Unforced Variations: February 2012

This month’s open thread. Current topics are focused on the laughingly bad Daily Mail article by David Rose, the fallout from the Wall Street Journal’s latest regurgitation of why no-one should ever do anything ever. And perhaps someone might want to audit some of David Whitehouse’s arithmetic and reading comprehension…

Or anything else. Within reason.

399 comments on this post.
  1. Ian:

    Compliments on your inclusion of the comments to the piece in the Daily Mail as although there weren’t many, the majority supported the Mail and not the scientists. It is a moot point whether this shows their abysmal ignorance or is a pointer to increasing scepticism in the wider community but at least this blog unlike many others of similar persuasion does publish adverse comments.

  2. Steve Metzler:

    We note that the latest ‘trick’ of the AGW deniers is to show absolute temps instead of anomalies. And, of course, you must always cherry-pick the great El Niño outlier year of 1998 as your starting point. Leave that single year out, and their whole fragile worldview comes crashing down. But somewhere deep down they must realise that, which makes it all the more disheartening.

  3. Steve Metzler:

    Speaking of which, 2 or 3 years from now, I’m going to bet that the sliding window over which there will have been ‘no significant warming’ will increase from 15 years to 20 years, just so 1998 can still figure in. Am I going to be right?

  4. wili:

    So we have spring in the middle of winter all across the north of the US and much of Canada. Meanwhile, they are having fatally extreme winters in parts of Europe and Japan. What are the immediate drivers of this unusual weather?

    Is there some central clearinghouse of all the extreme and record-breaking weather that seems to be becoming the norm just about everywhere?

  5. Hank Roberts:

    > wili … what ….

    Searched on your question: try

    site:climatecommunication.org immediate+drivers+of+this+unusual+weather?

  6. sidd:

    I repost this from the end of the previous open thread, I hope the moderators will allow:

    –begin included text


    Hansen et al. New Climate dice, Figure 4, exhibit distributions over 60 years of local temperature anomalies scaled by local standard deviation.

    the following URL


    contains precipitation data. I attempt the same analysis as in Fig 4. of Hansen, i attempt to calculate local precipitation anomaly scaled by local standard deviation.


    I get skewed distributions. Is this real or have i erred somewhere ?

    –end included text

    i note that my results are consistent with Medvigy and Beaulieu on Journal of Climate,2011 where they see increase in extreme daily precipitation, and a drop in likelihood of average daily precipitaion. My calculation shows a drop in likelihood of average precipitation as they did, and and increase in likelihood of extreme events, although the data at http://precip.gsfc.nasa.gov are monthly rather than daily.


  7. Former Skeptic:

    Apparently, we’re all wrong about basic statistics. William Briggs claims with absolute certainty that averages are models!

  8. Larry Coleman:

    Trenberth et al’s response (including some RC folks) was spot on. Thanks to all. What I find interesting is the large number of comments by WSJ readers: 370 currently. This is far more than is typical, and in a very short time. You might think that the letter hit a raw nerve among the deniers! Well, they did us a real service by collecting in one place most of the simplistic misconceptions about climate change.

  9. Matthew:

    Never mind the 1998 outlier — David Rose managed to conclude that “the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.” LOL! We can all relax now.

  10. wayne davidson:

    I want to share this moment, when nearly every long range winter 2011-12 forecast outfit if not all were wrong, but I got it mostly right, I, one guy with a couple of telescopes…… not quite’ an avid reader of RC (and some great commenters right here, Hank, Tamino and many others) along with Weather Underground, I credit the guys and galls here along with Dr Masters as true teachers of Climate and Meteorology, what I have learned here was assimilated well enough to be capable to project where others fail, RC’s and WU’s outstanding essays can make anyone a very good forecast amateur. Key to all this is to remember the rabid intolerance to real climate physics such as the co creator of the weather network, and especially some at Accuweather, their zeal to laugh, scoff and discredit AGW is their undoing. Dr Hansen’s and al. great prediction of this current warming period stands along other key discoveries in science , and those who preclude his great body of achievements are prone to fail as they have just done so again. http://eh2r.blogspot.com/

  11. Russell:

    It grieves me to find a real national asset, aerospace icon and America’s Cup defender Burt Rutan among the WSJ signatories , but over at Forbes Pat Michaels & crew have been ballyhooing WUWT and the WSJ piece, adducing the remarkable claim that WUWT doesn’t ban RC commenters.

    To test that hypothesis, as adduced by Pat’s sidekick, Robert E. Phelan

    I posted this test piece on Watts blog :

    ‘Burt Rutan’s views on climate history, notes Wired magazine, reflect his taste in architecture. The aerospace pioneer dwells ‘in a white pyramid on the edge of the [Mojave] desert… I Robert E. Phelan’s side…a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting three large white pyramids glowing against a lush tropical background; toward the front, a strange creature strides across a white veranda. The mural was painted a week ago, and everyone is ogling it.

    Giza plaza, 17,000 years ago,”


    It instantly elicited the following response:

    Russell Seitz says:
    January 31, 2012 at 10:25 pm
    [snip I’m sorry Dr. Seitz, you’ve been banned for abuse of WUWT policy long ago (like shape shifting with multiple email addresses) and you know it, and for continuing to plaster your “weapons grade vitriol” about everything and anyone who happens to post or comment here. If you don’t like Mr. Rutan, please do take it up with him, perhaps you and he can argue about whether aliens wear bow ties.
    In the meantime, please do be as upset as you wish. I’m done with you and your prickly condescending attitude towards people you disagree with.
    Such a fine example for Harvard you set, sir. – Anthony Watts] “>

    Why Watts should style Wired’s quotation from Burt, (whom I’ve known since in the 1988 cup defense), “weapons grade vitriol “ eludes me, but I’m delighted to find that Yosemite Sam continues to be a role model for Sacramento TV weathermen.

  12. Thomas Bleakney:

    What I find most disturbing about the Jan 27 WSJ piece “No Need for Action” is an apparent shift away from denial stage 2 (GW is real but not caused by humans) back to denial stage 1 (GW is not happening). A little of denial stage 3 (GW is real and human caused, but it will be beneficial) is mixed in for good measure.

    Perhaps some deniers are giving up on their claim that the rising the rising CO2 is somehow natural. I guess this is a small amount of progress.

    It is sad that reputable scientists from other fields are sowing so much confusion and doubt among the innocent lay public. In my opinion they are doing a very bad thing with severe consequences for the planet.

  13. Geoff Beacon:

    Underlying assumptions about economics and politics affect much of the discussions on climate change. One is the price that carbon-polluters should pay for emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide. Anybody here want to say where they would set that price to change our lifestyles enough to be able to save the planet?

    My estimate starts here:

    If we were to count the £0.80p tax on liquid transport fuel as a tax on carbon dioxide it would be about £300 per tonne. ( I have made an allowance for the carbon dioxide created in processing crude oil here.)

    This tax is clearly insufficient to suppress enough CO2 from transport so perhaps we should aim higher. I suggest two figures £500 and £1000 per tonne of CO2 as reference. It may also be interesting to contemplate a lower figure, say £200 per tonne, and argue that much of the current tax on transport fuel is to cover externalities such as noise, congestion, ill health and death – and a carbon price should be added on top of those externalities.

    In Cowards in Our Democracies>,James Hansen has a policy initiative which is very interesting

    a gradually rising carbon fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies, with the money distributed uniformly to legal residents. This would stimulate the economy, making it more efficient by putting an honest price on fuels, incorporating their costs to society.

    My preference would be to Tax carbon. Subsidise jobs.

    We will need to downplay economic growth but Job creation doesn’t need economic growth

    But if push comes to shove I’d support Hansen.

    What’s your carbon price?

  14. Septic Matthew:

    why no-one should ever do anything ever.

    That’s not what they wrote.

  15. Lab Lemming:

    Getting away from this short term noise and taking a look at longer scale climate, have there been any recent developments on looking at snowball earth thawing mechanisms and constraining the snowball/slushball debate?

    Or do we not discuss real climate controversies here?

  16. J Bowers:

    First land plants may have plunged the Earth into a series of ice ages

    The spread of early terrestrial plants would have reduced atmospheric carbon and cooled the planet, say scientists […] The scientists assumed that 15% of the Earth’s land mass was covered with early plant life, but even with 5% land coverage, the cooling effect would have been substantial, Lenton said.

    First plants cooled the Ordovician. Lenton et al (2012). Nature Geoscience.

    Grauniad: Wall Street Journal rapped over climate change stance

  17. Paul S:

    Just noticed something a bit odd in the Whitehouse piece. In his Figure 4 (‘Post-1970’ HadCRUT3) he has somehow missed out a couple of years. If you count from the early peak (1983) to the 1998 peak you only get to 1996. I think 1991 and 1992 have gone walkabout.

    [Response: look at his calculations from NASA GISTEMP. – gavin]

  18. paul:

    To be a scientist, is to be a contrarian, skeptic or even a denier. This is the foundation of science!

  19. Kevin McKinney:

    Speaking of Whitehouse (and other laborers in the cherry orchards), my article “When Did Global Warming Stop?” just hit its 1000th page view. Ta, all here who’ve helped make that happen!


  20. Radge Havers:


    “…sliding window…”

    For doubters who don’t readily connect with descriptive shorthand, there’s this great animated visualization (GIF file):
    ‘Skeptics’ v. Realists
    New to me, It’s apparently been around for awhile.

  21. Jim Eager:

    At least Paul got one characteristic of a scientist right.

  22. Dan Lufkin:

    Can anyone steer me toward comments on the Fall, Watts,et al JGR July 2011 paper Analysis on the impacts of station exposure on the USHCN temperatures & temperature trends? It looks like very elaborate cherry-picking to come up with According to the best-sited stations, the diurnal temperature range in the lower 48 states has no century-scale trend.

  23. Kevin McKinney:

    #22–If so, it’s bitter cherries for denialists, since it also says that the worst-sited stations don’t affect the trend of the daily mean temps (though they do, it says, bias the daily max and min trends some, in opposite directions.)

  24. Theo:

    I am not the person to do this.

    But is there anyone out there that can show that there are often contradictions between sceptics. Taking the NYT article, are there some “coolists”, “levellers” and “warmers but not CO2” in the names?

    [Response:See the good article that Rick Brown cited here a few days ago. Maybe somebody can track down that link.–Jim]

  25. Brian Angliss:

    I hope you won’t mind a little self-promotion in the open thread, but if so, by all means delete this comment.

    After Burt Rutan, former CEO of Scaled Composites, co-signed the Wall Street Journal commentary last week that called climate disruption a hoax, I wrote an open letter to him at my blog. Unexpectedly, he responded, and I’ve been attempting to have a discussion with him ever since.

    The original post and comment thread are here, but because Rutan CCed his first comment to Anthony Watts, the thread is massive and it’s very hard to follow. As a result, I pulled his comments and mine out of the thread and put them into their own post here, with the comments turned off to keep it from getting overrun too.

    Thus far Rutan has not been particularly responsive, a point that I keep bringing up and he keeps ignoring. I had hopes for something more from a minor hero of mine.

  26. nuclear_is_good:

    Do you have any insight when BEST will be officially published? To your knowledge is there anyone writing a paper to finally clarify the ridiculous claims from McShane & Wyner on an ultra-warm MWP based on their OLS PC10 and how that is ‘better’ than RegEM EIV or how “… the proxies seem unable to forecast the high levels of and sharp run-up in temperature in the 1990s either in-sample or from contiguous holdout blocks, thus casting doubt on their ability to predict such phenomena if in fact they occurred several hundred years ago.” Since now we also have the 1800-1850 interval and it is easy to see around 1815 a very distinctive dip which is showing a frequency (but not amplitude and duration) of the temperature signal even bigger than the current warming and with a pretty sharp run-down followed immediately by a pretty sharp run-up – which is not present in any of the OLS PC10 reconstructions (and is partially outside the uncertainty limits for that, so McShane & Wyner are beyond wrong with that), is somehow present but pretty scaled-down in OLS PC4 and OLS G5 PC5 but is present in RegEM EIV reasonably close to the thermometer-measured values!

  27. Hank Roberts:

    For theo:

    Global Warming Skeptic Contradictions….
    lists skeptic arguments that contradict each other.

  28. Sebastian:

    What’s also laughably bad is the comments section of the Met’s page. It’s a laughable collection of the most juvenile denialist arguments (global warming stopped in 1998, Antarctic ice is at it’s highest extent ever, etc). Glad Gavin et al do a better job around here than they’re doing there.

  29. eric:

    How is the definition of “average” determined for the TV weather? The weather here in Pennsylvania is reported to be slightly above average. !!

    Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I think i remember that it is based upon the average over the previous decade. If so, then this average includes 7(?) of ten of the warmest years on record — so hardly a good average to report.

    If the average included the last three decades it would at least to make a bit more sense.

    Thanks, I love this site.


    [Response: Often ‘average’ in US weather forecasts is the ‘climate normal’ for the last period as defined by NOAA. Currently that will be 1981-2010 (I think). Of course, that is much warmer than the mean over the last 50 years, or last 100 years, and is a bit of a moving target. In 2009 for instance, average would have been defined as 1971-2000. It isn’t therefore a great metric to be using without being specific. – gavin]

  30. Mike Jonas:

    There is a clear cyclical-like component of temperature.
    Given the similarity between the ~30-year temperature rises to ~1942 and ~2003 respectively, and the temperature declines before and between those periods, there is no good reason to suppose that anything unusual is happening or that the temperature has NOT stopped rising.

  31. Rick Brown:

    The article Jim refers to inline @24 is, I believe:

    Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton. 2012. Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories. Social Psychological and Personality Science published online 25 January 2012. DOI: 10.1177/1948550611434786


  32. Hank Roberts:

    > Mike Jonas
    > cyclical-like

    Uh, no.


  33. Hank Roberts:

    “… for the detection of trends…. it will take several decades of high-quality data ….”

    “… to discuss climate trends in global mean temperature, you need to use 20-30 years of data centered on the date of interest.
    … let’s take a look at the whys…. the data and programs on my personal web site and you can run the analysis yourself….”

  34. DS:

    A naive question or two regarding temperature trends: The slight cooling in the 50/60s, I’ve heard that is due to pollution? Is that true? And I take it the Medieval Warm Period does not really show up in southern hemisphere proxies?

  35. Icarus62:

    Recently I’ve been reading a number of articles and essays which say that the critical factor in the magnitude of global warming is the total CO2 we emit, and not so much how we emit it – e.g. it doesn’t make much difference whether we have rapidly rising emissions followed by rapid decline, or continual lower rate of emissions, as long as the total emitted is the same in the end. I haven’t found anything yet which explains the physics of why this is the case – could anyone point me to an explanation, please? Is there any reasonable doubt that it’s true? Cheers…

  36. GlenFergus:

    For sidd at #6:

    Of course rainfall distributions are skewed; rainfalls can’t be negative!

    Rain is generally more variable than temperature so it’s going to be harder to extract a signal from the noise. You do seem to have something though; for what data?

    Extreme rainfall analysis (for whatever duration – hourly, daily, monthly) is generally done on some sort of censored series – e.g. rain above a threshold (the so called “partial series”) or maximum over some interval (e.g. annual maxima). You then fit one of the extreme value type distributions to that. Doesn’t work real well over short intervals though.

  37. Septic Matthew:

    Here is a curiosity that is presented at WUWT today:


    Presumably the book is in university libraries because faculty requested it, but it could have been donated by activists or something. I haven’t been able to discover who the “Impact Team” are. Does anybody know anything about this book or the “Impact Team”? It’s another “they all used to believe in the ice age”, but it might matter if the “Impact Team” were scientists. I never heard of a group of scientists who wrote under a pseudonym like that (there have been pseudonyms, but not that pretentious, that I know of.)

  38. john byatt:

    loved this response from Gavin, last month UV

    Ah.. that’s more standard. But the issue is that climate doesn’t only respond to CO2, and it doesn’t respond instantly. There are multiple drivers of climate change and particularly over the 20th Century, it gets complicated – there are other greenhouse gases (CH4, N2O, CFCs), ozone changes, solar changes and volcanoes. However, the most important in this question is the aerosol forcing which has been a net cooling over the 20th C. This is not as well understood as the greenhouse gases, so the net forcing is a more uncertain, but it is almost certainly true that the net forcing is less than the impact of the main greenhouse gases, and it may be true that net forcing is less than CO2 on it’s own (best guess is that they are comparable). But then you have to take the ocean inertia into account which means that planet takes decades to hundreds of years to reach equilibrium. So if someone claims that the temperature change from CO2 forcing (110ppm extra is around 1.7 W/m2) should have been 3 * 1.7/3.7 = 1.4ºC (estimated from the equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3ºC for a doubling of CO2 = 3.7 W/m2), then they are guilty of ignoring the interia and the additional forcings. – gavin]

    Now if the Models were currently showing 1.4ºC anomaly they might have a point. obvious to me that the models understand inertia and the skeptics do not.
    will keep this on file

  39. Ray Ladbury:

    Mike Jonas, On cycles. Is the following series of ordered pairs cyclic. After all, you have many repetitions and near repetitions.


    As it turns out, it cannot be cyclic, as the “y” is the digit in the base of Napierian logs and the “x” value is its ordinal position.

    Lesson: Be very, very careful in attributing cyclicity to a series unless you have good (physical or mathematical) reasons for thinking it is so.

  40. barry:

    wili @ 4

    “Is there some central clearinghouse of all the extreme and record-breaking weather that seems to be becoming the norm just about everywhere?”

    Here’s a site that lists the record breaking temperature events at cities and towns around the world year by year (from 2002).

    http://www.mherrera.org/temp.htm (current year)
    http://www.mherrera.org/records.htm (each year from 2002)

  41. Pete Dunkelberg:

    DS @ 34 Medieval Warm Period

    During that extended period surface temperatures fluctuated differently at different places & times, not producing a whole surface warm as it is in our time.


  42. Andy:

    Some questions:

    Do scientists have a good handle on the effect of Asia’s increasing consumption of coal on the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface? Are we experiencing a greater amount of “global dimming”?

    Has there been a final proclamation on what caused the dip in global temps after WWII? Was this a product of the way sea surface temperature measurements were made, or was this from the increasing amount of sulfate aerosols or both?

  43. Joe:

    The Impact Team was a group of non-experts, mainly reporters. Steve Schneider wrote about The Weather Conspiracy here. On that page Schneider links to his 1977 review of the book.

  44. Jathanon:

    @ 25 Brian Angliss
    Well, that was a depressing read. A bitter old man (don’t know why he would be…) who has been studiously learning climate science from all the wrong places?

  45. Anonymous Coward:

    #35 Icarus62,
    I read a paper by Matthews (and other authors presumably) proposing this.
    The central idea is that the same mechanism underlies much of climate inertia and the largest CO2 sink so uncertainties cancel out to some extent. The general argument makes some sense within certain limits if you make certain assumptions.
    But I dare say there’s ground for doubting that it’s a prudent guide for policy in the real world.

    Aside from the physical issues, consider the risk perspective: we don’t know yet what the ultimate impact of past emissions will be.
    Even if we somehow had a guarantee that promises of future emissions cuts will be fulfilled (highly dubious considering recent emissions trends) and that this argument wasn’t simply an excuse not to go along with BAU, we are in no position today to come to a decision on total emissions.
    If humanity isn’t lucky at the climate lottery, future generations will wish deeper cuts had been made earlier. The prudent policy would therefore be to cut emissions as fast as possible with a view to relaxing policies in the future, not to defer cuts with a view to adopting stringent policies later.

  46. Grant:

    Septic Matthew, there were no scientists in the Impact Team. See here:


  47. Hank Roberts:



  48. sidd:

    Icarus62 wrote on the 2nd of February, 2012 at 5:37 PM:

    “…that the critical factor in the magnitude of global warming is the total CO2 we emit,…”

    Please see


    Mr. Glen Fergus writes on the 2nd of February, Feb 2012 at 5:58 PM:

    “…rainfall distributions are skewed; rainfalls can’t be negative!”

    Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The data are monthly averages of precipitation over the period 1979-2010, over a 2.5 degree grid, 144×72 floats per month, call it P(i,j) . I calculate the average for each grid point over the period,Pbar(i,j), and the standard deviation Pdev(i,j). Then the quantity (P(i,j)-Pbar(i,j))/Pdev(i,j)
    This quantity can be negative. Then the histogram over 1979-1990, 1991-2000,2001-2010
    and the whole period 1979-2010. This is similar to the analysis in Fig 4 of the paper by Hansen et al for temperature distribution.



  49. Thomas Lee Elifritz:

    I just had to laugh at THIS.

    The hypothesis that refuse to go quietly into the night.

  50. Rick Brown:

    Re: Septic Matthew @37:
    Not a complete answer to your question, but Stephen Schneider had a “review” of the book in Nature — http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/Schneider1977.pdf
    In another essay on Contrarians Schneider says “The Weather Conspiracy: The Coming of the New Ice Age, authored by a group called The Impact Team, which was made up of reporters, writers, researchers, and “back-up” people, as they called themselves — but no weather experts among the 18 of them.” Presumably no climate experts either.