Archive for the ‘Climate science’ Category

Open letter of Dutch climate scientists regarding the IPCC and the attacks on science

February 11, 2010

55 of the top Dutch climate scientists have published an open letter about the IPCC and the mistakes in the latest climate report. They put the mistakes in the context of what we know, and show that the mainframe of our knowledge of the climate system is not adversely affected by these errors.

I’m glad for this highly needed voice of reason in the popular debate, which has recently been overshadowed by far reaching claims of fraud and conspiracies.

An English version of the open letter is available here. It’s well worth reading.

Dutch version here.

Update: It’s now possible to support this open letter by signing it (PhD holders only). Go to http://www.sense.nl/openletter

McIntyre’s concerted efforts to derail the science and harass scientists

February 9, 2010

What would you do if you were confronted with a group who will go through great lengths to find something -no matter how small- that they can twist and use against you? It will naturally make you very careful, and defensive perhaps. I empathize with not wanting to cooperate with people like that.

Indeed, in some of the stolen emails, CRU scientists sounded extremely frustrated with the many ‘Freedom of Information’ (FoI) requests they were getting, from exactly the kind of people as described above. Self appointed “auditor” of climate science Steve McIntyre asked his blog readers to participate:

Steve McIntyre                       Posted Jul 24, 2009 at 10:59 AM

I suggest that interested readers can participate by choosing 5 countries and sending the following FOI request to (…)

Now someone’s view of this situation entirely depends from what angle they look at it. McIntyre and his fans take the view that their repeated requests to “free the data” were being stonewalled, so they presumably felt that it was ok to increase the pressure this way. Even when acknowledging that more openness in science is a laudable goal, the way he’s going about it is entirely counterproductive and low.

Scientists and their supporters however view McIntyre’s tactics as pure sabotage. He doesn’t seem interested in furthering the science, but rather in attempting to shoot holes in work that is supportive of the scientific consensus, and then blowing it up way out of proportion to the significance of his finding (if at all correct). He also frequently engages in character assassination, insinuating fraud, scientific misconduct and manipulation on the part of scientists. There’s no need to back up such accusations; a verbose writing style and an uncritical audience who love every word that slams climate scientists does the job very nicely. The echo chamber on the internet does the rest.

This has the all the marks of the FOI law being abused to harass scientists. From the Times Online:

Over a matter of days, CRU received 40 similar FoI requests. Each applicant asked for data from five different countries, 200 in all, which would have been a daunting task even for someone with nothing else to do.

Jones admitted poor judgment in handling those FoI requests: In an angry private email he wrote that he would rather delete data than provide them to McIntyre. In the context of being the target of what amounts to a ‘denial of service’ attack, I empathize with his frustration. Of course, deleting data would be extremely stupid, and AFAIK, he nor anybody else has done so. But who has never said (or written in email) something in anger, that in hindsight was uncalled for?

Hunting season on scientists seems open, and it’s a disgrace.

See also Eli Rabett. DeepClimate provides a detailed look into McIntyre’s history.

Update: From the Canadian Globe and Mail, where McIntyre is described as

a gifted pest whose scattershot criticisms indiscriminately mix a few valid points with a larger body of half-truths, a potent concoction that produces much confusion but little benefit.

(…)

The key objection to the work of bloggers such as Mr. McIntyre is that they are engaged in an epic game of nitpicking: zeroing in on minor technical issues while ignoring the massive and converging lines of evidence that are coming in from many disciplines. To read their online work is to enter a dank, claustrophobic universe where obsessive personalities talk endlessly about small building blocks – Yamal Peninsula trees, bristlecones, weather stations – the removal of which will somehow topple the entire edifice of climate science. Lost in the blogging world is any sense of proportion, or the idea that science is built on cumulative work in many fields, the scientists say.

Glaciers are retreating, but won’t be gone in 2035

January 28, 2010

(Nederlandse versie hier)

In the latest IPCC report the claim was made that the Himalayan glaciers would very likely be gone by 2035, if present rates of warming continued. That is not the case. The source for this statement was a WWF report, which in turn relied on a report from the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI). This report however mentioned the year 2350, which was mistakenly taken over as 2035 in the WWF (and subsequently the IPCC) report. I.e. the IPCC used a secondary source, apparently without checking the primary source. Even then, the year 2350 is only based on extrapolation and is not strongly supported, as William Connolley points out.

This is absolutely wrong, and much more problematic than the whole stolen emails-affair. This statement should not have made it through the rigorous review process that IPCC reports undergo. It appeared in the working group 2 report, about effects of climate change. The scientific basis for this field (and apparently also the level of review) is not as strong as that for working group 1, about the physical workings of the climate system.

It doesn’t mean that everything is fine with the glaciers. The vast majority of glaciers worldwide are retreating, just not suddenly 25 times as fast as they did in the previous 40 years. The scientific basis of how and why the climate is changing (i.e. the topic of working group 1) has not been tarnished, despite claims to the contrary from the usual suspects. However, the chance of such a blunder occurring again should of course be absolutely minimized.

One of the Indian scientists involved, Murari Lal, has been falsely cited as having put the 2035 number in the report for political purposes; a quick check with him personally revealed that he didn’t. This kind of witch-hunt seems to have become the norm in climate science reporting, a very sad state of affairs.

See also the reaction of the IPCC, RealClimate and several other bloggers (SkepticalScience, Stoat, Deltoid, and a detailed account by Nielsen-Gammon and ClimateScienceWatch) and a good presentation about changes in glaciers, with on page 40 the context of the erroneous 2035-statement.

Update: More good posts at MoD, Deltoid

A quick ‘n dirty guide to falsifying AGW

January 6, 2010

(Nederlandse versie hier)

Have you ever heard of Newton’s theory of gravity? Well, it’s all made-up nonsense. You’ve been fooled.

The reasoning goes as follows:

  1. According to the theory of gravity, objects should fall to the Earth’ surface.
  2. That bird in the sky remains there, without falling.
  3. Theory of gravity is wrong.

This reasoning bears a lot of resemblance to the following, equally strong reasoning that falsifies the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW):

  1. According to AGW, CO2 controls the climate.
  2. For the past 10 years, global temperature remained more or less steady whereas CO2 levels went up.
  3. AGW theory is wrong.

Voila, problem solved. If only it were that simple…

What’s wrong with these arguments? They sound so logical at first sight.

  1. The theory to be falsified has been oversimplified. (There are more forces than only gravity; there are more factors influencing climate than only CO2).
  2. The observation has been oversimplified. (The bird has wings which can be used to exert an upward force; the expected trend in temperature does not necessarily rise above the expected level of yearly variability over the course of a decade).
  3. Therefore the conclusion does not hold. 

It appears that a lot of “skeptics” start with their desired conclusion and work back to which part-observations and simplifications are needed to get there. I prefer not to fall either, but the fact is, observing a bird in the sky doesn’t disprove gravity. Whether we want to or not, we’ll have to learn through falling and getting up.

Update: Gravity has apparently been shown to be a hoax based on Newton’s private correspondence being released.

Science /-tists under attack

November 26, 2009

(Nederlandse versie hier)

What do you do if you don’t agree with the science (or with the perceived political implications thereof), but don’t have any real evidence to back up your position?

You could try breaking in the computer system of a renowned institute, to then release the stolen emails and documents via internet. If your catch is big enough, there will surely be something that could be spun to embarrass the scientists in question (and, by extension, discredit the whole field). Especially emails written before they had their morning coffee serve that purpose really well.

That must be the line of thinking of the hackers who broke into the web server of the Climate Research Unit (CRU in England), and released an enormous amount of emails of the past 13 years.

This (illegal) activity led to quite a “blog-storm” on the internet, with partly predictable reactions, as if suddenly all evidence for the human impact on climate change has been swept away. It is indicative of the speed with which so-called “skeptics” come to their conclusion. As if the conclusion was already in the drawer, waiting to be opened. Perfect timing, just before the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

Even the most eye catching emails, as discussed on several blogs, are relatively innocent if put in the proper context. Some do show a peek in the kitchen of how the scientists in question communicated with each other (not much different from other people, actually) and here and there is some dirty laundry. That scientists do not think highly of so-called “skeptics” comes as no surprise. Many emails are (logically) multi-interpretable: As Ben Hale noted, through ideological glasses it may look like there’s a lot of shady business going on, but –as an example- the same email could also be seen as a more direct way of saying the same as what was later described in a scientific paper. Some climate scientists have also reacted and provide come highly needed context (e.g. Gavin Schmidt at RC).

It is clear that in many discussions about this a mountain is made out of a molehill. No conspiracy of anthropogenic global warming being a complete hoax, or anything of that kind, has been uncovered. The scientific basis for our current understanding of climate change is as solid as it was before, in spite of all the screaming to the contrary.

‘Climategate’ blogstorm

November 24, 2009

Yet another blogstorm, and probably again a tempest in a teapot. Thirteen years worth of emails have been hacked and released on the web, and it includes some dirty laundry that I’m sure people involved would rather not have  seen public. It is not unlikely that this event may have some real repercussions for the public perception of climate science, however unfair it may seem (unfair both in terms of the actual intended meaning of the emails, as in terms of the way they were obtained). “Skeptics” will certainly try to get as much mileage out of this as possible, in order to undermine the science and the political process (e.g. Copenhagen). However, there are also plenty of sane voices commenting on the issue. A sample:

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. (RealClimate; also second post)

Never before has an entire scientific community been accused of dishonesty (…) The real issue is trust (…) After all, government leaders are planning deep changes in the world economy based, essentially, on trust in the scientific community. (…) Attacks on the integrity of climate scientists contribute to a broader suspicion of scientists in general. This suspicion has enormous potential for harm; consider for example the resistance to vaccination. (Spencer Weart’s comment at RealClimate)

Gavin Schmidt (of RealClimate) exhibits the patience of a saint in responding from a scientist’s perspective to the masses of comments. He is doing a tremendous amount of work to repair the damage being done to the perceived credibility of climate science. Respect.

In summary, there are probably some minor lapses in there, but everyone who has read any of the emails is already guilty of something worse and there’s no firm evidence of major crimes. (James’ empty blog)

I have no idea what exactly those words meant. Neither do you. Every single thing in those messages could be misinterpreted because we are missing the context. (…) This episode is not a window into how climate science works. It’s a window into how electronic communication has altered our standards and the way we work. (Maribo)

One of the issues with how the UEA emails are perceived is whether the reader understands the context of the dubious pseudoscience and constant harassment the field faces. If you understand that, the emails are understandable and mostly excusable. If you don’t, if you think that normal science is being stymied, then you come away with a very different impression. (Only in it for the gold)

The frame:
– pointing out that while some (and only a few) of them sound dubious, there’s no actual evidence of anything;
– pointing out that in every case there are also perfectly innocuous interpretations;
– putting these sorts of discussions in context (Greenfyre)

If one puts on some significant ideological glasses, it may look like there’s a lot of shady business going on. (…) Employing the principle of charity to what I’ve seen so far actually leaves me feeling that the e-mails are not so incriminating. (Cruel Mistress)

More damning, but mostly sensible criticisms (note that I do not agree with all the contents):

It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. (Monbiot)

Even if the hacked emails from HADCRU end up to be much ado about nothing in the context of any actual misfeasance that impacts the climate data records, the damage to the public credibility of climate research is likely to be significant. (Based on an unfortunate and unsubstantiated generalization of a few privately sent emails pulled out of context, I would add – Bart) (Judith Curry at ClimateAudit)

Humour:

The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published. (CarbonFixated)

I’ll post my own take on it later.

Update:

It reflects badly on the people who are so desperate to discredit global warming that they will unhesitatingly seize on a figure of speech, take it out of context, blow it all out of proportion and use it for their own predetermined purpose. Now that’s real dishonesty! (Tom Crowley interviewd by Andrew Friedman)

In the same interview, Crowley also gives an insider perspective on how thorough the IPCC report are vetted:

I cannot recall ANY scientific document, of any nature, that has EVER received that kind of vetting.

Update 2:

James Hansen was briefly interviewed about the issues on newsweek. I think his replies are spot on:

Do the hacked e-mails undermine the case for anthropogenic climate change?
No, they have no effect on the science. The evidence for human-made climate change is overwhelming.

Do the e-mails indicate any unethical efforts (…)?
They indicate poor judgment in specific cases. (…)

Global warming survey

November 1, 2009

Tom Fuller is doing a survey on global warming. He’s writing for the Examiner, with regular commentary about environmental (usually climate change) issues. He’s framing the survey as a search to see where common ground could be found in terms of policy reponses to global warming, which is an interesting and useful goal to pursue. It is explicitly not meant to be a survey of how many people ‘believe’ in AGW. Based on the bulk of comments on his site, it will be skewed to the “skeptical” point of view anyway. But that’s not the point…

Tom Fuller is a self desecribed ‘lukewarmer’. He has grown quite suspicious of climate scientists and their motives, based to a large extent on blogs where scientists are routinely bashed criticized. He’s an honest guy though, and exemplifies the kind of person with whom it’s both useful and possible to search for common ground, despite (sometimes large) differences in viewpoints.

Update: Survey is now closed. Outcome (>3000 respondents, 85% from WUWT) is heavily influenced by “skeptics”, which offers an interesting glimpse in their kitchen. Half is over 55, a quarter is emeritus. What was that about teaching old dogs new tricks? That they’re mostly republican and libertarian is less of a surprise. But some mitigation measures are more supported (or less opposed) than others. Neither cap and trade and carbon tax are supported, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me; you’re not necessarily paying more for those measures than for straight taxes on some other measures that you could chose from. I don’t see the rationale behind it, but perhaps I’m looking for something that’s not there.

What do we know?

October 26, 2009

– The direction of the (expected) changes is clear

      – Globe is warming

      – It’s due to us

      – It’s bad news

– Carbon is forever; Aerosols are not

– Uncertainty + Inertia = Danger

That is the short version of what scientists know about climate change.

And a normative statement: 

– Science should inform policy measures. We are used to that regarding human health; we should also get used to it regarding climate change.

update: See here for a more elaborate description of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Web-iquette for climate discussions

October 15, 2009

When checking some odd stuff regarding taking care of our 3 year old, I came across this web-iquette for discussing your internet search results with the doctor. Many of the same principles apply to a layperson browsing the web about climate change, which inevitably raises questions about what is true and what isn’t. The list bears some resemblance to my effort at providing hints for how to distinguish sense from nonsense in the climate change ‘debate’ (or other complex scientific issues such as health).

Now I’m a bit of an internet-doctor myself, so it’s useful mirror to look into. The list is as follows (replace “doctor” by “scientist” for more climate relevance):

1. Do bring it up. “Most doctors don’t see your research as an attempt to second-guess them.” (as long as you don’t accuse them of being a bunch of frauds, of course)

2. Keep the tone conversational, not confrontational. It sounds so sensible, yet so many people offend this very basic rule of human interaction. Me too, more often than I want to. Tell us that the science is just garbage, and we’ll stop listening to you very quickly. Or we’ll tell you to bugger off, if we’re in a bad mood and forget about this rule ourselves. Usually with a reference to a link or two.

3. When you get a diagnosis, ask the doctor to spell it.
A-n-t-h-r-o-p-o-g-e-n-i-c  G-l-o-b-a-l  W-a-r-m-i-n-g.

4. Check who’s behind the site. ”Falling for information from untrustworthy sources is the biggest mistake parents laypeople make. “Anyone can set up a site called the National Association for Such-and-Such,” pediatrician Alanna Levine notes. Check the “about us” section to see if the information was written or vetted by doctors scientists. Look for sites from government agencies (look for the .gov at the end of the link), universities (look for the .edu ending), or medical scientific organizations such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology IPCC or the American Academy of Pediatrics NOAA, KNMI, etc.”

5. Don’t confuse personal experience with science. Anyone can write anything on the internet. Beware, it’s a dangerous place. And, don’t confuse weather with climate. Please. It’s making us soooooo tired.

6. Don’t assume your doctor has blown it based on what you read. Proclaiming that the science is all garbage just because you know how to use google does not impress anyone. Please refrain from doing so, it just makes you look silly. And if you’re really convinced of yourself, why don’t you submit your ideas to Science or Nature?

7. Let your doctor help you evaluate what you find. “There’s something to be said for a professional (such as a scientist) who has a base of knowledge and can help you sort through your own research,” says pediatrician Joseph Kahn. A doctor scientist can help you determine if the site is trustworthy (…) and if the information you found is outdated.” Expertise matters. You wouldn’t let your accountant do the plumbing and your plumber file your taxes, right?

8. Realize no doctor can read every single study the moment it comes out.Medicine Science is constantly evolving”. Though that doesn’t usually mean that everything we know today will be invalid tomorrow. The big picture only changes very slowly.  Eat and drink in moderation and varied, and get enough exercise. More greenhouse gases in the air cause more warming. It’s been pretty stable advice/science for a while. Details may shift (is coffee good or bad for you? How important is aerosol nucleation for climate?), but the big picture less so.

9. Definitely ask about what’s confusing or troubling you. Asking, yes. Bringing up doubts, fine. Rational discussion, absolutely. Accusations of fraud, claiming that we just want to steal your SUV, nah.

Btw, it’s Blog Action Day! (with climate change as its theme.) Check out some of the links if you’re interested in more climate related blogs.

Did McIntyre have the data all along?

October 8, 2009

The bunny is right on top of it. He quotes an excellent comment from ClimateAudit about the fact that McIntyre was being told who to contact about the data. It is written in a very non-judgemental way, but in between the lines the message is clear. I.e. some of McIntyre’s writing tactics are being used to convey the message. Eli calls it a work of art.

Craig Allen over at Deepclimate brings the news that McIntyre was already provided with the data 5 years ago (!), but was unsure that they were the real deal, so he wasn’t ‘immediately’ satisfied. Deepclimate’s post itself details how the Russian scientists (and originators of the data) have an analysis based on a much bigger sample that basically confirms Briffa’s results.

If this wasn’t already a tempest in a teapot, then it most definitely is now.

Update: Tim Lambert (Deltoid) has a round-up as well, with some relevant quotes.


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