I May Have Found The Problem With the Climate Models

Via Carpe Diem:

Last quarter I taught Atmospheric Sciences 101 at the University of Washington, a large lecture class with a mix of students, and gave them a math diagnostic test as I have done in the past. The results were stunning, in a very depressing way. This was an easy test, including elementary and middle school math problems. And these are students attending a science class at the State’s flagship university–these should be the creme of the crop of our high school graduates with high GPAs. And yet most of them can’t do essential basic math–operations needed for even the most essential problem solving.

Here’s a link to a PDF version of the full test and results, and here’s a blank version to give your kids and friends.

Consider these embarrassing statistics from the exam:

The overall grade was 58%

43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle

86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)

75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)

52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)

43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder (see above)!

Actually, I am just having fun with this.  My guess is that this is a general college problem and not one limited to the atmospheric sciences, though I will say that my experience in engineering is that the “trendy sciences”  (whatever the trend might be at the moment, when I was in school it was a new energy program) tend to attract students less prepared for mathematical rigor.  Perhaps this is true of climate today?

90 thoughts on “I May Have Found The Problem With the Climate Models”

  1. Waldo: “And I worry about the people who have some small science background but who – most likely for political reasons – prefer the deniosphere to the actual highly trained scientists and complex science that makes up the GW community.”

    So, that makes you, a person of small science background (compared to Doc_Navy, for sure: I’ve seen his stuff elsewhere) someone who – most likely for political reasons — prefers the government-funded, fraudsters to independent scientists?

    Scientific truth may be, for you, simply a matter of picking the (self-proclaimed) ‘expert’ to believe, but to many highly trained scientists not on the government AGW gravy train it is a matter of verification and replication of claimed results. The gov’t fraudsters do their best to prevent this kind of review, leaving those of us with unimpaired reasoning ability to wonder what they are hiding, and eventually to uncover it.

    Believe these people (the CRU gang, etc) if you wish — after all, as P. T. Barnum said, “There’s one born every minute”.

    (BTY, none of this would have surprised Eisenhower — he predicted the political capture of science in his farewell address.)

  2. It’s just as bad here in Canada. What are we going to do about it? This is a much more serious problem than CO2-induced climate change ever was or will be.

  3. I had a very nice high school education, and (even better) remember it, so I got 100%. Two quibbles:

    3b) On your silly triangle, the side opposite angle alpha is “a”, not “b”. I had a college prof who liked to swap x & y once in a while to verify we could still think, and I had to check myself twice that cos() in this case was not b/c. Grr!

    4a) PV = nRT, I forget with, moderate shame, that I don’t remember what n & R are.
    fortunately, that’s completely immaterial to the question, as long as they are non-zero, of course.

    My father spent part of his retirement teaching a couple courses at the local state college. He was always amazed at some of the basic things we always knew that his students didn’t, like the number of feet in a mile.

  4. Well BobC, probably you don’t know the history of myself and the CS crowd; we have been debating this very thing for some time now.

    For the record, and I’ve posted this before on other threads, I am willing to believe that there is some viable anti-AGW science out there. But it is not posted on places like this.

    As for your “independent scientists,” usually these are people who are rather dependent on, say, the coal industry, the Heartland Institute, or the petroleum industry. Look them up – or, actually, skip over to “Defending the Tribe” or “Analyzing the Global Warmist” thread. They are rather long but saves us going down the same path again.

    I’m wondering, Bob, do you see yourself as an objective, unbiased, reasonable critic in this debate? Did you come to your stated, rather generalized conclusions above before or after you looked into AGW?

  5. Well Waldo you seem to have done a good job of playing the man and not the ball here, which may be why you have got so much abuse. If you want to know about scientists who take money from the oil industry, have a look at Mr Pachauri’s or the UEA’s list of supporters, so at worst it is a level playing field. From what I have seen, there are a lot of posts on these websites from people who are engineers, mathematicians, statisticians or software engineers who have been shocked at the shoddy work of the CRU and the IPCC, the political rather than scientific mindset of people like Michael Mann and James Hansen, and the outright lies peddled by Al Gore. There are also people like myself who have seen how much damage has been caused in the financial sector by over-reliance on enormously complex models built on very limited and often inaccurate input data (black boxes), and were astonished to find the same thing going on here.
    I don’t know if there is AGW. I think global temperatures are increasing, but the records have been so corrupted that it will be a major effort to establish by how much, let alone whether CO2 emissions are a major driver. I think the probability that the GCM is a valid predictive tool for global temperatures over 20-50 years is vanishingly small. The onus must surely be on those who wish global economic and political policy to be driven by such models to prove them beyond reasonable doubt, not on those of us who question them to generate alternative models.

  6. I graduated from engineering school in 1949. I have regularly been told that I am getting more and more obsolete because of new technology. As it happens, I kept up with my field, learning Fortran programming, computer process simulation, and many other things over the years. In the meantime, engineering education went from 161 hours for a B.Ch.E. to 125, even though there is now more to learn.

    My experience is that today’s graduates are undertrained and overgraded, and are much less competent than engineers of my age who have kept up with their field.

    We will shortly reach the point wher you will get an A in college level math if you can answer that 2 plus 2 is “duh”.

  7. Hello David, that was a very thoughtful commentary.

    I, like you, do not know if there is AGW. But I do have a mind open to both sides of the debate. What I am not convinced of is that places like Climate Science are legitimately debating it or simply venting a political POV – which always leads to hubris.

    And yes, I see a number of people here who obviously have a scientific background (although there a good many who fake experience and expertise and are eventually outed). As a rule I do not doubt that these people have some understanding of science, admittedly far more than I do, but what I do doubt is their objectivity and emotional response to a now very politicized issue. This comes up over and over again. So yes, I liked the metaphor – I am playing “the man” because I believe the men and women here are untrustworthy. I also “play the man,” I suppose, because – while these are engineers, mathematicians, etc. – I find them playing zone defense with the hardcore climate experts from the safety of the blogosphere. As smart as they are, I believe these smart people would be out of their league anywhere else. Look around at the sources of information on CS – very, very questionable to say the least.

    I must disagree with you on one point, however: I “take abuse” because I am not convinced by the reasoning here. I, unlike you, do not see positive proof of collusion of conspiracy, and the more I look at the claims of the deniosphere, the less likely it seems to me. So, very slowly, I am becoming alarmed about the state of the climate.


  8. Well, there is the New new math, which many parents have protested, because apparently it involves students forming teams to reinforce their mutual ignorance of problem solving heuristics.

    Of course, I still remember the Old new math, which was elementary set theory; very helpful. I still think of math in set theoretic terms, when I’m not thinking in geometric terms, that is.


    On the other hand, I have encountered students in logic who were petrified by any symbolic notation, other than arithmetic. When confronted with novel symbols, they were too scared to think. Something went wrong when they being taught math. And it was a shame, because they were industrious; they kept coming for tutoring, they really tried to follow the reasoning, and many times they could follow, but they just couldn’t replicate it on their own. It was as though they had a circuit blown in their minds.

    It was almost as though somebody sabotaged their ability to learn the simplest novel formal systems. And it was sad.

  9. Edit: “Something went wrong when they being taught math.” Should be: “Something went wrong when they were being taught math.”

  10. I share your frustration about the mathematics knowledge retained by today’s graduates of high school. I taught mathematics and science in junior high 50 years ago and taught physics and physical science in a California State University over the last 30 years. So I am part of the problem. Your title is correct. One of the main reasons that the mainstream media and politicians have been able to hoodwink the world in believing there is man-made catastrophe at hand due to global warming is that many people including college graduates are innumerate. For example, one point that struck me very early in my introduction to global warming is that a gas, CO2 in the quantity of 300 ppm could be a major cause of climate change. Now 300 ppm is a very small fraction of the gas in the atmosphere and it would have to have a strong mechanism for absorbing energy from the sun to produce a 1 degree C temperature rise in 100 years. If you do not know that 300 ppm is small fraction of the atmosphere, then you might think 300 is really a large quantity. In analogy a football field is 100 yards long and 0.0003 is 0.03 yards or 0.36 inches, a very small fraction of the total length. When the proponents of global warming told me that 300 ppm was enough CO2 to raise the earth’s temperature one degree and I became skeptical and nothing has been revealed since then has removed my skepticism. The observation that I have made is that most people do not have an appreciation for importance of mathematics and they do not have a feel for what a number and the units mean. Three hundred seems pretty large, doesn’t it? 400 is larger.
    One of the biggest culprits in mathematics education is the hand held calculator or its baby, the lap-top computer. If I push a bunch of buttons out pops an answer. But how do you know this number is correct or has any meaning for the question? Why is this ability missing today? Mental calculations and estimating are not taught any more because we can use a calculator and it performs the operations perfectly. Right? Only if you push the buttons correctly and in the correct order and know the units will the answer be meaningful. When I was in college, we used a device called the slide rule. It didn’t have any numerical output to 10 decimal places. You had to mentally estimate the size of the answer in order to place a decimal point or an exponent in your answer. Now if an answer came from a computer, it has to be correct. Just like the models for global warming use very big computers and therefore they must really be correct. As a result being innumerate, people rely on science experts or talking heads on television to keep them informed about what is correct. They do not have the mathematical ability to delve into the science nor can they read and understand the science or the mathematics presented. So it is easy convince these people that a carefully drawn graph that looks like a hockey stick shows that the world is doomed if the CO2 continues to increase in the next 4 years.
    Bring back mental arithmetic.

  11. Waldo,

    I also do not see proof of collusion or conspiracy, nor do I think there are any evil agendas at play on either side of your deniosphere. It is a moot point, however. It doesn’t matter how unqualified or questionable the members of either side of the argument are because there is no room in the scientific method for proof by contra-positive. The scientific method places the burden of proof squarely on the empirical evidence from tested hypothesis, and, therefore, directly on the scientific observer by proxy. The least scientific among us is equally qualified to question the validity of any theory or model regarding AGW.

    I have questioned AGW from the beginning simply because none of the evidence I have ever seen has given me a compelling sense that it is the whole truth. Counter-AGW evidence has left me similarly underwhelmed, but it’s not their responsibility to suggest a valid counterargument. I throw my lot in with the skeptics by default in this case in defense of the institution of science, regardless of how irritating or illogical I find many of the unqualified, pseudo-scientific arguments to be. I side with them because I find AGW to be a basically unprovable theory either way, and therefore unworthy of a very costly change in global lifestyle.

    And if I find a bit of occasional amusement in making them squirm like a worm on a fish hook, well, that’s because I am both a scientist and a troll.

  12. Interesting Caine. I guess one must throw his or her lot into one stable or the other. For my own part, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the scientists with their degrees, labs, equipment, time and expertise. But that’s just me.

    I’m not sure I buy this statement: “The least scientific among us is equally qualified to question the validity of any theory or model regarding AGW.” Ummm…don’t mean to be rude, but…that doesn’t even meet the criteria for common sense. And I wasn’t sure what a “contra-positive” is – maybe that’s jargon for something. You being a scientist and all…

    I posted this somewhere else on this blog, but what I don’t understand is what sort of “empirical evidence from tested hypothesis” the doubters are looking for. In my admittedly layperson’s understanding, the “evidence” for GW comes from observable data – in fact, I already posted this on another thread and got no real response, so I’ll re-post it here.

    I go to Real Climate or any of the government scientific sites I find links to code, publications, and data. It’s all out there for the world to see. I am also confused because, again whenever I visit one of these sites I mentioned above, the claims for climate change comes from observable data (weather stations, satellites, boreholes, tree rings, etc.) so I’m wondering what “reproducible results” people are looking for? Can’t we make scientific deductions from the properties of physics and observations as we do for, say, a supernova which, obviously, is a little hard to reproduce? Do we also doubt geologists because they cannot reproduce a subduction zone in a lab or volcanologists because they cannot create a magma chamber? These may be dumb questions for a scientist like yourself, but as a layperson I have to wonder.

    Likewise, isn’t it well established that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? With results reproducible in a laboratory? I sometimes feel that the people on this site reason the same way anti-evolutionists do when they claim as evidence for creationism that fact that evolutionary biologists cannot present a half-man / half-monkey missing link or when creationists cite the Piltdown Man (nearly a century old by now) as evidence for vast fraud or quote creationist science on dinosaurs living at the same time as humans as proof that the world is 5,000 years old. But maybe that’s an unfair analogy…

  13. I wonder why our AGW troll pretends the code is ‘all out there to see’ at the AGW promo sites,w hen it is proven that is not the case?

  14. And- sorry, hit submit too quickly-
    To be on this site and to fall back on the empty strawman of pretending that since CO2 is a ghg, then all of AGW theory is correct, is an an exercise of willful ignorance about this site and most skeptics, only matched by the sad attempt to link creationism to AGW skepticism.

  15. Proof by contrapositive is a logical proof where one state is proven to be true because all other possibilities are proven false. Applied here it means your point will never be proven regardless of how many skeptical opinions or arguments you shoot down or how many scientists’ credentials you attempt to discredit.

    I’ve been on Real Climate. I’ve been on many government sites. I’ve followed links to original journal articles in peer-reviewed journals. I’ve done a fair amount of research because there are so many conflicting reports from scientists with impeccable credentials on both sides of the AGW hypothesis. I searched because I was sure that a direct review of the reported empirical findings would point me towards an overreaching consensus from the majority of the world’s scientists.

    The only thing I have found with any certainty is that there is no major consensus in the scientific community. For every climate scientist who says AGW is a real threat, there is another equally qualified climatologist who quotes the exact same graphs, charts, and journal articles and comes up with the exact opposite conclusions. There is no smoking gun; there is no absolute proof, so there will always be people on both sides of this argument.

    Proof is very hard to come by, and rightly so, since disproof only requires one counterexample and AGW provides a nearly endless supply of them.

  16. Caine,
    You have stated the case very clearly.
    The historical record does not indicate that we are experiencing anything particularly unusual or foreboding, much less dangerous. AGW theory postulates that we are experiencing something unprecedented and dangerous, but based on what?

  17. Again interesting, Caine.

    I like the definition of “contrapositive” although I failed to see exactly how my “point will never be proven regardless” – just didn’t follow the line of reasoning. But it does not matter. There is, if the polls are to be believed, a consensus among scientists about the issue and I am not aware than anyone has “proven” AGW to be false. So a contrapositive position has not yet be proven, if I understand correctly. Anti-AGW I like

    Bryson (although he only made a few off the cuff remarks during an interview)
    Richard S Courtney
    Timm Ball

    Who do you follow? What journal articles have you read?

    For my own part, I have not found an infinite number of impeccable scientists on both sides of the issue – and that is one of the main problems with us laypeople trying to decipher the AGW science. As a whole I would trust the pro-AGW scientists by a mile…but I have posted so much on this point it has become tiresome and shall not do more. Suffice that I have and continue to be underwhelmed by a great many arguments, many posted here on CS.

  18. Steve, it would seem that all this time you have been using the wrong methods in your lengthy and frustrating attempts to pry data and code from climate scientists. According to Waldo, all you ever needed to do was read RC.

  19. Very intelligent riposte, Ron. Surely “prying” information is very difficult when scientists publish their stuff on the web and in scientific journals and such. Darn scientists!

  20. Waldo,
    Since the scientists in question did not, in fact, publish their code on the web or in journals, yes it was hard to pry the information out.
    It is surprising, even for a troll, to not find some new dodge when the old one is so well falsified.

  21. Well, for some reason I can’t post the urls. So, hunter my man, google key words:

    “Real Climate code”

    “IPCC data distribution center”

  22. Waldo,
    Do you beleive that when Jones and pals were talking aboutt how to hide the data, and to not release the data, and to destroy the data, irt requests for the same, that they were simply pretending?
    Do you think that Briffa did not in fact hide the data for nearly ten years regarding his phony tree ring study?
    Showing that code is available does not prove that the above mentioned issues were not true, nor does it show that in fact all relevant code has in fact been made transparently available.

  23. Sorry man, I am not convinced of any of the above. Posted that before. Code there. Data there. You are falling back on blog propaganda.

  24. Wanna know something funny? The above blog post and math test comes from Professor Cliff Mass from W Washington. Sorry folks, Cliff Mass is a proponent of AGW. Read his blog here

    and here for his take on Climategate

    But this was the most interesting thing he says –

    “There is an almost tribal separation going on today between the scientific community and their ‘allies’ (generally of a liberal persuasion) and the denier and critic crowd (many of them of a conservative bent). The denier folks have become angry, with conspiracy theories and accusations of far-left agendas. Whenever there is an article on climate change in newspapers, these people leaves large numbers of online comments. And few of them are well informed about the science. And there is a lot of misinformation on the “pro” global warming side as well. Scientists, unaccustomed to being on the firing line, have gotten defensive–and the emails from climategate really document this attitude.”

    Interesting, no?

  25. Waldo,
    I would suggest that you will never be convinced.
    You are immune to evidence. You are not really as clever as you wish.
    Sort of like Baghdad Bob.

  26. Waldo:

    Edmund Scientific use to (about 40 years ago!) include a pamphlet in every order that explained the “scientific method” — you should try to find a copy and read it.

    The beauty of making data and analyses available for others to replicate if they can and criticize if they can’t is that it doesn’t matter who works for whom and how much money they make — the data and analyses speak for themselves.

    When “scientists” (and I use the term loosely) keep their data and analysis algorithms secret, then you have no option but to trust them or not. You would be advised to not trust people who don’t want others to check them. It doesn’t count if they are “checked” by their friends (who also keep the data, etc. secret). This kind of behavior almost always means that you are being conned.

    There is only one side in this debate that behaves this way (keeping crucial data and analyses methods secret) — the AGW side. (Read the CRU emails, for Pete’s sake, if you don’t believe me.)

    If you’re too dumb to spot when you’re being conned, that’s your business. The rest of us here have a little more sense.

  27. Oh Bob, pulll-eeeease. Look at the links above (I accidentally posted them 7 times) – data there, my man. Plenty more other places too. You just don’t want to admit it. Cling to your rationals and the reality is only a Google search away. And yeah, I’ve read the CRU emails – nothing there except allegations from people like yourself.

    How do you suppose ‘your’ side of the ‘debate’ is behaving? You may not have as much sense as you assume you have.

  28. Waldo:
    “pulll-eeeease”! Now there’s a coherent argument. Perhaps it the best you can do.

    You ask: “…what I don’t understand is what sort of “empirical evidence from tested hypothesis” the doubters are looking for.”

    A simple answer is “demonstrated predictive skill of climate models”.

    Before this would be accepted, however, both the data and the models would have to be available and replicated. Currently, the data and models are not open source but that doesn’t matter as climate models currently have demonstrated predictive skill statistically indistinguishable from zero.

    The AGW alarmists claim to be able to predict the climate for 50-100 years in advance. On the basis of this claim, they insist that the main energy source of modern civilization be abandoned with probable dire results.

    This is a remarkable claim, as climate is aggregate weather and weather is known as a chaotic system, predictable for only a few days ahead. Surely the burden of proof lies with those who claim to be able to predict a chaotic system.

    What would constitute such proof would be demonstrated predictive skill, as mentioned above. Unfortunately for the AGW alarmists, climate models exhibit no such skill.

    What is offered as “proof” instead? Peer reviewed papers that don’t include enough data to replicate the results — you are asked to simply believe the authors on faith. Unlike you (I’m guessing) I’ve actually participated in the peer review process (on both sides). The purpose of peer review is to keep journal editors from being embarrassed by publishing something their readership considers nonsense (Hence the review by “peers” — e.g., readers of the journal). There is NEVER enough information in a submitted paper to allow replication — peer review is incapable of determining what is correct.

    Again, what would be necessary (if not completely sufficient) to “prove” climate models correct would be predictive skill, of which they currently show none.

    “And yeah, I’ve read the CRU emails – nothing there except allegations from people like yourself.” Really? Just what do you make of threats to destroy data instead of releasing it under FOIA? Do you imagine this is just “normal scientific process”? How dumb are you, really?

  29. To be correct for 3b, you should indicate that the angle opposite c is a right angle (or say it is a right triangle), otherwise it becomes an exercise using the law of cosines. Then again, I see it’s corrected in the answered version.

Comments are closed.