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The scientific debate on climate change

Filed under: — david @ 24 May 2013

by Jill and David Archer


67 Responses to “The scientific debate on climate change”

  1. 1
    Radge Havers says:

    Good one!

    =:-)

  2. 2
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    On the radio right now! A big Talk of the Nation program on the climate debate.

  3. 3
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    All right, it was This American Life, not TOTN.

  4. 4
    Nick says:

    The never-ending ‘No’ show!

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Hank Roberts says:

    A week of climate change programming:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/495/hot-in-my-backyard

    Since NPR’s cancelled This American Life, perhaps they’ll go out using up all the news they’ve got.

    [Response: Do you have a link for that? I can’t find any such announcement. – gavin]

    A year ago, this prediction:
    “… Programming choices could fall victim and become the dictum of the politcal sponsors of whom they mustn’t run afoul….”
    http://www.a2politico.com/2012/05/coming-soon-to-public-broadcasting-political-reporting-funded-by-the-koch-bros/

  7. 7
    AntonyIndia says:

    A similar cartoon could have been made of economic models vs skeptic models before 2007. See the overconfidence effect here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overconfidence_effect.

    For an Economics mea culpa see here http://www.ifw-members.ifw-kiel.de/publications/the-financial-crisis-and-the-systemic-failure-of-academic-economics/KWP_1489_ColanderetalFinancial%20Crisis.pdf

  8. 8
    Balazs says:

    There is no need for “skeptic models”. Climate models contradict each-other sufficiently.

  9. 9

    I emailed tamino to find out what’s up. Waiting to hear from him. If anyone finds out anything, please let me know.

  10. 10
    Dikran Marsupial says:

    Balazs How many of the climate models that contradict each-other sufficiently suggest that anthropgenic carbon emissions under the “business as usual” scenario won’t lead to substantial increases in global mean surface temperature over the next century? While they won’t agree exactly, they seem to be in good agreement on the issue that really matters.

    A skeptic climate model would be a much better argument than a rhetorical one-liner.

  11. 11
    Radge Havers says:

    And unsurprisingly, from the irony challenged cheap seats, we once more hear the baleful, inarticulate cries of “you suck!”

  12. 12
    toby says:

    Has anyone ever seen a “skeptic model”? Or a “skeptic paleoclimate reconstruction” for that matter? Or a “skeptic prediction” of the temperature in 2050?

    Doesn’t this crowd just snipe at other people’s work, and if anyone makes a positive contribution, they get voted off the island, like Richard Muller was?

  13. 13
    Dikran Marsupial says:

    I often hear “skeptics” complain that GCMs can be programmed/calibrated to say anything that the modellers want. The fact that no climate skeptic scientist has constructed a GCM that shows that increasing carbon dioxide will not result in substantial increases in surface temperatures is fairly good evidence that the models cannot be programmed to say what the modellers want.

  14. 14
    Hank Roberts says:

    > NPR
    my mistake, sorry Gavin, thanks for questioning it.
    NPR cancelled Talk of the Nation, the Monday-to-Thursday call-in show.

    This American Life continues; they did the climate program.

  15. 15
    Radge Havers says:

    I’m afraid this will probably remain an inside joke. The “skeptic” view is that AGW is patently a fantasy and therefore needs no robust refutation. This is based on talking points which, among other things, serve as intellectual shortcuts. Explanations of why this is fallacious will be tuned out precisely because they tend to be somewhat long and demanding, if not tedious, and have the superficial appearance of being rationalizations.

  16. 16
    Dikran Marsupial says:

    toby, to be fair, sniping at other peoples work *is* quite a valuable part of science.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/05/introducing-pubpeer-com/

  17. 17
    Susan Anderson says:

    re Tamino: Barton Paul Levenson

    as noted here:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/05/unforced-variations-may-2013/comment-page-9/#comment-340323

    “I asked a mutual acquaintance who said:

    “working on fighting the proposed East West Corridor project that is supposed to bisect the town with a highway and utility/pipeline corridor that would destroy the town and most of central Maine from Calais to Coburn Gore. A bunch of us have been tasked by the town selectmen to come up with a moratorium proposal as well as strategies to educate the public on the implications of the the project.”

  18. 18
    Rick Brown says:

    Re: Hank, #6 – NPR’s Talk of the Nattion is to be discontinued, not This American Life.

  19. 19
    AndyL says:

    A better contest seems to be Climate Models v Observed Temperature Change.

    It looks like Observed Temperature Change is ahead on points. See for example Otto et al.

  20. 20

    Balacz says:

    “There is no need for “skeptic models”. Climate models contradict each-other sufficiently.”

    This is not true. There is essentially one consensus climate model, which builds on all of physics to arrive at some common understanding. Any deviation from physics is treated seriously.

    On the other hand, there are dozens and dozens of skeptic models that are entirely contradictory. For instance, I keep track of the skeptical models that get paraded on the Climate Etc blog. Last count I had tabulated 70 somewhat regular commenters that will pitch their own version of climate science theories. These vary all over the map, from suggesting that excess CO2 is non-man-made, to suggesting that the heat of combustion of fossil fuels contribute to all the warming, to a governor-like mechanism for climate. And it gets worse from there.

    Periodically I will ask the “denizens” of Climate Etc to pick one of the 70 theories to rally around. I suggest that only one of these can be correct. The response is always crickets, of course. That is why Jill Archer’s cartoon shown above is so telling. No one will step up to the plate or enter the boxing ring when it counts.

    In reality, I think most skeptics are followers of Coast2Coast AM, larrikins, pranksters, etc and they are in it for the comfort of belonging to a clique, as Michael Shermer has described in his works on pseudo-science and skepticism.

  21. 21
    Ray Ladbury says:

    AntonyIndia betrays his ignorance of economics as well as climate science. Actually, there were plenty of economists saying the economic progress of the mid 2000s was a house of cards. Hell, even I could see that it wasn’t sustainable back in 1998.

    In contrast, climate science is well founded, with a long (>100 year) history of successful predictions.

    And maybe what Balazs says is true…in the imaginary world where he spends his time.

  22. 22
    Tom Adams says:

    NASA does not seem to think there is a skeptics model:

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Iris/iris3.php

    Perhaps clouds are the skeptics last bastion:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/science/earth/clouds-effect-on-climate-change-is-last-bastion-for-dissenters.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    but, if clouds are the biggest source of uncertainty about net forcing, then they need to be understood.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    Rob Painting says:

    AndyL – We haven’t invented time machines yet, so how do you think Otto et al managed to get temperature observations from the mid/late 19th century?

  25. 25
    observer says:

    As Paul Samuelson* once noted, economic models predicted nine of the last five recessions.

    *Nobel Prize in Economics, National Medal of Science

  26. 26
    Jim Larsen says:

    ” fighting the proposed East West Corridor project that is supposed to bisect the town with a highway and utility/pipeline corridor that would destroy the town and most of central Maine from Calais to Coburn Gore.”

    Either you believe any development equals total destruction, or that’s a massive exaggeration which only weakens your case. My guess is that the supposed destruction is actually a minor temporary inconvenience which will result in better roads. Much better would be to just tell the truth – ya hate tar sands and will use any excuse, valid or not, to stop it.

  27. 27
    Noel Fuller says:

    Everyone, without exception, has a worldview, or many fragments of one. These are models which include models of everything or everyone, within our consciousness and much outside it – the great unknown attributed to dieties and demons. We tend to go to extremes to protect our worldviews, regard our own as reality, comparing everything to it – often not having the detachment to recognise that what we debate are models, subject to development.

    Climate lies mostly outside individual perception, unlike weather. Climate scientists, as with other sciences, build a group consciousness whereby we collectively become aware of climate. There is much talk of consensus as though everyone is signing up to an agreement. I tend to think of it more as an expression of a group consciousness drawn from a huge variety of observations, observers, thinkers, sciences, actively researched, dynamically growing.

  28. 28
    AndyL says:

    Rob Painting says: “how do you think Otto et al managed to get temperature observations from the mid/late 19th century?”
    I don’t understand your point. Without checking, I imagine they used thermometers plus maybe some proxies. What does this have to do with the accuracy of the climate models?

  29. 29
    David Miller says:

    Jim, I think you missed one of the central points. The “road” is a minor point; the pipeline right-of-way connects eastern Canada with ports in eastern Maine. IE, it’s a route out for the tar sands bitumen.

    There’s no question that installing a major highway to a formerly remote town will change it irrevocably. Yes, it’s a better road. Yes, it will permanently change all the towns that it passes through.

    Not particularly relevant to Tamino’s objections is the fact that Cianbro, a private company that wants to build this road/pipeline, managed to get a study for the highway funded by the public.

  30. 30
    Russell says:

    25:

    I sat next to Samuelson on an airplane once , and impute the occasinal suckiness of his modeling to his having spent most of the flight trying to solve an integral on a cocktail napkin instead of looking out the window at the clouds.

  31. 31
    Jim Larsen says:

    David M said, “The “road” is a minor point; the pipeline right-of-way connects eastern Canada with ports in eastern Maine. IE, it’s a route out for the tar sands bitumen.”

    I think we’re saying the same thing. If the pipeline were slated for drinking water, you could find some anti-development folks, but it wouldn’t be a big deal. Towns will grow, property values will go up. No big deal, except that the product making it all possible is satanic.

  32. 32
    Rob Painting says:

    AndyL @ 28 – the analysis in Otto et al is based, in part, on climate models. The necessary observations for the 1860-1879 period simply do not exist. Models are also used to estimate the climate forcing.

    If you accept the validity of the results from Otto et al, one assumes you also accept that models are indeed extremely useful tools.

  33. 33
    John Benton says:

    What a totally stupid and juvenile article. This type of thing does nothing to advance the case for AGW which is genuine and needs to be fully investigated.

    This simply gives the skeptics and their supporters amunition.

    [Response: Lighten up, it’s just a cartoon. – gavin]

  34. 34
    Lorne50 says:

    The problem is they don’t believe model’s

  35. 35
  36. 36
    Russell says:

    The distinction between special effects and technicolor GCM outputs is more often honored in the breach than the observance .

  37. 37
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Balazs #8 is the guy shouting out in the cartoon… thanks Balazs, for rubbing it in ;-)

  38. 38
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Benton,
    Actually, the cartoon makes a very important point. If you don’t have a model, you aren’t doing science. Climate scientists are doing science–successful science in a difficult field. Denialists are playing Calvinball.

  39. 39
    patrick says:

    @ 5, 30, 36 David Archer’s fairly penetrating cartoon posted here effectively dissects the notion of skeptic via a stark reality and a satirical portrayal of behavior. It has vital signs of a sense of humor, and it makes you think. It’s a compact little lesson.

    The website you front for and turn clicks for (you’ve linked it five times on this thread) is very impressed with itself. It thinks it’s satire. But it doesn’t rise that high: it is merely an exercise in narcissism. It has nothing to say and wastes my time. That’s as good as it can do, or else that’s exactly what it seeks to do: by saying nothing, to distract.

  40. 40
    Tom Adams says:

    Could someone explain the cartoon? I guess the Climate Models are represented by the fighter in the ring? That would mean that the Skeptic Model consists of disputing the the Climate Model conception of clouds?

    But that does not seem to describe the situation. The Skeptics Model concerning clouds has clouds providing negative feedback to cancel out the positive feedbacks.
    And, they are trying to climb into the ring. They try to get their stuff published in peer reviewed journals with mixed results and try to convince other climate scientists with little or no result.

    Also, the cartoon seems to conflate models and scientific debate. If I have it right, clouds are the greatest source of uncertainty in the models even without the skeptics. But isn’t there more to the scientific debate than the estimation of cloud feedback in the models?

    Note that even if the skeptics are full of it, reducing model uncertainty is important to anyone who needs to take the cost/benefit of greenhouse gas emissions seriously.

  41. 41
    Radge Havers says:

    Um. In the spirit of the cartoon, I’d like to suggest that the best way to show up someone else’s humor is to, you know, counter with sharper humor, not to chime in with yet more cries of (essentially) “you suck.”

  42. 42
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tom Adams, “Cloud feedback is negative” is NOT a scientific model. You have to provide a mechanism whereby some cloud types are augmented and some suppressed. You would also have to figure out how you get 33 degrees of greenhouse warming pre-industrial in a system with negative feedback.

    There is no self-consistent “skeptic” position that rises above the whine, “It’s not our fault!”

  43. 43

    “I guess the Climate Models are represented by the fighter in the ring? That would mean that the Skeptic Model consists of disputing the the Climate Model conception of clouds?”

    No. There *are* no “Skeptic models.” (Well, not exactly, anyway–there are some incomplete ones, like the “Infrared Iris” and the “GCR hypothesis.” But there is no big picture “skeptic” alternative, partly because skeptic memes tend to be deeply inconsistent.) Hence there is no other fighter actually in the ring.

    “But that does not seem to describe the situation. The Skeptics Model concerning clouds has clouds providing negative feedback to cancel out the positive feedbacks. And, they are trying to climb into the ring. They try to get their stuff published in peer reviewed journals with mixed results and try to convince other climate scientists with little or no result.

    That’s a model–or ‘pre-model,’ since it’s an hypothesis affecting just part of the big picture–put forward by *some* skeptics. The highest profile was perhaps the “Misdiagnosis” paper by Spencer & Braswell. It hasn’t been highly cited, considering:

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2009&q=spencer+braswell&hl=en&as_sdt=0,11

    That generally means the paper hasn’t generated much in the way of fruitful research questions.

    Also, the cartoon seems to conflate models and scientific debate. If I have it right, clouds are the greatest source of uncertainty in the models even without the skeptics. But isn’t there more to the scientific debate than the estimation of cloud feedback in the models?

    If you don’t have some sort of model–ie., a way of making testable ‘predictions’–you aren’t doing science. IOW, models are in reality central to ‘scientific debate’–the cartoon reflects that. But it’s not a ‘conflation.’ Of course, “models” needs to be understood in a general sense–it doesn’t just refer to GCMs.

  44. 44

    “But isn’t there more to the scientific debate than the estimation of cloud feedback in the models?”

    Sure. But a cartoon punchline can’t be expected to detail a whole field. As you say, ‘clouds’ is a leading point, hence a logical representative for whatever point may be under ‘debate.’

  45. 45
    David Miller says:

    Jim Larsen, #31

    Yes, well said. We’re in violent agreement :)

  46. 46
    Hank Roberts says:

    > there is no other fighter actually in the ring.

    Exactly. And the watching crowd is loaded with individuals with an exc3ess of self-esteem, each sure that yes, of course, if he were to deign to step into the ring he could beat this Climate Model with no problem, in fact they’re so sure that none of them cares to bother. Instead they just heckle.

    What the cartoon needs, if the Archers want to make it an animated GIF, is a plethora of balloons popping in one after the another, sometimes overlapping. “It’s the Iron Sun!” “It’s the Local Bubble!” “It’s the barycentric alignment!” ….

    Funny how they never get into arguing with each other, though their kibitzes are mutually contradictory.

  47. 47
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Radge Havers #41, I am reminded of the quip that if you are pursued by a lion, you don’t have to run faster than the lion, just faster than the next guy… similarly, your model doesn’t have to be perfect, just better than the competition (if any) ;-)

  48. 48

    >”Funny how they never get into arguing with each other, though their kibitzes are mutually contradictory.”

    Yes–ABC: Anything But Carbon.

  49. 49
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Martin Vermeer,
    Your comment @47 raises what I think is an interesting conundrum in science. As long as there are competing models, it is fairly straightforward to select the best. However, when there is a single, consensus model–be it evolution or the current consensus climate model–you cannot say how good the model is in absolute terms. This leads to all sorts of nonsense from anti-science idjits, who always claim that “the model” is on the verge of collapse.

    All this demonstrates is how ignorant the idjits are of how science works. Science is not simply empirical inquiry, but rather theoretically guided empirical inquiry. You need a theory to tell you what the interesting questions are, just as you need experiment to test the validity of the understandings provided by your model. If “the model” were indeed on the verge of collapse, it would have lots of competition from other models proposing other interesting questions. What we see instead is either thinly veiled religion posing as science in the case of evolution or dozens of mutually inconsistent and poorly worked out mini-models in the case of climate science.

  50. 50
    Tom Adams says:

    #43 and #44 McKinney. Good posts, can’t argue strongly against any of your points. Iris is the model I had in mind, but perhaps it’s on life support from the more open minded among climate scientist at best.

    Is the scientific debate all about the insides of models? There is perhaps the issue of how much models depend on Bayesian estimates instead direct frequentist calculations of uncertainty. but I don’t know how much and I am not sure that is science in the sense that there is a good scientific response to that kind of skepticism.

    #42 Landbury “Cloud feedback is negative is NOT a scientific model”

    Rebutal: All the models have it in there. There is uncertainty about it and different opinions that (in my opinion) should not be shouted down that way. Folks at NASA seems to have minds open enough to consider it a scientific model:

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Iris/iris3.php

    Cloud negative feedbacks is respectible, even if some of the other opinions of its chief advocates are not. Lindzen actually calls most of his allies “nutty” for rejecting CO2 forcing:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/science/earth/clouds-effect-on-climate-change-is-last-bastion-for-dissenters.html?pagewanted=all

    #41 Havers. Are you saying I showed up the humor? if so, thanks but I did not intend as much.

    Mine was not the best way, you say? But science is easier than horseshoes or thermonuclear war in that a sufficient argument need not be even close to the best.


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