Researchers as Advocates

March 3, 2010

According to wattsupwiththat, a fairly prominent warmist researcher was recently quoted as follows:

“Climate scientists are paid to do climate science,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, a senior climatologist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “Their job is not persuading the public.”

However, Dr. Schmidt is also apparently actively involved in what is probably the most prominent warmist blog,

“RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists.”

The problem I see here is one that seems pretty common in climate science.  Folks like Gavin Schmidt pretend that they are disinterested researchers when the reality is that they are advocates.  Similarly, people like to pretend that the IPCC reports are neutral, even-handed assessments when in reality they have an agenda.

This is especially troubling given the degree to which we are asked to simply trust these folks.


Knowledge and Symmetry

February 26, 2010

I was debating a warmist the other day who challenged me (and other skeptics) to explain what caused warming in the late 20th century.   My answer, of course is very simple:  I don’t know.

Many warmists seem to think that the debate is symmetrical:  If the skeptics do not understand the climate, it weakens their position just like it would weaken the warmist position of the warmists do not understand the climate. 

It seems to me this kind of thinking fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the debate.  The warmists have the burden of proof and therefore the skeptics need not offer any kind of alternate explanation for late 20th century warming.   It is sufficient for skeptics to point out the flaws in the warmists’ reasoning.

Of course, the irony here is that the warmists are just as ignorant as the skeptics as far as I can tell.  I asked this particular warmist to explain what caused the early 20th century warming.  I also asked this person to explain what caused the Little Ice Age.  He confidently replied “sunspots.”  However, he was unable to offer any specific evidence or arguments to back up his claim.  Instead, he fell back on the traditional warmist refuge of arguing from authority.  He cited 3 journal articles without bothering to quote them or summarize the evidence in support of his position.  I looked up one of the articles at random — it didn’t even mention the Little Ice Age or early 20th century warming.

So the bottom line is that there is a double standard here:  If the skeptics are ignorant or uncertain about what drives the climate, it does not hurt our position.  If the warmists are ignorant or uncertain, it damages their position quite a lot.

The Attribution Question

February 14, 2010

So far, I have not said very much about the “attribution question.”  That question is basically the following:

How much, if any, of the recent increase in global surface temperatures is attributable to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Although this is an interesting and important question, I do not think it is a critical question.  Even if all of the warming of the last 50-60 years is attributable to CO2, it does not necessarily follow that the CAGW Hypothesis is correct, since such warming could have resulted from moderate climatic sensitivity to CO2.

On the other hand, if little or none of the recent warming is attributable to CO2, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the CAGW Hypothesis is wrong, but it does put a rather big dent in the hypothesis, since it suggests that the climate is significantly less sensitive to CO2 than the warmist position claims.

In any event, it’s worth noting that the warmist case for attribution is surprisingly weak.  In large part it rests on untested computer simulations.  I touched on why this is a problem in an earlier post:

But this morning, I saw essentially the same problem expressed in words.  Phil Jones, a leading warmist, has apparently responded to the following question with the answer that follows:

H – If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?

The fact that we can’t explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing . . . .

*   *   *

So essentially, the warmists’ argument is that (1) they do not know what could have caused recent warming besides CO2; so (2) it must have been because of CO2.

When you think about it, this is an incredibly weak argument.  A lot of things aren’t known about the climate.  For example, what caused the Little Ice Age?  And if we don’t know what caused the Little Ice Age, how do know that the same thing (working in reverse) didn’t cause recent warming?

It’s even possible that recent warming (as well as the Little Ice Age) were the unpredictable result of fluctuations in a chaotic system.  Nobody knows if it will be snowing in Boston on March 1 because the weather is too chaotic and unpredictible.  There seems to be an unspoken assumption that weather evens out over time like spins of a roulette wheel making climate predictable over periods of 50 or 100 years.  But why should we believe this?  To me, it’s at least as likely that climate too is unpredictable on 50 or 100 year time scales.

So what does all this say about the CAGW Hypothesis?  It seems to me it weakens it a bit.  If we cannot even nail down the attribution question, it’s that much harder to have confidence in future effects of CO2 on the climate.  But then again, the CAGW Hypothesis was never very strong to begin with.

The IPCC and Restaurant Bills

January 23, 2010

There has been some talk lately about an IPCC “mistake” in apparently predicting the melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035.  Unsurprisingly, the alarmists excuse this, stating that “[l]ike all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect.”

However, I am reminded of mistakes I find in restaurant and other bills.  Why is it that 90% of these mistakes are in favor of the restaurant and against me? 

Is it a coincidence that this IPCC “mistake” just happened to support the alarmist viewpoint?

I don’t think so.  Even among those alarmists who are not intentionally engaging in fraud, it’s human nature to be much more careful in evaluating claims which go against their agenda than in evaluating claims which support it.  In the same way, many restaurants are much more careful to make sure everything you ordered goes on the bill than to make sure you don’t get billed for stuff you didn’t order.

The IPCC is pretty clearly biased in favor of the alarmist point of view which is good reason to be skeptical of the IPCC’s claims.  And yet in debates about global warming, alarmists consistently rely on the latest IPCC report as though its the bible of their Green Religion.

More on Global Cooling

October 27, 2009

A friend e-mailed me an article stating that “Statisticians Reject Global Cooling.”

Here was my response:

As far as global warming goes, any way you slice it, global surface temperatures since 1998 have still not exceeded the high reached in 1998.  Basically the article seems to be saying that this could easily be the result of chance, i.e. natural fluctuations in the temperature.  Which is true, except that I don’t think enough is known about the natural causes of temperature variations to say anything meaningful one way or another.
To me, asking whether cooling since 1998 is statistically significant is the wrong question.  Instead, one needs to ask what, if anything, the warmists predicted and whether that prediction came true.
One can ask hypothetically what would have happened if we had set a new temperature record in 2008.  You can bet that the warmists would have been screaming about it from the rooftops and presenting it as strong evidence in favor of their hypothesis.  Which leads me to ask:  What would need to have happened to undermine or falsify the warmist position? 
The way science normally works is that you test a hypothesis by making a prediction and seeing if reality matches that prediction.  If so, it’s evidence that your hypothesis is correct.  If not, it’s evidence that your hypothesis is wrong.  But global warming science doesn’t seem to work this way.  Any time a warming event happens, such as a hot year or a melting glacier, it’s presented as evidence in favor of the warmist hypothesis.  If a warming event does not happen (or a cooling event happens), it is explained away as natural variation.
As far as I know, the warmists’ computer models predicted fairly stead warming, year after year, with an average of 2 to 3 years between each new temperature record.  So 11 years without a temperature record is a big problem for them, in my opinion.  Even if it’s the result of “natural variation,” it shows that there is some unknown factor which is important and which is not properly accounted for in the models.

Science Is Hard

October 4, 2009

One thing I have noticed over the years is that it’s usually possible to briefly summarize the best evidence for a scientific claim.  For example, what’s the best evidence that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer?  The fact that epidemological studies show that cigarette smokers have a significantly greater chance of dying from lung cancer.

What about with global warming?  I asked that question in a debate recently, and the answer I got, in essence, is this:

“Science is hard.  Climatology is especially hard.  That’s why we need to have scientific experts look at all the evidence in its totality and interpret it for us.”

To me, this raises a red flag.  Yes, it’s logically possible that there is a compelling case for CAGW which is too complicated to summarize in a few sentences and too difficult for the layman to understand.  But I doubt it.  The best evidence for Einstein’s theory of relativity can be summed up in just a few sentences.  Is climatology really that much harder than theoretical physics?

On the other hand, take a look at pseudoscientific nonsense like  ghosts, yogic levitation, and free energy machines.  There is lots of weak evidence for these phenomena, and yet none of it stands up to scrutiny.  The folks peddling these ideas are unable to summarize their case in a simple way and I have little doubt that if pressed, they would claim it’s the fault of laypeople that they cannot understand the science.

In other words, CAGW is more like pseudoscience than real science.  Which supports my claim that CAGW is a hoax.

It’s Even Worse Than We Expected

September 26, 2009

It seems like everywhere I turn, I see the alarmists making claims along these lines.  Given that global surface temperatures have been trending downwards for the last 10 years, one wonders what exactly they were expecting. 

Seems to me this is pretty clearly a ploy designed to create a sense of panic.  Why would the alarmists want to create panic?  Well, besides the usual reasons of getting attention, funding, and prestige, it seems to me they are faced with a problem which is that evidence is starting to mount that their predictions were wrong.

If temperatures continue to trend downwards, then eventually the alarmists will become laughingstocks.

But if the alarmists can create enough panic to get some kind of carbon-limiting treaty passed, then they can claim credit if temperatures continue to trend downwards.  So they will at least have a little fig leaf.

Another Red Flag: Predictions Which are Conveniently Difficult to Falsify

September 19, 2009

Here is a graph which purports to show model predictions for arctic sea ice:

What’s interesting to me about the graph is how convenient it is for climate modelers.  According to the graph, the really dramatic changes will not start taking place for another 20 years or so.  In the short term, i.e. the next 10 or 20 years, it doesn’t matter whether artic sea ice increases modestly, decreases modestly, or stays the same.  In all of these cases, the climate modelers can say that reality is consistent with their models. 

In 10 or 20 years, if and when their predictions don’t pan out, they can claim that their models have improved a lot since then.

This is a red flag that the models are bogus.

Another Simple Question: What Caused the Little Ice Age?

September 13, 2009

By way of background, the “Little Ice Age” was a period a few hundred years ago when global surface temperatures were lower than they were before or afterwards.    You can read more about it here:

On more than one occasion, I have asked warmists “what, in your view, caused the Little Ice Age?” I have never gotten a straight answer to that question.

For me, the question is very easy to answer. (drumroll  . . . . )  I don’t know what caused the Little Ice Age. 

Why is it that warmists are afraid to admit they don’t know what caused the little ice age?  Well, their predictions of catastrophic warming are based on computer simulations.  Those simulations are based in large part on what the simulators understand (or hope they understand) about the various forces which affect the climate. 

So if simulators do not understand what caused the Little Ice Age, it follows that there is likely to be some important force which is either omitted or not accurately represented in their climate simulations.  Obviously this calls into question the results of these simulations. 

Moreover, if we don’t know what caused the Little Ice Age, we cannot rule out the possibility that the same factor (or some change in that factor) is what caused the Earth to warm in the late 20th century. 

So that’s why warmists cannot admit ignorance about the Little Ice Age.  To do so would be to admit substantial uncertainty about their core claims.

Simple Questions; Red Flags

September 12, 2009

Further to my post about “red flags,”  , it occurs to me that there is another indication that CAGW is a hoax.

Specifically, in my experience, the warmists frequently evade or refuse to answer simple questions about their position.  When an advocate refuses to answer simple, fair, tough questions, it’s often because the question exposes some serious flaw in his position which he is trying to obscure from others and even from himself.

For example, I recently asked a warmist blogger a simple yes or no question:

“Was there global warming between 1988 and 1998?  (simple yes or no question).”

The bogger evaded the question and in fact deleted the parenthetical.  Why would anyone evade a simple question like this? 

The reason is that this blogger was on the horns of a dilemma.  He had already claimed that global cooling between 1998 and 2009 was a “myth” in part because the time period involved is only 10 or 11 years.  By the same logic,  it follows that global warming between 1988 and 1998 is a “myth.”  Which is is ridiculous on its face.

Personally, I am not afraid to answer simple questions about my position.  Why should I be?  If it demonstrates a problem with my position, it gives me the chance to discover I am wrong about something and learn more. 

But warmists are in a different boat.  They are invested in their hypothesis — emotionally, financially, or both.  They are afraid of falling into a trap which will expose a weakness in their position.  So they must evade questions.