Letter to Tom Clynes at Popular Science

I am simply amazed at the tone and lack of balance in your story called “the Battle” in the recent issue of Popular Science.  More than anything, its incredible to me that a magazine with “science” in the title could dismiss the actual scientific arguments made by skeptics in something like two dozen words, while spending thousands of words on yet another exposition on how much money the Koch Brothers sends to the Heartland institute.

Granted there are skeptics that are full of bluster or who put up tasteless billboards.  I wonder why your coverage of these types of issues in “the battle” is so asymmetric?  Did you see the 10:10 video of teachers exploding kids who questioned global warming into a bloody mess?  How about James Hansen’s arrests?  Or the threats to skeptics by RFK jr and Grist Magazine that were far more extreme than Inhofe’s list you spend about a thousand words discussing?  If there is some reason these are different, why?  And by the way, why is Heartland’s funding to interesting but funding to Tides or WWF not worth mentioning?  And finally, why do you discuss only the scientists on the alarmist side and +none of the crazy advocacy people, but on the skeptic side you discuss none of the scientists and only the crazy advocacy guys.  I understand you have a point of view, fine, but can’t you even take a shot at treating both sides symmetrically?

By the way, I thought your inclusion of the Gleason/Monnett story bordered on journalistic malfeasance.  These guys have their job threatened not by skeptics but by an audit, I believe on financial issues, by the Obama Administration (surely not a friend of the Limbaugh-Inhofe-Milloy cabal).  You were careful not to say that skeptics were involved, but by its very inclusion in an article on skeptics’ bad actions you left the reader, purposefully I fear, with that incorrect conclusion.  This story has nothing to do with “the Battle”, so why is it even here except to dish dirt on skeptics for something they did not even do?  Sure, skeptics criticized their work and had a certain schadenfreude when they got in trouble, but again the trouble comes from Obama Administration financial investigators.

Anyway, over the last two paragraphs I spent more time talking about these behavioral issues than I intended.  My core complaint is still your dismissal of the scientific part of skeptics arguments without even mentioning what they are.  In fact, you dismiss key issues as tangential.

It is the latter that causes me to ask, and seriously this is not rhetorical or smart-*ss, do you actually know the mainstream skeptical scientific arguments?   I have many friends who are people of goodwill who actually don’t, who assume the bluster of a Limbaugh or an Inhofe is all we have to offer.  If your only exposure to skeptic ideas is by reading about them at Realclimate or from Joe Romm, you can be excused, I suppose, for thinking we only have “information mssiles” and no actual science.

Here is the key point, which you dismiss as tangential:  While the world has indeed warmed over the last century, and some of that warming has almost certainly been due to man-made CO2, climate scientists are grossly exaggerating future warming in large part because they are exaggerating positive feedback effects in the climate system.  Most of the warming in climate models is not from CO2 directly but from feedback effects, and the evidence for strong positive climate feedback on temperature is very weak (to the point of non-existence) as compared to the evidence of greenhouse gas warming (yes, individual effects like ice cover melting are undeniably positive feedback effects, the question is as to the net impact of all such effects).  When we look at past warming, and take into account other natural warming effects, the warming from man-made CO2 appears to be more consistent with negative than positive feedback.

The importance, even centrality, of the feedback is not some skeptic invention but comes right from the IPCC.  According to the last IPCC report, greenhouse gasses acting alone warm the Earth about 1.2C per double of CO2 (per Michael Mann, yes that Mann).  It is hypothesized positive feedback effects that increase this to the 3.5-5.5C range for total warming/sensitivity.  This means that 67% to 80% of IPCC forecasted warming is not from greenhouse gas theory but this second theory that the Earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This means that the points you consider “tangential” actually account for the vast majority of the warming.  In fact, according to the IPCC, it is feedback, not greenhouse gas theory, that causes the catastrophe.

The is why harping on the “98% of scientists” meme is so irritating to many skeptics.  The 98% of scientists in this survey said two things:  that the world has warmed over the last century and that CO2 from man was a significant cause of this warming.  But most science-based skeptics agree with this!  We don’t deny warming or greenhouse gas theory, we deny the catastrophe, which we face only if the assumption of the climate being dominated by strong net positive feedback is correct.

The other major issue skeptics have is that the climate community has become incredibly insular and resistant to criticism and replication of their work.  Peer review tends to be by a small group of friends and close associates, and attempts by third parties to replicate their work are impossible, since climate scientists seldom release their key data to outsiders, even when, which is often the case, their work is publicly funded. In particular, climates scientists often get very “creative” with statistical methods, and often create results which don’t stand up to review by qualified statisticians outside the field.

Take this as context for the issue of “harassment” via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits.  Over and over in your piece we must take Michael Mann and other climate scientists at their word that these lawsuits are purely to harass them.  But, in fact, the origins of these lawsuits were to try to obtain data from Mann and others that was needed by third parties to replicate their published works, data that was collected in most cases with taxpayer-funded grants for research that was published in journals that nominally required authors to provide all data needed for replication.

Sure, some recent FOIA suits by political groups, particularly one in Virginia of Mann’s emails when we was a professor there, border on harassment; but I have yet to meet any scientist who, hearing the story of Mann’s resistance to providing replication data, has any sympathy for such a clear breach of the scientific process.

Anyway, I wrote a longer version of this at Forbes.com here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/06/18/a-response-to-popular-ad-hominem-err-science-magazine-on-global-warming-skeptics/

Also, on the off-chance you really don’t know the science-based skeptic position and think that skeptics begin and end with the big-mouths you quote, try these two articles which are discussions of the science, absolutely free of ad hominem attacks, something Popular Science should try:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/02/09/understanding-the-global-warming-debate/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2010/10/15/denying-the-catstrophe-the-science-of-the-climate-skeptics-position/

79 thoughts on “Letter to Tom Clynes at Popular Science

  1. NetDr

    Actually CO2 isn’t an ideal gas at all.

    It has mass and that is the problem with the experiment.

  2. Steve D.

    ‘Al gore in his recent Gorethon cited it as proof that CO2 causes AGW.’
    But they should correct him, NetDr. Because whether or not CO2 causes AGW (which I don’t know the answer too, BTW), that experiment is definitely not proof of it. Even if you agree with AGW, you don’t want to cite something as evidence, which isn’t. It’s dishonest and it’s just going to hurt your case down the line.
    It suggests that many AGW advocates either have another agenda or they just aren’t listening very well (or they don’t care)
    ‘Actually CO2 isn’t an ideal gas at all.’
    There is no such thing as an ideal gas because they all have mass. It’s just a theoretical construct that all gases approach to some degree or another.

  3. Steve D.

    Nick: It depends upon when you take your measurement, right? Obviously the correct experiment is a temperature time course and you should also monitor CO2 levels, continuously.
    ‘Do they like the nonsense he spews ?’
    NetDr. I wonder if there is something in human psychology which makes it hard for us criticize someone who agrees with us for the wrong reasons? This may explain the attitude towards Al Gore.

  4. NetDr

    Steve

    I try to sort truth from fiction, that is why I experiment.

    If I am wrong I want to know it so I don’t make a fool of myself.

    Alarmists think that warm water sinks and sLR is targeting American cities but they never check.

    I like the fact that with no lid on there was no additional warming but I did the experiment to verify it anyway.

  5. Nick

    I don’t see the point in debating warming anyway. We are still running out of fossil fuels so we have to reduce our reliance on them and move toward renewable energy sources anyway. These renewable resources happen to also be non-carbon emitting so everyone should be satisfied.

  6. Steve D.

    ‘I try to sort truth from fiction, that is why I experiment.’
    That’s what you should do and I applaud you for it. I would add that the scientific method can and should be useful in every aspect of our lives. If everyone, scientist or not, experimented when they could and understood how the scientific method worked, we would all live in a much better world.
    ‘These renewable resources happen to also be non-carbon emitting so everyone should be satisfied.’
    There are reasons besides AGW which might cause us to question the practice of continuously throwing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
    We have to (and will) move towards nuclear power, period. It’s safe, cheap and clean and does not emit any CO2; the best form of energy available. It’s not technically renewable, but there is enough thorium and uranium in the ground to last the human race thousands upon thousands of years.

  7. Nick

    Everyone would agree that nuclear power is the perfect substitute if it weren’t for the cancer causing radiation. What would you suggest we do about that? I apologise for going off topic but I really want to hear a good response to this question.

  8. Steve D.

    I guess my answer would be not to hang around too close to the reactor core. The radiation shouldn’t be a problem, with the exception of the few workmen who might need to work directly inside the reactor. (They should wear proper protective gear) Actually, assuming the reactors are shielded properly which they will be; the radiation levels outside the main core are only slightly greater than anywhere else. Outside the reactor building itself, radiation levels are back to normal.
    Now if you are referring to what might happen if the reactor is disrupted by a natural disaster, or terrorists, well I agree; that’s another story. Buildings can be made weather and quake resistant, proper security instituted etc. but there is no perfect solution.
    And thorium which can be used to power smaller engines is only slightly radioactive – far less dangerous than gasoline.
    My main point is that no form of power generation is perfect and no matter what, there will have to be tradeoffs. Furthermore, if we decide to stop using fossil fuels because of the CO2, that eliminates natural gas, oil coal and wood. Then basically, it’s full nuclear or bust. About fifty percent of the electricity generated in the US is from coal. What else can provide the levels of energy required to run our world? Hydro-electric; almost all the accessible rivers in the world are at capacity; Geothermal – its only useful in areas where it can be easily accessed etc.

  9. Lance

    Steve D,

    The coal and oil is going to be burned. The real players in the AGW game know this. They are just positioning themselves to profit(financially and politically) from the scaremongering.

    The game is shifting to “sustainability”. This avoids the problems of flat temperatures and non-increasing natural disasters.

    H.L. Mencken had it nailed nearly a century ago,

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

  10. David

    Coming from a corporation that at one time took money from advertisers that sold illegal cable boxes used only in stealing cable and satellite content, It’s not surprising how morally corrupt this publication is.

  11. Steve D.

    Yes, I’m sure big oil puts more money into the pockets of politicians than big nuclear. Although, there are a lot of wealthy energy companies which would really like to build nuclear plants. You know, I don’t really the word sustainability can basically mean anything you want it too, but by any objective meaning of the term, nuclear power is about as sustainable as you get.
    I wish those rich oligarchs (the real players) would get off their butts, and position themselves to financially and politically profit from nuclear energy. The whole world, including the rich guys would benefit. In a true free market system, nuclear power would probably be the world’s number one source of power.
    No matter. Someday, now or hundreds of years from now when the fuel runs out we will switch to nuclear or lose our civilization. It’s as simple as that.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
    He could of said that two thousand years ago. I read a lot of ancient history, Rome and Greece and this sounds pretty familiar. I guess things never change.

  12. NetDr

    The recent hot weather in the USA is climate change while any cold weather is just weather.

  13. Steve D.

    Vancouver is apparently having the coldest summer in decades, along with most of Europe. Is that another effect of climate change?

  14. NetDr

    Steve
    Of course , everything is because of CO2.

    I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it. ” Voltaire
    .
    CO2 causes
    Volcanoes [No joke, just after the Iceland volcano there were peer reviewed studies
    linking it to global warming]
    Earthquakes [Same thing after the Japan earthquake]
    More snow
    Less snow
    Heat waves
    Intense cold
    ( ICS) Irritable Climate Syndrome
    Floods
    Droughts
    More extreme weather
    Less extreme weather
    Melting ice

    Fewer hurricanes
    More cloud
    Fewer clouds
    Stratospheric warming
    Stratospheric cooling
    etc. etc. ad nauseum.
    The science is settled

  15. Michael

    Waldo:

    Maybe it’s the return of the Medieval Warm Period. Is it global?

    Back from vacation? How was it?

  16. Waldo Back From Vacation

    Vacation was excellent, thank you Michael.

    Well netdr, the boys over at RC (in other words, the scientists who write that blog) have long ago discussed your cooling trend, so it seems you are little late to your latest half-baked obsession; the scientists interpret the last decade a little differently than the politicos over at Wood for Trees. See for yourself:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/a-warming-pause/

    If you think you can prove otherwise, do it—but don’t be chicken: publish son, publish!

    A warming pause?
    Filed under:

    Climate Science
    Communicating Climate
    Instrumental Record
    skeptics

    — stefan @ 6 October 2009 – (Español)

    The blogosphere (and not only that) has been full of the “global warming is taking a break” meme lately. Although we have discussed this topic repeatedly, it is perhaps worthwhile reiterating two key points about the alleged pause here.

    (1) This discussion focuses on just a short time period – starting 1998 or later – covering at most 11 years. Even under conditions of anthropogenic global warming (which would contribute a temperature rise of about 0.2 ºC over this period) a flat period or even cooling trend over such a short time span is nothing special and has happened repeatedly before (see 1987-1996). That simply is due to the fact that short-term natural variability has a similar magnitude (i.e. ~0.2 ºC) and can thus compensate for the anthropogenic effects. Of course, the warming trend keeps going up whilst natural variability just oscillates irregularly up and down, so over longer periods the warming trend wins and natural variability cancels out.

    (2) It is highly questionable whether this “pause” is even real. It does show up to some extent (no cooling, but reduced 10-year warming trend) in the Hadley Center data, but it does not show in the GISS data, see Figure 1. There, the past ten 10-year trends (i.e. 1990-1999, 1991-2000 and so on) have all been between 0.17 and 0.34 ºC per decade, close to or above the expected anthropogenic trend, with the most recent one (1999-2008) equal to 0.19 ºC per decade – just as predicted by IPCC as response to anthropogenic forcing.

    GISS temperature trends

    Figure 1. Global temperature according to NASA GISS data since 1980. The red line shows annual data, the larger red square a preliminary value for 2009, based on January-August. The green line shows the 25-year linear trend (0.19 ºC per decade). The blue lines show the two most recent ten-year trends (0.18 ºC per decade for 1998-2007, 0.19 ºC per decade for 1999-2008) and illustrate that these recent decadal trends are entirely consistent with the long-term trend and IPCC predictions. Even the highly “cherry-picked” 11-year period starting with the warm 1998 and ending with the cold 2008 still shows a warming trend of 0.11 ºC per decade (which may surprise some lay people who tend to connect the end points, rather than include all ten data points into a proper trend calculation).

    Why do these two surface temperature data sets differ over recent years? We analysed this a while ago here, and the reason is the “hole in the Arctic” in the Hadley data, just where recent warming has been greatest.

    Mean temperature difference between the periods 2004-2008 and 1999-2003
    Figure 2. The animated graph shows the temperature difference between the two 5-year periods 1999-2003 and 2004-2008. The largest warming has occurred over the Arctic in the past decade and is missing in the Hadley data.

    If we want to relate global temperature to global forcings like greenhouse gases, we’d better not have a “hole” in our data set. That’s because global temperature follows a simple planetary heat budget, determined by the balance of what comes in and what goes out. But if data coverage is not really global, the heat budget is not closed. One would have to account for the heat flow across the boundary of the “hole”, i.e. in and out of the Arctic, and the whole thing becomes ill-determined (because we don’t know how much that is). Hence the GISS data are clearly more useful in this respect, and the supposed pause in warming turns out to be just an artifact of the “Arctic hole” in the Hadley data – we don’t even need to refer to natural variability to explain it.

    Imagine you want to check whether the balance in your accounts is consistent with your income and spendings – and you find your bank accounts contain less money than you expected, so there is a puzzling shortfall. But then you realise you forgot one of your bank accounts when doing the sums – and voila, that is where the missing money is, so there is no shortfall after all. That missing bank account in the Hadley data is the Arctic – and we’ve shown that this is where the “missing warming” actually is, which is why there is no shortfall in the GISS data, and it is pointless to look for explanations for a warming pause.

    It is noteworthy in this context that despite the record low in the brightness of the sun over the past three years (it’s been at its faintest since beginning of satellite measurements in the 1970s), a number of warming records have been broken during this time. March 2008 saw the warmest global land temperature of any March ever recorded in the past 130 years. June and August 2009 saw the warmest land and ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere ever recorded for those months. The global ocean surface temperatures in 2009 broke all previous records for three consecutive months: June, July and August. The years 2007, 2008 and 2009 had the lowest summer Arctic sea ice cover ever recorded, and in 2008 for the first time in living memory the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage were simultaneously ice-free. This feat was repeated in 2009. Every single year of this century (2001-2008) has been warmer than all years of the 20th Century except 1998 (which sticks out well above the trend line due to a strong El Niño event).

    The bottom line is: the observed warming over the last decade is 100% consistent with the expected anthropogenic warming trend of 0.2 ºC per decade, superimposed with short-term natural variability. It is no different in this respect from the two decades before. And with an El Niño developing in the Pacific right now, we wouldn’t be surprised if more temperature records were to be broken over the coming year or so.

    Update: We were told there is a new paper by Simmons et al. in press with JGR that supports our analysis about the Hadley vs GISS trends (sorry, access to subscribers only).

    Update: AP has just published an interesting story titled Statisticians reject global cooling, for which they “gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented”.

  17. Michael

    Both sides seem to me to be spending too much time on this point.
    If natural variation is enough to explain this pause, then why is it necessary to show that it doesn’t exist? There is good enough reason to explore why the data sets don’t agree without this.

    Simple analogy:
    I’m driving to work, and I stop at a traffic light. I’m stopped, but I’m still on my way to work. Both things are true, because they are two different things.

  18. NetDr

    Waldo

    Nothing skeptical science can write will change the FACTS.

    Regardless of what data source you use there has been essentially no warming since 1998.

    1998

    Least squares trend line; slope = -0.00171062 per year

    http://tiny.cc/9lzdo

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1998/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1998/trend

    The periodic cooling trends hold the long term warming to 1/2 degree per CENTURY.

    Skepticalscience doesn’t address this fact.

    Skeptical science had an amusing graph which is amazingly accurate in one way.

    http://www2.grist.org.s3.amazonaws.com/grist-images/2011/November/7-11/SkepticsvRealistsv3-a.gif

    http://tiny.cc/5pqn2

    Notice how it warms despite occasional setbacks and actual cooling. In the earth this low rate of actual warming will allow us to find alternative fuels and avoid punishing taxes.

    The overall rate of warming is ½ ° per century !!

  19. NetDr

    Skepticalscience has never confronted the problem of very very very slow warming.

    They spend all their time trying to prove there even is any warming.

    Silly rabbits, of course it is warming but so slowly it is not a problem.

    Why pass crippling taxes to avoid this mild warming ?

  20. Steve D.

    ‘Why pass crippling taxes to avoid this mild warming ?’

    That’s the worst thing you could possibly do, even if the warming will be problem. So, if the warming is real and it is large and it is going to cause suffering, then we should just pass crippling taxes so we can increase the suffering, kick the butt of the our economy and thus make certain we don’t have the resources to adapt? What sort of twisted logic is that?

    If my house burns down, I should just burn all my money to prevent myself from buying a new one? Same logic

    Reduce taxes; reduce regulatory costs and insurance costs for the nuclear industry to bring it in line with fossil fuels. Then sit back and watch the CO2 drop! (or not, assuming the CO2 increase is actually caused by human activities)

  21. NetDr

    Actually CO2 emissions in the USA are falling every year without taxes.

    Why isn’t this published more ?

    We both know the answer.

  22. Steve D.

    I think there are a lot of people who really WANT CAGW to be true. That’s a watch out for any scientific theory.

    But to me CAGW, if true is a reason to lower taxes and government regulation, not increase them.

  23. Waldo

    ***”Please show there has been rapid warming in the last 14 years.”

    Please show that temperatures will fall dramatically in the next hundred years.

    Or better yet, quit making dumb comments based on a time scale too short to yet be proven significant in the hottest summer on record.

  24. NetDr

    Fourteen years is certainly significant.

    The only period of global warming is from 1978 to 1998 which is only 20 years.

    Before that and after that it has cooled.

    So 14 years isn’t significant but 20 is ??

    The real warming is only 1/2 degree per CENTURY !

    Passing crippling taxes won’t slow that much and will cripple the USA !

  25. Steve D.

    ‘Or better yet, quit making dumb comments based on a time scale too short to yet be proven significant in the hottest summer on record.’

    Western Canada is having the coldest rainiest summer in decades and all over Europe record cold temperatures have been happening all summer. Many places even had massive snow storms in June! Wow!

    The real warming is only 1/2 degree per CENTURY !

    Celsius or Fahrenheit? That makes a big difference!

    ‘Silly rabbits, of course it is warming but so slowly it is not a problem.’

    It’s been warming for about 18,000 years, on and off, plus or minus a few weeks of course but not always slowly. We’re in the dog days of one long interglacial, that’s for sure. I blame the Romans.

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