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Charlie Brown and the football

February 14th, 2007

I’ve been struck, if not surprised by the eagerness of the usual crowd to jump on the latest story casting doubt on the reality of anthropogenic global warming, in this case the cosmic ray story being pushed by Svensmark and Calder. You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.

At the very least, in this age of Google, you’d think they might check whether the story is actually a new one. In fact, like most such claims, the cosmic ray idea has been around for quite a while. It’s been taken to pieces many times (William Connolley covers the story as Revenge of the killer cosmic rays from hell). It even got batted about on Oz blogs a few years back. Of course, the cosmic ray theory might pan out, but looking at the mountain of evidence pointing the other way, and the failure of so many previous efforts in this direction, you wouldn’t want to bet your credibility on it, assuming you had any.

At this point, I can’t help but be reminded of the running joke in Peanuts where Lucy promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it. Every time, she tells him, it will be different from all the previous times. Every time, Charlie falls for it. And every time, she pulls the ball away at the last minute.

(Corrected thanks to Paul G Brown).

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  1. Paul G. Brown
    February 14th, 2007 at 11:12 | #1

    It’s Charlie Brown that Lucy hold the ball for, Prof.

    Not Linus.

    Linus is the one who’s kite keeps getting eaten by the tree.

    Honestly. What are you liberal professors putting in the heads of your maleable, trusting students these days. Tch. Such abominably low standards of academic rigour.

  2. jquiggin
    February 14th, 2007 at 11:26 | #2

    D’Oh! fixed now I hope.

  3. Paul G. Brown
    February 14th, 2007 at 11:30 | #3

    *pats JQ in a comforting though slightly patronizing fashion*

    There, there ….

    *brightens up*

    Here. Have a small grant to go research disutility in derivative markets for water.

  4. Hal9000
    February 14th, 2007 at 11:45 | #4

    Prof Q – if you ever spot one of these ‘sensible rightwingers’ do let us know her identity. Having made lucrative careers and obtained comfy sinecures as columnists on the basis of praising the emperor’s fabulous new outfit, they’re hardly likely to change the habits of a lifetime merely because facts have intervened. Of course, if ever the Pavlovian response to anti-AGW fails to manifest itself, the Greg Sheridan ‘the past is a blank slate’ rule will deployed.

  5. February 14th, 2007 at 12:22 | #5

    You might want to modify the post slug as well, Professor. Or will only picky bastards like me spot that?

  6. Aidan
    February 14th, 2007 at 12:37 | #6

    No, Paul, Charlie Brown is also the one whose kite gets eaten by the tree. As I’m sure you knew..
    Linus is the one with the security blanket.
    My favourite Peanuts strip is where Charlie Brown the baseball pitcher has again been hit for six and Linus berates him along the lines of “You think if you just grit your teeth it will make you a great pitcher but it won’t.” And Charlie Brown muses, “Maybe if I just grit my teeth harder?”
    Reminds me of George Bush, among others…..

  7. February 14th, 2007 at 12:53 | #7

    If we are going to get that picky on Peanuts he is a baseball pitcher and so was hit for a home run, not “six”. This means, with the bases loaded it would be 4, down to a minimum of 1 if no-one was out on the bases. Six is not possible.
    I think that is enough analysis on this point.

  8. conrad
    February 14th, 2007 at 13:56 | #8

    I realize that global warming issues tend to be politicized into left and right, but I think its an unfair association. At least whether it is occuring or not should just be a scientific issue, irrespective of whether I’m a DRWB or a member of the we-love-Stalin left. I think the deliberate smearing of “right” or “left” is counterproductive (and its probably true of many environmental issues).

  9. chrisl
    February 14th, 2007 at 14:28 | #9

    I was talking to somebody involved in cancer research on the weekend. He had been researching for 12 years at a major hospital. Sadly no breakthroughs so far.
    The really impressive thing about climate science is how QUICKLY they can resolve issues.
    Satelite discrepancies : resolved . Urban Heat Islands No such effect. Hockey Stick Completely plausible. Rising sea levels : almost certain . Co2 the cause Put up another theory or accept it.
    And to have any doubts is to be in denial.
    If only other scientific fields could act with such alacrity

  10. February 14th, 2007 at 14:31 | #10


    Why is a conjecture which the Dane has spent a decade refining a conspiracy? Does any part of it not make sense?

    Critics say if it were true, that nighttime warming would be greater than daytime.

    Perhaps the theory is true and requires further explanation.

    What do you do when a theory which makes sense is shown to have supporting evidence but conflicts with an observable phenomena? Do you reject it or dig deeper?

    Why on earth are you defending the hockey stick graph? Smoothing the data was a bad methodology. Who smooths data these days? The current practice is to disentangel the various trends by types and orders of stationarity. There is no harm in going back and reanalysing the data.

  11. February 14th, 2007 at 14:34 | #11

    Chris, I hope this brightens up your day but at the same time makes your post look silly:


    this too:


  12. chrisl
    February 14th, 2007 at 14:49 | #12

    What are you saying Mark? That all cancers are cured and researchers are just doing it for the money?
    To be fair I think that many excellent researchers have found cures for a lot of cancers but certainly not all.

  13. February 14th, 2007 at 14:53 | #13

    No, I was saying that cancer research has progressed and it is not a good comparison to make. On the other hand, the fact that it has made progress is good, for if DCA (dichloroacetate) works well enough the researchers can study other diseases and we have a cheap, effective cure for cancer.

    It’s not a good comparison at all in fact.

  14. February 14th, 2007 at 16:51 | #14

    The Real Climate thread on Svensmark is worth reading through, it includes responses from one of Svensmark’s team who distances himself from the media hype but speaks of further experiments in progress at CERN. RC’s Gavin admits their experimental data are interesting and backtracks from some of his own initial debunking.

  15. jquiggin
    February 14th, 2007 at 17:31 | #15

    Conrad, it’s not my fault that rightwingers have decided to replace science with wishful thinking, as witness the thread above.

  16. February 14th, 2007 at 17:56 | #16

    Replacing science and reasoned argument with wishful thinking is not a right / left thing – we are all guilty of it from time to time.
    If you believe it has occurred in this debate – fine, but to generalise from that in the direction you are is, IMHO, fallacious.

  17. Hermit
    February 14th, 2007 at 17:59 | #17

    Do greenhouse gases attract cosmic rays?
    Will Exxon Mobil support cosmic ray research?
    Is there peer pressure to bias the data?
    Do cosmic rays ripen tomatoes?

  18. conrad
    February 14th, 2007 at 18:35 | #18

    I think you are confusing morons with people with reasonably argued right wing political motivations.

    If you want to restore your faith in this, next time you are teaching, try dividing the class into political orientation (say, right wing, centrist, leftwing, no strong opinions). Kick out all the people more than 40 years old. Now see how many believe that the global warming debate is pretty much over and we should do something about it. I think you’ll find the majority of even the right wing group believe the former.

  19. jquiggin
    February 14th, 2007 at 19:36 | #19

    Conrad&AR, I agree that this kind of thinking isn’t general among people of right-wing views – a pretty vague label. But if you applied your test to right-wing pundits and bloggers I’m pretty confident it would come out the opposite way from what you are suggesting, and as I mentioned recently, Republican members of Congress are overwhelmingly denialist. Actually, I can’t think of a single pro-Bush blogger or pundit who deviates significantly from the ant-consensus consensus on this topic, though some must surely exist.

    On the more general point, there was a time when antiscience thinking was more common on the left – I used to cringe at some of the nonsense that went on around homoepathy and similar topics. But although you can still find pockets of this kind of stuff on the left, it’s a fringe phenomenon today.

  20. conrad
    February 14th, 2007 at 20:16 | #20

    If I use being a die-hard Howard supporter as a Bush proxy (they’re the same person, arn’t they?) then one of your colleagues who runs a blog where you occasionaly comment and works at La Trobe probably fits the profile you are looking for.

  21. chrisl
    February 14th, 2007 at 20:20 | #21

    It is a mistake to apply the label left wing or right wing when comparing Australia and America. I am sure many Liberal Party voters in Australia would see themselves as Democrat voters in America, especially when it comes to welfare, medicare and other government assistance.

  22. fatfingers
    February 15th, 2007 at 00:32 | #22

    Right-wingers are more likely to be AGW denialists because they don’t see it as a scientific debate. It’s all part of the larger culture wars. They may call on scientific data/theories to try to back up their opposition, but it’s government action/taxes/modifying lifestyles/developed-world-guilt they’re actually opposed to. If you say “Global warming is bad, we should do something about it” they hear “Blah blah blah raise taxes, more bureaucracy please blah blah blah”.

    It’s very Far Side.

  23. singe
    February 15th, 2007 at 01:39 | #23

    Big ice/snow storm here in the Hudson Valley of New York so I am just wandering about the blogs and the planet. Here is a ton of supportive evidence for the theory that states “stupid is forever”.

  24. singe
    February 15th, 2007 at 01:58 | #24

    In about ten minutes Presidunce Boosh is going to hold a news conference. Hopefully he will explain why it took him six years to of Neocon saber rattling to come to the conclusion that the approach Clinton and pretty much everyone else always took with the loonies who run North Korea ( giving them some cash to buy the basics ) is the way to go. What is even more bizarre is that the amount of money is three hundred million dollars american which is about what we spend in one day spreading democracy in the middle east. Or put another way what Condi spends on shoes while rummaging about on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Hopefully your brave, staunch Bush fan, Mr. Howard will kick in twenty or thirty bucks so our down under friends will stay in good graces with our ( up over?? ) Christian Pilgrims. Word is Blair is contributing a wash, cut and nail polishing from a top end London poodle spa for Big Kim…..

  25. jquiggin
    February 15th, 2007 at 05:48 | #25

    Conrad at #20 – fair call. Also, in the crosspost thread at CT, Tim Worstall points out that he decided to wait-and-see on the cosmic rays, which shows that there are sensible rightwingers, even on this issue.

  26. Paul Norton
    February 15th, 2007 at 09:01 | #26

    “You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.”

    I think one dynamic at work here is that denialist commentators like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Christopher Pearson, etc., are writing for the benefit of a small but fiercely loyal market who need their periodic ideological sugar fix on certain iconic issues(rather like the readers of the McGuinness Quadrant and, on the left, Green Left Weekly). If any of these people has ever written anything with the intention to persuade or engage with readers who don’t automatically share their views, it was a long time ago.

  27. singe
    February 15th, 2007 at 14:56 | #27

    Remember when the population explosion was a topic of discussion? Remember when the population explosion was thought to be linked to environmental degradation? Of course if the earth were only occupied by the Cheney and the Bush families it might still be turned into a wasteland but why did this variable vanish from the dialogue about global warming which is of course one aspect of what is happening to spaceship earth( a useful metaphor that’s used no more )?

  28. February 15th, 2007 at 17:44 | #28

    We can do better than dichloroacetate. Instead of replacing two hydrogens per acetate with chlorine, just replace one with fluorine. Very few cancers last if treated with monofluoroacetate.

  29. Mike Smith
    February 16th, 2007 at 08:11 | #29

    There’s an article in this morning’s Courioer Mail (p 12) that suggests a case taken by the Qld Conservation Council to the Land and Resources Tribunal was lost, in part, because the Tribunal President noted criticisms of the Stern Report and personally “did not agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change view on warming”. More details of this decision may prove interesting!

  30. Uncle Milton
    February 16th, 2007 at 08:20 | #30

    The Exxon re-positioning was made clearer last week when the CEO spoke at a conference in Houston (as reported in yesterday’s Financial Times.

    There is a large element of two bob each eay in the current Exxon position – away from the ultra-denialism, but still with a foot in the denialist camp.

    Paraphrasing he said that the evidence was clear that there had been a large build up in geenhouse gases and an increasing in the earth’s temperature, but he chose his words carefully. He did not say that global warming was caused by greenhouse gases.

    He also said that “despite the uncertainties”, it would be be “prudent” to take action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but without endangering poverty reduction, ecobomic development etc.

    This is a sop to the denialist camp on two counts. One, prudence dictates taking action because of the uncertainties, not despite them. If the effects of greenhouse over the next century were known with certainty, we might want to do something about it, but not out of prudence.

    The subliminal message is “we don’t really believe the science, but I have to say this”. The stuff about poverty reduction etc, particularly when prefaced by mention of “the unceetainties” is a nod and a wink to the Bjorn Lomborg agenda, which is that there are far more important and urgent things to do than reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Of course, Exxon has come a long way from taking out full page ads in the Wall Street Journal saying that carbon dioxide is a good thing because it feeds plant growth.

  31. Jim Birch
    February 16th, 2007 at 11:35 | #31

    I don’t know why you all continue to waste time on this subject. The global warming debate is old hat and the real debate has moved on to “Intelligent Warming”:


  32. SJ
    February 16th, 2007 at 20:59 | #32

    P.M.Lawrence Says: Very few cancers last if treated with monofluoroacetate.

    Har har. Not.

  33. February 16th, 2007 at 21:12 | #33

    I was trying to make a counter-point to the idea that climatology is the only discipline in science which is making progress.

    Why bring up something trivial like 1080? Do you know DCA doesn’t work?

    That is worse than the unintentional silliness of some of the less informed climate sceptics.

    What was the point Peter?

  34. jquiggin
    February 17th, 2007 at 16:09 | #34

    “I was trying to make a counter-point to the idea that climatology is the only discipline in science which is making progress.”

    I don’t think anyone here is claiming this. Science in general, including climate science, is characterised by progress. Of course, this process is sometimes hindered by nonscientists with political, financial or religious interests threatened by science (creationism, Lysenkoism, denialism on AIDS and climate science and so on). Fortunately, we seem to have turned the corner on climate science, despite the noise emanating from the Andrew Bolts of this world.

  35. Ken
    February 17th, 2007 at 17:13 | #35

    The debate about whether to/what to do about climate change has barely begun, but PM JH has made it clear that anything that reduces coal exports won’t be considered and the opposition isn’t opposing. Coal exported only to customers that use CO2 capture or are otherwise GHG neutral gets no consideration, renewables are simply dismissed out of hand. My guess is thinking will have to change a lot to see the current lot -Labour and Liberal/National – reduce their support for our biggest contributor to climate change. Still true even if they fully support nuclear power for Australia. We’ll go on seeing greater support for coal than we are going to see for anything that could reduce it’s use or value like low cost Photovotaics and better batteries. That kind of innovation looks likely to be left to those outside Australia, including the commercialisation of technologies (like Vanadium batteries) that were developed here.

  36. February 18th, 2007 at 08:44 | #36

    A far left winger mostly agrees with me about subsidies:


  37. Chris O’Neill
    February 18th, 2007 at 21:28 | #37

    “Why on earth are you defending the hockey stick graph?”

    Defending it from what? The incompetent criticisms of Steve McIntyre? You can see an example of one of his blunders in this paper which he subsequently acknowledged in this paper after the blunder was pointed out by Huybers. The interesting thing is that McIntyre’s conclusion about the RE benchmark in both his papers is nearly the same even though he acknowledges the blunder in the first. McIntyre’s solution to this problem in the second paper is to make up a ridiculous set of noise proxies that gives the RE benchmark figure that he wants, i.e. after being told by Hybers that using just the North American PC1 will give a 99th percentile RE benchmark of 0.0 when his blunder is eliminated, McIntyre then proposes using 21 white noise proxies in conjunction with the North American PC1 to make a supposedly more accurate RE benchmark. The 21 white noise proxies are supposed to be noise mimics of the other 21 proxies in MBH’s temperature reconstruction. The only problem is, those 21 other proxies have statistics that are nothing like the statistics of white noise. Like the North American PC1 proxy, those other proxies have the statistical characteristics of red noise, not white noise, so a white noise assumption is not going to produce the right RE benchmark. Considering the blunder he made in the first paper, it’s not surprising that McIntyre continues to make them. The hockey stick graph doesn’t need any defence from blunders like these.

  38. February 19th, 2007 at 11:28 | #38

    No, I am talking about the poor choice in methodology for the data analysis, data smoothing versus trend decomposition.

  39. Chris O’Neill
    February 19th, 2007 at 22:36 | #39

    “I am talking about the poor choice in methodology for the data analysis, data smoothing versus trend decomposition.”

    Oh so it’s defence from criticisms by one Mark Hill. What journal was that published in?

  40. Richard Tol
    February 20th, 2007 at 08:25 | #40

    I’ve been struck, if not surprised by the eagerness of the usual crowd to deny the latest piece of climate science. It has been known for a long time that sun spot cycles correlate with climate. No one serious ever claimed that this is an alternative theory to explain the observed warming. Yet, there was a clear correlation, and no physical mechanism to explain the correlation — except for this weird and controversial hypothesis. Now, brave Svensmark, demonised by the environmental movement for years, provides experimental evidence for his hypothesis — and so convincingly that CERN will conduct further experiments. Hail to Svensmark, who has genuinely improved the physical understanding of the climate system, and provided further evidence that the sun can only have played a minor part in the warming of the last century. Hail Svensmark.

  41. February 20th, 2007 at 08:54 | #41

    Chris, do you know anything about time series analysis?

    The hockey stick came out when time series analysis was a big topic with researchers. During the 1990s TSA made big advances.

    It should simply be reexamined with a better methodology. How can you possibly oppose this?

  42. jquiggin
    February 20th, 2007 at 09:12 | #42

    Umm, Mark, there have been numerous studies since Mann et al using a range of different techniques, all coming to much the same conclusion.

    If you look at the MM critiques, you’ll see they’ve steadily shifted ground over time, though the conclusion has never varied (as with rationales for the Iraq war). Originally, they claimed to correct errors in the dataset. Then they spent a lot of time arguing about the use of principal components in Mann et al (none of which made much difference since the results of other studies using more up-to-date approaches were much the same) . Now they want to throw out the main data series for North America – if you do this, not surprisingly, it becomes difficult to reach any firm conclusions at all about the global climate 1000 years ago. Of course, these doesn’t stop the same people making strong claims about the Medieval Warm Period (a very movable feast in my reading of this literature).

  43. February 20th, 2007 at 10:32 | #43

    A conclusive body of cointegration approaches would satisfy me.

  44. Chris O’Neill
    February 20th, 2007 at 12:21 | #44

    “It (hockey stick) should simply be reexamined with a better methodology. How can you possibly oppose this?”

    Thank you Mr strawman. Methodology didn’t stop with MBH 98 and MBH 99. Rutherford et al describe a much more up to date technique and methodological sensitivity issues.

  45. February 20th, 2007 at 15:10 | #45

    I am not really taking about reconstructions, but how they analyse data that was either reconstructed but mainly collected rather than inferred from cores and other evidence. Data will probably always be problematic and the unit-root/cointegration techniques I would want to see used would lessen any data problems. But of course we should applaud better construction of derived data.

    The Hockey stick was smoothed to show a trend. With TSA/cointegration analysis, you would have decomposed the temps into various components – showing different deterministic and stochastic trends.

    Cointegrating regressions would show any real long and short term correlations between temps and possible determinants. Cointegrating regressions would get around the idea of natural variation if it was indeed false, as antrhopogenic impacts could be shown to be non-spurious. More use of TSA with vector auto regressions could statistically show causation, non-causation or two-way causation.

  46. Chris O’Neill
    February 20th, 2007 at 20:48 | #46

    “More use of TSA with vector auto regressions could statistically show causation, non-causation or two-way causation.”

    So you’re not actually attacking the hockey stick, you’re just saying they could have done something more with the results. Don’t forget that one of the main conclusions from the hockeystick was to show that the maximum 40 year average temperature over the 850 or so years before instrumental measurement of global temperatures was not as great as the average temperature over the last 40 years. (The instrumental record shows a hockeystick BTW, just a very short one. Also BTW, it is not possible to prove from the hockeystick results that there was no single year hotter than 1998 or 2005 because (among other things) it can’t reconstruct the El-Nino signal before 1450 AD.) You’re welcome to do some research and write a paper on causation using hockey stick results if you want to, but the intention of producing the hockeystick results was not to say what caused the record, it was just to find out what the record was.

  47. Chris O’Neill
    February 24th, 2007 at 02:47 | #47

    According to Richard Tol:

    “It has been known for a long time that sun spot cycles correlate with climate. No one serious ever claimed that this is an alternative theory to explain the observed warming. Yet, there was a clear correlation, and no physical mechanism to explain the correlation — except for this weird and controversial hypothesis.”

    Actually there is a physical mechanism that explains the correlation that is not weird or controversial. It’s simply the variation in solar irradiance over the sunspot cycle.

    “Hail to Svensmark, who has genuinely improved the physical understanding of the climate system”

    He might have improved the physical understanding of something that has an insignificant effect on the climate system but that’s not the same thing as improving the understanding of the climate system. Insignificant effect on the climate system for every one of several reasons: 1, the particles generated in Svensmark’s experiment are orders of magnitude too small to be Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN); 2, over the oceans where the hypothesis is focussed, there are huge numbers of condensation nuclei related to sea salt particles, there is no demonstration that this number of CCN might be increased in any significant way; 3, even if more CCN are made, it would need to be shown that this changes cloudiness in a place where there is already no shortage of CCN; 4, if you’re going to hypothesise that a decrease in cosmic rays has caused some of the warming in the last 30 years you first need to show that there has actually been a decrease in cosmic rays in the last 30 years, there hasn’t.

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