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Climate Reporting in Physics World

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 February 2007 - (Português)

PhysicsWorld cover, Volume 20, no. 2, February 2007 The February 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld contains several articles relevant to climate research, with a main feature article on climate modelling written by Adam Scaife, Chris Folland, and John Mitchell, and a profile on Richard Lindzen as well as an article on geoengineering in the ‘News & Analyses’ section. The magazine also contains an article (‘Living in the greenhouse’) under ‘Lateral Thoughts’ that brings up a bunch of tentative analogies to a wide range of topics completely unrelated to the greenhouse effect in a technical sense, and an editorial comment ‘Hot topic‘, arguing that it would be wrong of PhysicsWorld to ignore those outside the mainstream. To be more precise, the editorial comment devotes a few lines justifying the profile on Lindzen and the report on geoengineering, with a reference to a Feynman quote: “There is no harm in doubt and scepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made”. Wise words! Nevertheless, I cannot resist making some reflections.

One thought that immediately struck me was: has PhysicsWorld tried to make a ‘balanced report‘, or does the issue of doubt and scepticism by itself merit the profile article? Is the scepticism or doubt really genuine (doubt is the product)? To be fair, the article does bring up objections against some of Lindzen’s arguments (citing Gavin). However, I’d like to see a more consistent and critical article, as Lindzen’s arguments – at least the way they are echoed in PhysicsWorld – are in my opinion inconsistent.

Here is one example: Take Lindzen’s controversial claim that the good comparison between modelled and historical temperature evolution is an exercise in “curve fitting”. Written between the lines is the assumption that the climate models are driven with forcings based on historical GHG emissions. Later in the article Lindzen argues that the climate models used by the IPCC are far too sensitive to changes in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2. To me, these two statements say opposite things – and are thus in violation with each other. Because, either the models give a good description of the historic evolution or they don’t, given past GHGs, aerosol emissions and natural forcings (surely, Lindzen must have known about these simulations).

So, why didn’t the magazine ask critical questions about these conflicting views, or at least comment on what appears to be faulty logic? Or, perhaps Lindzen bases his claim on other aspects of model evaluation? Lindzen argues that the effect of CO2 on the temperature is small because the effect of additional CO2 molecule decreases as the concentration increases, but at the same time, Lindzen also seems to forget – just for a moment – all the feedbacks which can enhance the warming. Gavin confounds him with an objection on a different point – that Lindzen has not taken the delay response properly into account, for instance due to the ocean thermal inertia. In the next paragraph, however, Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system, and later on refers to his hypothesis, the ‘infrared iris effect‘, which more or less has been buried by the scientific community.

Gavin makes this point in the article (also see an argument for why it is wrong), but a final thought that dawned on me was that Lindzen is probably no better at calculating the feedback effects in his head than the climate models.

296 Responses to “Climate Reporting in Physics World”

  1. 1
    Mike says:

    Hi chaps

    contriversial should be controversial but…

    I was wondering if you could also break up your text into smaller paragraphs a la the BBC website. The solid mass of writing reminds me of the adverts Kim Il Sung used to put in Brit newspapers!

    Keep up the good work.

    [Response: sorry. Typos fixed and text spaced out. Thanks. -gavin]

  2. 2
    Randolph Fritz says:

    “Opinions differ on shape of earth.”


  3. 3
    pete best says:

    This is why we have realclimate because it is manned (er womaned) by experts in the field of modelling climate and knowing about climate work by others and the research literature that paints a very accurate picture of what is going on in this field. Physics World on the other hand it not necessarily in that position and seeks experts to fill their pages with material that is of interest to their readers even if it is not necessarily correct.

    This also brings up the question of science and the knowledge required to be called an expert. Climate is complex and earth science even more so so that even if the climate modelling guys get it right no one truely knows all of the implications of a warming atmosphere and oceans on earths other systems such as flora and fauna, forests, desert, glaciers and the ice worlds of the arctic and antartic for instance.

    Quite worrying really.

  4. 4
    pete best says: is physics worlds web site and a good recent article on climate modelling can be found here:

  5. 5
    Steve Shaw says:

    I’m unclear about references to “global warming” and “climate change”. This article, like many, refers to the prediction that “the Earth will warm” and that this is stated as a range of possibilities of temperature increase by 2100 etc. The consequence will be climate change and models give predictions as to what the impact will be.

    But what is meant by “the Earth will warm” and the predicted increase in temperatures? Surely it is not suggested that the whole body of the Earth itself will on average increase in temperature by this much. So do these increases refer to surface air temperature or to an amalgamation of air, ocean and land temperatures?

    Is one of the reasons for the anticipated increase in storms related to the Geosphere warming more quickly than the Ocean? Do models take into account the impact on the Geosphere of increased desertification and deforestation for example?

    I appreciate that we become accustomed to using shorthand to make points succinctly but sometimes it is worth testing if the shorthand is not causing lack of understanding.

  6. 6
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    “Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system…”

    Seems to me this cuts both ways. The models may be underrepresenting the positive feedbacks (which it seems to me are even more difficult to quantify — bec many are BIG unknowns).

    Also, I’ve figured out that as the evidence for AGW piles up, the contrarians may actually amplify their denial.

    I’m thinking of psychological anthropologist A.F.C. Wallace’s “mazeway disintegration” idea. Mazeway is like culture at the individual level, the individual’s world view, values, knowledge, map of the world (of the maze & how to get to the goals & rewards). Wallace says this mazeway is loved, whereas the rewards are merely enjoyed; people do not want to give up their precious, beloved mazeway…not easily, at least.

    Now if, say, a disaster happens–like a flood, hurricane, war, or social disorder due to extreme environmental changes–and the maze is destroyed or greatly damaged (in our GW case, harmed somewhat now, but greatly threatened), people may go through “mazeway disintegration,” and just spiral down, refusing to let go of the old mazeway. But many will go through a “mazeway resynthesis,” and develop a new mazeway more fitting the new conditions, take charge, and make something good of it. This is a rather sudden change, like a conversion experience or a light-bulb flashing insight into something better – more simple/eloquent. A gestalt-changing moment. This is at the heart of revitalization movements, in which people make a better culture and society for themselves. At least one person has this mazeway resynthesis, & others get it, and follow.

    But there are those on the side who never recover, but are stuck in mazeway disintegration.

  7. 7

    The entire climate and weather science fields depend largely on accuracy of data, and also a reasonable understanding of it, simply to be capable of telling past and future events. Lindzen would do himself good only if he can predict something accurately, that would certainly help his credibility, instead, he derides his colleagues, way more than casting doubt, but rather mocking the science he presides over at a prestigious institute. Its my understanding that he probably said several years ago, that it will be colder this year, now he says it will be colder in 5 years, and so the antagonist waits for cold air to vindicate his aspersions. It is hardly an academic stance. I rather like the idea that many like Lindzen can formulate theories, but only a few actually work, it is rather the right attitude to take, to mine the field of theories, and apply those who are successful, those capable of success are not enough publicized, while Lindzen types wrecking havoc and confusion get way too much attention.

  8. 8
    Mark A. York says:

    That fits right in with a comment I got this morning, and since he cited climate scientists purporting, ala Crichton, that they don’t really know anything, I’m posting it here for comment.

    “By the way, there are extremely few scientists whose knowledge is sufficiently broad so as to encompass all the fields that are involved in this debate.”

    He says:

    1 No one can predict the future. If people say they can, be very skeptical.
    2 If the computer models being used to predict global warming are correct, they should be correct for the next ten years, not just the next one hundred years. All the predictions of the last ten years have been wrong.
    3 Global Warming is now a political phenomenon. Documents like the most recent UN report are being published with little or no connection to scientific data. The latest UN report came out prior to the publication of scientific research that is supposed to underpin the policy report’s conclusions. The UN said they would change the scientific report to match the conclusions of the policy document if there were any inconsistencies!
    4 Conclusions emanating from the scientific community include largely subjective assumptions that essentially make many assertions nothing more than informed opinion, not science. Further, due to intimidation and other factors, the actual scientific process is being corrupted and breaking down.
    5 If you actually press most scientists doing global warming research, they will eventually tell you that they don’t know what is causing global warming. Before we spend $55 Trillion, we better find someone who has some solid evidence of man’s impact on the environment, particularly in the face of more pressing needs, like disease and hunger (ed – he indirectly mentioned this, which, because it isn’t designed to benefit internationalist organizations, has received very little attention).
    6 Al Gore is a catastrophist. One example is his contention that sea levels will rise 20 -40 feet in the next one hundred years. This assertion can be compared the UN report which measures changes in ocean levels in centimeters.
    7 Global warming is an hysteria that is not about science anymore. Rather, it is a belief system. Crichton wonders whether the world is moving beyond a period where science has driven human development and back to a period where religion and faith are the key drivers in decision making.”

    [Response:I can predict that it will be warmer in 6 months (it’s February now) than now in Oslo – I’m making a prediction about the future – Crichton, be sceptical! It’s like saying that if my predictions are correct, I should be able to predict the Oslo temperature in 15 days. There is something called the chaos effect, which inhibits the success of predicting 15 days ahead (This very fundamental principle, by the way, was uncovered by computer models ;-). ). The year-to-year and decade-to-decade variations are affected by chaotic fluctuations (e.g. El Ninos, Pacific Decadal Oscillation,..), as well as volcanic erruptions. But the level about which the fluctuations center is affected systematically by external forcings (e.g. the seasonal cycle). Global warming is primarily a scientific issue, and the claims cannot documented because they are false. #5 is also as far as I know a false statement, and is itself a prediction of the future. I’m sceptical;-) (I have greater faith in my prediction 6 months ahead than his prediction sometime far in the future…). The notion of global warming is based on exactly science – but it’s easy for non-scientists to make counter-claims when they are not required to document their claims. -rasmus]

  9. 9
    Benny says:

    How many times does an expert have to be wrong before journalists stop calling him? And why was there nothing about Lindzen’s paid advocacy for the energy companies?

  10. 10
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    “No one can predict the future,” but it’s really great how far science has advanced from the days of astrology.

    I sincerely hope this is the catastrophe (probably one of the greatest humans have ever faced) that we avert (at least the worst of it), bec of the good information and knowledge science is now providing us. All preceding generations were at the mercy of their ignorance.

    I also have an intuitive grasp of how it’s easier to predict long term than short-term, so the fact that we don’t get next year right, or even next week’s weather right, doesn’t make a good argument for me against longer term climate science predictions. And I’m not even a scientist, it just sounds right. Like the coin-flips I was talking about last night on our probability chapter… the long run over hundreds of flips you’d expect to get 50% heads & 50% tails (assuming the coin isn’t loaded), though short-run (6 flips) it may not be 50/50.

  11. 11
    Walt Meier says:

    Re: #8

    1. No one can predict the future? Not with 100% accuracy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know something. Ever make plans based on weather forecasts? And while I don’t know with 100% certainty, I’m fairly confident that the sun will rise tomorrow. We can and do make intelligent decisions about the future near- and long-term based on predictions about the future.

    2. The models do a good job even over the last 10 years. The year-to-year variability is not somehting they can do, but they variability and trends – which is what we’re really concerned – are very reasonable.

    3. The report is based on published scientific research. To say otherwise is simply wrong. The document is FOR policymakers, not BY policymakers. While policymakers played a role in the summary, so did scientists. And it was all science in the actual full report. The full report was approved. Any changes made to it in the future will be minor.

    4. There is no basis for this statement – the conclusion are based on the evidence, they are not subjective.

    5. Have you actually pressed scientists doing climate research? I’ve not heard any say that they don’t know what is causing global warming. Scientist are very confident about what is causing warming.

    6. I’d have to watch the movie again, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t say 20-40 feet SLR in the next 100 years, rather that unless we reduce GHG emissions in the next 100 years we’ll be committed to at least that SLR eventually (due to the warming that will be inevitable with the high CO2 levels that will remain in the atmosphere). This is a reasonable statement and supported by the evidence.

    7. When you rely on Crichton, you really are getting desperate.

  12. 12
    FatBoy says:

    How long do we have to wait before the planet is squandered to CO2?
    Whilst the politicians play their games and posture our children die in in a slow infero of CO2 polluted skies. Here in England the daffodils are all ready out and the other day I saw a butterfly, presuambly overheating in nature’s cocoon trying a last desperate gasp to escape the effects of overheating brought on by our love of 4x4s. Last year we had drought brought on by AGW and this year floods as a demostration by of nature’s anger at our squalid ways. Our children will never forgive us for letting our beautiful blue planet slowly bake in its foul atmoshphere and evaporate the oceans turning us into the hell of an overheated planet consumed by greed where the lead on our coffins melts and trickles over our long dead bones.

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:

    Not from the movie:

    Former Vice President Al Gore
    New York University School of Law
    September 18, 2006

    “… the previous twelve months saw 32 glacial earthquakes on Greenland between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale – a disturbing sign that a massive destabilization may now be underway deep within the second largest accumulation of ice on the planet, enough ice to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea.”

  14. 14
    James says:

    Re #8: “1 No one can predict the future. If people say they can, be very skeptical.”

    Now that depends on what you’re predicting, and what degree of accuracy you want. If I throw a rock into the air, I can do a pretty damned good prediction that it will come down :-) I could (with a little study) likewise make really accurate predictions of say solar & lunar eclipses for the next few thousand years. And if I look out the window, I can make a pretty accurate weather forecast for the next few hours.

    “2 If the computer models being used to predict global warming are correct, they should be correct for the next ten years, not just the next one hundred years. All the predictions of the last ten years have been wrong.”

    Putting aside the fact that AFAIK those predictions have in fact been pretty good, there’s a certain element of randomness in the system. It’s like gambling: play for an hour, there’s a reasonable chance that you might wind up ahead. Play for a week, and your chance is close to zero, while the chance that the house will lose money overall is as near zero as makes no difference.

    The same sort of thing applies to climate models: for any particular date & time, they may or may not be right. But what we’re interested is the average over the whole earth for a number of years, and they seem pretty good at that.

  15. 15
    Hank Roberts says:

    “All the predictions of the last ten years have been wrong.”
    Sez who? Seriously, where do you find support for that claim?
    Sure, it’s literally true, but do you understand that, or are you asking for a mathematical “proof”?

    If you’re talking models, ‘close counts’ — horseshoes, hand grenades, climatology.

    Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful. Box, George E. P.;

  16. 16
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #11, “1. No one can predict the future? Not with 100% accuracy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know something. Ever make plans based on weather forecasts?”

    Yes, and even if it says 50% chance of rain I take an umbrella. So why should we NOT go ahead and save money while reducing our GHGs? That makes even better sense than taking an umbrella (which is extra weight and clumbsy) with a 50% chance of rain? Esp since the climate forecast is extremely bad (much worse than a bit of rain), and the certainty level is higher than 50%.

  17. 17
    Tom says:

    The response to #8:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa – the “chaos effect” was not uncovered BY computer models, it was found to be a characteristic OF the computer models used by Lorenz to simulate weather and its discovery by Lorenz pointed up the difficulty of simulating such phenomena and the inadequacy of models for it.

    Rather than support your position, this undermines it.

  18. 18
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 17, Uh, no, the chaotic behavior is in the phenomena, so the models must reflect that behavior precisely to be adequate. There is nothing particularly novel, chaos is found in many dynamic systems and we model them all the time. To contend that somehow the fact that the models exhibit chaotic behavior is an indictment of them is either ignorant or disingenuous.
    The way you handle chaos is to conduct a range of simulations over the phase space of parameters and report on robust trends and possibly the extremes. Or do you refuse to fly in an airplane as well?

  19. 19
    Eric Swanson says:

    One aspect of Lindzen’s Iris Hypothesis that has always struck me as odd is this: If there is really a strong negative feedback in the climate system due to clouds, how could there have been those large temperature swings we know happened during the Ice Ages? Wouldn’t the negative feedback also have worked to keep the Earth relatively warm, instead of allowing those massive ice sheets to grow (and decay), as seen in the paleo record? Does anyone out there know whether Lindzen has produced a mechanism which included his Adaptive Iris feedback that would include the changes which are known to have occured during Ice Ages?

  20. 20
    kerry says:

    thankyou fatboy for comment 12…
    while politicians posture and scientists squabble, every human being who still loves nature (and therefore observes it – which is basic science is it not?) every one who loves nature knows that something, if not everything, is badly wrong, with the weather, with the seasons, with the health & well-being of native eco-systems. Every farmer, every gardener can tell you.

    We don’t need precise measurments to quantify these changes, we don’t need alarmist media to inform us of what we know… We know that climate change is happening – it is not a political or scientific conspiracy.

    As to the causes… down here among the grass-roots, local observation shows me a cause that I can see with my own eyes – common sense tells me that relentlessly stripping the land of it’s native vegetation & soil (which keeps the land cool) and replacing it with the black-roof black-tarmac solar storage radiators of galloping “development”, whilst simultaneously rapidly increasing technological devices & activities which generate heat in themselves (microwaves, infra-sound, actual heat), as well as insulating greenhouse gases… well it is just intuitively obvious why we are heating up…

    It is also intuitively obvious what we must do to mitigate it. Stop “development” Start re-vegetating. Stop consuming mindlessly. No-one is talking about back to the Stone Age.
    Just stop MINDLESS consumption.
    Like, I for one example, can live happily without Christmas Crackers. For 47 years I have consumed crackers at Christmass. A mindless, unquestioned traditional habit… Giving up Christmas crackers isn’t a huge trauma, so I shall never buy them again.

    I suspect that all of our lives are full of similar mindless, unquestioned, traditional consumer habits…

    All of us, politicians, scientists, people… we must take serious stock of our lives & change them ourselves. Cutting out the trivial, the useless, the vain, the pointless, the self-indulgent, etc. etc.

    We have to give up the idea that we can all have everything we want as our whims dictate… If a little sobriety entered in to our deliberations, we can free up a lot of time, energy and money – which we can then use towards making further changes in our lives. We ARE an intelligent species. Fairly soon I believe we will begin to behave like one…

  21. 21
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 9

    A responsible jounalist would never publish investment advice from an analyst being paid by a company that figures in the advice. So why do journalist publish advice about AGW from people like Pat Michaels and Richard Lindzen without at least disclosing their financial interests? Because it stirs the pot, sells papers or magazines and, unlike in the investment world, is only unethical, not illegal.

  22. 22
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    A tad off topic, but there is a nice plug for realclimate in Bill McKibben’s upcoming review of the AR4 in the New York Review of Books.

  23. 23
    pat neuman says:

    Richard Lindzen, Dennis Hartmann (U. of Wash.) and Ben Santer (LLNL) participated in a global warming forum at the University of Minnesota in 2002. I attended the forum with the manager for the National Weather Service (NWS) North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC).

    It was clear to me that Ben Santer and Dennis Hartmann had serious concerns about global warming. Hartmann talked about global warming feed-backs while Santer showed that the height of the tropopause had increased with global warming. There was no question in my mind that Dennis Hartmann and Ben Santer were being honest in their presentations.

    There was little or no question in my mind that Lindzen was not being honest about global warming. Richard Lindzen didn’t seem concerned at all about global warming. He used most of his time making fun using slides of cartoons on global warming.

    I thought Hartmann and Santer were convincing in there presentations in showing the audience that everyone should take global warming very seriously. The manager of NWS NCRFC informed me later that he thought otherwise.

  24. 24
    Craig Allen says:

    I’m curious to know how good we can expect the models to become. As the models improve and the amount and quality of ambient climate data increases, will it become possible to predict regional climates a year ahead, or will this alway remain a pipe-dream due to chaos in the system?

    If farmers can predict in advance whether or not it is worth the expense of putting in a crop, then it will make a huge difference to their capacity to adapt to climate change. Similarly, water authorities and other planners will be able to be much better at planning ahead (for example by more precisely targeting water restrictions).

    If the models can become useful in this way to people planning their lives in the shorter term, I think that much less credence will be given to those arguing that they are useless and not to be trusted.

  25. 25
    richard says:

    I’m not sure your example of “inconsistent” viewpoints is a good one, even if to you, his two points “say opposite things”. In fact, there’s no inconsistency at all: it’s quite easy to imagine a situation where the models match historical temperature trends quite well but are too sensitive to one input factor for future predictions.

    A simple example would be if CO2 concentration was historically correlated with another forcing. In that situation, there would be a wide range of sensitivities to those two forcings that together would match history, but the moment the forcings diverge you could find that you have vastly overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to one of them.

  26. 26
    Hank Roberts says:

    As I recall Ben Santer was also slimed by the PR folks, publicly and persistently enough to make clear to any other scientist what she or he might go through for speaking up.

    I think Feynman was right for his time about doubt and skepticism, but as of a decade ago, near as I can tell, the real frontier for figuring out new things is (gasp) data mining. Yes, _that_ stuff.

    While all climatology data put togther might not compare to anything the NSA, or WalMart, or the credit bureaus have compiled, I do wonder. I keep recalling Dr. Wegman, dragged out before that Republican committee, saying carefully several times that he had only given a narrow opinion on one part of one question he was asked to address, and then at the end saying what he really worried about was the oceans.

    And I thought, hmmm. Star Wars. Navy. Likely knows a few things others don’t.

    I looked at his website and found he has a rather dry sense of humor, and isn’t unwilling to poke fun at himself.

    And I read this paper I quote from below from that site, and wondered — and still wonder — if the issues he describes have been wrung out by others already, around the modeling of climate. Because if not, he might well be asked now that things have simmered down, what expertise he could apply. Because apparently nobody did ask, before.

    And you know, he was right — the big surprise this year is the oceans, in several ways. Hmmmm.

    From one of his articles on his site:

    “… Because the data may not conform to the assumptions of the confirmatory analysis, inferences made with invalid model assumptions are subject to (potentially gross) errors.

    “The idea then is to explore the data to verify that the model assumptions actually hold for the data in hand. It is a very short leap of logic to use exploratory techniques to discover unanticipated structure in the data. With the rise of powerful personal computing, this more aggressive form of EDA has come into vogue. EDA is no longer used to simply verify underlying model assumptions, but also to uncover unanticipated structure in the data.

    “Within the last decade, computer scientists operating in the framework of databases and information systems have similarly come to the conclusion that a more powerful form of data analysis could be used to exploit data residing in databases. That work has been formulated as knowledge discovery in databases (KDD) and data mining. A landmark book in this area is (Fayyad et al., 1996). The convergence of EDA from the statistical community and KDD from the computer science community has given rise to a rich if somewhat tense collaboration widely recognized as data mining.

    “There are many definitions of data mining. The one we prefer was given in (Wegman, 2003). Data mining is an extension of exploratory data analysis and has basically the same goals, the discovery of unknown and unanticipated structure in the data. The chief distinction lies in the size and dimensionality of the data sets involved. Data mining, in general, deals with much more massive data sets for which highly interactive analysis is not fully feasible.”

    — end snippet —

    Why did I think of it? Read today that US citizens are now routinely being denied entry to Canada based on 30-year-old misdemeanors that simply weren’t found before on routine checks — data mining. And along with that the warning that many other countries are about to start using the same US data, to refuse entry to any US citizen on our government’s records for any minor, and I do mean minor, offense.

    Well, maybe there’s something to this approach for finding patterns. It’d be interesting to apply the methods to public datasets like climate and see.

  27. 27
    Tom B. says:

    Re #18:

    “To contend that somehow the fact that the models exhibit chaotic behavior is an indictment of them is either ignorant or disingenuous.”

    Uh, neither – the point is that since the models exhibit chaotic behavior, they possess “extreme sensitivity to initial conditions” and care should be taken with them.

    “The way you handle chaos is to conduct a range of simulations over the phase space of parameters and report on robust trends and possibly the extremes.”

    Such Monte Carlo-type simulations come with their own uncertainties…and this assumes the model accurately describes the phenomenon being studied, a debatable point. Otherwise, the conclusions pertain to the model and not the phenomenon of interest.

    Here’s the coup: “the chaotic behavior is in the phenomena, so the models must reflect that behavior precisely to be adequate”

    Exactly! And if the models don’t reflect the behavior precisely (which they assuredly do not), what then?

    So, since the models used to predict the chaotic system are themselves chaotic, even if they perfectly describe the phenomenon being studied (they don’t)…shouldn’t we issue our predictions a little less assuredly?

    “Or do you refuse to fly in an airplane as well?”

    Gratuitous and insulting – not the way to make a scientific point. Unfortunately, we see this too often.

  28. 28
    Tom B. says:

    Re #24: Excellent point. I believe Prof. Lindzen has made the point many times that the inadequate climate models have been “overfit” so that they match historical trends, but at the expense of predicting present and future ones.

  29. 29
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #19: There are also little question such as why it wouldn’t have operated to keep the climate from getting warmer at various points in the past prior to the Pleistocene, in particular the PETM. One could hand-wave about e.g. tectonic changes, but since the iris effect is basically supposed to be an inherent feature of the ITCZ (which is in turn a basic feature of atmospheric circulation), that seems a little tough. One could also argue that the iris effect can be overcome by external forcings, but in that case it would seem to be a fundamental problem that Milankovitch forcing is weak.

    What kept the iris effect alive in the climate science community for so long is that it was (and I think may still be) not implausible as a minor effect. That Lindzen kept speaking of it as a major effect was (and is) irresponsible. This is a little bit like the GCR business in that nobody denies the plausibiity of the physical effect (which is actually rather more tangible in the case of GCRs), but Svensmark and others get far ahead of the science when they assume that the effect on climate must be substantial.

  30. 30
    DocMartyn says:

    Heres the monthly temperature profile of the South Pole from 1957 to 2006.
    Why is there not any slowing of the rate of cooling during the Antartic night, nor any accelerated increase in heating in the spring/summer?
    Given the fact that there is very little water vapor present, increases in CO2 should have a greater %GHG effect here, compared with the rest of the Earth.
    In the 1950’s, when CO2 was lower than now, the majority of IR reflected from the atmosphere whould have come from CO2, so why is there no effect of increased CO2 on the South poles cooling and warming?
    IS this not the most obvious site to measure CO2 sensitivity?

  31. 31
    Paul M says:

    Nature actually is quite fine. However, there is this freakish unnatural presence encroaching in on it. This anomaly of nature is taking what is gentle and dynamic at the same time and perversly moving in on it and morphing it into the freakish as well. Science will save us in all this as we have harnessed the energy of the universe and packaged it quite nicely ready to use on a moments notice. The cricket and butterfly on the blooming daisies will nary notice the commotion around them, just another tick in natures cycle. Nature will do quite nicely without us.

  32. 32
    Craig Allen says:

    RE #22: That New York Review of Books AR4 Review makes good use of the term ‘Procrastination Penalty’ which they identify as being coined on RC (see #219 here).

    We need succinct ways of representing the urgency of the situation that the general public can understand and appreciate. A measure of the Procrastination Penalty would fit that need very well I think. The Melbourne Age recently announced that it would include a graphic depicting Australia’s weekly greenhouse gas output. They seem to have dropped it, possibly because the numbers are too dodgy, but more likely because they are relatively meaningless to the reader. By contrast a small graphic showing the current Melbourne Dam capacity as a percentage is permanently on the front page (34.6% today). It’s meaningful, is of immediate concern to every one, and people use it to great goad each other about water wastage.

    May I suggest that one of you climate model wizards use one of the models to come up with a measure of the procrastination penalty (PP). RC could then post it at the top of the website from where newspapers and the like could access it. It might work something like this:

    > Calculate the predicted global mean temperature for 2100 under the following scenarios:
    1) If greenhouse gases had remained at pre-industrial revolution levels.
    2A) If since the signing of Kyoto we had not allowed our emissions to increase.
    2B) If we were to halt the rise in emission rates now.
    3A) If at the signing of Kyoto we had halved our emissions within (say) twenty years.
    3B) If we were to halve them within twenty years of now.

    * The current value of the PP is then the difference between 2A and 2B or between 3A and 3B, depending
    on how ambitious we want to be. 1 is a reference point.

    This could be depicted as a simple graphic. And the numbers would change day by day, so it would act as a ticking clock (the model would have to be run enough times to be able to plot a regression line from which the daily PPs would be taken). As the models improve, the series would be able to be re-calculated more accurately. So now and again there would be a hiccup in the numbers, but that would then be an opportunity to present the public with the latest update on advances in climate modeling.

    Eventually, when the climate models are sophisticated enough, regional rainfall PPs could be calculated. That would really get people thinking.

  33. 33
    Mark A. York says:

    Thanks Rasmus. The guy responded thusly:

    “I’ll buy into global warming when:

    1. Any warming which is happening is a function of something other than the historical cyclicality in the earth’s climate;

    2. If 1 is demonstrated, that human beings are causing such warming;

    3. If 1 and two are demonstrated, that such warming’s costs outweigh its benefits (longer growing seasons etc.); and

    4. That we have the capability to do something about it that makes sense from a cost perspective.

    If all four of those things can be demonstrated? Then I’ll begin being concerned. I’m still waiting for number 1.

    And a model which could at least fit the past climactic changes would be a step in the right direction towards credibility.”

    This is not an argument, which is what I told him. Deniers think if they just say it, that makes it true. It’s straight from the Junk Man et al. i.e. It hasn’t been proven.

  34. 34
    Jacob Russell says:

    It is invariably the politically energized who effuse certitude and bury evidence that they might be wrong–even if what they are certain of is only that the other side is wrong… or overconfident in their claims.

    This poses a problem for those who practice real science, who systematically test their claims, whose methodology dictates that plausible alternative theories be dealt with seriously. The political vultures exploit anything that might look like doubt to the general public, turning it to rhetorical advantage, and when real scientists mount a defense, that too is turned against them–evidence of their hubris, their over confidence, their refusal to consider the alternatives.

    Was it Bertrand Russell who said that you cannot refute with reason ideas that were not themselves the product of reason? The problem here, is that you can’t effectively use science to refute attacks that are driven by extra-scientific motives, and meant to serve extra-scientific ends. On the one hand, in reading exchanges like this, is is transparent which comments come from shills, and which from those with a genuine commitment to science–on the other hand, describing and defining the difference in a way that would be convincing to irresponsible journalists or the casual public, is maddeningly difficult.

    There is something almost automatic in the thought processes employed by the propagandists (and that’s what they are, whatever their conscious intent), that lets them shift their argument and evidence at will, and keeps them always just out of reach of decisive exposure.

    Blogs like Realclimate, Cosmicvariance, to name only my personal favorites, give me hope in the long, long battle against entrenched ignorance.

    Keep up the good work!

    There are many out here, not scientists… who can indeed, tell the difference.

    Jacob Russell

  35. 35
    Ike Solem says:

    One issue that Lindzen brings up is that temperature excursions can happen naturally due to ‘internal variability’ (from the profile): “Indeed, he believes that the claimed anthropogenic heating “signal” is obscured by the “noise” of the uncertainty in the temperature measurements and, more importantly, the internal variation of the climate.”

    However, Lindzen’s most recent hypothesis was titled â��Does the Earth Have an Adaptive Infrared Iris?â��. This idea is that the Earth had a natural feedback system that acts to stabilize the climate, which operates in the Indo-Pacific tropics. This idea was very speculative and hasn’t found any supporting data. Nevertheless, it is used as an unquestioned talking point by sites such National Policy Analysis (Google #336 Lindzen – also try #334 Idso, #328 Kyoto, etc.)

    Summing these ideas up, Lindzen seems to believe that the Earth’s climate behaves like a marble rolling around at the bottom of a bowl – it may oscillate about due to external forcings and internal variability, but it will never jump out of the bowl. He is apparently so enamored of this concept that he can’t accept any contrary evidence, no matter how robust – the term is “idee fixe”. What he seems to be ignoring are changes in ocean circulation and in ice sheet dynamics.

    The more rational interpretation is that the climate is sensitive to a wide variety of forcings, and can indeed adopt different ‘states’ (the equivalent of the marble hopping out of one bowl and into another) – and changes in ocean circulation due to anthropogenic global warming may very well result in an entirely new climate regime. See for example

    Apparently, similar conditions are appearing off Africa and South America: Observer UK Feb 18 2007 “Ocean ‘dead zones’ spell disaster as wind patterns change”

  36. 36
    pete best says:

    Richard Lindzen is a atmospheric physicist and professor of meterology at MIT and contributed to chapter 4 of the 2nd IPCC report and hence that probably makes him well qualified to comment on matters of climate science.

    He also believes that the warming is real it is just that it is not necessarily down to greenhouse gases as to the reason. In addition to this he also seems to be playing devils advocate in the main by attempting to pick holes in the scientific consensus, which may have been ideal back in 1995 or even 2000 but not now surely. The debate is over and unfortunately for the human race greenhouse gases have won and are to blame.

    Could it now be RC that because of the vitriol surrounding AGW that climate scientists have actually downplayed the danger it poses and in fact the earth is in fact warming faster than predicted and CO2 emissions are rising faster than predicted?

    Could it be that warming is going to be worse than first thought, after all science is a conservative discipline and you cannnot make bold claims and get away with it?

  37. 37
    Bryan says:

    @30. It was predicted by the IPCC in the 2001 report that the Antarctic would warm the slowest, due to the buffer effect of the Southern Ocean. It is also predicted to catch up eventually.

  38. 38
    Stormy says:

    While I certainly do think that global warming is a dangerous reality, I do not see any contradiction between the two assertions you mention. In fact, I see them as complementary statements.

    1. “Curve fitting”: Making the model fit the facts. It may well be that the correspondence between the historic record and the model are indeed forcedâ??and would not be predictable of the future.

    2. “Too sensitive”: I.e., that the forced correspondence is a result of relying too heavily on green house gases, resulting in “curve fitting.” By “sensitive” I think he means “relying too heavily,” but I may be wrong.

    These are not contradictory statements. The real problem for Lindzen is to show that the correspondence is forced. His saying so does not make it so. In short, he is obliged to give a detailed analysis of the models used. That analysis must probe the inner workings of each model.

    What the editors of Science should have done was to include a real critique of the lead article, not some half-baked, summary of Lindzen. Let Lindzen counter the article on modeling in detail. Let’s see if he has a case. I doubt it.

  39. 39
    Jim S says:

    One fallacy often displayed by supposed skeptics is that when they criticize the models or claim that there might be unknown factors they always (So far as I’ve seen.) claim that these mistakes or unknowns would go towards mitigating warming. If they were honest skeptics of the models wouldn’t they concede that it’s just as likely that the models could be conservative? That in fact things could turn out worse than the predictions? Look at the seismic disturbances in Greenland as the ice melts. As more ice melts couldn’t these disturbances grow worse and then help the ice break up and flow into the ocean more rapidly, thus raising ocean levels more than predicted and faster than we think will happen? But the people who claim to skeptical of the modeling never look at it in that direction.

  40. 40
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #26, this data mining thing sort of reminds me of (is it called?) data mining the Bible, where they look for hidden messages & predictions by reading all the letters of words, and such every whichway possible….until they find that the Bible predicted 9/11 to the tee. Only with the aid of computers is this possible. So now all the contrarians have to do is feed in their desired end-result and have the computer jump through its myriad of hoops and spit out proof against AGW. And there’s nothing like fancy numbers and computers to impress the public.

  41. 41
    pat neuman says:

    Re: #36: …

    Could it be that warming is going to be worse than first thought, after all science is a conservative discipline and you cannnot make bold claims and get away with it?

    There’s been One US government scientist has been successful in presenting bold claims and predictions outside the US:

    Hansen said that as the surfaces of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica disintegrate, positive feedbacks loops such as internal water flows underneath icecaps can result leading to a massive amount of fresh water entering world oceans.

    “A 3 degree Celsius global average warming would lead to a sea level rise of 80 feet,” said Hansen. That temperature rise could occur by 2100 with a lesser rise of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 he calculated.

  42. 42
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #33, #3 “that such warming’s costs outweigh its benefits (longer growing seasons”

    Okay, so we might have longer growing seasons,* but what if the heat mid-summer kills the crops, then such a longer growing season is not a benefit. There is a fallacy of quantitative “goods” v. qualitative requirements, similar to how all is reduced to money in economics, while what we need to sustain our lives is a balanced diet and many other things that are qualitatively distinct, but may not be around later, due to GW. What good is money, then, to dead persons?

    * Even longer growing seasons may be doubtful in some areas in a GW-world, bec of wild temp swings that may result in later spring or earlier fall frosts, even with warming coming earlier & staying later in the year.

  43. 43
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 36. Sorry, Lindzen does not merit the name skeptic or even devil’s advocate. He is merely a scientist of medium talent who has found that he can remain in the media spotlight by voicing contrarian views and capitalizing on the tendency of ignorant reportert to look for “balance”.
    The thing is that what he is doing is unethical. He is distorting the evidence and presenting purely speculative hypotheses with no identified mechanisms as if they were valid theories to an audience incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff. I’m sorry, to simply say that “It’s all natural” is no more informative than a fundamentalist saying “GODDIDIT”. I find it hard to believe that Lindzen is unintelligent enough not to understand all this. I would propose the label “media whore” for Lindzen.

    [Response: In fairness to Lindzen, I don’t think its fair to characterize him as a scientist of “medium talent”. He has made fundamental contributions to atmospheric science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an achievement that should not be taken lightly. It is fair, on the other hand, to criticize Lindzen for the remarkably poor track record of the various negative feedback hypotheses he has proposed (e.g. those involving upper tropospheric water vapor, and the so-called “Iris hypothesis”) which have not stood up to scrutiny. It is also appropriate to criticize Lindzen for the numerous misleading and/or simply incorrect public statements he has made about climate science and climate scientists, a number of which are discussed elsewhere on this site. -mike]

    [Response: I second Mike’s take on this. It’s not a matter of lack of talent. It’s rather that talent is no guarantee of being right. In fact, if somebody comes to a subject with a preconception of what the answer should be, a prodigious talent like Lindzen’s can be deployed to make it easier to fool oneself, rather than in an effort to dig out the truth. Why Lindzen has been driven for so long by the belief that CO2 can’t change climate is a matter for speculation. I doubt he could answer that himself. -raypierre]

  44. 44
    Ken Winters says:

    Re #41

    Having heard and read Hansen numerous times on this issue, the article has probably misquoted him (“could” vs. “would”) and/or Hansen was referring to a long term consequence (subsequent centuries) following the 3-deg temperature rise by 2100. The sea level rise won’t stop at year 2100. Hansen has at other times indicated the potential for massive and rapid ice sheet disintegration to occur over centuries (plural) vs. millenniums.

  45. 45
    Hank Roberts says:

    >40, 26 Lynn, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss that new field of statistics because it reminds you of some bogus Bible study method. Right now it seems much of the work done using data mining is proprietary corporate work — I’d bet it’s being applied to petroleum searches, or the Higgs Boson search, for example, they have huge databases.

    Making public use of that sort of tool — on climate, or epidemiology, or nutrition — will happen where scientists can fund the cost of computation, and access to databases. Opportunities will keep going up as old data is brought online.

    If some Bible school wants to put the whole of the Bible, or of stratigraphy on a computer and look for Braille or Morse Code in the intervals between the pixels — what the heck.

    The homeland security use (digging up decades-old adolescent misdemeanors no one remembered, and making that searchable so US citizens get put on other countries’ do-not-admit lists) is Orwellian stuff. Wanta know if governments are doing _that_ even-handedly? Heck, I bet they’d let Bill Gates into Canada, eh?) We’d need the tool, to find out how it’s being used.

    I think there’s a real danger of having the modelers and the data miners _not_ all working with all the known information, using all the angles possible. I’m just curious to know how data mining methods can be applied, given the information in the databases the modelers are using. Maybe it’s done routinely.
    (Maybe someone’s already writing “How to Lie with Data Mining” — has it already been a Dilbert cartoon?)

    Dr. Lindzen doesn’t seem to be an industry tool; he’s still speaking in public about his hypotheses that others have tested and not found supported. But — scientists do that; life’s short, careers are long, and what’s known changes faster than those of us who think we know something can keep up.

    If there’s any possible ‘Maxwell’s daemon’ for departing longwave infrared photons, someone should invent it if it we can’t find it operating naturally, eh? Lindzen did the same thing Lovelock did — imagined a form of feedback; Lovelock imagined plankton creating clouds and, lo, found the mechanism. Lindzen hasn’t. So it goes.

  46. 46
    DocMartyn says:

    Dear 37#
    @30. It was predicted by the IPCC in the 2001 report that the Antarctic would warm the slowest, due to the buffer effect of the Southern Ocean. It is also predicted to catch up eventually.”

    I never asked about the absolute temperature, I asked abouts RATES.

    Now can someone answer this question;

    Why as the rate of cooling/heating of the South Pole shown no change dispite the elevation of CO2 since the mid-1950’s?

    According to the models, CO2 absorbes IR and this is then horizontally to water molecules, allowing the same CO2 molecule to rapidly recapture another photon. This leads to a positive feedback cycle where increased CO2 increases the temperature, leading to a higher water vapor concentration, increasing the IR absorbtion of both water and CO2.
    The Antarctic should be an idea place to measure the changes in CO2 induced warming. If the hypothesis that CO2 is a major greehouse gas is correct, then the increase in the CO2 levels should have by now made the rate that the nightime temperature falls decline, and the rate at which they increase, rise. As it is there is no such trend in the temperature record.

    [Response: Antarctic Cooling, global warming. -mike]

  47. 47
    pat neuman says:

    re #44. My interpretation of what Hansen said (#41) is that an 80 ft rise in sea level will lead to (occur sometime after) a 3 Deg C global temperature increase is first reached (in year 2100). The length of time for ‘sometime after’ is not indicated. I don’t think it would take centuries beyond 2100 for that to happen and I’m unsure what Hansen’s thinks on that.

    My point in #41 was there is at least one US government scientist who has presented his bold claims but he had to do so outside of the US.

  48. 48
    Ike Solem says:

    re#41, #44, #47
    Hansen’s comments also relate to the RC article on Ocean heat content, Aug 2006. The oceans have the largest heat capacity of any climate system component and thus their response to greenhouse gas forcing and to ice sheet melting will have fundamental effects on the climate.

    The thermohaline circulation is a function of the current arrangement of continental landmasses (imagine how different the climate would be if all the land was in the equatorial tropics, with open oceans at both poles), but is also dependent on a cold polar climate. Wikipedia has two articles on the topic: the THC and shutdown of the THC. This issue was also discussed at RC:

    Lindzen, by the way, spent most of his recent Larry King appearance attacking Bill Nye for claiming that the Gulf Stream would weaken due to global warming. The Gulf stream is a western boundary current, driven more by Coriolis and pressure gradient effects… so Lindzen was right about something. However, Lindzen has been wrong about many other things, and the real problems are that he doesn’t acknowledge these errors (the Iris effect, claiming that there was too much horizontal transport in climate models, etc.), and that he has been given a media megaphone for no good reason.

    Regardless, the idea that a shutdown of the THC would lead to cooling of Britain and Europe now seems discardable (though it was the main theme of that unfortunate movie, Day After Tomorrow). What seems to be happening is rather a slowdown of deep water formation – which occurs when sea ice and evaporation increasine the salitinity of cold oxygen-rich surface water, causing it to sink in the North Atlantic and flow down the bottom of the Atlantic, where it meets up with colder and denser Antarctic Bottom Water, formed off ice shelf regions such as Weddell and Ross seas. A slowdown of deep water formation, in other words, doesn’t necessarily lead to reduced rates of heat transport to Northern Europe, since radiative forcing continues to increase.

    What long-term effects will a weakened THC have on the ocean basin?. Will we see reduced ventilation of the oceans? Will low-oxygen conditions become far more widespread in the future? Will changes in wind patterns lead to changes in upwelling regimes, at the other end of the ocean circulation system? There is little monitoring of the deep ocean basins with respect to temperature and oxygen content. There are two issues at play; once is human input of fertilizers and waste to the ocean (agricultural runoff, pig farms, etc.) and the other is global-warming induced changes in ocean circulation. A good collection of links to THC issues is at

  49. 49
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re #45: As a scientist who has had to tease out a small signal from a particle physics database (albeit a tiny one by today’s standards), I have to echo the caveats about datamining. The statistical problems associated with too much data are very different and in some ways harder to resolve than those associated with a paucity of data. Questions of how errors are distributed, of systematic errors and other traps can lead to seemingly reasonable but very wrong conclusions–as some efforts by DHS with airline passengers have shown. The only thing worse than an Orwellian datamining effort is an unreliable Orwellian datamining effort.
    Re my previous comment (#43), my intent was not to denigrate Lindzen’s scientific talent or contributions, and I apologize if it came across that way. My intent was to point out that Lindzen’s many contributions did not bring him even a fraction of the media coverage–and adulation in some sectors–he’s received for being a contrarian. My beef with Lindzen is that he insists on doing science by press–and an ignorant press at that. That is contrary to the scientific method.

  50. 50
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    The contrarians are very loud and get alot of attention in the media. One of the things they regularly complain about is that the scientific community is censoring them.

    I wonder if the editors of Physics World were uncritical of Richard Lindzen’s claims because they did not want to appear to be repressing an unpopular opinion of climate science. Maybe they did not want to add fuel to the claims of censorship. Although these claims of censorship are false, they are not always seen as false by the general public.