Posts Tagged ‘Roy Spencer’

John Christy, Richard McNider and Roy Spencer trying to overturn mainstream science by rewriting history and re-baselining graphs

February 22, 2014

Who are the Flat Earthers?

Before the advent of modern climatology, common wisdom had it that we tiny humans couldn’t possibly influence climate. Modern science shows we can. Yet John Christy and Richard McNider claim the exact opposite in a recent WSJ op-ed, in which they claim that their outdated views on climate somehow make them modern-day Galileo’s (or in their words: Why they are the ones declaring that the earth is round while the vast majority of the climate scientists persist in thinking the earth is flat). They couldn’t be more wrong.

Back then, scientific evidence slowly overturned the religious-cultural notion that the Earth was the centre of the universe. This resulted in a scientific consensus that the Earth revolves around the sun. More recently scientific evidence has started overturning the notion that humans can’t possibly influence something as gigantic as the Earth’s climate. This too has resulted in a scientific consensus  (though a public consensus is still lagging behind). In both cases, the pre-scientific notion was mostly culture-based, as opposed to being evidence-based.

As Jeff Nesbit tweeted: “Being the last scientist to accept established climate science doesn’t make you Galileo.” Quite the opposite indeed.

The Galileo-complex also suggests a rather simplistic view of how science progresses. Rather than a lone skeptic overthrowing a scientific (rather than a cultural) consensus, scientific progress is a usually a gradual process. New evidence has to be reconciled with the existing mountain of evidence; it doesn’t simply replace it. Observing a bird in the air doesn’t disprove gravity. “Skeptics” and their supporters often bring up Galileo as an example of that the scientific consensus can also be wrong, and has been wrong in the past. True enough, though as Carl Sagan said: “they laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown”.

Hot spot

Besides their entirely misplaced Galileo-framing, Christy and McNider also make a range of unsupported and/or incorrect statements. One argument deals with the so-called tropical tropospheric hot spot. This refers to the expected stronger warming of the tropical troposphere as compared to the surface. This “hot spot” is independent of the cause of the warming. But what do Christy and McNider write in the WSJ:

(the warming of the deep atmosphere is) the fundamental sign of carbon-dioxide-caused climate change, which is supposedly behind these natural phenomena

But hang on, didn’t Christy admit to the basic science that this hot spot is not specific to a greenhouse effect? Yes, he did (at the ClimateDialogue discussion in which he participated):

“Yes, the hot spot is expected via the traditional view that the lapse rate feedback operates on both short and long time scales. (…) it [the hot spot] is broader than just the enhanced greenhouse effect because any thermal forcing should elicit a response such as the “expected” hot spot.”

So why is he claiming something in the WSJ that he knows to be untrue?

Model-observation comparison

It almost goes without saying that any climate model-observation mismatch can have multiple (non-exclusive) causes (as succinctly summarized at RC):

  1. The observations are in error
  2. The models are in error
  3. The comparison is flawed

But rather than doing a careful analysis of various potential explanations, McNider and Christy, as well as their colleague Roy Spencer, prefer to draw far reaching conclusions based on a particularly flawed comparison: They shift the modelled temperature anomaly upwards to increase the discrepancy with observations by around 50%. Using this tactic, Roy Spencer showed the following figure on his blog recently:

Roy Spencer misleading figure - CMIP5-90-models-global-Tsfc-vs-obs-thru-2013

So what did he do? Jos Hagelaars tried to reproduce the different steps involved. A comparison of annual data, using a 1986-2005 baseline, would look as follows:

Jos Hagelaars - comparison_cmip5_hadcrut4_uah

Spencer used a 5 year running mean instead of annual values, which would (should) look as follows:

Jos Hagelaars - spencers-graph-reconstructed-part-1

The next step is re-baselining the figure to maximize the visual appearance of a discrepancy: Let’s baseline everything to the 1979-1983 average (way too short of a period and chosen very tactically it seems):

Jos Hagelaars - spencers-graph-reconstructed-part-2

Which looks surprisingly similar to Spencer’s trickery-graph. But critiquing Roy Spencer comes at a risk: He may call you a “global warming Nazi”. Those nasty CO2 molecules, that’ll teach them!

Many thanks to Jos Hagelaars for the data analysis and figures.

Confusing the net cloud effect with a cloud feedback: Very different beasts

September 20, 2011

I stumbled upon a new post at WUWT today:

New peer reviewed paper: clouds have large negative-feedback cooling effect on Earth’s radiation budget

Note that Anthony has since changed the title to leave out the word “feedback”, which was the source of his confusion. It starts out as follows:

Oh dear, now we have three peer reviewed papers (Lindzen and Choi, Spencer and Braswell, and now Richard P. Allan) based on observations that show a net negative feedback for clouds, and a strong one at that. (…) The key paragraph from the new paper:

…the cloud radiative cooling effect through reflection of short wave radiation is found to dominate over the long wave heating effect, resulting in a net cooling of the climate system of −21 Wm−2.

The attentive reader will immediately spot the problem here. Watts is confusing two issues:

– the net radiative effect of clouds on climate (i.e. in comparison with having no clouds at all)

– the net feedback of clouds in response to a change in climate

The paper addresses the first, whereas Anthony interpreted it as if it addresses the second.

These are two distinctly different issues. The latter (clouds as feedback) is about how cloud cover and properties might change in response to a warming or cooling of the climate: Will the net cloud radiative effect (i.e. the former) become more or less negative.

The net radiative effect of clouds on Earth’ climate has long been known to be negative (i.e. cooling). See e.g this quote from the paper:

The overall global net cloud radiative effect is one of cooling as documented previously (Ramanathan et al., 1989).

That can be verified in any textbook on the subject and most introductions of papers on this topic. Or in my introductory post on aerosols, clouds and climate.

I pointed this error out in the thread, as did more than a few others after me (including Roy Spencer). Only after the author of the paper, Richard Allan, came in to say that this post mis-interpreted the paper, did Anthony change the title and added an update. The mistaken interpretations are still in the body of the text though.

Richard Allan wrote to me in email (reproduced with permission):

I was surprised that this paper was linked to cloud feedback since, as you mention, it attempts to quantify the well known influence of cloud on Earth’s radiation budget (at the top of the atmosphere, at the surface and within the atmosphere and also during day and night) and does not attempt to diagnose cloud feedback.

Watts goes on to say (bold in original):

The cooling effect is found to be -21 Watts per meter squared, more than 17 times the posited warming effect from a doubling of CO2 concentrations which is calculated to be ~ 1.2 Watts per meter squared.

He’s comparing apples and oranges. The 21 W/m2 is the top of the atmosphere (TOA) cloud forcing in reference to having no clouds at all (see table 1 in the paper); the 1.2 W/m2 is the surface forcing due to a doubling in CO2 concentrations. The TOA forcing of a doubling in CO2 is closer to 4 W/m2. But that’s not the “zero” point. The total greenhouse effect (due to water vapor, clouds, CO2 and other GHG) is about 150 W/m2.                                                                                                                   

In other words, this paper falls squarely within the mainstream; it further quantifies a (previously known) net cooling effect of clouds on the Earth’ climate; it does not quantify how clouds may change in response to warmer climate (cloud feedback), though it does provide a carrot stick in saying that these types of analyses are important “in assessing cloud climate feedbacks which contribute substantially to uncertainty in climate prediction.”. That may very well be, but it hasn’t been done in this paper (as confirmed by its author). 

Judging by the comments, many at WUWT took this, in combination with the whopping -21 W/m2, to mean that they discovered a gigantic negative feedback. Nope.

Tallbloke (from Lisbon fame) still insists that

if [cloud forcing] becomes slightly less negative, it’s still very negative, and overwhelms the effect of changes in co2.

… being very confused. Comments vary over a very wide range though. Many are confused (e.g. stating that as specific humidity goes up in a warmer world, so should cloud cover, whereas cloud formation depends on relative humidity rather than on specific humidity), there’s lots of laughing-at-the-scientists going on, but there are also sensible comments that either offer insight or good questions.

Mosher makes the following observation:

it is also fascinating because of what we dont see. usually you will see a whole crew of commeters pounce on the word “model”. This time they didnt.

They didnt because they thought the paper supported spencer. But it was on an entirely different topic. That misunderstanding kinda silenced the usual “models are bad” crew.

Spencer and Braswell fundamentally flawed, journal editor resigns

September 2, 2011

Wolfgang Wagner, editor-in-chief of the journal Remote Sensing, resigns over the publication of a fundamentally flawed paper:

[peer review is] supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims. (…) the paper by Spencer and Braswell that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.

Peter Gleick has a good rundown of the story.

Wagner points out that minority views are and should be welcomed in the scientific literature. But he adds that that does not mean that long refuted arguments should be able to keep being published:

The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal.

What Stoat reads this to mean is that

Yes, novel and interesting challenges to the established view should be published – perhaps even get given a slightly easier ride, if they are novel. But No: just saying the same old thing again isn’t any good.

Quite predictably, Roy “Conspiracy” Spencer is complaining about the IPCC gatekeepers trying to silence dissenting geniuses like him.

Update: Dan Satterfield observes that

They [“skeptical” papers such as Spencer’s] are not published to further the science, but as a piece of meat to those who find the science very incompatible with their world view.

Dutch translation of this post on my NL klimaatblog.

Update 2: Robert Grumbine reminds us of how Spencer sees his own role:

“I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

In the comments, Bob Brand makes several astute observations on the course of events and on Wagner’s apology to Trenberth (and the role of cultural differences therein). Re the apology, I see Wagner’s resignation as an apology to the scientific community and don’t find personal apologies to Trenberth necessary, though BB provides some rationale for this.

William Connolley provides some insights:

people are using short-cuts to try to evaluate who is correct. This is inevitable; if we restricted discussion to those who understood the issues, there would be far less debate.

(…) the obvious explanation for Wagner’s explanation, the one he actually gave: personal morality. He doesn’t want to be associated with this paper, and has used the only means available to free himself.

I would sum up Wagner’s reasons for resigning as follows:

  • the lack of considering (previously published) contradictory evidence.
  • the (in Wagner’s words) problematic issues w.r.t. “fundamental methodological errors or false claims.”
  • Spencer’s exaggerations and over-interpretations of his results (which made Wagner feel that he had been taken for a ride).

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