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Bickmore on the WSJ response

Filed under: — group @ 24 February 2012

Guest commentary from Barry Bickmore (repost)

The Wall Street Journal posted yet another op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers, which even include a few climate scientists(!!!). Here is the editor’s note to explain the context.

Editor’s Note: The authors of the following letter, listed below, are also the signatories of“No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” an op-ed that appeared in the Journal on January 27. This letter responds to criticisms of the op-ed made by Kevin Trenberth and 37 others in a letter published Feb. 1, and by Robert Byer of the American Physical Society in a letter published Feb. 6.

A relative sent me the article, asking for my thoughts on it. Here’s what I said in response.

Hi [Name Removed],

I don’t have time to do a full reply, but I’ll take apart a few of their main points.

  1. The WSJ authors’ main point is that if the data doesn’t conform to predictions, the theory is “falsified”. They claim to show that global mean temperature data hasn’t conformed to climate model predictions, and so the models are falsified.
  2. But let’s look at the graph. They have a temperature plot, which wiggles all over the place, and then they have 4 straight lines that are supposed to represent the model predictions. The line for the IPCC First Assessment Report is clearly way off, but back in 1990 the climate models didn’t include important things like ocean circulation, so that’s hardly surprising. The lines for the next 3 IPCC reports are very similar to one another, though. What the authors don’t tell you is that the lines they plot are really just the average long-term slopes of a bunch of different models. The individual models actually predict that the temperature will go up and down for a few years at a time, but the long-term slope (30 years or more) will be about what those straight lines say. Given that these lines are supposed to be average, long-term slopes, take a look at the temperature data and try to estimate whether the overall slope of the data is similar to the slopes of those three lines (from the 1995, 2001, and 2007 IPCC reports). If you were to calculate the slope of the data WITH error bars, the model predictions would very likely be in that range.

    Comparison of the spread of actual IPCC projections (2007) with observations of annual mean temperatures

    That brings up another point. All climate models include parameters that aren’t known precisely, so the model projections have to include that uncertainty to be meaningful. And yet, the WSJ authors don’t provide any error bars of any kind! The fact is that if they did so, you would clearly see that the global mean temperature has wiggled around inside those error bars, just like it was supposed to.

    So before I go on, let me be blunt about these guys. They know about error bars. They know that it’s meaningless, in a “noisy” system like global climate, to compare projected long-term trends to just a few years of data. And yet, they did. Why? I’ll let you decide.

  3. The WSJ authors say that, although something like 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that humans are causing “significant” global warming, there really is a lot of disagreement about how much humans contribute to the total. The 97% figure comes from a 2009 study by Doran and Zimmerman.
  4. So they don’t like Doran and Zimmerman’s survey, and they would have liked more detailed questions. After all, D&Z asked respondents to say whether they thought humans were causing “significant” temperature change, and who’s to say what is “significant”? So is there no real consensus on the question of how much humans are contributing?

    First, every single national/international scientific organization with expertise in this area and every single national academy of science, has issued a statement saying that humans are causing significant global warming, and we ought to do something about it. So they are saying that the human contribution is “significant” enough that we need to worry about it and can/should do something about it. This could not happen unless there was a VERY strong majority of experts. Here is a nice graphic to illustrate this point (H/T Adam Siegel).

    But what if these statements are suppressing significant minority views–say 20%. We could do a literature survey and see what percentage of papers published question the consensus. Naomi Oreskes (a prominent science historian) did this in 2004 (see also her WaPo opinion column), surveying a random sample of 928 papers that showed up in a standard database with the search phrase “global climate change” during 1993-2003. Some of the papers didn’t really address the consensus, but many did explicitly or implicitly support it. She didn’t find a single one that went against the consensus. Now, obviously there were some contrarian papers published during that period, but I’ve done some of my own not-very-careful work on this question (using different search terms), and I estimate that during 1993-2003, less than 1% of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change was contrarian.

    Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 (Anderegg et al, 2010), looked at the consensus question from a different angle. I’ll let you read it if you want.

    Once again, the WSJ authors (at least the few that actually study climate for a living) know very well that they are a tiny minority. So why don’t they just admit that and try to convince people on the basis of evidence, rather than lack of consensus? Well, if their evidence is on par with the graph they produced, maybe their time is well spent trying to cloud the consensus issue.

  5. The WSJ authors further imply that the “scientific establishment” is out to quash any dissent. So even if almost all the papers about climate change go along with the consensus, maybe that’s because the Evil Empire is keeping out those droves of contrarian scientists that exist… somewhere.
  6. The WSJ authors give a couple examples, both of which are ridiculous, but I have personal experience with the Remote Sensing article by Spencer and Braswell, so I’ll address that one. The fact is that Spencer and Braswell published a paper in which they made statistical claims about the difference between some data sets without actually calculating error bars, which is a big no-no, and if they had done the statistics, it would have shown that their conclusions could not be statistically supported. They also said they analyzed certain data, but then left some of it out of the Results that just happened to completely undercut their main claims. This is serious, serious stuff, and it’s no wonder Wolfgang Wagner resigned from his editorship–not because of political pressure, but because he didn’t want his fledgling journal to get a reputation for publishing any nonsense anybody sends in.[Ed. See this discussion]

The level of deception by the WSJ authors and others like them is absolutely astonishing to me.


PS. Here is a recent post at RealClimate that puts the nonsense about climate models being “falsified” in perspective. The fact is that they aren’t doing too badly, except that they severely UNDERestimate the Arctic sea ice melt rate.

262 Responses to “Bickmore on the WSJ response”

  1. 151
    Ray Ladbury says:

    It has been well known for a long time that conservatives tend to value social cohesion more than do their counterparts on the left. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Social cohesion is good. The problem is that certain factions on the right have equated being a good conservative with believing in a lie about science. And as they have managed to convince the faithful that everyone but Faux News and Rush are lying, they’ve acheived epistemic closure. I wonder if conservatives realize how silly it makes them look to predicate their political philosophy on the rejection of established science.

  2. 152
    SecularAnimist says:

    Roger Gee wrote: “It is very clear that sceptics are using the recent pause in warming to successfully attack the models …”

    There is no “recent pause in warming”. So those who use the false claim that there has been a “recent pause in warming” to “attack the models” are by definition not “skeptics”.

    I’ll leave it to you to think of a more appropriate term for those who use falsehoods to attack science.

  3. 153
    dbostrom says:

    I agree that everybody should be required to take the Engineering and Science Core Curriculum plus a laboratory course in probability and statics. Push for it, but don’t count on it happening any time soon. The innumerate humanitologists and people in general do not have that much math IQ.

    An aerogel proposition, more hole than substance. Look no further than Burt Rutan and Harrison Schmidt for examples of the fallacy of believing in a technical education as inoculation against becoming a useful idiot.

    What of the routine pronouncements of “I’m an engineer, and [I’ve woven/adopted this embroidered counter-factual cozy for keeping my ideology incompatible with selected outcomes of physics warm and comfy]? Meanwhile, what of those who saw the university experience as an opportunity to immerse themselves in liberal arts but understand how belief and faith in what we personally don’t know may be reliably rooted in concrete understanding thanks to the scientific method?

    Unless one’s mathematical and scientific training allows one to fully reach the current horizon of inquiry in any particular field, one is placing faith in others. Evaluating the relative merits of placing faith in one person or another is in the arena of critical thinking , a subject of study apparently in chronic dire shortage, given the behaviors we see displayed by university graduates of all stripes.

    For any university offering degrees in any subject field, allowing students to pass into the world with a post-secondary degree and yet still bereft of critical thinking skills is a badge of failure. This blot can be found everywhere; look at the “WSJ 16 Signatories” if you want to hand out flunking grades in the basic fundamentals of Enlightenment thinking to a bevy of top schools.

  4. 154

    #153–Thank you, doug. Just so.

    “Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” (Although I think it is *not* vain, just unending–rather like weeding, or washing.)

  5. 155
    Mickey Reno says:

    The WSJ 16 say that climate models have been falsified. Barry Bickmore says they have not. Bickmore makes some points, but to me, the temperature trends seem pretty flat. I’ve searched the site for the terms falsify and falsification, and found very little, most of them being posts in which Gavin says skeptical articles have been falsified. Nothing I’ve found talks about falsifying GCMs.

    Can someone just point me to the criteria for how climate models are falsified? I’ll read them and decide for myself. Just the criteria for the top two or three models are necessary. I don’t need all of them.

    [Response: The reason it isn’t discussed much is because it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is trivially correct to say that GCMs are not ‘true’ – how could they possibly resolve every single last thing that is going in the climate? They are instead approximations to what the modelers consider to be the most appropriate physics/chemistry etc. Thus the right criteria are whether the models are skillful – i.e. better than some naive hypothesis that you could have come up with without the models – and they are. The models do make predictions – some of which can be tested (i.e. what are the tele-connections associated with an ENSO event? what is the impact on climate of a large volcanic eruption etc.), and some of which determine the limits of the predictability – e.g. what is the range of short term temperature trends consistent with a long term trend driven by GHG increases? With respect to the WSJ 16 claims, they seem to be basing this on complete ignorance of what single realisations of climate models show, and which is seen in the figure to be so large as to preclude any such conclusion. Of course, the longer the mismatch, the more the observations will diverge from the models and the more likely it is that something is wrong. But we are nowhere near that point. – gavin]

  6. 156
    Ric Merritt says:

    I speculated recently that usage of “CAGW” and the like stems mostly from the denialist end of the spectrum. That is holding true in this thread. Introduced here only by Doug Proctor in #51.

    Such usage, by and large, is symptomatic of straw-man arguments and trolling. It’s a very clear warning flag.

  7. 157
    Radge Havers says:

    dbostrom @ 153

    I don’t think anybody’s claiming a panacea. There will always be a hard core of nutters in any profession, although I’d be curious to know what percentage of engineers jump on the denialist bandwagon and how that compares to the general population. In any case, a well executed science/engineering curriculum should at least help raise the level of the discussion. Personally I’m flabbergasted at the number of people I’ve run into who are completely, and I do mean completely, clueless about the most basic concepts of statistics and probabilty for instance.

    I agree with you that critical thinking course work is necessary, but maintain that it is insufficient to bridge the cultural gap between the arts and sciences. I’d go further and suggest that science skills are now pertinent to just about every field of endeavor, and that no one can call themselves broadly and liberally educated without calculus, statistics, and historical geology (including evolutionary biology) under their belts.

    (I wish I could find the quote, but I think it was Feynman (“Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman”??) who noted back in the day that he found more bigotry on campus in the so called humanities departments than in the science departments. Just sayin’.)

  8. 158
    dbostrom says:

    Mickey Reno, try Climate Models and Their Evaluation and in particular section 8.1.1.

    The “Evaluation” writeup usefully elaborates on the points Gavin makes.

  9. 159
    Phil Mattheis says:

    Lotharsson and Utahn recently ruminated:

    [“This observation needs a memorable name and needs to be pointed out over and over and over again.”

    I think it is something broader than just regarding prediction. Just that YOU can know nothing due to all the uncertainties, but I’M certain it’s X, or that it can’t be what you say…]

    Why not a derivation of Heisenberg’s version for quantum physics?
    “Climate Change Uncertainty Principle”:
    Accurate measurement and modeling of indices and proxies of climate change will interfere with simultaneous certainty that climate change is not a problem and/or we didn’t do it.


  10. 160
    dbostrom says:

    Whoops, that was section 8.1.1-8.1.24.

  11. 161
    dhogaza says:

    Ric Merritt:

    I speculated recently that usage of “CAGW” and the like stems mostly from the denialist end of the spectrum. That is holding true in this thread. Introduced here only by Doug Proctor in #51.

    It’s not speculation, it’s the truth. It’s a “lukewarmer” thing, “yes, there will be some warming, but it won’t be bad”. And you’re right, it’s often symptomatic of strawman arguments, i.e. “mainstream science tells us that we’ll see 6C warming by 2100, but we think sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 is only about 2.5C to 3C, therefore it won’t warm so much, therefore the predictions of difficulty are bogus”. Strawman because the “lukewarmers” proclaimed belief in climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 of 2.5C-3C is right in line with best estimates and worries about the rapidity of climate change are based on these best estimates, no matter what your “I don’t believe in CAGW” person claims or believes.

    Do some looking around, you’ll see it at play. Tom Fuller had an entire thread on this at WUWT a year or two ago.

  12. 162
    Brian Dodge says:

    Re the uncertainty monster, who appears to be a cyclops with its only eye magnifying the error bars on global warming, and who cannot see any uncertainty in the predictions of financial disaster if we do anything to combat global warming, or that more CO2 is better for plants and people. How to label the one eyed denialists who see thing the same way? How ’bout –

    “Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: deceitfulness, pretense
    Synonyms: affectation, bad faith, bigotry, cant, casuistry, deceit, deception, dishonesty, display, dissembling, dissimulation, double-dealing, duplicity, false profession, falsity, fraud, glibness, imposture, insincerity, irreverence, lie, lip service, mockery, pharisaicalness, pharisaism, phoniness, pietism, quackery, sanctimoniousness, sanctimony, speciousness, unctuousness

    Antonyms: forthrightness, honesty, righteousness, sincerity, truth”

    Denialists can’t see that “subjective truth” is an oxymoron. To science, truth is inherently objective, analytic, and rational.

    If the WSJ 16 believe the crap they’re saying, it doesn’t mean they’re not lying to us. It just means that they’re lying to themselves as well as us. They either can’t differentiate between truth and lies because of their social/political/religious/economic beliefs, or they’re being deliberately mendacious. They aren’t stupid, and are certainly capable of understanding confirmation bias, Dunning-Kruger effect, statistical uncertainty, signal to noise ratio, cherry picking, and the difference between quantifiably inaccurate (doubling CO2 will cause global T to rise between 2 and 4.5 degrees C) and conceptually wrong(the prior 34 years of climate changes lie within the boundaries of both CAGW narratives and solar-dominant theories.) Willful ignorance or the pretense thereof is no excuse.

  13. 163
    PKthinks says:

    Re 155

    Gavin himself gave a very clear description of what the models say (back in 2008)..see fine print

    How soon we should expect a new unambiguous record? ie. how soon trivially correct might become significantly correct,

    This article also shows how it is ‘trivially correct’ to say the GCM predicitons remain within the confidence intervals for a wide range of models some of which stay above and some of which stay below the ensemble mean, which shows individual realisations are not all consistent with the ensemble men over quite long periods, so lots of wriggle room for the meantime


    Respecting the science and expert opinion (but remaining sceptical of the models) an update of this article would be very interesting , ‘res ipsa loquitur’ applies anyway,.. Maybe after AR5

  14. 164
    dbostrom says:

    Having used Harrison Schmitt as an example of how a technical or scientific education is no protection against gullibility, I’ve got to say it’s a deep disappointment to see this otherwise thoughtful person going so far off into the weeds. Looking into his recent past is depressing.

    I’ve previously read Schmitt’s history at NASA with admiration; Schmitt was singular among the people who visited the moon in having the real chops to do field geology (carried the only -real- hammer!), as opposed to a necessarily more hasty and superficial remedial education for this purpose, and he was filled with curiosity and enthusiasm for his extraterrestrial. Perhaps more importantly, Schmitt was able to muster the enthusiasm of his colleagues into better exploiting for the purposes of their visits the unique faculties of human eyes attached to a human neocortex. Most of his fellow travelers were naturally and primarily focused more on the key requirement of making a round trip, but Schmitt was able to stimulate the curiosity found in all highly intelligent people to help make spacecraft crew into more effective observers.

    A cautionary tale if there ever was one; if it could happen to Schmitt, it can happen to anybody. How does one map a route from successfully defending a geological PhD thesis at Harvard, then to the Moon, only to wind up parroting twaddle for the Heartland Institute while presiding over the process of moving New Mexico from the world of scientific facts and into the wonderland of ideological fantasy?

  15. 165
    Susan Anderson says:

    deconvoluter @91 (mildly OT and rather late)

    We’re not sure who you meant, but if you’ve read my comment you will know that I am more amateur than most of the amateurs here, do caregiving, cooking and cleaning mostly, and try to self-censor when the conversation gets good, as it often does at RC.

    I *would* like to see any list that might have been made of the areas of expertise that are relevant to climate science. One particular beef from the curmudgeon is that people pronounce outside their fields. He is very busy with his own work and suggests that the basic science is simple and obvious, which I thought was a good point. Not “settled” but “obvious”! Obvious enough that even I can mostly follow it, until it gets complicated – but those are the offshoots, not the basics.

    Rutan is a puzzle; you’d think someone who helped make Winged Migrations possible would care about our planetary health.

  16. 166
    Donna says:

    Ray – 151 – what struck me as interesting was that the more educated, the more likely to beleive the false statement. I see a number of posts saying that we should improve education, that we should insist on the error bars etc being shown. The belief is that with the proper education then the resistance to understanding the science goes down. But the evidence says that as the education goes up, the resistance goes up not down.

    [Response: Note however this is not a relationship of before and after having been educated about climate, rather it might be a reflection of a difference in where educated republicans get their information or what social and informational networks they inhabit. Whether education on climate issues would shift any specific sub-groups opinions on the science cannot be answered by that study – though it would certainly be worth exploring in more depth. Some of the work by Gail Sinatra is going in this direction (I am told). – gavin]

    I don’t know if its social cohesion or some other factor but I think that we had better figure out something other than education to move people to realistically look at the solution.
    My guess is that until something really bad happens that can be clearly linked to climate change without any caveats, then the opinions won’t change. That itself is a frightening thought.
    Those who wrote the op-ed are sitting there pretty impervious to any sort of education, discussion, proof – most likely until an event that they cannot deny was due to climate change happens. And that is a formula for needless suffering.

  17. 167

    #164–That’s two astronauts in denial now, that I know of–the other being Walter Cunningham. He did a very ill-informed op-ed a while back, which was nonetheless picked up here & there in the denialosphere.

    I broke one of Hank’s rules to make it the occasion of a history lesson, here:

    (The rule being “don’t repeat nonsense, even to refute it.” It’s a good rule in general, even if I made an exception in this case–hopefully a benign one.)

  18. 168
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Donna, I think that we need to distinguish between “educated” and “stupidity sent to college”. An education is incomplete without an appreciation that experts, while fallible, tend to know best–especially when they are in consensus. A true education includes an appreciation of the sorts of logical fallacies we see rampant in the denialosphere–e.g. the ad hominem fallacy, argument from consequences, etc.

    Among the advantages of going through the trial of getting a PhD is that it acquaints you with the fact that merely having a PhD doesn’t preclude the possibility that you are an idiot, and that the surest way of becoming an idiot is pontificating outside your sphere of expertise.

    Unfortunately, the sort of education many students receive emphasizes the ability to bullshit. They don’t care if they are right as long as they are never proven wrong. As a result, they get a degree without learning much of anything.

  19. 169

    #166 Donna

    My own experience continues to show that the bias and belief is merely based on the sourcing and trust. Once educated on the contexts and basis of bias source, the belief tends to fall away rather easily.

  20. 170
    Radge Havers says:

    Donna @ 166

    “I don’t know if its social cohesion or some other factor but I think that we had better figure out something other than education to move people to realistically look at the solution.”

    Probably lots of factors all at once. Perhaps empty and formulaic repetition of dogma replaces creative philosopy as social institutions fail and die away. At any rate, I don’t see other approaches as mutually exclusive with education, which is perhaps a longer term but necessary application.

  21. 171
    Lotharsson says:

    Perhaps he should have bothered to even work out the problem.

    That might have helped, if he was interested in being right.

    It’s an elementary fundamental that must be learned by all electrical engineers (in electronic design and automatic control ) that positive feedback with loop gain below 1 leads to amplification (and the amount of amplification is defined by the sum of a geometric series based on the loop gain).

    This is so elementary to EE that observing an EE Ph.D. claiming otherwise makes it challenging to conclude anything other than he is deliberately deceiving his audience – or lying about his academic achievements. (Especially since his claims about positive feedback have been quite publicly corrected a number of times.)

  22. 172
    Lotharsson says:

    My own experience continues to show that the bias and belief is merely based on the sourcing and trust. Once educated on the contexts and basis of bias source, the belief tends to fall away rather easily.

    John, do you think this approach might work with Rutan? If so, what do you think is missing from or could be done better on the Rutan-Angliss exchange and full comments thread?

  23. 173
    Hank Roberts says:

    > The rule being “don’t repeat nonsense, even to refute it.”
    Cite that one to
    — scienceblogs blogger Tara Smith
    Correcting misinformation can backfire.

    Her blog post cites the Washington Post, which cites a paper from the Centers for Disease Control that demonstrated the effect.

    Notice how septic bunk is repeated so often, and comes back from new people yet rarely seems to change over years? Repetition works, for those doing it.

    Longish excerpt posted back on: 24 Feb 2010 at 10:08 PM

  24. 174
    vendicar decarian says:

    Editors Code of Practice that Rupert Murdoch claims his newspaper editorial staff will follow.

    Has the WSJ editorial staff followed these rules?

    If not then Rupert Murdoch is a liar, and should be exposed as such.

    i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

    ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

    iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

    iv) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

  25. 175
    Lloyd Flack says:

    What is behind the tendency of the better educated parts of the right to be denialists? Th better educated you are the more arguments you have available to rationalize with. This is not exclusive to the right.

    You need some self critical element to avoid this trap. I’ve noticed that on the right denialism is more common among users of science than practitioners of science. Engineers and IT people are users of science. They see the results of science, not how it is done. They tend to see science as more cut and dried than do scientists who see it as a work in progress and are comfortable with qualifications and uncertainties. I do not see much denialism on the right from physical scientists. They know what goes on in science.

  26. 176
    Jeffrey says:

    Not all doom and gloom for climate scientists hoping to alter the opinions of conservative skeptics.

    Here are 6 ways that my opinion that was formed on the bases of ill informed sources has changed since becoming obsessed with this blog. Some of these are not easy to admit:

    1. I used to believe that the urban heat island effect significantly distorted the surface temperature record.

    2. I used to believe that because the correlation between atmospheric CO2 and surface temperatures has a relatively low R value one should question the anthropogenic CO2-warming hypothesis.

    3. I used to minimize the effect of interests groups ability to alter public opinion.

    4. I used to not value the opinion of the majority of climate scientist at all. Now, I value their opinion greatly and seek to understand why it is held. I have come a great length in this regard. (Although I don’t think Ray will believe me). However, that does not mean I accept the consensus opinion without reservations or persisting concerns.

    5. I used to believe that revelations from ‘climategate’ made climate science untrustworthy.

    6. I used to believe that due to persisting areas of uncertainty when it came to certain feedbacks such as cloud cover, that all forcings and sensitivities were vulnerable to dramatic future changes.

    However, I have some skeptical viewpoints (otherwise known as opinions to all you defensive freaks out their) that for the time being remain. These are them:

    1. I believe that Climate scientists on average are overly concerned about ‘the message’ and thus are unable to have fully transparent and weighted conversations about issues that arise in climate science due to a fear of their discussions being used against them unfairly. Many climate scientists take defensive postures and have trouble staying level headed and above the fray.
    I do acknowledge that this opinion derives itself primarily from the climate gate emails as well as the actions of one Dr. Gleick. I do also worry about the ability of peer reviewed journals to avoid the pressure of appeasing top scientists, however, I do not think that a rash of alternative viewpoints are being suppressed due to this issue.

    2. I still maintain the position that a model is a evidence based hypothesis that needs the support of future based predictions to be validated. However, I have come some distance to believing in the hypothesis. I also believe that unqualified attribution based claims should be avoided in climate science do to the lack of direct ‘causal evidence’. I know that this is difficult in climate science because the evidence is strong yet it cannot be directly qualified. For instance it would be lovely if one could know that a particular period of warming had less than a 5 % probability of not being caused primarily by CO2 increases. However, that null hypothesis is untestable.

    3. I have unresolved concerns about the process of modeling that may just relate to my relative ignorance. For instance, I don’t understand why decadal trend precision is valued in simulations that hindcast climate models if it is known that the models don’t have decadal precision due to ‘weather’ noise (as emphasized here all the time). Why do modellers artificially play with variables to neatly fit the past if it known that the physics the model is based on are unable to provide the type of resolution that we see in hindcasts. For instance if there was a strong El Nino event or a clear decadal oscillation, what value would there be in a model simulating those events if the physics behind the models don’t address those types of variations.

    Not that my opinion matters more than any other opinion outside of climate science but it may be nice to know that one of the ‘irrational skeptics unable to see the forest for the trees’ can, in many meaningful ways, change.

  27. 177
    Ron Manley says:

    In my previous comment, #101, I linked to some graphs showing the simulations of 23 models for temperature and precipitation, which, inter alia, showed big differences between the models. I then asked two questions:

    1.Do the differences between the models matter; if not, why not?
    2.Why does the IPCC almost completely ignore precipitation which is as important as temperature for climate prediction?

    It seems to me these are important questions but so far they have gone unanswered.

    [Response: well the first point is interesting and is pretty much the only thing climate modellers are discussing these days (I’m going to aceorkshop on this tomorrow). But your second point is just silly – rainfall changes are discussed throughout the ipcc reports. – gavin]

  28. 178

    #177, inline–“. . .rainfall changes are discussed throughout the ipcc reports. . .”

    For example, the Summary for Policy-Makers (wg 2) (page 11) says:

    By mid-century, annual average river runoff and water availability
    are projected to increase by 10-40% at high latitudes and in some
    wet tropical areas, and decrease by 10-30%over some dry regions
    atmid-latitudes and in the dry tropics, some of which are presently
    water-stressed areas. In some places and in particular seasons,
    changes differ from these annual figures. ** D10 [3.4]
    Drought-affected areas will likely increase in extent. Heavy
    precipitation events,which are very likely to increase in frequency,
    will augment flood risk. **N[WorkingGroup I FourthAssessment
    Table SPM-2,Working Group II FourthAssessment 3.4]

    Just the first of several mentions of precipitation-related issues in the wg 2 SPM. If more detail were wanted, one could refer to Chapter 3 of AR4 (wg 2), referenced in the quote above.

    Or, if one is more interested in the fundamentals of the physical processes and less in the impacts, the 1st working group talks about it in their SPM, too (p. 7):

    Long-term trends from 1900 to 2005 have been observed
    in precipitation amount over many large regions.11
    Signifi cantly increased precipitation has been observed
    in eastern parts of North and South America, northern
    Europe and northern and central Asia. Drying has been
    observed in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern
    Africa and parts of southern Asia. Precipitation is
    highly variable spatially and temporally, and data are
    limited in some regions. Long-term trends have not
    been observed for the other large regions assessed.11
    {3.3, 3.9}
    • Changes in precipitation and evaporation over the
    oceans are suggested by freshening of mid- and highlatitude
    waters together with increased salinity in lowlatitude
    waters. {5.2}

    Again, that’s just the first mention of several, and again, one can follow up in the main Report.

  29. 179
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jeffrey, First, I am a hardass when it comes to cranks and antiscience. I am a firm believer that the professionals who study a field are by far the most likely to have a firm grasp of that field. I believe in expertise, and I believe in consensus of experts. These are all provisional beliefs based on my experience that they work.

    It is clear that you have made progress. However, I wonder if you appreciate certain things about climate science:

    1)The idea of anthropogenic warming is 116 years old. It is accepted by the vast majority of climate scientists, and those who reject it fit very nicely into John Baez’s classification of cranks and crackpots.

    2)As important as global climate change is, it is only one tiny aspect of current research into the planet’s climate, and while most research has some implications for climate change, relatively little research is directly related. It is worth noting that most of the research supporting significant positive feedback in the climate system comes from outside the subcommunity specifically researching anthropogenic climate change.

    3)The IPCC does not define consensus. Consensus is established in scientific journals and at scientific conferences, just as in the rest of science.

    4)The discipline of climate science has received unprecedented scrutiny from scientists outside of the immediate field–from physicists, chemists, geologists,…, as well as from National Scientific academies the world over. The result is that nearly every professional scientific organization has endorsed the consensus view.

    Now as to your remaining reservations:

    1)Climate scientists defensive? Gee, now why would that be? I don’t suppose it could have to do with a smear camapign by the same anti-science assclams who kept tobacco unregulated for a couple of decades, could it? Or the death threats from rightwing wackos or the fact that climate scientists have to hire lawyers and face investigations by Senators and States Attorneys General for the crime of doing their jobs? Naah! That can’t be it.

    2)A model or a theory is NOT a hypothesis. Rather it is a higher level construct that may contain or use many hypotheses. These hypotheses may come or go depending on whether they are supported by empirical results–and it is quite possible that none of this will alter the basic structure of the model. Once you get beyond the simplest observations, a model is indispensible for doing science. The model suggests lines of experimental/observational inquiry (e.g. what is intersting) and is in turn subject to modification or if sufficiently flawed overturning by empirical results. The current consensus model for Earth’s climate has served very well, and no one has proposed any model that poses a threat to it. Until they do that, they aren’t doing science.

    3)I can only recommend you look into climate modeling in particular and into dynamical modeling in general. As to your particular question about hindcasting, you need to understand that there are many inputs and forcings in the model that cannot be predicted–e.g. El Nino, volcanic eruptions, etc. It is a test of the models skill if it can reproduce the trends observed when you put in the actual scenario of what happened. This does not mean that the models are being “tuned”. It is the same model–just responding to real forcings. Good luck with your studies. I am always happy to try to answer questions if I can within my own limited expertise.

  30. 180
    SecularAnimist says:

    Donna wrote: “… until something really bad happens that can be clearly linked to climate change without any caveats, then the opinions won’t change.”

    There are plenty of “really bad” things happening now that can be clearly linked to climate change — or rather, that ARE climate change, that can be clearly linked to anthropogenic global warming.

    That’s exactly why we are seeing an escalating onslaught of denialist propaganda — it’s taking more and more noise to drown out the ever-louder signal.

    And as the “really bad” things become worse, and more frequent, the denial will only increase.

  31. 181

    #177 Ron Manley

    Have you considered actually reading the IPCC reports before you make claims about what they do and do not say?

    Since it is obvious you are less aware than needed regrading the content, I can only imagine that your source for your claim was someone said something on the intertubes…

  32. 182
    Edim says:

    “Rutan is a puzzle; you’d think someone who helped make Winged Migrations possible would care about our planetary health.”

    Susan Anderson,

    One of the reasons I am a CO2GW skeptic is because I care about planetary health, maybe Rutan feels the same.

  33. 183
    Chris Crawford says:

    I’d like to offer my applause for Jeffrey in #176. The process you went through strikes me as a straightforward process of proceeding from less knowledge to more knowledge. The crucial factor at work, I suspect, is that you did not bring ideological baggage to the process; you gathered information and altered your assessment to comport with the new information. This is exactly what any good scientist does.

    The reservations you describe are all entirely reasonable, it seems to me. I don’t think that there are any competent scientists who are as wedded to the ACC hypothesis as the deniers are opposed to it. That is to say, no amount of evidence will change the mind of most deniers, but a single compelling datum could change the mind of competent scientists. This is one of the problems that beset reasonable people dealing with ideologues: a reasonable person always entertains doubts, but ideologues act with complete certainty. That difference gives ideologues political impact far beyond their numbers.

  34. 184
    Chris Crawford says:

    [my entire comment was rejected on the grounds that the spam filter caught a forbidden character string, so I’m breaking it down into pieces so that I can identify the offending text.]

    Addressing your reservations specifically:

    1. I agree that the intense polarization of the issue has damaged the quality of the discussion. It is only natural that scientists would react to the adversarial scrutiny to which they are being subjected with greater reticence. Indeed, I am impressed that Gavin and the other participants in this blog are so open-minded about uncertainties, given the knowledge that a hundred denier lurkers are waiting to pounce on anything they say. The example of Dr. Jones’ careful statements about the statistical reliability of temperature changes over short periods of time being misquoted to the point of reversing his meaning must surely haunt every climatologist contemplating a public statement. And the knowledge that even private communications are no longer private must surely inhibit free expression. It is not too absurd a leap to imagine two conversing scientists glancing around to ascertain that their words are not being recorded.

  35. 185
    Chris Crawford says:

    [my entire comment was rejected on the grounds that the spam filter caught a forbidden character string, so I’m breaking it down into pieces so that I can identify the offending text.]

    2. Indeed, the chain of reasoning in support of ACC is lengthy and often indirect. Ah, for the good old days when a hypothesis could be shattered by a single observation (Michelson-Morley) or strongly substantiated by a single observation (gravitational lensing in the eclipse of 1919). Those days are gone; as science has delved more deeply into the complexities of nature, it has been forced to rely on large quantities of indirect evidence. This in turn increases the importance of judgement based on a grasp of the entirety of the evidence. It is easy to explain to a student why Michelson-Morley obliterated the luminiferous aether hypothesis; it takes a lot of time to explain the complexities of climate change. Combine this with the common misconception that science relies on logical proofs in the style of mathematical reasoning, and it is easy to understand why some people just can’t understand climate change.

  36. 186
    Chris Crawford says:

    [my entire comment was rejected on the grounds that the spam filter caught a forbidden character string, so I’m breaking it down into pieces so that I can identify the offending text.]

    3. [I simply can’t figure out what in my statement offends the spam filter, so after several tries I am surrendering.]

  37. 187
    Steven Franzen says:

    Lotharsson (et al.),

    Regarding the investigations into the credentials of the 16 WSJ signatories, some more backgrounds:

    Henk Tennekes, as listed in the op-ed, is a former director of the Dutch national bureau of meteorology (KNMI). Prior to this tenure he was a professor of Aeronautics at Penn State University, and of Meteorology at the Amsterdam Free University. He has published in the areas of aeronautics, forecasting and turbulence, but not since 1990. On the other hand, he has since contributed to the SEPP and the SPPI institutes.

    According to himself, he was forced to resign from his position at the KNMI because of his skepticism of (the modeling of) climate change, a factoid of course loudly reverberated by some of the usual suspects in the denialosphere.

    A former colleague, however, suggests that his personality and solitary views played a much bigger role; notably Tennekes has publicly said of himself “I was stubborn and have a terrible temperament”. The colleague further relates an example where Tennekes opposed the purchase of better computers for the ECMWF forecasting service. He considered this unnecessary as he thought it unimportant to further improve weather forecasting, and allegedly supported this with passages from the Bible. Compare also his essay “The limits of predictability”. This is not the only record of his firm conviction that the world is simply too complex to model. And, you guessed it: that hence there can be no solid basis for policy measures concerning climate change!

    Apparently, for him, the world is too complex to try to predict, yet simple enough to draw such definitive conclusions regarding said complexity? I personally view complexity as excellent and durable (and non-fossil!) fuel for scientific research.

  38. 188
    Steven Franzen says:

    In addition to my above comment, Tennekes’ essay on Pielke’s climate blog may provide some more insights into this man’s logic. Especially if one also considers his following quote: “I was brought up in a fundamentalist protestant environment, and have become very sensitive to everything that smells like an orthodox belief system.” Perhaps hypersensitive?

    I’m sorry, I just never tire of attempting to get into these colourful people’s minds.

  39. 189
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edim says, “One of the reasons I am a CO2GW skeptic is because I care about planetary health, maybe Rutan feels the same.”

    Ah, what a wonderful example of the fallacy of argument from consequences. Note the logic. Edim cares about planetary health. He perceives (incorrectly) that climate change will lead to lack of attention to other critical needs. Therefore he rejects the evidence for climate change. Classic, idealistic and wrong.

    I suspect Rutan’s motivation is somewhat different. He has a vision of Man soaring toward the stars, not struggling for survival on degraded planet. Climate change doesn’t fit that vision, so he concludes it must be wrong. (Note that I suspcet Freeman Dyson’s motivations are similar.) So desperate to be a man of vision that he embraces a hallucination.

    Nature doesn’t give a rat’s furry tuckus what the consequences are. What matters is the physical reality as reflected in the evidence. Period.

  40. 190
    flxible says:

    Comment by Edim: One of the reasons I am a CO2GW skeptic is because I care about planetary health …
    Could you explain that?? Is a “CO2GW skeptic” one who doubts that CO2 contributes to global warming? Why would that be influenced by “caring about planetary health”? Does one who “cares about planetary health” assume no risk is great enough to justify an attempt to understand how the planetary biosphere functions?

  41. 191
    Susan Anderson says:


    Then you need to go back and learn about greenhouse gases. The physics is simple enough and established enough that your statement calls into question where you got your information. With an open mind, an adequate high school education, and a little background, it’s easy to comprehend. It has been presented so many times in straightforward ways that your resistance begs the question of where you have been – tempting to assume it’s the likes of WUWT.

    I readily confess to being a layperson because I think scientists and others need to understand it does not take a Ph.D. or physics background to get the basics. Somebody above commented that it’s not the science but the prejudices that make the roadblock. But the planet does not practice politics, and inasmuch as scientists have explored how it works, this is it.

  42. 192
    Edim says:


    I studied mechanical engineering and was always very good at physics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, chemistry and other relevant subjects. I also was extremely good at solving problems in textbooks, both theoretical and practical. I also did some scientific research (emissions). I am ~liberal/communist/anarchist and motivated only by love of science when it comes to AGW. I have been an AGW skeptic for almost 15 years, but stopped following the controversy around 2005 and came back after climategate. My mind is wide open. I agree very much that the planet does not practice politics.

    I see there are more replies, but I have to go now. I will try to respond later, if I’m allowed.

  43. 193
    vendicar decarian says:

    Right now, NewCorp is weak because of the ethics related scandals it has created for itself.

    The WSJ has also had it’s share of ethics related problems in the way it has been caught padding it’s subscriber numbers.

    If the goal is to alter the journalistic integrity (or lack thereof) of the WSJ those are the tools to use.

    Can no one here think strategically?

  44. 194
    Chris Crawford says:

    Edim, I for one would very much like to hear why you are skeptical about ACC. Could you outline your reasoning?

  45. 195
    James Albinson says:

    Edim, Go to the top left of the RealClimate home page, click “Start Here” and follow the various links at the level of complexity you like. You will work up to a sound understanding of the current thinking on Climate and its changing. All the articles are thundering good reads – enjoy!!!

  46. 196
    Mickey Reno says:

    @155 Thanks for your quick response, Gavin. It’s been a day or two, but I had work to do on this post, and it took some time. Sorry about the length of this posting.

    If I understand you correctly, you’re saying there’s no real point in even trying to judge a GCM for immediate falsification. While frustrating to those who want a more imperical sort of experiment, I guess I had always intuitively though that to be the case, from having followed this debate for so long.

    Thanks to ‘dbostrom’ @ #158 for pointing me to Chapter 8 of the IPCC report on climate model evaluation. Like everything in this field, nothing comes easily for me. I downloaded it and read though a lot of it. After reading, I did a search for the term ‘skill’ and gave each area where that term cropped up a more thorough reading. I also reviewed abstracts of three cited papers that contained the term ‘skill’ in the appendix. Of the three papers cited, two of them said models had certain problems that inhibited their skill (one with land temps, the other with SSTs which noted seasonal barriers), and the third claimed significant skill, but this was a paper dealing with effects in the Stratosphere during arctic winters, when presumably effects due to water vapor would be lower, less radiation at all freqs, and fewer clouds. (i.e. find the place on the planet the most closely resembles the laboratory, to eliminate the non-CO2 forcing signals). Two of the papers were paywalled. I’m very interested, but I can’t justify paying for all the articles I’d need to read to keep up. So, I hope the abstracts were concise, and my understanding of them reasonable.

    So after all that, my understanding is that skill is a somewhat subjective term, not without meaning, but not particularly imperical either. Most of the determination of a model’s skill seems to come up front, from unit testing, historical confidence or model evolution (if you will) and specific tests against known occurences, and short term “test runs” against known results from the instrument era. It also seems (but this is a question as much as it is a statement) that not as much of the evaluation of skill comes from a long term, let’s wait and see comparison against reality well after the fact. Is that an reasonable statement?

    Which brings us back to the falsification claims of the WSJ 16, and Bickmore’s response. Your statement “we’re nowhere near that point” clearly implies you’ve done some type of analysis of some models. I presume from your post that models could eventually diverge from reality to the point where they’re more flatly wrong (poorly skilled). And if so, I guess what I’m asking is what threshholds are deterministic? Are these thresholds a formal thing? Do they exist in writing? Are they generated beforehand as part of a formal hypothesis? If not, what’s happening instead? If it’s informal and casual, wouldn’t that be somewhat problematic (sort of like saying we’re going to hold an election, and we’ll write the rules for voting after we count the ballots)?

    Finally, if you will indulge one more set of related questions. Has it ever been tried to use a whole variety of CO2 feedback forcing assumptions in many models, from highly positive to highly negative, using small steps to cover the entire range, and then seeing which feedback value best fits the measured reality across the models? If not, do you think it would be a good idea to do so (let’s assume free and unlimited computer time)? And how many years after generating such a spread of scenarios would be needed to decide the best fit, in your opinion? I’ve heard the number 15 years talked about recently, but it seems like some of the more political types, who argue in favor of the “settled” premise, would be quite aghast at the idea of waiting 15 years for any feedback number to prove itself more skillful (I’m not sure if a specific variable or component is properly called skillful, so apologies if I’m using the word incorrectly here).

    Okay, done. Thanks for any thoughts on the topic (from anyone, not trying to monopolize Gavin)

  47. 197
    Chris Crawford says:

    Micky (#196), I have some thoughts to offer on the subject of modeling. First, there’s nothing to accomplish by setting some sort of threshold of skill (or any other metric) and discarding anything that falls below that threshold. A model is just a complicated way of thinking about a phenomenon. No model ever achieves perfection. Every model offers something of intellectual utility. Indeed, it is entirely possible to devise a model that is less skillful yet more illuminating.

    Which brings me to another question you asked regarding the use of variable terms in models. Yes indeed, that is one of the great values of any model: we can experiment with lots of variations. The way that the results vary with respect to a changing independent variable can reveal a great deal about the subject. In many cases, we don’t actually put our money on the results of any particular run; instead, we draw conclusions about the sensitivity of the model to changes in this independent model. For example, all the models agree that we get larger changes in climate if we put more CO2 into the atmosphere. That, of course, is a trivially simple result, but more sophisticated variations can be explored with models.

    None of the current models are “production units” in the sense that none of them are good enough to give us results that we can hang our hats on. They aren’t even prototypes. They’re research projects no different from physical experiments. The physicists who carried out the first experiments demonstrating nuclear fission established a solid basis for making a public policy recommendation to build the atomic bomb. They didn’t have a working bomb, they didn’t even have a working atomic firecracker, but their experiments provided enough evidence to act on. In the same way, the work of climate modelers doesn’t permit us to predict future temperatures, but it surely gives us enough to make informed judgements regarding policy.

    It’s interesting to take the analogy with the atomic bomb in the other direction. What if there had been pacifists back then who, because of their opposition to war, had furiously denied the feasibility of an atomic bomb? I could build a pretty good case in support of the claim that, based on the knowledge available in early 1942, an atomic bomb was not feasible. I think I could do a much better job than the deniers have done with climate change. Had there been “atomic bomb deniers” back in 1942, the first American A-bomb might not have been ready until much later — perhaps after the first Soviet bomb. Snuggle up with THAT thought!

  48. 198
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also important to realize a model isn’t like clockwork — it gets run multiple times, and you get back a range of results (and each run takes a lot of computer time). Maybe someone could describe that a bit better.

  49. 199
    dbostrom says:

    Mickey: …but it seems like some of the more political types, who argue in favor of the “settled” premise…

    Careful of those semantic tripwires, Mickey. Something that’s hard for those of us not in the field to fully appreciate (even us politically inclined types) is how completely boring and thus frustrating it is to hear phrases that might be redolent of accusations of scientists cooking conclusions in favor of particular outcomes. It’s an almost sure way to see an otherwise fruitful conversation swerve off into a slagging festival.

    As a instructive anecdote on the level of actual “controversy” surrounding climate change research, I’ll mention that I happen to be acquainted with one of the IPCC lead authors for the upcoming installment. Learning of this and thinking I’d be touching on a topic of great interest to him, I queried about his thoughts about upcoming meetings, what was in play, etc. The response I got was a distinct lack of enthusiasm, even ennui. “There’s hardly any appropriate role left for scientists in the matter” is a fair summary of this fellow’s remarks; there’s plenty of investigation left to do but nothing’s likely to come up that should affect public policy outcomes of the research already accomplished.

    For many scientists the need to go on parade once more as showdogs for deadlocked politicians is a deadly bore, a distraction from more productive work. In fact, for many researchers the whole mess is a bit of an incidental outcome of activity completely divorced from worldly matters to do with public policy, work that would be done regardless of whether we knew or cared of the consequences that emerge from the sort of grand synthesis performed by the IPCC.

    All this said in hopes of avoiding more off-topic ragging.

  50. 200
    vendicar decarian says:

    Simply whining about dishonest editorials at the WSJ clearly isn’t working.
    Whining more the next time it happens probably won’t help either.

    WSJ’s Newscorp ‘tried to subvert’ murder probe

    WSJ’s Newscorp Inquiry Covers Four UK Newspapers

    Wall Street Journal Caught Padding European Circulation By Nearly Half