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Cuckoo Science

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 November 2006 - (Français)

Sometimes on Realclimate we discuss important scientific uncertainties, and sometimes we try and clarify some subtle point or context, but at other times, we have a little fun in pointing out some of the absurdities that occasionally pass for serious ‘science’ on the web and in the media. These pieces look scientific to the layperson (they have equations! references to 19th Century physicists!), but like cuckoo eggs in a nest, they are only designed to look real enough to fool onlookers and crowd out the real science. A cursory glance from anyone knowledgeable is usually enough to see that concepts are being mangled, logic is being thrown to the winds, and completely unjustified conclusions are being drawn – but the tricks being used are sometimes a little subtle.

Two pieces that have recently drawn some attention fit this mold exactly. One by Christopher Monckton (a viscount, no less, with obviously too much time on his hands) which comes complete with supplementary ‘calculations’ using his own ‘M’ model of climate, and one on (‘What Watt is what’). Junk Science is a front end for Steve Milloy, long time tobacco, drug and oil industry lobbyist, and who has been a reliable source for these ‘cuckoo science’ pieces for years. Curiously enough, both pieces use some of the same sleight-of-hand to fool the unwary (coincidence?).

But never fear, RealClimate is here!

The two pieces both spend a lot of time discussing climate sensitivity but since they don’t clearly say so upfront, it might not at first be obvious. (This is possibly because if you google the words ‘climate sensitivity’ you get very sensible discussions of the concept from Wikipedia, ourselves and the National Academies). We have often made the case here that equilibrium climate sensitivity is most likely to be around 0.75 +/- 0.25 C/(W/m2) (corresponding to about a 3°C rise for a doubling of CO2).

Both these pieces instead purport to show using ‘common sense’ arguments that climate sensitivity must be small (more like 0.2 °C/ W/m2, or less than 1°C for 2xCO2). Our previous posts should be enough to demonstrate that this can’t be correct, but it worth seeing how they arithimetically manage to get these answers. To save you having to wade through it all, I’ll give you the answer now: the clue is in the units of climate sensitivity – °C/(W/m2). Any temperature change (in °C) divided by any energy flux (in W/m2) will have the same unit and thus can be ‘compared’. But unless you understand how radiative forcing is defined (it’s actually quite specific), and why it’s a useful diagnostic, these similar seeming values could be confusing. Which is presumably the point.

Readers need to be aware of at least two basic things. First off, an idealised ‘black body’ (which gives of radiation in a very uniform and predictable way as a function of temperature – encapsulated in the Stefan-Boltzmann equation) has a basic sensitivity (at Earth’s radiating temperature) of about 0.27 °C/(W/m2). That is, a change in radiative forcing of about 4 W/m2 would give around 1°C warming. The second thing to know is that the Earth is not a black body! On the real planet, there are multitudes of feedbacks that affect other greenhouse components (ice alebdo, water vapour, clouds etc.) and so the true issue for climate sensitivity is what these feedbacks amount to.

So here’s the first trick. Ignore all the feedbacks – then you will obviously get to a number that is close to the ‘black body’ calculation. Duh! Any calculation that lumps together water vapour and CO2 is effectively doing this (and if anyone is any doubt about whether water vapour is forcing or a feedback, I’d refer them to this older post).

As we explain in our glossary item, climatologists use the concept of radiative forcing and climate sensitivity because it provides a very robust predictive tool for knowing what model results will be, given a change of forcing. The climate sensitivity is an output of complex models (it is not decided ahead of time) and it doesn’t help as much with the details of the response (i.e. regional patterns or changes in variance), but it’s still quite useful for many broad brush responses. Empirically, we know that for a particular model, once you know its climate sensitivity you can easily predict how much it will warm or cool if you change one of the forcings (like CO2 or solar). We also know that the best definition of the forcing is the change in flux at the tropopause, and that the most predictable diagnostic is the global mean surface temperature anomaly. Thus it is natural to look at the real world and see whether there is evidence that it behaves in the same way (and it appears to, since model hindcasts of past changes match observations very well).

So for our next trick, try dividing energy fluxes at the surface by temperature changes at the surface. As is obvious, this isn’t the same as the definition of climate sensitivity – it is in fact the same as the black body (no feedback case) discussed above – and so, again it’s no surprise when the numbers come up as similar to the black body case.

But we are still not done! The next thing to conviently forget is that climate sensitivity is an equilibrium concept. It tells you the temperature that you get to eventually. In a transient situation (such as we have at present), there is a lag related to the slow warm up of the oceans, which implies that the temperature takes a number of decades to catch up with the forcings. This lag is associated with the planetary energy imbalance and the rise in ocean heat content. If you don’t take that into account it will always make the observed ‘sensitivity’ smaller than it should be. Therefore if you take the observed warming (0.6°C) and divide by the estimated total forcings (~1.6 +/- 1W/m2) you get a number that is roughly half the one expected. You can even go one better – if you ignore the fact that there are negative forcings in the system as well (cheifly aerosols and land use changes), the forcing from all the warming effects is larger still (~2.6 W/m2), and so the implied sensitivity even smaller! Of course, you could take the imbalance (~0.33 +/- 0.23 W/m2 in a recent paper) into account and use the total net forcing, but that would give you something that includes 3°C for 2xCO2 in the error bars, and that wouldn’t be useful, would it?

And finally, you can completely contradict all your prior working by implying that all the warming is due to solar forcing. Why is this contradictory? Because all of the above tricks work for solar forcings as well as greenhouse gas forcings. Either there are important feedbacks or there aren’t. You can’t have them for solar and not for greenhouse gases. Our best estimates of solar are that it is about 10 to 15% the magnitude of the greenhouse gas forcing over the 20th Century. Even if that is wrong by a factor of 2 (which is conceivable), it’s still less than half of the GHG changes. And of course, when you look at the last 50 years, there are no trends in solar forcing at all. Maybe it’s best not to mention that.

There you have it. The cuckoo has come in and displaced the whole field of climate science. Impressive, yes? Errrr…. not really.

Update: The Guardian and Cosmic Variance pick up on this.

186 Responses to “Cuckoo Science”

  1. 101
    Hank Roberts says:

    Edward, are you comfortable referring to the “ill-considered” answers (top link under ‘Other’ in the sidebar on each RC page).

    I urge you to link to those where possible, to avoid retyping and a plethora of variations on each answer. And to directly quote them as well. They’re known good info. That’s why they’re listed here at RC as a source. And the list keeps being improved.

    Why? Because online, people find a whole lot of twisty little answers, all alike — some real and some bogus. The more people retype and vary, the better the chance of confusing later readers — to the point nobody coming to the Web for info will be able to tell good from almost-good from fake-good information.

    Rule one of good database: one source and many pointers, rather than many copies.

  2. 102
    Bob Ramage says:

    Logged on to this site, for the first time.
    Had a whale of a time reading the bitchy comments on Lord Monckton’s articles, especially those written from the lofty, and rather precious, heights of the climate scientists amongst your contributors. On one point at least there appears to be near-consensus; as a viscount, Monckton cannot possibl know anything about climate science.
    I do hope, by the way, that Edward (who appears to have undergone a metamorphosis from twerp to guiding light in the course of just a few days) retains some objectivity on this matter. It is quite clear that the temptation to conform to majority opinion is tremendous.

  3. 103
    Neal J. King says:

    Hi Edward,

    Grant has also started up something in parallel, which can be found here:

    1) It would be great to coordinate/merge these efforts somehow. There is no reason for duplicate effort.

    2) I have suggested to Grant that it would be best to create separate sections for each point of Monckton’s articles, so that individuals can contribute to the specific points they’re interested in. Also, since in the end, I think the form of the output needs to be one article for each of Monckton’s, that addresses his points in order and not a bunch of separate responses that each cover several points in different ways; if you have separate sections, it’ll be easier for the editor to focus on one point at a time: all the input on that point will be in the same section. However, if you are going to be the one to generate the overall output, by all means arrange matters to make it convenient for yourself.

  4. 104
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 101


    I respectfully disagree with your advice. Here’s why:

    – My understanding is that the final output is to be an article for publication in the same venue (in order to reach the same audience) as Monckton’s: The Sunday Telegraph. I think that means it has to be completely accessible on the medium of paper: we shouldn’t assume that the reader will be online or able to link to anything at the time s/he’s reading the article. (Perhaps later on…). This is for a newspaper article, not for a new website, so database issues are off the point.

    – I enjoy reading the “a few things ill-considered” blogspot. But the author of the site is NOT a climate scientist, so if the case rests on citations to his site, that is a weak point. Likewise, I wouldn’t even cite RealClimate as an authority: Why should the un-informed reader give more credence to the folks here than to, for example, Lindzen at MIT?

    – What I suggest instead: As much as possible, make the reasoning transparent. You don’t need a Ph.D in mathematics to explain that 1 + 1 = 2, and you can expect a reader to accept that without too much fuss. A lot of the specious argumentation can be countered by credentials-free reasoning of that nature: they are errors of logic or of selective presentation, not deep matters of expertise. Some of it, of course, depends upon real data that are not known to the “man in the street” (or even the typical “man in the non-atmospheric-sciences lab”), and for this, you need to cite sources. It should still be possible to cite sources that are as obviously bias-free as possible: it needs to be as hard as possible for the opponents to say, “Why should you care about what those guys think? Why do you think they know what they’re talking about? And how do you know they’re not just protecting their own jobs?”

    – I’ll give an example: If someone argues that human emissions of CO-2 are unimportant, because volcanoes produce CO-2 anyway, my response would be: “According to the the U.S. Geological Survey (, the annual amount of CO-2 produced by humans is about 150 times that produced by volcanoes globally. So the impact of volcanoes on this question is actually negligible.” The point is: I don’t need to have the reader believe anything about me to see the reasoning; and the referenced authority is one that, being a part of the U.S. governmental agency under the Bush administration, is less likely to swing out in favor of global-warming concerns. I do provide the reference, so it can be checked; but the reader need not check the reference to get the point.

    – Likewise, when pointing out that Monckton is citing an article in contradiction to its actual conclusion, it’s important to a), quote enough of the article to make it clear what its intent is (to avoid the “he said / she said” problem); and b), to give a link directly to the article for later use (so the reader can verify if interested).

  5. 105
    cat black says:

    Not sure it’s been noted here already, but Christopher Monckton’s descriptive entry on Wikipedia has been edited to include a comment about his Nov contribution on AGW, with rather a lot of editing after. It might be an appropriate place for a short summary of the followup response that appears to be in the works here.

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    Put it this way — I am urging you to list all your sources on an accessible web page– and tell people where, in the newspaper. None of the appropriate footnotes will fit in the newsprint.
    But even newspapers will print one web page cite.

    We all know many of these claims have been answered, links provided, by people who’ve done recognized good work finding primary sources. You’ve got to check the primary sources yourself, of course.

    But you’ll have createed your own list of existing good secondary sources — far more than will fit in the newspaper. Newspaper editors and writers don’t assume they owe their readers their sources — but fact checkers, which is what you’re doing for them, really should.

    Your example: volcanos — you suggest answering with one USGS link, for the 150:1 ratio.
    Good, I agree, that fits two lines of newsprint (if they’ll print the link at all, eh?)

    That’s a link also noted at

    The ratio information is more accessible at Coby’s summary than at the original USGS page — he’s boiled that down already.

    Yes, point to the USGS page in the newspaper– all the news that fits they print! They won’t have room for footnotes. But I’m arguing that for your own credibility you should make a web page available saying where you got your primary sources, so others can look at the good compilations.

    On the volcanos example, if someone naive has only that one USGS number, the’ll be hit with the next argument in line and have no source.

    Followup arguments like “The Yellowstone Caldera explosion must have dwarfed any human CO2 releases!” — are also answered on Coby’s page. I’m sure you know the answer to that one —- but many won’t.

    No doubt you’ve found other good compilations — but I will bet you’ve found no more than a handful that are reliable and that have cites that check out. I’m urging you to provide your sources, the places you found good info, to support the few lines of info that will fit a newspaper article.

  7. 107
    edward says:

    Re 101 and others. No objection to wherever this appears. I would urge the Wiki (which Grant & I are already working on) because it allows multiple editing, has footnotes facility and typesetting, which blogs aren’t designed for.

    On the links to a single database of FAQ’s, I absolutely agree. Link to these wherever possible.

    On being a Devil’s Advocate, that’s what I do best. I have given a list of reasons why I find (as a stupid layman) Monckton’s article convincing on the discussion page of the Wiki.

    On the layout: yes, the main page needs sorting out into sections per specific points made by Monckton, with succinct replies (or links to FAQs here). I would have done this, but so little time …. Besides, I am Devils Advocate …

  8. 108
    edward says:

    Note also the Wiki supports jpg images. I haven’t used this in a long time, but the instructions are in the FAQ section.

    I have done some more editing around the structure of the argument. I note that Grant has approached this from the point of view of the list of questions that Monckton begins with. However, his paper does not itself follow that closely. His main negative argument is about the Medieval Warm Period. His main positive argument is the second half, which I ignored completely, because it was too technical for laymen.

    [Response: I’ve been pretty quiet on this topic up to now, but I should probably say that this is a very interesting idea. I’ve been toying with how to set up a ‘Wiki-debunk’ site that could use our collective efforts to efficiently critique these kinds of pieces and this seems like a good scheme. One other technique could be to use ‘Trailfire’ notations to set up trails of annotated critiques on the page itself. Don’t know how practical it would be… Anyway, keep up the good work. -gavin]

  9. 109

    Re “Had a whale of a time reading the bitchy comments on Lord Monckton’s articles, especially those written from the lofty, and rather precious, heights of the climate scientists amongst your contributors.”

    Well, the way to counter “bitchy comments” is certainly to make bitchy comments about the commentators. Thanks for the exercise in hypocrisy.

  10. 110
    jules defelices says:

    Impressed that you guys are making a concerted effort to respond to Monckton’s article. Has anyone had a look at this “challenge”, notwithstanding the rather (ahem) ad hominum point that he is (was) a lobbyist?


  11. 111
    jules defelices says:

    the “Challenge” is this link i forgot to include:


  12. 112
    Bob Purton says:

    To all I have enjoyed all the arguments about global warming or the lack thereof. All I want is the truth and not policical agenda.I will keep reading and watching for that proof and cause of global warming.Keep up the great writings.

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    More on cloud feedback:
    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 33, L21811, doi:10.1029/2006GL027403, 2006
    “… based on observations extending over a period of six years (2000-2005) from …(MODIS) and…(CERES) over the Tropics (25°S-25°N). The cloud radiative effect (CRE) shows a positive sign for optically thin cirrus …, their net effective CRE (net CRE – cloud amount) is roughly twice as strong as that of thicker clouds…”

  14. 114
    EP says:

    So, apart from the accusations of cherry-picking and ad hominem attacks, can we conclude that the ME warm period was not as warm as today? And on what basis are people rejecting the graphs shown in the Monckton article? Have more accurate studies been made? Is the statistical analysis more rigorous?

  15. 115
    EP says:

    These pieces look scientific to the layperson (they have equations! references to 19th Century physicists!), but like cuckoo eggs in a nest, they are only designed to look real enough to fool onlookers and crowd out the real science.

    Such as this particular comment that the S-B law is so approximate it isn’t used by climate scientists?

    I think Monckton’s article is discussing the variation in the parameter used to describe solar forcing, he isn’t saying the S-B law is the be-all and end-all of climate modeling.

  16. 116
    Neal J. King says:


    I’m going to be looking at Monckton’s argument more carefully. However, a point that I will certainly be paying attention to is the following: the Stefan-Boltzmann law applies to the total radiation from a blackbody, or, with minor modification, to a gray-body: a body that absorbs an equal and constant fraction of the energy that shines upon it, independent of frequency. The Earth + atmosphere system is certainly not a gray or blackbody, or else we wouldn’t be talking about a greenhouse gas effect to begin with. That being the case, the S-B law doesn’t apply to the Earth + atmosphere system.

    I think Monckton is trying to make some mileage from applying it to the Earth alone. The Earth alone is also not a blackbody or gray-body, but it also doesn’t have too many regions dominated by spectral line absorption and emission, so the S-B law might be useful in certain delimited contexts. But then in these contexts I wonder if you can apply the concept of radiative forcings anyway: this is really an Earth + atmosphere application.

    As I said above, I plan to look over his argument in more detail. I hope it’s not too confusing to be un-fun.

  17. 117
    Julian Flood says:

    Re 70:

    You talk about taking Monkton’s article apart and demonstrating its falsity. I thought that was what science was about. Is that no longer true? Anyone who followed the Guardian’s comment is free response to a defence of his article and who cares about science as truth as opposed to science as religion should be appalled.

    While you’re about it…

    If overnight I cut the world’s CO2 emissions from a rate of 8 Gt per annum to 5 Gt, what will be next year’s increase in ppm CO2?

    The Mauna Loa graph (how nice to have actual measured data!) should help us understand and answer this question.


  18. 118
    andrew worth says:

    In discussing AGW with AGW Conservatives I quite often come across the claim that 95% of the GH effect is due to water vapour with CO2 making only a 3-4% contribution.
    The above site states “Given the present composition of the atmosphere, the contribution to the total heating rate in the troposphere is around 5 percent from carbon dioxide and around 95 percent from water vapor. In the stratosphere, the contribution is about 80 percent from carbon dioxide and about 20 percent from water vapor.
    The site also has the “Efficiency of Heat Trapping by Greenhouse Gases and Clouds table” from V. Ramanathan and J.A. Coakley, Jr., “Climate Modeling Through Radiative-Convective Models”,

    Can someone please confirm that the statement that water vapour makes a 95% contribution to the GH effect in the troposphere is consistent with the information in the table?

    [Response: The Table is correct (and is consistent with calculations I did for a previous post: ). However, I do not see how the statement in the text is consistent with that. CO2 is between 12 and 26% of the heating, and water vapour between 36 and 66% – clouds and aerosols make up the rest and the spread is related to the overlaps in the spectrum. The heating rate in the stratosphere is almost all due to ozone, not CO2 or water vapour so I don’t know where that comes from either. I will investigate…. -gavin]

  19. 119
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Time for Monckton et al., to Shift Tactics?

    On Friday morning, Sen. James Inhofe was interviewed on MSNBC. He trashed the Nairobi Kyoto meeting as a “big party” and then told David Shuster of MSNBC that more people every day are coming over to his side that this stuff they are talking about is wrong. And which stuff was that? You would think it was climate science. But no, he was referring to cap and trade, an economic mechanism to reduce emissions. He said that even in the minority, he would, if necessary, filibuster any cap and trade bill and that McCain-Lieberman would never get more than 53 votes, hence the cloture vote (takes 60 to shut off debate) would fail. Inhofe didn’t name any of these people who have recently defected to the side of cap and trade skeptics. Nevertheless, I think this development- Sen. Inhofe admitting, implicitly, that climate change is occurring, but cap and trade is the real enemy of America (he said it would bankrupt the country) warrants immediate action. That’s why I am today starting a website called to deal with the cap and trade skeptics that are no doubt gathering at this very moment and waiting for the signal from the Sen. from Oklahoma to attack. Oops. I just realized something. I’m not an economist. Never mind.

  20. 120
    Neal J. King says:

    On Monckton’s view of the importance of solar variation:

    In preparing a response, I would really like to have someone walk through pp. 20-22 of Monckton’s backgrounder. This is the section, “What role has the Sun played in recent warming?”

    CobblyWorlds has taken shots at specific points, but I could use a coherent walk-through of that section.

  21. 121
    Neal J. King says:

    I forgot to mention above: Monckton’s backgrounder can be found at:

  22. 122
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 92

    Any progress on talking to the Sunday Telegraph about placing an article in response to Monckton’s?

    [Response: See Al Gore’s op-ed today. -gavin]

  23. 123
    edward says:

    Just to say again that there is a concerted effort going on

    to gather material against (and for, conceivably) Monckton’s claims.

  24. 124
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 122,


    Thanks for pointing that out. At a quick glance, it looks strong.

    However, I agree with Edward on the need for a fully documented point-by-point rebuttal of what is likely to be most convincing to the non-expert reader. Otherwise, it’s a case of “he said / she said” – and Monckton has real equations (well, sort of real equations) in his backgrounder.

    Chris, any progress?

  25. 125
    James says:

    Re Al Gore’s op-ed:

    Al Gore: ‘There is a reason why new scientific research is peer-reviewed’.

    Viscount Monckton: ‘But, but, but.. _I’m_ a peer! Doesn’t that count?’

    (Sorry ’bout that. I tried to resist, honest I did :-))

  26. 126
    Neal J. King says:

    It was also funny that the good Viscount prides himself on having been an adviser to “Margaret Thatcher, FRS” on scientific scams and scares.

    I guess the title is intended to give them impression that someone who is a member of the Royal Society viewed him as an expert. Of course, it is highly unlike that Prime Minister Thatcher was made a Fellow of the Royal Society for her scientific contributions or expertise!

  27. 127
  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    Two out of three.

  29. 129

    Re #126 and “Of course, it is highly unlike that Prime Minister Thatcher was made a Fellow of the Royal Society for her scientific contributions or expertise!”

    Margaret Thatcher is qualified in chemistry and was instrumental in getting the CFC accords through. She’s one of very few world leaders who can follow reaction equations right down to the kinetic constants.

  30. 130
    Neal J. King says:

    re: 129: Margaret Thatcher


    I’m aware of her role in the CFC accords, which is to be commended. I wasn’t aware of her training in chemistry, although when I look her up in Wikipedia, they mention it. However, what they mention would not normally qualify for being a Fellow of the Royal Society, which I believe is a fairly rare distinction (only 44 elected per year, for substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge): “Thatcher performed well academically, attending a girls’ grammar school (Kesteven) and subsequently going up to Somerville College, Oxford in 1944 to study Chemistry. She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. She graduated with a second-class degree and worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and then J. Lyons and Co., where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream. She was a member of the team that developed the first soft frozen ice cream. She was also a member of the Association of Scientific Workers.”

    Under the Wiki article on the Royal Society, they mention: “Prior to the creation of the position of Honorary Fellow in 2000 non-scientists would sometimes be elected as Fellows; examples of this are the British Prime Ministers Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, and Margaret Thatcher.”

    In any event, I’m not knocking her particularly. I’m not even knocking Monckton’s pride at having been in a position to advise her on something. I’m knocking his having added “FRS” to her name in this context, as if it reflected more credibility on his own expertise, because he was being asked to advise a Fellow.

  31. 131
    Sara Chan says:

    Christopher Monckton has a new article, responding to Gore. Page 7 claims that current climate models cannot well simulate 20th-century climate. Is that true? I.e. is there no model (coupled, without flux adjustments!) that can do a reasonable job simulating the 20th century? (If there is, can you specify a reference?)

    Monckton says that if there is no good model for the 20th century, then we should not pay too much attention to what the models predict for the 21st century. That seems reasonable, if his claim is correct.

    [Response: Ay, there’s the rub. Try this, or any equivalent figure from any other major model center’s IPCC AR4 simulations… Meehl et al for instance. -gavin]

  32. 132
    Geordie says:

    I am curious about what sort of modeling has been done involving the tail end of the past warming periods or simply has any attempt to simulate what forcing might be involved causing CO2 and temperature to start to decline. I understand about the CO2 to temperature lag at the start of a warming period and that we are not really sure what causes the temperature to kick start its incline and that it is not overly important because the high CO2 levels are what is dangerous. In these past warming periods the CO2 levels went back down eventually, have any modals taken a stab at reducing the CO2 levels similarly or is just related to the increased plant life uptaking more CO2?

  33. 133
    Neal J. King says:


    Do a search under “biological pump”: the carbon is deposited in the depths of the ocean.

    Unfortunately, it takes a bit of time.

  34. 134
    Peter says:

    Re: All of the above.

    Well, at least we can now agree there is no “consensus” so we can get back to arguing scientific facts.

  35. 135
    Bob Ward says:

    RE: #129 and #130

    Margaret Thatcher was indeed elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, under the same statute as David Attenborough, the distinguished broadcaster. Of course Monckton appears not to appreciate the irony of him flaunting this affiliation. Thatcher as Prime Minister was a supporter of the IPCC’s work (see: and made a high profile speech to the Royal Society in 1988 in which she called for policy-makers to take the scientific evidence on climate chnage seriously – the first time a British Prime Minister had acknowledged the environment as an important issue:

    I haven’t seen anything since about her views on climate change – it might be that they have changed but I rather doubt it.

    I would also like to make a couple of corrections to an earlier posting (#39) I made about Viscount Monckton’s family ties. His sister’s name is Rosa, not Rosie, and Lord Lawson is her father-in-law not the Viscount’s.

    I agree with the postings that suggest the Viscount’s musings should not be dismissed just because he is not a scientist. But he is also not really a journalist, either. Which raises the question of why he was given a public platform to reach millions of people with his views on climate change, since he has, to my knowledge, never published anything before on this issue.

    There appear to be three factors here: It looks like he had the right family connections to persuade the comment editor at the newspaper to devote so much space to him despite lacking any previous track record on this issue. Secondly, the newspaper clearly did not bother to ask its science correspondent, or anybody else, to check that Monckton’s article was neither inaccurate nor misleading (one of the terms of the Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice). And finally, it fits a pattern of the way in which the Sunday Telegraph is covering climate change – I can’t remember the last time it published something that represented the ‘consensus view’ on climate change. Some may remember that it published a similarly dodgy article by Bob Carter earlier this year (apparently global warming ended in 1998!)

    In effect, the Sunday Telegraph is running a campaign on climate change that has a lot of similarities with that by the Sunday Times in the 1980s when it tried to persuade its readers that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. But with the present case it looks a bit like the campaign position is politically motivated ie right-wing proponents of the free market are ideologically opposed to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and misrepresent the evidence to justify their position.

    Sorry to bring politics into it, but I think it might be a mistake to view the publication of Monckton’s article by ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ purely as an attempt to inform the public about the science of climate change.

  36. 136
    Stephen Bodner says:

    Monckton states that there were Viking settlements under what is now the Greenland permafrost, thus proving that Greenland was warmer in the past than in the present. I used your search engine to find your response to this claim, but I was not successful. Please provide me with that reference, or provide a new response, if needed. Thanks.

  37. 137
    EP says:

    made a high profile speech to the Royal Society in 1988 in which she called for policy-makers to take the scientific evidence on climate chnage seriously – the first time a British Prime Minister had acknowledged the environment as an important issue:

    I haven’t seen anything since about her views on climate change – it might be that they have changed but I rather doubt it.

    I don’t think you can criticise Monckton for not taking the issue of climate change seriously. He’s certainly taking it more seriously than Thatcher did in a speech. Thatcher was using the science known at the time. No doubt Callaghan would have made a speech about the upcoming ice age, in the 70s, had he also taken an interest in current climate theories!

  38. 138
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #136: I used Google Scholar and so can you! It took me about half an hour to turn up this soil survey paper stating that there is presently no permafrost in the agricultural areas that were used by the Norse settlements in Greenland. I faintly recall seeing such a claim made on the so-called CO2Science site, which has been identified as the source for some of Monckton’s other false claims, so if you’re quoting it correctly (and in future an exact quote with a link so others can see the context would be much appreciated) it seems likely that this one came from the same place.

  39. 139
    Hank Roberts says:

    Can I get a sanity check on this quote? I emailed its editors suggesting “transforms … into ozone” should read “oxidizes to CO2 and H20” a few days ago; no response, no change. Is there a way this makes sense?

    “… each molecule of CH4 in the atmosphere traps 23 times as much heat as carbon dioxide and it transforms in the atmosphere into ozone, yet another greenhouse gas.”

  40. 140
    Stephen Bodner says:

    Re #138. Thanks. I will have to learn how to use Google Scholar.

  41. 141
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #139: Google Scholar works more or less like any other search engine, but only accesses scientific information (mainly peer-reviewed papers). Just enter your search term(s) and off you go. IMHO far and away the most useful feature is the “cited by” link.

  42. 142
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re current #139: Hank, as I understand it a) methane does degrade into CO2 but b) they have the ozone connection reversed. For one thing, absent alchemy methane can’t be turned into ozone. :) IIRC the problem with methane is that it reacts with oxygen to form water vapor (I don’t recall if this is part of the same reaction that produces the CO2, but the constituents add up correctly for that to be the case), and the water vapor in turn reacts with other things (I recall these details not at all) to degrade ozone. Since water vapor has a hard time with transport into the stratosphere, methane is the main way it gets there. So methane is an all-round bad actor!

    [Response: There’s a relatively good schematic of the chemistry (here) and an explanation in Schmidt and Shindell (2003). Methane, CO and NOx are considered ozone precursors, and increasing CH4 will lead to increased O3 as well. See Shindell et al (2005) as well for discussions on how the different species add up. – gavin]

  43. 143
    Eli Rabett says:

    The decomposition starts by attack of OH radicals on methane

    CH4 + OH –> H2O + CH3 followed by
    CH3 + O2 + M –> CH3O2 + M (M is anything, mostly O2 ans N2)

    and then it gets complicated depending on whether NOx is around. In either case the oxidation scheme passes through formaldehyde, which can be a precursor to smog, not ozone, which may have been what Monckton was thinking of. Eventually you get down to CO2 and H2O. Eventually can be a while.

  44. 144
    andrew worth says:

    RE:# 118, Gavin, any progress with your investigation? I was referred to the Energy Information Administrations Paul McArdle and emailed him on the 21st but have had no reply. The EIA site does give a reference to S.M. Freidenreich and V. Ramaswamy, â??Solar Radiation Absorption by Carbon Dioxide, Overlap with Water” I don’t know though if this is the source of the 95% water vapor contribution claim. Thanks.

  45. 145
    Doug Watts says:

    A general comment for what it is worth from a professional journalist who frequently covers science, biology and the environment. When a scientific topic has obvious political and economic ramifications it is obvious that those who believe they have a political/economic stake in the “outcome” of a scientific investigation will wade into the fray in some shape or form. As an analogy, think of a defense attorney or prosecutor standing behind a coroner as she conducts an autopsy. Presumably, the coroner adopts no preconceived conclusions as she begins and conducts the autopsy. And presumably, the defense attorney or prosecutor already has a preference for what they wish the “facts” to reveal or suggest and vice versa. Prosecutors and defense attorneys, are by definition, not “neutral” actors during the unfolding of a criminal investigation. A coroner is, or should be. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are “outcome” based actors — they wish or hope the evidence to point to a particular, conclusion that is independent of the empirical evidence. A coroner or forensic scientist operates on exactly the opposite principle. The evidence shapes the conclusion — not the other way around.

    This is why good journalists use the general maxim of “follow the dollar.” If a particular person stands to materially gain from a scientific investigation reaching a certain conclusion, it is only logical to presume they may attempt to skew the evidence or conclusions therefrom in favor of the outcome that will provide them with material gains and away from the conclusion they perceive as unfavorable. The publishing, editing and peer review process in science is an explicit and fairly effective mechanism to identify and prevent observer bias from coloring research. There is no direct analog to this process in journalism, in part, because many journalists, editors and publishers do not consider this to be “their job” — and often they perceive “their job” to be increasing readership, circulation, audience size etc. for the sole purpose of increasing revenue and profitability to the company for whom they work. If an Apollo Moon Hoax story helps to increase circulation, then it is viewed as favorable, regardless of how intellectually vacuous the story is.

    Lastly, if scientists are caught lying and deliberately skewing results they lose their jobs or at least their professional standing and stature. There are very real and serious personal consequences for a scientist caught cooking the books. There are very few, if any, such negative consequences for journalists, editors and publishers doing the same — and there may be very real positive rewards for doing so. In the corporate realm, lying and skewing evidence to enhance the company’s wealth is considered a good thing. Trying to tell the truth, if it hurts the company’s profitability, is grounds for punishment by demotion or dismissal. So the value and reward/punishment systems for scientists and journalists and corporate folks are completely different and this greatly influences behavior, motivations and product.

    As a journalist myself, I do not trust journalism at all. The tangible rewards for skewing and slanting information are far too strong and pervasive to be discounted; and the quality control process is pretty much non-existent. Caveat emptor.

  46. 146
    Doug Watts says:

    I would like to add one more thought for folks here from the perspective of a working reporter/journalist that may be useful.

    Journalists should be competent professionals. Journalists who write stories about scientific facts, theories and issues must have some proficiency in science and the particular field of science which they are covering. This is non-debatable — just as an electrician or plumber must have a demonstrated and tested proficiency in electrical wiring or plumbing and the physical principles underlying them. Journalism, however, is a completely haphazard occupation with no explicit standards or metrics of proficiency, culpability or responsibility. Except for libel laws, there are no rules implied or explicit. For this reason, journalism cannot be called a profession in the sense of a scientist, an electrician, a civil engineer, a nurse or a plumber. There are no standards, no tests, no licensing, no peer review, no sanctions, no periodic review, no continuing education, no nothing. Journalism is nothing but convincing someone to pay you to type words. That’s it.

    This fact is problematic for journalism which purports to cover issues of science. It is not problematic for the journalist or their employer. It is problematic for the reader. Most (but not all) journalists who occasion to cover science are scientifically illiterate. They believe their job is to string quotes together from other people so that the story “looks” like a story. So long as this construction technique satisfies their bosses, they seek no further. Contemporary journalism operates on the idea of “teaching the controversy” or “covering the controversy.” This often produces perverse and nonsensical products, especially with science. Put simply, if 100,000 trained scientists all reach conclusion X, then the journalist considers it their solemn responsibility to find one person to state otherwise so as to provide “balance.” This results in a story where the statement of the one contrarian scientist or non-scientist (it doesn’t matter) is given 100 percent equal weight to the 100,000 scientists and all of their published research and work. And thus, the illogical and internally contradictory goals of “balance” and “objectivity” are achieved.

    I know this sounds stupid, but it is in fact the way most journalism is approached, prepared and published.

    This construction technique is exacerbated by a scientifically illiterate reporter (and editor) who is not even equipped with the base knowledge of the subject matter to identify a potentially spurious and easily refutable claim. Instead, the default position is just to print the claim verbatim and “let the readers decide.” This, of course, is a lazy cop-out.

    Not unexpectedly, this process creates a product which is massively flawed and as a whole contributes little useful information to the reader. Instead what is called a story is actually just a randomly redacted stenography of whatever and whomever the reporter spoke with while preparing the story.

    This is the way most journalism is prepared, including much journalism dealing with science.

    I hope the above provides some useful information for scientists who have the occasion to speak to reporters as well as everyone who relies upon journalistic products to learn about things we do not have direct involvement or knowledge in.

  47. 147
    Lawrence McLean says:

    Re #146, Doug, What you say maybe true for some journalists, however, it seems to me that the primary consideration for what most journalists write is to say things that bring them the most profit and the most status amongst those that identify with.

    The “Balance” line is just one of their ways of justifying the rubbish they publish. It may also be a stick that editors and owners use to keep junior (or maybe more truthful) journalists in line!

  48. 148
    cthulhu says:

    I am also interested in the claim about 95% water vapor contribution to troposphere greenhouse effect given on this page (

    This doesn’t seem to fly with the table they provide, and the figures found elsewhere which show that removal of water vapor and clouds cause a drop of about 60% in heat trapped, not 95%.

    They say “Freidenreich and colleagues [106] have reported the overlap of carbon dioxide and water absorption bands in the infrared region. Given the present composition of the atmosphere, the contribution to the total heating rate in the troposphere is around 5 percent from carbon dioxide and around 95 percent from water vapor”

    But is the second part of this their own deduction, or something mentioned in the paper they cite? I can only track down the abstract for S.M. Freidenreich and V. Ramaswamy, “Solar Radiation Absorption by Carbon Dioxide, Overlap with Water, and a Parameterization for General Circulation Models” Journal of Geophysical Research 98 (1993):7255-7264.

    They give a loss of 12% of heat trapped if co2 is removed, and also say
    “By itself, however, carbon dioxide is capable of trapping three times as much radiation as it actually does in the Earth’s atmosphere”

    Could it be that they are wrongly dividing that 12% by 3? (and concluding 5% attribution to co2?)

    Then again they specifically distinguish between the stratosphere and troposphere. They claim “the contribution to the total heating rate in the troposphere is around 5 percent from carbon dioxide”

    What do they mean by the total heating *rate* though?

  49. 149
    Hank Roberts says:

    Google for that particular page — it’s being asked about a lot of places, including an earlier posting at realclimate. Odd how popular these obscure questions can be, eh?

  50. 150
    cthulhu says:

    Well I can assure you it isn’t all the same person, so So at least two people are simultaneously all being presented with this site as evidence for the 95% claim and are investigating it.

    There is good reason to think the claim of 95% attribution of water vapor to the greenhouse effect is wrong, but while I expect that claim to continued on various sites of ill repute, I don’t expect the claim to crop up on a DOE page (an old one though), especially when most of the discussion on that page looks correct and it has no clear contrarian agenda. So it cannot just be written off as nonsense made up from something Singer said, for example. Is it just a simple mistake perhaps? Or are they citing something genuine which should be taken a little more seriously?

    Their specific division into stratosphere and troposphere is interesting. Tracking down the full copy of that paper the source would probably solve this as the figure is probably derived from there, but online I can only find the abstract. I want to figure out how they came by that claim.