Category Archives: Climate Science Process


The New Scientist (“new” in most magazine titles meaning “socialist”) has yet another whole issue aimed at slamming climate skeptics.  You might start to think they felt threatened or something.

I found the cover hugely ironic:

The implication I guess is that climate skeptics are somehow trying to silence real scientists.  This is enormously ironic.  With a couple of exceptions, including the unfortunate legal crusade by the Virginia AG against Michael Mann, it is climate alarmists rather than skeptics who have generally taken the position that the other side of the debate needs to be silenced.

By the way, as I said in the intro to my last video, I have chosen to embrace the title of denier – with one proviso.  Being a denier implies that one is denying some kind of proposition, so I am sure thoughtful people would agree that it is important to be clear on the proposition that is being denied.  For example, I always found the term “climate denier” to be hilarious.  You mean there are folks who deny there is a climate?

I don’t deny that climate changes – it changes all the time.  I don’t deny there is global warming – global temperatures are higher today than they were in 1900, just as they were higher in 1200 AD than they were in 900.  I don’t even deny that man is contributing somewhat to the warming, not just from CO2 but from effects like changes in land use.  What I deny is the catastrophe — that man’s actions are leading to catastrophic changes in the climate.  I believe many scientists have grossly over-estimated the sensitivity of temperatures to CO2 by grossly overestimating the net positive feedback in the climate system.  And I think much of the work assigning consequences to even small increases in global temperatures – from tornadoes to hurricanes to lizard extinction – is frankly crap.  While I think the first mistake (around sensitivity) is an honest error, some day scientists will look back on the horrendous “science” of the consequences of warming and be ashamed.

It strikes me that a real scientific magazine that was actually seeking truth would, if it wanted to dedicate a whole issue to the climate debate, actually create a print debate between skeptics and alarmists to educate its readers.  If the alarmist case is so obvious, and its readers so smugly superior in their intellect, surely this would be the most powerful possible way to debunk skeptics.  Instead, the New Scientist chose, in a phrase I saw the other day and loved, to take a flamethrower to a field of straw men.

For those who want to watch the straw men go up in smoke, The Reference Frame has an index to the articles in this issue.

Bad Idea

From Virginia:

No one can accuse Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of shying from controversy. In his first four months in office, Cuccinelli  directed public universities to remove sexual orientation from their anti-discrimination policies, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency, and filed a lawsuit challenging federal health care reform. Now, it appears, he may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.

In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.

Yeah, I get it that this was public money, so one can claim this is an accountability exercise, but in practice this is pure intimidation and harassment of an academic whose work one disagrees with.  Errors in Mann’s work should be dealt with through criticism and replication, not through legal actions by grandstanding politicians.

I am the last one to defend the dumb ass academic projects that government money often goes towards funding, but once granted, scientists and academics need some room to pursue truth (even incorrectly) without being harassed by elected officials.  I would have no problem with the entire state grant program being evaluated for effectiveness, or some investigation into UVA’s financial or academic controls it exercises over its research.

For skeptics cheering this on, would you be OK with Eric Holder going after, say, Roy Spencer in the same way?  Do you really think that if the guys in Virginia establish the precedent, the Chicago-trained folks in the White House aren’t willing and able to go one better?

Update: This seems a more productive approach.  Why not go after the University for its data sharing practices on publicly funded studies, rather than try to go after a scientist one disagrees with on criminal charges.  If we tried every academic for not fully disclosing data potentially contradictory to their pet theory, we would empty out the universities.  We handle these issues by replication and challenge by other academics.  Therefore, the better approach is to focus on release of data required to do the replication and verification.

The Scientific Method

Tycho Brahe was perhaps one of the greatest observational astronomers in history.  He amassed a tremendous amount of absolutely critical data on the motion of bodies within our solar system.  Interestingly, Brahe never accepted the Copernican heliocentric view of the solar system.  For years, he was incredibly protective of the data, refusing to share it with anyone.  Given that he (with historical hindsight) was wedded to a dead-end view of the solar system, his data was not initially valuable.

It was not until Keppler, and later Newton and others, were able to get access to his data that the data was truly useful, and it became the foundation of one of the greatest revolutions in thinking and understanding in human history.  Had Brahe insisted on the confidentiality of his data to his death, developed as it were with significant financial contributions from the state and various universities, his work would have been irrelevant, applied narrowly to support a failed theory.

I am reminded of this story when I read this:

In a landmark ruling, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled that Queen’s University Belfast must hand over data obtained during 40 years of research into 7,000 years of Irish tree rings to a City banker and part-time climate analyst, Doug Keenan.

This week, the Belfast ecologist who collected most of the data, Professor Mike Baillie, described the ruling as “a staggering injustice … We are the ones who trudged miles over bogs and fields carrying chain saws. We prepared the samples and – using quite a lot of expertise and judgment – we measured the ring patterns. Each ring pattern therefore has strong claims to be our copyright. Now, for the price of a stamp, Keenan feels he is entitled to be given all this data.”

I guess I am confused as to what the point of a public university is, if its not to contribute knowledge to the public domain.  Had Mike Baillie formed his own company with private investors to gather and monetize tree ring data, he would be absolutely correct, and I would be the first to defend him.   I would love to see the grant application or funding proposal he submitted for this work.  “We would like public funds in the amount of X to gather tree ring data and keep this data absolutely secret so that no one can check or replicate our results.”   Actively fighting replication is not a very positive indicator of confidence in one’s scientific results.

Science and Advocacy

I thought this was an interesting analog to some activities in climate science:

some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, [Lancet editor] Dr. [Richard] Horton said in a telephone interview.“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, [Lancet editor] Dr. [Richard] Horton said in a telephone interview.“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

Another Avenue to Prosecute Skeptics

At the United Nations, whose general hostility to free speech is fairly well established, a proposal is on the table to allow the prosecution of people, like myself, who publicly disagree with the UN’s position on climate science:

The proposal for the United Nations to accept “ecocide” as a fifth “crime against peace”, which could be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is the brainchild of British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins.

The radical idea would have a profound effect on industries blamed for widespread damage to the environment like fossil fuels, mining, agriculture, chemicals and forestry.

Supporters of a new ecocide law also believe it could be used to prosecute “climate deniers” who distort science and facts to discourage voters and politicians from taking action to tackle global warming and climate change.

We Are Open and Honest With Everyone Who Agrees With Us

Phil Jones is now on the record saying that he doesn’t consider it normal scientific practice to share data and results with other scientists who wish to replicate his findings.  And, it is pretty clear that Hughs tended to get a big fat pass from all his reviewers of published works, stating that no reviewer ever asked for his data, methodoloby, or computer code.

Warwick Hughes makes a pretty good case that in fact Jones was quite open with his data and working papers, as long as he thought the requestor was on his side.  Once he found out certain people were working to replicated and find errors in his work, those people were locked out.   The impressin one gets from his article is that there is now a pretty easy answer to “how can all these climate scientists be so wrong?”  The answer is that they have never had any scrutiny whatsoever on their results, and anyone who attempted such scrutiny were marginalized and vilified by the inner core community.

Stephen Mosher writes:

When it comes to deciding whether to share data or not, standards have nothing to do with the decisions Jones made and he knows that. He knows he shared confidential data with Rutherford while he denied it to McIntyre and Hughes. He knows he regarded the confidentiality of those agreements quixotically. Violating them or hiding behind them on a whim. This was scientific malpractice. Lying about that now is beyond excuse.

Interesting Potential Analog

Glenn Reynolds brings an interesting example of post-modernist science, where getting the right answer is more important than being factually correct:

Bellesiles, for those who don’t remember, was a historian at Emory who wrote a book making some, er, counterintuitive claims about guns in early America — in short, that they were much rarer than generally thought, and frequently owned and controlled by the government. Constitutional law scholars who expressed doubts about this were told to shut up by historians, who cited the importance of “peer review” as a guarantor of accuracy, and who wrapped themselves in claims of professional expertise.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Bellesiles had made it up. His work was based on probate records, and when people tried to find them, it turned out that many didn’t exist (one data set he claimed to have used turned out, on review, to have been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake). It also turned out that Bellesiles hadn’t even visited some of the archives he claimed to have researched. When challenged to produce his data, he was unable to do so, and offered unpersuasive stories regarding why.

Bellesiles eventually lost his job at Emory (and his Bancroft Prize) over the fraud, but not until his critics had been called political hacks, McCarthyites, and worse. But what’s amazing, especially in retrospect, is how slow his defenders — and the media — were to engage the critics, or to look at the flaws in the data. Instead, they wrapped themselves in claims of authority, and attacked the critics as anti-intellectual hacks interested only in politics. Are we seeing something similar with regard to ClimateGate? It sure looks that way to me.

Phil Jones Interview

I am a bit late on this (I have family over for the weekend) but on the off chance you have not seen it, make sure to check out the notes from the interview of Phil Jones of the CRU.  Here is the BBC Q&A.    Anthony Watt has as good a summary as anyone.

Anthony summarizes as follows:

Specifically, the Q-and-As confirm what many skeptics have long suspected:

  • Neither the rate nor magnitude of recent warming is exceptional.
  • There was no significant warming from 1998-2009. According to the IPCC we should have seen a global temperature increase of at least 0.2°C per decade.
  • The IPCC models may have overestimated the climate sensitivity for greenhouse gases, underestimated natural variability, or both.
  • This also suggests that there is a systematic upward bias in the impacts estimates based on these models just from this factor alone.
  • The logic behind attribution of current warming to well-mixed man-made greenhouse gases is faulty.
  • The science is not settled, however unsettling that might be.
  • There is a tendency in the IPCC reports to leave out inconvenient findings, especially in the part(s) most likely to be read by policy makers.

I think some of these conclusions are a bit of a reach from the Q&A. I don’t get the sense that Jones is abandoning the basic hypothesis that climate sensitivity to manmade CO2 is high (e.g. 3+ degrees per doubling, rather than <=1 degrees as many skeptics would hypothesize).  In particular, I think the writing has been on the wall for a while that alarmists were bailing on the hockey stick / MWP-related arguments as indicative of high sensitivities.

The new news for me was the admission that the warming rate from 1979-present is in no way unprecedented.  This is important as the lead argument (beyond black box “the models say so” justifications) for blaming anthropogenic factors for recent warming is that the rate of warming was somehow unprecedented.  However, Jones admits (as all rational skeptics have said for some time) that the warming rate from 1979 to today is really no different than we have measured in other periods decidedly unaffected by CO2.

I have made this argument before here, with the following chart:


Again, from Anthony:

Period Length Trend
(Degrees C per decade)
1860-1880 21 0.163 Yes
1910-1940 31 0.15 Yes
1975-1998 24 0.166 Yes
1975-2009 35 0.161 Yes

Here, by the way, was my attempt to explain the last 100 years of temperature with a cyclical wave plus a small linear trend (my much more transparent and simple climate model)


Not bad, huh?  Here is a similar analysis using a linear trend plus the PDO


Reconciling Different Conclusions

One of my pet peeves in the climate debate is how some folks will immediately describe differences in opinion or interpretation to the fact that someone is lying.  I wanted to show an example of how reasonable people can disagree from the same data set.  This is from a paper written by Vincent Gray (spsl3) in response to an analysis of South Seas sea levels in a series of SEAFRAME reports here.  Mr. Gray believes the authors of the reports have exaggerated sea level rise, and I am sympathetic to his analysis, but I really wanted to show how multiple people can draw different conclusions from the same data.

To begin, lets take the sea level data for Tuvalu from here.  We will graph the raw data, and use Excel to plot a least squares linear fit (the scale on the left is in meters)


The trend we get is about 5.2mm per year of sea level rise  — the actual study Gray is commenting on shows 6mm per year, but its data only went through 2008.

The most noticeable feature on this chart is the depression in 1998, which Gray attributes to the super strong el Nino of that year.  So, I first took this anomalous data out by pasting in data for that period from a previous period (with the months synchronized)


OK, this cut the sea level trend in half, to 2.7mm a year.  Of course, this kind of data fill-in leaves much to be desired.  It was simply an experiment on my part.   I think a better test is to look at the trend since this anomalous event


The trend since the 1998 el Nino has been 0.6mm a year.

So, from the same data, we can reach trends that are an order of magnitude different, from 0.6mm to 5.4mm.  I think the original authors of the study were remiss in not doing more sensitivity analysis, and it would be an interesting test to see if presented with such an anomaly that reduced rather than increased the trend, whether they would have handled it the same way.

Never-the-less, I hope you can see why even reasonable people can draw different conclusions from the same data set.  Thanks to a reader for sending me the original link.

Of Distributions and Means

Weather is a chaotic stochastic system.  Outcomes that we typically like to measure – severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, temperatures, snowfall — all have mean or average behavior with a large bell-curve or normal distribution around that mean.

With all the talk of record snow in Washington or light snowfall in certain Olympic venues, I feel that a reminder is in order:  There is very little one can deduce about changes or drift in the mean from one or two isolated events in the tail ends of the distribution.   If a kid in your high school gets a perfect score on her SAT, does this mean that the average kid is getting higher SAT scores, that this kid’s score is a symptom of “global smartening?”  Or is this kid’s performance just an isolated event in the tail of the test score distribution?   Katrina and the Washington blizzard seem to occasion a lot of climate conclusions, when in fact I think those conclusions are virtually impossible from such events.

The only really useful role I can see that these extreme events play in the scientific debate is to weed out the credible climate commentators from the charlatans.    If an alarmist says, for example, that the heavy snows in Washington are not necessarily inconsistent with global warming, then he or she is probably relatively safe.  But run away quickly from anyone who says manmade CO2 caused Katrina or, even more incredibly, the Washington snowstorms — they are just nuts.

Of course, the argument typically morphs into folks arguing that extreme events themselves are more prevalent, in other words somehow the standard deviation of the distribution has expanded.  This, in my mind, is one of the weakest arguments in the alarmist arsenal.  The evidence for this is extremely weak (example), and a number of metrics (such as for hurricane activity and large tornadoes) have actually declines over the last decade.  What tends to happen is that the reporting frequency of such events increases, which increases the general perception of having more extreme events — but scientists are supposed to be able to see past such observation biases.

A corollary to this is that extremes in one part of the world do not necessarily mean that the world average is moving in that direction.  Those of us in the US would have sworn January was a cold month, but globally it turns out January was actually a pretty warm month, at least on the historic scale of the last 30 years.  I remember when agricultural futures were first popularized, farmers often went bankrupt forgetting just this corollary.  They would see weather in their area terrible, with terrible crop yields ahead, and they would go long on these crops in the futures markets, only to find the weather in other areas was quite good and they lost a fortune on their futures.

House of Cards

Almost everywhere someone looks in the last IPCC report, they find claims that are either not substantiated by the citations or citations to non-peer-reviewed sources.    Two more examples:

Climate Quotes finds that the claims that wildfires were hurting tourism were all to non-peer-reviewed sources, and the source for the Canadian claim actually said virtually the opposite.

Bishop Hill looks at a random paragraph on climate change and food production, and finds, surprise surprise, non peer-reviewed sources and claims not backed by the citations.

Chinese Urbanization Study

The Guardian has an amazing series of articles about the Jones 1990 urbanization study that has been quoted by all subsequent IPCC reports as authoritative that urbanization has negligible effect on the historic temperature record. It is pretty clear that while denying the FOI requests and calling skeptics lazy and liars and irritants (etc.) they actually knew full well there were problems with the study.  This is what they were saying publicly:

n American colleague, and frequent contributor to the leaked emails, Dr Mike Mann at Pennsylvania State University, advised him: “This crowd of charlatans … look for one little thing they can say is wrong, and thus generalise that the science is entirely compromised. The last thing you want to do is help them by feeding the fire. Best thing is to ignore them completely.”

Another colleague, Kevin Trenberth at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, urged a fightback. “The response should try to somehow label these guys and [sic] lazy and incompetent and unable to do the huge amount of work it takes to construct such a database.”

This is what they were saying privately:

Those concerns were most cogently expressed to Jones by his ex-boss, and former head of the CRU, Dr Tom Wigley. In August 2007, Wigley warned Jones by email: “It seems to me that Keenan has a valid point. The statements in the papers that he quotes seem to be incorrect statements, and that someone (W-C W at the very least) must have known at the time that they were incorrect.”

Wigley was concerned partly because he had been director of the CRU when the original paper was published in 1990. As he told Jones later, in 2009: “The buck should eventually stop with me.”

Wigley put to Jones the allegations made by the sceptics. “Wang had been claiming the existence of such exonerating documents for nearly a year, but he has not been able to produce them. Additionally, there was a report published in 1991 (with a second version in 1997) explicitly stating that no such documents exist.”

…Wigley, in his May 2009 email to Jones, said of Wang: “I have always thought W-C W was a rather sloppy scientist. I would …not be surprised if he screwed up here … Were you taking W-C W on trust? Why, why, why did you and W-C W not simply say this right at the start? Perhaps it’s not too late.” There is no evidence of any doubts being raised over Wang’s previous work.

Interesting.  Intriguingly, Jones did “penance” in some sense for this sloppy work by finding as much as a 1C per century urbanization bias in Chines temperature records in a later study.

Why it matters

The Guardian writes:

t is important to keep this in perspective, however. This dramatic revision of the estimated impact of urbanisation on temperatures in China does not change the global picture of temperature trends. There is plenty of evidence of global warming, not least from oceans far from urban influences.

This is correct.  Further, it is absurd to deny the world has warmed over the last 150 years as the little ice age of the 17th and 18th centuries was one of the coldest periods in thousands of years, and thus it is totally natural that we have seen warming in recovery from these frigid times.

But here is what it is important to understand:  The real debate between skeptics and alarmists is not over whether the Earth has warmed over the last century or whether CO2 from man contributes incrementally to warming.  The real debate is over whether the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 is high or low.  Skeptics like me argue for low sensitivity, on the order of 0.5-1.0C per doubling once all feedbacks are taken in to account.  Alarmists argue for numbers 3C and higher.

The problem alarmists have is that it is very, very difficult to reconcile past warming to high-sensitivity forecasts.   It takes a lot of mathematical contortions, from time-delays to cooling aerosols to ignoring ocean cycles and natural recovery from the little ice age to make the numbers reconcile.  Halving the actual historic warming by attributing the other half to measurement biases makes it even, uh, more impossible to reconcile high sensitivity models to actual history.

My Eighth Grade Son Did Better Science

I cannot believe that we skeptics have caught grief from these folks for years for our science not being sufficiently peer-reviewed.  But forget about peer-review for a moment (I think it is overrated anyway) — At least the analyses we skeptic have been doing have some kind of rigor, rather than just being surveys of a few random individual perceptions.

In its most recent report, it stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information.

However, it can be revealed that one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them.

The other was a dissertation written by a geography student, studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree, at the University of Berne in Switzerland that quoted interviews with mountain guides in the Alps.

What next?  Are we going to ask a random group of parachuters how fast they thought they were free-falling to reset the of g (9.8m/sec/sec)?  My son did more rigorous climate science for his eighth grade science fair project.

Barbarians at the Gates

A reader wrote me:

Authors complained that although Crichton used their findings correctly, their own intention when writing was not to ‘dispute global warming’. That is the whole problem that seems to keep coming up – so what if someone ‘supports’ the consensus in their own private life and ideology? The point of science is to make judgements on data.

I wrote back something I have meaning to post here.   Why do so many scientists from various fields, who may have less knowledge of the details of climate science than a layman like myself has, sign onto all these petitions and letters supporting the science?

One thing that helps explain some of this behavior is that there is a very strong social cost in academia to challenging global warming, so that even when findings in certain studies seem to undercut key pieces of the argument, the researches always add something like “but of course this does not refute the basic theory of global warming” at the end of the paper.  In universities, being identified as having criticized catastrophic man-made global warming theory is sort of like standing up in a Harvard faculty meeting and announcing that one is a devout Baptist and a Sarah Palin supporter.  So on the flip side, publicly declaring for climate catastrophe is a badge of honor and sophistication.

In fact, the lumping of climate skeptics with fundamentalist evolution doubters/deniers actually helps to explain a lot of academic behavior.  We see all of these open letters and surveys that are signed by all kinds of scientists and academics from multiple fields supporting catastrophic global warming theory, but in fact many have not delved even a little bit into the science.  Partially this support is professional courtesy to their peers, but in large part when academics sign these letters, they feel they are supporting science per se, rather than the specific science of global warming (which they have not really inspected) against the anti-science barbarians at the gate.

People often take public positions for what that position communicates about themselves, rather than based on any kind of rigorous analysis.  I would argue that a solid chunk of the Obama votes in the last election were not based on any real understanding of the candidate but on the desire to say, “look what an enlightened person I am, I have voted for a black man for President.”

More “Settled Science”

From the Times in London via Planet Gore:

THE United Nations climate science panel faces new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

It based the claims on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny — and ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link too weak. The report’s own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough.

The claim by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that global warming is already affecting the severity and frequency of global disasters, has since become embedded in political and public debate. It was central to discussions at last month’s Copenhagen climate summit, including a demand by developing countries for compensation of $100 billion (£62 billion) from the rich nations blamed for creating the most emissions.

Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change minister, has suggested British and overseas floods — such as those in Bangladesh in 2007 — could be linked to global warming. Barack Obama, the US president, said last autumn: “More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.”

Last month Gordon Brown, the prime minister, told the Commons that the financial agreement at Copenhagen “must address the great injustice that . . . those hit first and hardest by climate change are those that have done least harm”.

The latest criticism of the IPCC comes a week after reports in The Sunday Times forced it to retract claims in its benchmark 2007 report that the Himalayan glaciers would be largely melted by 2035. It turned out that the bogus claim had been lifted from a news report published in 1999 by New Scientist magazine.

This severe weather proposition is one particularly amenable to shoddy science, as all-too-often folks try to portray statistical events at the tails of the normal distribution as evidence that the mean and/or standard deviation of the distribution is shifting.  The current lawsuit blaming oil and coal companies for Katrina is one such example.

I personally was involved in a fracas over another shoddy analysis that was most definitely not peer-reviewed in the recent US Global Climate Change Impacts  (or synthesis) report, where the report attempted to use a faulty metric of electrical grid disturbances as evidence of increased severe weather.  My original criticisms were here and here and my response to the authors’ response was here.

By the way, the evidence is growing that much of much of the IPCC report did not come from real peer-reviewed work, but from advocacy pieces by groups such as the WWF (which seems to practically be running the IPCC from the number of citations).

Well it turns out that the WWF is cited all over the IPCC AR4 report, and as you know, WWF does not produce peer reviewed science, they produce opinion papers in line with their vision. Yet IPCC’s rules are such that they are supposed to rely on peer reviewed science only. It appears they’ve violated that rule dozens of times, all under Pachauri’s watch.

Anthony has a specific list of citations culled by Donna Laframboise from the IPCC reports, but I am sure the list will grow as folks poke and prod the report again.  These two citations in the IPCC were particularly laugh-inducing:

  • Jones, B. and D. Scott, 2007: Implications of climate change to Ontario’s provincial parks. Leisure, (in press)
  • Jones, B., D. Scott and H. Abi Khaled, 2006: Implications of climate change for outdoor event planning: a case study of three special events in Canada’s National Capital region. Event Management, 10, 63-76

My sense that if we really trace the sources, we will find that most of the IPCC report rests on the work of 10-20 guys.

Fake but Accurate

I have written a number of times about climate science and post-modernism, where taking the politically correct position and pushing for the “right” government actions is more important than fact-based analysis or the scientific method.  This is a great example of the IPCC acting as just such a post-modernist institution:

The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on Asia, said: ‘It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action….

Dr Lal said: ‘We knew the WWF report with the 2035 date was “grey literature” [material not published in a peer-reviewed journal]. But it was never picked up by any of the authors in our working group, nor by any of the more than 500 external reviewers, by the governments to which it was sent, or by the final IPCC review editors.’

In fact, the 2035 melting date seems to have been plucked from thin air.

Of course, IPCC leader Pachauri is unrepentant

Last night, Dr Pachauri defended the IPCC, saying it was wrong to generalise based on a single mistake. ‘Our procedure is robust,’ he added.

It was Pachauri who originally lashed out with these words at folks who originally criticized the Himalayan glacier claim:

However, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, told the Guardian: “We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don’t know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement.”…

Pachauri dismissed the report saying it was not “peer reviewed” and had few “scientific citations”.

“With the greatest of respect this guy retired years ago and I find it totally baffling that he comes out and throws out everything that has been established years ago.”…

In response Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of “climate change deniers and school boy science”.

Don’t Mistake Other People’s Public Confidence for “Proof”

All too often, people mistake other people’s confidence in a particular proposition as sufficient evidence for they themselves to believe the proposition.  No where is this more evident than in global warming.  But the recent IPCC flipflop on Himalayan Glaciers provides an excellent example of just how flimsy the basis can be for other people’s public confidence.

Just 2 months ago, IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri was saying this:

A leading climate scientist [IPCC Chariman Rajendra Pachauri] today accused the Indian environment ministry of “arrogance” after the release of a government report claiming that there is no evidence climate change has caused “abnormal” shrinking of Himalayan glaciers….

Today Ramesh denied any such risk existed: “There is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers.” The minister added although some glaciers are receding they were doing so at a rate that was not “historically alarming”.

However, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, told the Guardian: “We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don’t know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement.”…

Pachauri dismissed the report saying it was not “peer reviewed” and had few “scientific citations”.

“With the greatest of respect this guy retired years ago and I find it totally baffling that he comes out and throws out everything that has been established years ago.”…

In response Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of “climate change deniers and school boy science”.

So Pachauri is coming out firing.  His science is well-established, theirs is “school boy” and not “peer reviewed.”  Pachauri not only says this guy is wrong, but he that he is a bad guy for even bringing it up.  You see him actively questioning his motives, as if this is somehow a scheme and Pachauri just hasn’t figured it out yet.

But now, two months later, we know exactly the quality of science that Pachauri was defending:

A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and was not supported by any formal research. If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. The IPCC was set up precisely to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

In effect, Pachauri was defending a proposition based on, effectively, a cocktail-party quality speculation reported in a telephone interview in a throwaway, non-peer-reviewed article in a popular magazine.

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?