so crucial and why loss of the tiles is catastrophic. There is no way you could shed all that momentum with rockets. If you reach the thick part of the atmosphere and you haven’t slowed to the point where you are aerodynamic rather than ballistic, you are toast.

    Remember, Earth is zipping around Sol with a tangential velocity of nearly 30 km per second.

  16. 916
    dhogaza says:

    Septic Matthew:

    Really? I am amazed. Here I was thinking that the rocket energy was used to escape from the earth’s gravitation, and the rest was guidance from much smaller rocket engines.

    Try this. Read the part that’s labeled “inward bound”, and take note that to shift orbit to intersect the sun requires more deceleration (therefore more energy) than to do so to intersect Venus.

  17. 917
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Really? I am amazed. Here I was thinking that the rocket energy was used to escape from the earth’s gravitation, and the rest was guidance from much smaller rocket engines.”

    And then it goes where?

    Into orbit.

    You have to BRAKE to get down to the sun.

    Not much tarmacadam between us and the sun, so you have to burn energy off to remove your orbital velocity.

    Really, do none of you denialists know orbital mechanics AT ALL???

  18. 918
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B says:
    8 March 2010 at 11:26 AM

    CFU (908), I suppose I’ll keep asking questions until I get credible answers.”

    You mean “answers I can understand” by that, I suppose? If so, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

    Got any credible questions?

    “Wrong. Planck-type emissions stem from acceleration of charge(s) and are not quantized per se.”

    Nope, not one here. They are quantised. The unit (quanta) is given the name “photon”. Seems you know the name, but not what it means. If these quanta did not exist, you would have the problem of the Ultraviolet Catatrophe.

    Check it out.

    “the photon emitting from CO2 internal energy changes at 15um looks remarkably similar to a Planck photon at 15 um.”

    Nope, not right either.

    If that 15um photon has an energy of 0.1eV and the kinetic energy of the molecule is 0.05ev, the resulting photon could be 0.2eV with the CO2 molecule going the other way.

    Or that energy could go out into an inelastic collision.

    Read up on it.

    “As to your other comment, “4”, I think we are saying the same thing.”

    So you agree that LTE works in the lower atmosphere.


    Now go off and read some basic A-level physics books, your understanding of basic physics is atrocious.

  19. 919
    Hank Roberts says:

    S. Matthew — dhogaza’s right. Don’t feel bad, this is not intuitive, it’s a common misconception that has been used as a plot device by decades of science-fiction writers. The link dhogaza gives is a good start and leads to more info.

  20. 920
    Neal J. King says:

    dhozaga, Ray Ladbury, Barton Paul Levenson & Septic Matthew:

    1) I am not particularly in favor of dumping radioactive wastes into the Sun. I think sending all that hot stuff up in a rocket is asking for trouble. Also, in a few thousand years we might actually need that stuff for something.

    2) However, I am puzzled as to why some folks seem to think it is necessary to worry too much about angular momentum or transfer orbits. It seems to me that two things need to be done: a) escape the Earth’s gravitational field; b) start out with essentially 0 angular velocity with respect to the Sun.
    a) To escape the Earth’s influence, an object of mass m needs enough energy to buy itself out of the Earth’s potential well, or G*Me*m/Re; where
    Me = Earth’s mass and Re = Earth’s radius. Per unit mass, this is
    G*Me/Re = 6.25e7 Joules/kg.
    b) To attain zero angular velocity wrt the Sun, it must further have pick up a velocity increment opposite the Earth’s velocity wrt the Sun, so
    delta-velocity = – sqrt(G*Ms/Res), where Ms = Sun’s mass and Res = radius of the Earth’s orbit wrt the Sun. In the frame of the Earth, this means gaining a speed of sqrt(G*Ms/Res) (in the backwards direction), and thus requires attaining kinetic energy T = G*Ms*m/Res = 8.877e8 Joules/kg

    So for an energetic cost of
    (8.877 + 0.625)e8 = 9.50e8 Joules/kg = 264 kwhr/kg, you can ship the wastes to the Sun.

    I leave it someone more familiar with the nuclear-cycle to judge on whether this is a huge tax, or just a small hit. We need to know how much net energy is released per kg of radwastes.

  21. 921
    Rod B says:

    Ray Ladbury (912), Planck-type radiation is obviously not Cerenkov. If taken in its broadest sense (which is technically correct but not common) Bremsstrahlung radiation can define Planck-type radiation. It is just as I described in #900: radiation caused by the acceleration of a charged particle because if its proximity to an E-M field. Though it is common to limit it to very high energies and high accelerations such as an energetic electron colliding head on into a metal barrier and generating X-rays. However Bremsstrahlung radiation emission/absorption in no way describes the process of radiation being emitted or absorbed into a vibration or rotation molecular energy level. Probably does not describe the electron energy level transitions either, though if you really stretched the definition, maybe.

    Whether a molecule has temperature or not is not necessary for the point I made in my 2), which was simply that the absorption per se of IR into (a whole pile of) CO2 molecules does not raise the temperature of the CO2 gas. ‘Course we’ve been up and down the single molecule temperature pole a number of times and I don’t want to redo it, but, as I last left it, I will accept that a single molecule can not have a temperature when you convince me that a single molecule can not have kinetic energy.

    As I said the sodium vapor lamp does not emit Planck-type radiation – at least very very little of it as a secondary emission. Planck-type emission is not caused by internal molecular energy changes.

    I don’t think we really disagree all that much. I just think maybe you mix up your convenient constructs with actual physics. But I dunno.

  22. 922
    Neal J. King says:

    Doubting Thomas, Rod B; and
    dhozaga, Ray Ladbury, Barton Paul Levenson & Septic Matthew:

    #920, continued:

    Another point people seem to be exercised about: Braking to get to the Sun?

    This is completely unnecessary, since the goal of shipping the wastes is not to LAND on the Sun, but to get it INTO the Sun. It is much cheaper to drop it into the Sun than to land it on the Sun; just as it is easier and cheaper to drop a rock onto the ground than to get a rocket to land itself nicely on the ground.

    This should produce a sizeable cost-reduction from Ray Ladbury’s $10,000 per 12-oz can of Coke (=> $10,000 per 0.355 kg => $28,170/kg).

  23. 923
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Neal J. King, Remember that just lifting a coke can into orbit costs $10K. Also remember that you have to lift all the propellant to supply your 9.5E8 joules per kg. The more propellant you have to lift, the less payload. This is why the Messenger probe did two slingshots by Earth and one by Venus. Now granted, a sun-shot is easier than putting a probe in orbit around Mercury. However, I doubt you’d want to send a rocket on a ballistic trajectory without the ability to maneuver–since if you miscalculated you could send it right back to Earth, and that would be a bad thing.

    Remember: Nothing is cheap in space.

  24. 924
    Neal J. King says:

    #920, continued again:

    It just struck me that if my estimate of 264 kwh/kg is right, the energetic cost of shipping a kg of radwastes to the Sun should be something like:
    264 * $0.12 = $31.68.

    Of course, that only pays for the gravitational energy; not for all the transport overhead, like the rocket we’re never going to see again, and the fuel needed for that.

    Someone with a more realistic sense of rocketry can give better estimates. (But this is probably NOT going to be Ray Ladbury’s estimate, which seems to assume a NASA mission of some sort, where you want a well-behaved orbit that arrives tangentially in the orbit of the target planet. This time, I just want to go “plop!” straight into the Sun.)

  25. 925
    Hank Roberts says:

    Neal, no.

    Remember, if something perteurbs the package you’re ‘dropping’ you miss the Sun — and the package comes back out to about the same distance as it fell from, in a long oval orbit reaching the Earth’s orbit.

    The Hohmann orbit is the _least_ expensive transfer. What you’re suggesting is hugely more expensive.

  26. 926
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Neal: “It is much cheaper to drop it into the Sun than to land it on the Sun”

    And there you describe completely the fallacy of thought that led people to complain of the LHC that it could create a micro black hole that would suck the entire world in.

    You can’t just drop it into the sun.

    If this could happen, you would have to find out why the earth still orbits the sun.

  27. 927
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Of course, that only pays for the gravitational energy”

    So how do we get it out there? Etheric transference of energy???

  28. 928
    Hank Roberts says:

    > CFU

    Please. You’re embarrassing yourself, or at least, I hope you’ve marked the problem here with leaping to respond from partway through an exchange.

    Neil’s step “b” considers the reason Earth still orbits the Sun. Ray’s helping him with the (astonishingly high) costs of accomplishing that step “b”

    > a) … Earth’s gravitational field;
    > b) … 0 angular velocity with respect to the Sun.

  29. 929
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Completely Fed Up says: 8 March 2010 at 4:35 PM

    If this could happen, you would have to find out why the earth still orbits the sun.

    I wish you’d be more careful; any minute now some obdurate person is going to pipe up with an explanation of how the 3-body problem means we can’t rule it out, resulting in several hundred more comments…

  30. 930
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Neal, Where do you get an estimate of 12 cents per kwh? Are you planning on string power lines to space? Look up the orbital mechanics for the Messenger mission? BTW, you do know that this really is rocket science?

  31. 931
    Mike says:

    Completely Fed Up says:
    “If this could happen, you would have to find out why the earth still orbits the sun.”

    huh? The same reason all the planets still orbit the sun, they are perpetually falling towards it, but their velocity isnt great enough to break free of the “warped” space/time caused by the suns mass bending it around it, but great enough that it dosnt spiral into it… An orbit is a perpetual fall(gravity is mass bending space and time around it). And in space they dont have gas/air resistance slowing them down. But basically an orbit is a perpetual fall.

    The old cannon ball analogy explains orbits best… if you had a cannon that was fired from a height and the ball was moving quick enough that its falling was compensated by the curvature of the earth, it would keep going, because it would never get closer…oh course drag would slow it and it wont work in the atmosphere without applying constant force to over come the drag. But that principle is what an orbit is…except in space there is no gas to offer resistance.(and planets have a lot o mass! mass times velocity squared n all that eh)

    This is a pointless discussion anyway… why shoot potential energy sources into the sun?

  32. 932
    Neal J. King says:

    #924, Hank Roberts:

    You’re making two completely separate arguments:

    1) “.. if something perturbs the package… you miss the Sun… and it comes back out.”

    True, but there isn’t a whole lot of material there to hit. The asteroid belt is out in the other radial direction. If you want to get into the realm of reliability, that is a whole other kettle of fish. My point of view: The idea is flakey anyway, but if what you’re trying to hit is 1.39e9 meters across, it should be possible.

    2) “The Hohmann orbit is the least expensive.”
    a) Looking at the issue from the point of view of conservation of energy, I don’t see that: If I use my extract-and-drop method, I have to overcome the potential energy (PE) of escaping the Earth’s attraction, and then I have to kill the orbital speed of the Earth around the Sun; then I drop into the Sun. When I get to the radius of the Sun, I will be going more slowly than would an object circling the Sun at that radius, so my total energy (kinetic + potential) will be less than that of a circling object.
    Using the Hohmann transfer orbit, you start in the same point, but end up at the perihelion of an elliptical orbit at the radius of the Sun, so your rocket will be going faster than would an object circling the Sun at that distance. Therefore, the total energy of your rocket will be greater that of mine, at the radius of the Sun. That makes me believe that you will need to expend more energy to do it your way.
    Of course, there is a big difference between rocket-fuel use and total energy expenditure. But I don’t see offhand why that should work to your advantage and not to mine.

    b) But even if you are right that the Hohmann transfer orbit is least expensive in fuel (which I do NOT concede at this point), I’ve already done an estimate for my energetic cost, in #924: $31.68/kg. That isn’t much more than the cost of shipping a kg across the Atlantic. Can we convert required gravitational energy to expended rocket-fuel energy by any estimated factor?

    (If you use the $10k/coke can figure, keep it mind that this has to be for a throw-away rocket, not a NASA space mission.)

    [Response: Fascinating though this be, it is way off topic and has gone on too long. Everyone please drop it. Thanks–Jim]

  33. 933
    BobFJ says:

    Completely Fed Up Reur 907: (1) You quoted Sou 906:

    “The articles you [Bob_FJ] link to do not appear to focus on drought so I’m unclear of their relevance.”

    You need to follow the context of some lengthy exchanges that I’ve had with Sou, rather than cherry pick an odd line. Two of the links in #906 from the Victorian Farmers Federation briefly mention water issues, but it would seem that they are more concerned about other problems. The third link in the Melbourne Age points out that despite the long drought, and bad economic conditions etc, the value of net food production 2008/9 has held well. Here is an extract, my bold;
    Lower prices for some crops, milk and wool dragged down the value of Australia’s agricultural production by five per cent in 2008-09 to $41 billion, preliminary figures show.
    Crop production fell seven per cent to $22.1 billion on the back of lower prices
    for all harvested commodities bar wheat.

    Thus Sou is correct that the links do not focus on drought per se, but my point was that they may indicate the relevant importance in harsh financial terms. I’ve agreed that the Victorian drought has been regionally most problematical, without going into some human tragedies such as reported increased suicide rates and bankruptcies.
    (2) And you went on to say:

    The relevance is that the modus operandi of denialist debate is to put up links and say they confirm your point. Whether they do or not is irrelevant: for the audience you’re REALLY trying for, that audience doesn’t read links. Even when caught out, this means you have to debunk TWO new arguments: the one that they made and the one that they made that the links were somehow proving their case.

    It is true to say that the BOM annual rainfall totals time-series data are not a true measure of drought, which in itself is difficult to define. However, I would argue that it is the best proxy available. It is certainly less controversial than various paleo data for past temperatures etc. On that basis, the following charts show that the recent droughts are not unprecedented. BTW, this is sceptical observation of some facts, not denialism as you say.
    Australia …. South Australia …. New South Wales

  34. 934
    Neal J. King says:

    #926, 927: Completely Fed Up:

    – “You can’t just drop it into the sun.”
    CFU, I made it perfectly obvious in my first posting (#920) that you had to kill the angular momentum of orbit around the Sun before the rocket is allowed to drop into the Sun. Please go back and read it again, in the neighborhood of the word “zero angular velocity”.
    You might have noticed than when you drop an apple, it does NOT orbit the Earth. It hits the ground. This is because it doesn’t have enough angular velocity to achieve an orbit at a practical semi-major axis. A British guy noticed this, some time back.

    – “‘Of course, that only pays for the gravitational energy’ So how do we get it out there? Etheric transference of energy???”
    CFU, you’re being ridiculous. You’re jumping down my throat for pointing out that there are limitations to the implications of my calculation??!!??

    [Response: End of discussion on this, thanks. Jim]

  35. 935
    Neal J. King says:

    #930, Ray Ladbury:

    [edit-OT forever]

    [Response: Discussion over.–Jim]

  36. 936
    Rod B says:

    Ray Ladbury (915), I didn’t know that; interesting.

  37. 937
    Hank Roberts says:

    Over, I promise. Just a pointer elsewhere –> kids, you _can_ do these calculations yourself. Go where people are doing them. Good places to look:

    And out.
    Far out.

  38. 938
  39. 939
    Septic Matthew says:

    Thanks all. Of course I knew of the earth’s (and hence the rocket’s) velocity tangent to its orbit around the sun. It’s off topic so I’ll stop there. You have fairly corrected me.

  40. 940
    Rod B says:

    CFU (918), No, I understand the answers, just don’t believe some.

    I’m of course using “quantized” in the common practical use of the term, as in vibration energy levels or bound electron levels are quantized. Certainly and technically heated blackbody radiation energy levels, like pendulums, race cars, and gas or free electron kinetic energy levels, are quantized in the purest sense. But you can’t find a pragmatic text on blackbody radiation that doesn’t present a continuous spectrum.

    When I said “remarkably similar” I was being loose and a bit humorous… and you still missed it. To be precise a 15um photon emitted from a CO2’s vibration energy looks precisely and exactly like a 15um photon emitted from a heated blackbody. And they each have 0.08268 eV, no more no less — ever — so your hypothetical 0.1 eV is nonsensical (though might be acceptably close enough in a totally different context). The rest of your example says in effect that a 15um photon is different from, say, a 17um photon. Well, DUH!

    Good, back! I have never said that LTV doesn’t/can’t hold or be used for analysis in the lower atmosphere. I just said it is irrelevant to the question at hand.

  41. 941
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK,Rod, work with me, son! You say the blackbody radiation energy levels are quantized. Only bound energy states are quantized. What is emitting the radiation and what is providing the binding?

    Again, Rod, think of a sodium vapor lamp!

  42. 942
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B says:
    9 March 2010 at 10:30 AM

    CFU (918), No, I understand the answers, just don’t believe some.”

    Which ones?

    “But you can’t find a pragmatic text on blackbody radiation that doesn’t present a continuous spectrum.”

    Because it’s a model. A simplification of real life that doesn’t care if the sums are hard because it’s not doing sums. Each photon, electron, phonon, etc is doing whatever it does.

    But you’re reifying that simplification and falling into a classic fallacy of self-deception that all scientists have to watch out for carefully.

    IT IS NOT A CONTINUOUS SYSTEM. It’s quantised.

    Maybe a LOT of quanta, but still quantised.

    “The rest of your example says in effect that a 15um photon is different from, say, a 17um photon. Well, DUH!”

    And what you missed is that that 15um photon absorbed by CO2 may not be a 15um photon when it leaves.

    This is how thermalisation works.

    “Good, back! I have never said that LTV doesn’t/can’t hold or be used for analysis in the lower atmosphere. I just said it is irrelevant to the question at hand.”

    Then please state the question at hand. Do so in a SEPARATE post, all on its own.

  43. 943
    Rod B says:

    Ray L. would you rephrase #941? I suspect it is a helpful question but I can’t totally comprehend it. Sorry.

  44. 944
    Rod B says:

    CFU (942), The answers I don’t fully believe probably go with the questions you say I keep asking.

    re blackbody as a continuous spectrum: Of course it’s a model, or a representation. Not much in physics (or chemistry or sociology or etc.) is not. Cogent physicists aren’t “falling into a classic fallacy of self-deception” as you say. They’re just not wasting their time fooling around with silly ‘angels on the head of a pin’ deep analysis. Just like there is certainly no scientists or engineers who have spent more than a nanosecond worrying about the quantization of energy in their design of a pendulum. Moreover it could easily be a detriment for physicists to focus on the quantization of blackbody radiation because they then can get confused with the quantization that really matters, like absorption/emission from vibration molecular energies. Every physicist understands and focuses on the discrete (quantized) energy levels of electron orbits. They don’t give a twit about the quantization of a free electron.

    re the specific question/answer (#896, 900, et al) regarding LTE: I said that LTE is not directly relevant to the understanding of IR emission/absorption from/into CO2.

  45. 945
    doubting Thomas says:

    Many THANKS to Ray L, Mike, Sceptic Matt – and especially Neil King and Hank Roberts. CFU/BPL Game Over!

  46. 946
    David Warkentin says:

    Rod, the reason that physicists “don’t give a twit about the quantization of a free electron” is that a free electron really isn’t quantized. (Eisberg and Resnick, “Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, etc.”, Wiley, 1985, p.163. You can “Look Inside” on Amazon if you’re interested – search for the phrase “Schroedinger theory predicts”.)

    As for blackbody radiation: As I understand it, this originates in condensed matter from transitions of electrons between quantized states (like the sodium lines Ray mentioned), but the reason we don’t see individual lines in the spectrum is that the energy levels of those states are extremely closely spaced (because even 1 microgram of metal has ~10^17 atoms whose orbitals interact and hybridize with each other.) The spectral lines associated with transitions between such finely spaced energy states can’t be resolved because the spacing between the lines is much smaller than the width of the lines. (The finite width is a consequence of the uncertainty principle – in gases, this natural broadening is further supplemented by Doppler and pressure effects. See Eisberg and Resnick, p. 76 for a brief mention.)

  47. 947
    Edward Greisch says:

    Education is key
    How much easier this would all be
    If everybody had a B.S. in Physics.

  48. 948
    BobFJ says:

    Hank Roberts,
    Reur 905; I have no problem with some of what you say but not all of it. But so what? How about you get back on track and indicate where and why YOU apparently think my items a), b), c), and d) in 903, do not conform to the laws of physics!?

    Reur 909; You cite a medical paper where I see, (upon quickly flicking through), that they use an IR laser to determine point responses on hairy and non-hairy skin etc. But so what! They could also determine a response with a suitable electrical probe. Or, they could do it with a point concentration of filtered sunlight only in the visible light range, (excluding IR), where they would also find a hotness response!!!!

    I’ve noticed previously that you seem to like citing various stuff that has no value for the topic in hand!

  49. 949
  50. 950
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B says:
    9 March 2010 at 3:43 PM

    CFU (942), The answers I don’t fully believe probably go with the questions you say I keep asking.”

    What are they then?

    “Cogent physicists aren’t “falling into a classic fallacy of self-deception” as you say.”

    As I say ***cogent physicists*** aren’t doing. YOU are not one of them. YOU are falling into that fallacy.

    Planck radiation is not a new form of radiation.

    [edit – explanations are fine, insults are not. It’s really not that hard]