The end of the global warming debate

The news that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded in Australia comes at the end of a year in which, to the extent that facts can settle anything, the debate over human-caused global warming has been settled. Worldwide, 2005 was equal (to within the margin of error of the stats) with 1998 as the warmest year in at least the past millennium.

More significantly, perhaps, 2005 saw the final nail hammered into the arguments climate change contrarians have been pushing for years. The few remaining legitimate sceptics, along with some of the smarter ideological contrarians, have looked at the evidence and conceded the reality of human-caused global warming.

Ten years or so ago, the divergence between satellite and ground-based measurements of temperature was a big problem – the ground based measurements showed warming in line with climate models but the satellites showed a cooling trend. The combination of new data and improved calibration has gradually resolved the discrepancy, in favour of the ground-based measurements and the climate models.

Another set of arguments concerned short-term climate cycles like El Nino. The late John Daly attributed the high temperatures of the late 1990s to the combination of El Nino and solar cycles, and predicted a big drop, bottoming out in 2005 and 2006. Obviously the reverse has happened. Despite the absence of the El Nino or solar effects that contributed to the 1998 record, the long-term warming trend has dominated.

Finally, there’s water vapour. The most credible of the contrarians, Richard Lindzen, has relied primarily on arguments that the feedback from water vapour, which plays a central role in climate models, might actually be zero or even negative. Recent evidence has run strongly against this claim. Lindzen’s related idea of an adaptive iris has been similarly unsuccessful.

Finally, the evidence has mounted up that, with a handful of exceptions, “sceptics” are not, as they claim, fearless seekers after scientific truth, but ideological partisans and paid advocates, presenting dishonest arguments for a predetermined party-line conclusion. Even three years ago, sites like Tech Central Station, and writers like Ross McKitrick were taken seriously by many. Now, anyone with access to Google can discover that they have no credibility. Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science which I plan to review soon, gives chapter and verse and the whole network of thinktanks, politicians and tame scientists who have popularised GW contrarianism, Intelligent Design and so on.

A couple of thoughts on all this.

First, in the course of the debate, a lot of nasty things were said about the IPCC, including some by people who should have known better. Now that it’s clear that the IPCC has been pretty much spot-on in its assessment (and conservative in terms of its caution about reaching definite conclusions), it would be nice to see some apologies.

Second, now that the scientific phase of the debate is over, attention will move to the question of the costs and benefits of mitigation options. There are legitimate issues to be debated here. But having seen the disregard for truth exhibited by anti-environmental think tanks in the first phase of the debate, we shouldn’t give them a free pass in the second. Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking. That disqualifies virtually all the major right-wing think tanks, both here and in the US. Their performance on this and other scientific issues has been a disgrace.

647 thoughts on “The end of the global warming debate

  1. SJ, thanks for your explanation. You say:

    Assume for the moment that I am an expert bridge designer:

    I’ve got model A, which considers static loads. It tells me that the bridge will stand.

    I’ve got model B, which considers wind loadings. It tells me that the bridge will fall.

    Which answer is correct? Both of them, given the assumptions of the models.

    I don’t think this is the situation that Terje envisioned, and it certainly is not the situation that I had in mind, so perhaps I wasn’t clear in my description.

    I was assuming a common-sense interpretation of the two-model situation, which was that both models were modeling the same thing. If you postulate that one is modeling loading from cars and one is modeling wind impacts on the bridge, of course they can both be right.

    I doubt, however, that you really thought that was what we meant. I also doubt that was what you meant, because you said

    I regularly use different models of the same thing, and I get different answers from the models.

    Now you are saying that you are using models of different things (wind loading and static loading) and getting different results, which is no surprise at all … but in any case, let me be more specific so there is no misunderstanding.

    You have two models, A and B. Both consider say wind loading, and both are fed with exactly the same parameters. One model says the bridge stands, one says it falls.

    Can both be right? This is the situation I was discussing.

    w.

  2. Tim, thanks for your posting. I’m sure there is a scientific point in it somewhere, but repeated forays into the somewhat tangled thickets of your verbiage have failed to locate it.

    I note, for example, that in one sentence you say that “Mann has published his methods and data”, and in the next sentence you go on say you never claimed that Mann answered all of Barton’s questions.

    Part of the confusion may lie in the fact that one of Mann’s methods is to hide his results when they don’t support his main thesis, as he did with the 15th century R2 data. That’s why he refused to reveal that he had calculated the R2, because then he would have had to acknowledge that his method was to hide adverse results from public view.

    All the best,

    w.

    PS — You are right, Barton’s committee sent a letter, not a subpoena. Thanks for clearing that up.

  3. SJ,

    No, quite simply, you are not qualified to judge. In my work I regularly use different models of the same thing, and I get different answers from the models. All of the answers are “right�, but some are appropriate in context, and some aren’t.

    I think you are taking my comments out of context. If two models are trying to anticipate the effect of the same factors and the two models give widely divergent answers then it is more than fair to say that one or more of the models is wrong. Or to put it another way one or more of the models can not be relied on to give the answer that accords with reality.

    You’ve got an opinion on just about everything.

    Your right, I still have a pulse and a keen interest in the world around me.

    But you don’t seem to actually know anything, even about fields you claim to have earned degrees in.

    So you disagree with the academic experts who decided to award me with a degree (with honors). After more than four years of examinations and course work they decided that I do actually know something. In some areas of final year study (eg Photovoltaics, Electrical Power Systems and Electromagnetic Wave Theory) they even decided to give me high distinctions.

    Hey but what the heck, perhaps I should take your advise that UNSW knows nothing about engineering and I’ll just shred my clearly worthless degree.

  4. Willis Eschenbach Says:

    I don’t think this is the situation that Terje envisioned, and it certainly is not the situation that I had in mind, so perhaps I wasn’t clear in my description.

    I was assuming a common-sense interpretation of the two-model situation, which was that both models were modeling the same thing. If you postulate that one is modeling loading from cars and one is modeling wind impacts on the bridge, of course they can both be right.

    I doubt, however, that you really thought that was what we meant. I also doubt that was what you meant, because you said

    I regularly use different models of the same thing, and I get different answers from the models.

    Now you are saying that you are using models of different things (wind loading and static loading) and getting different results, which is no surprise at all

    Your appeal to “common sense” is kinda funny.

    I also was assuming that you were using a definition like that. Hence I gave an example using two different models of the same thing, in this case, a bridge, in which one model predicted that it would stand, and the other predicted it would fall. That was the original question, if you recall.

    I explained the difference between the two models, at which point you exclaim “Aha! They’re not different models of the same thing (i.e. a bridge), they’re models of different things (i.e. different effects on the bridge).”

    Your quibble is a useless semantic one.

    Let’s say we play along with your latest hypothetical.

    … but in any case, let me be more specific so there is no misunderstanding.

    You have two models, A and B. Both consider say wind loading, and both are fed with exactly the same parameters. One model says the bridge stands, one says it falls.

    Can both be right? This is the situation I was discussing.

    See, there has to be a difference between the models, otherwise they wouldn’t be different models. As soon as I point out what that difference is, e.g., that model A assumes that short term effects from peak wind speed is the dominant factor, while model B assumes that longer term effects caused by gust-induced metal fatigue is the dominant factor, you do the “Aha!” thing again.

    Complete waste of time, and a demonstration that non-experts are not in a position to judge the relative merits of models.

    Terje: I wasn’t claiming that didn’t have a degree, rather that you show no evidence here of having learned anything whilst doing it.

  5. SJ,

    Your insult is personal in nature but otherwise pointless. I think you should simply apologise.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  6. SJ, here’s my point, although it’s been so long, I don’t even remember why it is important.

    One model says a bridge will stand.

    Another model says a bridge will fall.

    In the real world, either the bridge stands, or the bridge falls.

    Terje and I say that both models can’t be right. If the bridge stands, one model is wrong, and if it falls, the other model is wrong.

    You seem to think that both models can be right … a curious claim indeed.

    I suspect the confusion lies in what we are calling “right”. Terje and I are using the common sense view of whether a model is “right”, that is, are the predictions of the models correct. You seem to be using another sense of “right”, that is, are the models doing the calculations correctly.

    You give an example of one model that says a bridge will fall based on weight, and another that says a bridge will stand, based on wind loading. You say that both models are correct.

    However, in the real world, we are not interested in just what calculations were involved. We want to know something much simpler and more direct — will the bridge stand or fall? That’s why we made the model, after all, to tell us if the bridge will fall or not.

    Let’s say it falls. In that case, the model that predicted that it would fall is correct, and the model that predicted it would stand is incorrect, regardless of their calculations. Which is what Terje said, that both can’t be right.

    It is worth noting in this regard that a model can do every calculation perfectly and still give an incorrect result. This situation is so common that it has a special acronym in the computer world, “GIGO”. This stands for “garbage in, garbage out”, and refers to the situation where a model, although doing the calculations correctly, has been fed incorrect information (or is correctly calculating the wrong formulas, or is looking at wind when the relevant variable is weight) and thus the results are wrong despite the fact that the calculations are right.

    w.

    PS — I have to say, your unwarranted personal attack on Terje and his education is altogether too typical of AGW supporters. You never even met the man, and you think that you are qualified to judge his education … this unwarranted arrogance is only matched by your refusal to apologize when called to task for such churlishly unpleasant, impolite behaviour.

    Take a look at just this one thread on just this one blog, and you will find a depressingly large number of such nasty personal attacks. Note that in almost every case they were made by AGW supporters, not by the rest of us AGW skeptics and agnostics.

    What are you boys so nervous about, that you feel you have to attack us personally? And from a purely tactical point of view, haven’t you noticed that this type of unpleasant and unjustified accusation actually weakens your case?

    PPS — Whenever anyone says that “non-experts” are not qualified to judge something, I reach to make sure I still have my wallet. Your claims, that only specially qualified “experts” can tell if a model has succeeded or failed, and that through some mysterious un-named process, you have been chosen as one of the elect cadre of “experts” who can make that decision, is a) hilarious on the face of it, and b) typical of anyone who, like you, does not want their findings examined or challenged. In fact, “experts” often make mistakes in their field of expertise that would put a “non-expert” to shame … and in a reasonable number of cases, these mistakes have been discovered by “non-experts.”

    A case in point is the M&M debunking of the work of the dendrochronologists Mann, Bradley, and Hughes. For a while, people kept saying what you are saying here, that only “experts” in paleodendrochronology were qualified to judge the MBH98 work, and because M&M were not experts in paleodendrochronology, they should be ignored. In the end, however, the “experts” were proved to be wrong, and the “non-experts” were right …

    Or consider the history of the tectonic plate theory, where all the “experts” said that the continental plates couldn’t move … in fact, your “experts” theory is right up there with the “consensus” idea of science, both of which are non-starters in the real world of science.

    In science, whether one is an “expert” or not is meaningless. Was Einstein an “expert”? No way, he was a Patent clerk. What matters in science is neither Einstein’s level of expertise nor his level of education. It is whether his theory was right or wrong, which is an entirely different matter.

  7. SJ, immediately after posting (above) my comments on your ‘leave it to the experts, the non-experts don’t know enough to judge’ idea, I found the following on the web, regarding a proposed bill in Utah to let the Utah Legislature pick the State Senators:

    Utah Senate President John Valentine said SB156, which would allow legislators to pick Senate candidates, as long as the political parties agreed, has nothing to do with sitting Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett.

    It’s an effort to bolster the power of state leaders, who are more equipped to crack down on unfunded programs foisted upon the states by the U.S. Congress, he said.

    “We know more than voters do,” Valentine said. “They don’t get the chance to hear all that we do.” The legislation would also allow lawmakers to “direct” senators by making requests.

    To me, the interesting part of this was their reasoning as to why the bill should be passed — “We know more than the voters do,” Valentine said.

    Does this sound familiar?

    w.

  8. In fact, “experts� often make mistakes in their field of expertise that would put a “non-expert� to shame … and in a reasonable number of cases, these mistakes have been discovered by “non-experts.�

    When I studied photovoltaics at University I learnt this lesson first hand. I ended up coming second in the year for that subject. I was feeling quite competetive and worked very hard to come first. I missed out because despite having worked through all the trial problems and understanding the material completely, I made a judgment error in terms of working with an “expert”.

    For one of the photovoltaics questions in the final exam the correct working was quite complex but I had the process down pat. I knew how to solve that problem even though the working was rather long.

    In the week before the final exam the Maths guru in our year (he latter won the university medal in Mathematics and is now a Maths professor) showed me a really quick shortcut. I was so enthused by his stature, the simplicity of the maths and the accuracy of the answer that I adopted this new method without enough questioning about the fundamentals. It would buy me at least ten minutes in the exam. As it turns out that one question cost me the top position for the year, because even though the maths was correct and the answer was correct the solution was not. The mathematics was based on a false assumption. So I got zero for that question even though I had plenty of time (and the ability) to solve the problem the correct way.

    The Maths guru and I fronted the lecturer after the exam only to be shown that the maths was fine but the subtle physical assumption that it was based on was rubbish. In hindsight it was obvious.

    Now its okay because later I married the women who came first and in so doing I managed to keep all that photovoltaics expertise in house. And when she won the substantial cash prize (the photovoltaics division gets so many grants it has to give it away in student prizes) I got to have a very nice evening on the town.

    So I learnt two things that are relevant to this discussion.

    1. Don’t take expert opinion at face value. Even experts get things wrong.
    2. Even a model that gets the right answer may not be a good model. As they say a broken clock is correct at least twice a day.

    I have been careful in this discussion to say that when one model gets the right answer and one gets the wrong answer then you know that at least one of your models is inaccurate. It could be that both are flawed even though one got the correct answer. It is possible to have a model that accurately predicts that a bridge can withstand a 100km per hour wind and for that model to actually be deeply flawed in its assumptions. In fact the latter model is clearly more dangereous because it creates a false optimism.

    I assume that we should be continuing this climate discussion at the new thread that John Quiggin has created:-

    https://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2006/01/24/yet-more-nonsense-on-global-warming/

  9. Willis, what I have against you is that you are dishonest. For example, you said that I “repeatedly claimed� that Mann answered all the Barton committee’s questions, when I never said anything of the sort.

  10. Tim, what you said was “I have never said that Mann does not need to show his data and methods. It’s just that he has revealed them, contrary to your claim,” and “Mann has released the data and methods and he has answered his critics.”

    This, to me, meant you were saying that Mann had answered the Barton committees questions about his data and methods. Obviously, to you it meant something completely different.

    Since he hasn’t answered the Barton questions, how is it that you are claiming that he has released all his data and methods? Surely a question such as “Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the 15th century step?” is a question about his methods.

    w.

  11. Terje, I find your latest post frankly bizarre.

    The “expert” you whine about having trusted was actually a student in your own year.

    You say that this taught you to distrust “experts”. I would say that if anything, it should have taught you to distrust your own judgement.

    Yet here we still have you, day after day, parroting US Libertarian Party nonsense in almost every available thread. Less government. Lower taxes. Fixes everything. Gold standard. Blah blah blah. Sounds to me like you’ve swallowed some more bullsh*t from a self proclaimed expert who in reality knows no more than you do.

    Go over to Brad DeLong’s place or Brad Setser’s place and post your theories about the gold standard.

    Come back and tell us what happened.

  12. You know SJ, we’re in agreement on a lot of issues but I’m really beginning to dislike your propensity for personal attacks on people.

    (I’ve doen similar things in the past but there’s no-one more self-righteous than the reformed drunkard.)

  13. You say that this taught you to distrust “experts�. I would say that if anything, it should have taught you to distrust your own judgement.

    It taught me to be cautious in trusting advise given by perceived expert. So now I generally question things until I am satisfied with the reasoning. I am not so quick to judgement. However some such as yourself obviously seem to look apon questions as a form of judgement.

    I suspect that whatever I say you are just going to throw it back in my face with more insults and little more. So good day to you. May you have a long and prospereous life.

  14. Willis, here, again, is your smear of me: “Lambert also has refused to take a principled stand on the refusal by Michael Mann to reveal his methods and data even after he (Mann) was served with a subpoena …”

    Mann has published his data and methods. Other scientists such as von Storch don’t seem to have had any trouble following his methods. To the extent that Barton’s r2 question is a question about his methods, Mann has answered: he says that r2 is the wrong measure and his reconstruction uses RE.

    Argue, if you will, that his methods are incorrect and he should have used r2 instead, but it is dishonest to claim that he hasn’t revealed his methods.

  15. I don’t think the personal disputes are getting us far here, nor is the attempt to criticise Mann. Unless there’s something new to raise, we might declare the innings closed at 643.

  16. Well there is something new!

    There is glaciation.

    And I imagine it would be hard to BEAT AND EXPLANATION out of a dumb-left-winger to explain why they take THEIR global warming position, in defiance of the overwhelming reality of what we know about glaciation and the Milankovitch cycles.

    You couldn’t help out here couldja jq?

  17. I doubt you could beat an explaination for just about anything out of a dumb left winger. Just as you would have difficulty beating an explaination for anything out of a dumb right winger. The point being that dumb people have a hard time with explainations regardless of their political orientation.

  18. Hmm nice one Willis using an example what would be the abuse of representative democracy to try to point score against the authority of scientific knowledge from those qualified in the sciences using the scientific method.

    I’ll pass that one on to the other biased scientific recalcitrants like the creationists, those that discount the germ theory of disease and others that want to go against mainstream science to use in their armory.

    Certainly novel I’d never had thought to compare the scientific method and scientists with representative democracy and senators, any more gems?

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