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Disinterested sceptics ?

July 17th, 2005

A research challenge for my readers. The task is to nominate scientists who

(i) have undertaken serious research on climate change
(ii) doubt that human activity is contributing to global warming
(iii) are disinterested, with no financial or political axe to grind

I’m reasonably flexible on (i) and (ii). That is, I’ll count anyone who has published relevant research in a reputable journal or who has done research on the topic and holds a job in a university science department or similar institution. Similarly on (ii) it’s sufficient that the person express doubt as to whether the evidence supports the anthropogenic view: they need not claim that it has been disproved.

On the other hand, as far as (iii) goes, I’m applying a stringent criterion. I’m excluding anyone who has taken money from lobby groups with a political position on climate change policy, is a member of any such group, or has publicly expressed a political position on the Kyoto protocol.

I claim that I can nominate hundreds of scientists who satisfy (i) and (iii), as described, and whose work supports the anthropogenic hypothesis. I suggest that the number of scientists satisfying (i) and (iii), as defined above, but who doubt the anthropogenic hypothesis, is in single digits. My current estimate is one, but perhaps readers will be able to double or triple that estimate, or perhaps reduce it to zero.

Update I obviously need to clarify the point on government funding. I’m not excluding scientists who have received research funding from public research bodies, even where those bodies are funded by anti-Kyoto governments, such as those of Australia and the US. This is making the task of finding disinterested sceptics easier, not harder, a fact which several commenters have apparently failed to observe.

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  1. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 22nd, 2005 at 10:27 | #1

    “I tend to put more weight on ….. the fact that the rate of increase is
    extreme relative to the historical record”

    Do we know that to be the case? With such wide error bars, the historical record seems consistent with both highly volatile and smooth temperature series. Do you know of studies that have estimated the volatility, not just the temperature?

    If there are such studies then a plot of the derivative of the temperature over time will be far more convincing than the temperature plots with huge error bars.

    For example, if the derivative looks like ____—-___—_-____—_ (excuse the ascii art – that’s supposed to represent lots of sharp changes in the derivative) then the recent rise doesn’t look out of the ordinary, but if it is ______________– (essentially constant until recently) then I would be much more convinced.

  2. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 22nd, 2005 at 10:30 | #2

    ok – that didn’t work. WordPress interpreted my ascii art as markup. What I was trying to say, in words: we need a historical plot of the _derivative_ of the temperature. The recent increase will be anomalous if the historical derivative is almost always close to zero.

  3. Ken Miles
    July 22nd, 2005 at 11:27 | #3

    The Khandekar et al paper is a joke, and only helps to convince me that global warming sceptics don’t have a leg to stand on. While the authors aren’t as good as Lomborg at selective citation and ignoring inconvenient studies they do make a fine effort. For example they write:

    “SVENSMARK and FRIIS-CHRISTENSEN (1997) demonstrate that there is a
    direct connection between earth’s cloud cover and cosmic ray flux and this can influence earth’s climate more effectively than increasing CO2 levels.”

    From Damon and Laut (Pattern of Strange Errors Plagues Solar Activity
    and Terrestrial Climate Data, Eos Vol. 85 No 39, 28 Sept. 2004) we get this statement:

    “Other examples of unacceptable handling of observational data are presented by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen [1997] and Svensmark
    [1998].They, too, show a strikingly good agreement of solar and terrestrial data, in this case of the intensity of galactic cosmic radiation (representing solar activity) and total global cloud cover.Again,a close examination reveals a strange data selection. The agreement over a substantial part of the period investigated, i.e. over the last several years, has been obtained by employing data from the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program that actually do not represent total global cloud cover and therefore do not belong in the context of their analysis. An update with the correct data (from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Program, ISCCP) shows that the development of total global cloud cover since 1992 has been in clear contradiction to the hypothesis proposed by the authors; that is, it is quite different from the development of the intensity of galactic cosmic radiation [Laut, 2003].

    A strange detail that becomes apparent when comparing the original 1997 presentation by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen with the 1998 update by Svensmark is that the more recent part of the ISCCP data, which actually conflicted with the hypothesis and which were still shown in the 1997 article, were omitted from the 1998 article.”

    The rest of the Damon and Laut paper is well worth reading for examples of poor data analysis and can be found here: http://www.realclimate.org/damon&laut_2004.pdf

    Unsurprisingly, Khandekar et al fail to mention neither this paper, nor any of Damon and Laut’s work on poor correlations between solar and climate variability.

  4. jquiggin
    July 22nd, 2005 at 17:37 | #4

    anon, I agree with what you are saying, but I think statistical analysis rather than eyeballing is needed. The statistical analysis has been done by several different teams, and shows unprecedently rapid rises in the late 20th century.

    Then there’s McKitrick and McIntyre who find the opposite.

  5. Stephen
    July 22nd, 2005 at 17:43 | #5

    ex-anon says “The fundamental problem is that we appear to be drawing very strong conclusions from very little and (at least until recently) very noisy data. And very few papers seem to seriously address this issue.”

    This might be true if just applied to the historical record, but if applied to the whole theory (as it seems to me to be intended to do, although I may be misreading) it is completely false, because I cannot think of a single topic in science in which there is so much data, which has been so intensively analysed, although I do grant that some of it is pretty noisy.

    The fact is that the whole question of climate over the last 1000 years is only one of the legs on which the global warming hypothesis stands, and there is considerable redundancy in the support. So called sceptics (the term contrarian is better, because they are so willing to endorse obviously false claims that support their case without the slightest show of scepticism) have chosen to attack the “hockey stick”, seeing it as the weakest part of the case, and then claimed it is essential and without it everything will fall over.

    However, not only has Mann’s original work been supported by several other studies, both reannalysing the same data and using new climate proxies, but there is a heap of other evidence. A hardly exhautive list includes:

    The high level of accuracy of climate models in predicting the warming experienced over the last two decades.
    The drastic stratospheric coolling occuring over the last 25 years (something which would definitely not occur under most other causes of warming). True this cooling is partly due to ozone depletion, but since many of the sceptics don’t actually believe in that either they are still yet to explain where it comes from.
    The fact that temperatures have risen more in colder areas (again not expected from most other sources of warming)
    The fact that solar radiation has been flat or declining for some decades.

    The list goes on. I recently reported on a climate conference. It was a relatively small thing – mostly Australians, hardly any media coverage except for us – there were more than 100 papers presented by many of the leading climatologists and meteorologists in the country. Of these papers about a third had nothing to do with climate change. Another third did but didn’t supply evidence (eg they were trying to predict the local effects of future climate change). But around one third involved studying some aspect of Australian (or nearby) climate and seeing if there was evidence for dramatic warming (some of these papers also tested whether the warming was likely to be human induced).

    From memory, one paper found that the evidence in that case was not convincing (inside statistical error) but the others all found evidence of one sort or another – some quite small, some very powerful. These papers were presented to a bunch of peers. I couldn’t attend (just got abstracts and interviewed the scientists’ whose work looked most interesting) but there was no signs of any of the work being ripped to pieces by other attendees.

    Now this was one conference out of how many dozens that go on every year, in addition to the work published in peer reviewed journals. There is a mountain of evidence out there, and while some of the papers are no doubt flawed, most of them are not.

    On the other hand, the contrarians cannot publish anything without either lying through their teeth, making the most basic incompotent errors (eg degrees and radians) or quoting someone else who has done one of the above as if their work was gospel.

    In some ways the complete dishonesty of the contrarians behaviour is the best evidence for anthropogenic climate change, or it would be if there wasn’t so much else.

  6. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 23rd, 2005 at 15:52 | #6

    Digging deeper, there does not seem to be uniform consensus that the current warming is anomalous compared to the variability over the past 1000 years, eg:

    http://www.mad.zmaw.de/Research/Presse/Storch-etal2004.pdf

    Abstract:

    Empirical reconstructions of the Northern Hemisphere
    (NH) temperature in the last millennium based on multy
    proxy records depict small-amplitude variations followed
    by a clear warming trend in the last two centuries. We use
    a coupled atmosphere-ocean model simulation of the last
    1000 years as a surrogate climate to test the skill of these
    methods, particularly at multidecadal and centennial
    timescales. Idealized proxy records are represented by
    simulated grid-point temperature, degraded with
    statistical noise. The centennial variability of the NH
    temperature is underestimated by the regression-based
    methods applied here, suggesting that past variations may
    have been at least a factor of two larger than indicated by
    empirical reconstructions.

    [this may be an earlier draft ("multy proxy" seems unlikely to slip past the editor) - I couldn't access the published paper on the Science website]

    Stephen,

    “On the other hand, the contrarians cannot publish anything without either lying through their teeth, making the most basic incompotent errors (eg degrees and radians) or quoting someone else who has done one of the above as if their work was gospel.”

    Perhaps you could explain which of the above paper’s authors are lying or incompotent [sic]?

  7. July 23rd, 2005 at 21:02 | #7

    Umm. anon, even if the hockey sticke underestimates past variability by a factor of 2, current warming is still anomalous.

  8. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 23rd, 2005 at 21:45 | #8

    Ok, bad choice of words. Let me revise that to: “there does not seem to be uniform consensus that the current warming is _highly_ anomalous compared to the variability over the past 1000 years”

    Where I come from, being out by a factor of 2 is considered to be a pretty serious cock-up. And that’s without decisions by world governments hanging on the outcomes of my research.

  9. jquiggin
    July 23rd, 2005 at 22:30 | #9

    ex-anon, you don’t know who (if anyone) is out by a factor of 2. It could be Storch, or MBH, or the correct figure could be between the two. And it might help if you could give us a hint where you come from that the level of precision is so great. Disagreements of this magnitude (and, for that matter disagreements of sign), are pretty common in most fields of which I’m aware, particularly when the item being measured is a variance rather than a mean.

    As regards “world governments hanging on the outcomes” this is only one of thousands of pieces of evidence. They don’t all point in the same direction, but, once you disregard the McKitricks and Michaels, the overwhelming majority point to anthropogenic global warming.

  10. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 23rd, 2005 at 23:22 | #10

    No, I don’t know who is out by a factor of 2. But I am also not blase about it, as Lambert’s comment seemed to imply that he is.

    You can’t have it both ways. If many independent studies have confirmed the variance results in the hockey-stick paper, and if Storch is correct, then he casts doubt on all those independent studies. That is, “thousands of pieces of evidence” (which is hyperbolic anyway) means a lot less if many studies all contain the same systematic error.

    And you also can’t have it both ways with respect to accuracy. If the true value of the historical variance is relevant in determining _how_ anomalous the current warming is (and hence what, if anything, we should do about it), then it is not good enough to accept values that may be off by at least a factor of 2. At the very least the scientists need to acknowledge it (I don’t see any such acknowledgment in the Mann paper or the IPCC report)

    BTW, I’ve never seen a disagreement over the sign of a variance. Unless of course your random variable has an imaginary component. Maybe you’re onto something there …..

  11. jquiggin
    July 24th, 2005 at 06:35 | #11

    anon, the hockey stick studies are only a tiny fraction of the whole, and not particularly central to the picture presented by the IPCC. There’s nothing hyperbolic about saying that thousands of studies have confirmed the reality of anthropogenic global warming.

    As for the lack of responses to Storch in the Mann paper and the IPCC report, the Storch paper only came out in late 2004.

    And OK, I should have written “difference”, not “variance”.

  12. frankis
    July 24th, 2005 at 13:44 | #12

    x-anon, Stephen needn’t bother to point out where von Storch or a co-author is “lying or incompetent” because nobody calls von Storch a contrarian. Being a well respected scientist in the field under discussion, no matter whether this one particular paper from late 2004 is fair starred or ill, nobody will be characterizing him as Stephen has so aptly done for the “contrarians”. Contrarians are people like Lomborg and McKitrick, Michaels and Singer, not von Storch. It’ll be his peers who determine whether or not that one paper is a winner or a loser, and that with effectively zero impact on the state of science’s understanding of human effects on our climate.

  13. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 24th, 2005 at 19:06 | #13

    Frankis, is Lindzen contrarian or non?

    jquiggin, the hockey stick studies seem pretty central to the IPCC report, at least on my reading.

    Eg, the summary from section 2.4, titled: “How Rapidly did Climate Change in the Distant Past?” suggests very strong evidence for rapid , unforced (by humans) climate change in the _distant_ past:

    Current evidence indicates that very rapid and large temperature changes, generally associated with changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation, occurred during the last glacial period and during the last deglaciation

    and

    Evidence is increasing, therefore, that a rapid reorganization of atmospheric and ocean circulation (time-scales of several decades or more) can occur during inter-glacial periods without human interference.

    So at least relative to the _distant_ past, the present warming is probably not that anomalous.

    Section 2.3 addresses the recent past: “Is the Recent Warming Unusual?”. Mann’s hockey stick and similar studies play a central role in this section, and contribute to the conclusion:

    …the rate and magnitude of global or hemispheric surface 20th century warming is likely to have been the largest of the millennium, with the 1990s and 1998 likely to have been the warmest decade and year, respectively, in the Northern Hemisphere.

    So the hockey stick studies show recent (last millennium) climate variability is not like that of the the distant past, hence the latter part of the 20th century was highly anomalous.

    This does not appear to be consistent with your claim that “the hockey stick studies … are not particularly central to the picture presented by the IPCC.”

  14. jquiggin
    July 25th, 2005 at 08:38 | #14

    There’s a fairly thorough response here.

  15. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 25th, 2005 at 09:44 | #15

    JQ, you’re invoking website commentary written more than 4 years after the publication of the IPCC report to buttress your argument. I am not interested in following you there [although I disagree with some of the arguments], just as you would no doubt be unwilling to refute every skeptic web-commentary I could throw your way.

    I think the point is well established: The IPCC report did rely heavily on the hockey stick studies when drawing their conclusions. That fact is not altered because somebody writes a web commentary four years later arguing that they needn’t have.

  16. frankis
    July 25th, 2005 at 10:58 | #16

    By this stage it may be becoming more apropos to talk about you than Lindzen or anybody else xanon, and it seems John’s original contention is well founded. But as you ask, one thing about Lindzen is that he’s a man unwilling to back his (loudish) mouth with his own money. See an article at Reason if you like which explains Lindzen’s problem in a far more favourable light, for Lindzen, than does his antagonist James Annan. Either way Lindzen loses his aura of smoking, tough guy scepticism yet remains as far as I know a sceptic, not a “contrarian”.

  17. Ken
    July 25th, 2005 at 11:16 | #17

    Getting back to the problem of how to judge the qualtity of research and weeding out the poor science I think the Universities, Academies, and Science Associations have to be the cornerstone of the review process. It ought not to matter who funds the research (even if it may be wise to be particularly careful when reviewing work fiunded by partisan orgs) and it would be unfair to deny the people with the deepest and clearest understanding of the science any voice in the related public policy debates arising from the understandings their work brings to light. Surely a Scientist can carry belief in their own work into life outside academia. I think the review process rather than the funding process or the private views of scientists involved is where the scrutiny needs to be applied.
    The review process itself may need to be subject to ongoing scrutiny and review, but I don’t think it’s really let us down so far, and if you can’t trust in the world’s leading scientific bodies then we really are in trouble because getting our science from politically partisan PR think tanks makes it all just a matter of who runs and can fund the most successful PR campaign.

  18. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 25th, 2005 at 11:19 | #18

    I tried to take James Annan up on his bet and get him to commit to odds over on Lambert’s blog a while back. He wouldn’t.

    ****

    Abusive comment deleted

  19. July 25th, 2005 at 12:50 | #19

    Anon you did not try to take up Annan on his bet. You declined his bet and came up with a completely different one.

    L**r.

    Edited in line with site policy as not conducive to civilised discussion

  20. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 25th, 2005 at 13:21 | #20

    I never declined Annan’s bet. I don’t even know what his original bet was. I proposed a temperature increase, timescale (and a dollar figure) and odds. He baulked. So I asked him to propose his own set of variables. He never did.

    ****

    Abusive comment deleted

  21. jquiggin
    July 25th, 2005 at 18:02 | #21

    OK, comments closed on this one. Anon, as advised above, you’re on automatic moderation from now on.

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