"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thin Kool-Ade

"We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well."

The recent thread where I tried to explain how the CRU email kerfuffle partakes of the paranoid style in American politics got a lot of interest, thanks in large measure to an effort by Morano to Godwin the hell out of it. As usual, the bulk of the commentary from people from that quarter was predictably shallow, nasty and juvenile. What would you expect from a site that has mockery of science as its stock in trade?

Among all that was something a little different, a contact from Kenneth Green, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (not to be confused with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, apparently, an error which I for one have been making). Ken, as he insists on being called, is taking a reasonably collegial approach to me and I will return the favor for now.

Nevertheless, he is responsible for some typical, um, naysayerist fantasies. Anyway, he has taken an interest in this humble blog and is so far being reasonably polite, so as an exercise let's see if we can return the favor and maintain a collegial tone in conversations with Ken.

Ken is one of those people who think the CRU emails are a very big deal for climate science (and not worth mentioning as a matter for computer security all). Here is a recent article by him to that effect entitled "Who's in denial now?"

Let's enumerate his points:
  1. What's catastrophic about Climategate is that it reveals a science as broken as Michael Mann's hockey stick
  2. Mann's Hockey stick erases the MWP and the LIA and is broken
  3. When you cherry-pick, discard, nip, tuck, and tape disparate bits of data into the most alarming portrayal you can in the name of a "cause," you're not engaged in science, but in the production of propaganda.
  4. this clique tried to subvert the peer-review process as well. They attempted to prevent others from getting into peer reviewed journals -- thus letting them claim skeptic research wasn't peer-reviewed -- a convenient circular (and dishonest) way to discredit skeptics.
  5. Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was considered the top climate research community
  6. A Russian think-tank recently revealed the climate temperature record compiled by the Climatic Research Unit cherry-picked data from only 25 per cent of Russia's climate monitoring sites
These points take about half the article. There follow several paragraphs about indignation, injury, threat to scientific integrity, etc. that have essentially nothing whatsoever to do with what might have been revealed in the emails. Let's ignore them, because we are trying to determine what if anything the CRU hacking reveals.

Let me start with point 3, where there is at least a little meat to the story. It is apparent that the dendro guys have been plotting graphs in such a way as to distract the observer's attention from the obvious recent weakness of their paleothermometer. While you have to choose what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize in public presentations, one could make a case that these graphs go too far. On the other hand, as I understand it, this is not news. Far too much attention has been given to the dendro people both by IPCC and opportunistically by the delayer camp. This issue was already known. All the emails reveal is that there was some internal disagreement about it.

Hardly a grand conspiracy even among dendrochronologists. And in any case old news.

As for the rest of it?
  1. Well, that's a broad assertion. Let's see what you have to support it.
  2. Old news and in no way revealed by the emails. Mann et al, in good faith but I belive erroneously, underrepresented multidecadal variability as elaborated by von Storch; this left the plot somewhat misleading in character, though in fact most later reconstructions, though more variable on a multidecadal time scale, remain within Mann's confidence bounds. No scandal here, and nothing new.
  3. see above
  4. "Clique," " convenient circular (and dishonest) way to discredit skeptics": see every crackpot pseudoscientific theory ever proposed for versions of this argument. This CAN describe the behavior of a dysfunctional science, but it ALSO describes the behavior of every science at its best. In fact, the same von Storch who shot Mann down in point 2 above was fiercely critical of one of the papers the Jones crowd complains most vociferously about. Perhaps it's about quality, and not politics? Surely nothing new.
  5. The CRU does produce one of the main global observational time series. Is it the "leader of the pack" in any real sense? This is completely news to me. See, the observational time series is a relatively small part of the record. How else could the Charney report have gotten the future so right even before the observational record showed any warming at all? This is new, but it's a wild assertion and has nothing to do with the emails.
  6. Deltoid and Climate Progress have something on this; a minor subplot of a minor subplot in any case. And nothing to do with the emails.
So what is going on? Perhaps nothing, perhaps almost nothing. Does this cast doubt on an entire science?

The answer is, for some people, yes. It's little surprise if that is all people hear about climate science. But it shouldn't be all they hear, and if this article is any indicator, it's all innuendo and nothing much of substance.

The amazing part of this is, if you look at Ken's "Climategate reveals" article, anything of even a little substance (and there really isn't much there) was not revealed in the hacked information!

We need to start with what the outlines of that science are. No climate scientist would start telling the story with tree rings and millenial scale variability. The observational record itself is only important for public understanding. The whole core of the science lies elsewhere.

To support the naysayer camp's fantasies, you have to
  • A) throw away all theory
  • B) throw away all paleoclimatology
  • C) ignore all the past successes of model projections
  • D) crown Jones king of the world
  • E) make a very big deal out of a few comments of his, and finally
  • F) dethrone Jones.
This is at least a well-trodden path for the What-Me-Worry crowd, the role of king having been played by Mann and Santer in the past. (Oddly enough, Hansen really does play a relatively large role in the science for an individual, but they haven't had comparable success in going after him.) So far, the scapegoat-du-jour hasn't done much if anything actually culpable, but you know if you repeat something often enough people will start to believe it. But how do the people repeating it convince themselves as well?

So, Ken, is this all you've got? Are you really drinking this kool-ade you're peddling? Because so far you've mixed it mighty thin.

Update: Here's some more detailed stuff from Ken. Part I and Part II.

I can't say I'm happy with Wigley's '05 comment (see Part II), especially considering his use of the word "skeptic". RP Jr is already running with this one and there's useful followup at that link.

Ken also raises interesting questions about peer review.

That said, there's a lot he seems to get wrong.

NOTE: I will moderate this thread fiercely for ad homs and intemperate language, especially from the realistic side. I would like to see if ANYBODY can come up with ANYTHING that justifies the CRU email hacking. Let's try to be as congenial as possible to people who think there is something to this business, and see if they can explain to us what exactly we are supposed to be upset about. Be as sarcastic or argumentative as you want about people's points, but lay off their motivations and character please.


Vinny Burgoo said...

Please define 'realistic'.

Michael Tobis said...

(adj) realistic (aware or expressing awareness of things as they really are)

"a realistic description"; "a realistic view of the possibilities"; "a realistic appraisal of our chances"; "the actors tried to create a realistic portrayal of the Africans"

(adj) naturalistic, realistic (representing what is real; not abstract or ideal)

"realistic portraiture"; "a realistic novel";

You're welcome. Let's just all be extra polite, okay?

Ian said...

I'm assuming from Ken's take on the CRU emails that he doesn't have a background in scientific research (otherwise, imo, he would see nothing damning about the veracity/reliability of scientific findings in the emails). I'd be interested to know if he thinks that scientists (and their findings) in other areas look different - as revealed by a selection of 10 years' worth of emails. Are other (non-climate) areas, in his view, likely to be on firmer footing, and if so, how does he know?

Hank Roberts said...

Thank you Michael.
Excellent approach.

Guillaume said...

I am a late arriving spectator in this MWP/hockey stick issue. All credit to Steve McIntyre for surviving corrections. But this continuing focus on 1998-2001 tree ring research is (in 2009) no longer relevant.
The hockey stick graph has been replicated by others. And Mann, 2008 (no paywall) did it without tree rings.

As further proof of the nonexistent of a global MWP, consider the lengths that Soon&Baliunas,2003 went to, to find one.
They didn't compare proxy temperatures to the hockey stick blade itself. They compared them to the (lower) average temperature for the entire 20th century.
And, they abandoned synchronicity. They assembled regional 50-year-minimum proxy temperatures that occurred anywhere in the interval 800AD-1300AD.

From the viewpoint of 2009 this search for a global MWF has become a Climate Science Sideshow.
It is no longer relevant to the the main event. Yet it is still promoted.

There is real denial here. To claim a global MWP when all these hockey sticks are still standing.

Michael Tobis said...

Apparently (h/t King of the Road) the brand is spelled "Kool-Aid" not "Kool-Ade". Too late to change the URL, apologies to brand purists.

Anna Haynes said...

Ditto to Hank; this is an interesting experiment.

Peter T said...

If Ken understood how much of climate science rests on well-established physics and chemistry, and therefore is unlikely to be overturned without making us very nervous about flying, turning the light on and pretty much anything else that relies on thermodynamics and gas chemistry, then he would not be making a mountain out of this particular mole-hill. Once you understand that the basics are not about climate, but about very basic scientific understandings of the world, with consequences as predictable as falling under gravity (or, if they are not, we should really have stuck to using rocks), then the issue of how an argument over one tree-rung series is resolved goes away. However concerning for the scientists involved, it does not affect the outcomes. I point people at any of a number of good books on basic science, and ask them to ask, (after the read) "what would it take to falsify these understandings?". The answer is a bit more than a few contested data interpretations.

This is not to say that the science is easy - I am in awe of the ingenuity, expertise and effort involved. It's just that this is not about whether it drops on us, it's about how soon and how hard - and if the answers are not exact, they are known with enough certainty that we can be sure we are right underneath.

Scruffy Dan said...

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

I know this is a content-less comment, but I really want to get follow-up comments in my email. I wish there was a better way.

I will just add this:

If you think these emails undermine the case for AGW, please post specific examples of compromised science (vague claims simply won’t cut it), and then explain exactly how this changes our picture of the climate system. If you claim these emails somehow invalidate global warming, this is the absolute minimum one needs to substantiate those claims.

VicDiesel said...

I guess it would be asking too much for a column in a newspaper to have any scientific content, so I won't remark on the fact that Ken's has indeed no content.

Question: I've seen several claims that CRU is "_the_ top" climate research whatever. Of course they need to make that claim for climategate to have any importance, but is it actually true?


Martin Vermeer said...

Vic, I would say it is among the top. One of a handful (with GISS, NOAA on the instrumental record, and the Mann group on paleo).

Michael Tobis said...

Martin, not in my view.

I would rank the Hadley Centre well above CRU in the UK, and the Max Planck Institute and the Potsdam Institute in Germany as probably the main institution in Germany. In the US, there's NCAR and GISS and the DOE labs, especially Los Alamos, Livermore and Oak Ridge, there's GFDL, Scripps and WHOI, as well as various state universities including CSU, both UWs, Penn State, Michigan and Illinois, all of which seem to come up more than CRU in my experience. To be sure, there is a big split between US and European science.

The HadCRU record is certainly an important dataset, but it's one of many. There's no doubt quite a substantial collection of talent at CRU, and it must be a flagship program at EAU so this is a huge disaster for them.

But if you'd ask a climate scientist last October to name their single most respected institution, I'm pretty sure that CRU wouldn't come up that often, especially outside the UK.

Martin seems very focused on data, but data is not science.

Steve Bloom said...

Keeping things in perspective, there are a fair number of much larger climate research institutions than CRU (GISS e.g.) and a much larger number of universities that are similarly productive. CRU has acquired extra prominence of late because scientists there coincidentally maintain a surface temp record and work on recent-past paleoclimate, the principal chosen targets of the denialists, but I think it's fair to say that those two areas of endeavor don't have nearly the prominence within the field as they do outside of it.

I suppose one could go through the research output of these many institutions, come up with some sort of overall quality grade based on citations and rank CRU appropriately, but to my knowledge that hasn't been done. Any measure that took into account volume of research would leave CRU far down the list because it simply isn't that big of an institution.

As a possibly-informative exercise, I had a look at the affiliations of the authors of the Copenhagen Diagnosis, the most recent "consensus" effort, and found nobody from CRU, although UEA was otherwise well-represented with two scientists listed. Interestingly the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales has four of its scientists listed, and nobody's ever heard of them. :)

Dano said...

Let me just say that Ken and I go way back to TCS in the early days of TCS.

I rather like Ken and I think - or, rather, thought (don't really know today) that he was doing his best to be critical and skeptical. Of course, it is too late to be a true skeptical-type, but still. Some of his op-eds back then were quite good and well-argued.

That said, if he is the best of what the policy side can do in his shop, their delaying days are numbered. His recent testimonies and interviews show just how far in over his head he is today.

This is the take-away: he is up there pretty far and he can't - so to speak - swab the bathroom floors of much of the scientific community and informed decision-makers. These shops simply have nothing and are running out of play. Surely the SwiftHack is a pretty good play, but it came too late.



Word verif agrees again: ungryes. They are angry they are out of un-.

Unknown said...

"if you repeat something often enough people will start to believe it"

[Morano-mode] GODWIN! [/Morano-mode]

David B. Benson said...

Surprisingly little has changed in the 30 years since the Charney et al. 1979 NRC/NAS report:
which, I believe, predates the formation of CRU.

EliRabett said...

Gerlich and Tscheuschner, anything by Chilingar, the original Essex paper, basically sidestep review by anyone with a clue about atmospheric science by publishing in their journals that have nothing to do with climate, but do have friends as editors.

Michael Tobis said...

Still crickets from the naysayer camp. Not a peep.

Paul said...

I sense in this echoes of your exchange with Tom Fuller.

Paul Middents

Vinny Burgoo said...

Please define 'naysayer'.

Michael Tobis said...

By the euphemism "naysayers" I mean the left hump.

If you don't believe in my characterization, you may use an alternative definition for present purposes, i.e., someone who thinks the scientific consensus is significantly called into question by the CRU emails.

King of the Road said...

I would imagine the "left hump" would say that the concept of a scientific consensus is: 1) false: and 2) "not the way science proper science is done."

Therefore, I'd suggest that you change your characterization for those unwilling to accept the "left hump" as the definition of naysayers to "those who claim that the hacked CRU emails cast further doubt on the existence of a scientific consensus around AGW and on the soundness of the inference that mankind's CO2 emissions will cause significant warming and climate disruption."

Or something like that.

Michael Tobis said...

Maybe. I thought I did something like that in my backup definition.

Anyway it hardly matters how they characterize themselves if none of them show up.

Aaron said...

Some folks miss the fact that every time they raise an actual issue in the science of AGW, the issue is corrected, making the theory more robust.

That works for me.

Why should Mother Nature’s Dendro Puzzle be any easier than the rest of her puzzles? All of her puzzles seem to have some sort of an interesting twist.

Anna Haynes said...

A meta FYI, the updates to this post are (to me) confusing its original simplicity; it's not immediately clear whether any of the updates are responses/ modifications to the original plan/Qs/challenge, or not.

And did you notify Ken* by email? He might not know it's here, since people do vacate, this time of year.

Let's make every effort to ensure that he knows he's been invited to join Michael Tobis and colleagues in respectful, substantive discourse.

* aka Kenneth P. Green

Michael Tobis said...

Fair enough, Anna. I spawned the Knappenberger/Lippard stuff off to a new posting.

Vinny Burgoo said...

'I would like to see if ANYBODY can come up with ANYTHING that justifies the CRU email hacking.'

Jones's apparent scheming to get around FOI legislation is a possible justification. It doesn't matter whether the FOI requests were vexatious; they were legally made. Nor does it matter how important or unimportant a particular temperature record is in the big scheme of things. If a public servant is breaking the law and the only way to show this is by breaking the law ... Well, what do you do?

Of course, you'd have to know that the public servant was breaking the law before you stole the e-mails, and I can't see how an outsider could know that, so this defence is probably valid only for whistleblowers rather than hackers.

I'd say that Point 3 (gatekeeping) is also a possible justification (although it probably wouldn't work in court). The e-mails show that the famous scientific consensus is neither as scientific nor as consensual as is often claimed: tribalism and personal ambition also play a part. This might not be news to working climatologists but it's not how the consensus is sold by activists and politicians. They say that the consensus is almost a holy thing (impartial, immutable, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes) and they invoke its blessed name as the unquestioned and unquestionable authority for their attempts to reshape the world. Well, perhaps Copenhagen failed because most people suspect that the consensus has been oversold. Perhaps a weaker consensus with fewer elided caveats (a perhaps petty example: the caveat-free Burke et al claim about extreme drought in AR4's WG1: and more dissenting voices would be a stronger weapon. We might be more willing to be beaten into submission by an authority that is more genuinely authoritative. And perhaps the theft of the e-mails will allow this weaker but more effective authority to emerge. Perhaps.

Then there's the 'Harry' file. I don't know much about it but it's got some people very excited and if CRU's code (for an obsolete version of its temperature record?) is as crappy as they claim, it's no bad thing that this is out in the open. You say, 'The observational record itself is only important for public understanding. The whole core of the science lies elsewhere.' Only? Without public understanding there'll be no public support for changing how we live. If one of the records has flaws, the public should be told. That way lies true understanding (Grasshopper). Tell it like it is and you'll get most people on your side. Spoon-feed them overconfident, cleaned-up propaganda and sooner or later they'll rumble you and throw the baby out with the bathwater. A few flat-earthers might capitalize on any admission of error or uncertainty, but that's OK too. Argue with them. Prove them wrong. Get it all out in the open. For verily, glasnost will surely lead to perestroika.

Michael Tobis said...

Occasion nicely risen to, Vinny. I'll ponder and hopefully will take up your points in detail. Let me offer a quick reaction, though.

Regardless of how much truth vs spin there is in your description, the events as you describe them wouldn't and couldn't have happened if there were no existence of a contentious and nonscientific opposition. Such events begin with a reaction to systematic misrepresentation. The only question is whether there is sufficient overreaction as to be cause for concern.

The overemphasis on consensus, for instance, comes from the widespread practice of people outside the field confidently asserting propositions as fact that are excluded by the evidence.

By "only" I did not mean "merely"; I consider public communication crucial.

One major question being raised is whether the underlying scientific understanding is called into question. Because the underlying understanding predates the observations and is well-confirmed by numerous alternative lines of evidence, this is clearly not the case.

The public's understanding is clearly at risk as a result of these events. That's why I am not dismissing them. But the evidence itself has not materially changed. That is what is so disconcerting about all of this.

The public perception of the scientific evidence has changed as a consequence of events having nothing to do with the scientific evidence that is being perceived. As it happens, it makes the public perception bias, which underrates the risks, worse. Since we are up against propaganda, that makes it a propaganda success at the expense of truth.

Such outcomes should not be taken lightly.

Michael Tobis said...

Sent to Ken Green this morning:

"I am pleased you have visited my humble blog. I hope you will accept my invitation to defend your position as expressed in the Calgary piece and elsewhere on the blog. I won't moderate or edit your submissions, as you seem to have a reasonable demeanor and a decent respect for factual evidence, which is all I ask.


I think you are quite wrong, and I hope to convince you of that. Of course, as Mr. Gore says, it's hard to convince someone of something that their livelihood depends on being false, but I imagine your career could stand the blow of changing your mind on this matter. Of course, I need to return the favor, and I therefore promise to be as openminded as I can manage to your points and your evidence."

Unknown said...

Vinny Burgoo said: "Without public understanding there'll be no public support for changing how we live."

Which is why certain elements are trying very hard to muddle public understanding and which is why the CRU hack is so valuable, wouldn't you say? For these elements it isn't about the science, it's about logically ensuing policies which aren't favourable to their (ideological or financial) position. Therefore they have to muddle public understanding, to thwart any policy whatsoever. As they have no other policy alternative than inaction and maintaining the status quo, they cannot engage in debate on policy, and thus choose to attack the science instead.

They're doing a great job, but then again, they are in the easy position. If they would be the ones trying to get people to change the way they live, they'd have a much harder time.

Unknown said...

Mr Tobis
You say you will moderate fiercely for ad-hom attacks. Your post has a lot of them. Oh well, this is your blog and all that...

You are still convinced that the emails do not have anything incriminating. Why dont we discuss the Mann-wigley exchange where they discuss how Climate Research is 'lost' and how they dont want to lose GRL as well?

What is the meaning of 'to lose a journal' in your opinion in this context?

Steve Bloom said...

"... I imagine your career could stand the blow of changing your mind on this matter."

I'm not so sure about that. Both AEI and Ken's present funders likely would drop him, and where would he go from there?

Michael Tobis said...

Arajand, I didn't see any ad hominem in the posting. I suppose I did say that I got an unusual number of bad submissions. My usual posting rate is about 19 of 20 submissions, but on the article Morano featured I rejected about a third. But I said nothing here about the people or their motivations.

To "lose a journal" clearly means to have it no longer be a contributor to scientific discourse. In the extreme it might be reduced to promoting otherwise discredited opinion, like _Energy and Environment_, but it's also possible that the publication have no particular point of view but that quality control becomes so shoddy that the claim to peer review becomes moot.

I find a few of the comments in the CRU emails to be embarrassing to the field, but not that one, not in the least.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, you're veering dangerously close to ad hominem, there, but you raise an interesting question that is close to my heart.

Leaving aside the particulars of Ken's case, where is the marketplace for intellectual honesty vs. advocating a reliable position?

This matters to me personally.

For example, I have been sympathetic to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and would have been open to an offer from CCS interests to advocate for them. But now I'm at the point of changing my mind about the whole idea based on the difficulty of crafting enforceable incentives.

You'd think this ability to change position based on evidence would be the point of journalism, but that's not the case in America, where the point of journalism is to never make any decision at all. Anyway that market is in decline; no surprise really. The reader doesn't need anybody's help to be confused!

The scientist is paid to be impartial, but is rewarded only to the extent he or she persuades other scientists. Who is the neutral authority for the public?

Actually, in the case of climate, it is supposed to be the IPCC, at least in part. But as far as I know it's still the case that nobody actually gets paid to participate in IPCC, so it isn't a career path. Whatever you may think of the reports (I think WGI has done a fine job so far) there is little in the way of communication professionalism at IPCC.

I'd like something like Ken's gig, only you wouldn't get to preordain what I think. I like to think outside the tank sometimes.

Ken Green said...

Goodness, a whole thread just for lil ol' me? I'm flattered. I'm also at something of a disadvantage, because I'm supposed to respond to a rather large amount of material from about 30 people in this itty-bitty comment window. limited to 4096 characters.

Being that it's New Years Eve Day, I'll only hit a few key points here, and see if I have enough free time once work resumes to maintain a heavy involvement on yet another blog site.

1) To be understood in context, the Calgary Herald op-ed should be read as a rebuttal to an earlier column by David Mayne Reid. To all of the things you declared as "old news," you should be blaming the Prof for bringing them up in his post in a disingenuous way. This was my second point-counterpoint with Reid in the Herald. In an earlier piece of profound arrogance, he basically declared everyone who disagreed with his climate consensus to be mentally unhinged or corrupt in one way or another.

2) As for what I have to support my claim that climategate is a big deal, you can just read what I've written about it. Pretty much everything I write is at my AEI page, www.aei.org/scholar/112. I'll probably be writing more about it in the New Year, though I have much else to write about this year as well. But I'm not going to repost everything I write in this tiny window. If you need any evidence that it's a big deal, just google it. The word "climategate" gets over 3.6 million hits. With other variations, that number would surely skyrocket. If you don't view that as a big deal, which will change the public perception of climate science, I'd have to say you're living in a bubble.

3) You're correct that cliquishness is common in science, which was one of Kuhn's key points. However, when that cliquishness extends to influencing the literature in a significant way, it's no longer business as usual.

4) CRU, as I understand it, was the dominant source for information entering the IPCC reports, which is where science meets politics, and enters my purview. To me, that makes them the most important of the climate research centers.
(to be cont.)

Ken Green said...

5) As for your bullet points about what needs to be thrown away to support the "naysayers" camp, I would say you're exaggerating a bit. If climate sensitivity to GHGs is low, as Christy, Lindzen, and others suggest, that's all you need. If there are negative feedbacks, as Lindzen suggests, that's all you need. Or, if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need. You don't have to "throw away" vast swaths of science (including the scientific laws that keeps airplanes in flight), you only have to have a vaguely open mind around the central questions of climate science: what is the atmosphere's sensitivity to CO2, and what are the feedback systems that regulate the Earth's climate? To assert that either of those questions is so well understood that they can't be questioned is, I think, indicative of a loss of open-minded inquisitiveness.

5) I'm not going to keep repeating my credential when commenters (like Ian) question it, but rather than calling me Ken, perhaps you should call me Dr. Green so that it's obvious. And, my title is Resident Scholar, not Fellow. A Scholar is someone with an advance degree in what they study, a Fellow is someone who has held some high position in government involving the areas they study. It's a subtle distinction, but there you go.

6) As for those critical of AEI, well, your opinion stands at odds with both the media and Congress. AEI scholars are cited more in the media, published more in the media, and called to testify before Congress more than any other think-tank in the country.

7) Dano - thanks for the (somewhat left-handed) endorsement. If you were basing your comments about being out of my depth with regard to Senator Kerry, I suggest you watch the entire testimony, rather than the clip that Romm put out, which was skewed to favor Kerry. By the time the hearing was over, Kerry had agreed with fully half of my points. He was just a bit agitated because Senator's Cantwell and Stabenow gave me about 10 minutes to rip into Kerry's favored cap-and-trade approach to regulating greenhouse gases. As for the idea that policy groups like AEI are losing on the issue, you must have missed the collapse in Copenhagen, and the high probability that cap-and-trade will be pulled from the energy bill this year. Things are going more in our direction than in those of the left-wing shops that want global climate control overseen by the UN.

8) Happy New Year! See you in what looks to be a very chilly New Year here on the East coast. Where's that damn climate change when you need it, eh?

Arthur said...

Dear Dr. Green,

if you think there is any scientifically credible "recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850" then you really are out of your depth discussing science here.

Unfortunately (counting Google hits, talking about winning or losing, discussing context and credentials but not the actual scientific substance) Dr. Green's focus seems to be politics, not actual understanding of reality.

Michael Tobis said...

Here is Prof. Reid's article.

He does say "Mann's graph has NOT been discredited" which is perhaps a tiny bit of spin. As the emails say, it lacks power at the multidecadal scale and it gives an impression of a too-straight shaft on the stick. "Discredited" is surely too strong, but I think it's clear that it's somewhat flawed.

None of the other substantive points made by Dr. Green are addressed by Dr. Reid, so I don't see how he can back up his claim that Reid brought them up, never mind disingenuously! I don't think Reid's is the best writing I've seen on the subject (I would go so far as to explicitly prefer my own) but I see nothing substantively wrong with it.

Reid does go on to say that "I sympathize with laypeople who have insufficient time to keep up-to-date in science, but have no patience for those who deliberately distort good science, or those who repeatedly trot out the same old dis-proven concepts that they know to be false." For the purposes of facilitating the present conversation I am eschewing consideration of whether the consistent errors of the opposition are dishonest or negligent. Let's just say they are disappointing and leave it at that.

Arthur, er, Dr. Smith, has already pointed out a key example. If Dr. Green is willing to take seriously claims that CO2 in the atmosphere has not increased without indulging in magical thinking, he has brought not only fluid dynamics and radiative transfer into question, but the fundamentals of science, in this case the principle of mass conservation.

I really had hoped for better.

Michael Tobis said...

Dano, good points convincingly made, but some of them going to motivation, hence outside the rules of this thread.

Anonymous said...

Arthur, I suspect he is referring to Knorr's recent paper which, indeed, suggested that the "airborne fraction" of the anthropogenic CO2 that remains in the atmosphere (as opposed to being absorbed in the oceans or terrestrial vegetation) hasn't changed much since 1850. It got some play at Wattsamattaforyou.

Leaving aside the point that this is far from a closed case, it is nevertheless preposterous to suggest that this finding would be "all you need" to "support the naysayers camp". We would still see an inexorable rise in atmospheric CO2 by mass and concentration so long as we are still adding to the stock, regardless if there are small changes in the "airborne fraction" - up or down... As I now see Michael has said, I expected somewhat better.

Tom said...

Perhaps turning the idea on its head would help. If you were employed at CRU, what is in the documents that would make you go to the risk and trouble of copying them and putting them on an anonymous Russian server? If they constitute the FOIA file for McIntyre's request and you heard that day that the request was rejected, what would you want the world to learn from these files?

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, good question, once you buy the whistleblower idea.

The fact that there is as yet no remotely reasonable answer to that in the view of any actual mainstream climate scientist (as far as I know) is another argument against the "whistleblower" as opposed to "hacker" idea.

Ken Green said...

I haven't read the underlying article yet, I'm having it purchased by my RA on AEI's dime, but regarding the CO2 fraction issue, I was just referring to this:

Several recent studies have highlighted the possibility that the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems have started loosing part of their ability to sequester a large proportion of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is an important claim, because so far only about 40% of those emissions have stayed in the atmosphere, which has prevented additional climate change. This study re-examines the available atmospheric CO2 and emissions data including their uncertainties. It is shown that with those uncertainties, the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has been 0.7 ± 1.4% per decade, i.e. close to and not significantly different from zero. The analysis further shows that the statistical model of a constant airborne fraction agrees best with the available data if emissions from land use change are scaled down to 82% or less of their original estimates. Despite the predictions of coupled climate-carbon cycle models, no trend in the airborne fraction can be found.


Tom said...

Guess I should just quit writing my book, then.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, again, if you know something about the perpetrator you should inform the appropriate enforcement agencies in your own interest as well as the public's. There has probably been a crime committed.

If you have a theory as to what the big deal might be that would motivate such an act, we are certainly interested. I agree that would help those of us who just don't see it bridge the gap.

Michael Tobis said...

(swats forehead)

"Or, if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need."

If by that you mean that CO2 concentrations have been constant, which is what I took you to mean, we'd have a great deal to rethink, at least.

The paper you cite does not claim that! Please take a little care to show some reading comprehension.

The paper refers to airborne fraction of emissions, not concentrations. Confusion of emissions and concentrations is a rank beginners' mistake, not the sort of thing we expect from someone who gives congressional testimony on these matters!

"Several recent studies have highlighted the possibility that the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems have started loosing part of their ability to sequester a large proportion of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is an important claim, because so far only about 40% of those emissions have stayed in the atmosphere, which has prevented additional climate change. This study re-examines the available atmospheric CO2 and emissions data including their uncertainties."

See that? "40% of emissions"? That makes a difference, okay?


Anonymous said...

Ya know, I hate grammar police, but I notice that even the AGU abstract is using the word "loosing". - 'ecosystems have started loosing part of their ability to sequester'

... drives me nuts... ok, back to our regular discussion...

Michael Tobis said...

Ordinarily, that would bother me alot.


Anonymous said...

Hey, maybe Dr. Green and the AEI can save the dime! Wattsamattaforyou has a free copy of Knorr's paper up here.

It seems to me that the "best" possible interpretation of this result (if it even holds, and as I linked above, Corrine Lequerre's work suggests otherwise...) is that "Hey, maybe the radiative forcing will be very slightly less than forecast... but ocean acidification will be worse!" It's not exactly what I would lead with.

Michael Tobis said...

The Watts/Michaels take seems to be that "here's a result we like better than the model results, therefore the models are wrong" and it's all about ragging on "the" models (even though these are not climate models in question). Kind of cranky but not horribly wrongheaded.

Dr Green, on the other hand, seems to have missed the point altogether. "Or, if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need" [to completely refute concerns about the greenhouse effect].

In then referring us to Knorr to support this he inadvertently suggests a real lack of sophistication regarding climate science that I had simply assumed could not be his problem.

My leading hypothesis at present is that Dr Green is out of his depth on this matter.

It's more than a little disappointing. The only "D Env" program in the world seems to be sufficiently rigorous, requiring a year of calculus and physics, that a person ought to be able to learn quantitative material.

This doesn't speak well for the thinking in the tank, I'm afraid.

Perhaps it's a momentary glitch. We all make substantive mistakes from time to time I guess. I drop minus signs with wild abandon sometimes. The scary thing, the thing that will make it hard for Dr Green to back out of this mess in my opinion, is the complete lack of "wait - that can't be right" hesitation that any appreciation of how science works would require.

The whole "climategate" worldview seems to require not knowing much about science as a social process.

Ken Green said...


I did say "CO2 fraction" in my first post. I did not say CO2 concentration. You shouldn't make assumptions about what I write, and then tell me not to make assumptions about what others write.


Ken Green said...

Sigh. Again with the insinuations about background. Okay, for the record

I have a BS in Bio, M.S. in Molecular, and the D.Env. you mention, Michael. I had a year of physics, a year of calculus, more than two years of chemistry, and an uncountable number of years of biology, all told.

If you think I'm over my head here, there's not much sense in continuing the discussion, since you can't possibly think I have anything to say that you'd find reasonable.

Ken Green said...

Oh, and I absolutely hate it when people confuse "loose" and "lose." On the other hand, given the way people abuse the King's English these days, that's among the least of the infractions.

And, my captcha word is wisessa, which inverts to wise ass. I'll take it.

Michael Tobis said...

The exact words at issue are:

"As for your bullet points about what needs to be thrown away to support the "naysayers" camp ... if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need."

You said "fraction in the atmosphere". That sounds like a concentration, not an emissions fraction, especially given the claims you make for it. But you just stated otherwise.

OK, I am trying to be generous. I take your statement at face value. I will accept for the sake of argument you actually meant "fraction [of emissions that remain] in the atmosphere". How would that being constant be "all you need to support the naysayers camp"?

Please explain.

At this point the corner you find yourself in is your own paint job.

Arthur said...

Dr. Green - I (and Michael and presumably others here) have no objection to Knorr's result, and we do not find it alleviates any of our concern about impending climate impacts. We wonder why it has any affect on yours, if you have indeed understood the result? Let's be clear about what it means:

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from a value around 270 or 280 ppm in the early 1800's to the present value of 390 ppm. This change means the mass of CO2 added to Earth's atmosphere over that period is only about 40% of the CO2 emitted by human burning of fossil fuels. If 100% of our emitted CO2 had all be retained by the atmosphere, the concentration now would be already close to double pre-industrial levels.

So we should be grateful that Earth's system has responded by absorbing 60% of our emissions. Of course that was not unexpected - before the late 1950's when Keeling and Revelle proved atmospheric CO2 was increasing some people (like Freeman Dyson - I have an essay of his on this) thought the oceans would absorb close to 100% of our emissions.

There have been some expectations that that 60% figure would drop, especially as the oceans warm and start to lose some of their capacity to hold CO2. Knorr's result, if it's correct (one paper proves nothing, of course), shows merely that the drop hasn't started yet. But even if it never starts, we are still emitting so much CO2 that things will get bad quickly. I don't believe the IPCC actually anywhere assumes that these emisison fractions will change any time in the 21st century, and the scenarios are still bad enough.

So is this really what you understood of this paper, when you claimed that "if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need." Can you please explain your logic on this? Because Michael and I certainly do think Knorr's study might be correct, but it is very much not all we need to stop worrying about climate change!!!

Peter T said...

Kenneth Green

Accepting that the line about a constant atmosperic fraction of CO2is "all you need" was a throw-away, not meant to be taken seriously, you make two points: that AGW would not be a concern if climate sensitivity is much lower (as argued by Christy and Lindzen) or that there is a negative feedback effect, as also argued by these and others.

I can agree that, IF either of these were so, then the level of concern would be much less. But what evidence is there that these are so? I understand there are strong arguments, drawn from multiple lines of evidence, against a sensitivity of less than ~2C. The case for a negative feedback would be much stronger if an observable mechanism consistent with the observed warming could be put forward. Has one been?

Vinny Burgoo said...

'Airborne fraction' is the standard shorthand for 'the ratio of the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 to [anthropogenic] CO2 emissions'* (AR4 WG1 Chapter 2). I'd say that 'CO2 fraction in the atmosphere' is an acceptable rejigging of this term and is no more (or less) ambiguous than the original.

As for whether a stable airborne fraction supports the naysayers ... I don't know. That's certainly over *my* head. The observational IPCC reports note the stability of the airborne fraction; the futurological IPCC reports model an increasing trend. I'm tempted to say that the past is a better guide to the future than a lot of models I don't understand, but that would be foolish, so I won't.

*While we're on sloppy English,** the Chapter 2 definition is gibberish. It actually says, 'ratio of the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 to the CO2 emissions from annual fossil fuel and cement manufacture combined'. Annual fossil fuel manufacture? Oh! Is that the problem? Not the burning of fossil fuels but all those coal pixies beavering away underground to make the stuff.

**Sloppy English, Part Deux: The Burke et al prediction I mentioned is in WG1 Chapter 10, not 11.

***Stray footnote: Thanks for the response, MT. I've penned a few comments on it but they are very general (and a bit long-winded) and I don't want to muddy things with generalities at the moment. Maybe later.

Michael Tobis said...

Vinny, I have more for you, stick around.

Regarding 'airborne fraction', I say what Anna said. That is totally clear.

It's a big open question, but it sure looks a lot smaller than "oh, no worries, then". I think the most likely explanation is that Dr Green spectacularly misunderstood the abstract and is trying to cover his tracks. But I remain willing to be proven wrong.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Why is misunderstanding the most likely explanation? The observed stability of the airborne fraction (as opposed to atmospheric concentration) could indeed be a comfort to naysayers. If the modelled fraction is wrong then the modelled projections of temperature rise etc. will have to be scaled down. The right-hand bump in your handy chart would then move to the left, away from 'catastrophe' and towards the naysayers' 'neutral'. (This should make everyone happy, of course, not just naysayers.)

Are the models wrong? Again, I don't know. But Knorr ended his abstract by juxtaposing his findings with what the models find (and use). That does suggest that at least one expert is a bit sceptical about them.

But perhaps I should read the study.

Michael Tobis said...

One naysayer trope is "the models". A carbon cycle model is not a GCM, and geochemical modeling is far behind climate modeling in fidelity and confidence.

Carbon cycle feedbacks are not included in GCM projections up to and including AR4. This is an important thing for the beginner to understand. The carbon trajectories are inputs to the GCMs; to make generalizations across models, this is why IPCC makes atmospheric concentration scenarios and not emission scenarios.

Any evidence about the real world that is legitimately comforting to the naysayers is comforting to any sane person.

The comfort offered by Knorr, should the result stand and be robust into the future, is of far too small an order to support the sort of outcome Dr Green was proposing.

Let's be quantitative. Say we're at 400 ppmv now and we are going to constrain ourselves to a 550 ppmv peak.

Let's simplify the question at hand to being whether that the oceans and land could retain 50% rather than 60% over that period. That is, for every four units of increase in the Knorr case we'd get five units in the non-Knorr case.

So in the non-Knorr scenario the identical economic behavior leading to 550 ppmv would only lead to 520 ppmv in the Knorr case. Good news to be sure, but not good enough to abandon all constraints by any means.

Hope that's clear.

Scruffy Dan said...

@ Steve Bloom "I'm not so sure about that. Both AEI and Ken's present funders likely would drop him, and where would he go from there?"

I don't have much info on AEI, but I do recall a while back some excellent writings from them pushing for a carbon tax. At the very least this suggests that AEI is open to policy discussions that assume that the consensus view is correct. Ken Green may be another matter altogether. And some of his reasoning here seems to suggest so but the sample size is small so I could be quote wrong.

@ MT

The only thing I would add, is that since Ken is complaining about lack of space in the comments here to fully make his case, perhaps an alternate venue could be established. This conversation is very interesting and it would be a shame to see it limited by a technological limitation.

Vinny Burgoo said...

You troped me! I didn't want to be too specific about which models I was talking about because I wasn't sure whether CCCCs were a flavour of GCMs. Thanks for clarifying.

But your second paragraph isn't quite so accessible to a beginner. I read it as saying that airborne fractions didn't feature at all in any of those IPCC A1, B2 etc. analyses, but that can't be right. (Not least because it would be even better news for naysayers.)

I take your point about the scale of the difference between outcomes for a stable fraction and for the model-found increases.

Michael Tobis said...

Airborne fractions only figure implicitly in IPCC model runs through AR4.

The actual concentrations as a function of time are the scenarios. A given scenario could equally correspond to many cases. For any two cases one would have fractionally higher emissions and correspondingly fractionally lower airborne fraction than another.

The coupling of the carbon cycle to the climate system as described in the Charney tradition and modeled in CGCMs is loose.

I think we should take all the loose couplings we can get, but there's lots of pressure and effort to build coupled climate/geochemistry models. I think it's premature at best, but that's neither here nor there.

The physical climate system responds to CO2 concentrations, not to airborne emission fraction. It's a well-posed problem to just specify the former, and a better constrained one. So mostly that is what we have been doing so far.

Michael Tobis said...

Dan, he has already got an offer of a guest posting, but on the other hand he posts already in more congenial (to him) locations. It really doesn't matter where somebody posts.

It's just that it would be nice if somebody slowed down the firehose of innuendo long enough to explain what they think the "hoax" is all about.

It all seems less plausible than a typical Philip K. Dick paranoid science fiction novel. It's always a bit feverish and unreal. So the combination of Ken's calm demeanor, his acceptance of the conspiracy model, his prominence, and his willingness to participate left some hope that he could provide us with a clear picture of what we're accused of.

I'm still waiting.

Scruffy Dan said...

A offer of as guest post is great. At the very least you are removing his ability to honestly claim that the AGW camp is not willing to take people like him seriously... and as an added side effect I am learning new and interesting things.

Steve Bloom said...

Dan, sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar. The likes of AEI can push a carbon tax alternative at this stage because to do so serves as an attack on existing climate legislation without running any risk of seeing a tax implemented. Even taking the cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax debate at face value, I think it hardly matters since Congress will only pass a very weak measure. Getting that done is still important, though, since it will provide the needed cover for the old-fashioned command-and-control measures enabled by the Clean Air Act CO2 endangerment finding (and the forthcoming Clean Water Act one). IMHO the appointments of Holdren, Chu and Lubchenco are evidence that Obama is serious about proceeding with those measures. We'll see soon enough if I'm right.

Ken Green said...

A few quick points during a commercial break for the Rose Bowl:

1) I was the lead author on AEI's Outlook which argued that a carbon tax is superior to cap-and-trade.

2) I'm also quoted as suggesting that Maria Cantwell's bill is superior to cap-and-trade.

3) I also think Ross McKitrick's T3 tax would be a good idea.

4) On the airborne fraction thing, Vinny made my point. If less human emissions are staying in the atmosphere, projections of future warming are likely exaggerated.

5) I'll take on Michael's rather bizarre thoughts about risk at greater length, but if he is sincere in what he says, then he would want vastly greater research into asteroid interception and influenza than into climate change. The fact that the less you know about a risk means the MORE you should do stands our usual reasoning on its head. Should we be worrying about an alien invasion from space too? Or perhaps a spontaneous solar eruption that carbonizes half the planet? Should we be pouring money into all those, and re-ordering the world's political and economic systems because of those risks?

Arthur said...

Dr. Green,

your logic on this point still fails to make any sense. Your original claim was "CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850" and that if that might be correct "that's all you need".

Now you are saying that you were referring to Knorr's paper, and that it means "less human emissions are staying in the atmosphere". No, it doesn't mean less human emissions, it means the *fraction staying hasn't changed since 1850* (so far). Given that you are changing your phrasing on this from "hasn't changed" to "less", it seems perfectly clear that you did indeed misunderstand the original claim associated with Knorr - as no doubt the Science Daily headline and AGU press release have confused countless other people. Just admit it and we'll have a little respect for you.

Or else, please explain why the marginal issue of airborne fraction actually makes any significant difference to future projections of warming? As Michael has already explained, the difference Knorr's paper makes, if that constant fraction continues to hold, is at the level of delaying CO2 doubling by maybe 1 decade. It doesn't comfort those of us who care about our future at all.

Michael Tobis said...

Ken, on Knorr:

Of course Knorr is slightly reassuring compared to Canadell, but Knorr is a very long way from refuting any need to restrain emissions. You said Knorr would be "sufficient".

I can understand you wanting to drop this and I won't push it further. You should understand that I think your response does not reflect well on your candidness any more than your original point reflected well on your grasp of the scientific material.

Regarding the risk point:

We don't have any basis for expecting space aliens, but we already increasing concentrations of CO2 in a very substantial ratio to their preindustrial levels.

The event itself is not speculative; it is already well underway. This is in contrast to your Martians, asteroid, etc. and is what makes the difference. The chances of Martians are unknown but very small. The chances of a large CO2 perturbation are 100%.

Only the consequences are, according to some, poorly constrained. But the more poorly constrained the higher your risk profile, presuming your expectation is unchanged.

If you propose a very low sensitivity along with weak science, you'd still best be very sure of yourself. No matter what you think the sensitivity is, the lower your confidence, the greater your risk.

Michael Tobis said...

To avoid misunderstanding, I used "expectation" in the above in the sense a statistician would.

Anna Haynes said...

"Really good teaching sooner or later involves a certain amount of pain. Whether it's the pain of tedious work or the pain of stinging criticism, seeking a totally pain-free education is kind of wishful thinking."
(from Randy Olson's Don't Be Such a Scientist)

Anonymous said...

Short context of Knorr: with lessened airbourne fraction there might be perhaps in the ballpark of 10% more emissions for similar warming than with a constant airbourne fraction...

Shorter Green: The above shows no emissions reductions are necessary.

It doesn't compute. Green has exposed himself nicely and quickly. Thank you.