Climate Science Humor: What if Your Model Predicts Wrongly

After noting that James Hansen’s 1988 climate model predicted too much warming in the subsequent 22 years, someone at Skeptical Science concluded:

The main reason Hansen’s 1988 warming projections were too high is that he used a climate model with a high climate sensitivity, and his results are actually evidence that the true climate sensitivity parameter is within the range accepted by the IPCC.

There is no consideration of the possibilities that (a) one or more other parameters were wrong or (b) the model — aside from parameter values — is wrong (e.g., it oversimplifies). Surely you are joking, Mr. Skeptical Science.

Thanks to Phil Price.


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Thanks to David Cramer and Nadalal.

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Thanks to Tom George and Mark Griffith.

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Thanks to David Cramer, Jahed Momand and Nancy Evans.

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Thanks to Ryan Holiday, Matt Cassel, Tom George and Dave Lull.

Stephen McIntyre on Gleickgate

Gleick might as well have signed the fake document. Mosher identified him as the author almost instantly. The fake memo, unlike the actual documents, put Gleick in a position of prominence in the climate debate, whereas, in his actual encounters with skeptic blogs, Gleick has come across as an erratic and even comic figure. The style parallels came afterwards.

From I too found him to be comic. Remember that famous New Yorker cartoon — “On the Internet, no one knows I’m a dog”? The bitter truth is “On the Internet, no one knows I’m a nice person.” I don’t mean Gleick is not a nice person — if anyone is a jerk it is me for what I just quoted — I mean that his recent actions strike me as weirdly uninhibited.

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Thanks to Allen Carl Jackson, Phil Alexander and Navanit Arakeri.

The Great Climate Change Debate: Which Side is Funnier?

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal published a letter from 16 people saying what I say, that the case that humans are warming the planet is much weaker than you’d guess from mainstream media. An excerpt:

The number of scientific “heretics” is growing . . .  Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.

Here is a rebuttal by a biological anthropologist named Greg Laden:

Shameful. . . . . Out and out lie, easily falsified  . . . So bad that this is what we can say about the “16 scientists” who signed this letter: They are idiots. . . . . Their ability to make even the simplest of judgements is now in serious question. . . . Let Google forever know who these jokers are.

Peter Gleick, MacArthur “genius” Fellow, also wrote a rebuttal. What about the lack of warming for the last 10 years? Here’s Gleick:

The authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years. The reality? 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.

I have not omitted quotation marks. Here’s how Peter Fromhoff at the Union of Concerned Scientists made the same point:

The authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years. Here’s what we know: 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.

I went to the link given to support the “35th year in a row” claim. Here is the only global temperature graph at that link:

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  • Top ten excuses for climate scientists behaving badly. For example, “the emails are old” and “the timing is suspicious”.
  • Scientific retractions are increasing. My guess is that retractions are increasing because scientific work has become easier to check. Tools are cheaper, for example.
  • More Dutch scientific misconduct. “Professor Poldermans published more than 600 scientific papers in a wide range of journals, including JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine.”
  • The next time someone praises “evidence-based medicine”, ask them: What about Accutane? It illustrates how evidence-based medicine encourages dangerous drugs. You can’t make lots of money from cheap, time-tested things that we know to be safe (such as dietary changes) so the drug industry revolves around things that are not time-tested and therefore dangerous  — far more dangerous than dietary changes. Evidence-based medicine, which says that certain tests (expensive) are much better than other tests (cheap), provides cover for this. Because the required tests are so expensive, they are allowed to be short.

Thanks to Allan Jackson.

Assorted Links

  • Salem Comes to the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Herbert Needleman is harassed by the lead industry, with the help of two psychology professors.
  • Climate scientists “perpetuating rubbish”.
  • A humorous article in the BMJ that describes evidence-based medicine (EBM) as a religion. “Despite repeated denials by the high priests of EBM that they have founded a new religion, our report provides irrefutable proof that EBM is, indeed, a full-blown religious movement.” The article points out one unquestionable benefit of EBM — that some believers “demand that [the drug] industry divulge all of its secret evidence, instead of publishing only the evidence that favours its products.” Of course, you need not believe in EBM to want that. One of the responses to the article makes two of the criticisms of EBM I make: 1. Where is the evidence that EBM helps? 2. EBM stifles innovation.
  • What really happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Great journalism by Edward Jay Epstein.  This piece, like much of Epstein’s work, sheds a very harsh light on American mainstream media. They were made fools of by enemies of Strauss-Kahn. Epstein is a freelance journalist. He uncovered something enormously important that all major media outlets — NY Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, ABC, NBC, CBS (which includes 60 Minutes), the AP, not to mention French news organizations, all with great resources — missed.

Climategate 2.0: How To Tell When an Expert Exaggerates

The newly-released climate scientist emails (called Climategate 2.0) from University of East Anglia (Phil Jones) and elsewhere (Michael Mann and others) show that top climate scientists agree with me. Like me (see my posts on global warming), they think the evidence that humans have caused dangerous global warming is weaker than claimed. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they kept their doubts to themselves: “I just refused to give an exclusive interview to SPIEGEL because I will not cause damage for climate science.”

This is a big reason I have found self-experimentation useful. It showed me that experts exaggerate, that they overstate their certainty. At first I was shocked. My first useful self-experimental results were about acne. I found that one of the two drugs my dermatologist had prescribed didn’t work. He hadn’t said This might not work. He didn’t try to find out if it worked. He appeared surprised (and said “why did you do that?”) when I told him it didn’t work. Another useful self-experimental result was breakfast caused me to wake up too early. Breakfast is widely praised by dieticians (“the most important meal of the day”). I have never heard a dietician say It could hurt your sleep or even a modest There’s a lot we don’t know. My discoveries about morning faces and mood are utterly different than what psychiatrists and psychotherapists say about depression.

As anyone paying attention has noticed, it isn’t just climate scientists, doctors, dieticians, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists. How can you tell when an expert is exaggerating? His lips move. There are two types of journalism: 1. Trusts experts. 2. Doesn’t trust experts. I suggest using colored headlines to make them easy to distinguish: red = trusts experts, green = doesn’t trust experts.

Assorted Links

  • Scientific heresy, a lecture by Matt Ridley mostly about climate change. “Jim Hansen of NASA told us in 1988 to expect 2-4 degrees [of warming] in 25 years. We are experiencing about one-tenth of that.”
  • The continuing influence of Jane Jacobs. “Rouse spoke first, recalling the words of Daniel Burnham, “Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” he said. Jacobs followed and began, “Funny, big plans never stirred women’s blood. Women have always been willing to consider little plans.””
  • A self-experimental study of lactose intolerance. ” I came across an article that pointed out that levels of [lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose]  peak in the morning and evening hours. So I experimented with having either ricotta products or a half cup of milk with my supper. It worked like a charm, and sure enough, if I tried having any between 11 AM and about 4 PM, I would get sick.”
  • A rather dramatic Google bug. Google the phrase “first let them get sick”. You will be told there are hundreds of thousands of results — perhaps 250,000. Look through them and you will see the correct number is much less (recently, 47).
  • Lorrie Moore reads one of my favorite short stories, “Day-Old Baby Rats” by Julie Hayden. “[In a confessional:] ‘I have missed Mass.’ ‘How many times?’ ‘Every time.'”

Thanks to Dave Lull and Nile McAdams.

The Curious Case of Richard Muller

About fifteen years ago I had lunch with Richard Muller, a Berkeley professor of physics, at the Berkeley Faculty Club. He told me his theory that the “miracles” that the Bible says Jesus performed, such as changing water into wine, were magic tricks. He was writing a novel about it, he said. He also said he had submitted to Science a new theory of climate change based on Milankovitch cycles (cycles of changes in the Earth’s distance and tilt relative to the sun). The editor liked it; the problem was getting it past the reviewers. This press release shows the editor succeeded. So Muller was nice enough or curious enough to have lunch with a stranger (me) who could not possibly help him and was/is creative about big questions. He is now retired. He’s had great career success, including a MacArthur Fellowship (in 1982). He’s won a teaching award. A talented and decent person. (Steve McIntyre, whose comment I read after I wrote this, also says good things about Muller: “one of the few people in this field I regard as a friend.”)

Two years ago he started the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, devoted to improving the climate record. Fine. In March I liked a talk he gave about climate change. Fine.  Now he has done something astonishing. In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism” he took “skepticism about global warming” to be skepticism that the Earth has warmed recently. In it, he describes several problems with surface temperature measurements. Then he says:

Without good answers to all these complaints, global-warming skepticism seems sensible. But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.

The vast majority of skeptics, including me, believe the Earth has warmed substantially since the Little Ice Age. That’s not the issue. Here’s the issue: We are skeptical that we understand why it has warmed and in particular skeptical that humans have caused recent warming.  A big difference. Muller has ignored  the obvious: what skeptics actually think.

Muller’s view of “global warming skepticism” is so strange let me state what might be obvious. For me, and many others, there are three issues: 1. Can we trust climate models? I say no: They have never been shown to be good predictors of what they are being used to predict. The physics of clouds isn’t simple or well-understood. 2. Is it unusually hot now? I say no: The Medieval Warm Period was roughly as hot or hotter. 3. Has recent warming been unusually fast? (Which is what Michael Mann’s discredited Hockey Stick seemed to show.) I say no. Over the past 200 years, the temperature has increased as fast or faster at least twice. Muller’s new data doesn’t address any of these concerns. Whether surface temperatures are higher now than in 1950 (which is what Muller’s new data shows more conclusively than before) is not a big issue.

Why did Muller misrepresent so badly what skeptics say? I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to make his results seem more important than they are. Maybe he has never met a skeptic. I truly don’t know.  Lots of famous scientists (e.g., James Watson) have said what I consider wacky things about unverifiable stuff. But there is nothing vague or unverifiable about this. It is as if Muller had said Shanghai is the capital of China.

James Fallows, whose work I like, has taken Muller seriously. Paul Krugman has taken Muller seriously. Marc Morano, who runs Climate Depot, has responded at length and created a special Muller page.  In March, Morano points out, he (Morano) complained about exactly the same thing from Muller: “Who denies that warming has taken place?” Yes. Morano links to many scientists who are displeased by what Muller has done. One says, “It is not true that the Berkeley group has found relevant evidence for the core questions in the AGW debate.” Yes. “Doubts about the validity of the surface temperature record constitute something like 1% of the issues that climate skeptics as a community have ever raised.” Yes.

Muller’s error interests me because I can’t explain it. Perhaps  it illustrates how unwittingly we shape reality, as shown in a famous split-brain anecdote:

The split-brain patient had to point with his two hands at pictures of two objects corresponding to two images that he had seen on the divided screen (one with each of his two separated hemispheres). The patient’s left hand [pointed] at the card with a picture of a snow shovel, because the right hemisphere, which controls this hand, [had] seen the projected image of a winter scene. [The left hemisphere had seen a picture of a chicken. When asked why he chose a shovel, the patient said (via the left hemisphere, which controls speech):] you use a shovel to clean out the chicken house.

Split-brain patients do not have more mental tricks than the rest of us. Surely we all do this. My question is: When?

Thanks to Tim Beneke.

Assorted Links

  • Benefits of fermented wheat germ extract
  • Why Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is unlikely. A list of AGW-associated “miracles”. Some of my favorites: “Unique among all sciences, climatology develops yet finds no surprises whatsoever, apart from when it’s worse than we thought” and “AGW is a grave threat to humanity, yet it can take the backseat when AGWers have to score their petty points (such as not sharing their data with the “wrong” people)” and “Having won an Oscar, a Nobel Prize and innumerable awards, having occupied more or less every audio or video broadcast for years, having had the run of more or less every newspaper for the same length of time, suddenly AGW leaders declare they’re not “great communicators” and blame this for the generally high levels of skepticism.”
  • Denmark has started to tax butter. “To discourage poor eating habits and raise revenue.”
  • Life-saving personal science: Mom figures out cause of daughter’s problems. “One spring night in 2002, she stumbled upon an old photocopy of a 1991 Los Angeles Times article that described a young girl whose condition had uncanny parallels with [her daughter’s].”

Thanks to David Cramer.

The Beginning of the End of AGW

A month ago at a conference I met a journalist who wanted to increase public understanding of science. I said, yeah, it would be good if the public understood science, then they could see how weak the case that humans are seriously warming the planet (anthropogenic global warming, AGW). After I said that, my questions received short answers, haha.

Then there’s Gary Trudeau. According to a recent Doonesbury cartoon, I’m not just a moron, I’m a moron:

The scientific case for global warming is overwhelming — and it grows daily. Only a moron would deny it.

But I think the dissent is getting louder. Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, recently wrote:

You don’t have to look far to see that impeccable scientific standards can go hand-in-hand with skepticism about global warming. Ivar Giaever, a 1973 Nobel laureate in physics, resigned this month as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) to protest the organization’s official position that evidence of manmade climate change is “incontrovertible” and cause for alarm.

Giaever, unlike Jacoby, voted for Obama. And there’s this, from ScottishSkeptic:

This weekend I was sitting with a group of (unrelated) people I’d known since a child, and the subject of wheat farming and weather forecasts came up and almost without prompting someone else mentioned their dislike of the politicisation at the Met Office, the way the forecasts were always wrong and their suspicion about what we are being told about global warming. And then the rest of the company agreed with them.

None of these people had any financial interest in the subject, they were all educated in science at leading Universities, but they are not only questioning the assertions of global warming, they were actively sceptical.

To say I was shocked was an understatement. In many other ways this is a very pro-environment group.

So maybe there is hope for the ideas that butter is good and breakfast bad, that sugar can cause weight loss, that food is healthier after the expiration date, that faces Monday morning can make you happier on Tuesday, and so on.

Assorted Links

  • Lard chic. ““I might have a cold,” she says. “Eat this, then,” I say, proffering a piece of hot toast with a thin, transparent slice of cured pork fat.”
  • Skeptical Science is a blog devoted to rebutting every argument offered by AGW skeptics like me. Bishop Hill points out that after two comments were critical of a post about Antarctic ice,  the post was rewritten. Rather than point out the rewriting, replies were added to the critical comments saying that the commenters hadn’t read the post (“read and reread the post above”).
  • Nobel Laureates Behaving Badly. “In his Nobel Prize Lecture of December 12, 1946, Hermann J. Muller argued that the dose–response for radiation-induced germ cell mutations was linear and that there was ‘‘no escape from the conclusion that there is no  threshold [below which radiation is harmless]”. However, assessment of correspondence between Muller and Curt Stern 1 month prior to his Nobel Prize Lecture reveals that Muller knew the results and implications of a recently completed study at the University of Rochester under the direction of Stern, which directly contradicted his Nobel Prize Lecture.” This is related to radiation hormesis — the observation that low doses of radiation are beneficial. Airport screening may be making people healthier.
  • Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate”. No fermented food, nothing about omega-3 (beyond the recommendation of fish). “Limit butter”.  “Stay active” but nothing about sleep.
  • Dangers of compact fluorescent lighting.

Thanks to Steve Hansen and Anne Weiss.

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Thanks to Dennis Mangan.