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Doing it yourselves

Filed under: — group @ 20 August 2010

We’ve been a little preoccupied recently, but there are some recent developments in the field of do-it-yourself climate science that are worth noting.

First off, the NOAA/BAMS “State of the Climate 2009” report arrived in mailboxes this week (it has been available online since July though). Each year this gets better and more useful for people tracking what is going on. And this year they have created a data portal for all the data appearing in the graphs, including a lot of data previously unavailable online. Well worth a visit.

Second, many of you will be aware that the UK Met Office is embarking on a bottom-up renovation of the surface temperature data sets including daily data and more extensive sources than have previously been available. Their website is, and they are canvassing input from the public until Sept 1 on their brand new blog. In related news, Ron Broberg has made a great deal of progress on a project to use the much more extensive daily weather report data into a useful climate record. Something that the pros have been meaning to do for a while….

Third, we are a little late to the latest hockey stick party, but sometimes taking your time makes sense. Most of the reaction to the new McShane and Wyner paper so far has been more a demonstration of wishful thinking, rather than any careful examination of the paper or results (with some notable exceptions). Much of the technical discussion has not been very well informed for instance. However, the paper commendably comes with extensive supplementary info and code for all the figures and analysis (it’s not the final version though, so caveat lector). Most of it is in R which, while not the easiest to read language ever devised by mankind, is quite easy to run and mess around with (download it here).

The M&W paper introduces a number of new methods to do reconstructions and assess uncertainties, that haven’t previously been used in the climate literature. That’s not a bad thing of course, but it remains to be seen whether they are an improvement – and those tests have yet to be done. One set of their reconstructions uses the ‘Lasso’ algorithm, while the other reconstruction methods use variations on a principal component (PC) decomposition and simple ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions among the PCs (varying the number of PCs retained in the proxies or the target temperatures). The Lasso method is used a lot in the first part of the paper, but their fig. 14 doesn’t show clearly the actual Lasso reconstructions (though they are included in the background grey lines). So, as an example of the easy things one can look at, here is what the Lasso reconstructions actually gave:

‘Lasso’ methods in red and green over the same grey line background (using the 1000 AD network).

It’s also easy to test a few sensitivities. People seem inordinately fond of obsessing over the Tiljander proxies (a set of four lake sediment records from Finland that have indications of non-climatic disturbances in recent centuries – two of which are used in M&W). So what happens if you leave them out?

No Tiljander (solid), original (dashed), loess smooth for clarity, for the three highlighted ‘OLS’ curves in the original figure).

… not much, but it’s curious that for the green curves (which show the OLS 10PC method used later in the Bayesian analysis) the reconstructed medieval period gets colder!

There’s lots more that can be done here (and almost certainly will be) though it will take a little time. In the meantime, consider the irony of the critics embracing a paper that contains the line “our model gives a 80% chance that [the last decade] was the warmest in the past thousand years”….

396 Responses to “Doing it yourselves”

  1. 151
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks everyone. DotEarth is getting an earful.

    MarkB, unquestionably a clique, extremely organized, but we are not allowed to mention it in polite company. Thanks for your help. You may notice that Andy selected my comment, suggest a visit to RealClimate for info on the Montford book, and quoted Stephen Schneider. I regret the need to use kid gloves, but quite often, especially since he started his job at Pace and left the regular reporting job, he does quite often call out the deniers. We just have to keep hammering away.

    Remember – as was said to Lynn Vincentnathan, in commenting one is writing not for the regular nasties, but for the literate lurker who might think they have a point. It’s important to point at correct information and make one’s points both polite and obvious if possible.

    More flies are caught with honey than with vinegar.

  2. 152
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Lynn Vincentnathan – it may help to point out that a layer of atmosphere has the potential to absorb radiation from above and from below and thus will tend to emit radiation upward as well as downward. Try refering to “Schwarzchild’s equation”, which describes radiant intensity along a path through an absorbing medium at LTE (a perfect blackbody has an optical thickness of infinity with zero scattering). An object emits as much as it absorbs if it is at the same temperature as that which absorbs what it emits and emits what it absorbs (at LTE). The surface can be approximated as a perfect blackbody at the relevant wavelengths with a range of temperatures – global average about 288 K, though because of nonlinearities, the average emitted flux won’t exactly correspond to the flux emitted at the average temperature, but the spatial and temporal variability of surface temperature is small enough that using global average temperature can be a useful approximation; space, as it relates to climatologically-significant radiant fluxes, can be approximated as a perfect blackbody near absolute zero.

    Or to simplify, try: an object that is a perfect blackbody on all sides would emit it all directions according to it’s dimensions and temperature on each side, and would absorb according to what it intercepts coming from those directions. An object that only absorbs a fraction of the radiation it intercepts will emit a fraction of the radiation that a blackbody would emit.

  3. 153
    Edward Greisch says:

    Susan Anderson: Thanks for your comments on dotearth. They are very good. Andy Revkin’s problem is that he has a degree in journalism and needs a degree in physics. Everybody needs a degree in physics. Without actually understanding the reality, one tends to drift with the current. To be grounded in reality means to have done the experiments personally. Doing experiments is a good therapy when somebody is trying to drive you crazy, which is what the denialists are trying to do.

    How good are you at math?

    Children of today have the advantage of Dragonfly TV. I hope the schools are requiring them to watch it and do their own experiments.

  4. 154
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Edward and Susan,

    I’m taking that the references are to the current thread on the Hauser imbroglio. It is interesting that the two links he highlights have to do with press coverage of climate change and the tendency of Nature and Science to highlight headline findings. I have a comment awaiting moderation there, but the whole comment can be seen at Eli’s place (current sea ice head post). It seems rather wrong headed to criticize the science for the excesses of the press releases by doing this, he is only playing Anthony Watts’ game.

  5. 155
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #124: As a physicist, I will pipe in on that article that you were wondering how to respond to…First of all, I don’t know how the physicist quoted comes to be called a \leading U.S. physicist\. I am sure he is a fine guy and appears to have had a successful career in physics, but there is no evidence that he is considered by colleagues to be in any way special, e.g., he hasn’t been elected a fellow of APS or AAAS or won any awards from them, at least according to this blurb at the website of the small company that he founded:

    And, while it is hard make heads-or-tails about his claims on the satellites, I read something here that he wrote about the greenhouse effect and it is riddled with serious misunderstandings. His claim that the cooling effect of greenhouse gases in absorbing incoming solar IR is much greater than the effect in absorbing outgoing IR is nonsense (partly because of the considerations below and partly because he says that 45% of the incoming solar radiation is in the IR without understanding that almost all of that is in the near-IR where CO2 does not have significant absorption and water has some significant absorption but than in the far IR; see ). His claims about how little IR the surface emits make no sense whatsoever…They violate what we know from the Stefan-Boltzmann Equation (and the measured fact that most of the earth’s surface has an emissivity in the IR that is close to 1, i.e., only a few percent below that for a perfect blackbody emitter). And, furthermore, he seems completely unaware of the fact that scientists understand the role played by other transfer mechanism besides radiative transfer within the troposphere. That is why the focus is on calculating the radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere, since the only way that energy can be transferred (to any significant extent) between the earth-atmosphere system and space (and the sun) is via radiation. So, whatever abilities Dr. Anderson has in has field of materials science, he seems woefully ignorant on basic physical facts about the atmosphere and climate.

  6. 156
    Snapple says:

    I am reading about the Russian wildfires. The official media are quoting NASA about the locations of the fires. It’s a big country.

    I think we are helping them pinpoint their fires. Putin dismantled the federal fire fighters, and now Russian environmentalists are talking about this mistake.

    I think the Russians are very thankful to NASA. President Medvedev is affirming that there is global warming. Before this summer, Medvedev spread the same conspiracy theories as our denialists Inhofe and Cuccinelli, but the party line has changed. Of course, we don’t know if his words will lead to new commitments.

    I know they say that the immediate cause of the fires was a \blocking event,\ but scientists also say that it is possible these could become more extreme with global warming. They are being conservative about this because their computer models can’t relate global warming to \blocking events\ yet.

  7. 157

    #148 sambo

    Looks like Spencer might be the poster boy this season since Monckton will have to regroup and come up with all new tired old arguments.

    It looks like another one of those we don’t know everything, therefore we don’t know anything papers. . . move along, nothing here to see, move along.

    So, another link in the Lindzen chain. . . and I thought that had been dealt with. Silly me.

    On to the conclusions!!! Please pardon my farcical unskilled examination.

    Para. 56 Spencer claims his simple model shows something.

    Para 57 He claims “internal radiative forcing” (aka natural variability mechanisms) is a better term than the previous “internal climate variability” (aka. weather) because the latter does not distinguish between radiative and non radiative temperature change. I personally don’t know what non-radiative temperature change is? Maybe someone else can help me out on that.

    In para. 58 he seems to assert that we are still not good at predicting the weather due to complexity and that feedback inside of the weather signal is hard to identify. Hmmm. . ., I wonder if you removed the weather variables and dealt with the identifiable climate related components one might be able to see if feedbacks are identifiable? I dunno, sounds kinda crazy.

    In para. 59 ‘Some’ AR4 models showed roughly parallel lines in short and long term feedbacks, but it’s too soon to say short term and long term feedback’s are the same. He’s probably right about that, but wrong about the direction of inferred feedback. He is pointing out the uncertainty in the AR4 of course.

    In para. 60 he seems to be saying that examining some of wiggly lines produces a slope in 9 years of data similar to feedbacks diagnosed by Lindzen and Choi [2009] as well as Spencer et al. [2007] and that it’s not obvious how this work relates to long-term climate sensitivity.

    In para. 61 I think he put in the extra effort to say that extra caution is needed in interpreting relationsships between surface temps and TOA regarding regression relationships and temp variations.

    In para. 62 he underscores the notion that climate is really complex and since we can’t freeze the system in place, we really can’t know what’s going on a that moment. he further purports that we need to understand more stuff as it moves through time.

    In para. 63 he nails it all together by saying it is clear we can’t be accurate regarding short term feedbacks (or even long-term climate sensitivity). Finally he claims that he hopes that his work will help everyone realize that he has provided some really important stuff here about how much we don’t know and is happy to help correct everyones misunderstanding.

    To summarize, I would guess that he wrote this paper so that some key phrases could be found in the peer reviewed literature such as “It is clear that the accurate diagnosis of short‐term feedbacks (let alone long‐term climate sensitivity) from observations of natural fluctuations in the climate system is far from a solved problem.”

    His blog article is a bit more obvious

    After years of rewrites and hostile reviewers. . ., . . . the climate system has given the illusion of positive feedback.

    Ah, so that explains observed trends in rising temperatures, melting glaciers, more named storms, sea level rise and shifting seasons and bio systems. It’s an illusion.

    Now it all makes sense and we can sleep better at night with our warm fluffy comforter and pillows :)

    I’m looking forward to a more erudite examination of his paper though. Focusing on how to recognize feedback inside signals what it’s all about. I’m not so confident that was the reason why this paper was written.

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  8. 158
    Hunt Janin says:

    For my book-in-progress on sea level rise, I need to compile a list of countries and/or cities that are certain to have problems with sea level rise. I shall call these my “poster-children of sea level rise.” Any suggestions for the list will be welcome.

  9. 159
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Andy Revkin’s problem is that he has a degree in journalism and needs a degree in physics. Everybody needs a degree in physics. Without actually understanding the reality, one tends to drift with the current.

    I partially agree. It would be so much better if journalists could read and follow the published papers, at least the conclusions. A physics, maths or similar degree would certainly help. But ideally I would hope for more from a senior science journalist:

    (a) Some experience in scientific research.
    (b) Experience in having his/her work monitored for accuracy.

    The reason for (a) is that so many people in the media have no idea what happens in a research community.They also don’t know much about how papers are published, rejected corrected , improved by later papers etc. I suspect that the ‘social networking’ model applies most to environmental correspondents who prefer gossip to mastering their subject.

    BBC Radio had an approximation some time ago i.e John Maddox who used to provide long radio reports called “Scientifically Speaking”. He started life as an astrophysicist of modest accomplishments and was for many years editor of Nature as well as reporter for the BBC. Of course he too had his critics.

  10. 160
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Some of Spencer’s blog followers will need to selectively agree w/him on his feedback paper while still emphatically disagreeing with his heretical refusal to comply with G&T dogma. Deemed definitely wrong on a fundamental matter, correct on something else much more subtle, a strange and tense heterodoxy but the man is too valuable to be discarded as an apostate.

    Tough row those folks must hoe, positively rocky.

  11. 161
    Susan Anderson says:

    Edward Greisch (and *thank you* for the compliment; it really does help to be encouraged):

    Before I start, note that Andy Revkin has a degree in biology, and has been covering climate change well since the mid 70s. He’s only gone off a bit recently, and I think aside from his natural desire to see things as not as bad as they are (who would not join him), he is tired of the wars, having been in the crosshairs forever. Some of us hotheads are partly to blame. Hatred makes enemies, and we too can be too quick on the draw. This is not to say that I don’t totally agree with the many who are trying to enlighten him about the consequences of his making 97:3 look more like 60:40. He does try, a lot, and deserves credit for it. You should also know that he is a pioneer for the NYTimes on the media, DotEarth was the beta for their new comment formats, and his use of twitter was also cutting edge in the beginning. This all consumes a lot of time. When I taught drawing, I noted that the best potential students, those best able to listen, absorb new concepts and apply them changed from physicists etc. to computer scientists in the 90s. It seemed to me the best brains were going there.

    Back to your question, this old dog got stymied by differential equations in 1973 or thereabouts at MIT, and dropped out to become an artist. I was doing biochemistry, but ended up teaching drawing to a lot of good scientists (Feynman was one of our alumni), and drawing from life is another good reality check.

    Since very few people are willing or able to climb the heights of analytical science, let alone physics, my efforts are bent towards convincing observant laypeople to believe their own eyes and do their own research, rather than believing the slanted digests that have become ubiquitous since the tobacco era and all the dragon’s teeth thinktanks. The new info on the Koch brothers is an eyeopener, but I haven’t seen much on the MSM yet (of course Rachel Maddow did a good job with it, she’s a superb reporter, digs and has a twinkle with it).

    I was once told a person didn’t know cars but they knew people, which helped in choosing a used car. I think that’s the best we can do.

    Until the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, the Black-Eyed Peas and all the other high-energy-media types climb on board and start thinking about their promotion of virtual reality as life, there’s not much hope, I think.

  12. 162
    Basil Hatford says:

    How will the Polar Bear survive?

  13. 163
    Snapple says:

    Really, global warming science has had a bit of a victory in the Russian petrostate.

    “[T]he Russian position has always been that climate change is an invention of the West to try to bring Russia to its knees,” says Vladimir Chuprov, director of the Greenpeace energy department in Moscow.

    When President Medvedev visited Tomsk two months after the Copenhagen Climate Conference, he characterized the global-warming debate as “some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects.”

    Russia’s President Medvedev recently stated that global warming is happening. RIA Novosti (7-31-10) reports that President Medvedev stated:

    “What is happening to our planet’s climate should motivate all of us, I mean, states and heads of non-governmental organizations, to take more active steps to resist global warming.”

    This quote was in reference to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, not the fires. Still, it seems to be the terrible fires that got the official media talking about global warming–even tho’ scientists do not attribute the immediate cause of the fires to global warming.

    This affirmation of global warming is an about-face for President Medvedev, the former CEO of GAZPROM.

  14. 164
    David B. Benson says:

    Susan Anderson @161 — Illuminating, thank you.

    And, as always, thank you for your efforts.

  15. 165
    Brian Dodge says:

    On Spencer’s blog, he states “As we show in the new paper, the only clear signal of feedback we ever find in the global average satellite data is strongly negative, around 6 Watts per sq. meter per degree C.” That would mean the 8 degree warming at the termination of the last ice age would have been accompanied by a 48 watt/m^2 negative forcing. Eyeballing the graph at, it looks like the Milankovitch forcing was only about 50 watts – which would mean that a net change of 2 watts would raise the temperature by 8 degrees. The time constants then were 5-10k years so that may make a difference.

  16. 166
    CStack says:

    “We’ve been a little preoccupied recently, but there are some recent developments in the field of do-it-yourself climate science that are worth noting.”

    Uhh….you guys are climatologists and bloggers, what could be so preoccupying?

  17. 167
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Looking at the uni bremen site..the NW and the NE passage are now open for business for I believe only the second time in history and the season has still got a few more weeks of melting to go. The arctic ice melt as the charts go seems to indicate that this summer is already the 3rd worst melt ever just behind the summer of 2007 & 2008 and could well take second spot when the melt season draws to a close.

  18. 168
    Deech56 says:

    I disagree with the notion that in order to be an effective science writer one needs a scientific degree. Elizabeth Kolbert, Chris Mooney and Carl Zimmer are good writers, and I am not sure they have degrees in the fields about which they write.

  19. 169
    Snapple says:

    I can’t talk about the science because I don’t know much science, but I know that defending science/scientists from censorship is very important.

    Persecution and censorship of scientists happens more in Russia, but US politicians and fossil fuel entities discredit and persecute US climate scientists, too. They want to censor scienitsts by intimidating and ruining their reputations. The illegal release of the Climategate emails made me notice this.

    The denialists and their sponsors are very hypocritical to complain about censorship when really they are trying to censor real scientists. They don’t fool me because I know exactly how political operators do this in Russia, and the tactics being used against climate scientists are pretty much the same.

    Politicians in the pockets of fossil fuel entities and juries should not be deciding what is good science. Scientists should be deciding this, and they are not in a huge conspiracy. In Russia professional scientific organizations are not as strong as here, and they have more fake science. Still, real Russian scientists are pretty brave, and they are mostly true professionals.

    I have an observation and a question.


    I am reading about the Russian fires. The Russian government is using data from US satellites to locate the fires, but so is Russian Greenpeace; and Greenpeace is using the data to confront the government when they don’t tell the truth.

    The Russian government even shut down the website of state forestry-protection agency (RCFH), when RCFH told that there are fires in the radioactive Bryansk forest. An RCFH official said they shut their site to stop panic, but according to Russian Greenpeace one expert on the fires, VV Kostin, was fired for not following an order about releasing information to journalists:

    “Кульминацией информационной политики правительства стал приказ руководителя Рослесхоза, запрещающий сотрудникам агентства и подведомственных ему организаций общаться со средствами массовой информации и предоставлять информацию о лесных пожарах без согласования с управлением науки, образования, международного сотрудничества и информационного обеспечения. Один из ведущих специалистов Рослесхоза по тушению лесных пожаров – В.В.Костин и вовсе был уволен на основании этого приказа за несанкционированное общение с журналистами.”

    {Use your google translation tool. You will get the main points.)


    Scientists seem to agree that the immediate cause of the heatwave in Russia was “blocking,” but they also said that their computer models can’t presently tell them if blocking will become more of a problem due to global warming/climate change.

    Would it be correct to say that we really don’t know if this severe blocking was due only to weather. Would it be correct to say that this heatwave COULD be due to global warming, but that scientists can’t yet demonstrate this?

  20. 170
    Geoff Wexler says:

    re: #168 (Deech56)

    Correction partially accepted. I found Chris Mooney and Elizabeth Kolbert to be well worth reading.

    It is OK for a non scientist to write about science provided he or she avoids pontificating about technical issues by substituting gossip for understanding. There is also a difference between what a columnist writes and a senior reporter who has even more responsibility to know his or her stuff. Perhaps there could be a special web site where prospective environmental writers could open their efforts to scrutiny by serious experts who could check them for accuracy and depth?

    The lesson which I learned from the CRU email-hack, is that some environmental writers were too easily swayed by a determined contrarian offensive and that this was partly due to years of experience in being rewarded for superficiality, fostered by an inability to go deep enough into the issues. How can a non spec_ialist who relies on chat, know how much credence to give to Stephen McIntyre or Andrew Montford?

  21. 171

    Hi flxible, #144. Thanks for your insights about plants. Could you give me some sources for them. I’m revising a paper for publication on food rights and climate change. Thanks.

  22. 172
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Hunt Janin, 28 August 2010 at 10:11 AM

    The Netherlands being one of the most obvious problem areas wrt sea level rise, I suppose you’re already aware of the Delta Commission’s report. In case not,
    here it is.

  23. 173

    Thanks all for your help with black bodies pooh, ergo no GH effect. Here is the site the denialist finally admitted to getting his low-down on how AGW is now irrefuteably disproved :)

    Apparently it is the well esteemed climate scientist, Ferenc Miskolczi, who has definitively disproved the GH effect, so we can all go home now….

    ((How come there are more denialists now than 20 years ago, when AGW had not reached the golden .05?))

  24. 174
  25. 175
    flxible says:

    Lynn@171 re plant climate sensitivity
    My understanding is a lifetime of “anecdotal” experience in food production, primarily fruit and juice and a passion for my own strain of tomatoes — for some tomato info scroll down to “Causes of Poor Tomato Fruit Set” here – tomatoes are a very important commercial crop – for the basics on fruit tree temperature needs see here and also here — an interesting observation in my area is after a mild winter, when there is likely to be a poor fruit set, the following fall when the night temperatures start cooling again, some trees will pop up random blooms [having finally made up their “chill hour” needs], which of course doesn’t result in any fruit production with dormancy about to start.

    With an awareness of climate change I also take note of reports such as this of temperature effects on seed production, and general evaluations like this. Our food production is well adapted to specific climatic conditions, and it doesn’t take much of a shift of one aspect to wreak havoc on commercial production, as seen in the Canadian prairies grain production this year, with poorly timed heavy rains having resulted in a total wipeout in large areas. On top of the Russian drought induced wheat-export ban, I think the coming year will see very high prices.

  26. 176
    Snapple says:

    Thanks, Dr. Roberts.

    John Reisman–your site seems like it is not working at the moment. You have some good news links.

  27. 177

    #168 Deech56

    I agree. Writers don’t need a scientific degree. They do need to understand the relevant contexts. Unfortunately that is not so easy. It’s like when you are hiking in mountains. You see a ridge up ahead and you think ahhh, I’m almost there, get to the ridge and then realize you are not there, so you need to go forward to the next ridge.

    CLimate science has a lot of ridges. And getting to one or even a few is probably not enough to have relevant context for writing.

    I have to admit that I see the difficult challenge. One who is unknowledgeable in such contexts may very well hear someone say but it’s the sun, and have someone tell them that solar is increasing, and without even checking they might just think, well if that’s true, then it makes sense.

    Or it’s natural cycle. And without context, it sounds good.

    It’s a real challenge. So it needs more chipping away at. Then those looking may begin to see that there are a lot of ridges, rather than just the one they were just presented. and then they start realizing that that was a fake ridge. Once they find a few fake ridges, then the science context might start taking hold.

    #169 Snapple

    Generally climate drives weather, but predictability of weather is difficult. Trends will play themselves out and help probably improve the climate models. Then we may have more predictability?

    Blocking might become more prevalent, but the status of resolution on how to predict may still be a way down the road.

    I did some climate/weather context on it:

    #176 Snapple

    It can go down when it gets hit with too many requests, but it has a cron job that reboots the site after 5 minutes.

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  28. 178
    Joel Shore says:

    Brian Dodge (#165): Actually, the plot that you referred to shows the change in insolation at one particular latitude at one particular time of the year. The global annual change in insolation from the Milankovitch oscillations is very close to zero. The actual global forcings come almost entirely from the changes in albedo (due to the growing or shrinking ice sheet and secondarily vegetation changes) and changes in the levels of greenhouse gases (with an additional small contribution due to changes in aerosol loading). See, for example, Hansen’s discussion here:

    But, your basic point is well-taken, which is that with such a large negative feedback, it becomes very difficult to explain what happened during the ice age – interglacial cycles. There has to either be a huge forcing operating that we don’t know about (or a huge underestimate of the forcing due to ice albedo change or what-have-you) or there has to be some reason why the negative feedback didn’t operate during those times.

  29. 179
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #173.

    He does not claim to have disproved the greenhouse effect, only to have discovered a new version of the saturation argument i.e. to have made it harder to enhance by adding more greenhouse gas.

    I have not understand it partly because I have not had the time.

    Just one question/comment stands out which may not be trivial. His use of the term thermal equilibrium between the atmosphere and surface is highly ambiguous. Two systems at such different temperatures are never in thermal equilibrium; they can off course approximate to steady state conditions which is very different … but English is not his native language.

    Is this a sophisticated variation of Gerlach and Treuschner’s revised 2nd law of thermodynamics?

    * At equilibrium we would all be dead.

  30. 180
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: My previous comment:

    Fatal oversight; forgot to check RC first.

  31. 181
    Geoff Wexler says:

    # Re: 179. Thanks for deleting (I hope) the comment I called “my previous comment”

  32. 182
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Snapple says: 29 August 2010 at 1:36 PM
    > Thanks, Dr. Roberts.

    Errrror; no Dr. with my name, I’m a dropout …

  33. 183
    Geoff Wexler says:

    How come there are more denialists now than 20 years ago

    Denialism consists of sources and sinks (i.e consumers) So far the sources become more active and ugly whenever there is a sign of action e.g. at Kyoto and Copenhagen. Not surpisingly expensive campaigns pay off and the number of consumers has increased too.

    Will it ever be checked? Only by education at all levels, including that of scientists who think that what they have learned from the media is sufficient for them to make judgments outside their expertise.

    The garbage to which you have directed us Lynn has its part to play. Many scientists for example, have no idea about the nature of the propaganda which is being used. Some of them think that ‘skeptical’ papers are being suppressed, but might get a shock if they were better informed about the ones that got through (like McLean, de Freitas and Carter, or Gerlach & Tscheuschner (correctly spelt this time) and also, very likely, Miscolczi. These papers provide faint echoes of the Chinese Cultural revolution when academics were ridiculed by the uninformed.

  34. 184

    183 (Geoff),

    Will it ever be checked? Only by education at all levels…

    I disagree from two perspectives.

    First, my experience with “normal people” who have not taken an almost morbid interest in the subject is that they don’t really care, or know about it, one way or the other. It’s a distant problem compared to their every day lives, and it has a sort of nagging gravity to it, the way nuclear war did in the sixties. It was always there, but you couldn’t worry about it every moment of every day, and disarmament seemed so impossible that you just hoped a nuclear war never happened and tried not to think about it.

    Climate change, for most people, is a lot like that, IMO. They know it’s there. They even strongly suspect it’s true. But they see no point to taking it further, because the perceived repercussions of either action or inaction are so awful, they just would rather worry about saving for their kid’s college education, or not being included in the next round of layoffs, or whatever, and let someone else worry about the big stuff.

    Secondly, I think the garbage we see on the Internet magnifies the size of that population ten thousand fold. They are very vocal, but if you look, it’s the same twenty or thirty regulars, day after day after day, on all of the sites, both science and denial psycho-science (I won’t even honor them with the tag “pseudo-science”). There are probably a few hundred retired engineers that have nothing better to do than to get online and trumpet how much smarter they are than everybody else, because they can see through this wicked conspiracy. After that, they probably have a few thousand fans. But that’s it. There aren’t as many as it seems.

    Bring it up with a random group of people, and most of them know nothing.

    The noise is all out of proportion to the reality, and the reality is very, very different from the noise. Not better… it’s more of a resigned, frightened apathy than the angry, rabid denial that is seen on blogs.

    It’s still a problem, and the deniers still need to be called out to prevent their eventual use as a convenient excuse for inaction by the common man. But correcting everyday apathy will require two things.

    The first is education, but not on the complex details and denial fallacies, but rather simply the gravity of the problem and likelihood of future events, and the importance of reasoned, measured action now, instead of frantic, panicked action too late. I think too many people think it won’t happen for a century, and by then we’ll figure out a technology that neatly makes the problem vanish.

    The second, unfortunately, will be a string of high profile, nasty climate events. As much as people talk about The Greatest Generation, America would not enter WW II until they were dragged in, kicking and screaming, by a nasty dose of Pearl Harbor. The same is true of terrorism and 9/11.

    Curiously, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, which should have been a wake up call for virus research and management, instead lead Americans to merely want to forget it as quickly as possible.

    I don’t like it. I just think that this is the way it is. It’s human nature, particularly in today’s modern society where we buy insurance for everything, and count on 4 minute EMT response times, life saving heart surgery, and such, while our everyday lives are so full of money/paper/system management that there’s little room for deep thinking or future social planning.

  35. 185

    As a brief anecdote, I was at a family picnic last weekend. My niece had signed up for an environmental biology course as a high school sophomore, and was given a global warming book to read over the summer as prep work.

    She pulled the typical teen attitude of rolling her eyes, scrunching her face, and disdainfully whining “why do I care about that, I mean come on?” That’s disheartening, even just as an attitude towards education, and if she finished the book she might care, or her teacher might enlighten her.

    But not one of the dozen other people there, from college students to recent college grads to adults, had anything to say on the issue (except for me, after a long pause while hoping desperately that someone else would show the same level of interest).

    And when I said that she should be concerned, that it may be the biggest factor in her generation’s lifetime in many different ways… no one agreed or disagreed. There was just silence, followed by a quick and successful effort to change the subject.

  36. 186
    Christopher Hogan says:

    It has been a while since I’ve tried to read econometrics. But as far as I can tell, we have a novel statistical method that a) when presented with (structured) noise and data, preferentially selects noise over data, b) fails to reproduce (e.g.) the Medieval Warm Period or the dip in temperature at the Maunder minimum.

    Unless I’ve read the equation on Page 13 wrong, it is based on a method with no penalty for missing the intercept, and only penalizes error in the slope (rate-of-change) coefficient. So, under this method, it does not matter at all if you get the actual temperature correct, it only matters that you get a good fit to the slope. Interestingly, the resulting reconstruction has two pieces, one where the slope is down, one where the slope is up.

    The other aspect of method that I find puzzling is that it constrains the sum of the (absolute value of the) regression coefficients, without respect to the units in which the underlying series are measured.

    For economists, that wouldn’t matter. Typically, economists estimate elasticities (which are constructed to be unitless). Here, it seems to me that the method fundamentally introduces a totally irrelevant tradeoff between the units in which an underlying series is measured and the resulting estimated relationship.

    In other words, again looking at the equation on page 13, if you rescaled one of your underlying series (say by dividing by 1,000,000), for a given Lagrange multiplier lambda, you’d get a new solution that would reduce the coefficient on that series, in this constrained estimation, nearer to zero.

    In short, I don’t think this method is robust to the *units* in which the underlying proxy series are recorded.

    Again, to an economist, that typically doesn’t much matter. Or, it can be made not to matter by estimating a log-linear regression so that the coefficients are unitless elasticities.

    So, I don’t pretend to understand the method, but if that’s a constrained multivariate OLS, then as a matter of arithmetic, the solution is not going to be independent of the units chosen for the underlying predictors.

    What I’d really like to see is a plot of the (absolute value of the) Lasso regression coefficients vis-a-vis the regression coefficients from the unconstrained OLS. The point of the lasso is to constrain variation, but in fact nothing is free. I would suspect that an unintended side effect of this particular formulation is that the use of the constrained estimation means that the choice of physical units for the underlying series is now material.

    If so, wouldn’t it be a hoot if one of the things this approach did was simply to minimize the prediction’s reliance on those series that just happened to be expressed smaller physical units?

    If true, well, if you arbitrarily re-weight the predictors to satisfy the lambda constraint (page 13), you’d kind of expect to see poor performance.

    Apologies if I’ve missed the point. But it seems like running a regression constraining the sum of the regression coefficients, when the underlying series are measured in arbitrarily different physical units, is just asking for trouble.

    What I didn’t see in the paper is a test of whether or not this method would reproduce temperature changes from pseudo-data in which the proxies are definitely related to the temperature by construction.

    In other words, this looks like bad science to me. What you have is a conclusion that this method, which ignores the intercept and constrains the sum of the regression coefficients, is unable to reproduce the standard errors found around other hockey stick reconstructions.


    , f I had to pick a favorite part of the paper, it would have to be the section on the Medieval Warm Period.

    Let me see if I have this right. This novel statistical approach does not reproduce any Medieval Warm Period. They explain this by saying that the model does not capture modern warming either, so you wouldn’t expect it to capture the Medieval Warm Period.

  37. 187
    Rod B says:

    Bob (Sphaerica), Ignoring for the moment that I often disagree with your position of substance, I think your comment 184 is an apt and cogent assessment of the public situation.

  38. 188
    Radge Havers says:

    Bob @ 184

    they don’t really care, or know about it, one way or the other

    Probably true for many kinds of normal people, which is not to deny that all the noise does have an effect. Around the water cooler, I’ve certainly seen people’s opinions blow with the wind on this topic, denialism gaining the most traction as part of a suite of political issues and manipulations. It’s almost like a social parroting induced by politically obsessive appeals and badgering.

    Somehow a culture that respects rigor over one that celebrates sensate aggravation and magical thinking needs to be encouraged. As it is, people get amped up or attached to a meme, and it becomes hard to have a sensible conversation on any topic.

  39. 189
    flxible says:

    Bob@185 & 186 makes an astute analysis of it all. :(

  40. 190
    Paul Tremblay says:

    >>The second, unfortunately, will be a string of high profile, nasty climate events. As much as people talk about The Greatest Generation, America would not enter WW II until they were dragged in, kicking and screaming, by a nasty dose of Pearl Harbor. The same is true of terrorism and 9/11.

    >>Curiously, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, which should have been a wake up call for virus research and management, instead lead Americans to merely want to forget it as quickly as possible.

    I won’t want to go too far off topic, but your second paragraph undermines your first. Terrorism never was a serious problem. The 9/11 attacks killed 3,000 people, but many times that number die in car accidents every year. The main cause of accidents is speeding and inattention, but I don’t see any campaigns to make people drive smarter. Likewise, the wars waged to stop terrorism did not. Afghanistan and Iraq are as unstable as ever, and by CIA estimates, a terrorism is as much a threat as before 9/11 (though, as I stated before, the threat is small compared to others, and mainly emotional.)

    It is easy to get people whipped up for war. But it is much harder to get them to take common sense action against more real but common threats, such as flu epidemics or climate change. The fact that the public did not want to invest in virus research after the 1918-1919 awful flu epidemic seems to point out that, even if we have a relatively large environmental disaster, the public won’t necessarily want to take action, either.

    I just think we should take each situation by itself without generalizing, especially about human responses, which are hard to quantify and predict.

  41. 191
    Martin Vermeer says:

    #186 Christopher Hogan:

    Unless I’ve read the equation on Page 13 wrong, it is based on a method with no penalty for missing the intercept, and only penalizes error in the slope (rate-of-change) coefficient. So, under this method, it does not matter at all if you get the actual temperature correct, it only matters that you get a good fit to the slope. …

    I don’t think so. All betas including the intercept are penalized for getting the fit wrong, in the usual, least-squares way. Additionally all betas except beta-0 get penalized for not being zero. This penalty is linear, not quadratic, and seems to push all betas that are already relatively small, toward zero. I have understood from descriptions of the Lasso that this tends to effectively eliminate most of them… in this case I really wonder if this is a sensible thing to do, as the whole idea with multi-proxy reconstructions is precisely to extract a weak common-mode signal from a large number of noisy proxies combined.

    The other aspect of method that I find puzzling is that it constrains the sum of the (absolute value of the) regression coefficients, without respect to the units in which the underlying series are measured.

    True, but… “the matrix of predictors X [i.e., the table of proxy time series — MV] is centered and scaled”. So the units/scale are not entirely arbitrary.

  42. 192
    Dan says:

    Apologies for being off-topic but a judge in Virginia has ruled against the state Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, in the “fraud” case against Michael Mann when he was at the University of Virginia. From the article at, “A judge ruled today that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hasn’t shown the University of Virginia has documents relevant to his fraud investigation against former U. Va. climate scientist Michael Mann.

    In a six-page decision, Albemarle County Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. also ruled that the attorney general also has not sufficiently “stated the nature of the conduct” believed to constitute possible fraud by Mann alleged to satisfy the requirements of the law under which the office can issue a civil investigative demand for information from the university.”

    Once again, the anti-science denialists have been ruled against.

  43. 193
    Hank Roberts says:

    A too literal “do it yourself” comment: just been getting bids on replacing a very old roof. Roofers bids for ‘cool roof’ shingles are about 2x their bids for ordinary shingles, but from reading, the ‘cool roof’ shingle stock from the manufacturer costs only about ten percent more.

    I suspect we’ll use rolled roofing, to be hand-painted white by me. Sigh.

  44. 194
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Also off topic, before the distortions start (may be too late already):

  45. 195
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #192 (OT but down to earth.. almost)


    The idea would even work in countries with temperate climates, such as Britain, because white-coloured roofs would help to reflect the radiated heat from homes and offices back into the building during winter months, said Dr Chu.

    Your climate may be different, but will you be looking for a special paint with low emissivity in the infra-red?

  46. 196
    deconvoluter says:

    Re #194

    It was introduced just now (Radio 4’s 10PM news) by an assertion that it was in response to a string (or series) of errors by the IPCC. They quoted the one about the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers but failed to sustantiate any others. For extra analysis they went to Roger Pielke.

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    > cool roofs … emissivity in the infrared

    Look for a high number; a low number means the roofing holds the heat and puts it into the building; a high number means it’s radiating energy, in the infrared, back into the sky.

    “… Emissivity? … ability to release absorbed heat…. between 0 and 1, or 0% and 100%, to express emittance…. most roofing materials can have emittance values above 0.85 (85%)…. EPA will post emissivity values for all products on the ENERGY STAR Qualified Products List to assist consumers in their purchasing decision. Longer term, EPA plans to revisit the possibility of adding an emissivity component to the ENERGY STAR specification.”

    Higher emissivity means the roof doesn’t get as hot during the day.

  48. 198
    Hank Roberts says:

    ps, here’s the EPA’s current list:

    The ‘cool roof’ material costs about ten percent more from the manufacturer, according to folks studying it in academia. Roofers are asking 2x for “cool” vs ordinary shingles so far. I’ll haggle.

  49. 199
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #197 Hank.

    White is black…

    when it comes to the infra-red properties of paint(like most other substances). At least that is the conclusion I confirmed on looking at the top few rows of the spread sheet to which you linked.
    Of course you might want it to be IR-black to keep you cool in the summer and I might want it to be IR-white to keep me warm in the winter, and save CO2 emissions.

    So where does that leave Dr.Chu’s advice for us Brits. (see #195)?

    Well there is this..

    So far nothing else except the metallic option.

  50. 200