Category Archives: Climate Science Process

Are Pirates Behind Global Warming?

The LA Times had a great article on correlations and causations:

AGITTARIANS are 38% more likely to break a leg than people of other star signs — and Leos are 15% more likely to suffer from internal bleeding. So says a 2006 Canadian study that looked at the reasons residents of Ontario province had unplanned stays in the hospital.

Leos, Sagittarians: There’s no need to worry. Even the study’s authors don’t believe their results.

They’re illustrating a point — that a scientific approach used in many human studies often leads to findings that are flat-out wrong.

Such studies make headlines every day, and often, as the public knows too well, they contradict each other. One week we may hear that pets are good for your health, the next week that they aren’t. One month, cellphone use causes brain cancer; the next month, it doesn’t.

“It’s the cure of the week or the killer of the week, the danger of the week,” says Dr. Barry Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. It’s like treating people to an endless regimen of whiplash, he says.

Take the case of just one item: coffee. Drinking two or three cups per day can triple the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a 1981 study. Not so, concluded a larger follow-up study published in 2001.

Coffee reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, found a 1998 study. Not so, according to one published later, in 2005.

“I’ve seen so many contradictory studies with coffee that I’ve come to ignore them all,” says Donald Berry, chair of the department of biostatistics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

I wrote about some similar examples in my guide to global warming, in the chapter on the dangers of modelling based on past regression data:

How is it possible that a model that accurately represents the past fails to accurately predict the future?  Financial modelers, like climate modelers, look to history in building their models.  Again, like climate modelers, they rely both on theory (e.g. higher interest rates should generally mean lower stock prices) as well as observed correlations in the historic data set.  The problem they meet, the problem that every modeler meets but most especially the climate modeler, is that while it is easy to use various analysis tools to find correlations in the data, there is often nothing that will tell you if there is really a causal relationship, and which way the causality runs. For example, one might observe that interest rates and exchange rates move together.  Are interest rate changes leading to exchange rate adjustments, or vice versa?  Or, in fact, are they both caused by a third variable?  Or is their observed correlation merely coincidence?

It was once observed that if an old AFL football team wins the Superbowl, a bear market will ensue on Wall Street in the next year, while an NFL team victory presaged a bull market.  As of 1997, this correlation held for 28 of the last 31 years, a far better prediction record than that of any Wall Street analyst.  But of course this correlation was spurious, and in the next 4 years it was wrong every time.  Had someone built a financial model on this indicator, it would have looked great when he ran it against history, but he would have lost his shirt using it. 

Want a better prediction record?  For seventeen straight US presidential election cycles, from 1936 to 2000, the winner of the election was accurately predicted by…the Washington Redskins.  In particular, if the Redskins won their last home game before the election, the party that occupies the White House holds it in the election.  Otherwise, if the Redskins lose, the opposition party wins.  Seventeen in a row!  R-squared of one!  Success against odds of 131,072:1 of guessing all 17 right. But of course, the input was spurious, and in 2004, soon after this relationship made the rounds of the Internet, the algorithm failed.

Note that the historic relationship between football and elections is much stronger than the historic relationship between global warming and CO2.  In the last 12 decades, CO2 levels and temepratures have only moved in the same direction in half the decades. 

Finally, as promised in the title of this post, here is the stunning relationship between global warming and the number of pirates in the world, via the Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid:


It Has To Be Man’s Fault. We’re Just Not Sure How

No, I am not going to get into ozone depletion theory.  While the science of anthropogenic ozone depletion has some uncertainties, the costs of abatement are radically lower, by order of magnitude, than for CO2-caused warming.  This changes the cost-benefit ration of action radically, resulting in it making more sense to take action on CFC’s "on the come" or "just in case" than is the case for CO2.

However, I just could not resist the last paragraph below from Nature, via Hit and Run (emphasis added):

The rapid photolysis of Cl2O2 is a key reaction in the chemical model of ozone destruction developed 20 years ago2 (see graphic). If the rate is substantially lower than previously thought, then it would not be possible to create enough aggressive chlorine radicals to explain the observed ozone losses at high latitudes, says Rex. The extent of the discrepancy became apparent only when he incorporated the new photolysis rate into a chemical model of ozone depletion. The result was a shock: at least 60% of ozone destruction at the poles seems to be due to an unknown mechanism, Rex told a meeting of stratosphere researchers in Bremen, Germany, last week….

Nothing currently suggests that the role of CFCs must be called into question, Rex stresses. "Overwhelming evidence still suggests that anthropogenic emissions of CFCs and halons are the reason for the ozone loss. But we would be on much firmer ground if we could write down the correct chemical reactions."

Exxon Was Only Offering $10,000

Recently, Newsweek staked out the position that a) Much of global warming skepticism is tainted because Exxon was paying $10,000 honarariums for skeptical articles and b) James Hansen is a man we can all trust and is above reproach and untainted by bias.


How many people, for instance, know that James Hansen, a man billed as a lonely "NASA whistleblower" standing up to the mighty U.S. government, was really funded by Soros’ Open Society Institute , which gave him "legal and media advice"?

That’s right, Hansen was packaged for the media by Soros’ flagship "philanthropy," by as much as $720,000, most likely under the OSI’s "politicization of science" program.

That may have meant that Hansen had media flacks help him get on the evening news to push his agenda and lawyers pressuring officials to let him spout his supposedly "censored" spiel for weeks in the name of advancing the global warming agenda.

Hansen even succeeded, with public pressure from his nightly news performances, in forcing NASA to change its media policies to his advantage. Had Hansen’s OSI-funding been known, the public might have viewed the whole production differently. The outcome could have been different.

Look, I don’t really care if Hansen took private money freely given to espouse his global warming opinions.  However, I am tired of skeptics taking media pot-shots for being "tainted" and "biased" for being funded at levels that are orders of magnitude lower than are climate catastrophists.  As I pointed out in the post linked above, James Hansen, Al Gore & Co. are to skeptics in terms of funding as is Hillary Clinton is to Mike Gravel in campaign contributions.  Never before can I remember the side getting outspent 1000:1 being the one targeted for being tainted by money.  Maybe we can stop and put real scientific scrutiny on James Hansen’s work.

Less than Meets the Eye in Peer-Reviewed Studies

This comes out of the medical field but sounds about right for climate (WSJ$, emphasis added)

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. "There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," Dr. Ioannidis said. "A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true."

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined….

Statistically speaking, science suffers from an excess of significance. Overeager researchers often tinker too much with the statistical variables of their analysis to coax any meaningful insight from their data sets. "People are messing around with the data to find anything that seems significant, to show they have found something that is new and unusual," Dr. Ioannidis said.

Reciting the Litturgy

In a number of past posts over at Coyote Blog, I have noticed the phenomenon of published studies whose data does nothing to bolster the theory of anthropogenic global warming adding in a line or two in the article saying that "of course the author’s support anthorpogenic global warming theory" in the same way movies routinely assure audiences that "no animals were hurt in the filiming of this movie."

Here is one example:  If you have seen An Inconvinient Truth, then you may remember a Really Big Chart shown by Gore with 650,000 years of temperature history.  In case you missed it, here is the data, derived from ice cores:

The red line is CO2 concentrations, while the black line is a proxy for temperatures.  When it first came out, it was compelling evidence that CO2 was not only a major driver of temperature, it may be the main driver.  However, followup work showed that when you zoom in on the scale, the temperature in each spike starts rising 800 years before the CO2 rises, implying instead that temperature is driving CO2 (via outgassing from oceans) rather than the other way around.  Many call this problem the 800-year lag.  Anyway, the scientists who discovered this 800-year lag felt compelled to add this line to their publication.  They said the team

… is still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its greenhouse effect, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing …

You can just see the fear.  Please, don’t take our climate funding away.  We didn’t mean to find this evidence.  We’re sorry.  We’re still believers.  Another example here.

Anyway, this week Steven Milloy has an even more stark example:

Veizer reluctantly told me the "text" of the Nature study, that is, the above-quoted conclusion, represented a "compromise" between the study’s disagreeing authors where Veizer’s side apparently did all the compromising for reasons that had little to do with the science.

While Veizer didn’t want to elaborate on the politics of the Nature study, he told me "not to take the tone of the paper as the definitive last word."…

There’s another point worth spotlighting in all this. It seems that the politics of global warming including the multibillion-dollar-funding of global warming research resulted in the publication in a prestigious science journal of a "compromise" conclusion that is not supported by the study’s own data.

"Science should never be adjusted to fit policy," was the reprimand the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency received from its own Science Advisory Board in 1992. But that’s exactly what seems to be happening to climate science. It’s a situation reminiscent of George Orwell’s "1984," in which Ministry of Truth worker Winston Smith wonders if the State could get away with declaring that "two and two made five."

Who’s wondering now? A recent series of reports from the Science and Public Policy Institute spotlights problems with the peer review process of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and efforts to create the illusion of scientific consensus on global warming.