"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, July 31, 2009

John Kerry: Fraudulent Letters Advocate Delay

Well, we are used to anonymous people showing up in random comment threads who clearly know nothing about science that they didn't read in mass media who feel comfortable proclaiming themselves to be professors. It's practically an epidemic. You have to wonder what they think they are achieving by misrepresenting themselves.

"Oh, if I really *were* a scientist I *still* wouldn't believe this stuff, so I might as well pretend to be one..."?

But this is a new one. According to Senator John Kerry, via the Charlottesville (VA) Daily Progress:
[a] congressman’s office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

"They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization," said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. "It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy."

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by "Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator," an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm

OK, really? What's the ethical argument here? "If I really *were* Hispanic I would still oppose Waxman, so it's OK to steal organizational letterhead and write to a congressman claiming to represent them"???

This isn't just a kid trolling the comment threads on the internet for earnest liberals to bother. This is a professional organization performing its duties to its client as they perceive them deliberately injecting noise into the governing process.

What do these people think they are achieving? How the hell do they sleep at night?

Is this for real? Here's a climate story for the mainstream media. Rake some muck, please.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Denialist Backlash vs Rudy Baum

Much as I hate to link to Morano, and much as I hate participating in the "news cycle", here's another denialist tactic that demands a quick response.

Rudy Baum has published a perfectly sound editorial in Chemical and Engineering News. Most notably:
On June 11, the presidents of the G8+5 national academies of science released a joint statement, “Climate Change and the Transformation of Energy Technologies for a Low Carbon Future PDF icon,” which states: “Climate change and sustainable energy supply are crucial challenges for the future of humanity. It is essential that world leaders agree on emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change.” The G8+5 consists of Canada, Italy, the U.K., the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, and Russia (G8), and Brazil, India, South Africa, China, and Mexico (+5).
Leaving aside the tragic extent to which the press ignores these G8+5 national academy pronouncements, Baum proceeds to describe the tactics of the deniers (he calls them "CCDs" for "Climate Change Deniers") about as effectively as a few paragraphs' space allows:

We see here the same tactics used by other purveyors of nonsense rejected by the mainstream scientific community. Creationists, for example, only want to expose students to “both sides of the debate over origins,” ignoring the fact that there is no debate over evolution. And, of course, it’s always useful to attack the “mainstream media.”

Heartland and its ally AmericanEnergySecurity.com are also flogging an 800-plus-page report, “Climate Change Reconsidered PDF icon,” from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC)—kind of an anti-IPCC, get it?—which, of course, proves conclusively that global warming probably isn’t happening; if it is happening, it’s not due to human activity; and, besides, a “warmer world will be a safer and healthier world for humans and wildlife alike.”

Sow doubt, make up statistics, call for an “open debate,” claim that you are being “silenced and ignored by the media and politicians,” claim that your opponents are just a “few bureaucrats and environmental activists,” not real scientists—those are the tactics that will be brought to bear in the coming months by the CCDs in their attempt to derail meaningful efforts to respond to global climate change.

Nothing here new, right? Well maybe not to the likes of us, but this is new stuff to C&E News, apparently, and a denialist drumbeat has been raised. If you can stand it, look at Morano's article.

Then have a look at the current letters section.

We see the usual stuff. People who are not actually aware of the denialists tactics, who believe that the stuff of legitimate scientific discourse is in a very diferent place than it actually is, and even some very confused nonsense that probably shouldn't have passed editorial muster for a science magazine like this:
I'm a geologist, not a chemist, but I must say that I expected better from this science magazine.

The article cites a panel that says drastic cuts are in CO2 emissions are needed to prevent acidification of oceans by 2050. It further asserts that computer models suggest that coral reefs and polar ecosystems will be seriously harmed by 2050 if CO2 emissions are not seriously curtailed.

Are these the same or similar models that have not been able to correctly account for any well-documented historical variations in global temperature such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age? Isn't it possible (or rather, likely based on scientific evidence) that CO2 is not the driver of global warming but the result of naturally occurring warming? Certainly chemists should know that as the oceans warm, they are able to hold less CO2 and will thus release increasing quantities of CO2 from solution into the atmosphere, rather than absorbing CO2 and becoming more acidic?

More at issue is the lead letter, that equates Mr. Baum's quite precise description of the circumstances at hand with "left-wing opinions".

To say this is unfortunate is an understatement. I call it the fallacy of the center: that the truth must lie somewhere between the arguments that you hear. This phenomenon can be easily gamed by a side with no respect for truth: to tell lies so extreme that by comparison the distance between the actual truth and the opposite extreme becomes relatively tiny. Then the reasonable if inattentive person will split the difference, and perceive any exposition of actual truth as biased, since it is relatively near one pole of the debate.

The careful reader should first refer to the opinions of the relevant scientific bodies, secondly to the alleged tactics of the deniers, and try to establish some ways to test the competing social hypotheses: 1) All 13 major scientific powers' national science academies are unanimously lying, perhaps to protect their few dozen climatologists who are lying because they have sinister friends in the renewable power industry or 2) A few groups are lying perhaps because they have sinister friends in the fossil fuel industry (who may perhaps be a small fraction of that community) the value of whose reserves are threatened.

One (or both) of these, unfortunately, must be true.

If you don't have the time or skill to evaluate the evidence directly you should ask which hypothetically lying group has potentially more at stake, which hypothetically lying group has the access to the resources and skills to construct a convincing fabric of lies, which hypothetically lying group has the least to lose from defections, and which hypothetically lying group has a more socially irresponsible history.

As someone sufficiently involved in the material to be able to distinguish cogent argument from incoherent blithering, I vouch for the scientific evidence lining up with the more plausible hypothesis.

In short, Rudy Baum has got it exactly right and it would be good to figure out what we can do as a community to help him.

Update: Eli predicted this kerfluffle and has a few more observations, as well as a mailing address for letters of support. It is fair to take note that the letters in C+EN were not unanimous, despite Morano's portrayal of them.

Update: Morano oddly devotes a lot of attention to somebody (somebody he calls a scientist, but then again, he calls me a professor) who apparently wrote Baum this elegantly reasoned and finely honed argument: "When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have moved on to be an unthinking urn for another rat pleading catastrophe. You will be removed. I promise." It's mysterious to me why Morano decided to highlight this person and his peculiar rat-urn argument.

Update: Via Hank Roberts: PS, main post appears to lack a link to Baum's actual editorial. It's at: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/editor/87/8725editor.html

Update: Baum replies to the letter-writers, including rat-urn-dude here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

End Times Thinking and the Locavore Fallacy

I am not confident that the world will muster the foresight needed to thrive indefinitely. I do suspect that the economies of the west have peaked. I also think that the economy of the world will peak soon. This makes me a pessimist compared with the mass media, the government, the business community.

But compared with garden variety pessimists I am a wild-eyed optimist. I don't think we are anywhere near running out of food.

In the comments to a very doom-laden article on the Oil Drum by Peter Goodchild, Euan Mearns comments:

I gather that we use about 5% of our energy in agriculture, and on that basis I don't see that agricultural output will be immediately threatened by energy decline since I assume we will manage some how to prioritise. Furthermore, with conversion ratios of 7 to 10:1 for meat, we have a substantial buffer there where high meat prices may encourage us to eat more plant produce.
This seems right to me. The world is a long way from starvation.

If transportation becomes an order of magnitude more expensive, we will see no more of South American or New Zealand fruit, but continent-wide exchanges of food remain affordable. I think it costs about a penny to ship a tomato across the continent. If that goes up to a dime, we will still have out-of-state tomatoes.

What he learned from Katrina is that our customs make it impossible to abandon a city; we are tied to our "real estate" now as much as it freed us in the past two decades. New Orleans limps back to life whether people want it to or not. New Orleans has no choice. So as I look at the bizarre Texas drought and do what we all do nowadays when weather gets strange (wonder whether it is permanent) I contemplate the vision of a heavily populated Texas as dry as California, but perhaps lacking the power to appropriate water for far afield.

My more apocalyptic local friends are all talking about local gardens, because it will be too expensive to ship food. Maybe it will come to that someday, but not for a long time. Meanwhile, which is more expensive (more energy intensive) to ship to Texas: a tomato, or enough water to grow a tomato?

Fruits and vegetables are high value cargo. Water and fertilizer (and coal and timber and rocks and cement and steel) are not. If transportation becomes expensive, it is the low value industrial processes that relocalize. In wetter areas, bulk foods like grains may relocalize as well, though many grains ship well by sea, where shipment costs are negligible.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the locavore movement, whatever its social benefits, is fighting an uphill battle. Increasing shipment costs actually pull for efficiency of production, especially good soil and sustainable water. What little farming there is in Texas will decline sharply if this summer is a taste of the future. The huge population will decline only slowly. Food will be imported, and we will find a way to pay for it somehow.

On the other hand, increasing energy costs (and further increases in population, along with continuing decline in fish stocks) argue for less meat in the diet, as does direct greenhouse forcing via ruminant belching. And the terrifying message of the movie Food Inc. that I saw recently has me convinced that corporate meat sources are unethical. Local high value-add production of meat and of processed foods, on the model of traditional food production in Europe, is a good way to make use of human efforts and natural resources while respecting animal life. And in general, fresh, of course, is better.

But this romantic idea of making reliance on local resources on an overcrowded planet into an intrinsic goal is a fetish and a wrongheaded idea except in very remote places.

(On the other hand, I am glad I am not a citizen or landowner in Australia. I don't see how they cope given present trends of energy and climate.)

Open Thread IV

for Muttley in particular, or anyone who's interested

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hope for Texas: Moderate to Large El Nino

Speaking of El Nino, the forecast is definitely for a moderate event at least this winter. Some groups are calling for a large event.

This is great news for us here in south-central Texas, and where drought conditions are currently extreme. It's been six weeks of remarkably hot and dry weather even by local standards. It amazes me that so many plants are still looking healthy. Soil moisture is so close to zero as not to make a difference.

Fortunately, El Nino (negative SOI) correlates positively with precipitation. Unfortunately, there's several months ahead before we collect on this promise.

I wonder, though, what a strong El Nino event might do for public perceptions of climate change. We might be due for some strange episodes. I have some pretty clear memories of the great Montreal ice storm in the 1998 El Nino.

We've been trained to say that "no individual event can be attributed directly to climate change", and talk about loaded dice, etc. The next really big El Nino we will put us in uncharted territory, though. I wonder if the campaign to get El Nino language into the climate debate territory isn't partly just an effort to deflect the attention to climate change that whatever weirdness we see in the next year might bring.

Even so, speaking as a Texan, (and I may live to regret this) if you've got some El Nino handy, bring it on down to my place, honey! It can't be much worse than what we've got already.

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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

If She Weighs the Same as a Duck, She's Made of Wood

Update 7/28/09: This rather long exposition was written on my first exposure to the paper. One doesn't know what to expect, and of course tries to keep an open mind to new ideas especially after they have passed peer review. I have gotten a fair amount of attention from this but in retrospect I find it a bit balky, and wished I had made the point more succinctly.

Both my point (focusing on the tortured logic) and Tamino's (focusing on an obvious and demonstrable weakness of the tortured logic) are made very effectively in a brief comment on the RealClimate article by Ron Taylor which I quote here in its entirety. For most purposes this is all you really need to know about the new paper, Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature, (McLean, de Freitas and Carter).
I have been reading and rereading this post and the comments, but still find the whole thing strangely puzzling. It seems to me that any good first year calculus student should be able to quickly find the fatal flaw in the methodology as a way of explaining temperature change (as opposed to temperature variability, since it discards any secular component). So I thought they were being really clever by making a valid correlation of SOI with temperature variability, then subtly changing the language to temperature variation. Many people, including journalists, would conflate temperature variation and temperature change, with no further effort required on the part of the authors. It looked like an example of: “If you can’t convince them with facts, then dazzle them with footwork.”

But then they claim in the press release that it actually explains temperature change, and they do so with no apparent embarrassment. Unless I am really missing something it seems incomprehensible that anyone in the scientific community would take this paper seriously.

Original posting begins:

The denialists are making a big deal about the new paper, Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature, (McLean, de Freitas and Carter).

It's a data analysis paper, and pretty much a no-brainer. It shows that global mean temperature variance is dominated by the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index (which most climatologists would have said was obvious) and that the lag is about 7 months, with ENSO leading the temperature (a modestly useful result).

The odd bit is toward the end:
[33] Chapter 3 of the Working Group I contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [2007] notes the strong relationship between the ENSO and various climate phenomena, including surface temperature. Chapter 8 reports “considerable model skill out to 12 months for ENSO prediction.” Chapter 9 raises the question of ENSO response to continued anthropogenic warming, although causal connections are not clear. However, nowhere does IPCC [2007] mention the delay between a change in ENSO and a corresponding change in GTTA, which we have shown here to be 7 months. Climate modelers acknowledge that their models do not adequately hindcast average global temperatures from 1950 to 1990 and apply a human influence factor to make up the deficit. The strength of the time lagged relationship between ENSO and GTTA, as demonstrated here, suggests that variation in the poorly modeled ENSO may account for the deficit and may be the cause of a large part of the observed warming since the midtwentieth century. The sequence of the lagged relationship indicates that ENSO is driving temperature rather than the reverse. Reliable ENSO prediction is possible only to about 12 months [IPCC, 2007], which implies that accurate temperature forecasting beyond that period will only be possible after improvements in ENSO prediction.


[36] Since the mid-1990s, little volcanic activity has been observed in the tropics and global average temperatures have risen and fallen in close accord with the SOI of 7 months earlier. Finally, this study has shown that natural climate forcing associated with ENSO is a major contributor to variability and perhaps recent trends in global temperature, a relationship that is not included in current global climate models.
This builds loosely on

[29] The Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976 [Guilderson and Schrag, 1998] appears to have had an effect on the SOI and therefore on the GTTA. The abruptness of this change suggests a major physical event, but no definite cause has been established. McPhaden and Zhang [2002] report a significant decrease in the estimated cold-water upwelling since that time. This implies a warmer Pacific Ocean and a bias toward El Niño events, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or consequence of the shift. Figure 4 shows that the change in SOI, in February or March of 1976, was followed by a corresponding change in GTTA in the last few months of the year. The granularity of the RATPAC-A GTTA data prevents clear identification of the time of change but it appears to be consistent with the time lag reported here.

[30] For the 30 years prior to the 1976 shift (i.e., 1946–1975) the SOI averaged +1.93 but in the 30 years after 1976 (i.e., 1977–2006) the average was −3.06, which represents a shift from a La Niña inclination to an El Niño inclination. The standard deviations for the two periods were 9.48 and 10.40 on monthly SOI averages, and 6.56 and 6.35 on calendar year averages, which indicates consistent variation about a new average value. Only the RATPAC-A data are available for lower tropospheric temperatures both before and after this shift, and even then we are limited to 17-year periods for our analysis of RATPAC-A data because monitoring did not commence until mid-1958. From 1959 to 1975 the RATPAC LTT averaged −0.191°C and from 1977 to 1993 it averaged +0.122°C. The standard deviations on the seasonal data were 0.193° and 0.163 C°, and on monthly data 0.162°C and 0.146°C. We have already illustrated the close relationship between SOI and GTTA, but this description of the respective changes before and after the Great Pacific Climate Shift indicates a stepwise shift in the base values of each factor but otherwise relatively consistent ranges of variation.

[31] The findings presented here are consistent with the Southern Oscillation being a major driver of temperature anomalies, not only in the tropics but also on a global scale. In passing we also note that according to the relationship between SOI and GTTA, 1983–1984 would likely have been about as warm as 1998 if not for the cooling influence of El Chichón.

Now we see the authors making claims like this in informal venues:

"The surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean that made warming El Niño conditions more likely than they were over the previous 30 years and cooling La Niña conditions less likely" says corresponding author de Freitas.

"We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century. It may even be more if the period of influence of major volcanoes can be more clearly identified and the corresponding data excluded from the analysis.”


Bob Carter, one of four scientists who has recently questioned the justification for the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme, says that this paper has significant consequences for public climate policy.


"The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions. The available data indicate that future global temperatures will continue to change primarily in response to ENSO cycling, volcanic activity and solar changes.”

“Our paper confirms what many scientists already know: which is that no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation, and that, irrespective of the severity of the cuts proposed, ETS (emission trading scheme) will exert no measurable effect on future climate.”


"When climate models failed to retrospectively produce the temperatures since 1950 the modellers added some estimated influences of carbon dioxide to make up the shortfall," says McLean.

"The IPCC acknowledges in its 4th Assessment Report that ENSO conditions cannot be predicted more than about 12 months ahead, so the output of climate models that could not predict ENSO conditions were being compared to temperatures during a period that was dominated by those influences. It's no wonder that model outputs have been so inaccurate, and it is clear that future modelling must incorporate the ENSO effect if it is to be meaningful."

So was the purpose of the paper to extract a useful correlation (7 month lag)? Or was it to construct a polemic? Did the reviewers not catch the little propaganda digs at the end? Are those digs justified by the paper? What about the broad conclusions being quoted in the denyosphere?

Here's how the argument goes as I see it:
  1. We identify the lag between ENSO index and temperature, and reassert the obvious fact that ENSO accounts for most of the variance in the global temperature record
  2. We point in the direction of an abrupt shift in Pacific temperatures in 1976, and assert that this correlates with a shift in the ENSO index, and that the causality is not well known.
  3. We acknowledge that IPCC has always said the obvious fact that ENSO dominates temperature variance, and make a few random apple pie statements about ENSO predictability
  4. Glommed onto the above paragraph we assert that CO2 sensitivity has been used as a fudge to account for unforced climate models failing to reproduce the temperature signal! ("Climate modelers acknowledge that their models do not adequately hindcast average global temperatures from 1950 to 1990 and apply a human influence factor to make up the deficit.") ??
  5. ENSO leads global temperature on a seasonal time scale, therefore this "suggests that variation in the poorly modeled ENSO may account for the deficit and may be the cause of a large part of the observed warming"! ??
  6. Accurate temperature forecasting beyond ENSO predictability horizon is impossible (well, on ENSO time scales, obviously... or...?)
  7. If ENSO forces temperatures and GCMs can't predict ENSO, therefore GCMs can't predict temperature. "natural climate forcing associated with ENSO is a major contributor to variability and perhaps recent trends in global temperature, a relationship that is not included in current global climate models" ? "perhaps trends" ?
Note that 6 and maybe 7 are reasonable statements in the context of ENSO predictability but not in the context of policy time scales. These are at the ends of the paragraphs and might well pass the eye of the ENSO-centric reviewer.

Points 4 and 5 though are pretty much meaningless in the ENSO context, but are huge whoppers in the context of policy time scales. Points 4-7 can easily be read as if they were a coherent counter-theory of global warming, and in retrospect were obviously intended to be so read. But points 4 and 5 are sort of buried where the hassled ENSO expert might glaze right over them.

I suggest that points 4 and 5 should not have passed peer review. The reviewers, unfamiliar with the deniosphere or the pseudocontroversy can be forgiven for missing the double meanings of points 6 and 7. And who expects a little piece like this of ulterior motives?

But points 4,5,6,7 can be strung together to make a case that the modest evidence presented in the paper doesn't remotely support. The actual result is really not involved at all save as camouflage for this "disproving" of "global warming". Have I missed something?

(Update: yes, I missed something, but it wasn't in the article's favor! The data are bandpassed and the trend is totally erased in preprocessing! Tamino)

We are going to be stuck with this stinker for a while. This is new and different; it seems the authors were aiming to score propaganda points as much as to publish a modest result. If I read that right it's very unfortunate. I hope this sticks to the reviewers, but of course it won't. There are no consequences for bad reviewing. That's a core principle of science journals. Otherwise the free labor would go away.

Update: Kiwi press coverage: "Climate Change Down to Nature"

Update: See also this follow-up. I argue that the denialists are making a mistake by latching on to this publication.

Update: Drudge points to the Washington Examiner on the story. Still no major media coverage, which I think is appropriate.

Update: Thanks to RealClimate for linking here. Please don't miss Tamino's article pointing out that the McLean paper can't possibly have anything to say about trends since the trends are removed in the processing.

Update: What is going on is a bit subtle, and this was written in haste, so it;s little wonder a lot of folks are missing the point.

The paper identifies the correlation lag between a bandpassed correlation of ENSO index and global mean tropospheric temperature. The methodology is dubious but that us secondary. The reason this is news is that they try to connect this result with a global warming trend.

Tamino offers a proof that the connection is meaningless.

My contribution was to attempy to explain how the design of the paper is cynical. I see that it is not going to be easy to explain this very well.

The ordinary result about El Nino is merely a vehicle. The payload is a bunch of unjustified conclusions toward the end, which are written in such a way as to resemble the usual bread and butter commentary of the El Nino community with a bit of modest speculation thrown in. The reviewers only let this pass because they did not notice the possibility of drawing on this to make controversial conclusions.

It's science by double entendre.

The trick being undertaken here is subtle, and explicitly draws upon the gap between the scientific community and the rest of the world, and specifically on the obsessions of the El Nino prediction community.

It doesn't look accidental to me. I see it as a successful attempt to slip something past the reviewers. Compare the modest claims of the abstract (which the reviewers would be thinking about) with the concluding paragraphs.

The abstract concludes:

"That mean global tropospheric temperature has for the last 50 years fallen and risen in close accord with the SOI of 5–7 months earlier shows the potential of natural forcing mechanisms to account for most of the temperature variation."

which is what any physical climatologist would have expected with or without the present paper. In other words "this is normal science, nothing controversial here, these are not the droids you are looking for".

The claim in the abstract has nothing whatsoever to do with the global warming trend, but only with the interannual variance.

Only a little bit of sloppy speculation in the paper even leans in the direction of talking about the trends. (Tamino's analysis shows how unjustified that speculation is). What I'm trying to say is that the paper was presented in such a way as not to emphasize that sloppy speculation at all, until it got published, when it was suddenly all over the press.

This is not just a lousy paper. It's something much worse. It's cleverly manipulative.

Update 7/26: Investors' Business Daily takes the bait.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Think Tanks and Monopsony

Via a lead story at Morano's, and the "SPPI", since 1989, the United States Government has had a "monopsony" on climate science, meaning there have been few alternative buyers, meaning, of course, that the sellers have been satisfying the principal buyer. Sellers of what? Of science. And what science does the government want to see? Apparently science that maximally inconveniences voters.

In the press release, the amount the US government has spent on anything related to climate ($79 Billion over 20 years, $4 billion per year or 12 dollars per capita) is compared to the relatively small amount that Exxon has spent on, err, "skeptics". Exxon has spent much less on a single source of naysayer propaganda than the government has spent on earth observation satellites! This proves which way the monopsony twists the facts, apparently.

(How much funding has gone directly to influencing public opinion is 100% in the case of the Exxon money. It is very small in the case of public funding, because, hmm, public funding of information on controversial issues tends to be hard to come by, because, hmm, because the government that is responsible for all this evil is heavily influenced by the think tanks.)

Note that money expended directly on climate research other than earth observation is on the order of $200 million per year, or 70 cents per capita.

According to the press release, in the 20 years at issue, 11 of which have seen Republicans controlling the White House, and 12 of which has seen Republicans controlling the congress, the result has been that governments, "big" businesses and NGOs have been
recruiting, controlling and rewarding their own 'group-think' scientists who bend climate modeling to justify the State's near-maniacal quest for power, control, wealth, and forced population reduction.

... The truth is more crucial than ever, because American lives, property and constitutional liberties are at risk.
Apparently, there is nobody outside the USA interested in climate, it being something like baseball that other people don't have. Or else, governments everywhere are consistently paying people to tell them stuff that will get them defeated in elections.

Despite all this, I do want to vouch for the monopsony point. There really is some strangeness about the nature of the market for science. The usual impact of a single buyer is to weaken the market position of the seller. It would really be nice if some private nonprofits would pony up for independent climate research.

While I'm entirely serious about that point, think for a minute what you would really do if you were the energy sector and this were really all lies.

See you could shave off a tiny bit of your $1.38 trillion (1,380,000 million dollars) ($1380000000000.00) passing through the energy business every year in the USA alone and use it to fund a climate modeling effort. With 1 % of that money, 13.8 billion, you could buy about 65 times the entire climate science budget of the USA.

With just 0.01% of your gross income, you could easily build a credible climate model that has low CO2 sensitivity, thereby proving the proposed inherent bias in climate modeling (presuming there is one). But maybe you'd rather not bother, and just spend the 0.01% on think tanks.

I need a drink, thanks.

Predicting vs Prescribing

Just by way of name-dropping, I had coffee with Jon Lebkowsky yesterday. Jon is part of circle of people I have admired from a distance for a very long time now. I'm hoping to get better connected with some of the old guard (in Austin at least), but for now that's neither here nor there for the purposes of In It.

I bring him up because of some of the conversation that has followed up on his blog entry about Politics and Climate Change wherein he basically asked the core question of this blog, viz., especially with regard to climate change, Why Is The Truth Losing Ground? Of course, I commented, though on his Facebook page, which I guess you can't see. (*grumble Facebook grumble*) But what's really captivating me about the discussion is somebody else's response. That person quoted this article by Paul Danish in full. I'll just grab a couple of points out of it:
I'm a global warming skeptic. Not about whether it's happening or whether humans have a hand in it, but about whether anything can be done about it—or should be.

1. People will not stay the course on combating climate change or on any other major undertaking if they don't begin seeing positive results in a few years.

4. There can be no realistic prospect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions unless China stops building coal-fired power plants, which it is currently doing at a rate of about one every 10 days. This will not happen.

5. ... Most people in the Third World want running water, indoor pluming, electricity, cars, heated and/or cooled homes, telecommunications, and a lot of other material things, all of which require energy for their manufacture and operation. If meeting their needs only doubles global energy use in that time, and if that doubling is achieved without using any more fossil fuels than we currently do, it will represent a triumph of human ingenuity of unprecedented proportions.

But even that rosy scenario leaves us burning fossil fuels at today's rates, which created the problem in the first place, and which if continued will make it worse.

8. Attempting to prevent global warming is discretionary. Adapting to global warming is mandatory—at least if you want to survive and have any sort of a life.
Got the picture? There are lots of reasons it ain't gonna happen. These are solid arguments, too.

What bothers me is how people constantly confuse description and prescription. They confuse what is probably going to happen with what they want to have happen. Note that the author is clear about this in the first paragraph. "Nothing can be done. Nothing should be done."

What the hell ever happened to democracy, responsibility. I swear, people in this country think that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance" means that they should be armed to the teeth and try to squint like bald eagles at people with different colored skin. Eternal vigilance means taking responsibility for the health of the civilization, because the king isn't going to do that for you anymore. Honestly, people seem to have forgotten that we are in charge.

Yes, there is a risk that we are going to be stupid about this. There is even reason to expect that we are going to be stupid about this. But there is no reason to advocate such stupidity.

This sort of fatalism itself is fundamentally a failure of democracy. This is our problem. Not the Chinese', or the Indians' and not the Americans' either. Everybody's. If you are human, you are responsible for the state of the planet going forward.

"I predict that everybody else will be irresponsible, so I don't have do do anything" is pretty childish. Even if the premise holds, the conclusion doesn't follow.

Update: Speaking of irresponsible, here is how this very article is summarized on Climate Depot:

Climate Fear Promoter's Moment of Clarity: Tobis cites 'solid arguments' as to why efforts aimed at preventing global warming 'ain't gonna happen'

'People in the 3rd World want running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, heated and/or cooled homes'

Just what I said, right?

image from urbandigs.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Literate Climate Model Development

I am gratified to have been contacted by Steve Easterbrook of the other U of T since we seem to have similar interests. He is threatening to take me up on the idea of building a literate climate model, from scratch, in Python (yay!). He is considering the enlistment of several semesters worth of computer science classes as unpaid labor. I guess I should encourage this if it's at all realistic.

The idea is NOT to advance the state of the art in resolution or fidelity or process inclusion in climate modeling, at least not immediately. Rather it is to build a more accessible (readable, robust and modifiable) coupled general circulation model, representing physical oceanography, physical meteorology, and sea ice, forced by prescribed atmospheric concentration, orbital configuration, land surface and land ice configurations. It should be possible to download and install the model on mass market commercial computers. The design should not preclude eventual elaboration into a competitive state-of-the-art model but that should not be a primary concern.

In the Python spirit, readability counts. There may be places where readability must be sacrificed for performance, but we seek to minimize those. Above all, this is a project in literate computing. The idea is to build a CGCM with an entirely new, open, flexible and testable codebase that the maximum number of people will be able to, and want to read that can also be easily run on conventional computers. To do this, we seek to minimize complexity subject to a requirement of moderate fidelity.

I think it is important to start a project like this from a well-designed plan and a committed body of participants. At first I liked Steve's idea of drawing on an army of students passing through his classroom. But I think that's over-optimistic. Somebody has to spend a long time getting up to speed, especially on the radiation and dynamics codes.

However, there are big chunks of the code, including the overall design, that are amenable to classroom work. This might help such a project attain critical mass. But I don't think it can come to full fruition without some specialists. Perhaps we should start with the more modest intention of building an EMIC tuned to a CGCM.

Image snarfed from csa.fragme.org

Friday, July 17, 2009

Texas Drought, Global Heat,

This picture is plastered all over the front page of the Austin daily paper, with the caption

"With the Pedernales River nearly empty Thursday at the Texas 71 bridge near Spicewood, a dock is left high and dry."

The accompanying story is about the difficulty in obtaining drought aid.

On the weather page, meanwhile, is the advice that the high temperature may be below 100 for several days running next week. Around here, of late, this is news!

Austin had its second hottest June on record, and July is also a candidate for record territory.

Globally last June was the second hottest June on record. Meanwhile, no less than Roy Spencer's group is presenting preliminary advice that the global mean temperature reached its hottest value on record last week.

Remarkably, amid all this swelter, northern North America has been quite cool this summer. True to form, the denial sites are eager to point that out. Shouldn't the sweltering southwest be getting equal time? What about that global data, hmmm?

Oh, right, you're an advocate. You get to pick which evidence you like. Sorry. Silly me. I forgot.

Why Should Scientists Tweet

It was inevitable that I would be a Twitterphile.

Other than bored adolescents and adolescents-at-heart, the main users of Twitter, and the ones who actually gain something from it, are technophiles, software nerds, journalists, and activists. There is so much of interest to me there that my head spins.

But of scientists, not so much. I follow a few scientists, some of whom I have briefly met, and a couple of others from far overseas. They say very clever things. I retweet them on occasion. I wish there were more. Most of them are science bloggers, but that sort of figures.

Here is an article that attempts to explain the attraction of Twitter to scientists, but I think it doesn't entirely succeed.

Twitter finally solves the problem of asking the net a difficult question. Google serves well enough for easy ones; "What is the capital of Armenia?" "What was the name of the movie where Cary Grant's crazy aunts kill people out of kindness?" And there's a class of question for which Wolfram Alpha might be useful, too: "What's the specific gravity of ammonium nitrate at room temperature?" But there are some questions which are almost impossible for most people and very easy for a few.

Take this one: "what's the relaxation time constant for ocean acidification due to a CO2 perturbation?" This is a question for which the number of motivated querents is while modest, nonzero, and the number of people who know the answer is also small but nonzero. The answer is probably implicit, and possibly explicit, somewhere in the "literature"; however, there are enough ways to ask it that a Google search is not likely to succeed.

If biogeochemists participated in Twitter, though, I could just ask the question with a suitable "hash tag", e.g. "#biogeochem". Now, I don't actually expect that to work, because David Archer is not the type to be playing around on Twitter. (I did try, for what it's worth.)

But the #stats and #python hash tags have worked for me on various obscure questions. In a sense Twitter serves as all your usente groups rolled into one. So in addition to being a news and entertainment source, it can provide a means for asking the world questions, and for developing working relationships with investigators who have complementary skills. It seems to me a perfect venue for scientists, who often have many questions looking for answers and many answers waiting for questioners.

The crucial idea of Twitter is that it is a public datastream. While your view is highly filtered by default, (practically) everything anyone tweets is searchable, and most of it wants to be found.

Another point is that it is symbiotic with blogging. You announce your blog posts on Twitter, and hope others point them out in their own comment streams as well. And you can (as I have done recently) organize your blog so as to facilitate tweeting specific articles.

I especially encourage Twitter use among my readers. It doesn't do me much good if you follow me on Twitter without becoming a participant, but if you do participate, I encourage you to link to articles on my blog. This is a far more effective way to help relatively obscure blogs gain traction than Digg or Stumble or the like, where you need to appeal to everybody. On Twitter, a self-selected subset of the general population will do.

So, whatever your intuition says, Twitter can be extremely useful in enhancing communication. The way in which it scales is strange and clever. It takes some time to get used to the whole thing but it's really worth it for me. I think any individual scientist could benefit from Twitter already, and the more so the more its advantages are understood.



Yes, it was a real question. And it yielded a real answer.

New Climate Blogger

I'd like to welcome Kate of ClimateSight to the climogosphere.

In addition to a few xkcd-ish cartoons, Kate has remarkably sophisticated observations about the climate debate. I feel like qualifying that with "for a high school student" but that would be unfair. If most of the population had a tiny fraction of the insight Kate brings to this question we'd be vastly better off.

Kate describes herself as an "aspiring climatologist". Watch out, world!

PS - Yes, she's Canadian, of course.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Return of Forecasting Principles

Remember "Forecasting Principles"? 

J. Scott Armstrong, a B-school investment forecaster, took on climate theory based on the validity of financial forecasts! Sure enough, he concluded that we are overextended

Not satisfied with the fool he made of himself at the time, Armstrong was quick to take up the invitation (!) from the Financial Post to revisit the question in the light of the MIT probabilistic forecast. (I am inclined to be skeptical, myself, about that publication, but that doesn't mean I am willing to make up silly counterarguments.)

Armstrong's substantive contribution, in association with Dr. Willie Soon (of the "Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics" no less) is as follows:
With Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, we found that simply predicting that global mean temperatures will not change results in quite small forecast errors. In our validation study that covered the period 1851 to 2007, we compared the no-change forecast with the IPCC global warming forecast that temperatures will climb at a rate of 0.03C per year. We compared the IPCC projection of 0.03C per year with what actually happened after 1850. The errors from the IPCC projection were 12 times larger than no-change benchmark. Consider the accuracy of the no-change model: On average the 50-years ahead forecasts differed by only 0.24C from the global mean temperature as measured by the Hadley Centre in the U. K.
What a clever test! It turns out that the temperature change over the past 150 years is closer to zero than to 4.5 C. Therefore, wait for it...
Based on our analysis, we expect the annual global mean temperature for every year for the rest of the 21st Century to be within plus-or-minus 0.5C of the 2008 mean.
Therefore the sensitivity is zero! Haha! Look, the three lines of code were written by an astrophysicist! Zero! Hahahaha!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Building Green

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this LEED certified green building, a single-family home.

The NYTimes says

Set on 74 partly wooded acres with a private lake, Windermere promises to be very lavish and, believe it or not, very green — as in energy-saving and preservation minded.

Windermere is the first project of NRDC Residential, a new division of the National Realty and Development Corporation of Purchase, N.Y., which wants to develop a niche as a builder of “architecturally driven, planned communities with an environmental consciousness,” said Mark Robbins, the division president.
The Times also confidently asserts this:

It is the first of 24 homes planned for a development named after an area in the English Lake District, and built in a style meant to evoke 19th-century English country houses.

Have a look at the picture and see if you find it evocative, and if so, tell me, exactly, evocative of what.

Update: Somebody just hit this article, first posted April of 08, so I looked again. On the whole I think this item missed the attention it deserved, so I am reposting it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Postcautionary Principle

You-all reg'lar reader types know, by now, that I really really don't like lazy articles that drum up an impression of a false symmetry where there is none to be had in reality. But I've stumbled across a very striking and real symmetry, and one that I think is at the core of our lazy polarization. 

In my talk last week before my trip to Montreal (chilly and drizzly, thanks, it was wonderful) I attempted top take the edge of the partisan global wamring debate by emphasizing that neither "yes" nor "no" are meaningful answers to the question "how much CO2 should we tolerate?" So many people, though, aren't thinking in those terms.

On the one hand, we have the "precautionary principle":
No action of any kind should be tolerated unless it can be proven beyond doubt that it has no net negative impact on the earth as a whole system.
On the other, we have a libertarian philosophy which can be summarized as almost the diametrical opposite:
No restrictions of any kind on individual behavior should be tolerated unless it can be proven beyond doubt that they infringe on the rights of others.
It doesn't really have a name that i know of, but it certainly has some proud adherents.

Now, see, most people think science is about "proof", which shows what a terrible job we are doing of conveying the stuff of science to the world, but that's another topic. The point here is that in both cases the person making the claim is asking for a sort of proof that is totally impractical even in the best of circumstances. To take matters further, of course, people who choose not to be convinced by evidence of something they find intuitively distasteful just won;t be convinced. Your evidence, no matter how well corralled and paraded before them, will surely be insufficient, and they will have a vast array of well-formatted pseudoscience, replete with charts and graphs for every legitimate piece of work you show them.

Yes, as I look at it the symmetry to me seems almost perfect.

What's more, both principles, that of maximum self-determination, and that of maximum respect for future generations, have a core dignity and appeal to them. It's a hard heart that isn't tempted to sign up for both sides!

Unfortunately, both principles, however noble in intent, are unworkable. The real world is one of guesswork, tradeoffs, and tightropes. Neither principle offers useful guidance. The implicit contention of the two is doing real, fundamental damage to our ability to compromise and reason about our circumstances.

Life is uncertain. We might just screw up the economy AND get no real benefit on the climate change front. That's an easier and likelier outcome than the opposite one, really. As long as we are pulling in opposite directions, the odds of us coming through this mess in a semblance of dignity keep going down.

The times don't call for small measures, but they don't call for digging our heels in and sticking to absolute principles either. 

You've got your rock here, you've got your hard place there; don't be getting all superstitious about where you step at a time like this.
The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action
The main problem is that "proof" thing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Robert Reich Gets It

Now we are getting somewhere. 

I guess economists don't count Robert Reich as serious, but political scientists, I think, do. So maybe the light is starting to dawn in Punditia.

My prediction, then? Not a V, not a U. But an X. This economy can't get back on track because the track we were on for years -- featuring flat or declining median wages, mounting consumer debt, and widening insecurity, not to mention increasing carbon in the atmosphere -- simply cannot be sustained.

The X marks a brand new track -- a new economy. What will it look like? Nobody knows. All we know is the current economy can't "recover" because it can't go back to where it was before the crash. So instead of asking when the recovery will start, we should be asking when and how the new economy will begin. More on this to come.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Would be a Nice Tool

The Nature Conservancy has some global change projections available at http://www.climatewizard.org/index.html

It's a nice looking page. Unfortunately, the attention to presentation exceeds the attention to detail. Several model views are available as well as an ensemble average, but the latter is identical to the HadCM output.

Hope this gets fixed soon so we can have a little more confidence in what we are looking at. I have contacted them with a bug report.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bug Report


To clarify: I feel the same way xkcd (aka Randall Munroe) does about conspiracy theories in general.

I mention it here because I was specifically thinking about the idea that there is a vast conspiracy of scientists to convince people of the otherwise absurd idea that there might be some problem about releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and to squelch any arguments to the contrary.

Instead of, you know, overwhelming evidence.

Inexcusable Austin/Singer/Lindzen Letter

The denialist sites are all over this  open letter signed by a bunch of physicists and emeriti including Singer and Lindzen. My comments are in green.
Obviously. But by whom?
You have recently received an Open Letter from the Woods Hole Research Center, exhorting you to act quickly to avoid global disaster. The letter purports to be from independent scientists, but that Center is the former den of the President's science advisor, John Holdren, and is far from independent. This is the same science advisor who has given us predictions of “almost certain” thermonuclear war or eco-catastrophe by the year 2000, and many other forecasts of doom that somehow never seem to arrive on time.
Great! Let's keep up the good work of avoiding the various pitfalls, then, shall we?
The facts are:
The sky is not falling; the Earth has been cooling for ten years, without help. The present cooling was NOT predicted by the alarmists' computer models, and has come as an embarrassment to them.
Shameless bastards. These are Ph.D.s; they should understand the possibility of cherrypicking from a noisy record. The earth is not cooling in any way that isn't just an argumentative artifice.
The finest meteorologists in the world cannot predict the weather two weeks in advance, let alone the climate for the rest of the century. Can Al Gore? Can John Holdren? 
Weather is not climate. Can Lindzen really have sunk to the point that he is willing to sign this? 
We are flooded with claims that the evidence is clear, that the debate is closed, that we must act immediately, etc, but in fact
That is news to most of us. What is all this evidence-shaped stuff in the journals, then, anyway?
The proposed legislation would cripple the US economy, 
How do you know? It's those infallible economic models isn't it?
putting us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors. 
Why? Is the US so decadent by now that we can't compete on energy technology? I think we should be future oriented, not become one of those declining societies holding on to a vanishing past.
For such drastic action, it is only prudent to demand genuine proof that it is needed, not just computer projections, and not false claims about the state of the science.
What do you mean by "genuine"? Would ANYTHING satisfy you?
Consensus is a key mechanism for the advancement of science. That is how it works. 
And proof? Well, here's a funny thing. Science NEVER PROVES ANYTHING ABOUT NATURE! You can only prove things ABOUT MODELS OF NATURE. And models, well, either they are fit for purpose or they aren't. 
I am absolutely stunned that a bunch of Ph.D. scientists are promoting this essentially ignorant idea of what science is. Even if climatology really is bathwater...
This is nothing short of treachery toward science. Every one of these people must know that science is not about proof. This one has me absolutely slack-jawed. I understand polemicists undermining science in the name of their pet cause. For scientists to join them is very strange.  
Finally, climate alarmism pays well. Alarmists are rolling in wealth from the billions of dollars floating around for the taking, and being taken. 
Hey, George Soros, where's my check, dammit? 
It is always instructive to follow the money.
Something I can agree with at last. Follow the damned money.
Really, the opposition gets more shameless each year than you could even have imagined the year before.

Age discrimination

I find it interesting that age discrimination is frowned upon in most situations but celebrated in science. It's a bit demoralizing now that I am on the losing side of the proposition, but I can see both sides of the argument.