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.