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/

  • “While the world has indeed warmed over the last century, and some of that warming has almost certainly been due to man-made CO2…”

    I consider this “lukewarm greenhouse believer” position to be just as incompetent, based upon the definitive evidence, as the alarmist position. A link to that evidence, which you should be aware of by now, is at:

    Why the Climate Debate Is Over, and Why Both Sides Continue to Debate Anyway

  • NetDr

    I believe in slight beneficial AGW but have seen no reasonable reason to believe in CAGW !

    No matter how much or little we throw at a politician there will be no CAGW.

    Is this an AGW believer position.

  • John Moore

    I hope that gets published, but good luck! I doubt Clynes even knows what positive feedback means.

    You are arguing with adherents of a secular religion. They are true believers and most are immune to evidence.

  • Steve D.

    As I’ve said many times before, the overall level of global warming in the recent past does not instruct either a manmade or natural hypothesis. In fact, I have yet to see any data which does. You can contrast the type evidence presented in a typical climatology study with the type of evidence in a typical biochemistry study to see what I mean. Biochemists do experiments. Climatologists do not. They observe only and are thus limited to natural experiments when and where they can find them. Thus, the level of their science is precisely at the level of the ancient Greeks when they tried to explain their world. This is not their fault; climatology science is in its infancy but it exasperates me when so many of them will not admit it.
    This is an issue of epistemology and the scientific method. The reason why the ancient Greeks invented science but were so often wrong in their conclusions was that they depended solely on observation (i.e. natural experiments). They had yet to invent the experimental method by which the scientist actually manipulates the starting conditions in order to isolate the phenomenon he is trying to explain by using the proper controls. It is crucial to keep your conclusions to what is actually inferred by the data and clearly separate what is probable with what is speculation. (Where is the ‘control’ earth in their studies?)
    That is why on a daily basis the pronouncements of nutritionists and psychologists change whereas the conclusions of biologists and chemists usually do not. It all has to do with how you interpret the data.
    Even the most fundamental assumptions of their hypothesis may be in doubt. If someone, anyone has evidence showing that the tiny level of CO2 in the complex mixture which is our atmosphere actually acts like a greenhouse gas; I would love to see it.
    I do not believe that AGH is not happening, nor do I believe AGW is happening. There is simply no way to tell with the present data. I’ll have a better answer for you in a few decades.
    ‘I don’t know.’ is perhaps the noblest statement a scientist can utter. Why is it so hard for us to say?

  • Paul Phoenix

    Simple. Because “I don’t know” doesn’t get you funding, blockbuster movies, nor political fame and glory.

  • Steve D.

    Paul:

    Actually, I’m guessing there is a much deeper psychological reason which also plays a part and this doesn’t apply only to scientists. I’ll bet you could count on one hand the number of times Obama has uttered that phrase in his entire life.

    Its much more fun to know something than not to know something.

    As a scientist, I often get asked about topics ranging from the origin of life to antimatter to AGW. Answering ‘I don’t know’ often nets me rather strange looks from people, as if they expected that I would have all the answers. When I try to educate them about the science behind why I answered the way I did, they tune me out. It’s as if they just want to know stuff without going through the process of thinking. Perhaps, this is because we live in an age where swarms of loud narcissists with confident manners but empty heads infest the airwaves drowning everyone else out. Or perhaps, it’s just laziness.

  • Dave Yaussy

    Thanks for responding to Popular Science with reason and facts. Their articles were so misguided and unbalanced I didn’t know where to begin trying to correct them. A smart ass response would have been easy and satisfying, but in the long run wouldn’t serve the goal of getting people of reason to listen to us.

    The only part of your piece that I’d take issue with is your statement that manmade CO2 is a significant component of global warming. I’m open to that possibility, but I don’t see much evidence of it.

  • Steve D.

    ‘some of that warming has almost certainly been due to man-made CO2’

    When the temperature increases, mitochondrial respiration and other CO2 releasing reacations increase. So, how do you separate cause from effect?

  • NetDr

    It has been established that a doubling of CO2 causes 1 degree C of warming.

    Negative feedbacks make this less than 1/2 degree.

  • Steve D.

    ‘It has been established that a doubling of CO2 causes 1 degree C of warming.’
    Just to play the devil’s advocate how do we know that 1 degree of warming doesn’t in fact cause a doubling of CO2? Like I said, increasing the temperature increases the rates of many chemical and biological processes which release CO2 (e.g. decarboxylation, respiration).
    Either way, there is no way to predict how negative feedbacks will play out at higher levels of CO2. They could be overwhelmed at some specific concentration and lose their effectiveness, accelerating GW or become even more effective, preventing warming completely – there is simply no way to tell.
    And, as I keep saying, I’ve still yet to see proof that CO2 is a greenhouse gas in any context other than a small laboratory experiment. They rest is unproven theory.

  • NetDr

    Steve

    Unlike the alarmists I love to do experiments.

    I filled one container with CO2 and the other wit air and exposed both to a sunlamp.

    If I put a lid on the jars the CO2 one warmed more.

    If you don’t put a lid n the jars [like the earth] there is no difference in the warming.

    Interesting ?

  • Steve D.

    Yes, very interesting. It suggests CO2 is a necessary but not sufficient condition for global warming.

  • matthew

    you climate “sceptics” are simply a laugh, just because you know its your fault global warming is happenning, you deny it exists, typically human, typically stupid, there so much scientific evidence (true stuff not the crap you talk about) that climate change is happenning so will you play a new record admit your wrong and listen to the big boys telling scientific truth instead of your kids shit ?

  • NetDr

    Matthew

    The argument is really about Catastrophic AGW. Even if I concede there has been slight warming and that CO2 caused it [see my last post] there is no reason to believe the warming will be more rapid.

    In fact since CO2’s effects are logarithmic they will be less and less as time goes on.

  • Gillian

    I want government policy based on mainstream science, not on the amateur efforts of backyard scientists, or the biased preferences of industry lobbyists.

    The mainstream view, based on the work of thousands of highly proficient scientists from a range of study areas, is that the planet is warming, human activity is the forcing factor and the consequences are going to be catastrophic.

    The denier echo chamber feeds a self-satisfied and flawed world-view, as evidenced in this vanity piece by a faux sceptic attention seeker.

    Policy makers have to act on responsible science, not on the mischievous nonsense peddled by the deluded echo chamber.

  • Michael

    Gillian

    Sorry, but government policy is based on politics, not science. Always has been, always will be.

  • Steve D.

    ‘there so much scientific evidence…that climate change is happenning’

    Climatology is a young science based almost exclusively on observations and measurements, rather than experimentation. That limits the level of confidence in its conclusions.

  • NetDr

    Gillian

    Your highly proficient scientists don’t know what causes climate. Their feeble attempts at modeling shows that they are clueless.

    AR4 predictions were .36 ° C warming between 2001 and today.

    http://tiny.cc/zwa7x

    Actual COOLING between 2001 and today.

    20001
    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2001/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2001/trend
    http://tiny.cc/plt8q

    Least squares trend line; slope = -0.00610265 per year

    Don’t get hung up on positive or negative the real story is how far wrong the prediction is.

  • NetDr

    Gillian

    There are no studies which show that carbon taxes will significantly alter future temperatures. Even if they work we will spent many trillions of dollars to postpone warming 5 or 6 years.

    The alarmist scientists even admit it.

  • Michael

    Matthew

    I believe that “climate change is happening”. Always has, always will.

  • Nick

    The fundamental physical principles on which climatology is based go back to the times of Darwin. I would hardly call that young… that is unless you also deny evolution by natural selection.

  • Nick

    “Unlike the alarmists I love to do experiments.
    I filled one container with CO2 and the other wit air and exposed both to a sunlamp.
    If I put a lid on the jars the CO2 one warmed more.
    If you don’t put a lid n the jars [like the earth] there is no difference in the warming.
    Interesting ?”

    No, not terribly interesting. This suggests that leaving the lid off a jar lets the carbon dioxide out. The earth on the other hand has enough gravity to hold onto its CO2…

  • Steve D.

    ‘This suggests that leaving the lid off a jar lets the carbon dioxide out.’

    No it doesn’t. CO2 is heavier than air – you can pour it, just like you can water; (I’ve done that experiment for grade school classes many times). If you do the experiment right, the CO2 should remain in the jar over the course of a short experiment.

    ‘The fundamental physical principles on which climatology is based go back to the times of Darwin.’

    Huh? You might need to explain this one. I wasn’t speaking about fundamental physical principles; I was speaking about the science of climatology. I think you have your cause and effect mixed up. It’s one thing to say the environment changes and natural selection leads to changes in living organisms over time, it’s quite another thing to use these principles to predict these environmental changes (or for that matter the changes which will occur to the living organisms). That’s a lot more difficult.

    Climatology is not yet at the stage where it can make accurate predictions.

    It’s not about the physical principles; it’s about applying them to make predictions.

  • Steve D.

    So according to Scientific American, the Antarctic continental ice shelf is breaking up – after being in place for thousands of years — and after surviving several period of the earth’s history where the average global temperature of the earth was substantially higher than it was today.
    So what should their conclusion be…?
    Once again, my point is that given the amount of warming which has so far occurred up to this point, (0.7 degrees/century) this should not be happening, yet, even if we take the most extreme models of CAGW to be completely true). It’s all scaremongering.

  • Steve D.

    Well, maybe not just scaremongering. We may still be in a lot of trouble, just not for the reasons they say.

  • Netdr

    Nick. You are wrong CO2 is denser than air and only slight amounts will escape.

    The experiment does not approximate a lidless earth. The CO2 will expand in the atmosphere just like in the experiment.

  • NetDr

    I don’t understand the type of INTERESTED person [unless they are VERY BUSY] who won’t spend an hour verifying for himself whether the CO2 bottle heats up faster.

    It is like discovering what a liver looks like by searching ancient texts. Galen probably didn’t know did he ?

    Science is a hands on sport !

    I read somewhere that if the lid were left off it didn’t warm more and was surprised to find out that was correct. Skeptics have been conceding that this experiment shows that CO2 is A GHG WHEN IT DOESN’T !!!

    If you think I lied about the results please do the experiment yourself !!

  • Michael

    NetDr

    Actually, the first part of your experiment seems to show that CO2 actually does fit the definition of a GHG. The experiment seems more designed to show that the earth doesn’t work like a “greenhouse” because it is open, and the heat can escape.

  • Steve D.

    ‘The experiment does not approximate a lidless earth.’

    NetDr: Did you mean ‘the experiment does approximate a lidless earth?’ Either way, you may want to expand on your statement a little. It would appear your experiment proves CO2 is a technically a weak greenhouse gas compared to air (since the bottle with both the lid and the CO2 warmed faster than the one with the lid plus air) but that the heat rapidly radiates away from the lidless bottles so in that case, the CO2 was not a strong enough a greenhouse gas to counteract the loss of heat. In other words the CO2 needs help (i.e. it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition for warming).

    I wonder if you did the experiment at high humidity or with water vapor, if you would see a greenhouse effect even in the lidless jars since water vapor traps heat much more effectively than CO2.

    However, I still contend that you haven’t proven that CO2 is a greenhouse gas in the tiny concentrations and complex mixture which is our atmosphere. To do that, you would have to put low levels of CO2 which differ only by a few hundred parts per million in each jar.

    Also, I would assume, but I don’t know for sure that the climate models already take into account the amount of heat which the earth emits (or radiates) back into space. It’s possible that factor is not well understood or incorrectly determined, though.

    ‘Galen probably didn’t know did he?’ Well, I think he cut up animals so he probably had an approximate but not exact idea what the human liver looked like.

  • Netdr

    Steve

    The CO2 molecule is big so I suspect that it causes more pressure in the jar with the lid.

    This does NOT approximate the condition of the earth.

    In the case of the earth the CO2 supposedly retards the escape of the heat.

    In the case of the bottle the CO2 itself is supposed to be warmed by the light but it isn’t.

    [at least no more than air is]

  • Steve D.

    ‘In the case of the bottle the CO2 itself is supposed to be warmed by the light but it isn’t.’

    So does that mean it retards the heat from escaping (i.e. as a greenhouse gas)? How else can you explain the fact that comparing the two jars with the lids, the jar with the CO2 heats up faster?

  • NetDr

    The explanation seems to be that the bigger molecule causes more pressure rise which looks like temperature rise.

    Do you have another explanation.

    The only way co2 could retard the heat from escaping is by warming itself which it obviously doesn’t do !!

  • Steve D.

    Well, it could possibly be an excellent conduit to pass the heat to some other media (say to another molecule or water), but that’s not likely so I won’t argue the point. (It doesn’t really matter to the theory anyway)
    I think I understand what you are saying, now. Correct me if I’m wrong. You mean the so-called greenhouse effect occurs simply because CO2 produces more pressure/molecule than nitrogen or oxygen and this pressure is causing the temperature to increase. Therefore, the warming or ‘greenhouse effect’ will only occur inside a closed container. Once the CO2 has the freedom to expand; (like in an open container or the earth’s atmosphere) the effect will disappear.

  • Nick

    “CO2 is heavier than air – you can pour it, just like you can water; (I’ve done that experiment for grade school classes many times). If you do the experiment right, the CO2 should remain in the jar over the course of a short experiment.” Yes, but then it is heated. Ever heard of convection currents?

  • Michael

    CO2 absorbs infrared (heat} that radiates outward from the surface of the earth. The sun doesn’t directly warm the CO2.

    Try painting the inside of the open jars black {or line them with black paper} to convert the light to heat. Turn on the light until the temperature of the jars warm up. Then add the CO2 to one and see if it warms up more.

    If not, turn off the light and see if the CO2 jar cools slower.

  • Steve D.

    Nick: Ok, but I was responding to your point about the CO2 escaping, which it doesn’t so I’m not sure I understand your point – according to NetDr, the temperature of the two jars remained the same and you suggested the reason was that the CO2 escaped, which is not correct.
    ‘CO2 absorbs infrared (heat} that radiates outward from the surface of the earth.’
    The question is whether or not it will, in trace amounts, in the complex continuously moving mixture which is our atmosphere. My understanding is that the numbers have been calculated by extrapolating from small laboratory experiments, not directly measured.
    So if this is really happening on a large scale, you should be able to measure directly an increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and it should lead (or be greater than) any increase in the surface temperature. Is this the case?

  • Michael

    Whether CO2 absorbs infrared or not has pretty well been established.

    Whether trace amounts can produce more than trace effects is another question, one I really can’t answer. I was surprised when I found out how little CO2 there was in the atmosphere.

    I was just suggesting an improvement to the experiment. I doubt whether this small scale experiment actually says anything about the behavior of CO2 in the atmosphere, but it is interesting. (Might try using a heat lamp instead of a sun lamp to eliminate the black paint or paper)

  • Nick

    “I was responding to your point about the CO2 escaping, which it doesn’t.”. How do you know it doesn’t? The air might have circulated too much by the time the CO2 has been able to make any discernible effect.

  • Steve D.

    Nick: I was thinking of responding: “Because there was a lid on jar, so how could it escape?”
    But that would have been impolite and then I realized that I am probably misunderstanding your entire point and that we may be talking past each other.

  • John

    NetDr, Your experiment is flawed. You heat a gas in a jar and you cause convections which allow more gas to escape. A gas which is heated has the molecules move faster, another reason for them to escape. You put a concentration of one gas in a confined area and expose it to a area where that particular gas is at low concentration more molecules will escape than enter the bottle. And there is a huge difference between a glass jar and earth. Absolute tripe. And where do you think the heat went that you didn’t see in the open jar?

  • NetDr

    John

    This “absolute tripe” experiment has been used to brainwash children for years.

  • Steve D.

    “Absolute tripe.”
    I suggest this. After the experiment, pour the gas from the container on to a burning candle and see if it puts it out.

  • Nick

    “I was thinking of responding: “Because there was a lid on jar, so how could it escape?”
    But that would have been impolite.”. Yeah sorry, I meant the last part of the experiment where they were compared with the lid off. No hard feelings 🙂

  • NetDr

    Steve

    Well I didn’t do the last part but why would CO2 which is much heavier than air suddenly get lighter than air and escape faster than air ? [especially when they are at the same temperature?}

    If you care run the experiment yourself or are you the type who believes what he wants to believe regardless of the facts ?

    I predict you are too lazy to do the experiment and are afraid of what you know the result will be.

    I am not that lazy. I even investigate things I disagree with !

  • Steve D.

    NetDr: It wouldn’t, at least not very quickly.
    Ok, I’ll try it. And please note that doesn’t mean I’m not lazy; just that you goaded me into it. What I predict is that the open jar will not heat up and there will still be enough CO2 in the container at the end to put out the candle. Afraid? I probably would be if I had the slightest clue what this experiment is supposed to prove.

  • Steve D.

    and I can put a candle just above the jar; if any CO2 attempts a breakout, it should put the candle out or at least make it flicker.

  • NetDr

    Probably both air and CO2 come out of the jar because they expand when heated so what is your point ?

    CO2 has a bigger molecule so it causes more pressure rise so it shows up as higher temperature.

    This experiment has been used to brainwash children for many years and it proves nothing as you have admitted.

    Alarmists aren’t usually so honest.

  • Steve D.

    ‘both air and CO2 come out of the jar because they expand when heated so what is your point ?’

    My point is that the CO2 and the air will heat up at an equal rate in an open container and that there are several possible explanations for this.

    ‘it proves nothing as you have admitted.’

    Absolutely, I agree it means nothing, except probably that both CO2 and air are good examples of an ideal gas.

    I don’t remember this experiment being done at my school but that was a long time ago, so I was a bit confused as to its purpose. Are you saying this experiment is usually done in front of the students but only with the closed jars?

  • Nick

    Yeah, they will both escape, but both will also be replaced by cooler air.

  • NetDr

    Steve

    Al gore in his recent Gorethon cited it as proof that CO2 causes AGW.

    The man isn’t a scientist but those who are never correct him !!!

    Why is that ? Do they like the nonsense he spews ?

    Do they actually believe CO2 occurred before the warming after the last ice age as Al implied ?

    Science says different but they didn’t correct him !