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The Guardian responds

Filed under: — group @ 24 March 2010

We recently ran two articles that were quite critical of aspects of the Guardian’s coverage of the stolen emails. This is a response from Dr. James Randerson, the editor of the Guardian’s environmental website.

I edit the Guardian’s environment website and was part of the editorial team that produced the 12-part investigation by veteran science journalist Fred Pearce into the hacked East Anglia climate emails. I’m very grateful to RealClimate for giving us the opportunity to respond to the recent posts on the investigation: “The Guardian Disappoints” and “Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind”.

I should say first that we hold RealClimate in very high regard. The site is part of the Guardian Environment Network, a collection of more than 20 hand-picked websites including Grist and Nature’s Climate Feedback blog with whom we have a mutual content sharing agreement. Under the arrangement, the Guardian website republishes RealClimate blogs regularly. We take seriously your criticisms and are considering them carefully. The Guardian has a commitment to accuracy and correcting factual errors.

Such is the public interest in this story that ever since the emails were released in November, there has been a strong demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what they tell us about how climate scientists operate. As RealClimate rightly pointed out, the response from much of the media has been lazy to the point of “pathology”.

No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair. The investigation tries to reflect the complexity and historical context of the story, and runs to some 28,000 words – of which around half appeared in the printed newspaper.

Dr. Schmidt did not mince his words though when he said that Fred’s investigation falls, “well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting”, while Dr Ben Santer wrote, “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.” Both have also criticised our experimental online exercise to harness the expertise of people with a special knowledge of the emails in order to create a “peer reviewed” account of what they tell us.

More on that later, but it is wrong to suggest that this is a lazy substitute for traditional journalistic standards and that key protagonists were not invited to respond prior to publication. On the contrary, the investigation was subject to rigorous editorial checking and Fred contacted numerous individuals in the course of his research. Many (particularly those at UEA) declined to comment.

The other side of the story

The RealClimate commentary reads like a distorted fairground mirror of the Guardian investigation – one that highlights the uncomfortable bits but blurs the rest. The posts did point out that “Some of the other pieces in this series are fine” but do not reflect the large amount of analysis in the investigation of the way the emails have been misused by those with a political agenda and the extensive context we included to indicate the pressure scientists writing those emails were under from time-consuming requests for data.

In part 2 (How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies), for example, we detail how the “hide the decline” email has been misused by Sarah Palin, Senator James Inhofe and others to create, apparently deliberately, the impression that climate scientists had fiddled the figures.

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

In part 1 (Battle over climate data turned into war between scientists and sceptics) and in a separate piece that appeared in the newspaper (Climate scientists have long been targets for sceptics) Fred outlines the tactics and motivations of some on the “sceptic” side of the debate.

All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

Similarly in Part 7 (Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors) Fred explains how the emails give a special insight into what being on the end of that assault was like.

In the leaked emails, [Ben Santer] is seen sharing those experiences with other victims of hectoring and abuse by the more rabid climate sceptics. Others had their own horror stories, including Mike Mann over his hockey stick graph, Kevin Trenberth over his analysis of hurricanes and warming in the aftermath of Katrina, and later Jones over his escalating data wars. In each case, they argue, legitimate debates about scientific analysis and access to researchers’ data have been turned into vindictive character assassination.

And in the concluding part of the investigation (Part 12: Climate science emails cannot destroy argument that world is warming, and humans are responsible), Fred lays out unequivocally that nothing in the emails casts doubt on the case for climate change being attributable to human actions.

Is the science of climate change fatally flawed by the climategate revelations? Absolutely not. Nothing uncovered in the emails destroys the argument that humans are warming the planet. None of the 1,073 emails plus 3,587 files containing documents, raw data and computer code upsets the 200-year-old science behind the “greenhouse effect” of gases such as carbon dioxide, which traps solar heat and warms the atmosphere. Nothing changes the fact that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere thanks to human emissions from burning carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil. Nor the calculations by physicists that for every square metre of the Earth’s surface, 1.6 watts more energy enters the atmosphere than leaves it.

And we know the world is warming as a result. Thousands of thermometers in areas remote from any conceivable local urban influences tell us that. The oceans are warming too. The great majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising ever faster, trees are climbing up hillsides and permafrost is melting.

These are not statistical artefacts or the result of scientists cherry-picking data.

Looking under every rock

There are few, if any newspapers in the world with a stronger commitment to action on climate change than the Guardian and our sister paper the Observer. We have a team of 6 full-time environment correspondents as well as three editors and a collection of bloggers and columnists.

It was the Guardian that orchestrated a global editorial carried by 56 newspapers in 45 countries on 7th December 2009 to call for action from world leaders at Copenhagen. [RC: Also at RealClimate]

And we have been instrumental in supporting the 10:10 climate change campaign which aims to inspire individuals, organisations and businesses to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The UK branch of 10:10 has signed up nearly 60,000 people and over 4000 businesses and organisations.

But only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed, but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.

The two posts published so far on RealClimate come to over 8500 words and it has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive. I say again that we are totally unembarrassed about correcting genuine errors, but many of the points raised at RealClimate are differences of interpretation. There were implications that the investigation omitted some key information which in fact appeared in Fred’s pieces – for example that the data on Chinese weather station locations from the Phil Jones et al 1990 Nature data were eventually released publicly and that the two studies Jones had threatened to keep out of the IPCC AR4 report were in fact cited there.

However, I would like to make four points:

  • Dr Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA has said in an interview with Nature that the handling of the records of the Chinese weather station data from his 1990 Nature paper (which Fred wrote about in part 5 of the investigation) was “not acceptable… [it’s] not best practice,” and he acknowledged that that stations “probably did move”. He added that he was considering a correction to Nature. To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.
  • Dr. Schmidt states that we imply Dr Tom Wigley supported allegations of “fabrication” from climate sceptic Douglas Keenan. We do not make that assertion in the piece. Also, Dr Schmidt does not reproduce the most eye-catching quotes from a May 2009 email from Wigley to Jones in which he raises serious doubts about the quality of Jones’s scientific team and his handling of the Chinese weather station data.The hacked emails do not include a response from Jones if there was one.
  • As Dr. Schmidt pointed out, we have made three small corrections to the piece “Controversy behind climate science’s ‘hockey stick’ graph” at the request of Dr Michael Mann, but none changed the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists.
  • Neither of the RealClimate blogs dealt with Fred’s piece on FOI requests, but a statement from the UK’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith has made clear that he believes that FOI legislation was not followed correctly. He wrote, “The emails which are now public reveal that [climate sceptic David] Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information.” This is a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.

Peer-reviewed journalism

I mentioned above our attempt to create a definitive account of the emails by leveraging the expertise of people involved or with a special knowledge of the messages and the issues they discuss. This account will eventually be expanded into a book. In practice, this means us adding annotations from people to the online versions of the articles so that readers can watch a form of living peer-review in progress. Click on the yellow highlights in the pieces themselves to read the annotations.

This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read “this is absolutely false” and “this is really bad”? The respected Columbia Journalism Review has praised the approach. “Regardless of whether you agree with Pearce or Schmidt, the Guardian’s approach appropriately acknowledges that evidence leaves room for some degree of interpretation. It is this kind of detailed, intellectually honest (even technologically innovative) reporting that news outlets like The New York Times should be striving for,” it wrote.

In the same spirit we have showcased diverse critical opinions on the issues and our own coverage of them, including from Dr Myles Allen, Dr Vicky Pope, Dr Mike Hulme and the Guardian’s environment correspondent Dr David Adam. Again few newspapers would have reflected such diverse viewpoints.

The reaction from some to our online annotation exercise has been hostile though. On our letters pages Dr Myles Allen and Dr Ben Santer wrote last week:

Claiming to produce “the definitive” analysis now is a brazen attempt to pre-empt the inquiries’ conclusions…What is wrong with the old-fashioned approach of checking facts before publication? When the final version is published, you will no doubt make much of the fact that “everyone had a chance to comment”, implying that any statement that was not challenged must therefore be true.

Our intention is not to undermine or pre-empt the ongoing inquiries into the CRU emails. Each of those has a very specific remit and none is attempting to produce a detailed account that uses the emails to shed light on recent climate controversies. Nor is this an exercise in blackmailing scientists into fact-checking on the cheap – if it were then it would be a monumental false-economy.

In truth, this is a serious-minded attempt to make sense of a large volume of new information about a complex and highly charged issue. No other newspaper has ever offered its journalism up for very public and exacting scrutiny in this way. We sincerely invite those involved who know the issues most thoroughly to contribute.

507 Responses to “The Guardian responds”

  1. 301
    Greg C. says:

    Great, thank you very much for the helpful link Eric! :-) That clarified what was going on for me.

  2. 302
    Blair Dowden says:

    After 300 posts, nobody has mentioned this Guardian sentance:

    …the calculations by physicists that for every square metre of the Earth’s surface, 1.6 watts more energy enters the atmosphere than leaves it.

    The 1.6 watts per square meter is obviously the net anthropogenic forcing, not something calculated by a physicist. And if the statement were true the Earth would be accumulating one joule of energy per second, and would soon be burning up.

    If I understand correctly, the 1.6 W/m2 has caused the temperature of the Earth system to rise, so now it is emitting close to 1.6 W/m2 more than before. A small part of that (how much?) is being absorbed by the ocean, so the system is slightly out of balance. Among its other sins, the Guardian writer lacks basic scientific literacy.

  3. 303
    t_p_hamilton says:

    “Certainly not the denialists. Is Phil Jones to blame because some people are too lazy to actually read the scientific literature before they make baseless, inflammatory accusations?”

    Yes, it must be because he is a bad communicator.

  4. 304
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good point, Blair.

    Guardian folks, can you square that quote with this one?

    Science 3 June 2005:
    Vol. 308. no. 5727, pp. 1431 – 1435
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1110252
    Earth’s Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications

    “… Our climate model, driven mainly by increasing human-made greenhouse gases and aerosols, among other forcings, calculates that Earth is now absorbing 0.85 ± 0.15 watts per square meter more energy from the Sun than it is emitting to space….”

  5. 305
    dhogaza says:

    Hank (216), No, I’m simply saying that the argument that the supporters of AGW are just like the good guys from the tobacco studies, or that the skeptics are just like the folks that didn’t buy off on the tobacco studies is not a compelling argument for or against, though for some reason it is viewed by some as a absolute proof of the validity of climate change studies.

    Oh, it’s not absolute, but given that your personal disbelief in evolution vs. creationism is similar to Roy Spencer’s, and that Lindzen’s disbelief in evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease is reflected in his belief that AGW isn’t a problem, we can say with certainty (as has been said above) that it’s not people whose position is “just like” anti-science types, but that they’re often the *same people*.

    Like you. You’re a creationist. Your anti-science stand on AGW isn’t “just like someone who’s a creationist”, because you *are* a creationist. No matter how much you try to nuance it by saying “I’m an intelligent design creationist, not a real creationist” (as though “real creationists” pretend that God is not intelligent).

  6. 306
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Congratulations Gerry Quinn #295, you were able to find something on the Interweb!

    Now the next step in your learning process is to make real, clickable links,like this.

    You know, we here have been trying to give you pointers for learning about the science also. What is it about ‘if you want to learn the science, read the primary literature’ that you don’t get? This is a brochure, for crying out loud. A summary for non-experts of the state of the science anno 1999 (and a pretty good one too). It doesn’t even boast a list of references!

    Come back when you’ve read up on, and understood, how multi-proxy reconstruction studies are actually done. Mann et al. (2008) as referenced by Jim is as good a starting point as any, and Open Access (and don’t forget to look at the Supporting Information). Hint: no, nobody relies of tree rings exclusively.

  7. 307

    Frank Giger #266: what is your evidence for your claim that we’re on a natural warming trend?

    Here are a few places that could set you right:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/04/05/stalking-the-elusive-solar-cycletemperature-connection/
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm

    Another hint: before wading into a debate on a site chock-full of experts in a subject, check whether your assumptions are correct and your questions have been answered before. Try the “start here” link at the top of this page.

    Gavin et al.: would it be a relatively simple thing to set up, to paste in a “start here” button as a quick response to people who raise old issues? I’d try it now but I don’t know to what extent the HTML mangler would let my effort through.

  8. 308
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Kris was not criticizing the science, he was making a clear point about communication and the misunderstandings”

    Nope, Kris wasn’t doing that with the sentence I pointed out.

    Your criticism is extremely unfair.

  9. 309
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #302.
    Sorry but I disagree with this particular criticism. Unless I have misunderstood, your comment would make things worse. I would not take off many marks for that phrase.

    It was just a short hand. A more careful account would add that this calculated imbalance is removed , partly very quickly and partly slowly, by global warming? I suppose you could add a whole page after that about the warming of the oceans etc. but it would have been another article.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/10/attribution-of-20th-century-climate-change-to-cosub2sub/

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/06/ocean-heat-content-revisions/

  10. 310
    Dappled Water says:

    #307, I know that suggestion has been raised before, it would sure cut down on the noise generated by the trolls and let uninformed readers know that these are mummified zombie arguments.

  11. 311

    Blair, (#302) you wrote that “And if the statement were true [that a net energy imbalance of 1.6 W/M^2 exists at TOA] the Earth would be accumulating one joule of energy per second, and would soon be burning up.”

    According to WIki,

    One joule in everyday life is approximately:
    -the energy required to lift a small apple one meter straight up.
    -the energy released when that same apple falls one meter to the ground.
    -the energy released as heat by a person at rest, every hundredth of a second.
    -one hundredth of the energy a person can receive by drinking a drop of beer.

    -the kinetic energy of an adult human moving at a speed of about a handspan every second.
    -the kinetic energy of a tennis ball moving at 23 km/h (14 mph).

    Considering the mass of the Earth–or even just the top couple of hundred meters of ocean–would you care to reconsider the “soon burn up” idea?

    And didn’t you mean that the Earth would accumulate 1.6 joules per M^2 per second?

    Now what was that you were saying about the Guardian writer’s “basic science literacy?”

  12. 312
    CM says:

    Philip #307,
    I can’t post a draggable link, but try making a bookmark for the location:

    javascript:void(document.getElementById('comment').value+='<a href=\'http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/\'>Start here</a>')

    It should add a Start here at the end of your comment text. May not work in IE.

  13. 313
    Frank Giger says:

    @ Philip (307), who asked “what is your evidence for your claim that we’re on a natural warming trend?”

    and to

    “check whether your assumptions are correct and your questions have been answered before. Try the “start here” link at the top of this page,”

    I can only respond with the very first link provided in the “start here” area.

    From it we find out “About 10 thousand years ago, Earth entered an interglacial phase, which we are still within today. However, the rate of warming that we see today is much faster than expected and may be a threat to societies and ecosystems around the world.”

    http://www.eo.ucar.edu/basics/cc_3_d.html

    Who, again, needs to read the “start here” section of the site?

    [Response:We entered an interglacial phase about 10,000 years ago, and it reached a peak about 6000 years ago. On these timescales, the ‘natural trend’ would currently be cooling, not warming. Of course, these glacial-interglacial cycles operate on very long timescales (tens of thousands of years), and it is possible that superimposed on the natural cooling trend there is some ‘natural warming trend’ that is part of a shorter-timescale variability, but no one (no one) has found any evidence to support this yet.–eric]

  14. 314
    ghost says:

    RE: 306 Martin, and every similar plea we make here and elsewhere, and with apologies to Cheech & Chong: “Read ze journals.” “I–I cannot read ze journals.” “READ ze journals.” “But–but I–I cannot read ze journals.” “READ ZE SCIENCE!” “(whimpering) I cannot read ze science.” “Why can you not read ze science?” “I can not see it because it is buried under stacks of bribe money and propaganda, and the leaflets say bad things will happen to me if I read ze science.”

  15. 315
    Hank Roberts says:

    Frank Giger does point out an error at the NCAR page. Thanks Frank. I sent this comment and suggestion to NCAR using their site’s Comment form. Let’s see what they make of it:
    ————————-
    On this page:
    http://www.eo.ucar.edu/basics/cc_3_d.html

    It says: “About 10 thousand years ago, Earth entered an interglacial phase, which we are still within today. However, the rate of warming that we see today is much faster than expected”

    That’s wrong. Better information on a similar public education page here:

    http://www.esr.org/outreach/climate_change/intro/intro1.html
    illustrated: http://www.esr.org/outreach/climate_change/intro/vostok.jpg

    “We are now well in an interglacial period. In fact, the present interglacial (called the “Holocene”) has already lasted longer than any of the 3 previous interglacials. Based just on orbital forcing, and following previous ice age cycles, we are due for a long period of gradual cooling to the next ice age. However, note that past CO2 concentrations have never been as high as they are at present (currently above 360 ppm), which changes the basic conditions under which our climate operates and makes it difficult to base future predictions on past behavior.”

    ——
    Gavin et al., know anyone at UCAR to nudge about that sign error problem?

  16. 316
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, I also emailed the ESR contact about _their_ error on their page even thought I recommended it — CO2 is almost up to 389 ppm as of last month!
    I recommended they use the widget:
    http://co2now.org/images/stories/widgets/co2_widget_charney_130.png

  17. 317
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Re #314 ghost: to be fair, it is a problem that many important journal articles are behind paywalls. IMHO not a good thing for public understanding, but — it’s complicated.

  18. 318
    ccpo says:

    Overfishing is a separate problem from global warming, and is being addressed independently of global warming.

    Peak oil and AGW are at least closely related in the sense that the proposed solutions have a lot of overlap. Each would still be a threat without the other, but they can be addressed together.

    Comment by Septic Matthew — 26 March 2010 @ 3:11 PM

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Underpinning everything is resource constraints via population. Further,acidification is having, and will continue to have, negative effects on the oceans. When you attempt to separate out any aspect of the global system, you are making a grave mistake. Recent report: Dying corals = destabilized nations.

    Cheers

  19. 319
    J. Bob says:

    #296, Brian, try these sites to relate Arctic temp & sea ice. I think they give some interesting perspectives.

    Arctic Temperature:
    http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php

    Arctic sea Ice:
    http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm

    http://arctic-roos.org/observations/satellite-data/sea-ice/ice-area-and-extent-in-arctic

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

    #290 John, you may swing by Watts’ site, they have a interesting discussion on sea ice, including volume considerations.

  20. 320
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Another Guardian article.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock-climate-change

    This is a report by another of the Guardian’s regular bloggers, Leo Hickman, on an interview he conducted with Jim Lovelock. Lovelock’s main topic is despair , but he can’t resist joining the mob he criticises.

    he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – “I felt reluctant to pry” – but that their reported content had left him feeling “utterly disgusted”.

    “Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science,” he said. “I’m not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It’s the one thing you do not ever do. You’ve got to have standards.”

    Note that he relies on their “reported content”.

    (I might tell you later why I went back to the Guardian)

  21. 321
    william says:

    Re #281, 286,287 erc / Ice stuff.
    The cryosphere view today looks like this :
    http://igloo.atmos.uiuc.edu/cgi-bin/test/print.sh?fm=03&fd=29&fy=1999&sm=03&sd=29&sy=2010.
    Interesting if look across 10 yr data or more !!

  22. 322
    John Peter says:

    Eric@313 response

    How about Little Ice Age? Is there not some evidence beginning to be developed that we might still be exiting from LIT(Mann,Akasofu). Could this be just the sort of superimposition you suggest?

  23. 323
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: My last comment.
    The last two paragraphs should not have been inside the blockquote.

    I went back to the Guardian to check up on their coverage of the Gulf stream which I remember as being poor and a rather sensationalist , (out of touch with RC!). Anyway there is something just out in GRL pouring cold water on the slowdown of the THC.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8589512.stm

  24. 324
    Oxford Kevin says:

    More nonsense appearing on the Guardian with the pieces giving far too much voice to Lovelock and his bizarre opinions and his now clearly lacking ability to critically analyze fud and internet noise from what has actually happened. Why Leo Hickman has given him so much space is a mystery.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock

    and

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock-climate-change

    Kevin

  25. 325
    Frank Giger says:

    Thanks for the correction – and that is how it should be done. Not “in your face stupid head, read a book, dummy!” but in a calm manner.

    Martin is dead on. I was reading yet another summary of a paid article that was saying that even if we shut down all CO2 emissions from man we’d still face warming in the near future. Linking to a summary quote on a blog isn’t really quoting anything but a blog, and therefore is highly suspicious. I cut RC slack in this regard for all the obvious reasons.

  26. 326
    Bob says:

    Vermeer, #317
    Ghost, #314,

    I myself have mentioned, previously, that it is difficult to get at journal articles. A few people here have pointed out that some are available through public libraries, but that involves a lot more effort than cruising the Internet (not that I’m lazy, far from it, but I have a job, and many other responsibilities, etc.).

    I had sent a note to Nature suggesting that they provide some mechanism for people to cost effectively subscribe cross-journal to articles of interest in a topic (e.g. “climate change”),but I got no response and doubt that will come to pass.

    Beyond that, I know that I can read the original science most of the time, although some papers require two or three readings, and many require that I then visit two or three other papers that they cite to build the required foundation knowledge.

    But this ability in turn is founded on my having a fairly good understanding of multiple branches of science, mathematics, and the scientific method. I just don’t believe many people can or would even try to do what I do.

    Which brings to me to my point, my idea… It would be great if either the original scientists, or the staff of the journal, or another body (say qualified, truly qualified, journalists at a particularly involved and science oriented news outlet, like, er, the Guardian) wrote “layman’s versions” of the papers. NOT little fluff news reports like we see that barely scratch the surface, misunderstand or misrepresent the studies, exaggerate them to make them more tasty, and generally make things worse instead of better. Put the proposed layman’s version through a peer review process (i.e. ask the original authors or reviewers of the study to critique, comment and offer revisions and explanations to make sure that the layman’s version is accurate) and then make them easily available on the web.

    Imagine how differently the issues about the IPCC statements about the Amazon would have played out if everyone involved could be pointed to an easily understood version of the Nature paper from which the 40% figure was derived. Imagine all of the responses on this comments page if you could provide a direct link to a readable version of a specific paper, instead of just saying “go read the original science.”

    I think this is very doable, and very valuable. It just needs a body with the resources to make it work, or for the scientists involved to recognize that the best way to keep their own efforts from being mangled, misrepresented or maligned is to make sure that a solid “consumer friendly” version of their study is readily available.

  27. 327

    #291 J. Bob

    If I recall properly, confidence levels were discussed last year when you raised the same questions. You could go look there. I will try to get more solid numbers and post on my Arctic page.

    In the mean time, best way to say it now is that we are virtually certain that the ice mass is:

    – dropping
    – multi year ice will disappear in summer minimum likely within 30 years
    – rate of change based on current knowledge is that ice loss is unprecedented, at least within the last million years.
    – I think the error range on the ice mass loss was around 15% so maybe that gives us a confidence level of 85%

    I’m fully open to correction as I have not dug in on this and this time I will write it all down on the OSS Arctic page and provide source info.

    But J. Bob, also as I recall, you did not listen tot he confidence numbers then. Why would you listen now?


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  28. 328
    Frank Giger says:

    Sorry for the double comment, but I need a backcheck on my understanding of both the Little Ice Age and the Warm Period in Europe as it relates to global climate.

    In both cases, they appear to be continental (or hemispherical) climate trends of short (in geological terms) durations, an exaggeration of anomalies in a dynamic system.

    So while Ice Fairs were being held on the Thames in London in one case and grapes growing not far from there in the other, the larger trend went on its merry way.

    The economic equivalent is the Great Depression and the boom of post WWII; both were radical swings for and against the larger trend of greater trade and prosperity for the USA from founding to today (And if one substitutes public debt to CO2 emissions and switches arguments oddly similar debates arise with the same amount of acrimony on solutions).

    I’m cautious of pointing out either phenomenon, as we tend to be victims of our Eurocentric viewpoints, owing to historical accounts via written records, and pretty narrowly so. Here in North America we had a very wet winter; the folks in Australia have a different opinion of how their summer went.

  29. 329
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re , Kevin McKinney: The best metric is from the Science paper (Science 308, 1431 (2005)); that Hank referenced

    An imbalance of 1 W/m2 maintained for the last 10,000 years of the Holocene is sufficient to melt ice equivalent to 1 km of sea level (if there were that much ice) or raise the temperature of the ocean above the thermocline by more than 100-C.

    The paper claims the actual imbalance is about 0.85 W/m2, as Hank stated. So I was wrong about the impact of such an imbalance (there is a lot of water in the ocean to absorb energy), but I am not a science journalist with 20 years of experience writing an article that will be read by millions of people. The statement by Fred Pearce is wrong, showing a lack of understanding about the issue he is supposed to be covering.

  30. 330
    Greg C. says:

    CFU: “Nope, Kris wasn’t doing that with the sentence I pointed out.”

    Yes he was; you are cherry-picking from his post to make it sound like he was saying something that he wasn’t and then calling him unreasonable based on this, just like the denialists do.

  31. 331
    Robert says:

    [Response:We entered an interglacial phase about 10,000 years ago, and it reached a peak about 6000 years ago. On these timescales, the ‘natural trend’ would currently be cooling, not warming. Of course, these glacial-interglacial cycles operate on very long timescales (tens of thousands of years), and it is possible that superimposed on the natural cooling trend there is some ‘natural warming trend’ that is part of a shorter-timescale variability, but no one (no one) has found any evidence to support this yet.–eric]

    I do believe that Moburg et al. 2005 finds that there are some natural warming trends on shorter timescales. This is also found in Viau et al. 2006. I think that it would be impossible to argue that there couldn’t be shorter timescale natural warming trends based upon evidence presented in both these studies. Do these studies confirm that natural warming trends have occurred, not exactly, but they do provide evidence which supports stronger centennial scale variability than is readily accepted.

  32. 332
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “So while Ice Fairs were being held on the Thames in London”

    Which was an effect caused by London (?) bridge being built and slowing the flow of the Thames, enabling it to more easily build up ice.

  33. 333
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #320 and #324.

    I only saw the link to the shorter article. The second one , which is described as transcript of the important points, gives a different impression. First a comment about Hickman’s abbreviation. I refer to the last paragraph in quotes in #320. In the longer version it is unclear whether this even refers to global warming since it follows an accusation about the measurements of the ozone hole. Is this a justified omission on Hickman’s part?

    Is there anyone around who can comment on Lovelock’s version of the ozone hole? Returning to the CRU, Lovelock speculates about the meaning of the Emails without having read them or the context. How about some speculation about him? Why does he now sound sound so bitter? Perhaps because he thinks that he has not been treated well enough by the scientific community? He never got the Nobel prize over the ozone hole crisis. But that may have been because he is supposed to have played down the risk of the CFC’s. I have no time to read it all up again.

    There is a strong plug for Nigel Lawson who has no doubt informed Lovelock all about the Emails and how it has not warmed recently etc. I’m afraid that there are many environmentalists who worship Lovelock and will now be very confused. He also appears to be advocating a suspension of democracy. But what would he do as dictator? It looks as if he would go for better flood defences. London, New York etc. will do that anyway without his take-over.

  34. 334
    Bob says:

    Just a quick additional thought on my proposal for “consumer friendly” (or “layman’s”) scientific papers… I think you could pretty easily pair a grad student and a journalism intern as a team to write such versions fairly cheaply and effectively. This would actually also be fantastic training for both; let the grad student learn how to talk science to a journalist, and let the journalist learn how to listen and realize how easy it is to misunderstand.

    I’d also think that some institutional body with funding in climate science could organize this, and could work out with the publishing journals what would or would not be allowed to be said (since obviously the original paper is in some way the property of the publishing journal).

    It would also be important to add seemingly obvious guidelines, like “summarize only what is in the paper; do not embellish, or add interpretations not explicitly stated by the authors in the paper itself.” This would help avoid the things that just went on with the Samanta et al BU press release; even the authors themselves should not add things to the consumer friendly version that are not in the original, full, peer reviewed and published version.

    In fact, I think a fairly small group could make a lot of headway in generating consumer friendly papers very quickly… with the first recipients of the output being places like the Guardian, so they get it right the first time (i.e. give them something more involved and accurate than a “press release” to work from).

  35. 335
    J. Bob says:

    #327, John confidence levels are not accuracy levels. Accuracy is based a summation of errors in the instrumentation and processing of the test results. I may be confident of something, but I feel better if I know the accuracy of that something I am measuring.

  36. 336
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Frank Giger
    > economic equivalent

    Arguing that a more or less steady growth trend in the economy is like the stability of the Holocene climate without human activity?!? Too weird.

    Whoah. You can’t compare a longterm stable climate to a rapid trend in economic activity and argue both are normal with fluctuations.

    And the economy was also consuming a relatively intact continent and all the big fish in the ocean while burning fossil fuels during the last few centuries, so you’re not even comparing different things.

  37. 337
    Steve Oregon says:

    304
    “… Our climate model, driven mainly by increasing human-made greenhouse gases and aerosols, among other forcings, calculates that Earth is now absorbing 0.85 ± 0.15 watts per square meter more energy from the Sun than it is emitting to space….”
    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 March 2010 @ 11:25 PM

    My climate expert had this to say about that.

    “At what temperature profile? At what albedo? At what latent heat flow? At what total optical depth of the troposphere in clear sky flux?

    This is such contrived BS. The calculations can only be made in steady state temperature conditions, with the inability to model water vapor or clouds. That ruins the entire thing, and I am sold on Miskolczi’s paper that because of the conservation of energy, Eu at the top of the troposphere must be 1/2 of Su or hydrostatic stabilty will be affected and lower the effective emission height of the troposphere from convective overturn and release latent heat and clouds which have the same effect. Adding more Co2 will either increase this process slightly ( the Walker circulation ) or limit water vapor’s presence in the upper troposphere by radiational cooling. Both processes are at work here.

    Co2 proxies water vapors optical depth by cooling the upper troposphere.
    It cannot and does not modify the earths IR flux to space. This was all in the original works of Elsasser, which these clowns ignore. Their model may work on planets like Venus and Mars, but it will not work on earth.
    CW”

    [Response: Your climate expert does not have a clue. I would go back to the store and see if you can get a refund. If you are stuck with him, at least get him to read the paper being cited and some of the background references, all of which are online. – gavin]

  38. 338
    Oxford Kevin says:

    # 333 Geoff Wexler

    I have no knowledge of the “scandals” associated with the ozone hole but I addressed the issues of both the e-mails and the idea of some sort authoritarian government in a comment on the first piece.

    I don’t know why but I’ve always felt that Lovelock wasn’t someone I would trust as a reliable commentator, someone I could go to get their interpretation of what is happening. This piece confirms my view of him. I suppose even if the theory of Gaia is not about a living organism as we would understand it, I just didn’t like the idea of it as an analogy.

    Once again the Guardian disappoints.

    Kevin

  39. 339
  40. 340
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Frank Giger says: even if we shut down all CO2 emissions from man we’d still face warming in the near future.

    In fact, we’d face warming for another couple of centuries.

  41. 341
    Frank Giger says:

    @ Hank (336)

    “Whoah. You can’t compare a longterm stable climate to a rapid trend in economic activity and argue both are normal with fluctuations.”

    Um, what stable climate are you talking about? If we know anything it’s that climate isn’t “stable,” as it is ever changing.

    Analogies aren’t always perfect, but mine shows a general trend can have seemingly wild swings and still remain a general trend.

    @ Fed Up, in regards to Frost Fairs.

    While the bridge did pile up ice, the River Thames froze below it as well, and thick enough to bring elephants onto it as an attraction.

    The larger hindrance was the reduction of the shoreline, which made the river narrower, deeper, and faster running – but it definately was colder in the UK at that time. At the time of the last of the fairs the construction improvements had already been done for a number of years.

    Since the colder climate anomaly was also felt in New England, one wonders if something odd wasn’t going on with the Gulf Stream.

    I’m going to dig about and see if Murmansk ceased being ice free during that time (since it is the end of the line for the Gulf Stream and the reason the Russians have a nice set of ports there).

  42. 342
    Steve Oregon says:

    I’m glad to see some more substantive debate happening here.

    Gavin– [Response: Your climate expert does not have a clue. I would go back to the store and see if you can get a refund. If you are stuck with him, at least get him to read the paper being cited and some of the background references, all of which are online. – gavin]

    I certainly will, but have you read Miskolczi’s paper?

    [Response: Of course. It’s nonsense and off-topic. Crank stuff like this is not worth anyone’s time. Sorry. – gavin]

    [edit]

    The paper you refer to has no real measurements to back it up. It’s all theoretical.
    So where does that leave us?

    When theory meets measurement, doesn’t measurement win?

    Also, the OLR has not decreased as projected by all the Climate Models proving they are failures.
    Yet you and others here appear to rely upon them as if they are not.

    The list or errors in the Climate Models are extensive and can easily be provided if you were so inclined to address them.

    Something which you’ll have to do sooner or later.

    They aren’t getting any better.

    [Response: Except that they are: Reichler and Kim (BAMS, 2008). – gavin]

  43. 343
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Yes he was; you are cherry-picking from his post ”

    Yes, this is called “quoting the bit you wish to complain about”.

    Often used in discussions when someone says something that you disagree with: you quote it and then disagree and counter it.

  44. 344
    Rod B says:

    Hank, Jim, dhogaza, …, “Like” is not critical to my argument. It can be the same people. Because one believes 100% in 100% evolution does not warrant his (same guy) assertion that AGW is without material blemish. One believing that evolution science is not absolute doesn’t mean, logically, that his (same guy) scepticism toward (some of) AGW is prima facie wrong. Yet that is the evidence sometimes offered. IMO it often backfires: I (for one) am hesitant (though not completely unwilling, given other relevant stuff) to accept AGW in total at its word when it comes from a guy that also espouses all of the hype and hyperbole and exaggerated statistical analyses of evolution, second hand smoke, DDT, etc. (This does not discount the parts of those examples that are valid.)

  45. 345
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Rod may still trust Heartland Institute, but there’s an apt saying: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

  46. 346
  47. 347
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, talking in absolutes: “100% … without material blemish … absolute …”
    That’s hype and hyperbole. It’s contagious. Don’t spread it. Don’t fall for people selling it to you, whether in their own remarks or claiming others believe that stuff and are still doing science. That ain’t science. It’s the language used for delay and denial.

  48. 348
    Mac Crawford says:

    This is slightly OT but Greenpeace has released a report about the “denial industry.” RC is the first blog recommended “…to get past the junk science:”

    Thanks RC!

    Editor – sorry that this is not hyperlinked – help?

    http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/dealing-in-doubt.pdf

  49. 349

    #335 J. Bob

    I believe those are confidence levels in the accuracy of the estimations, so yes, confidence levels are accuracy levels.

    I think this is the same argument you presented last time. Why can’t you understand that you can have a confidence level in a set of numbers?


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  50. 350
    Steve Oregon says:

    [Response: Of course. It’s nonsense and off-topic. Crank stuff like this is not worth anyone’s time. Sorry. – gavin]

    [edit]

    [Response: What part of the above was not clear? – gavin]