Disinterested sceptics ?

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.

121 thoughts on “Disinterested sceptics ?

  1. Comment deleted. I’m moving this debate to the open thread, as advised

  2. Because they rely on peoples’ fear to justify their continued existence and expansion. The environmental movement in general has been a great boon for those who believe that the state should exert more control over the means of production.

    So, your contention is that all/most governments that have funded research into climate change have done so in the hope that it would yield findings showing that it was an imminent threat merely for the delight of having the opportunity to impose new regulations?

    In other words, they would rather devote time, resources and political capital coming up with unpopular policies about stuff that people would prefer not to think about, simply because it gives them something to do?

    Sam, I’m more inclined toward skepticism of government than most, but that’s just nuts.

  3. Please inform me if I’m wrong but even if we didn’t have climatologists studying HIGW they would be still studing some other aspect of the climate and that like other basic reseach is not goal driven other than knowledge.

    So the results of the research doesn’t have any bearing on whether they will have a job next year-excluding scientific fraud- or financially benefit them-selves or their employer the gov.

    Now in the case of industry or lobby groups what they do can have a direct bearing on both whether they will have a future job and can significantly effect the employer’s profits.

    Now where there may be a conflict of interest doesn’t mean that the group or individual has committed scientific fraud -like the tobacco scientists- but it does raise questions especially given past cases of profit driven conflict of interest and as far as the lobby groups they consistently deny things like GW but any other research that adversely effects company profits.

    So TCFKAA the onus is on you to provide the evidence ‘for each scientist, establish that they have no political axe to grind’/ to rule out a large proportion of the government-funded research sector as many have green/anti-development/anti-capitalist leanings, and global warming is an excellent vehicle for them to try and realise their political goals because it you affirming� as you are making the affirmative, you don’t get the other party to prove the negative.

    Just the same as with atheists it isn’t up to them to prove God doesn’t exist it’s up to the theist to prove it does.

  4. I’m an athiest on man made global warming. As I see it there are too many theists on that topic with nothing but a gut full of faith that the end is nigh and nature is good and man is bad.

    However despite my lack of faith we may in fact be cooking ourselves.

  5. “anon, you’re reversing the burden of proof, and asking for proof of a negative, which is impossible. I’m happy to accept anyone on either side of the debate as disinterested in the absence of explicit evidence to the contrary.”

    My point exactly; you can’t prove the negative. So you can’t make claims about the political motivations of either side based only upon the publicly available evidence. However, if there are good reasons to suppose that a lot of global warming proponents are politically motivated, then it is not convincing to claim they are not so motivated just because there is no explicit evidence.

    In addition to “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” you should also exclude anyone who is a current or past member of an environmental group, who is anti-development, who has (publically or privately) expressed a political opinion on population control, etc, etc. You could find these out – get some of your research assistants to start calling around. All these things have bearing on how objective the scientists are likely to be, which is presumably your motivation for including the restrictions in (iii) in the first place.

    Of course, your original motivation was not to establish political bias in the global warming debate. It was to erect a strawman whose defeat would establish political bias amongst opponents of global warming only.

  6. “you should also exclude anyone who is a current or past member of an environmental group, who is anti-development, who has (publically or privately) expressed a political opinion on population control, etc, etc.”

    I explicitly mentioned these criteria. But I’m afraid my imaginary hordes of research assistants [this seems to be a bit of a sore point for you] aren’t going to do the work for you. If you can show that the thousands of scientists who’ve published peer-reviewed work in this field are subject to these biases, go right ahead and do it. Otherwise don’t criticise people about whom you obviously know nothing.

  7. Mork

    “In other words, they would rather devote time, resources and political capital coming up with unpopular policies about stuff that people would prefer not to think about, simply because it gives them something to do?”

    Yes

    In government “Everybody likes to get as much power as circumstances allow, and nobody will vote for a self-denying ordinance.�

  8. What makes you think these policies are unpopular? Everybody likes to think they are saving the planet, especially if it gives them the chance to stick it up a few rich bastards in the process.

    There was a case in Western Australia recently where a guy was torn to shreds in the media for cutting up a dead whale (a violation of C.A.L.M.’s endangered species policy).

    The whale was just rotting on the beach, so he was doing everyone a favour, yet people were horrified that he even so much as touched it.

    And government departments such as C.A.L.M. definitely have a vested interest in increasing environmental regulations, because each new regulation means more funding and more for the ever-growing horde of public servants to do.

    There’s a political party in Australia called “The Greens”, but you think this stuff is something people prefer not to think about?

    Environmentalism is the new fundamentalist religion, in Australia there are many more fundamentalist greenies than there are fundamentalist Christians. And unlike Christians, who are generally weird but nevertheless have respect for human life, greenies couldn’t care less if 100 people died to save 1 koala.

  9. “I explicitly mentioned these criteria. But I’m afraid my imaginary hordes of research assistants [this seems to be a bit of a sore point for you] aren’t going to do the work for you. If you can show that the thousands of scientists who’ve published peer-reviewed work in this field are subject to these biases, go right ahead and do it. Otherwise don’t criticise people about whom you obviously know nothing.”

    jquiggin, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest a large portion of those scientists are subject to those biases. For example, the environmental movement is almost universally anti-development and anti-capitalist, and a large portion of those scientists are environmentalists.

    Speaking of criticising people about whom one obviously knows nothing, why do you assume something to do with your research assistants (not sure exactly what, since you didn’t elaborate) is a sore point for me? I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about them. And why do you assume I know nothing about climate researchers? For all you know I could be one. May I suggest that you don’t criticise people about whom you obviously know nothing?

    And c’mon, its bloody obvious you set this strawman up to score some points against global warming opponents, not as an unbiased attempt to analyse bias in the global warming debate. Take your points, if that gives you satisfaction.

  10. “And why do you assume I know nothing about climate researchers? For all you know I could be one”

    If so, why not nominate yourself, or some of your colleagues. Surely some of them are just plain scientists with no particular axe to grind.

  11. “If so, why not nominate yourself, or some of your colleagues.”

    Because you rigged the rules to get the outcome you were looking for.

  12. …and lest I be accused of misrepresentation: because I am not a climate scientist.

  13. A brief comment before I launch my annual inroad against the fiscal base of the state.

    Yobbo, the history of Australian government departments and agencies creating solutions in search of problems (or framing problems in such terms that only the agencies’ specialised “solutions” would solve them) in order to justify empire building, did not begin with environmental or conservation agencies c.1970. It can be traced back to the state-developmentalism of the colonial era which actively promoted ecologically unsustainable development including grandiose projects which were never subjected either to decent environmental assessment or to proper economic cost-benefit analysis, and has continued into the post-Federation era with the sort of mercantilist alliances we have seen between developmental state agencies, sectors of private capital, pro-development politicians and (in some cases) trade unions based in developmental sectors.

    Examples? Think of the current state of the Murray-Darling catchment which is the historical legacy of state-sponsored unsustainable development in the 19th century and much of the 20th. Think of the Franklin Dam proposal and “hydro-industrialisation” in Tasmania, which even an anti-greenie like Peter Walsh agreed was unsupportable when a proper economic analysis was applied to it. Think of Queensland Main Roads’ absurd proposal for a second motorway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast in the 1990s which, as well as being environmentally disastrous would have been a waste of money and space as the toll sensitivity analyses showed that motorists would have kept on congesting the Pacific Highway rather than pay the toll to use the second road. Such examples could be multiplied.

    Finally, have a look at the annual budgets and staffing levels of Federal and State environmental/conservation agencies, and compare them with the combined annual budgets and staffing levels of Federal and State economic/developmental agencies – and, for good measure, compare the seniority of the sole environmental minister in Federal and State Cabinets with that of the numerous ministers for developmental and economic portfolios. The fact is that in Australia state-sponsored and state-assisted exploitation of the environment, and the various clienteleships and dependencies which flow from that, far outweighs state-sponsored environmental regulation.

  14. That’s OK x-anon, nobody assumed that you were a climate scientist. You have some kind of religious aversion to them apparently.

  15. x-anon>
    For example, the environmental movement is almost universally anti-development and anti-capitalist, and a large portion of those scientists are environmentalists.

    I would rather say anti-development where there are no other considerations other than a large profit margin or anti-corporation where they don’t act ethically or sustainably.

    Notice the trends in business ethics to incorporate the Triple Bottom Line in corporate accounting. You would find if this was sincerely taken up by business, much-though not all- of the opposition would stop.

    PLS don’t mix up correllation and causation by having in knowledge about a scientific field they often see the consequences of human activities and when those activities only have a profit motive, would naturally oppose them if they have adverse impacts.

    & again the criteria for conflict of interest only applies to those scientists or their employer who have monetary incentives, and gov scientists -at least at the moment- don’t fit that criteria. Also it doesn’t mean we should ignore lobby funded research -it can go through peer review- it just allows us to be wary. and acknowledge other motives.

  16. JQ, I’m totally with you on this issue – see below – but I think your requirements are unfairly tough on one point. I don’t think it is fair to exclude people because they have opposed the Kyoto Protocol. If there really was a disinterested scientist whose research really did suggest that global warming was either not real or not human induced it would make sense for them to become opposed to Kyoto as a result, and they are entitled to express that opinion publically.

    I don’t think such people exist, except in rare cases that are either quite mad, or are totally unable to see wider context – they happen to be working in an area where global warming isn’t observable and are incapable of absorbing the vast weight of research everywhere else.

    Likewise we see many, many scientists who have never had much interest in politics, and probably never made a political statement on anything, who are supportive of Kyoto, possibly publically, but certainly in conversation, simply because their research scares them to pieces.

    To various other posters, particularly ex-anon,

    Of course some of the scientists who express concerns about global warming were environmentalists before they started, but the thing is that if one lined up all the centrist, politically apathetic and actually right-wing climate scientists who have been converted to support for Kyoto and much stronger measures by their research experience the number would definitely stretch into thousands (you would find dozens in Australia alone and we make up 2% of the global research community). Trying to find centrist, apathetic or left-wing scientists who don’t believe in global warming is virtually impossible. Which I think is the real point of JQ’s challenge – there is no need to guild the lily by taking out those who have expressed an opinion on Kyoto, provided they don’t have an obvious pre-existing bias against all things green.

  17. “Trying to find centrist, apathetic or left-wing scientists who don’t believe in global warming is virtually impossible.”

    Let’s think about why that might be. How easy is to be apathetic, a climate scientist, and publicly hold that you don’t believe in (anthropogenic) global warming?

    [or publicly hold that it may not be such a big deal]

    I’d say almost impossible. As soon as you take the skeptic’s position, you’ll be besieged by a cacophony of protest from the other side. There’s no way you can remain apathetic under those circumstances. You either pull your head in or you stick to your guns – like it appears Lindzen did – and hence attract accusations of being an extremist, in the pay of the carbon lobby, etc.

    There’s nothing like going against the herd to weed out the faint-of-heart.

  18. I seem to recall posting a comment in reply to Yobbo’s post of 3:20am, 19 July. It seems to have disappeared from the thread. As I didn’t call anyone any names or use any rude words, I’m puzzled as to where it’s gone.

  19. When it’s been going on for a little too long it’s more likely to be a crank or crackpot who looks to the untutored eye as if they’re “bravely going against the herd”.

    In this context though, as JQ’s original post strongly suggested, show us what you claim to be a rugged, skeptical, tough guy climate contrarian and we’ll show you a lack of capacity in the field and/or a vested interest in denying a persuasive scientific case.

    Lindzen’s vested interest btw is that he’s a smoker so has a personal interest in denying that horrible odds, in that case in favour of lung cancer and rotten health, will ever bite him personally. although perhaps he’s religious as well (I don’t know).

  20. The remark about Lindzen betting against the odds had a disclaimer to the effect that it was said flippantly, which WordPress has proudly removed for me.

  21. I believe Lindzen is ruled out because he has been paid a few thousand dollars in consulting fees by the carbon lobby, not because of his smoking. The fact that he is a highly-paid and well-regarded academic from MIT (and hence is very unlikely to have his opinion bought by small amounts of consulting money) is irrelevant: under JQ’s rules he is biased.

    Just like environmentalists that associate with anti-development, anti-capitalist movements are necessarily unbiased unless they actually make public statements of their politics.

    Something smells around here…..

  22. QUOTE JQ:-

    Terje, the “Oregon petition� was discredited years ago. Again, please use the search facility before raising old points.

    RESPONSE TP:-

    John I have reviewed your earlier comments on the Oregan Petition. That earlier piece by you does indeed demonstrated why it is probably unapplicable in the context of this current discussion.

    However you did not discredited the petition. It never claimed to be a body of climate experts whos personal research discredited the Global Warming thesis. It claimed to be a petition signed by well educated yet ordinary americans that were not convinced by the evidence. As such it is not discredited by your earlier analysis but merely put in context.

    To discredit the petition you would have to demonstrate that more than an insignificant number of the people who signed it were either not degree qualified scientists or that they did not agree with the statement outlined in the petition. You seem to have invented a somewhat easier criteria with which to “discredit” the petition.

    The Oregan petition was put together at a time when media commentators made bold and silly statements such as “scientists believe that global warming is man made”. Its intent was to counter the notion that scientists are a unified body of opinion.

    When people like David Suzuki (a geneticist) were sprouting the global warming mantra whilst wearing the “halo” of a scientific expert the Oregan petition was a useful and meaningful counter point to popular rhetoric. It still is.

    Part of the result is that the debate is now more likely to focus on what real climate scientists think. Even this discussion here is now preceeding on this more reasonable premise.

    In the future I will try the search function first.

  23. Ricardo: Well, maybe, but I can think of one person who makes his living by consulting to the government yet does not support big government.

    Not sure if this refers to me — but if it does I should point out that I’m now “retired” (read: vagrant).

    Mork: Now I don’t understand John Humphreys’ point. What does Kyoto have to do with “big government�?

    Kyoto is another government program, with restrictions and costs. I don’t understand how you can not understand.

    Paul Norton: But all else being equal, one would expect there to be more funding for researching global warming, over a longer period of time, if there was greater uncertainty

    I don’t think that’s how the government works. It is fear, not uncertainty, that drives the political system (including the handing out of money). And global warming is up there with terrorists under your bed as one of the biggest fear-mongering campaigns out there. Both have a basis in fact. But both are being misused to justify huge, expensive and bad government programs.

  24. Terje says “However you did not discredited the petition. It never claimed to be a body of climate experts whos personal research discredited the Global Warming thesis. It claimed to be a petition signed by well educated yet ordinary americans that were not convinced by the evidence.”

    Interesting. It may be that this is how the Oregan petition initially presented itself. However, I have seen it used as an arguement a least a dozen times by Greenhouse contrarians on blog sites etc and it has, on every occassion, been presented as being the voice of thousands of scientists qualified in the field.

    Indeed I once wrote an article for an online magazine in which I took to pieces various articles by a contrarian who wrote their regularly. In it I mentioned that the overwhelming majority of climatologists and scientists in closely related fields believed in anthropogenic global warming.

    The author I was debating responded that this could be easily disproved – and then linked to the petition. I was quite explicit that I was talking about climatologists and no one reading the page would have been in any doubt he was claiming that the signaturies all fell into that camp, when in fact almost none do.

    Your own original posting was not explicit on this point, but in the context of a debate about what scientists conducting research in the area think it certainly appears at first glance that you were suggesting these were 17000 climate scientists, rather than 17000 people most of whom had never studied meteorology 101.

    The petition may not have claimed to be something other than what it was, but contrarians have been misrepresenting it for years. However, since virtually every contrarian I have ever encountered is willing to repeatedly bring up utterly discredited claims, and totally distort genuine evidence they don’t like, this is hardly surprising.

  25. As I understand it, there has been a very large increase in the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has not been this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for many millions of years. There is no credible explanation for the phenomenon other than human activity. I’ve not heard any of the contrarians disputing the above.

    Now we get to the difficult bit. GW theorists have long predicted that this rise in atmospheric CO2 would lead to global climate change. Observations over the last decade at least seem to show the predictions borne out – interestingly only yesterday was evidence of unprecedented coral reef formation in Tasmanian waters! There is also a credible hypothesis (global dimming) for why the warming phenomenon has not been more marked than it has.

    The contrarians, whose numbers are thinning, seem to be in two main groups. First are the compromised, whose bread is put on the table by vested interests in maintaining current consumption patterns of the things they want to sell. Second are the geologists, such as Ian Plimer, who have spent a lifetime uncovering evidence of past climatic catastrophe. It is unsurprising that the geologists would scorn a possible 5 degree rise in global temperatures, when there is evidence of far more catastrophic change in the past. In comparison with the global catastrophes that brought the Devonian and Cretacious periods to a screaming halt, why worry? But then, if that’s the attitude, why bother about pollution, or extinctions, or land degradation – just let it all rip.

    The real debate is about the precautionary principle – whether something can be done, whether it should be done, and whether averting catastrophe (even only possible catastrophe) for the next generation is worth paying a price now.

    If you subscribe to an ideology that welcomes the imminent End of Days, and most of George W’s circle do, then the answer is clear. There is no tomorrow. Environmental catastrophe – bring it on!

  26. STEPHENL: Your own original posting was not explicit on this point, but in the context of a debate about what scientists conducting research in the area think it certainly appears at first glance that you were suggesting these were 17000 climate scientists, rather than 17000 people most of whom had never studied meteorology 101.

    TERJEP: This would be a fair point except that I did not present it as a list of 17000 climatologists. I merely stated that it might offer up the names of some climatologists who disagreed with the global warming thesis. I was acting with a degree of ingorance about what you would find and I never pretended to do otherwise. Here is what I said when I introduced the Oregan Petition in this debate:-

    “I assume that the 17000 scientists who signed the “Global Warming Petitionâ€? have not been adequately profiled. However at a guess you could keep yourself busy reviewing the list.”

    I qualified it by saying that I was guessing.

    And as I have stated already I accept that John Quiggins earlier article demonstrates why the Oregan Petition probably does not offer much to this specific debate here. Its just he used words to suggest that he had “discredit the petition”. He had not. Rather he showed that in this context it had little to offer. However the petition is still a valid petition and accurate in so far as it is what it claims to be.

  27. Terje, I was a bit lazy in linking to my own admittedly partial discrediting of this petition. It was more discreditable than I showed. As usual, Wikipedia is a good place to start looking: follow the link to Lambert’s more comprehensive effort.

  28. John,

    The piece by Lambert is worth reading. So thanks for the reference.

    However I still would not say that the petition is discredited. It is what it is. A petition that 17000 scientists signed. And it is a very open document. Most of the criticism that Lamber has for the petition is from the very web site where it is presented. It is not like the producers of the petition tried to obscure how it was created.

    What is perhaps discredited is some of the conclusions that some people have draw from this petition.

    One conclusion that you could draw if you think that the premise of the petition is false is that scientists (or people with degrees) can easily hop on a bandwagon if they think that the source is authorative. This in itself offers us a warning.

    In any case the petion is now getting old and it has already move the debate in the right direction. Which is towards what climatologists understand rather than what David Suzuki and his cult believe.

    I remain an atheist on this issue largely because climatologists and their models have such a limited track record. When did a climatologists model ever produce a meaningful prediction. My “guess” is that they are as fickle as economics models and as sensitive to initial conditions and vagrant variables.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  29. P.S. I know from your AFR pieces in the past that you have debated Lomborg on the global warming topic. But in any case the section in his book on the climate models presented at the IPCC in the lead up to the Kyoto protocol illustrates my point. These climate models are all over the shop.

  30. Terje, people with degrees are a very large set in the US. Even if you restrict it to people with some sort of science background, we are talking about many millions of people. So the fact that perhaps 0.1 per cent of such people can be induced to sign a misleadingly presented petition on a topic of hot policy debate tells us precisely zero.

    As for Lomborg, why would you rely on information from an unqualified person with an obvious axe to grind? The IPCC reports are public documents: read them yourself and make up your own mind.

  31. …so post-modern in their outlook (there is no objective truth etc and following Thomas Kuhn this applies as much in the physical sciences as it does in the social sciences etc)…

    Michael, it’s a long time since I read Thomas Kuhn, but my impression is that you’re misreading him entirely (plus he was a modern rather than a postmodern, surely, given the time he was writing his stuff?) To my memory, Kuhn postulated that scientific paradigms became fairly fixed according to scientific consensus at any given time in history, which was limited by technological limitations, religious dogma, or whatever. Then little by little this paradigm would be whittled down by empirical discoveries. Once those points of conflict with the dominant paradigm reached a certain stage, then a paradigm shift would be possible (e.g. earth moves around the sun rather than the sun around the earth). But it seems quite clear to me that Kuhn’s “paradigm shifts” were the product of empirical research making a dominant theory (paradigm) untenable, rather than the idea that you can choose your own reality, which is what you seem to be saying. Tell me if I’ve got it wrong.

  32. QUOTE: As for Lomborg, why would you rely on information from an unqualified person with an obvious axe to grind? The IPCC reports are public documents: read them yourself and make up your own mind.

    RESPONSE: John, I listen to you and I don’t think your a climatologist. Lomborg is a statistician. He should be capable of explaining the cross correlations or lack there of for the data output from several mathematical models.

    Why do people listen to David Suzuki? Why does he not get howled down as being unqualified? He is a genetisist for goodness sake.

    I have read some of the IPCC reports but I must admit I have not done deep research on the reliablitiy of one model with reference to another.

    If one of the IPCC models reflects reality and you use one of the others to make predictions the inaccuracy is pretty wild.

    Of course as Lombord points out all the models indicate that things are getting hotter. Thats why he accepts the global warming thesis.

    QUOTE: So the fact that perhaps 0.1 per cent of such people can be induced to sign a misleadingly presented petition on a topic of hot policy debate tells us precisely zero.

    RESPONSE: It tells us much more than zero. However I don’t wish to split hairs endlessly.

  33. Do the “skeptics” cited in this peer reviewed paper count as part of your challenge Prof Q?

    Pure appl. geophys. 162 (2005) 1557–1586
    The Global Warming Debate: A Review of the State of Science
    M.L. KHANDEKAR,1 T.S. MURTY,2 and P. CHITTIBABU
    3
    1 Consulting Meteorologist, Unionville, Ontario, Canada. e-mail: mkhandekar@rogers.com
    2 Department of civil engineering, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
    3 W.F. Baird Associates Coastal Engineers Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

    “Several recent studies have questioned many of the projections of climate change made by the IPCC reports and at
    present there is an emerging dissenting view of the global warming science which is at odds with the IPCC
    view of the cause and consequence of global warming. Our review suggests that the dissenting view offered
    by the skeptics or opponents of global warming appears substantially more credible than the supporting
    view put forth by the proponents of global warming. Further, the projections of future climate change over
    the next fifty to one hundred years is based on insufficiently verified climate models and are therefore not
    considered reliable at this point in time.”

  34. I’ll have to look at the paper [could you send a PDF], but it doesn’t sound very promising. Khandekar describes himself as a meteorologist but doesn’t have a proper job, and the other two authors are engineers. And it doesn’t appear that the authors have done any research of their own, they’re just summarising the literature in a field in which they appear unqualified.

    If a PDF isn’t feasible, why don’t you nominate the skeptics cited in the reference list, after discarding the obvious exclusions (for example, McKitrick and Michaels).

  35. “Khandekar describes himself as a meteorologist but doesn’t have a proper job”

    Hmm – did you even bother to stick his name into google? I don’t know if any of it is any good, but he seems to have published a fair bit in legitimate journals.

    And can you please enlighten us as to what is a “proper” job? An academic position? A government funded position? Well, it looks like he used to have one of those too: “Canadian Atmospheric Environment Service”.

    Of course I can understand how you would be skeptical of him now that he is consulting and actually having to persuade people of the value of his services instead of just dipping his hand into the taxpayer’s pocket.

    Excuse me while I get back to my improper, wealth-generating, job.

  36. Fair enough, anon, he does seem to have some good publications. I tend to read “consultant” with no business name attached as meaning “unemployed”, but it looks like things are different in meteorology. I’ve struck this line out.

    Regardless of that, I’ve read the paper (kindly sent to me by detribe) and it doesn’t add much to the debate. The paper by McKitrick and Michaels where their results depended on confusing degrees and radians gets a run, for example, and this error isn’t mentioned.

  37. Prof Q,
    Putting aside character judgements about the authors, which are not part of science, and looking at the several substantial issues raised in Khandekar et al against IPCC models, for example about the naive nature of computer models, the heat island effect, the importance of ocean water heat transfer, solar patterns, and so on, what have you to say about the issues of substance raised in this paper.

    It made me realise yet again, that computer models, surprise, surprise, are only as good as the assumptions on which they are based.
    The review, in a peer reviewed journal, points those weaknesses out. Why should they all be discounted?

    I must say also that in science to start with the authors credentials and not the major findings is not standard practice.

    And the numerous reference- some are suspect, but are they all?

  38. “Regardless of that, I’ve read the paper (kindly sent to me by detribe) and it doesn’t add much to the debate.”

    Should I regard an economist’s pronouncements on climate science with the same skepticism you reserve for engineers?

  39. anon, if you disregard the pronouncements of economists, that will certainly make your task easier on this paper, since it relies at a number of points on Ross McKitrick. But rather than dismissing him out of hand, follow the link above and check out his track record.

    detribe, there are a lot of references in this paper that are sound, and a lot that are sceptical, but few that are both. In addition to McKitrick (three times) there’s a citation to “Envirotruth” (the late John Daly), Soon and Baliunas, Michaels and so on. Take out these guys, all with obvious axes to grind and track records of egregious error on this and related topics, and the argument would look very thin.

    I looked at the bits of the paper that deal with the statistical time trends, since this is a topic on which I can reasonably claim expertise and where I have followed the relevant literature. The discussion of the satellite data is years out of date and ignores most of the literature, picking only the most conservative estimates, and mischaracterising even these. The discussion of heat islands is similarly misleading as a summary of the literature.

    Maybe the rest of the paper is better. But I see no reason to think so.

  40. Ok, that paper sounds like crap.

    However, while I was waiting for something to finish, I was surfing around checking out the degree/radian confusion and I came across this business about a “hockey stick”:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/04/sci_nat_enl_1092666337/html/1.stm

    Something seems fishy to me about that picture. Naturally enough, the error bars in the last 50 years have gotten way smaller, as our measurements have gotten better. But as the error bars are so wide in the past, couldn’t the apparent recent uptick in global temperature just be an artefact of the increased accuracy?

    I am thinking that if you take a time series that naturally varies a lot and add a big whack of noise to it, you are not going to be able to spot any pronounced trends in the underlying signal, even if they are there. That’s basically the situation with the old historical data.

    If you suddenly turn the noise right down (increase the temperature measurement accuracy), the underlying signal will pop out. That’s been the situation for the last 50 years or so. Now if a pronounced, random trend takes place it is suddenly going to look like a much bigger deal, beause we’re looking directly at the signal, instead of the big fuzzed out noisy curve.

  41. Well Q since you offer your personal judgement quite freely let me throw in mine:
    I’m still an ambivalent agnostic on this issue but with some queasy suspicions a few serious promblems exist with the IPCC type model.
    I think its fair enough, as you do, to put aside a fair number of the “papers” cited in K. et al 2005 : the Daly webpage citation really surprised me for instance . It made me worry about the journal standards but I’d still check through the facts referred to in all these citations.
    But I certainly dont share your apparent confidence about the IPCC pronouncements, and I’m genuinely surprised you dont take the indications of serious mechanistic weaknesses and contractions with empirical data that expose the IPCC model to serious criticism. We have for example retrodiction of the period from 1940-1970 (approx) where there was global cooling and increasing CO2: it would be helpful to elucidate that, and to verify how it occured- sunpot cycles, ocean currents and the rest.

    I’m more skeptical about spending $200,000 on a house than you seem to be about allocationing several trillions to reverse largely natural global processes. You know, sellers will just make up stuff because they want to make a buck.

    The other empirical data that worry me are the geological data that implicate solar cycle variations in global temperature changes, by complex somewhat obscure mechanism such as effects on cloud formation. Also the mechanistic worries about cloud cover and coupling between oceans and atmosphere on which the IPCC model is a gross simplification. The K et al 2005 paper in makes some strong points there.

    But what worries me most about this argument is your “unusual” arguing style, a mixture of argument from authority and trust me Im an expert plus a lot of really high quality comments. In science constant skepticism is healthy, but yours seems to be biased one way.

    By your failure to upfront, dispassionately declare the uncertanties in IPCC type models – you seem to not behave with disinterest. Thats a serious intellectual problem, especially when its coupled with frequent personal attacks on investigators. As the subject of discussion is actually so complex, a little humility about the actual limits of our understanding might be in order.

    To win arguments, your obvious high level statistical skills dont release you from the obligation of explaining the details of your position so we can assess its credibibilty, and see if your hypotheseses are close to reality.

  42. detribe, of course there are plenty of uncertainties in the IPCC models, and these are important in thinking about policy. But it’s clear that there’s not going to be any useful discussion of the real issues as long as people like McKitrick are taken seriously.

    As you say, I find it a problem how to engage in debate. Partly the blog format is not entirely satisfactory, but mostly it’s impossible to engage in proper discussion with people who claim to be independent scientists but are actually just seeking to obfuscate the issues – those I named above are mostly examples of this.

  43. “with” should really be “with reference to” in the second para of the commnent above.

  44. detribe, why not address what the IPCC says rather than some straw IPCC?

    Look at these graphs. If you just include natural forcings the cooling trend from 1940 would have continued to the present day.

  45. anon, just eyeballing the graph, there’s no overlap between the 1990s observations (including small error bars) and the first 950 years or so of the data set (with wide error bars). I don’t think that can be an artifact of improved precision.

    Of course, if you do what M&M want, and throw out most of the data from the early part of the period (essentially, all the North American data) than you can’t say much.

  46. This is from a Khandekar opinion piece:

    As the only Canadian to attend the climate change and Kyoto Protocol seminar
    held in Moscow on July 7-8,

    So who paid for him to go to Moscow? What do you think the chances are that he is a consultant for an energy company?

  47. It is only the 1998 point that puts the current data outside the previous error bars. If you look at the temperature since then you’ll see 1998 was a considerable outlier.

    The problem here is that you are comparing apples an oranges: the current readings are direct, the historical readings are proxies. With such vastly differing properties you have to be very careful comparing the two different kinds of measurements.

    I have always been a global warming skeptic, but in attempt to be fair I have read a lot more on it over the past couple of months. Despite that, I am still pretty skeptical. 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.

    You can dismiss me as a know-nothing outsider (although you’d be wrong), just as you can try and dismiss all “qualified” skeptics as being in the pay of the carbon lobby. But I suspect that rather than grinding a political axe, or pleasing their paymasters, most skeptics simply share my unease.

  48. I see your point Tim, and thanks for the insight: the model used in the graphical simulations, which I assume omits human CO2 load increases, does not account for the observed recent anomalies, but can be consistent with the post 1940 cooling trend: so the question are (i) is there more than one plausible possibility for the recent anomaly, and (ii) how mechanistically plausible are each of the alternatives?
    The sense I get from the K. et al 2005 review is that the scale of atmospheric CO2 forcing effect could be quite small compared to some other factors eg ocean-atmosphere coupling, so you need to be cautious with interpretation (this is my gut feeling from own experience of other complex kinetic dynamic systems, and also the level of noise in these different simuations)
    Q: I also understand how dealing with too much stuff that you are convinced is trashy nonsense can be taxing on patience. Also apologies for my typing errors: I’m jet lagged from a Europe Australia trip and suffering from the flu

  49. anon, my eyeballs aren’t up to resolving this kind of detail. I tend to put more weight on the well-documented increase over the past 30 or so years, and the fact that the rate of increase is extreme relative to the historical record, and less on the average temperature. This is clear from the graph, I think, though you’d really need to go to the numbers.

    For most purposes, it’s the rate of change and not the level that matters (I have a paper on this somewhere, if you’re interested).

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