This month’s open thread.
Gavin has already discussed John Christy’s misleading graph earlier in 2016, however, since the end of 2016, there has been a surge in interest in this graph in Norway amongst people who try to diminish the role of anthropogenic global warming.
I think this graph is warranted some extra comments in addition to Gavin’s points because it is flawed on more counts beyond those that he has already discussed. In fact, those using this graph to judge climate models reveal an elementary lack of understanding of climate data.
A commenter brings news of an obviously wrong paper that has just appeared in Global and Planetary Change. The paper purports to be a radical revision of our understanding of the carbon cycle by Hermann Harde. The key conclusions are (and reality in green):
- The average residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is found to be 4 years.
[The residence time for an individual molecule is not the same as the perturbation response time of the carbon cycle which has timescales of decades to thousands of years.]
- The anthropogenic fraction of CO2 in the atmosphere is only 4.3%.
[Actually, it’s 30%.]
- Human emissions only contribute 15% to the CO2 increase over the Industrial Era.
[It’s all of it.]
Since these points contradict multiple independent sources of evidence, I can, without hesitation, predict that there are fundament flaws in this paper that will raise serious questions about the quality of the peer-review that this paper went through. Oddly, this paper is labeled as an “Invited Research Article” and so maybe some questions might be asked of the editor responsible too.
Notwithstanding our last post on the difficulty in getting comments published, this paper is crying out for one.
But this kind of thing has been done before, does not require any great sophistication or computer modeling to rebut, and has come up so many times before (Salby (also here), Beck, Segalstad, Jaworowski etc.), that perhaps a crowd-sourced rebuttal would be useful.
So, we’ll set up an overleaf.com page for this (a site for collaborative LaTeX projects), and anyone who wants to contribute should put the gist of their point in the comments and we’ll send the link so you can add it to the draft. Maybe the citizen scientists among you can pull together a rebuttal faster than the professionals?
- H. Harde, "Scrutinizing the carbon cycle and CO 2 residence time in the atmosphere", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 152, pp. 19-26, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.02.009
Do we need a new venue for post-publication comments and replications?
Social media is full of commentary (of varying degrees of seriousness) on the supposed replication crisis in science. Whether this is really a crisis, or just what is to be expected at the cutting edge is unclear (and may well depend on the topic and field). But one thing that is clear from all the discussion is that it’s much too hard to publish replications, or even non-replications, in the literature. Often these efforts have to be part of a new paper that has to make its own independent claim to novelty before it can get in the door and that means that most attempted replications don’t get published at all.
This is however just a subset of the difficulty that exists in getting any kind of comment on published articles accepted. Having been involved in many attempts – in the original journal or as a new paper – some successful, many not, it has become obvious to me that the effort to do so is wholly disproportionate to the benefits for the authors, and is thus very effectively discouraged.
The overall mismatch between the large costs/minimal benefit for the commenters, compared to the real benefits for the field, suggests that something really needs to change.
I have thought for a long time that an independent journal venue for comments would be a good idea, but a tweet by Katharine Hayhoe last weekend made me realize that the replication issue might be well served by a similar approach. So, here’s a proposal for a new journal.
Commentary And Replication in Earth Science (C.A.R.E.S.)
- G. Foster, J.D. Annan, G.A. Schmidt, and M.E. Mann, "Comment on “Heat capacity, time constant, and sensitivity of Earth's climate system” by S. E. Schwartz", Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 113, 2008. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2007JD009373
- G.A. Schmidt, "Spurious correlations between recent warming and indices of local economic activity", International Journal of Climatology, vol. 29, pp. 2041-2048, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/joc.1831
I have mostly been sitting back and watching the John Bates story go through the predictable news-cycle of almost all supposed ‘scandalous’ science stories. The patterns are very familiar – an initial claim of imperfection spiced up with insinuations of misconduct, coordination with a breathless hyping of the initial claim with ridiculous supposed implications, some sensible responses refuting the initial specific claims and demolishing the wilder extrapolations. Unable to defend the nonsense clarifications are made that the initial claim wasn’t about misconduct but merely about ‘process’ (for who can argue against better processes?). Meanwhile the misconduct and data falsification claims escape into the wild, get more exaggerated and lose all connection to any actual substance. For sure, the technical rebuttals to the specific claims compete with balance of evidence arguments and a little bit of playful trolling for the attention of anyone who actually cares about the details. None of which, unfortunately, despite being far more accurate, have the narrative power of the original meme.
The next stages are easy to predict as well – the issues of ‘process’ will be lost in the noise, the fake overreaction will dominate the wider conversation and become an alternative fact to be regurgitated in twitter threads and blog comments for years, the originators of the issue may or may not walk back the many mis-statements they and others made but will lose credibility in any case, mainstream scientists will just see it as hyper-partisan noise and ignore it, no papers will be redacted, no science will change, and the actual point (one presumes) of the ‘process’ complaint (to encourage better archiving practices) gets set back because it’s associated with such obvious nonsense.
Assuming for the sake of politeness that sound and fury signifying nothing is not the main goal for at least some participants, the question arises: since this is so predictable why do people still keep making the same mistakes?