The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Litmus Test for the Naysayers

The denial group is behaving in a very revealing way.

The denialists are now trumpeting a very silly argument that El Nino (a quasiperiodic oscillation with energy in the 2-10 year band) is dominating secular trends in global temperature by an argument that I summarized in seven steps recently.

I would like to start the day with a shorter summary:

1) El Nino dominates interannual variability.
2) Frantic armwaving, accompanied by sciencey-looking charts and graphs.
3) Therefore, warming is predominantly due to El Nino.
4) Therefore, very not the IPCC.

Of course conclusion 4 will resonate with the Not the IPCC crowd. It is the conclusion they want, er, I mean, the conclusion that their serious thought has led them to in the past, right?

The trouble is, their argument goes like this

1) The sun is the source of atmospheric energy
2) Frantic armwaving, accompanied by sciencey-looking charts and graphs.
3) Therefore, warming is predominantly due to solar changes.
4) Therefore, very not the IPCC.

Admittedly, there is some similarity in the discourse. But notice, notice carefully, the subtle difference. These are based on altogether different premises and reach (in step 3) contradictory conclusions. They cannot both be true!

Let's stipulate for the sake of argument that either or both of these were scientific hypotheses and not political gamesmanship. Then, whoops, while they reach identical political conclusions, they are competing scientific hypotheses. Therefore the scientists, having two competing hypotheses, will immediately set out to find evidence in support of their view and in opposition to the other.

On the other hand, if both groups are simply seeking ways to reach conclusion 4, they will consider themselves compatible and issue mutual congratulations. So have a look at the usual "skeptic" sources and see whether this new information is

A) dismissed as nonsense
B) thoughtfully treated as a significant challenge to their world view
C) celebrated without much regard for intellectual coherence

Only responses A or B are consistent with scientific thought. For instance, as I write I haven't looked at Watts Up yet, but I am guessing C.

Hmm, my prognostic abilities are validated!

The Not the IPCC crowd is making a mistake by lining up behind this McLean nonsense. In doing so they demonstrate that they have no scientific hypothesis.

People on record with a solar-centric view who immediately celebrate this result demonstrate that whatever thought they have put into this problem has no scientific component. They simply have a political view that the IPCC must be wrong and will promote anything that sheds doubt on the consensus view.

That's politics, not science. Which is what we've been saying about them all along.

19 comments:

Dana said...

Except the deniers will use this for the "we just don't know" argument. They'll say "we don't know if it's solar or ENSO, so we also don't know if it's anthropogenic. Since we don't know, you can't justify regulating CO2 emissions".

Deniers = delayers.

Michael Tobis said...

Right, while a real scientist would start thinking about ways to find out which was true! If you really have a scientific theory you will have no trouble defending it and will eagerly rise to the occasion.

That's the point. The stance you propose is still evidence of interest in "IPCC yes/no" and not in "how does the world work".

thingsbreak said...

Unfortunately, I think that they simply ex post facto hybridize the two, arguing that the sun drives ENSO and thus no contradiction.

The beginnings of this can be seen in the hype around the recent Meehl paper, e.g. here.

Michael Tobis said...

I suppose they will have to come up with a loose minus sign somehow, since I read this proposed effect as acting in the wrong direction. Solar increase -> La Nina means the southern oscillation damps the sun's effects. But making sense was never part of the program.

I wish people wouldn't brainstorm for them on how they can weasel out of this, though. Let's leave this as their problem...

EliRabett said...

It's called the incoherence of denial.

Marion Delgado said...

I can reconcile this. All you need to stipulate is that:

1. The sun is made of iron

2. Velikovsky was right about the enormous electrical potential between the sun and the planets.

It's probably above your pay-grades, but I'll then be able to prove that:

1. The sun causes the ENSO

2. ENSO causes 80% of global warming, with the sun directly causing the rest

Hence

The sun, via the ENSO, causes global warming.

I see thingsbreak has been pirating our good work.

Marion Delgado said...

The conclusion of that paper was "the noise is the trend."

I posted the one above this before reading what Dr. Tobis said about letting them think up this stuff themselves.

Try to restrict it to to what degree the ENSO paper is food for thought:

Take a typical glaciation cycle. First, the sun cycles slowly change. Then, you have a precipitating period, almost certainly involving sea oscillation. You get into a feedback loop of decreased albedo, increased C02 absorbed by the cooler ocean, and cooler temperatures causing more snow to fall and more carbon to go into the ocean. And it also matters how deep down the carbon goes on long time scales and what subduction currents are involved. Melting goes the reverse way with a lot of inertia.

It's one thing to quibble over what to call all that, it's another to pretend your simplification is fighting another simplification.

It's also a pity we don't call things like the PETM and to a degree what we have now "fire ages"

Michael Tobis said...

I have changed my mind.

Let's come up with theories as to how it could be at least 80% solar and at least 80% El Nino at the same time.

The more the merrier.

duffandnonsense said...

Oh dear, Michael, I thought you were the upholder of serious scientific discussion, not the builder of strawmen arguments and characterising people who have come to different conclusions from yourself as "trumpeting", "frantic arm-waving", and using "sciencey-looking charts and graphs". Indeed, I thought that was exactly the sort of language that you swiftly excised from your own Comments.

In fact it is the sort of alarmed re-action that one has seen by the, er, 'alarmists' so often at Real Climate and is just one of the things that makes me suspect that your opponents have you rattled.

Come on, Michael, you can do better than that!
David duff

King of the Road said...

David,

I'm not a climate scientist or climate blogger. I'm not a scientist at all, in fact. Further, I'm willing to evaluate skeptical evidence. But I have taken statistics and do have some knowledge of mathematics. Tamino's debunking of that particular article is so easy to understand and so obvious that the sad thing is that the skeptical sights cling to it at all.

Another very sad thing is that, given the seriousness of the situation, regardless of whom you think is correct, that you treat it like a game with such statements as "your opponents have you rattled."

That an argument such as the one presented in the subject paper followed by the ludicrous statements in the press releases is celebrated by the skeptical community is a very telling circumstance.

Credibility could only have been maintained by evaluating the paper and saying "oh, never mind."

King of the Road said...

Adding to my previous comment, if I were Michael and had to constantly be looking at and be expected to debunk such silliness I'd be frustrated too. If I can grasp the errors as easily as with this one, an expert can only be expected to be pounding his/her head against the wall.

It's not as if the effect of the filtering, regardless of the underlying data, is a matter of honest debate. Really, the only matter for debate is whether the authors (particularly of the press releases) are incompetent, careless, or dishonest.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Shorter duffandnonsense:

The argument criticized by Michael Tobis is a strawman argument! It's merely a way to distract from the real argument for global warming skepticism, which is this:

(1) They laughed at Galileo.
(2) If you criticize us, then you're angry, and so you're wrong.
(3) Therefore, very not the IPCC.

-- bi

Pico said...

I'm intrigued to see a new ant-AGW explanation emerging. It goes like this:

1) La Nina's warm the atmosphere-ocean and La Nina's cool it by changing the ratio of warm and cool oceanic water exposed to the atmosphere.

2) So if El Ninos become more frequent, then we'll get more bouts of warming and less bouts of cooling, and over time the cumulative effect is that the temperature gets ratcheted up.

And this blokereckons that he has shown that the moon via it's effect on tides, which he claims significantly affect cool upwellings, is the determinant of the timing of El Nino/La Nina. (He describes a six year cycle in tidal amplitude, but also implies that there is a multi-century trend going on as well.)

So by that reasoning, global warming is caused by the moon (while at the same time and being caused by the Sun, and not happening at all).

Oh yeah, and the moon guy is being suppressed by the IPCC and by the government not funding him.

Hank Roberts said...

Don't lose track of the economics.
There's a win in this for a few, who are paying for the PR.

Look at the pattern.

The goal has to be to
-- discourage, debate and confuse in order to delay any action, to
-- maximize the return on investment in coal and old tech as long as possible, by getting long term commitments under contract to supply newly built old tech coal-burners, while
-- shifting ownership of the coal in the ground, and the old tech that uses it, away from the rich people into the hands of the little people (pension funds, mutual funds, government)
-- Profit from selling at the artificially prolonged top, and
-- Profit by hanging on in relation to those who go down with the old resource as its value collapses

Marion Delgado said...

Mr. Duff, the kindest response I can make is, loaded down with years of evidence and sound scientific understanding of what's involved as well as the boundaries of what we know and what caveats can be raised, even serious and brilliant "opponents" like Freeman Dyson don't "rattle" us a bit.

The idea that these contradictory claims rattle us is absurd, is all. No one paper established this, and no one paper will disestablish this. It's an environmental, observational, long-term science.

Jesus, Newton, the entire Manhattan Project scientific team, Einstein, Gallileo, Hawking, Sagan, and our mothers could all co-author a paper saying there's no global warming, and it wouldn't rattle us (except to the degree we didn't think people could return from the dead).

Space aliens would "rattle" me more, because they'd have something we don't have - long-term atmospheric observations of other planets to compare ours to.

But anyone, even the aliens, would have to clear up quite a few loose ends before we'd accept their opinion.

Would it rattle you to learn that I personally wouldn't be "rattled" to know I was totally wrong? We're not religious cultists, we're gamblers - we play the odds we reckon, and the hands we're dealt.

Only on rare occasions do we have royal flushes, and even then, we aren't 100% sure the person across the table from us doesn't have one, too.

Michael Tobis said...

What about this:

1) El Nino, suitably bandpass filtered, CAUSES sunspots.

2) Sunspots cause modest global warming,

and

3) global warming causes CO2 increases

while

4) CO2 conveniently causes nothing, of course, because that's the important thing.

and anyway

5) Human CO2 emissions magically go away someplace to make room for all the natural CO2 released ny the global warming caused by ENSO-induced cosmic rays

6) Nothing at all causes ENSO. It has a mind of its own.

so

7) Not the IPCC. Very not.

QED

What?

You don't believe ENSO causes cosmic rays?

The evidence is overwhelming and the opposition is crumbling! Your socialist crypto-Kenyan freedom-hating anti-cosmic ray theories are not long for the world! See, I have charts! Graphs! Petitions!

Pico said...

LOL! Michael you crack me up. I wish comments like that could be got through the WUWT comment filter.

King of the Road said...

The conservative blog nation and talk radio has latched on, complaining that the mainstream media is "as usual, ignoring this compelling evidence."

Michael Tobis said...

Wait. Another factor!

"The rise in global temperatures since 1880 closely correlates with increases in postal charges, sparking alarm that CO2 has been usurped as the main driver of climate change."