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Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in Politics, Science & Technology | 52 comments

Why ClimateGate May Be Really Good For The Field (P.S. No Data Was Lost)

First off, I have to express a little disappointment, because I planned to write this last night after reading some posts from yesterday and now it looks more like it’s a response to a recent guest post. I always planned on going with this title (sans the P.S.), but now it sounds a bit Orwellian in context. No matter.

OK, obviously it would be a huge travesty and very suspicious if raw unadjusted data was permanently destroy, but it was not. I will repeat, there is no raw data is gone for good. Period. End of statement.

So what did happen? CRU took the raw data from various primary sources, aggregated it and then made adjustments. It is some of the aggregation that they threw out when they moved a few decades ago. This means that the original data still exists at the primary sources and can be reaggregated. In fact, CRU is busy doing that just now.

Where did I get this information? From one of the largest thorns in the AGW community’s side, Roger Pielke Jr., who seems completely satisfied with their explanation.

Skeptics like Dr. Pielke claim that isn’t the entirety of the problem. Apparently most papers in the field rely on the adjusted data by CRU, and CRU hasn’t released the entirety of how they made the adjustments (they claim 95% of data sets have been available, I’m not qualified to say what that means). The skeptics assume they’ll disagree with some of the adjustments and want to see exactly what raw data CRU used and in what way they used it. This is of course an entirely reasonable request. It is also something that CRU now says they will do.

Honestly, this is great for the climate science field on several levels. First of all, it is far past time that an easy to use cohesive database of every single step was made publicly available. That should have been in place around the beginning of the decade. Now some people may claim that it should always have been available, but the fact is that’s not how science works, nor how it has ever worked. Contrary to a lot of popular opinion, science is a cutthroat business and data is very much IP in order to get grants and get a leg up. This is partially because a) there is a hierarchy in the industry, just like everything else, and places with more resources can easily scoop you before you get proper credit b) science is very conservative and skeptical by nature, and any discrepancy at all is often used to shut down new explanations, first policed within the field and secondly by other fields c) it takes a ton of time to handle all the requests and put data in an easy to access way, something that is already at a premium and d) a lot of interpretation is built on standardized assumptions within the field, different fields may have different assumptions and it takes a long time to develop a communication paradigm for a different field*.

So what happens, pretty much since time immemorial (a new meme highlights Newton’s correspondence) is that scientists first are very protective of data and share only with collaborators, then as they get a bit of a foothold and other people get similar conclusions then they are more open within the field and finally when that field has a cohesive explanation then it tries to communicate more broadly. Well until the start of this decade there were still some frays on the cohesive explanation, but those have been nearly uniformly agreed upon, so I think they should have been more proactive in describing each part in a way where scientists in other fields could use their own understanding and look for critiques.

Hopefully, this moment will force climatologists to develop a standardized way of disseminating their data and models to the public, which will have the dual benefit of getting more technically oriented people involved and improve the science (there obviously will be some errors, especially on the programming level).

I also am seeing some changes in rhetoric that suggest that ClimateGate is waking up advocates on how to think about messaging. For instance, while “deniers” and “skeptics” used to be used interchangeably as epithets, I’m now reading on various sites that there is a very targeted movement to use “denier” to label people/groups that the author feels has no interest in the actual science and is just trying to create noise for commercial gain (like the tobacco companies did) versus “skeptics” for people that genuinely do have an interest and just don’t believe the consensus. See Climate Progress for an example.

This is also a welcome development because it will sharpen the rhetorical knives between how to communicate with people that are “ignorant” and those that are “deceptive” and of course those that just have different conclusions even after careful analysis. I put “ignorant” and “deceptive” in quotes because they are obviously not objective categories — unless internal memos are found of course — but are still useful because it will allow for people that are on the fence to be able to see which views climatologists and their proponents categorize as which. This will make it so that people that are skeptical feel less under attack and (in my biased opinion) they will see that the professional deniers are full of it by purposeful obfuscation.

Within the field, AGW was very controversial even until the late 90s, at which point many former skeptics were convinced based on new information and modelling. I feel that AGW is truly correct, and a more open approach will do the same for intellectual society writ large (there will always be a strong political component and a large minority of people with their heads in the sand for ideological reasons, but that’s true generally). Hopefully this tiff will be the start of that progression, especially when outside influences actually make the science better.

Of course the more interesting time will be when it is largely accepted and people are just arguing ferociously about how to respond to it on a socio-political level.

* I’ve noticed that most skeptics are chemists, geologists and basic engineers. Except for a minority of scientists in those fields, none of them operate on the level of dynamical systems, feedback loops, etc. As such, their arguments why it can’t be real are so ungrounded in the basic principles that it takes forever just to get them on page one. By contrast, biologists (especially systems biologists), nonlinear control theory engineers and many physicists have paradigms that rely on dynamical theory and I have yet to meet one that is skeptical of AGW on a fundamental level.

Update: I’d be remiss to point out that the CRU data set isn’t the only comprehensive collection in the world, and that it actually shows far less warming than the NASA/NOAA ones due to how it handles the Arctic.

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  • Zzzzz

    Beautifully done!

    • shannonlee

      I concur.

  • I agree – well done. That said I was never under any illusions that anyone would actually do anything about climate/environmental change. But it will be those trying to stop action now will be the first ones pointing fingers when sea water is flooding the NY subways, 100s of millions of people are displaced and billions starve.

    • mikkel

      Yeah well, how’d pointing fingers work out for Iraq and the economy? They didn’t at all, people just have mass rationalization that it was impossible to know and that everything is post hoc rationalization.

      Something that is giving me a bit of a moral crisis is seeing how the people that had complete and accurate predictions for the last decade built on careful study and abstractions were proven entirely correct but are still completely marginalized in favor of those that were completely wrong. What’s the point of trying to be right if the charlatans and sociopaths that prey on the subconscious herd effect maintain control at all costs?

      That said I think there is hope that we can develop technological solutions to help mitigate the forthcoming problems for those that do care.

  • jackfoster

    This is a bigger issue than realize, because it may not be limited to CRU (google Climategate AND New Zealand), and because it exposes a mindset in the field that corrupts the Science in the favor of political activism. Some of the most damaging e-mails are those expressing private doubts with the Science contrasting with public statements that the Science is settled. For example, from Trenberth:

    ” . . . we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!”

    Here’s junkscience.com’s take on this:

    “Seems very explicit, doesn’t he? What possible context could change its meaning? Note, too, the recent date, long after the frequently cited Kiehl & Trenberth (1997) and subsequent revision (2008). This from the guy who claims we have a net surface absorption of 0.9 Wm2.

    “Why is this so important? It really invalidates climate models since they are allegedly driven by the global energy budget and how energy moves through the system. If we can not account for what is happening in the climate system we can not model it nor is there any basis for climate model “projections”, “predictions” or whatever you want to call the fairytales released by Gore, the IPCC or anyone else.”

    Related to this, here’s a quote from warmista — Stephen Schneider of Stanford:

    “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

    Schneider, of course, only a few decades ago was on-board with the then consensus of . . . global cooling! At that time, again, I guess it was more important to warn the world than to get the Science right! Here’s an old “In Search Of” episode from May 78 using Schneider as expert regarding Global Cooling:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ndHwW8psR8&feature=player_embedded

    So how do we have confidence in these people? Are these pre-eminent Climatologists . . . Scientists masquerading as Political Activists, or are they Political Activists masquerading as Scientists? And whatever the case, it is clear that these men have committed a level of fraud in exchange for large-scale grant money while corrupting the peer-review process. So what is it exactly that you base your belief in AGW upon?

    • mikkel

      ” . . . we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!”He has already addressed this and it squares with earlier public statements and papers. It is a statement that the energy is not going to the surface temperatures in a predictable fashion, it is being contained in the oceans and then released in an unpredictable fashion. This is actually one of the biggest points of research now, whether El Nino/La Nina cycles have a net long term effect* (they don’t appear to) and how the decadal fluctuations move energy out of the ocean and into the atmosphere.What people excerpt from his email as “proof” that the issue is made up is actually “proof” that the situation could get out of control very quickly. They know that as oceans heat up and acidify then they can’t hold as much CO2 or extra heat, and in the past gave it off. Since such a tiny bit of heat has been given off relative to the amount absorbed by the system (a recent study says 10% since 1950) the consequences of our historical emissions have hardly been felt.The ocean is showing severe signs of stress already and if that 10% goes up to 40-50% (let alone actively releasing greenhouse gases, which is possible due to frozen methane structures) then things will get real bad, real quick.This is the perfect example of a “denier” statement vs. skeptic. The skeptical scientists I’ve read haven’t cherry picked the emails to try to make their colleagues look like liars and frauds by intentionally misreading the point of the message. They also don’t claim global cooling was a consensus…since 5 papers and two years of talk is hardly a consensus. I would be amused at the irony that a lot of the statements that deniers are pouncing on actually contradict their whole messaging, but it’s more depressing that it is working.

      * Only a few months ago a lot of skeptics/deniers jumped on a paper showing zero mean changes due to ENSO even though the paper operated on derivatives…thus removing the mean. Again an example of entirely missing the boat.

  • Zzzzz

    And whatever the case, it is clear that these men have committed a level of fraud in exchange for large-scale grant money while corrupting the peer-review process.

    While I am certainly not defending these scientists for not being as fully upfront about the science as they should have been, it is really ironic that you are quoting the junkscience.com website related to fraud in exchange for money. The guy who runs this site used to to get paid by tobacco companies to lie about tobacco research. Now his cash comes from oil and gas companies, and surprise! surprise! he takes the same approach to climate change research. Out of the hundreds of studies (most of which are good, quality research), he picks those that are done badly, points out the problems with the studies, and then makes the ridiculous claim that this means ALL research related to climate change is bad. Cash for fraudulant claims.

  • jackfoster

    Incidentally, I heard a lecture from Cal Berkeley physicist Rich Muller called “Physics for Future Presidents”. He doesn’t feel than alarmism regarding AGW is warranted at all:

    http://muller.lbl.gov/teaching/Physics10/PffP.html

    • mikkel

      Thanks for the link. I was thinking of putting together something with similar lines, although not on physics as much as statistics and mathematical constructs. I’m going to buy his book.

  • jackfoster

    It’s hard to argue that there wasn’t a Global Cooling scare in the 70s. Here from Time Mag:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914-2,00.html

    Here’s a George Will column, humorously tying together many quotes from many different magazines:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/02/apocalypse_now_highly_unlikely.html

    In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950” (The New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

    What was lacking then was the apparent fraud that we’re seeing now. The cooking of the books, the intentional deletion of data subsequent to Freedom Of Information requests, the intimidation of journal editors and the corruption of the peer-review process . . .

    • mikkel

      Sigh…jack you really need to do more research. Everything you cite has been long debunked.Even in the 70s warming predictions outdid cooling by a ton in peer reviewed journals.

      *Sorry I see that there were seven not five papers. My mistake.

    • TheMagicalSkyFather

      Time magazine is not a peer reviewed journal but a news magazine. As we know news can also be total bunk or just opinion as well. Peer reviewed science journals are a good deal different. As for George Will he lost a good amount of face over that article that was widely debunked. It was also the last time I heard someone defend him or call him anything other than a partisan hack short of partisan blogtopia which also think Hannity and Olberman have important opinions we all need to hear. All in all that article embarrassed him and his paper but please post it everywhere because it is so chock full of holes non-scientists can join in the fun of his idiocy.

  • jackfoster

    Looks the “denial” is on the other foot, now!

    • pacatrue

      Mikkel already linked to a specific post, but many of your concerns are addressed quickly and nicely at:

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

      Most importantly, if you are worried that they are pulling the wool over your eyes, you can click on the “More” link next to each summary and get links to all of the actual research, so you can judge for yourself.

    • Zzzzz

      The first time it was proposed that green house gases were causing global warming was back in 1896. You had research in the 1930’s, 1950’s, late 70’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, and this decade all showing warming. You had a brief blip of 5 papers showing cooling in the early 70’s. The media jumped all over it, like the scientific illiterates they are, and you act like it discredits all climate change research. The denial is still on your foot.

  • pacatrue

    I read some of JackFoster’s link, but eventually had to stop because I’m supposed to be doing my own actual work. Anyway, I read some of Muller’s chapter on climate change. Here’s an excerpt (I took the liberty to highlight some bits):

    Moreover, people have reported a large number of anomalous weather conditions. In his movie and accompanying book, An Inconvenient Truth, Vice President Gore showed increases in the intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. Much of what he says is exaggerated; I’ll discuss the details in this chapter. When such exaggerations are exposed, some people are tempted to dismiss the danger altogether, but that is false logic. Incorrect reasons put forth to substantiate a hypothesis do not prove the hypothesis false. There is plenty of reason for concern. Of course, the actions must be driven by an understanding of what is real and what isn’t. Some proposed actions are merely symbolic; others are designed to set an example; others have the purpose of being a first step. Few of the proposals (and virtually none of those presently being put forth by major politicians) will really solve the problem. You need to know the difference between symbolic gestures and effective action.
    To make matters worse, the burning of fossil fuels has another effect beyond global warming—one that gets attention in scientific circles but is not widely appreciated by the public. About half of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels winds up in the oceans, and that makes the oceans more acidic. The problem is not as immediate as acid rain, but still it can affect life in the oceans in potentially disastrous ways. The acidification of the oceans may be a bigger danger to the ecosphere than a few degrees of additional warmth. I won’t discuss this problem further in this chapter, but you should not forget about it.

  • jackfoster

    Hi Mikkel:

    Not really a debunking, right? I mean, the articles that Will quotes are real. But a good clarification; thanks. Certainly, there were claims of consensus; in reality, you’re probably right that there wasn’t a true consensus for cooling.

    Pacatrue, I saw a one hour lecture, and I haven’t read the book. I only brought up Muller because the author of this article mentioned that physicists didn’t tend to be skeptics. (I have another Physicist friend who is a strong skeptic as well.)

    I’m not actually “a denier”; certainly, all other things being equal, an increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will produce warming. But all other things are not equal; there are hundreds of variables which force climate change. I started out this debate on the side of the warmistas; why would the powers-that-be and the establishment make this up? I was persuaded to do some independent research, and it became clear to me that we didn’t really know very much with certainty. And that’s what Climategate has reinforced for me. The practice of climatology has become irreparably corrupted by political activism, and the so-called “consensus” of today is enforced by political tactics.

    • mikkel

      “Schneider, of course, only a few decades ago was on-board with the then consensus of . . . global cooling!”

      “What was lacking then was the apparent fraud that we’re seeing now. The cooking of the books, the intentional deletion of data subsequent to Freedom Of Information requests, the intimidation of journal editors and the corruption of the peer-review process…”

      “Certainly, there were claims of consensus; in reality, you’re probably right that there wasn’t a true consensus for cooling.”

      You changed your tone quickly.

      I should have been more specific when I said physicists, as I wrote it I nearly change it. I should have said physicists studying nonlinear feedback processes i.e. some specialized circuits, the way that matter interacts with many components, etc.

  • gcotharn

    A.J. Strata believes CRU East Anglia had the raw temperature data as late as 2008, maybe into 2009. He believes he has found the raw data in the hacked information. http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/11643

  • Global warming has become so politicized it’s a farce. The governments of the world see a global carbon tax; the scientist’s see major grant money! Now I believe in a clean planet. I was taught in the Boy Scouts to leave a place better than I found it and in Sunday school I was taught that the humans were the caretakers of the planet. Now I say that became a full time job cleaning up after all you bad humans, so I now only clean up after myself.

    The way I see this is that world population is increasing at an alarming rate! We as humans are decimating the rain forests of the world and they (The Rainforests) are the co2 eaters. The oceans are being polluted at an alarming rate, with chemicals and trash-debris. The Oceans are like big air conditioners. Once you kill the rain forests and the oceans the planet will become inhospitable for humans and we will become extinct just like dinosaurs. The planet will rid itself of us, the ants and cockroaches will take over and the earth will begin to heal.

    I could go on and on, but from the way I see this it is an exercise in futility. To be quite frank with you, global warming is about; Show Me the Money (Cash Cow If You Will)! The corporations of the world are getting richer and richer as we speak; they are the real monetary winners in the self destruction of the environment!

    That’s my take on it what’s yours?

    SATAN

  • ProfElwood

    (Hand raised from the back row) Why can’t we just encourage the use of wind/solar/hydro and figure out the rest of this later? We have enough incentive to do this just for the principle of energy independence, and by encouraging people to supply their own power, we can bypass draconian government laws, skip the fear of large corporations, reduce dependency on the power grid (which would improve power security), and allow more time for manufacturers to ramp up production.Or am I missing something?

    • mikkel

      The technology isn’t quite there yet, primarily batteries. Plus that is a HUGE commitment, especially if you think there is no reason not to burn coal (oil is its own issue). We are about at a place where we can generate electricity for a similar cost as coal, but storage is still a very expensive proposition for now. I believe that in the next 5-10 years there is the potential to change this. Sometime in the near future I hope to have a post on ALL the options that are currently proposed and their cost/benefits.

      • ProfElwood

        The technology isn’t quite there yet, primarily batteries…

        True, but it’s close. There are a few non-battery storage methods (such as capacitors and flywheels) that are becoming more efficient, but need to have their storage times extended, and the business and industrial market is already established. Wind generation is pretty mature, but solar still has some growing room, and a few technologies that could get us there. With larger markets, more companies would be interested in development for homes.

        • mikkel

          Yeah don’t get me wrong, I definitely think we should have a mass switch to those technologies starting immediately. They aren’t that much more than fossil fuels, especially when you factor in the increased economic activity, decreased trade deficit and smaller geopolitical consequences. In fact their net effect could be even less.

          This is one area where I think the government’s response to the financial crisis has really hurt us. By trying to prop up our (broken) system, it’s keeping tons of capital tied up, whereas if they let the bad debts go bad then we’d have a lot more capital to spend on these projects.

  • DLS

    The defensiveness is currently accompanied by desperation. Look at how “deniers” is misused all the time. What’s really at issue is that there is no merit in, and no excuse for, alarmism or catastrophism, and no need for unwarranted, perverse “urgent actions” that are typically sought. The resistance to this distinguishes the honest and rational people from the alarmists and the professional political and highly politicized “global warming” “cottage-world industrialists.”

    • mikkel

      DLS how many people have you heard that are you like you that truly have read and seemingly understand all the scientific arguments and even think they are relatively accurate, but then say that there is no need for alarm. You are the *only* person I’ve ever seen. Have I criticized you for that other than saying I don’t understand how you can think it? No.

      Maybe there are secret colonies of people like you, but personally every single person I’ve read that is against urgent action bases it in saying that there is no issue at all, 99.9% of the time with extremely flawed points.

      Personally I’d like to see you explain exactly what specific steps you’d like to see in mitigation or acclimation or whatever instead of generic denunciations smears and pats on the back. Because based on your criteria of “honest and rational” you are the only person I’ve ever met.

      • CStanley

        If I’m not mistaken, isn’t DLS somewhat echoing the position of Lindzen? I guess to some extent Lindzen also doesn’t accept the consensus or the model predictions- but even so, I think he says that if the models of dramatic climate change from CO2 forcing are correct, that we still have to consider whether it’s possible to change it or if we’re not better off trying to adapt.

        • mikkel

          IMO if you think we’re better off trying to adapt but think the consensus is relatively accurate then you should cast your lot in with the people that are trying to get society at whole to understand the issue. Agreeing with the projections but then dismissing everyone as alarmists and schemers that thinks we should do something quickly while allowing scientific inaccuracies to be pervasive is not ethical.

          In a prior thread DLS and I discussed in great detail specific scientific projections and we were nearly 100% in agreement. However he thought it was no big deal, even though he admitted that we would have to have large social migration and the upper reaches of Canada would become the new grain belt. He is entitled to his opinion about that, but it is a moral question, not a scientific one. Perhaps he thinks that it is impossible to lower emissions to the amount needed without large scale economic decreases (something I’m not sure of, and even if true, I am also not sure that it need be disastrous…I think we produce FAR more than is needed to have a good standard of living and social expectations are our largest problem at the moment) and that he thinks that it’s worth it. Or maybe he thinks politicians will screw it up like they have everything else so we shouldn’t try. Fine, it’s his prerogative, but we’d be a lot better off if everyone had an honest discussion about the sociopolitical strategies that should be used based on the science.

          It’s not “rational” to say it’s no big deal, since that’s just a value system.

          • CStanley

            Agreeing with the projections but then dismissing everyone as alarmists and schemers that thinks we should do something quickly while allowing scientific inaccuracies to be pervasive is not ethical.

            And agreeing with the projections but then dismissing everyone as deniers anyone who thinks that skepticism is still appropriate (and that the political solutions must be accurately assessed, and that changing public opinion should be done ethically and honestly and not through use of distortion) is also not ethical.

            You seem to acknowledge that in this article, but you’re much more convinced than I am that a sea change is happening with regard to the rhetoric. In the link to RealClimate that you provided, for instance, I don’t see a change in tone at all- in fact they seem to be sharpening the knives and blaming the ‘hackers’ for doing something that might discredit the scientists at CRU.

          • mikkel

            I am unclear about the reaction amongst the scientists themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were livid and intemperate. A lot of scientists have very poor emotional communication skills. There is a lot of yelling and bluntness that they do even amongst friends and those they respect.

            I was referring more to the “community” as defined by people outside the research but care about it. The activists, scientific philosophers, etc. have a line more like this with some people arguing that it’s important to try to figure out whether someone has a genuine interest or not before you interact.

          • CStanley

            Yes, I have seen that letter by Curry and it’s a much better example of someone in the ‘community’ having a positive reaction to the leaked e-mails. However, reading the comments on that blog in response to it still doesn’t give much encouragement of a shift in the tone of debate (a lot of the commenters are critical of Curry or basically saying, nah, we still need to ignore the deniers.)

      • DLS

        Let’s see if this makes it…

        “how many people have you heard that are you like you that truly have read and seemingly understand all the scientific arguments and even think they are relatively accurate, but then say that there is no need for alarm”

        The vast majority of people.  It is either blatantly political or mentally ill to be alarmist or catastrophist, as well (obviously!) as to support rash urgency to engage in what is (obviously) an overreaction and to seek measures (“mitigation”) that are perversely crippling as well as transparently familiar.  (And it’s common knowledge to those following political and economical arguments — unlike you, I am in a truthful position to ask, On what other world have you been occupying for more than forty years?)  Everyone who can think and reason, and who isn’t beholden to farther-left politics, knows that what the activists have advocated for “mitigation” are not only crippling, but unrealistic (as well as notoriously familiar), often wildly so (as wild as their reckless and worse imminent-disaster hystericism), and smarter people not only question if what’s advocated as “solutions” (aside from if they are consistently to be applied to all nations,
        rather than politically favored or disfavored nations, for example) cause more problems than they are purported to solve (real problems?  how bad, really?), and if the costs are greater than the (vague, mainly emotional) benefits.

        Why what is so obvious as well as true should necessitate any explanation at all is the real question.

        Climate alarmism is immature and irresponsible.  Most people know better than to succumb to that, it is so obvious.  The real question is why anyone would succumb to it (or worse, promote it, as many people do).

  • cbm321

    My connection to science was with the Hubble Space Telescope, I was an System Admin working with the scientists for 10 years. I found your comment that “science is a cutthroat business and data is very much IP in order to get grants and get a leg up.” offensive from the standpoint of astronomy. Of course, anybody with a large telescope can check anybodies results. So it is much simpler, but in the case of the Hubble this is not needed, as Hubble Telescope is only proprietary for 1 year. Some data is actually immediately non-proprietary, such as the deep sky surveys. Data is free for everyone to look at, compare that with the actions of the CRU.

    Read Richard Feynman’s lecture about cargo cult science at http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm and compare it with the folks at CRU. That is how science should work.

    Also, if no data was deleted, that is a good thing, but it also means Jones lied when he said data was lost in order to avoid a legal FOI request.

    • mikkel

      I fully agree and “grants and a leg up” refers to a short time period. Personally I feel 1 year is too little…I think maybe two years a least for a lot of what I’ve seen. There is no justification for longer and they are definitely in the wrong to not release things fully years ago.

      Also you say “proprietary” but there is a difference between proprietary and ease of use for mass consumption. They readily shared data with other people in the field but the data did not have uniform standards and other issues that would make it very hard to share with people that didn’t have an intimate understanding of it. While it’s stupid that they didn’t do things uniformly, it’s again what I’ve seen in every other field. But again, as a I said in my post, they should have spent time to make everything uniform and crystal clear ten years ago.

      Feynman’s lecture is extremely important but is not the end all. From a philosophical level, it is unclear how much is relevant to systems that we have no control over. Under that view, it’s impossible for climatology to be science at all. While they can do small scale experiments to test first principles, there is no way to repeat the experiment, let alone isolate a single variable (which is of limited use in all dynamic systems problems anyway). The best we can do is be clear about the data and models used and let people argue about whether they are proper abstractions by comparing them to dynamics that we’ve seen before. Even that still means little philosophically, but practically I believe they are rather useful.

      I think Jones will be forced to quit. As far as I’ve read there is a lot of pressure growing even from amongst the community.

    • shannonlee

      ” I found your comment that “science is a cutthroat business and data is very much IP in order to get grants and get a leg up.” offensive from the standpoint of astronomy”

      Spend a year doing stem cell research and you’ll have a different point of view. Medical research is a sharks den. Working for the mob is safer 😉

      • Zzzzz

        Medical research is a sharks den. Working for the mob is safer 😉

        Amen, sister!!

  • jackfoster

    Hi Mikkel:

    “You changed your tone quickly.”

    Hey, do you always complain when you win a point?! 😉 The links you gave me convinced me that there was no consensus at the time, even though some magazines of the time referred to one.

    I’d like to get your reaction to this new Lindzen article in the WSJ today:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703939404574567423917025400.html

    Thanks.

    • mikkel

      Haha well the point is that you were so vociferous about there being a consensus but then just cast off the fact that there wasn’t as a side note. I’m glad you were willing to look at the issue and be open to the facts.

      That Lindzen article is about as annoying as one can get. By that I mean that what he says is 90% accurate but I am so distracted by his completely wrong political jabs that it is difficult for me to focus on the substance of his claims:

      “Several of the emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) that have caused such a public ruckus dealt with how to do this so as to maximize apparent changes.”

      “This is the grossest of “bait and switch” scams.”

      “(though perhaps not as bad as their destruction of raw data)”

      Claims that are either flat out wrong, gross mischaracterizations of intent or extremely charged but generalized accusations (scam implies deliberate intent — OK that is a charge, now for what purpose would it be?)

      As for the substance I will start with what I like:

      He started with the CO2 can’t do much claim which got me to groan a little but then immediately went into the feedbacks that it is supposed to trigger as being the main cause. This is true and this is the main concern.

      He specifically points out the poor understanding about the multi-decadal ocean oscillations (although he put ENSO in there and that has been addressed) which I think is one of the most important areas to work on presently.

      Here is what I disagree with strongly:

      “The notion that the earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedbacks is intuitively implausible”

      Yes, it is implausible, as any cyclical system by definition has to be dominated by negative feedback loops. However this isn’t what other climatologists think, they think that we may be near a bifurcation point.

      My work isn’t in climate, but it is in nonlinear dynamics. A bifurcation point is where a system has parameters changed and — especially if they are near the extremes of the cycle — this pushes it into a new behavioral region. That normally occurs very quickly and violently, and the new region can exhibit far different that the former.

      When moving through a bifurcation point, dynamics that were acting as a negative feedback often times flip and act as positive feedbacks. For instance the ocean “normally” acts as a huge carbon sink and has been sucking up a lot of CO2 and methane. However as it warms up, not only can it not hold as much carbon, but the stored carbon can also be released. That is a perfect example of switching. I could go on with a list of 3-4 more major negative feedback loops that they believe have a good chance of switching to a positive feedback.

      Looking at this graph, if I had no idea what it was and someone told me that there was a fast increasing in positive forcing right now, I would definitely predict a quick move up. Our climate looks like it is in a regime that has a high level of variance, which is a strong sign of sensitivity to changes.

      Also, the rate of change of the forcing mechanism is also really important, Carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing thousands of times faster than they were when the climate was at a similar level. This puts a lot of stress on the negative feedback loops and further increases the chance of bifurcations.

      Another thing that I really dislike is “Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.”

      Ok first of all, moving averages should be looked at when making characterizations. As seen on NOAA’s site, the moving average has been increasing until very recently, a pause associated with a few La Nina’s and weak El Nino’s and seen in the 80s and 90s as well. Next year will almost surely be another record and I would be amazed if the moving average doesn’t start going up strongly again over the next 5 years.

      Secondly, his conclusion is faulty logic because the variances and timescales are entirely different. The models “failed to account” for internal variability on the order of a fraction of a degree and over a few years. His conclusion that makes them invalid for explaining warming of a much larger magnitude of decades is a complete non sequitur and (from someone of his stature) disingenuous.

      Also he doesn’t point out that the warming coming out of the Little Ice Age is thought to be due to increased solar influences and that there is a strong correlation between solar output and warming until the middle of this century, at which time it diverged. Here is a graph showing sunspot activity as a proxy for solar output. He also failed to mention that the last few years of solar activity have been *extremely* low the last few years, and combined with a La Nina, the fact that temperature hasn’t decreased more is frankly amazing.

      NASA expects sun activity to increase abruptly within a couple of years, and if so we could see very rapid warming.

      I object to his squirrelly language (accurately describing the problem but dismissing all the work as “unlikely”) without stating what would get him to change his mind. For instance in the past I have said that if the world had not warmed considerably in the next 5 years I would seriously start to question the consensus, and based that on the La Nina/El Nino cycle, solar activity and decadal oscillations. Thus I have stuck out my neck for a discrete time period of what my understanding says should happen based on what I think is their understanding. If we don’t see that then something is wrong.

      He can claim skepticism of their feedback loops and that’s great and encouraged. But he should be clear about what would convince them that the loops are positive instead of pointing to 2.3 billion years ago, which is another completely non sequitur considering the world was completely different both in life forms and distribution. Heck there weren’t even complex plants and a mature carbon cycle then. To bring that up is a sign of flailing unless he has a more specific critique.

      • CStanley

        Yes, it is implausible, as any cyclical system by definition has to be dominated by negative feedback loops. However this isn’t what other climatologists think, they think that we may be near a bifurcation point.

        My work isn’t in climate, but it is in nonlinear dynamics. A bifurcation point is where a system has parameters changed and — especially if they are near the extremes of the cycle — this pushes it into a new behavioral region. That normally occurs very quickly and violently, and the new region can exhibit far different that the former.

        If I’m understanding you correctly here though, aren’t you saying that the theory relies on an acceptance that we really are at this bifurcation- that the systems are now going to start behaving in ways that they’ve never behaved before? And isn’t it reasonable to say that there would be a huge burden of proof, which has NOT yet been fulfilled, before accepting that this is really the case?

        That seems to be Lindzen’s point, as far as I can tell, and I think he’s appropriately placing the burden of proof. You’re saying that it’s his responsibility to say what would convince him- but why isn’t it the ‘consensus’ climatologists’ burden to devise the hypotheses and tests of their own theory? And why is he wrong for pointing out that they’re (in the public/political discussions, anyway) trying to bypass that burden and say that it is settled?

        • mikkel

          Well it’s also the ‘consensus’ climatologists burden to say what would get them to question their models too. Everyone should.

          Lindzen isn’t wrong for doing that, he is just using very brittle analogies and (in this at least) leaving out primary factors that the consensus pays attention to.

          Climate science has been called a nightmare for science and that characterization is very true. There is no way to devise hypotheses and “test” them in any short timescale, the actions we do today take a full 30 years to be felt (the majority of what we are experiencing is still due to 80s and early 90s) and it is inherently charged with political meaning since it affects so much.

          We may be close to that bifurcation, we may be very far away. It’s impossible to know. [Although I will say that looking at behavior transitioning through a bifurcation shows extreme volatility, of the sort predicted by the models and we are seeing increasing amounts of in both geographic space and weather patterns. That is definitely a symptom] However, we do know that CO2 spikes have lead to that bifurcation in the past and caused extremely fast warming, and that the higher the concentration (and rate) the more likely we will hit it and then literally be able to do nothing. The CO2 rate is rising at thousands of times faster than it has in recent (i.e. millions of years) history and even if we address it now we will still get extremely close to the levels that apparently triggered runaway effects in the past (around 450 ppm). We will be there in the next 15-20 years if we don’t change how things are run, and 480-500 will be a sure bet, which is almost certainly past that bifurcation point.

          Really the core issue isn’t to be “correct” in the typical sense of the word because there is no way to be fully correct. Just like for the economy, the best we can do is make qualitative models backed by quantitative observations and then approximate risks and costs. The core issue is to have different assumptions, see where those assumptions take us and then have case studies. That is actually what they do, and the IPCC is a summary of those different models. As our measurements and observations improve, then the assumptions can be improved and we can move on.

          So really it depends on what your call for response is. If someone said that we had to stop all power generation right now then I wouldn’t think we had enough understanding to say that. However, to argue for gradual but severe reductions that are completely doable with present technology at a cost that is a fraction of what we spend on the military each year and will actually be a positive contributor after 10-15 years? I think we definitely have enough understanding to advocate that, and the burden is on Lindzen’s position because if he is wrong then the damage will be enormous compared to the cost of trying to mitigate it…and he has no clear critique other than vague “well there might be some issues.”

          I’d also note that in the field, the “consensus” that Lindzen and such describe as overblown is actually a conservative estimate based on what the people talk about amongst themselves and in papers. A lot of the politicization in the field is actually to report the lower bound of consensus, because there is a growing concern that if they reported the median-worst then people would give up all hope.

          This is an important reason why they need to make everything easily accessible. As much as many people like to pretend that science is something that finds objective truths, the fact of the matter is that in any real system you can’t control for all variables and conclusions are inherently based on what assumptions are made about what matters the most. In recent decades there have been very accurate critiques of science that suggest it is less about categorizing Natural Truths, and more about developing a framework of understanding that has practical utility, and when it’s said there is a consensus about global warming, it means that the framework of understanding seems like the best explanation of what is going on and what has occurred in the past, and the best way of having utility going forward. Then they estimate things based on that.

          Pointing out possible deviations by claiming a minor flaw or “what if” is not a sufficient critique…an alternative model needs to be developed that does a better job of explaining the observations. Instead of spending their time wringing hands, skeptics should be doing that.

          • Zzzzz

            Beautiful, again! What a treat to read this!

          • CStanley

            It seems to me that we’re talking about two different types of burden of proof- that for the scientific theory and that for the political ‘consensus’.

            You’re right, of course, that politically the person or group that advocates the position that has the most serious potential outcome has the greater burden. But scientifically, that’s not the case, and what I see Lindzen and others saying is that the blurring of that burden of proof to allow sloppy or unethical science (or maybe I should phrase that as ‘politicized science’ where the scientists certainly appear to be using tactics to marginalize their critics even when those critics might be raising reasonable questions about the theory and models) is wrong, and as I see it it’s actually also a hindrance to the political debate.

            The way you describe the situation here would likely be a much easier way to convince the public- explain how and why the consensus doesn’t actually mean certainty- and while you’re at it, politically these arguments can be combined with the multitude of other reasons that people might agree that energy consumption should be curtailed and renewable energy makes more sense for our long term health and survival.

          • mikkel

            “The way you describe the situation here would likely be a much easier way to convince the public- explain how and why the consensus doesn’t actually mean certainty”

            Yeah well there is a reason why I craft the majority of communication for my lab when we’re approaching new collaborators and why I’m transitioning out of basic science and into applicative business. (That and my modesty)

            I would say that while it’s a better way to convince the people that frequent this site, it won’t convince the majority of people. Of course politicizing the issue is stupid too. I am starting to get into alternative energy stuff (with a few inventions I made) in addition to my other pursuits and the “movement” aspect is troubling to me because I fear that people won’t listen to the tweaks I made to solve some of the current issues — like people that don’t recycle because that’s what “hippies do.”

            Also the movement aspect makes a lot of “green” things complete scams that people that do them and feel morally superior are actually making things worse, which is depressing.

          • CStanley

            I would say that while it’s a better way to convince the people that frequent this site, it won’t convince the majority of people.Sure, but all you really can do is try to convince people that are open to being convinced. Add that to the people who were already inclined to agree, and you might reach the tipping point (or at least you have a better chance of doing so than if you are just demonizing everyone who isn’t already on the bandwagon.)I think if that approach had been adopted early on, along with crafting some better ideas for the political solutions and avoiding the ones that have a taint of money scams, we’d be much farther along in the process at this point.

          • mikkel

            cs, do you mind if I send you something that I’ve been working on with this interesting guy I met (former chemical engineer with oil companies, disney marketing exec and now moral philosopher)? We are trying to do a project that explores contemporary society and offers suggestions going forward. He has a lot of collaborators (economists, engineers, physicists, philosophers, psychologists, etc) but I want to run it by people that will be skeptical either on an intellectual level, or even if we can convince them on that level, a moral level.

            It really gets to the crux of what you are saying.

          • CStanley

            I don’t mind at all- sounds intriguing. Do you have my email address (or access to it through Disqus?)

        • mikkel

          In the next couple of days I’m going to write a post on the economy that is a concrete example of the principles I talked about below. That should make it easier to see where I’m coming from rather than talking abstractly I think.

  • jackfoster

    Excellent response, Mikkel; thank you. You’ve provided a good counter-weight to the Lindzen argument. Unfortunately, I think it’s safe to say that time will tell.

    The fact that I was wrong about the 70s consensus for global cooling didn’t really destroy my point, of course. People, including Scientists, aren’t particularly good at telling the future. One prediction of the future that I’ll make here and now, is that we will indeed find out who’s right, because there’s no way that the leaders of the world are going to throw their economies and the world economy into a tailspin in the face of this uncertainty. Obviously, I hope that you’re wrong and that Lindzen is right, because we ARE going to do the experiment! We (humans) have an appetite for energy at the rate of 13 terawatts per year, and that number will only rise. Is it possible to satisfy our appetite without resorting to greater use of fossil fuels? Not without great cost. How certain are we that there will be benefit to the cost?

    Climategate is important because it increases the uncertainty regarding Global Warming Science in the minds of the world; something that is already uncertain for a lot of people. With Climategate, the agenda of the CRU/IPCC cabal appears to fundamentally be a political one, so the Schneider quote that I pasted upfront comes directly into play: “. . . we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” The perception of the dishonesty is extremely important, because laymen are being asked to have faith in these men. How can people have faith in those whom we know to be dishonest?

    At any rate, I’m glad I found this site; it’s been an education. I plan to check back in often.

    Cheers for now,

    Jack

    • mikkel

      Jack are you aware of group dynamics and messaging techniques? The IPCC is a political body so it is inherently political, but politics is just a mode of communication. All societal shifts have been through politics (or war, which of course Machiavelli called just another tool in politics).

      So if you are saying “. . . we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have” as a description of their communication strategy, then sure. But that is because a very small percentage of the population responds to nuance, detail and such, ESPECIALLY if it is against their preheld conceptions. There has been tons of research into that phenomenon, I could send you many examples.

      So I don’t disagree with your characterization (however as I noted above they walk a tightrope, not wanting to make things sound too drastic either) but that doesn’t mean the science is wrong. DLS above understands the science and objects to the messaging because he thinks it’s no big deal. Fair enough, but that means that people that feel that wayshould have a specific effort to convince everyone of the science as separate from the messaging. As it stands, no one bothers to learn about anything unless they think it will have a disastrous impact (I spent years trying to educate people about the economy and why it would collapse before the end of the decade) but suddenly after it happens then everyone reads and talks about it as part of every day conversation. That is part of the reason for the messaging, not because there is a conspiracy to make up something.

      In any case, in the next few days I am going to write about my understanding and actions regarding the economy and how I feel it is a good reflection of my understanding and fears about the climate so there is a concrete example that people can understand/argue against. You’d probably find it gives a much better understanding of where the consensus is coming from (regardless of whether it turns out to be correct or not).

      • CStanley

        So if you are saying “. . . we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have” as a description of their communication strategy, then sure. But that is because a very small percentage of the population responds to nuance, detail and such, ESPECIALLY if it is against their preheld conceptions. There has been tons of research into that phenomenon, I could send you many examples.

        I get that in theory and I’m sure there are examples of this strategy ‘working’…but in this case I think it’s backfiring. I think that’s because the ‘denier’ label has been so overused, so anyone who wasn’t convinced by the non- nuanced arguments has become so polarized that they’re now very difficult to persuade (perhaps hardened to the point of being non-persuadable.) Also, the non-nuanced portrayal of all ‘deniers’ as tools of oil companies breeds resentment- and people are also savvy enough to see that there’s a money trail on BOTH sides of the debate (and the public is paying the tab for the scientific research, which leads to even more resentment when some of the taxpayers are denigrated unfairly in that way if they simply aren’t yet convinced.) And speaking of money, there’s also the unseemliness of some of the political ‘solutions’ which line the pockets of certain activists and spokespeople for the cause (cough cough, Al Gore.)

        Let’s face it- if the main argument is that this is all too complex for laypeople to understand and thus we have to trust the scientists, then the scientists had damn well better behave in ways that are above reproach- and they haven’t (nor is it humanly possible to presume that any group would be that virtuous.)

  • TedToo

    Skeptics of global warming have been frustrated by the lack of debate on the issue. Led by John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, more than 31,000 scientists (including over 9,000 PhDs) have added their name to the list of scientists who refute the claim that global warming is a man-made phenomenon. Compare this to the 2,500 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    In spite of the fact that twelve times as many scientists disagree with global warming claims, the U.S. Climate Czar, Carol Browner, concluded, “I’m sticking with the 2,500 scientists. These people have been studying this issue for a very long time and agree this problem is real.”

  • jackfoster

    Fairly strong summary of Climate-gate. Includes much more backstory, and explains the issues well:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/017/300ubchn.asp?pg=2

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