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Who you gonna call?

Filed under: — eric @ 5 December 2009

The problem of ‘false balance’ in reporting — the distortions that can result from trying give equal time to the two perceived sides of an issue — is well known. In an excellent editorial a few years ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called for a greater emphasis on truth, rather than ‘balance’. Unfortunately, this basic element of careful journalism seems to have been cast aside, especially in recent weeks.

I was both amused and stunned by the effort at ‘balance’ provided by Richard Harris’s report on NPR, in which he claimed that the peer review process was “so distorted” that neither John Christy nor Jim Hansen can get their work published. Notwithstanding the simple fact that both of these scientists publish regularly in leading journals, Harris’s attempt to present ‘both sides’ of the issue completely undermines his thesis. Christy thinks that the IPCC overstates the consequences of climate change, while Hansen thinks it understates it. If both feel the peer review process is biased against them, then it must be working rather well. This doesn’t mean they are wrong, but science is a conservative enterprise, and it is evident that neither of them has provided sufficient evidence for extraordinary claims.

More bizarre is that some journalists seem to have decided that scientists no longer have credibility and hence one can now turn to whomever one wants for expert advice. A case in point is Andrew Revkin’s recent query to political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. Revkin asked, “If the shape of the 20th-century temperature curve were to shift much,” would that “erode confidence that most warming since 1950 is driven by human activities”? Pielke replied that “the surface temps matter because they are a key basis for estimates of climate sensitivity,” and that there will ultimately be a “larger error bars around observed temperature trends which will carry through into the projections.”

We appreciate that Revkin may be trying to use voices that will appear ‘centrist’ to most of his audience. But Pielke’s answers, while they sound very reasonable, are wrong.

Obviously, radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity, but such radical changes are almost impossible to envision happening. This is so because: 1) independent assessments of the surface temperature data (such as by the Japanese Meteorological Agency) agree extremely well with one another, and 2) independent evidence from borehole temperatures fully validate the long term surface trend (and actually suggest it is larger than, for example, indicated by proxy temperature constructions).

The only conceivable changes to the record of surface temperatures are in the short term variability, which provide very little constraint on the climate sensitivity. (See e.g. Wigley et al. (1997), and Knutti and Hegerl’s 2008 review of research on climate sensitivity). And perhaps most importantly, the instrumental temperature data can especially not be used to exclude high values of climate sensitivity, because any small errors that may exist in those data are completely overwhelmed by the uncertainties in aerosol radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. In short, in the unlikely event of any changes to the surface temperature record, the changes will be too small to have any impact on projections of the future.* (See also our earlier post on climate sensitivity, Plus ça change….)

All of which goes to show that, even if ones thinks it inappropriate for scientists to talk about politics, it still might be useful to ask them about technical issues.

There’s no need to rely on RealClimate: there are hundreds of other experts that can be asked. As a colleague recently wrote independently to Revkin, “You have a very good Rolodex. If you want to ask somebody a technical question about climate science … please use it.”

Note added in proof: We have assessed the CRU data independently and show that in terms of long term trends it is no different than the underlying raw data. So the instrumental temperature data aren’t going to change, and neither is the climate sensitivity (to the extent it depends on those data), so neither are projections of the future.

Wigley et al., The observed global warming record: What does it tell us? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 94, 8314–8320 (1997).
Knutti R. & G.C. Hegerl. The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes. Nature Geoscience 1, 735 – 743 (2008).

*Edited from earlier version for clarity; the original read, “In short, in the unlikely event of any changes to the surface temperature record, it will have no impact on projections of the future.” This may have confused some readers to think that I was saying it would be impossible in principlefor any change — no matter how large — to have any impact. This is obviously not the case.

181 Responses to “Who you gonna call?”

  1. 51
    Geno Canto del Halcon says:

    Consider a “balanced” report on the debate between those who believe the earth to be spherical, and those who believe the earth to be flat. Is this really a “balanced” report, when the reporter lacks the scientific knowledge to observe that the arguments made by flat earthers has long been known to be just WRONG? The fundamental problem with “balanced” reporting is that too many reporters do not have the scientific understanding to know when they are being hoodwinked by charlatans bent on intentionally misinforming folks, for reasons of profit or politics. I don’t pay much attention to most media reports, except that occasionally they lead me to learn more about something. The trouble with “journalists” is they study “journalism” in college, and often times not much else of scientific substance. To make matters worse, science education in our schools is often not done well, so many folks do not have any rational basis for judging the veracity of press reports. We would not have so many people saying “global warming is a hoax” if they understood that this is an unprovable, logically fallacious conclusion.

  2. 52
    greyfox says:

    I enjoy reading both the standard entry blogs and the following posts on your excellent site. The current article is no exception. The problem is one that has been stated several times in different posting contexts over the past few months, but seems to still be missing its target. It is my educated guess (and I think most people both professional and layman who have studied the issue of climate change) that we are in for a hell of a ‘correction’ sometime this century, and most certainly next century. There are certainly quibblings about the rate and severity, but as more data flows in, the more disquieting the prognosis is. Now, in that last sentence I just said is an example of how we tend to talk on this blog.Nothing per se wrong with it, except the moment we try to sound unbiased, technical or just plain wordy, we lose the layman reader of popular press. Local op-ed writers don’t talk like that (unless they are Geo. Will) and, in fact, are happy to talk like Glenn Beck. They are paid, really don’t understand what they are reading, and don’t want to lose their jobs with the particular media they are working for by wandering into controversy.
    What several readers have so clearly pointed out is that it is time for a paradigm shift in how the message about climate change gets into the public forum. We can’t fiddle around with semantics, debate fine points of whether ‘he or she said that in that point in that particular way that indicates whether he or she disagrees in principle with paragraph seven in an obscure peer-reviewed paper that has already been misquoted by a scientist, by the way, not a climate scientist, but still someone doing research into dyes or inchworm velocity and therefore presumeably not stupid blah blah’, or just inundate the metaphorical press/Thames floodgates with abstruse data and math that will simply leave the reader glazed-eyed.
    I think Secular Animist said it in a longer way recently: people and animals and plants are gonna die in stupendous numbers if we don’t finish buttoning our shirt and rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I am reminded of a remark by Prof. Jones, now infamous for his rather sloppy e-mail technique, and his remark was, in a paraphrase, basically this: he had never had such an awful academic week in his career. Academic week? Does he (and everyone else) not understand what has just happened? Joe Sixpack and his representative political entities, who are still searching actively for Obama’s birth record and wandering about thinking of death committees in the health debate and whether the earth is only six thousand years old, Joe and co. are oblivious to anything technical. You say: to hell with Joe and the ‘fringe’. There is, however, a vast spectrum of skeptics, including those who might be persueded to at least re-examine their notions, if only this subject were clearly, simply (and you can’t spin that one) and uber data-supported (with ample visuals please), and maybe you just might catch a Geo. Will off guard, maybe scare them a bit. Which is what has to happen. Just like the CRU debacle, with just one unguarded, naive moment, all it takes is for just one prominent skeptic to get SCARED and the game is changed. Tipping point backwards. Don’t make it personal. They will just back into a corner and growl like my dog no matter what evidence you present.
    Yes, we are fighting enormous dollars and sophisticated negative propaganda machines. I have a tiny bit of advice: read Theodore Sturgeon’s wonderful (and a bit scary) short story called: A Way of Thinking. And, when you get to the part about throwing the girl at the fan (please, I’m not being a chauvinist…read the story), then think how we can do the same thing. Look…the bunch of scientists here are amply smart to find some original way to get at this. Read that story. I mean it.
    The stakes are stupendously high. The highest in history. That we have not sufficiently scared people into action means we as a species may not have the noggin power in toto to survive this coming Ragnarok.
    Scientists must enter the debate. It does no good to be impartial if you are extinct.

  3. 53
    Ike Solem says:

    Actually Dawkin’s perspective on evolution is pretty far behind the times – he’s a Darwinist a hundred years to late. If you really want to know what the cutting edge of evolutionary theory looks like, try reviews written by someone like Joe Shapiro, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago.

    Popular books on science in rapidly evolving fields of study are usually even farther behind the times than the textbooks used in student courses.

    As far as good media coverage of science? You have to look outside the spectrum of opinion-based PR media drivel – just look at Revkin’s (NYT) discredited sources, or at Eilperin’s (WaPo) refusal to even name her “skeptical sources”, and you’ll realize that they are dealing in propaganda, not factual news.

    Another problem with media is that they attempt to separate the climate issue from the energy issue. What they’ve refused to cover is the manner in which research budgets for renewables are kept to a tiny fraction of that devoted to fossil fuels – a result of the influence of fossil fuel interests on the budgetary process at the DOE.

    Thus, if climate scientists go to the heads of their respective institutions and ask them, “why aren’t we also pursuing a robust renewable energy research plan?”, their academic leaders will point out that without federal funding for public university renewable energy R&D programs, any such efforts would quickly flounder. If the scientist says, “What about DOE grants? I mean, aren’t they like the NSF and NIH grants that finance so much university research?” Well, no – the DOE has decided, again, not to set up that kind of project – everything will go the National Labs and to private industry – and far more is going to coal than to solar.

    This means that a graduate student who really wants to go into renewables will need to leave the country for a program that does have state support – Australia, Germany, and Japan are all options, as is China – but forget about doing it here under this current setup.

    What is the real agenda of the new administration on energy? Well, we do have a few reliable press outlets left:

    Exxon’s $15 Billion Gas Project Gets U.S. Ex-Im Bank Backing.

    Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) — Exxon Mobil Corp. will receive $3 billion in financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank for a natural gas project in Papua New Guinea that would be the largest foreign investment in that nation’s history. The funding from the U.S. and about $5 billion coming from export-credit agencies of three other governments will allow a consortium of companies to build a $15 billion pipeline and liquefaction plant, Phil Cogan, an Ex-Im vice president, said in an interview.

    You have got to love Bloomberg – factual information devoid of loaded spin – even if you don’t like what you read. They are clearly at the top of the list, but their areas of coverage are somewhat limited. It’s not all bad news:

    Oldest U.S. Oil Fund Targets Solar Stocks as Crude Outlook Dims
    By Joe Carroll

    Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — Petroleum & Resources Corp., the oldest U.S. oil fund, plans to invest in solar- and wind-power production for the first time since its founding in 1929 as governments crack down on fuels linked to greenhouse gases. The $555 million closed-end fund, whose biggest holdings are Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., is analyzing wind- power, biofuels, solar and hybrid-car battery makers with an eye to making investments as soon as the second quarter of 2010, Chief Executive Officer Douglas Ober said.

    However, what is the U.S. government really saying to that fund? We’ll give billions to Exxon gas projects, but only a paltry few million to solar projects – so what you have here is the U.S. government intervening in the market to give a giant subsidy to fossil fuels over solar, which will perhaps lead that fund to reconsider investing in solar.

    If you don’t find this sort of outrageous as well as blindingly hypocritical on the part of Obama’s energy-climate team – well, I’d like to see a free-market economist try and justify this behavior. How is it not market distortion in favor of fossil fuels?

    The NYT is not even going to address the issue, are they? They claimed in print that the natural gas pipeline to the tar sands, recipient of another $18 billion in federal subsidies, was really intended for the “Lower 48” – when every engineer in the business knows that without it, they won’t be able to expand tar sand production. I highly doubt they’ll take the Ex-Im Bank to task for delivering billions in taxpayer dollars to another international fossil fuel project, while large-scale solar goes largely unsupported.

    Why? Printing it would upset the people who own the New York Times, I imagine. Look at what happened to CNN’s science team when they started covering global warming accurately. They were all fired within a few months, correct? Despite the fact the Miles O’Brien was one of the most experienced and accurate science reporters in the business… and if that’s not an argument for media anti-trust legislation, what is?

  4. 54
    Eli Rabett says:

    Eric, when you write

    [Response: Great, I am glad we are in full agreement that any reader who though Revkin was asking you about *actual* data errors and *actual* climate projections would have been misled by your answers. I’m in no way accusing you of being deliberately misleading. I’m just trying to get some clarity on this.–eric]

    you are not confronting reality. You know this is a repeating pattern for Roger, but you encourage him. Why not say based on past behavior I cannot accept your weak excuse.

    [Response: Something to do with taking the high moral ground.–eric]

  5. 55
    Dean says:

    For me, the exchange on this topic between Eric and Roger displays a lot of the dynamics of the public debate over AGW. I think in other contexts, the exchange that we saw here would more likely have occurred on a telephone and been done with in 5 minutes.

  6. 56
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Here is RealClimate’s Ray Pierrehumbert said on the NYT thread:

    “I often find myself disagreeing with Roger, but in this instance I find little to fault with his nice summary of the situation. Regarding your take-home message, though, I don’t think further improvements in data openness fundamentally change the situation regarding uncertainty. Within most of the scientific community working on climate, the uncertainties in the forecast and in our ability to infer climate sensitivity from 20th century data have always featured prominently. Some of the activist literature loses that emphasis, perhaps because they don’t know how to communicate uncertainty without implying that nothing is known and “wait and see” is best. Certainly, I myself have been saying all along that the high-end climate sensitivity is only in the realm of “maybe,” and that clouds do have the physical potential to yield a low climate sensitivity. My own assessment of the evidence is that there is much more support for the possibilty of high climate sensitivity than there is for the possibility of very low climate sensitivity, but there are different ways to assess the confidence of these judgments, and it is a subject of pretty active research. Making decisions under uncertainty is no new thing for society, so I don’t see how the present situation is fundamentally different from other major decisions that potentially involve large amounts of money (like how to re-engineer the financial industry)

    Roger touches on an important point towards the end, in that the importance of the early historical instrumental record will start to fade as more modern data, esp. satellite data, accumulates. I would add to that the idea that what is at least as important as historical data open-ness at this point is to make sure whe have good observing systems in place to monitor the Earth’s temperature, precipitation and energy budget over the coming decades. I myself am quite concerned that we do not have such systems in place, particularly with regard to energy budgets. A fair amount of additional warming is almost certain to take place, and it would be a tragedy not to make use of observations of that to help reduce some uncertainty about the coming centuries.”

    [Response: All very fair. Emphasis added.–eric]

  7. 57
    Thomas says:

    I think Roger’s error of omission was in directly responding to a push-poll type question. I.E. a hypothetical question about a major revision to the temperature record, can easily be followed by an attempt to discredit the current record and provide credibility to the thesis, that AGW is all wrong. As a political scientist, Roger is likely aware of push-poll techniques, whereby the interviewer or poll taker is not interested in getting unbaised data, but rather is trying to lead the pollee in a given direction. Now, under the time pressure of an oral interview, and wanting to be seen in friendly terms by the reporter, this is an easy trap to fall into (I suspect I’d have to practice a few times to avoid being manipulated in this manner). We can only hope he will be more aware of this issue next time around.

  8. 58
    Karl says:

    “a few years ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called for a greater emphasis on truth, rather than ‘balance’. ”

    Great idea, since we all can agree on what is true, right?

    [Response: When it comes to most aspects of the science (such as factual things about how scientists determine climate sensitivity), yes, actually, we can.–eric]

  9. 59
    Hank Roberts says:

    Why not ask Andy Revkin why he’s buying into the repeating pattern?

    Andy, you here? Want to ask that question again?

    I confess I can’t manage to read regularly, let alone participate in the popularity contest links on the copypaste opinion postings. But if someone would edit it to take all the nothing-new-duplicate posts out of, what would be left could reward the reading time.

    Ah, but I forget, selling reader’s eyeballs to the advertisers, needs volume.

  10. 60
    Stephen says:

    Apologies, meant to write “with NO intention….”

  11. 61

    What you are doing, Andy, is ACCOMMODATING Roger, who is clearly a dishonest policy crank, which makes you an accommodationist. That makes you part of the problem, Andy, and not part of the solution. The solution is to call Roger what he is, as I have just done here.

    [Response: Let me again be clear that I was *not* in any way suggesting Roger’s voice should be stifled. What I *was* suggesting is that I’d like to hear less from him and more from someone else, especially when technical issues are being asked about? How about Susan Solomon? How about Peter Huybers at Harvard, or Carl Wunsch at M.I.T.? To be fair, all of these people are smarter than me and perhaps Andy has asked and they (being smart) have said “too busy.”–eric]

  12. 62
    Marcus says:

    I think Revkin does a very good job overall, and is an important piece of the puzzle for educating the public, and I don’t think those commenters who are making snide remarks about him are being productive. Having said that, I also think it is important to make sure that people who don’t have a good grasp on the science are given a soap-box from which to make statements that sound like they are talking about the science. So we should address the questions of “what is the science” and “how do we communicate the uncertainties and simultaneously the reasons for concern in a way that engages, educates, and convinces the public” rather than labeling one of the best climate journalists out there as “part of the problem” when he is clearly “part of the solution.” (and there is a dearth of really high profile, good climate journalists, sadly).

  13. 63
    Marcus says:

    Um. Edit above: people who don’t know science should _not_ be given a soap box to make misleading statements about the science.

    Though this is complicated, in that many publicizers and educators are not going to know the science in depth, and yet not using their skills at communication would be shooting ourselves in the foot. Yet the whole screening problem is hard… and there are people who _do_ understand the science (e.g. Lindzen) who have been known to make more misleading statements per minute than non-scientists who do a good job at consulting scientists (e.g. Al Gore, who isn’t perfect but really has done a credible job for the most part).

  14. 64
    Jim Bouldin says:

    While I’m writing: can someone please explain why climate scientists are not supposed to enter into any policy debates, when it is absolutely standard practice for medical scientists to do just that?”

    Sure, Roger’s probably got at least a dozen himself. Oh, wait you meant valid answers I bet.

  15. 65
    Mark A. York says:

    “But, that’s all water under the bridge I suppose because you now say you agree with me that if Revkin had asked a better question, such as “Is it at all likely that any of this matters to future projections?” you would have answered “No, it is not at all likely.” Right?–eric]”

    I’m sure not convinced he would. As good as Revkin is, he has to play the doubt card because a lot of readers, and advertisers still have it. The result is the false balance that should be drummed out of the stories until an actual opposing finding is found, which is unlikely on both counts. There has been a conservative action program in newspapers and that that view has to be presented even if it’s demonstrably false. On one hand NASA, who monitors the Earth and the heavens and lands rovers on Mars. On the other, a joint study between the Raelians and The Heartland Institute. Who you gonna call? At newspapers we aren’t allowed to make a determination for fear of having a POV. It’s pathetic. Declare a winner already. I have a biological science and journalism degree.

  16. 66
    matt says:

    this is such a disaster for the united states. Already the fringe right have begun to distance itself from reality and this was the final piece of the puzzle they needed. Now they can effectively deny any scientific result and or study out there.

    The science stays the same, but the public trust in science is even more eroded. This liberal/conservative narrative has now polluted everything. Everything must be viewed through the lens of partisanship. The US is beginning to come apart at the seems and the far right is cheering on the destruction…hoping to stake their claim on whats left of the collapse.

  17. 67
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: Revkin, Pielke etc

    There was a span of years — between the time that Joseph Welch settled McCarthy’s hash and the time Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch decided that news organizations were corporate assets first and information providers second or tenth — that American media actually seemed to try for the truth of the matter. Since then? Not so much.

    New organizations sell readers to advertisers. Controversy draws readers. I wouldn’t wait for the pattern to change.

  18. 68
    DrC says:

    Pielke Jr despairs over the politicization of climate science while doing his level best to instigate it. Then he’ll be the only ‘honest broker’ left.

  19. 69
    dhogaza says:

    Something to do with taking the high moral ground

    Sorry, not effective. The others aren’t interested in taking any high ground, moral or otherwise.

  20. 70
    Hank Roberts says:

    What strikes me more and more:

    People who don’t believe in evolution can’t believe in climate change:

    deep time; natural selection; fossil evidence of varying climate; rate of change of adaptation — all require the same basic information about life on Earth, and none of that information is going to be taken as settled science for people who don’t believe evolution happens.

    I suspect if Andy Revkin’s commenters could be sorted on that basis, much of the copypaste disbelief would sort out.

  21. 71

    Hank, I think there is something in what you suggest about evolution denial and climate change denial. Of course, what we might call the techniques of denial are more widely-shared still, with smoking-cancer denial, etc., showing some familiar debating moves.

  22. 72
    Steve Bloom says:

    Eric (inline response to #6): “Makes you wonder who the “gatekeepers” Judy Curry talks about are, doesn’t it?” Er, Peter Webster?

  23. 73
    Ron R. says:

    Malcom T, I don’t think that it should be just one author. One hundred heads are better than one. I’m often amazed at the new ideas I get just listening to others. Get the best of the bunch, the real intellects – sans the stupid egos, then have them sit down and discuss the project ahead of time. I like Dawkins in his field but as an example for this project he seems too closed minded for me. Almost militantly Atheistic. To me atheism is just as dogmatic as theism. Someone claiming that they KNOW. It’s a big, BIG universe out there and we humans are a speck of a species which is just emerging from our befuddled primordial ooze.

    There is, I believe, way, Way, WAY more yet to learn out there then we imagine. Right now, we’re like thirteen year olds that think that we know it all. No, we need open but intelligent minds. Einstein would be a good example. Not too msny out there though. But I get your point about popularizers. Monbiot might be a good choice, though he did melodramatically jump the gun a bit with the current issue.

    Ike Solem, I am all for alternative energy, but let’s strive for decentralized when possible. Send our money there. Why should we continue economic slavery to some large energy corporation that can just bring all of it’s customers down with it should it fail.

    Also we absolutely have to find a way to bring down human numbers (ethically of course). Way down. As ZPG (to which I do not belong) wisely says, “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause unless we control population”.

  24. 74
    Jonathan Fischoff says:

    What about someone like Steve McIntyre. Would you prefer to have him add comments? He seems to have much more thought out arguments then your run of the mill deniers.

    [Response: Which he is incapable of expressing without insinuations of fraud, dishonesty and scientific misconduct. If he gave that a rest, he might get somewhere. – gavin]

  25. 75
    The Raven says:

    I am reminded you of Paul Krugman’s observation that if W. Bush said the world was flat, the newspapers would run articles headlined, “Opinions differ on shape of earth.”

    Eppur si muove.

  26. 76
    Edward Greisch says:
    warns me not to click on the pictures pages because they lead to too many megabytes for this machine and my slow connection to handle. That is also true for the non-photograph lists. I looked at part of one list of skeptics. I didn’t see a column for marking receipt of money from the fossil fuel industry. We need Professor Prall or somebody would include such a column. I did see that the skeptics were mostly or all in sciences other than climatology. Weather forecasting, including hurricane forecasting, is NOT climate science. Scientists who are not CLIMATE scientists should be ignored since they are no more expert on climate than any lay person.

    What journalists “SHOULD” do is count the number of CLIMATE scientists on each side of the issue who have not received any biasing inputs, such as money from the fossil fuel industry; and report the count.

    I don’t believe that journalists who get published in most popular media will ever do as they should without getting fired. Getting the truth on US national TV could only be done by the President including a long section on climate in a major speech in which the President used his authority to pre-empt TV time. In other words, it would have to be in the Sate of the Union speech or something similar. I hope he does, but I’m not holding my breath. A sound byte on climate doesn’t count. It would have to be at least 20 minutes worth.

  27. 77

    This “false balance” thing is straight out of the tobacco propaganda playbook. Apparently it is unacceptable bias not to give the pro-cancer view equal time. This all viewpoints are equally valid thing is particularly bizarre when seen in The Australian a denialist mouthpiece because, the same paper denounces “post modernism” in education. Makes me wonder if they have any clue what they are talking about.

  28. 78
    harry? says:

    What would force a revision to the theory? Discovery of a strong negative feedback; yet to be found.–eric] — It will bee interesting to see what the CLOUD experiment just commissioned at CERN turns up then.

    [Response: Even if they find something, it wouldn’t be a feedback. It would be an additional mechanism of potential forcing. But since GCR have been basically stable over the last 50 years, it is not a particularly relevant mechanism for long-term trends. – gavin]

  29. 79
    MikeTabony says:

    Do most of you live in some windowless cave or apartment? Do you spend the entire day sitting in front of your screen like a news addict or blog master? At least #37 is bringing in measurements from the real world but it seems that most of the writers here are regurgitating the latest ramblings of Rush or some other media hack.

    Go outside. Ramble in the nearest forest or field, remember what that looked like in your youth at this time of year, think about it, talk to those who’ve been rambling for 40 or 50 years. Is there any change in the past 20-50 years? Does that change make you think it may be getting warmer or colder, drier or wetter where you ramble? Do this twice a week for 5 years, 10 years. Take notes of what you see. Then come back here with your own observations and educate us about the change in your world. Surprise us.

    Recently a high school student surprised the naturalist at a local college (VA) when the student brought in a gravid spring peeper (frog) in the month of November. As far as the naturalist could determine this was the first recorded gravid spring peeper found in the month of November and one of a very few found in the fall months. Do the frogs know more than the humans about climate change? One might make that argument.

    Mike T

  30. 80
    Marco says:

    If the bunny (that’s Eli Rabett) shows up, he’ll probably point out that the CLOUD experiment is very likely to fail. They’ve already done some tests, have published the first results, and so far it looks like all they can see is wall effects…That is, the observations are almost exclusively governed by what happens at the walls of the chamber in which they perform the experiment (notably rather poorly acknowledged in the discussion of the first results). Trying to find the proposed (small!) effects of GCR in that huge amount of noise is going to be ‘fun’…

  31. 81
    John Peter says:

    It seems to me that a simple statement of the AGW scientific controversy would be that CO2, including anthropogenic CO2, is contributor to greenhouse gasses with very long-life. Trends toward global warming can be found in much of the paleoclimate data of the last several decades. The detailed theories of this are controversial within the scientific community and lead to affirmers and deniers of the urgency and importance of attempting to limit as best we can those CO2 contributions that are man-made. If the affirmers are right, the long term effects could be very serious for our planet and our ways of life. It would be very foolish to assume this risk, even should the deniers ultimately prove to be scientifically correct.

    This is only my suggested statement, the idea came to me from reading Peter Kelemen’s excellent discussion on page 3 of his recent Popular Mechanics article.



  32. 82
    phil cunningham says:


    would you like to comment on this story from the BBC website

    IPCC – out by 300 years and using non-peer reviewed information!

  33. 83
    Shamek Stepien says:

    The stupidity that is called Climategate has really gotten the media into a down-syndrome frenzy. And unfortunately the science is losing.

    An example from Poland (my rough translation) – this is not from a blog or a commentary, its news posted as news and pretending to be news:
    [Re the CRU emails:] “It is evident from their content that the so called “global warming” is nothing other than a great fraud. From the published letters a clear picture of the conspiracy is drawn, which goal was to convince the public opinion that we are indeed awaiting a warming. Sentences such as ‘I just corrected the data, added some values, so as to hide the real temperature decline'”.

    The most appauling thing is that they actually made up their own sentence (loosely based on the original Jones email that said nothing of the sort) and are now pretending its a quotation…

    AAAARGH!!! Its at times like this I’m surprised climate scientists don’t go postal too often…

  34. 84
    Sufferin' Succotash says:

    “The US is beginning to come apart at the seems and the far right is cheering on the destruction…hoping to stake their claim on whats left of the collapse.”

    Trouble is, too many of them were reared on 80s-vintage post-apocalyptic fantasies (Mad Max). They actually think they could survive more than a week in a Cormac McCarthy world without turning into someone’s breakfast.

  35. 85
    greyfox says:

    What I have been trying to do (absolutely unsuccessfully so far) is to get someone to actually respond and think about what has happened in the ‘real world’ out there viz a viz the hacked e-mails. I stopped and read all the rest of the posts, some very good, some repetitive, and thought, no one is really experienced here in politics, in persuesive argument, in, if I may say so, getting their hands grubby in the soil of policy making.
    In our local rag, the Arizona Republic, on page 16, this Sunday morning edition, there is a full page article, quoted from some Washington Post writers (already we’re doomed to right-wing propaganda) which clearly wishes to cast significant doubt on whether warming is anything to worry about. Further, apropos of the RealClimate article above, they (the Post writers) warmly quote Roger Pielke as though his information were more valid because he seems skeptical..i.e., he fits their story mode the best, all the rest of the evidence be damned. Further, they regurgitate the old talking points about natural cycles, that other ‘mainstream scientists’ say no to anthropogenic causes, and use the unfortunately worded Trenberth e-mail to poison the well of public opinion. In other words, although utter rubbish and biased, with quotes taken out of context etc etc, it is a very effective piece for the denialists, because it does ALL of those things that will plant doubt in the minds of the layman, and ultimately their elected officials. Our state legislature, at least the portion to the right aisle side, in case you’ve missed it, is mired somewhere in the middle of the eleventh century, and we’ve become the dubious winners of both the second worse state economy and the worst in supporting public education. Yet they keep getting re-elected. That is what I want to get across to you, all of you. In Australia, they just scuttled a cap and trade proposal of Rudd’s….and someone else has quoted a Polish newspaper with denialist leanings..
    This is the audience and the news organs like mine (if you can even call them that now) are the suppliers of information, along with the Becks, Hannity’s, and so on. Another local op-ed guy, always the denialist, has seized on the CRU e-mails like a bulldog.
    Would someone address what I’m talking about? I’m not writing just to see my stuff ‘in print’. I’m frankly terrified, especially for my grown children, and theirs in potentia as well. We have to get out of our adolescence politically speaking and take control of this discussion. So far, I see posts wander back and forth, with personal pique seemingly pushing some responses. Trees for forest. Can we talk about the forest for a while? Warming may make this planet a living hell if we don’t get off our collective duffs.

    [Response: I appreciate your thoughts. I think one problem with the discussion is that even though the facts are clear, the consequences are not nearly so clear, especially for those of us in the first world. Yes, sea level will rise and displace millions of people, but millions of people are already being displaced by war and poverty. Yes, crop failures in the tropics are likely to get worse; but this is where poverty already reigns. Yes, species will be pushed further to, and over, the brink of extinction, but this is already happening due to deforestation. I think it is entirely plausible that the average American, even if they experience the effects of all this, won’t recognize it as ‘due to’ global warming, because it won’t be just that one cause.

    The result of all that is that scientists — even those of us who are accused of alarmism — are actually very reluctant to talk much about how bad things might be. To put this numerically, it might warm 6 degrees by 2100, but it will probably warm only 3. So we talk about 3, since that is our ‘best estimate (this is only an example, I’m not making a projection here). Then the average reader hears that we are “overstating” it, and takes 3 and averages it with zero, and gets 1.5, and says “what’s the big deal”.

    In short, even when we talk about the forest, what gets heard is “a few more trees got cut down”.

    I don’t know what to do about this, but I do know that the mainstream media is not really helping with the way they are reporting things surrounding the CRU emails. Hence my complaint to Andy Revkin in this post.

    Having said all that, I think that it is important that RealClimate get back to the science most of the time. There is a lot of good stuff being published (some of it not frightening (I’ll have a post on that in the next week or two)), and it ought to be highlighted here.


  36. 86
    Hank Roberts says:

    Phil, here’s how to study glaciers:

    CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 97, NO. 2, 25 JULY 2009

    … the contributions of different water sources, namely rain, snow and glacier are being estimated using isotopic techniques in the Bhagirathi River near Gaumukh, the origin of the Ganges.

    The Gangotri glacier is the largest glacier in western Himalayas. The study area falls in Uttarkashi District, Uttarakhand, between latitudes 30°43′N and 31°01′N, and between longitudes 79°0′E and 79°17′E (Figure 1). The proglacial meltwater river, known as the Bhagirathi River, emerges from the snout of the Gangotri glacier at an elevation of 4000 m. The meltwater is drained through a well-defined single terminus of the glacier….

    The recording of discharge of the Bhagirathi River at the gauging site reveals that it remains more or less in the range 8.0–10 m3/s during May/first week of June (Figure 2). As the temperature increases, the discharge increases; higher discharge (100–180 m3/s) has been recorded in July/August when the temperature reaches a maximum of 10–12°C (Figure 2). Thus features of discharge and temperature show strong correlation between air tempera- ture and discharge of the Bhagirathi River. The recession of discharge starts in September and quickly reaches the level of 10.0 m3/s, as is observed in the initial part of May. A sharp decrease in air temperature has also been recorded during July–September when heavy rain events occur (Figures 2 and 3). It has been observed that during the sharp decline of air temperature due to cloudy weather condition, the river discharge also declines abruptly instead of increasing (Figure 3). The decreasing trend of river discharge with rain events apparently indicates no effect of rainfall on river discharge. Therefore, it becomes difficult to estimate the impact of rain on discharge in the case of snow and glacier-fed rivers at higher altitudes using the conventional techniques. It also posed a problem in estimating the contribution of rain to the discharge of the Bhagirathi River. Consequently, isotopic signatures of river and rainfall were employed to solve this problem. The abrupt change in isotopic composition of the river after the rain events is only due to run-off generated by contemporaneous rain joining the river (Figure 4). However, the decrease in river discharge has resulted due to cloudy weather conditions during rainfall and a sudden decline of atmospheric temperature. The decline in atmospheric temperature reduces the melting of snow and ice. Thus the overall discharge of the river has declined which includes the run-off contributed by rain and snow and glacier…..

  37. 87
    SecularAnimist says:

    eric wrote: “… it is evident that neither of them has provided sufficient evidence for extraordinary claims.”

    Please define, objectively and quantifiably, what constitutes an “extraordinary” claim. And once you have explained, objectively and quantifiably, how all observers can agree on the exact degree of “extraordinariness” of a claim, please explain why in the world that should have any bearing on the type, quality or quantity of evidence needed to support that claim, vs. other claims that are (objectively, mind you) less “extraordinary”.

    As you note further on in your article, “Pielke’s answers, while they sound very reasonable, are wrong.” If Pielke’s “reasonable” (i.e. non-extraordinary) answers can be simply “wrong”, then what bearing can “extraordinariness” have on the truth or falsehood of a claim?

    Carl Sagan’s signature “skeptical” aphorism that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (restating a similar statement by the mathematician Laplace) is certainly one of the worst things that any philosopher of science has ever said.

    There is no objective basis for classifying certain claims as “extraordinary” and requiring different standards of evidence for those claims than for others. Scientific objectivity requires that all claims be subjected to the same standards of evidence, not to different standards based on someone’s subjective judgment as to how “extraordinary” they are.

    I don’t know what particular claims by Christy or Hansen you are referring to as being “extraordinary”, but it doesn’t seem to me to be at all “extraordinary” that they think the IPCC has either overstated or understated the consequences of climate change, nor do I see any reason why such claims should require some “extraordinary” standard of proof compared to claims by those who think the IPCC got it just right.

  38. 88
    mike roddy says:

    #40 and #45: I don’t think IPCC would be willing to call out the deniers, because it’s not in their job description, and their restrained and careful language would produce a timid result.

    I’m collecting information for something I’m going to submit to a magazine or blog called “10 most debunked climate change articles since 1990”. Soon and Baliunas set the standard, but there are plenty of plum candidates.

    I’m not well known, and if someone wants to do it better- or join me in the effort- he can reach me at Alternatively, an RC reader could just send me their favorite candidates.

    The article would be science based, including details about the refutations, but a little humor and strong language will be included. If we’re going to reach a popular audience, restrained and technical language won’t work.

  39. 89
    phil cunningham says:

    #86 Hank
    thanks for the reply however…

    the point of the article is that the IPCC
    has got the figure wrong by 300 years
    and did not use peer review documents.

    please read the article and let me know what you think on these two points

  40. 90
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Well, this is somewhat easy to fix. Andy could post another blog article and give the real science on the issue. I remember when I suggested people read here SIX DEGREES by Mark Lynas, and posted a newsstory about it (which, of course, exaggerated it and got some things wrong), and certain scioentists here pounced on the book, but later when they actually read it were impressed by its extensive use of science, and then there was overall acceptance of the book here. And the stir, I think, actually make the book more famous.

    Likewise, Andy could clarify that, acc to real climate scientists, Pielke was wrong. The stir will actually draw attention to what the real climate scientists have to say & also help clear up the CRU issue a bit. (Of course the denialists won’t be swayed, only the open-minded types will be, but then there is NOTHING that could sway the denialists away from the dark side, so no actual loss to science or to the honest science folks.)

    And all’s well that ends well, er, now back to the regularly scheduled disaster of climate change and our need to mitigate, at least do things that save us money and save the earth and could cut GHGs by 50%. Come on folks.

  41. 91
    Jim Torson says:

    This issue of “false balance” is yet another example of the problem that the scientific community has failed to understand the manufactured doubt industry and has failed to come up with a proper response to it. I described this in a comment on the “Unsettled Science” thread:

    I doubt that much progress on these issues will be made until the scientific community fully understands and responds to the manufactured doubt industry.
    The barbarians are at the gates, and simply being a good scientist and quietly presenting the evidence will not provide a solution to the problem.

  42. 92
    SecularAnimist says:

    Eric, you totally lost me in your reply to grefox’s comment.

    First, you wrote:

    Yes, sea level will rise and displace millions of people, but millions of people are already being displaced by war and poverty. Yes, crop failures in the tropics are likely to get worse; but this is where poverty already reigns. Yes, species will be pushed further to, and over, the brink of extinction, but this is already happening due to deforestation. I think it is entirely plausible that the average American, even if they experience the effects of all this, won’t recognize it as ‘due to’ global warming, because it won’t be just that one cause.

    So, we are likely to see millions more people displaced, millions more people descending into poverty and hunger, and more mass extinctions, caused by global warming interacting synergistically with other human impacts on the environment (e.g. deforestation) as well as with human tendencies towards war and social unrest.

    Sounds really bad.

    And, Americans — who may or may not experience these effects as acutely as the world’s poor — may not even recognize the role that global warming is playing in making some very bad things much worse.

    That also sounds really bad, because the USA is in a unique position to affect the outcomes for the better, but without strong public support for the necessary policies may well fail to do so, to the detriment of the whole world.

    So what is, or should be, the response of scientists who best understand the nature of the problem? You wrote:

    The result of all that is that scientists — even those of us who are accused of alarmism — are actually very reluctant to talk much about how bad things might be.

    All I can say is — HUH ?!? Say WHAT ?!?

    In one breath, you concisely lay out the bare outlines of an overwhelming human catastrophe that will likely, within the lifetimes of people now living, dwarf all of the human suffering of all the 20th century’s wars and the great depression combined — just from its direct and immediate effects, let alone its almost unthinkable long-term effects on the Earth’s biosphere. And you note that Americans are not making the connection between cause and effect.

    And then in the next breath, you say that your response is to be “reluctant to talk much about how bad things might be.”

    Sorry, but that seems to me to be a total disconnect.

    You know, there was a time when certain people were loudly declaring that global thermonuclear war would be “winnable”.

    It was very, very important at that time that scientists (Carl Sagan among them) stepped up and (perhaps “reluctantly”) and “talked about how bad things might be” and made people aware that the “winnable nuclear war” talk was rubbish.

    That’s what we need from the scientific community today.

    And by the way, don’t count on the crop failures being confined to the tropics. Look at the mainstream forecasts of what global warming has in store for the vast agricultural regions of North America. Look at forecasts of plummeting crop yields in China. Look at Australia. It’s not a pretty picture.

    [Response: I agree. Carl Sagan had the fortune to not be competing with 100 other TV channels, so people actually listened to him. I have no idea how to tackle this, other than to keep doing what I’m doing — speaking up whenever possible. But I have lots of colleagues who say “I admire the work you are doing” but who don’t do it themselves. On the other hand, one colleague recently called me a ‘militant’ (he’s a good friend, and trying to be funny, but this is the attitude we’re contending with).–eric]

  43. 93
    utilmbublew says:

    I don’t get it, what do you mean by the 3rd paragraph?

  44. 94
    Eli Rabett says:

    Eli is glad to see that Gavin is catching on about Lil’ Roger (in #7)

    Lil’Roger is engaged in a deligitimizing exercise which is designed to leave him as the only credible voice on climate science. . .

    after four years or so. As the Rabett said here in 2005

    What you are doing here, and in your publications, and on Prometheus is to assert ownership of a series of issues, the latest of which is hurricane damage due to climate change. Your incessant self citation is a clear indication. I am certain you will reply that somewhere in a post somewhen you may have mentioned another’s work. You react to any challenge to your theses virulently, and in your replies often distort what others have said, for example your last blow up about the Trenberth slide. In short, you act as a policy person, not a science person. Horrors, at least when this is pointed out. But again, sui generis. This is what one expects of a policy wonk, for example Brad de Long. Yet, you keep telling those of us who reply to you that you are scientifically as pure as the driven snow. I beg to differ.

  45. 95
    Mesa says:

    As a field theorist I would like an answer to my first post (#3) – are there any revisions to the temperature record, or any possible future temperature records that you believe would falsify the hypothesis that CO2 warming is a large, and potentially destabilizing threat to the planet? If there are, what specifically are they? If not how is this different from any other time wasting dogma?

  46. 96
    Bill K says:

    “…but such radical changes are almost impossible to envision happening”

    Sounds like a prediction to me. Could you give some constraints to it so that this hypothesis can be falsified?

    [Response: Sure. Start with this randomly googled newspaper article about borehole data, read the papers referred to. Revisions to the surface temperature series that are outside the 95% confidence bounds on the boreholes will be ‘falsification’ of of my hypothesis.–eric]

  47. 97
    EL says:

    85 – “Would someone address what I’m talking about? I’m not writing just to see my stuff ‘in print’. I’m frankly terrified, especially for my grown children, and theirs in potentia as well. We have to get out of our adolescence politically speaking and take control of this discussion. So far, I see posts wander back and forth, with personal pique seemingly pushing some responses. Trees for forest. Can we talk about the forest for a while? Warming may make this planet a living hell if we don’t get off our collective duffs.”

    Al-Gore and a some scientists did significant harm to progress on global warming because they turned the scientific discussion into a partisan political discussion. Instead of a science debate, the discussion is liberal vs conservative. Some have even used global warming as a stage horse to obtain very liberal ideologies such as global government. Global warming is no longer an issue about avoiding consequences; instead, it has become an issue of power and money with consequences taking a back seat.

    Some climate scientists are also very thin skinned with regard to criticism. There exists an attitude that criticism is unwarranted, and any criticism is often met with very personal attacks. One can ask a simple question or offer criticism of a certain area of global warming science, and that person will be labeled a denier.

    To make matters worse, many people are peddling snake oil in order to profit from fear. Technologies such as ethanol are completely and totally bullshit. There also exists many resource problems in various renewable technologies that are never ever discussed; instead, people just talk about how these technologies are magical solutions. Just about every single renewable technologies requires rare earth materials that may effect the scope in which the technologies can be used.

    To make matters worse still, China stands to benefit tremendously from renewable technologies because it is the source for many materials used in the technologies, yet it demands nations like the USA to give a certain percentage of their GDP to China for any action on global warming. Obviously, the developed nations are not going to give in to such ideas any time soon. Some nations may have some legitimate requests for help, but nations like China are not one of them. So international agreement isn’t taking place, and is stalled. The Copenhagen meeting coming soon will be a failure that is declared a success.

    Finally, I’m not too sure nations could change as quickly as scientists are demanding even with widespread political support. Whatever people want to believe, economies are not like light switches that can be simply flipped on and off. Fossil fuels will be needed for a significant period of time; moreover, there exists significant engineering problems that have yet to enter the debate. Some of these material problems may require engineering solutions that have yet to be developed. In any case, fossil fuel will continue to be used for several decades.

    In a basic nutshell, the response to global warming is a cluster-duck for many reasons, and I don’t think it will change in the foreseeable future.

  48. 98
    vanderleun says:

    “I think one problem with the discussion is that even though the facts are clear, the consequences are not nearly so clear, especially for those of us in the first world. Yes, sea level will rise and displace millions of people, but millions of people are already being displaced by war and poverty. Yes, crop failures in the tropics are likely to get worse; but this is where poverty already reigns. Yes, species will be pushed further to, and over, the brink of extinction, but this is already happening due to deforestation. I think it is entirely plausible that the average American, even if they experience the effects of all this, won’t recognize it as ‘due to’ global warming, because it won’t be just that one cause.”

    So when bad things happen it will be seen as bad things happening because, hey, bad things happen? Are you afraid you folks won’t get enough credit for bad things that happen?

    I’m all for you getting full credit for bad things happening. Will you get equal credit for Siberia and Canada coming more online as crop producing countries?

    [Response: Don’t be an idiot. This has nothing to do with ‘getting credit’. –eric]

  49. 99
    Ron R. says:

    Hope this isn’t too OT.

    Hank, re:evolution/climatechange denialism. True I suspect. It seems that a lot of the effort that has been going into reason on these issues is probably wasted simply because a lot of people dont want to believe it, they just won’t see. Biblical Apocalypse is supposed to happen anyway. To try to stop it would be to actually work against God’s plan. Most of these people view science through narrowed eyes, sometimes rightly so, and have been taught to see scientists as stuffy elitists out to rip them off or otherwise do them harm.

    Sufferin’ Succotash, there’s a movie coming out this month I think, The Road. I think the gun-totin para-military rightwing are especially frightening. They are sooooo very angry right now (a carefully manufactured anger I might add) thanks to the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann etc. A lot of these people have been praying for the collapse of everything just so, IMO, they can rape, plunder and kill at will. They decry the supposed situational ethics of the left but paradoxically they are the most situational of all, able, for example to marry the Sermon on the mount and nuclear weapons, Jesus and semi-automatic rifles without a pang of conscience. They’ve invested a lot psychologically and materially in collapse and are doing their best to convince everyone to give up hope, just look at their websites. In that they are, I think, having a negative effect on economic recovery.

    I too would like to see change since the path we’ve been on especially as regards population/consumption and some technologies are worrysome. But I’d like to see it done in a thoughtout orderly and compassionate way not pell mell chaos.

  50. 100

    Eric – if you’re militant, what does that make Hansen? I saw him give a talk in Copenhagen some months ago, and he was telling people to start take action, right now!

    Of course, he backed this up with facts on why it is necessary to do something straight away.

    Hopefully, Hansen’s view is predominant here in Copenhagen the next couple of weeks.