Losing Sight of the Goal

Like many, I have been astonished by the breaches of good scientific practice uncovered by the Climategate emails.  But to my mind, the end goal here is not to punish those involved but to

  • Enforce good data and code archiving practices.  Our goal should be that no FOIA is necessary to get the information needed to replicate a published study
  • Create an openness to scrutiny and replication which human nature resists, but generally exists in most non-climate sciences.

I worry that over the last few months, with the Virginia FOIA inquiry and the recent investigations of Michael Mann, skeptic’s focus has shifted to trying to take out their frustration with and disdain for Michael Mann in the form of getting him rung up on charges.   I fear the urge to mount Mann’s head in their trophy case is distracting folks from what the real goals here should be.

I know those in academia like to pretend they are not, but professors at state schools or who are doing research with government money are just as much government employees as anyone in the DMV or post office.  And as such, their attempts to evade scrutiny or hide information irritate the hell out of me.  But I would happily give the whole Jones/Mann/Briffa et all Climategate gang a blanket pardon in exchange for some better ground rules in climate science going forward.

Skeptics are rightly frustrated with the politicization of science and the awful personal attacks skeptics get when alarmists try to avoid debate on the science.  But the correct response here is to take the high ground, NOT to up the stakes in the politicization game by bringing academics we think to be incorrect up on charges.  I am warning all of you, this is a bad, bad precedent.

Postscript: I now your response already — there are good and valid legal reasons for charging Mann, here are the statutes he broke, etc.  I don’t disagree.  But here is my point — the precedent we set here will not be remembered as an academic brought down for malfeasance.  It will be remembered as an academic brought down by folks who disagreed with his scientific findings.  You may think that unfair, but that is the way the media works.  The media is not on the skeptic side, and even if it were neutral, it is always biased to the more sensational story line.

New Roundup

For a variety of reasons I have been limited in blogging, but here is a brief roundup of interesting stories related to the science of anthropogenic global warming.

  • Even by the EPA’s own alarmist numbers, a reduction in man-made warming of 0.01C in the year 2100 would cost $78 billion per year.  This is over $7 trillion a year per degree of avoided warming, again using even the EPA’s overly high climate sensitivity numbers.   For scale, this is almost half the entire US GDP.   This is why the precautionary principle was always BS – it assumed that the cost of action was virtually free.  Sure it makes sense to avoid low-likelihood but high-cost future contingencies if the cost of doing so is low.  But half of GDP?
  • As I have written a zillion times, most of the projected warming from CO2 is not from CO2 directly but from positive feedback effects hypothesized in the climate.  The largest of these is water vapor.  Water is (unlike CO2) a strong greenhouse gas and if small amounts of warming increase water vapor in the atmosphere, that would be a positive feedback effect that would amplify warming.   Most climate modellers assume relative humidity stays roughly flat as the world warms, meaning total water vapor content in the atmosphere will rise.  In fact, this does not appear to have been the case over the last 50 years, as relative humidity has fallen while temperatures have risen.  Further, in a peer-reviewed article, scientists suggest certain negative feedbacks that would tend to reduce atmospheric water vapor.
  • A new paper reduces the no-feedback climate sensitivity to CO2 from about 1-1.2C/doubling (which I and most other folks have been using) to something like 0.41C.  This is the direct sensitivity to CO2 before feedbacks, if I understand the paper correctly. without any reference to feedbacks.  In that sense, the paper seems to be wrong in comparing this sensitivity to the IPCC numbers, which are including feedbacks.  A more correct comparison is of the 0.41C to a number about 1.2C, which is what I think the IPCC is using.   Never-the-less, if correct, halving this sensitivity number should halve the post-feedback number.

My hypothesis continues to be that the post feedback climate sensitivity to CO2 number, expressed as degrees C per doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, is greater than zero and less than one.

  • It is pretty much time to stick a fork in the hide-the-decline debate.  This is yet another occasion when folks (in this case Mann, Briffa, Jones) should have said “yep, we screwed up” years ago and moved on.  Here is the whole problem in 2 charts.  Steve McIntyre recently traced the hide-the-decline trick (which can be summarized as truncating/hiding/obfuscating data that undermined their hypothesis on key charts) back to an earlier era.