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Lindzen: point by point

Filed under: — group @ 13 April 2006

Daniel Kirk-Davidoff (U. Maryland and one-time Lindzen co-author) provided a more detailed rebuttal of Lindzen’s argument in the comments to our previous post. It deserves to be more widely seen, so here it is again.

Here’s an effort at a point by point rebuttal. I would say that the central flaw in the op-ed is a logical one: if you’re trying to stifle dissent, then you want less funding for climate research, not more. If you’re trying to stop global warming, then you want more money for carbon sequestration research, and you don’t care how much is spent on climate research. On the other hand if you just love climate research as a really interesting intellectual pursuit, that’s when you’ve got an interest in shedding doubt on the reigning view that CO2-induced climate change is a serious policy program, requiring action. Twenty-five years ago, when global warming wasn’t a big public worry, one might expect climate change researchers to hype the problem. In 2006, when public opinion mostly accepts that there’s a problem, scientists who want research money should be emphasizing uncertainty.

In the opening paragraph, Lindzen states that others have claimed that there are connections between recent rare weather events and global warming, and asks where they would possibly get such an idea. It’s not clear where his astonishment comes from though. Heat waves and increased lake effect snows seem like very reasonable expectations for a warmer world. Of course, attribution of any individual such event to presently observed global temperature change can only be fractional, but it’s completely reasonable to say that events like the heat wave of 2003 will be more likely when the mean annual temperature of Europe is a few degrees warmer- this assumes only that the scatter of summer time temperature under global warming won’t be much smaller than it is now.

In his second paragraph, Lindzen makes the uncontroversial claim that society sometimes funds science to address phenomena that seem to offer a threat of harm. Using the passive voice, he asserts a feedback cycle between scientific funding and scientific alarm. This seems really odd: the publlc demand made by scientists who are most alarmed by global warming is precisely not that more money go into reasearch, but rather that money go into research to increase fuel efficiency to develope carbon-emission-free fuel sources. In fact Lindzen himself in his final paragraph seems to be calling for increased funding to address the question of climate sensitivity!

The third paragraph about drying up of funding for dissenting science has been addressed by others. I agree that I just don’t see it. The particular anecdotes I have heard about political influence on the federal grant making process go in the other direction, where people are told that they should not pubish findings supporting large climate sensitvity, at least until after some election.

The fourth paragraph is another weird one. He starts by promissing an opportunity to grasp the “complex underlying scientific issues”, but never really discusses anything complex- I take this as an effort to flatter the WSJ readers on their grasp of these erudite points, bolstering their confidence when they take on the tree-huggers at the water cooler. His rhetorical tactic here is to severely shrink the list of agreed-upon truths to those that we’ve known since 1980, while neglecting the fact that human responsibility for the 20th century warming of global temperature is quite well-established, and that various causes for alarm (for example, substantially reduced water availability in places that depend on snow-pack for their dry-season water) are also very well established. Then he moves the discussion to “outlandish” claims that contradict the “models”. This is the first use of the word “models” in the article, and gets no explanation, which is a little odd for a discussion in a newspaper. He doesn’t explain what the outlandish claims are, so we’re left to wait for the next paragraph.

Here we discover that the outlandish claims involve something about more “excitation” of extratropical storms. I’m not sure where he’s getting this- when I go to, for instance, Ross Gelbspan’s website, the only references to storms I see is to tropical storms, and to more intense rainfall generally. Both are well supported by empirical studies. The increase in rainfall intensity (shift in distribution of rain from more light events to fewer heavy events) as a consequence of global warming is a robust feature of GCMs.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got time for. It’d be nice if Lindzen gave his reader some way of checking the claims he makes about persecution- was Tennekes dismissed because he questioned the scientific underpinnings of global warming, or just after? In what context did Bert Bolin “tar” Aksel Winn-Nielsen? I think Alfonso Sutera’s recent work on baroclinic neutralization is really interesting… is there some missing strand of his research that Lindzen thinks ought to be taken up again? It’s hard to guess.

About the IRIS paper- I really can’t see what he’s complaining about. The paper was published, depite some rather “outlandish claims.” For instance, in the IRIS paper, Lindzen argues that tropical surface temperature and polar surface temperature should be assumed to vary in exactly the same way as CO2 concentrations increase. This is based on the idea that baroclinic neutralization maintains a particular critical temperature gradient, an idea that had a brief period of fashionability in 1978. In any case, there’s certainly been a lively debate about the paper, and if it’s widely viewed as “discredited”, then that’s the judgement of the climate dynamics community. If we’re a bunch of dummies, history will judge us harshly, but we can only do our best.

I see a lot of science in our community that’s being driven by curiosity. At the recent European Geophysical Union conference, there were posters on banner clouds on the Zugspitze, the role of cubic ice crystals in high cirrus formation, and the role of global cooling in the fall of the Neanderthals. Some of this research is being driven by claims that it will address climate change. So maybe this helps to solve the riddle of what Lindzen is really concerned about. People who are really concerned about climate change don’t agitate for more funding for our field- they agitate for funding for fuel efficiency research and carbon sequestration. It’s the people who like curiosity-driven research in climate dynamics who have the real incentive to argue that there’s a lot of uncertainty, because uncertainty allows people with strong intellectual curiosity to make the case that there’s at least some tangential benefit of their work to the climate sensitivity problem.

150 Responses to “Lindzen: point by point”

  1. 1
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Thanks very much for this and also for the other Lindzen posting and discussion. Here’s a question version of something that several people have brought up recently about both Lindzen/WSJ and Will-Novak/WashPost, and please forgive me if it’s already been answered and I somehow missed it: Has Profesor Kirk-Davidoff, or any RC scientist, or any other expert queried the op-ed-page editor at the WSJ about submitting some version of this, or of something like it, as an op-ed-length response? (With a query, if they stonewall you or turn you down, at least you haven’t wasted your time crafting something carefully for an audience that won’t ever see it.)

  2. 2
    Brian Jackson says:

    “The particular anecdotes I have heard about political influence on the federal grant making process go in the other direction, where people are told that they should pubish findings supporting large climate sensitvity, at least until after some election.”

    Is there perhaps a missing “not” in this sentence? Otherwise it tends to reinforce Lindzen’s point!

    [Response: There was indeed a ‘not’ missing. The post has been edited to reflect that. Thanks. -gavin]

  3. 3
    raypierre says:

    Almost any of us could think of dozens of examples to add to Daniel’s affirmation that ‘curiosity driven” climate science is alive and well. Think of all the work on the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth, the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis on the Early Earth and its role in the transition from a methane-dominated to a CO2-dominated greenhouse, Martian paleoclimate, the climate of Venus and Titan, the nature of the glacial-interglacial cycles, and so many more. In fact, it was Congress, not the scientific community, that foisted on NSF the requirement that all grant proposals and reviews contain a statement of relevance (euphemistically referred to as “Broader Impacts.”). I myself am rather curious about just exactly what will happen to clouds in a high-CO2 world, since this would help resolve some of the mysteries of the Cretaceous climate. In this instance, though, I confess I would be happy to not have my curiosity satisfied.

  4. 4
    Dano says:

    I appreciate the effort at wielding the ‘whack-a-mole’ hammer, but I wonder whether this gives undue attention to a same ol’ same ol’ argument.

    Can’t we just say ‘same ol’ same ol’? I don’t know, just asking.



  5. 5
    John L. McCormick says:

    Ray and Gavin,,

    You are showing too much sufferance and giving far too much space to avowed bozos who offer nothing to your (our) page. Even if it does require diligence and a bit more time, would you please open a BOZO BIN for the blatant, time-wasting, know-nothings who care nothing about the most critical issue confronting our children. RealClimate announces in the ABOUT:

    The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.

    It is time to honor your objectives for this page and give the nihilists a page of their own to spread their foolish rants among themselves. PLEASE! Don’t sensor them; just direct them to the BOZO BIN.

    John McCormick

  6. 6
    Mark A. York says:

    What Corneliussen said. Get it into the fray. I read snowball earth, but in the end wasn’t convinced. Anybody have any updates on this hypothesis?

    [Response: A lot of people aren’t convinced. I mentioned it only because there’s really not much reason to study Snowball Earth except for sheer intellectual curiosity’s sake. To be sure, sometimes things people study for curiosity’s sake turn out to have important spinoffs, but that’s another matter. As for your question on the hypothesis, there’s a lot of new stuff going on regarding Snowball Earth, but this thread isn’t the right place to discuss it. I don’t know of a review article since Hoffman and Schrag, but Paul Hoffman is writing a whole book on the subject, which will ultimately be the best place to turn. I suggest we not go further into Snowball Earth here, curiosity notwithstanding. –raypierre]

  7. 7
    Robichaud says:

    Why not go a step further and only E-Mail each other? This way you will only have one sided point of view never have to defend a stance and all of US Science Challenge Bozos would never have to read or hear from the GW science again.
    Is that what you want?
    This is my First Post on this site. I have been a reader for a long time and I have learned a lot.
    Some stance I agree some I do not but I welcome all points of view even if it does not fit what I believe in.
    I am approching the 60 Year of age and have seen these type of opinions before.Heard the same comments,words during the Cooling World days.
    Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

    [Response: I’m sure John was referring to comments that lack any reasonable scientific basis, or had no scientific interest, or deal with things that have been extensively rebutted already. Scientifically valid criticisms of any aspect of climate theory are always welcome, of course — the object is just to keep the noise level down to where the really important issues have some prominence. Regarding amply rebutted issues, see this post to be educated regarding the “Cooling World” myth. –raypierre]

  8. 8
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    I may misunderstand the Bozo Bin comment, but it seems to me that at some level it contains an important, and puzzling, and recurrent, contradiction.

    On the one hand it says that climate change is “the most critical issue confronting our children.” On the other hand, it advocates a strictly conservative interpretation of RealClimate’s sensible resolve not to stray from science into political or economic implications.

    But it seems to me that if an issue is the most critical one facing our children, it’s by definition political, even if it’s scientific at the same time. This issue is technopolitical, as illustrated vividly by the recent op-ed columns of George Will, Robert Novak, and Richard Lindzen — high-visibility op-eds that, in my view, RC would have been remiss to ignore, and about which it’s healthy for RC to host discussion.

    We’ve debated versions of this point often in RC’s blogspace, and no doubt we will again. My own view remains that RC construes its sensible resolve just a bit too strictly, rather than too liberally. If you want to win a debate, you have to participate in it — even if doing so gets way uncomfortably political. In fact:

    What Mark A. York said. Get into the fray.

    [Response: Indeed, it is a hard line to draw. Those familiar with the unruly ruckus known as sci.environment know what we’re trying to avoid. Feedback on how well we’re doing at drawing the line is certainly welcome. –raypierre]

  9. 9
    David B. Benson says:

    Re welcome feedback — Up to the last four threads RealScience stayed mostly with the science and the issues thereof. I found all of that, including some rather policy oriented discussions, entirely appropriate. Indeed, I fear that a through explaination of actual error in op-eds is also, unfortunately, necessary and appropriate.

    What has not be appropriate, imho, has been calls for action in the comments — even such calls as writing letters to editors. We are all sufficiently mature here, I hope, to recognize when such actions are needed and within the scope of our expertise. So no reminder of the obvious ought to be required.

    Further, I hope that in the future our excellent and kind moderators will take the time to keep the comments rather more oriented to the science, including the misstatement thereof, and doing more to avoid the politics or action oriented commentary. I gather there are other sites appropriate for that?

    In any case, I want to thank the moderators for being willing to undertake such a difficult task as keeping RealClimate going, and largely going most smoothly.

    [Response: The last few posts, commenting on the Will column, the Novak column and Lindzen’s WSJ op-ed inevitably impinged on politics, but the main reason for commenting on them in RC is that all three pieces propagated junk science. Commenting on science coverage in the media will always be part of our mission. The Bush post didn’t have this as an excuse, and reasonable minds could certainly conclude that one was a mistake. Certainly, things like the Venus post that Rasmus and I did are much more fun to write and to moderate, but ironically (as you can see) they attract a lot fewer comments, and perhaps less readership. I conclude that people are quite interested in having commentary on things like Lindzen’s piece –raypierrre]

  10. 10
    Grant says:

    Although the stated mission (and proper purpose) of RealClimate is to disseminate scientific information about AGW, the actual *goal* seems to be to persuade the public and policymakers to take action on the issue.

    With that in mind, I think it’s perfectly valid to discuss the latest salvo from contrarians, and proper refutation. We achieve our goal by persuading people, and arming ourselves with this information helps achieve the goal.

    So, although I don’t want RealClimate to lose its focus on the science, I think it’s perfectly valid to address the issue of persuasion, and provide readers with tools to help.

  11. 11
    Mark A. York says:

    “that all three pieces propagated junk science”
    Yes Ray and the tragedy is readers don’t know one from the other. We need you and your collegues to tell them the difference. As it is, up-is-down will remain the norm and Jim Hansen et al will be yelling into the wind while Michaels and Lindzen rule the day. That’s seems a shame to me.

  12. 12
    Tim M. says:

    Climate experts, tell me what you think:

    From a policy perspective, writing about extratropical storms decreasing in intensity in a warmer climate is a red-herring because they don’t do much damage. Tropical cyclones are responsible for the vast majority of loss of property and life and the level of scientific uncertainty regarding genesis and intensity of TCs is greater than extratropical, baroclinic storms.

    Have there been any scenarios studied – paleo or future – in which the intensity of extratropical storms increases to the point of causing significant damage?

  13. 13
    Mike Carney says:

    Given the unusual magnitude of the current planetary energy imbalance and uncertainty about its implications, careful monitoring of key metrics is needed. Continuation of the ocean temperature and altimetry measurements is needed to confirm that the energy imbalance is not a fluctuation and to determine the net climate forcing acting on the planet. … Understanding of the forcings that give rise to the imbalance requires more precise information on aerosols(35). … Quantification of these sources is possible using precise satellite altimetry and gravity measurements as initiated by the IceSat (36) and GRACE satellites (37), which warrant follow-on missions.

    Emphasis mine. Hansen (Science, 5/3/2006) seems quite capable here of both adding to certainty of the problem and asking for more research. Perhaps you should tell him those are views are inconsistent. And of course it wasn’t 25 years ago that Hansen received $250,000. Seems like a pretty good reward for being credited as the first to raise the alarm. Or we could just look at the budget for climate related research. Do you think its going up or down? The premise that raising the importance of the problem reduces the need for study is silly. Drop it and stick with good reasons.

  14. 14
    Graham Jackson says:

    “So, although I don’t want RealClimate to lose its focus on the science, I think it’s perfectly valid to address the issue of persuasion, and provide readers with tools to help.”
    RC keeps losing its focus on science.
    Rather it tries to make any opponent of the theory that AGW will lead to catastrophe look stupid.

    [Response: Only if their arguments make them deserve to look stupid. To be more precise, we only make stupid arguments look stupid. It’s mostly irrelevant whether or not the person making the argument is or isn’t stupid. –raypierre]

  15. 15
    pete best says:

    Seems to me that regardless of the distortion in the truth on climate change the popular perception is that there is a issue with climate but the people that matter (the US really along with India and China) are just not seeing the issue as being serious enough as yet to be worth putting their economies at risk as they see it.

    Seems like the UK is trying to scare everyone into action but there are no en masse replacement technologies for fossil fuels as yet and even if there was, where is the will to change over.

    Science giveth and science taketh away

  16. 16
    snavecire says:

    The rebuttal of erroneous claims is most welcome by the likes of ME, I only have a healthy interest in climatology and no qualification in the subject so without the rebuttals it is very easy for me to be led down the garden path, this site is a first choice for factual information and debates that hone the inteligence, please keep up with factual rebuttals as in #1 even if it (bends) your policy on not getting political.

  17. 17
    Harold Brooks says:

    Re: 11
    I would disagree that extratropical storms don’t cause significant damage. Lothar and Martin, the extratropical storms that hit Europe in December 1999, killed 140 people and were estimated to cause US$13 billion in direct damage and a similar amount in indirect damage. According to this article, the losses in the 1990 storms were greater. The 1999 storms would easily make the top 10 in US hurricane damage see this list of wealth-adjusted damage. I can’t find good numbers, but I’d guess that cold-season extratropical cyclones probably cause >US$2B in damage a year and, with the exception of the years with Camille, Agnes, and Katrina, have killed more people almost every year in the last 40 years.

  18. 18
    Simpson S says:

    It took me a moment to understand the line David was using to criticise the central point of Lindzen’s article.

    David says the Lindzen is applying suspicious logic in the piece because those who are concerned with AGW would want to see their own budgets cut at the expense of say the engineering departments that can figure ways of reducing AGW gases with better techonolgy.

    Is this a joke or is it a (fantastic) misunderstanding of human motivation. 30 years ago climate science was a section of a section of a department relegated somewhere between the toilet area and the showers, whereas now some of the players are getting near to celebrity status.

    David wants us to believe that climate guys understand that money is a finite resource and therefore dutifully want to cut their budgets to “help” out the engineers.

    Would David have any tangible proof of this? Even evidence of one department turfing the money to the engineers would satisfy my curirosity.

    [Response: The point is that if climate researchers were really in this for the money, they would all be saying how uncertain everything was and pressing the ‘we must do more research’. The current situation is completely opposite – climate scientists in the main agree on the basics of the problem and state that the remaining uncertainty is not enough to prevent remedial actions. It is those who would rather do nothing that insist that more research is needed and fund us accordingly. – gavin]

  19. 19
    David Ottina says:

    I understand the desire to steer clear of politics and the vitriol it can sometimes inspire but I’d just like to join snavecire in saying how valuable these clarifications of mass media pieces are to those of us who are not climate specialists, but *merely* interested in and concerned about climate change. Please do continue to include them, even if it blurs the lines of your mission a bit. RC’s expertise and voice are very much needed. I am sure there are other non-specialist readers who join me in thanking you for taking the time to engage the wider public.

  20. 20
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 13, 18

    And of course it wasn’t 25 years ago that Hansen received $250,000. Seems like a pretty good reward for being credited as the first to raise the alarm.

    I’m sure that award was at the top of Hansen’s mind during his ’88 congressional testimony. Oh, wait, it didn’t exist then. It’s ridiculous to think that an occasional large payout can intellectually distort a field – discount that $250k by 20 years of effort and any single researcher’s expectation of receiving it and you wind up with an amount that most consultants wouldn’t get out of bed for.

    Or we could just look at the budget for climate related research. Do you think its going up or down?

    As I pointed out here it’s going up very slowly – less than GDP and much less than other areas of science (e.g. NIH). Earth & environmental science salaries have gone up less recently compared to other disciplines like physical science or mathematics & computing. One could as well argue that the intellectual ferment around climate is attracting more researchers than the budget can sustain.

    The premise that raising the importance of the problem reduces the need for study is silly.
    I agree in principle that hyping the problem potentially attracts funding, it’s just that it’s an incredibly weak link that has to be placed in the context of other motivations. Funding is essentially a commons so individual researchers have little incentive to grow it; there are other more direct ways to career success (like being right about a controversial problem). No one who’s primarily motivated by money would go into climate science anyway.

  21. 21
    Grant says:

    Re: “No one who’s primarily motivated by money would go into climate science anyway.”

    I’m reminded of the episode of the Simpsons where a chimp researcher (loosely based on Jane Goodalle) is secretly forcing the chimps to work in a diamond mine. At one point, Homer lies on the bed throwing diamonds over himself, saying, “Look at me! I’m a scientist!”

    Those of us who do it for a living know very well how funny this is. If you want to get rich, find another occupation.

  22. 22
    Steve Latham says:

    Here, I suspect, is a clear window to the workings of the contrarian’s mind (from Lindzen’s article):

    “Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.”

    Where is the context? A few hundred million in the late 80’s to 1.7 billion — 5x? Not very much over 20 years. How much have hurricane damages increased over the same period? How much has spending increased on traditional fossil fuels (or on oil security)? I would also choose to compare funding trends to genetics to make a point, but maybe funding to astronomy would be a better comparison.

    [Response: One of the truly ludicrous things about Lindzen’s WSJ piece is that he would think that the WSJ readership would be the least bit impressed by a number like $1.7billion per year, regardless of the growth rate. That’s just over two weeks of ExxonMobil’s 2005 profit. It’s about the amount Americans spend on dog food in a month. The run-up in climate science funding is rather modest compared to other areas of science funding, and a more reasonable interpretation of the funding picture isn’t that climate scientists are trying to act alarmed in order to run up their funding, but rather that they (we) are trying to run up funding because they actually are alarmed and feel that the subject needs to be understood better. –raypierre]

  23. 23
    Coby says:

    Another consideration about grants and financial motivations is how does getting a big grant effect a researcher’s life? If someone makes a proposal for a major study, do they get a “cut”, like a used car salesman (I somehow doubt that!), or does it just mean their salary is secure for the next year or two or whatever? Now I don’t know the specifics, but for Lindzen’s imsinuations to hold water I would need to see a correlation between grant levels and researcher compensation levels. eg. Does Jim Hansen’s salary go up with the levels of grant money he attracts? Otherwise, we are left with the weaker incentive of mere job security rather than getting rich.

    [Response: For those of us with tenured or tenure track positions at US universities, the only effect of grant funding on salary is that we can pay ourselves up to three (more commonly two) months of summer salary at our usual rate. That effect saturates out pretty quickly, and is hardly a “get rich” incentive. Academics in Canada and at Caltech don’t even have that incentive. Federal employees (e.g. NOAA or the DOE labs) see even less effect of grant funding on personal income, and since it’s almost impossible to fire a US Civil Servant, job security isn’t even much of an incentive. In France, CNRS (the appointment of choice) chercheur salaries are fixed by age and (to a lesser extent) scientific distinction, so grant funding doesn’t buy you a fancy apartment and lunches at Archestrate there either. The main group whose personal economic well-beeing is affected by grant funding are the soft-money researchers, and for those it’s mostly a matter of survival and paying the mortgage, not getting rich. I haven’t noticed that soft-money researchers are particularly in the forefront of raising concerns about climate change, as you might expect if financial incentives were primary. For almost all of us, the only incentive to run up research funding is that it pays for things that we think are important to do. –raypierre]

  24. 24
    Coby says:

    Just heard on the tube:

    “Americans will spend 1.9 billion dollars on candy this Easter weekend…”

    Just seemed worth passing on! ;)

  25. 25
    Steve Latham says:

    Re: #21 — yes, that was a good episode. I can’t remember who said it first about becoming a priest to meet chicks, but Nancy McIntyre references it here:

    “However, scientists are also fueled by passion about what they do (for there are few incentives to do science other than intellectual satisfaction – going into science for fame and fortune is like becoming a priest to meet women), but it is assumed that this passion is always under tight rein. And science, like everything else humans do, is burdened by preconceptions about how things ought to be.”

    We can’t stop at the choice of a profession, of course, because some priests (or doctors or architects or construction workers…) may be tempted by circumstances to act in ways incongruent with what motivated them toward their specific career. I am certain that there are many scientists whose conclusions and public statements are influenced by the possibility of getting more money (I have seen it). But I am equally certain that they are far outnumbered by scientists motivated by a drive to understand whatever it is that they study. Science has a good track record of replacing inferior conclusions based on the former with more robust and general conclusions based on the latter.

  26. 26
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Hectoring “get into the fray” seems to suppose two things: 1) that each and every venue must “get into the fray” the same way and 2) that the site contributors have no other means than this site to “get into the fray”.

    The ultimate enemy is ignorance and keeping this site accurate and timely and pared down on poltical rhetoric provides a useful tool against ignorance. As for 2, the site maintainers have their own say on how their time is spent.

  27. 27
    Mark A. York says:

    Hansen’s probably a GS-15 senior scientist. That’s the top of the scale below administrative. I’m a perpetual GS-5 seasonal technician, although I advanced once to a professional series 0482 biological sciences fishery biologist, albeit at the same grade, only to fall back the next time around for a different agency, BLM from Forest Service. For permanant staff a layoff or firing is rare so Hansen has little incentive to drum up “make work.” Moreover it’s public service which isn’t meant for self-enrichment. I made a quip in my first book “Against a Strong Current” a memoir with science in it, that an interest in science can be dangerous to your economic health. I was working for Idaho Fish & Game for $4.66 an hour at the time.

    As for fray issues, in media the fray is the op-ed pages. Scientists who want to participate can and should in my view do so lest the best ideas get the widest audience. Professors like Ray Pierre H frequently do on any number of subjects where they have expertise. When only the charlatans show up it skews the view for the public. That’s not a good thing. That’s all I’m saying.

  28. 28

    I don’t remember if you folks have done a post on the language and typology of “catastrophes” and “abrupt change,” but it might be a good idea, if you can find the time.

    I was at first puzzled by Mr. Lindzen’s rhetoric that “alarmists” are “trumpeting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right.” As I read further, from the context, he appears to be referring to a specific question about extreme weather — yet his rhetoric seems to be aimed at implying a broader conclusion about the intellectual clarity, and motives, of the scientists he calls “alarmists.”

    Similarly, comment #14, above, invites a request for clarification, because it leaves open the question of what sort of catastrophe is being argued about.

    So I think “catastrophe” needs to be better defined. People use it to mean everything from “temporally accelerated” (e.g., the hockey stick) to “unexpected, or not quite predictable” (e.g. ocean current redirection) to “tragic and immoral” (e.g. wild species extinction.)

    It looks to me like there are at least three different meanings of “catastrophe” in this debate, when categorized by predictability: (1) extreme events, such as violent storms, ice-sheet collapse or flooding, which might be given probabilities by models, (2) events which seem possible and even likely, but which may be impossible to meaningfully quantify, such as the acceleration by climate change of wild species extinctions in fragmented natural landscapes, and (3) possible sudden breakpoints that we don’t know about or can’t know about, i.e., a precautionary tale, inferred from the general behavior of other complex systems.

    I would like to know if any writers have dealt with this at length.

    Be all that as it may, the confusion, or conflation, of the meanings of “catastrophe” has been used rhetorically in this recent spate of pop editorials and opinion columns. They switch quickly among uncertainties of vastly different kinds, to cast doubt upon the understanding of this science, and upon the recommendations which might be drawn from it.

    So I hope a climatologist will stand outside his/her science for a moment, and give a clear outline and overview of the main types of catastrophe and uncertainty. Then, perhaps, we can move over to those economists who are alarmists about the costs of climate mitigation, and ask exactly what sort of catastrophes they are projecting in their own subject.

    [Response: Interested readers may want to look at Richard Posner’s book “Catastrophe.” A lot there should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s very interesting to see a died-in-the-wool conservative arguing (correctly) that the extreme cases rather than the mean should be given weight in making policy. See also the special “Catastrophe” issue of the Chicago Journal of International Law. You can see my own article, on “A catastrophe in slow motion” on my publication page here. The full issue should be available shortly here . –raypierre]

  29. 29
    Gar Lipow says:

    I will say that rebutting myths from both sides is important. As a concerned layperson I had been taken in by some of the panic side of the arguement, the “we are all doomed doomed” viewpoint. And there are still people taken in by the “skeptic” side as well; I know of one very bright economist who is an example of that. So rebutting (and hopefully) refuting misinformation (including various types of character assasination) remains an important role for this site in my opinion.

  30. 30
    Michael Wenisch says:

    I would like to weigh in regarding recent commentaries on this site on op-ed pieces. I think they are EXTREMELY important. I know a lot about the scientific merits of Peak Oil, but next to nothing (at this stage) about the scientific merits of climate change. Consequently, I am, for example, in no position to see the intellectual (and moral?) bankruptcy of an argument by someone like George Will about the Global Cooling Scare unless I come to a site like this. I am all for requisite restraint with regard to political rhetoric also, but for someone with next-to-no knowledge of the topic like me, your critiques of the “Junk Science” found by mainstream pundits is probably the most valuable function your site provides. So please, keep it up.

  31. 31
    Michael Wenisch says:

    In fact, I have a special request regarding a piece I personally would like to see debunked. FIRST THINGS is right now the leading review in the United States among intellectually serious and conservative Roman Catholics. (This is a not-insignificant subculture in our society, by the way – and all the more so in view of the worldwide power of the Catholic papacy to influence opinion on all kinds of issues.) If someone has the time, could you please do a review and critique of, and/or run a thread about, the following piece by Thomas Derr, entitled “Strange Science,” which appeared in the November 2004 issue of FIRST THINGS? Here is the link:

    And maybe you could also send a letter to the magazine about it, as the Editor in Chief, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, ran a comment about this matter just two days ago. For him, George Will constitutes a serious authority on the topic of global warming – and this from arguably the single most influential Catholic intellectual in the United States right now! See

  32. 32
    Matt says:

    Rain rain rain

    I liked the article on tropical storms. They seem to be vapor pumps, lifting water vapor, releasing heat into mechanic and radiative? forms, then releasing the water.

    We have record rains, I think, or close to it in California, and rivers are swolling to flood levels in Europe.

    Have we accounted for all the energy conversion going on in storms? Are we sure we have not left something out of the heat flow that could allow a severely stormy epoch to keep global warming down? (Excepting more photosynthesis)

  33. 33
    Mark A. York says:

    RE# 30 Even worse is Steven Milloy featured prominently here calls himself the “Junk Man.” He’s FOX News junk science judo columnist so to the deniers all good peer reviewed science is junk. For the untrained this is really through the looking glass stuff. This what we’re up against and this is who Crichton and Will listen too. It’s mindnumbing to think of it. It has to be exposed as the BS it is.

  34. 34
    Lawrence McLean says:

    A reason why many people may believe that Global Warming is just a theory is that they think that past climate conditions are conjecture.

    Nature has been leaving clear records of past climate conditions, you just have to find them. In spite of apparent confusion in the press, the credibility of Climate Scientists is rock solid.

    The following link deals with an example of the work upon which Climate Science is based. In this case, it deals with natures record of rainfall patterns in the Sydney Water catchment area:

  35. 35
    Brian says:

    I have an interesting fact to share…”Methane is an important greenhouse gas and its atmospheric concentration has almost tripled since pre-industrial times1, 2. It plays a central role in atmospheric oxidation chemistry and affects stratospheric ozone and water vapour levels. Most of the methane from natural sources in Earth’s atmosphere is thought to originate from biological processes in anoxic environments2″.
    Any feedback is welcome.

  36. 36
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE #32 Matt, welcome question.

    I too wonder about the massive new heat engine being rapidly opened in the Arctic. From a 90 percent reflective to a nearly 80 percent absorptive surface will come huge new moisture into an atmosphere about which we have little understanding.

    Are Arctic storms becoming more frequent and intense since 1990 when Arctic ice meltback began to accelerate? We know freshwater input to the Arctic has incresed significantly in the past 30 years. And, is the diminished new ice a function of warmer air masses crossing open water in the early winter months? Where will we see impacts of a massive new 32 degree water mass being felt? More snowpack in the East Arctic? Hopefully the IPY will give us answers.

    I am most concerned about wide scale weather pattern changes in West Central Canada and the Northern Plains states and find virtually no new investigation expect for the news reports of record breaking high temperatures in some of the coldest regions of the world..Winnipeg and that region.

    John McCormick

  37. 37
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a brief, discouraging letter headlined “Perpetual Alarmism.” In it, David W. Lincoln of Edmonton, Alberta, says he thinks “it’s time for the privileges accorded to the alarmist crowd to be revoked. They have shown that they are not interested in an evenhanded debate on global warming and what contributes to it.” He goes on: “The people who peddle the alarmism that began in the 1970s have done a wonderful job of undermining the credibility of themselves and of those who disagree with them — all to the detriment of everyone everywhere.”

    So I sure wish an RC scientist would answer the question in comment 1 above, though I also hope that the reason there’s been no answer is that something that shouldn’t yet be discussed publicly is actually happening. It’d be a shame to see this round of the WSJ debate end with a letter attacking everyone who thinks as the RealClimate scientists do — a letter globally condemning them by alleging an omni-harmful alarmism, a letter that grants a license to the powerful and influential readership of the WSJ to keep holding their hands over their ears.

    Maybe the cynics are right; maybe the WSJ is not just biased, but outright dishonest. In that case it’d never print the evenhanded debating that this letter writer says, utterly wrongly, that RC scientists can’t or won’t produce.

    But I still wish someone qualified to try would try.

  38. 38
    Grant says:

    Re: #31

    I read the article you reference. I’ll address just a few points. Let’s start with this:

    >The past century, we are told, has been the hottest on record, with temperatures steadily rising during the last decades. Since human population and industrial activity have risen at the same time, it stands to reason that human activity is, one way or another, the cause of this observed warming. Anything wrong with this reasoning?

    Of course this reasoning is faulty. And IF this were the basis for the global warming hypothesis, I’d be fighting against it! What’s *really* wrong is to imply that this is our reasoning. But, this is a common tactic of contrarians: paint a ridiculous — and very false — picture of our ideas, then ridicule it.

    >… there are still ways of discovering the temperatures of past centuries, … tree rings … Core samples from drilling in ice fields … historical reconstruction … coral growth, isotope data from sea floor sediment, and insects, all of which point to a very warm climate in medieval times.

    No. In early medieval times, temperatures were not as warm as they are *today*. Tree rings, ice cores, sediment cores, corals … ALL POINT TO A WARMER 20TH CENTURY THAN ANY TIME IN THE PAST 2,000 YEARS, and a MUCH warmer past few decades.

    >Abundant testimony tells us that the European climate then cooled dramatically from the thirteenth century until the eighteenth, when it began its slow rewarming.

    Another trick of contrarians: refer to past cooling as “dramatic” (even though it was slow and slight) and modern warming as “slow” (even though it’s *much* faster than at any time in at least 2000 years). Take another look at the “hockey stick” graph. Does that look like “cooled dramatically” followed by “slow rewarming?” Or does it look like “cooled slowly and slightly” followed by “dramatic warming?”

    >… the nineteenth-century rewarming trend which began with a much smaller human population and before the industrial revolution.

    The warming trend doesn’t start in the 19th century, it begins early in the 20th century, by which time we were well into the industrial revolution.

    Most of the article is an attempt to explain *why* climate scientists are being so “alarmist.” His suggestions:

    1. … bad news is good newsâ??for the news media.
    2. … the IPCC is a UN body and reflects UN politics, which are consistently favorable to developing countries
    3. … intellectual pride…
    4. … a somewhat murky antipathy to modern technological civilization

    It amazes me that he (and so many others) are eager to accuse AGW advocates of “intellectual pride,” “antipathy to modern technological civilization,” and other crimes against truth, but gives the impression that contrarians (like Lindzen) are only doing it because of the purest concern for the good of mankind. Let’s see… one side raises alarms because of their pride, but the other side is totally immune to any ulterior motive, in spite of billions of dollars from big oil companies and conservative think tanks?

    Do you really believe that NASA scientists (or scientists in general, for that matter) have an “antipathy to modern technological civilization?”

    One more thing: the skeptics have hardly been “drowned out.” They’re writing op-ed pieces for the Wall Street Journal.

    [Response:The WSJ probably has a wider readership than most scientific journals, at least on a short time horizon. The readers of WSJ are also more gullible. -rasmus]

  39. 39
    Mark A. York says:

    I’m almost through State of Fear and past a lot of the assertions that numerous studies show no increase in extreme weather, hurricnae strikes have decreased since 1900;Kilamanjaro has been melting since the 1800s long before GW and is caused by deforestation and a drying of the air; only 79 glaciers out of thousands are melting thus they all aren’t melting; sea levels have risen only 4 to 8 inches per 100 years and computer models can’t prove anything since predictions haven’t happened yet and so on. His reams of temperature charts from GISS I assume are presented to show it hasn’t warmed at all at the selected locations I guess?

    I’ll have to go back over your posts on this but he cites Lomborg repeatedly that the world is getting better while people yell decline. In my work evaluating streams, fisheries and forests I find little improvement, only decline and a concerted effort to rehabilitate the ecosystem, that is running far behind the decline that came at the hand of industry; timber, mining etc. I find this naysaying cavelier and disconcerting to say the least.

  40. 40
    Isaac Held says:

    Perhaps analysis of the HIV-AIDS controversy, and the history of the skeptical stance regarding the central role of the viral infection would be useful to this discussion. I am far from being fully informed about the science of HIV-AIDS. Were the skeptics ever convinced that they were, in fact, mistaken, or did the media eventually just conclude that this viewpoint was no longer worthy of coverage? Did anyone ever apologize for sowing confusion that slowed prevention efforts, as in South Africa? Inspection of a few web sites, such as, suggests that the mix of credentials of those involved was comparable to those playing a similar role in the global warming arena. There are other interesting analogies. For example, on that web page we see that a mathematics professor at Yale University (from whose excellent textbook I learned abstract algebra) was critical of some statistical analyses of the link between the virus and the disease and, as a result, was publicly critical of the scientific establishment and the media for spreading misinformation about the nature of AIDS. In retrospect, it seems amazing that a mathematician, however prominent, would consider himself qualified to judge the consensus of the biomedical community on such an important issue with such assurance. He may have had a useful point to make about a particular statistical analysis, but what damage did he do with his misinformed critique of the big picture? What amazing arrogance! And yet how familiar.

    I don’t think that there is anything distinctive about the issues we face with regard to fringe opinions concerning global warming. You can’t prove that you are smarter than everyone else by being part of a consensus, but you can hope for this outcome by being a contrarian.

  41. 41
    Coby says:

    Re 30 and 31,

    Michael, you might find this site useful. It is targetted specifically at the very common by trivially incorrect misconceptions and attacks on global warming science. It makes many references to this site for more detail and authoritative information but tries to be stand alone for interested but non-technical readers.

    As for your “Strange Science” article, here are a few of the specific rebuttals you would want:

    Para 1 –
    Para 2 –
    Para 4 –
    Para 5 –
    Para 6 –
    Para 7 –
    Para 8 –
    Para 9 –
    Para 13 –
    Para 16 –

    Wow that article would clean up on Tim Lambert’s GW Skeptic Bingo!

  42. 42
    Don Baccus says:

    #37: “Maybe the cynics are right; maybe the WSJ is not just biased, but outright dishonest. In that case it’d never print the evenhanded debating that this letter writer says, utterly wrongly, that RC scientists can’t or won’t produce.”

    The cynics are right in regard to the WSJ’s editorial page. They have a near-perfect track record in regard to any environmental or conservation issue that has an impact on industry. It’s all based on “junk science”, in their view.

    For example, here’s a synopsis of a fairly recent WSJ op-ed on the old-growth logging issue in the Pacific Northwest:

    “The Executive Director of the Evergreen Foundation, James Peterson, argues in a Wall Street Journal opinion article that the decline of the spotted owl in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is not due to logging in old-growth forests. Peterson, who has been given a string of awards by various logging industry groups, referred to an unspecified “privately funded” study which “infers an inverse relationship between harvesting and owls.” This, he argues, justifies “a long-term thinning program,” an oblique reference to the Bush administration’s Orwellian-sounding Healthy Forests Initiative, a program to log national forests. The Evergreen Foundation says it works to “restore public confidence in forestry.” The foundation’s website states that funders include logging and logging equipment companies, including Boise Cascade, Potlatch, Westvaco, Mead, Caterpillar and Timberjack. The foundation’s logging industry funding, however, wasn’t mentioned in Peterson’s Wall Street Journal article.”

    You can write letters to the editor until your keyboard falls to pieces, and they won’t publish you. In their eyes, this single, unspecified piece of industry-funded research debunks three decades of research, research that (by whole-organism biology standards) was highly-funded throughout the 1990s.

    Pick an issue, any environmental or conservation issue of consequence, and we can find you a WSJ editorial or op-ed based on lies.

  43. 43
    Leonard Evens says:

    The mathematician referred to in comment #40, Serge Lang, was a first rate mathematician, and he had a history of controversial forays outside mathematics. But he was very much an exception. Generally, mathematicians are reluctant to criticize people outside their area of expertise, and I can think of few prominent mathematicians other than Lang who had a habit of doing that. There is a tendency for very smart people to think they can master a difficult subject, perhaps by cutting through to essentials, in a short period of time, and since some mathematicans are indeed very smart, there may be a slight tendency in the field foolishly to rush in. But most of us know better.

  44. 44
    Ian Forrester says:

    Re: #39

    Unbelievable but hardly unexpected:

    Crichton received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 2006 Journalism award. AAPG Communications director Larry Nation told the New York Times “It is fiction, but it has the absolute ring of truth.”

  45. 45
    Mark A. York says:

    Somehwere above or elsewhere I mentioned the comment I wrote to Opinionjournal on the Lindzen piece. Editor James Taranto, who I know albeit vaguely, didn’t print it in favor of the six or seven adoring believers who always say “yeah it’s those crazy liberals again” or somesuch. It’s been my experience that on big issues like environment where their dogmatic disbelief is the strongest, they won’t publish my counter commentary because I have more than average knowledge and experience as a government biologist. They don’t want that getting in the way of their storyline. If no scientist sends in a refutation in an op-ed they will will win the media battle and lies will become the public belief. Goodness knows they’ve got a big enough head start on that body of misinformation as it is. This is just one more nail.

  46. 46
    pat neuman says:

    re 44.

    A coworker of mine in 2005, while reading Crichton’s State of Fear at the office, said she was learning a lot from the book.

    At the same time, my supervisor at the National Weather Service (NWS) said I must not research climate change while at the office because climate change was not part of the mission at NWS North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC).

    In this recent article in the Grand Forks Herald , my supervisor (until I left in 2005) said:

    “Our mission is to protect life and property,”

    I have a few other problems with what the NCRFC Hydrologist in Charge said in the article, below.

    Apr. 08, 2006
    Predicting river crests involves some guesswork

    Associated Press
    FARGO – There is a lot of technology used to estimate river crests, but the ultimate prediction also involves a little guesswork.

    Fifteen forecasters and two computer models formulate predictions for the Red River Valley from the National Weather Service North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn.

    The agency bases its predictions on stream gauges from the U.S. Geological Survey that transmit river level data to satellites, said hydrologist Dan Luna.

    The data is forwarded to computer models at the forecast center. Luna said the computers often provide different information about when rivers will crest. That leaves the final prediction up to forecasters.

    “It’s very similar to people,” Luna said of the computer results. “We all have our own opinions, strengths and limitations.”

    Because of the Red River Valley’s flat terrain, the south-to-north direction of the Red River and ice jams, the river is a challenging area to forecast, Luna said.

    Oddities also can occur, such as the river cresting in Grand Forks before it did farther south in Halstad, Minn., this spring. That was due mainly to local runoff, Luna said.

    The forecast center begins tracking flood information in October by studying soil moisture, snow, the amount of moisture within the snow and frost. The center also has hundreds of people who call in with weather information from across the region, Luna said.

    Signs of potential Red River Valley flooding first became evident last fall when rain left the soil moist right before freezing, he said. A November ice storm then created a sheet of ice that prevented runoff from being absorbed into the soil.

    The valley received average snowfall, but the amount of moisture in the snow was well above normal, Luna said. Rain, fog, frost and a fast snowmelt across the region this spring also contributed to the flooding, he said.

    Crest forecasts are purposely predicted on the high side so cities are prepared, Luna said.

    “Our mission is to protect life and property,” he said.

  47. 47
    Don Baccus says:

    #45: “If no scientist sends in a refutation in an op-ed they will will win the media battle and lies will become the public belief.”

    Well, they’re unlikely to print such a piece.

    Remember, when Christy and Spencer first announced their analysis of the MSU data, the WSJ crowed that “this is a wooden stake through the heart of the AGW hypothesis”. The WSJ led the huzzays and hurrahs for the heroes responsible for proving that global warming was a myth.

    Now that Christy and Spencer have been proven to be wrong, and the models vindicated, one might expect an honorable editorial staff to note that fact. Even a teensy little thing saying “well, maybe we were premature”.

    But, no, anyone who gets their climate science from the WSJ editorial pages (and I suspect many influential business leaders do) will still be under the impression that the MSU data proves that global warming’s a myth …

    [Response: Speaking of oldies but nasties the WSJ has never retracted, how about their 1997 front page piece, “Science has Spoken –Global Warming is a Myth.” It featured the incorrect Spencer and Christie analysis, a comparison with a GCM simulation done with steady 1% CO2 increase and no aerosol forcint (meant as a sensitivity study, not a forecast!) , and the bogus Fries-Christenson correlation between solar activity and climate. The article and the graphic is reproduced here, courtesy of Steve Milloy’s outfit, which still seems to be disseminating it as if it were the gospel truth –raypierre ]

  48. 48
    Eli Rabett says:

    There are several comments here about how climate scientists have to write op ed pieces for various papers/magazines. Guys you are still playing the wrong game and you will ALWAYS lose if you continue to ignore reality.

    Lindzen does not approach the WSJ and offer to write an op ed piece. Some flack from the Cato Institute is calling up editors full time offering to have “the distinguished Prof. Lindzen from MIT” provide an op ed. They make deals, I’ll send you two op eds, one from our famous columnists and another from this guy Pat Michaels if you agree to publish both, and so on.

    Take a look, for example at and you will get an idea of the kind of links you need to get real estate on the op ed page of major papers as a regular thing. AND it is just as important to get placement on secondary papers, where different eyeballs are looking. To do that you need a permanent staff working full time to place your stuff, you need copy editors who understand how to leave an impression while not quite saying anything that cannot be implausibly defended.

    Why do you think that second raters such as Tim Patterson, Pat Michaels, et al get such prominent placement. They have well funded, large staffs working on their behalf at AEI, SEPP, Cato, CEI, etc.

    What that means is that if the Real Climate folks want to compete they are either going to establish a tax free foundation, find funding and hire a staff, or they are going to have to accept help from sympathetic organizations such as the Sierra Club who have at least some of the staff, contacts and experience needed.

    I realize that this is 180 degrees from what the Real Climate folk want to do, and 180 degrees from what people like Roger Pielke recommend, but it is the only way that they can succeed in countering the propaganda offensive from the radical right.

    And, let me close with one simple thought. If I am right (even partially), what does that say about the motivations of those who keep telling you to stay pure?

  49. 49
    Mark A. York says:

    I don’t think offering up a reasoned peer-reviewed opinion has anything to do with purity. The op-eds are paid gigs. $375 at the NY Times for anyone but it’s an editorial decision wherever it is. Naturally the conservative papers will cater to their thinktank contributors like Pete du Pont et al. Send one to the Times. They’ll publish it, I assure you.

  50. 50
    Lawrence McLean says:

    Re #37
    I was wondering; what meaning and implications are ofthe comment by Lincoln: “it’s time for the privileges accorded to the alarmist crowd to be revoked”. By the comments in this and related threads it seems that the WSJ does not publish anything contrary to their dogma and world view anyway. I may be wrong I have never read it. I was going to send a letter to them, just to see what happened, however, a subscription is required and I am loath to give any of my money to them.