Assorted Links

The Global Warming Test

One episode of A History of Ancient Britain, the recent BBC series, is about the Ice Age. If you know there was an Ice Age, you should grasp that the Earth varies in temperature a lot for reasons that have nothing to do with human activity. To measure the effect of recent human activity on global temperatures, you need to know what the Earth’s temperature would have been in the absence of human activity. Then you find the effect of humans by subtraction (actual temperature – predicted temperature assuming no human activity).

That’s hard to do. Because the non-human effects are so large, you need a really accurate model to “control” for them.  No such model is available. No current climate model has been shown to accurately predict global temperatures — the IPCC chapter called “Climate Models and Their Evaluation” (informal title: “Why You Should Believe Them”) is the most humorous evidence of that. Lack of accurate predictions means there is no good reason to trust them. (That the models can fit past data means little because they have many adjustable parameters. “With four parameters I can fit an elephant,” said John von Neumann.) The case against the view that humans have dangerously warmed the climate (sometimes called AGW, anthropogenic global warming) is that simple.

Because it is so simple, “the other side” consists of saying why 2+2 really does equal 20 or whatever. Sure, many people say it, so what? When I was an undergrad, I gave a talk called “The Scientific ____ “. I said usage of the term scientific without explaining what it meant was a sign of incompetence and a reader could safely stop reading right there. That isn’t terribly helpful, because few people use scientific that way. My grown-up version of this test is that when someone claims AGW is true, I stop taking them seriously as a thinker. I don’t mean they can’t do good work — Bill McKibben is an excellent journalist, for example. Just not original thought.




Climatology Light Bulb Joke

Q: How many climate scientists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None. No need to change it. Because it’s been changed in the past, they say, it will be changed in the future.

A tiny fraction of climate scientists publish papers showing how their model can fit past data — say, global temperatures from 1600 to now. The authors of these papers claim that this sort of thing shows their model can predict accurately. In fact, it means roughly nothing — perhaps the model was flexible enough to fit any plausible past data.

Outsiders take fitting past data seriously, but what do they know? However, when a graduate student in atmospheric science takes fitting past data seriously (“it is perfectly reasonable to treat reproductions of the past climate as [successful] predictions”), the whole field has a problem.

Lack of Evidence For Climate Models Intensifies

A few weeks ago I pointed out the lack of a good reason to believe the scary predictions of climate models. Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and a million other public figures say we should believe what the models predict about global temperature ten years from now. Yet, as far as I know, the models have never made accurate and surprising predictions of global temperature. They are claimed to do what they have never been shown to do. In contrast to the absence of accurate predictions of global temperature is the presence of wrong predictions.

The lack of persuasive predictions is clearest when experts who believe climate models fail to supply them. This is why I linked to a warmist web page with a wealth of “supporting” information. Surely its creator had studied the issue deeply. This is why I noted that the Science Editor of The Independent, a major English newspaper, failed to supply such evidence. Surely he had read a lot about the issue.

And this is why I note that a graduate student in atmospheric science has failed to supply such evidence. On my Psychology Today blog I reposted one of my earlier posts about this.  The graduate student said I was “misinformed about the nature of climate models” and that he “could go on for pages” about why. But he too failed to supply an example of an accurate surprising global-temperature prediction. (For an inaccurate prediction of a 1986 model, see here.)

Climate Model Predictions and What Happened

In a comment on a previous post about lack of convincing evidence for climate models — the ones that predict catastrophe — I wrote:

At any time — right now, 5 years ago, 10 years, 15 years ago –” the people who work with those models and claim we should pay attention to their predictions could make/have made a set of predictions: next year, the year after that, and so on. Then, as time passed, we would have found out if the models predict correctly. The modelers haven’t done that.

From this talk by Richard Muller, a Berkeley physicist, I learned of two instances where the modelers did what I said they haven’t done. Continue reading “Climate Model Predictions and What Happened”

The Best Argument Against Man-Made Global Warming

The best argument I have ever seen against the idea that humans are dangerously warming the earth — that is, against the view of Al Gore, Elizabeth Kolbert, and thousands of other people who claim to understand what they are talking about — comes, strangely enough, from a supporter of this view.

Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent, a highbrow London newspaper. He interviewed Freeman Dyson — who, like me, thinks the conventional certainty on this issue is far too strong — on the subject. The headline of the interview labels Dyson a “heretic”. Connor wants to know how Dyson reacts to what seems to Connor to be overwhelming evidence.

The interview is by email. Dyson says he has no faith in the models. Connor writes:

I was only trying to find out where your problem lies with respect to the scientific consensus on global warming. As you know these models [that Dyson doesn’t believe] are used by large, prestigious science organizations such as NASA, NOAA and the Met Office, which use them to make pretty accurate predictions about the weather every day. The scientists who handle these models point out that they can accurately match up the computer predictions to real climatic trends in the past, and that it is only when they add CO2 influences to the models that they can explain recent global warming.

There it is. The scientists who use the weather models every day, who know them better than anyone else say that we should believe them because 1. They can fit “real climatic trends in the past”. This is meaningless. The models have lots of adjustable parameters. Perhaps they could have fit any plausible past trends. 2. They “make pretty accurate predictions about the weather every day” — that is, predictions of the weather of the next week or so.

This is admission of defeat. It’s as if you say you can throw a ball a mile and, when someone asks how you know this, you say, “I’ve thrown a ball 10 yards quite often.” If you had thrown a ball more than 10 yards you would have said so. If the models had predicted accurately more than a week in advance their boosters would have said so.

It isn’t just Steve Connor who unintentionally makes a really good case for the opposite of what he believes. Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize winner in Biology and President of the Royal Society, hosted a recent BBC show called Science Under Attack in which we were supposed to believe predictions of global catastrophe because weather models can predict the weather for the next few days. A NASA weather expert said that! Nurse took him seriously.

My goodness. If the President of the Royal Society is this credulous, what are the ordinary members like?

Assorted Links

Fear of Retaliation: Global Warming and Nutrition

I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating: Science and job don’t mix very well. Career demands can make it hard to tell the truth as you see it. A scientist named Norman Rogers put it like this in relation to global warming:

Mainstream climate scientists are asking for trouble if they become skeptics [about man-made global warming]. They may lose their jobs, their papers may not be published and they may lose their grants. Thatʼs why most skeptics are older or retired or from outside of the mainstream – they are less vulnerable to retaliation.

He could have added that global-warming skeptics will have difficulty recruiting others, such as graduate students, to work with them and will face disdain from their colleagues.

I saw this in relation to the work of Ranjit Chandra. At Berkeley, when I told other professors about my doubts, one of them replied: Talk to X. He’s had doubts about Chandra for 30 years. I spoke to X. This was correct. I didn’t ask X why he’d never said anything publicly about it because the reason was obvious: He feared retaliation.

What Global Warming Science Really Says

To see the usual arguments for global warming, look no further than this list, which gives the most popular “skeptic arguments” with rebuttals. The person who made this list presumably read lots of stuff and tried to select the best rebuttal in every case.

That reading led to this:

Skeptic argument: Models are unreliable.

Rebuttal: Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean.

Notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say Models have successfully predicted temperatures . . . 

These models have many adjustable parameters. With enough adjustable parameters, you can reproduce anything. The only reasonable test of a model with many adjustable parameters is how well it predicts.

Hal Pashler and I wrote a paper pointing out that psychologists had been doing something similar for 50 years — passing off models with many adjustable parameters as reliable when in fact they hadn’t been tested — when their ability to predict hadn’t been measured. One explanation of the current global warming scare is that there is something to be afraid of. A more plausible explanation, I believe, is that — again — one group of scientists is passing off complex models with many adjustable parameters as reliable when in fact they haven’t been tested.

Where Does Oil Come From?

This fascinating article describes two ideas about oil production that were new to me: 1. It is made by microbes a long way down inside the Earth. 2. It is made by nuclear reactions going on in the middle of the earth.

The first idea came from a Cornell geologist named Thomas Gold. According to the article, “some geologists were so incensed by Gold’s ideas they petitioned to have the government remove all mention of it from the nation’s libraries.” That is so strange (and no source cited) you might think the whole article is made-up but Gold explained his ideas here (short) and here (long).

Thanks to Carl Willat.

Punishment of Difference

When I was a boy, my family didn’t have a TV. (Which I now make up for by watching a lot of TV.) The strangeness of this was made clear one day at school. It was second grade. The teacher wanted to talk about something on TV. “Who doesn’t have a TV?” she asked the class. I raised my hand and a girl raised her hand. She didn’t have a TV because it was being fixed.

So I was especially disturbed by this video in which a few schoolchildren who differ from the rest of their class are blown up. Their fatal mistake is not cutting carbon emissions. The organization that made it took it down and issued a lukewarm apology (“live and learn”) that said nothing about ridiculing minorities. If I were teaching 10-year-olds, I think I’d show them the video, tell them how disturbing I found it, and ask them about times in their lives that they felt different from everyone else. It is a curiously teachable moment.

Assorted Links

  • A new paper debunks Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick global temperature graph. “Climate scientists have greatly underestimated the uncertainty of proxy-based reconstructions and hence have been overconfident in their models.” Very well written.
  • “Obscure, contemporary ethics books . . . were actually about 50% more likely to be missing than non-ethics books.” Paper. The study was done entirely online and covered 32 large university libraries.
  • Gladys Reid, Australian discoverer of benefits of feeding zinc to farm animals. “Reid was reluctant to make direct dose recommendations after claiming the Director General of Agriculture had told her she would be taken to court for misleading practices if she did. However she won followers from farming wives in particular. Many would call asking for zinc advice after tiring of seeing suffering livestock and husbands on the brink of suicide from crippling stock and production losses.”
  • Using a treadmill while working
  • The Potti Scandal continues
  • How loud are Sunchips?

Thanks to Don Sheridan and Melissa Francis.

The Journalistic Response to Climategate

When the Climategate emails came out, people like Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert were in enormously difficult positions. McKibben, an extremely talented writer, had centered his entire professional life around stopping climate change. Kolbert, also a very talented writer, hadn’t become an activist, like McKibben, but she had made the dangers of climate change her journalistic specialty. She wrote a book about it, for example. For them to say that the Climategate emails revealed something important — namely, that the case for man-made climate change is much weaker than the public realizes — would have been like the Pope saying God might not exist. It wasn’t going to happen. And it hasn’t happened.

But other journalists are not so committed to one side. They are free to react honestly and intelligently. One sign of what an honest and intelligent reaction would be came during a New Yorker podcast about Climategate. On one side was Kolbert, on the other — saying that Climategate mattered — was Peter Boyer. Kolbert came off as nervous and defensive; Boyer came off as reasonable.

Another sign of what an honest and intelligent reaction would be is this column by Clive Crook, an Atlantic editor.  Crook ridicules the inquiries that followed for reasoning such as this:

Had Dr. [Michael “Hockey Stick”] Mann’s conduct of his research been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions . . .

Crook is right to ridicule this. Ranjit Chandra, a nutrition professor, received the Order of Canada, an extremely prestigious award, yet some of his research appears fabricated.