Open thread—post away

I am moving over a series of questions asked on another blog. My statements are in italics, the questions are in regular type.

1. The latest IPCC report seems to have removed a large portion of quantitative predictions and just goes with “may increase”, “may cause bad things”, etc.

“Seems”? How about some specific examples? What basis for comparison was used to arrive at this determination? Word counts? What?

2. That’s not really a scientific statement. ( The latest IPCC report seems to have removed a large portion of quantitative predictions and just goes with “may increase”, “may cause bad things”, etc.)

Pick a paper from some field other than climatology which you trust. Count how many times it uses qualifiers such as “may”, “might”, “could” etc. Keep in mind that a good scientific study is honest about uncertainty.

3. Virtually all the predictions from the models were barely within the error margins or outside the margins.
Which predictions, when? Over what period of time? Are we talking the last 20 years here or something else? Which models? Were some closer than others? Why were some more off than others?

4. More extreme weather?
When were those predictions made? What were the specific predictions made? What period of time did they cover (ie, how far in the future did the predictions cover from the time they were made)?

5. Arctic ice melting–yes, but faster than the models predicted, so another fail.

And that falsifies CO2 warming how exactly? Think about what you just wrote — a predicted effect of warming happened faster than predicted, and that falsifies the theory that CO2 causes warming?

6. Some thought Arctic and Antarctic ice melts would mirror each other, but no, that didn’t happen.
Specifics, Sheri. Who said this? When did they say it? Are you talking Antarctic sea ice or land ice? (Two very different animals). Same question as previous: how does a failed prediction of a secondary effect of warming falisify the underlying theory behind the warming itself?

7. Lack of snow–some places, some not.
Which places? How far off were the predictions? When were the predictions made? Snowmelt is an effect of warming: how does a failed prediction of an effect of warming falsify the underlying theory behind the warming itself?

8. Species extinctions–nope.
Who made the predictions? When did they make them? Over what period of time were the predictions supposed to take place?

 

My responses (note that this is a holiday weekend and I will be away from my computer much of the time.  Answers when I have time.  Other readers feel free to jump in with answers.  Makes it more fun!)

Number 2:  Clarification.  Yes, papers do use the terms “may”, “might”, etc.  This is indicative that what is being studied is still not fully understood or researched.  It is not known with near certainty.   If the point of the comment was much of science is uncertain, yes, it certainly is.  Which is why we should not be making policies and pretending like we do have certainty.  Without actual numbers and data, there’s no objective measures of “may” “might”.  For something to be scientifically likely, one needs to know what the probability, using an actual number, is and how that probability was arrived at.  As I am  prone to repeat, “There may be unicorns”, but that’s not a scientific statement.  There are unicorns is scientific and only true if the scientist can produce a unicorn.  There is a 10% chance there are unicorns would require the data and method used to arrive at the 10% to be examined before one can accept the statement as accurate.  I can say “The earth may be going into an ice age” and that statement is true.  Let’s say we have calculated to probability thereof accurately and it’s 2%.  The statement “The earth may be going……” is still very true.  It’s just not very probable based on current data.  Science needs to be more quantitative about its “mays”.  After all, science is about rules, quantification, verification.   Philosophy is about “may”.  (I do not have the time right now to search for the requested papers—may be able to do so later.)  

Number 5:  Yes, the arctic melting faster than predicted does call into question the theory.  If I have a theory that it will rain tomorrow and then it rains today and not tomorrow, my theory was wrong.  It did rain, but not when I predicted it would.  If I predict there will be a first snow later than the average date of September 15th (made up date, by the way) and it snows September 12th, my theory was wrong.   Theories being true require that the predictions are accurate in both quantity and timing.  If the Arctic ice is melting faster, then either there is another factor at play or the calculations of warming are inaccurate.  I put this example in frequently because people grab onto things that show warming, but completely ignore the time predictions.  If the time predictions are wrong, then theory may be wrong and it certainly is of very little value since its predictions are not accurate over time.

I will return later with more on the questions.  Part of the problem with climate science is the lack of time periods over which things will take place.  It will get warmer is not really a useful statement without some idea of how hot and when it will happen.  It’s just a prediction of a vague outcome.  Unfortunately we see it all the time in climate science.  Examples coming soon.

 

Check out Climate4kids.  There are new posts about climate change written at children’s level.  Share it with kids you know.

Scientific Badger

Scientific Badger

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11 comments on “Open thread—post away

  1. Everyone—if your comment is stuck in moderation, please drop me an email. I don’t always catch that. Apologies.

  2. In response to Brandon above
    :Actually, most oil companies have renewable energy departments and several have wind and solar plants (Duke Energy, NextEra Energy are two). They know a good government hand-out when they see one. Some also have departments working on carbon sequestration, clean coal (coal companies, obviously), coal to gas, etc. However, let’s be honest, there is no real alternative except nuclear and we both know how much people hate nuclear. The oil companies have little to fear except a very angry population living in the dark if we cut out fossil fuels. Since the oil company did shut out the lights, it’s unlikley the angy population will vent on them.

    The reason “might” “may” etc became weasel words in climate science was the original claim that this was virtually certain. There was no uncertainty claimed. Maybe that’s the media’s fault, I don’t know. However, until recently, there was no doubt expressed to the public.

    If the debate won’t happen until downtown Miami is under tree feet of water, there will be no debate. 🙂

    I did not mean “Mann started it” as a justification, though I can see how you thought that. I meant it to show the lack of civility exists on both sides, not just skeptics “going after” warmists. You’re right, though. It doesn’t matter, both sides need to stop with it. (If you read other posts on my blog, you’ll see I have no patience for skeptics who name call and it’s not allowed on this blog if you can’t back it up with some facts.)

    Again, one does not need an alternative theory before rejecting a current theory that lacks sufficient supportive evidence. There are those working on this. For a while, David Evans seemed to be putting forth a new theory, but somewhere that died out, I guess. I don’t see any more postings as of late. There are the “Slayer” theories that omit CO2 warming altogether. Some are still going with the sun. For now, we just don’t know.

    I see your statement about CO2 as a circular argument. The assumption seems to be that CO2 is a “reasonable estimate” and that justifies the “reasonable estimate’. If we don’t know how much absorbed CO2 molecules re-emit, in which direction (there are at least three different ways a molecule re-emits or emits) and how many CO2 molecules there are, we really don’t know if the system is doing what we think it is.

    Sorry, still don’t see Arctic ice melt as “proving” anything or supporting the AGW theory. It’s not melting at predicted speed, which is a huge problem with the models.
    Check out my post https://watchingthewatchersofdeniers.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/arctic-ice/ for more information.

    No, theory says we get twice as much energy from the atmosphere as the sun. It says CO2 is excited by the upward radiation from the Earth re-emits the radiation. This results in:

    On the other hand, 324 watts per meter squared is radiated in the infrared back from the atmosphere to the surface by greenhouse gases and by clouds. So this is a remarkable fact that we’ve emphasized before in this course that on average the surface gets more radiation from the atmosphere, that is from greenhouse gases, and from clouds,
    than it gets directly from the sun. By almost a factor of 2.
    (MIT class)

    This is what is meant by “back radiation”. Every energy budget I have seen from the climate change groups shows the re-emission of the IR energy. CO2 does not simply reduce the rate of escape. No way. The theory clearly states there is back radiation.

    • Oh sure, I know big energy companies have renewables departments. Not just gummint handouts, but good forward planning. They know as well as anyone that the writing is on the wall. They could choose to kick in even more of their own capital, and some … probably most … do. But they’re not serious about it. I’m not making a value judgement here, it’s business, and shareholders need to be minded. The only thing that will get them to change their tune is government intervention. Hence our debate.

      Speaking of subsides, isn’t it true that big oil and coal get susbisdies (some in the form of tax breaks) for their normal products as well? Those numbers are elusive … Congresscritters don’t like to advertise where the pork goes. This is one of my across the board laments … I’m not playing partisan here at all. Everyone who is anyone has their hand in the gummint till.

      Where was I … ah yes, weasel words. I’ve read the earliest papers in literature. The uncertainty has been there from the start. I’m just not seeing what you’re seeing. Maybe the press? You must remember that I started off as a doubting Thomas. “CO2 causes global warming? Getouttahere.” Literally. That was late 80s, early 90s. I was a skeptical accepter by 2000 or so, then Climategate happend and I went WTF whoosh right back to undecided and very much doubting. That’s when I really started digging deep.

      When you said Mann started it … I thought you meant Mann started it. He’s easy to pick on because he’s notoriously egotistical, and at the center of easily the biggest scandal AGW has … erm … weathered since the term was coined. My recollection is that things were already pretty nasty at that point.

      Again, one does not need an alternative theory before rejecting a current theory that lacks sufficient supportive evidence.

      Of course not. But see again downtown Miami under three feet of water. We don’t disagree here so much on hypothesis rejection as we do on the quality of evidence. There’s not much I can do about that, and that’s one reason why I don’t often try any longer. How many links to literature did I post last thread? How many of them were directly addressed?

      There are the “Slayer” theories that omit CO2 warming altogether.

      I’ve gone many rounds with them on Usenet. It was a few years back. The best thing that came out of it was how much real physics I learned.

      Some are still going with the sun. For now, we just don’t know.

      Have you ever loaded the data into a spreadsheet and just graphed the stuff?

      The assumption seems to be that CO2 is a “reasonable estimate” and that justifies the “reasonable estimate’.

      Lab tests from the 19th century started it all. They have stood the test of time. That’s the foundation of the hypothesis. The basic physics aren’t so much the question as how CO2 and other GHGs operate in the atmosphere, which is quite complex and more difficult to test.

      If we don’t know how much absorbed CO2 molecules re-emit, in which direction (there are at least three different ways a molecule re-emits or emits) and how many CO2 molecules there are, we really don’t know if the system is doing what we think it is.

      I’d be interested in your understanding of the three ways molecules emit radiation.

      Here’s my understanding. A GHG molecule with a temperature above 0K is radiating in all directions all the time. When an incoming photon collides with one, it immediately burps out another one to shed the excess energy, but in a random direction. So such a photon has a 50% chance of being re-radiated up, and 50% down (more or less … all angles are involved here, not just the vertical angles).

      No, theory says we get twice as much energy from the atmosphere as the sun.

      Not counting radioactive decay, all the energy we get is from the Sun.

      It says CO2 is excited by the upward radiation from the Earth re-emits the radiation.

      True.

      CO2 does not simply reduce the rate of escape. No way. The theory clearly states there is back radiation.

      No dispute about back radiation. Let me try it this way: energy budgets are expressed in terms of energy flux. Energy flux is defined as: Rate of energy transfer per unit area. The SI units are: W/m^2. Since 1 Watt = 1 J/s we can write: J/(s * m^2).

      Back radiation is what slows the rate of escape — part of what was once going up comes back down.

      324 watts per meter squared is radiated in the infrared back from the atmosphere to the surface by greenhouse gases and by clouds.

      Yup, it’s pretty remarkable, but it’s not the whole story. At the surface:

      168 – incoming from the sun
      324 – back radiation from clouds and atmosphere
      —–
      492 – total incoming

      390 – outgoing IR
      24 – convection (thermals)
      78 – evaporation
      —–
      492 – total outgoing

      Incoming equals outgoing.

      Looking at the top of atmosphere:

      342 – incoming from the sun

      107 – outgoing reflected from the sun
      235 – outgoing IR from surface and atmosphere
      —-
      342 – total outgoing

      Again, incoming equals outgoing.

      492 (surface) – 342 (TOA) = 150, which is the net greenhouse effect at the surface from GHGs and clouds in the atmosphere. As I wrote last night, 30 W/m^2, or 20% of that 150 net effect is due to CO2.

      When I think energy fluxes, I think in terms of rate of energy transfer, by definition of the units. When I think of equilibrium temperature (energy budgets) I think in terms of net rates of energy transfer. If incoming energy flux remains constant, but you do something to slow the outgoing rate, temperature will rise until outgoing once again equals incoming. That’s the equilibrium temperature.

      Since the energy budget numbers above dropped the decimals, it left out the ~0.5 W/m^2 estimated inbalance (incoming minus outgoing). If that estimate is reasonably accurate, it means energy is accumulating in the entire system. If we don’t see it in the atmosphere by rising temperatures, then it must be going somewhere else. Resolving that IF is the difficulty. We measure the imbalance with satellites and ground based instruments, but the data quality is poor. We need converging lines of evidence to reduce our uncertainty. ARGO floats in the ocean were one major improvement for detecting temperature change other than in the atmosphere. Satellite ice mass observations are another. Thermal expansion of the oceans is another line of evidence (to get there, we need to back out sea level rise caused by ice melt from land).

      One reason models are wrong is because of our limited ability to observe all parts of the system we’re attempting to model, so we guess. When models diverge from observation, we make more observations and/or revise model code. That’s just how science is done. Wrong in science does not necessarily mean motivated, lazy and/or incompetent — it very often means that the problem being addressed is difficult to figure out.

      • We’re back to the “government is the only answer” and that leads us into politics of progressivism versus conservatism. Since we are often diametrically opposed, we probably aren’t going to get very far. (If we’re going to argue politics, it should be on your blog where we don’t need gloves!)

        Yes, oil and gas get tax breaks. It’s not the same as a subsidy. I don’t know of subsidies except to renewables, wind and solar (hydro is not counted as renewable, nor is geothermal). If we start counting tax breaks…..It’s not that hard to find the amounts–the government doesn’t hide these things at all. They’re proud of it. (The media may have a different idea. You need to check actual government pages, not news stories. Also, the accounting skills of the government are very creative, so no guarantees something wasn’t “overlooked”.) I certainly agree everyone has their hand in the till and someone needs to slam the drawer and break some bones!

        I’ve read the papers also. I have link to Hansen’s early work at NASA. I read the uncertainty, which I took to mean exactly that—no one was certain of anything and it was still a very much unproven theory. I don’t just apply this standard to climate change–I apply it to medical research (Yes, I read the research papers and have purchased some if I really need the information for some condition I have managed to be blessed with that there’s little research out there on. I go to the source.) and anything else. I don’t discriminate when it comes to skepticism. I also take into account how much “may” is in the statement and how much the paper actually demonstrated. One can often tell from the amount of data and information, sometimes in the supplemental material, what the certainty level is.

        Not yet seen Miami under three feet of water (my snark turn!). Actually, sea level rise is not as devastating as projected by the media. I have a blog entry on this. I do try to address literature links. I will tell you what I tell everyone: If you have a specific question, please put that ONE link in a comment and I will address it. In spite of my going through point by point, just as you do, we both filter and answer what we see as important. Our interpretation of important obviously does not always match. We do agree on the basics of theory, but not the implications.

        I will add a link today “Ask a Question” where you can post one article or one question and I will do my best to answer it. If it proves popular or useful or maybe just educational, I’ll keep it going.

        No, I haven’t graphed the sun data. I don’t think the sun is the only factor. I don’t think there is a driving factor. I fully expect that we will find numerous factors that work together to maintain climate. I expect that wide swings in climate occur naturally and statistical significance in not really relevant here, especially given the sparsity of accurate data and virtually no data before 1700. Proxies are not data–they are clues. Not the same. I don’t have literature to back this up and I don’t have a cohesive theory at this point. It’s just what I would theorize is the case. My theory is in the testing stage and there’s not enough results to pronounce it true or busted.

        Lab tests from the 19th century measured CO2 in one or two places. We measured it at a volcano until recently. We need far more data on this. Perhaps it will turn out that the CO2 really is homogenized and one measurement is correct. For each day, each season and then we homogenize those results into one number, though one number is really not representative at all, so far as I can tell. I fear we have “homogenized” the data to death.

        Which energy budget are you using? I’m not disagreeing, it’s just the numbers are a bit different from some I have seen. I understand energy flux and net energy, which are not the same thing. The balance in this budget shows net accumulation of about .5 watts per meter squared. The assumption in all of this is that a balance should exist. When I look at the climate, I don’t see there was ever a balance. It’s something humans think should be there but not that actually ever existed except for short periods in history. As mentioned previously, there were events like the Younger Dryas (hope I spelled that right….) where the climate changed dramatically in around 50 years. I’m not seeing what you see–humans making a mess. I am seeing nature doing what it always does.

        You’re highlighting my reasons for skepticism with all the problems in the models. The problem is the climate change movement is so dug in that revision is not really possible. It would be seen as backtracking or that they lied. It won’t happen to any large degree. If tomorrow someone found a fatal flaw in all the models, do you really think it would ever make headlines, even if another 12 analyses showed the same flaw? Nope, they would be “deniers”. You know they would. As for it not meaning motivated, lazy and/or incompetent, that designation for climate change scientists does not come from the problems with the models. It comes from the scientists refusing to stand up and say “WE DON’T KNOW” long ago when it might have stopped this insanity of politics and science that has gaping holes and very bad policy implications. These are two very separate issues—model correctness and lack of the public understanding certainty (and, again, I believe that much of research is politically motivated based on the very real situation of the government–politicians–handing out grant money. We all know what happens to scientists in climate change if they voice dissent. They lose jobs, positions on committees and are called “deniers”. Medical studies that say mammograms are not needed annually are ignored now because it’s not what women want to be true. I expect such studies will dry up soon due to political pressure. No one apparently should speak the truth is it’s not what people want to hear).

  3. JustWondering says:

    “What makes ice melt? Temperature (from above or below as in air, earth’s heat from volcanoes, surface temperature below ice), friction (waves, sand, etc), and wind.”

    Is this just your speculation or has any research suggesting that these factors have altered in ways over the decades to cause the decline in ice been done? Has your list been modeled and shown to support the real world observations? Simply, can you back up what you say with credible evidence?

    • Just Wondering–nice try. You’re banned under six alias now. Maybe you can get Brandon to ask the question and then I’d answer it. Your new “busted” was cute though.

      • No further questions on JustWondering’s question. Those are all things that can cause ice to melt. It should be obvious that water temperature and air temperature are the main drivers in the arctic, the salient question is whether CO2 diddit. That means looking at the system as a whole.

        Begin reply to your previous comments:

        The money/political battle is clear cut. The planet will eventually resolve the dispute, or not. Where I’m going with this is that it occurs to me that the fossil fuel industry has the free cash to sponsor a lot of research. Anecdotally, they have. Also anecdotally, they pay a lot of credentialed spokespeople to argue their case in the media. There’s a glaring lack of original research providing any alternative hypothesis. NOT a smoking gun, but an argument I find personally compelling.

        Did I cite from Truthout.org? Ah, I did. I usually try to stay away from biased sites, but especially ones with a bias which is clearly the opposite of who I’m debating. I’ll file that one as a “no” with you from now on.

        I don’t know what to tell you about the language change in the IPCC reports. Might, may, could, perhaps … those are seen as weasel words, but they’re also seen as legitimate language of uncertainty in science literature outside climatology. I promised myself to write a blog post on that, but it’s been back-burnered.

        I sense that climatologists are becoming frustrated with the politics. I have to say, I would be too if I were them … I’ve been frustrated with the politics for at least a decade, and I don’t work in the field.

        5 simga out to what forecast horizon though? This may be an irrelevant question in forecasting … the uncertainty range is supposed to expand the further into the future the forecast, so 5 standard deviations might be 0.001C a year out, but 1.0C 100 years out … something else to look up.

        I forgot Hansen’s oceans boiling comment. I thought it was hyperbole at the time, rolled my eyes, and forgot it. I don’t like scare tactics, no matter who uses them. The AGW activists are by far the worst offenders on that score … I’m willing to give Hansen a pass since he’s not known for saying such things constantly, his statement was qualified, and my biases are different than yours.

        “We don’t know” is not the only thing Betts said. The blunt honesty is good, but the context of the entire comment is important to consider.

        As a semi-related aside: one thing I personally find frustrating when talking to climate skeptics is that the quickest way to be dismissed out of hand is to mention the word “model”. It’s impossible to do any science without at least a statistical model. I personally think the GCMs are facinating technology, and my reading is that they have been evolved appropriately to solve very difficult — if not impossible — problems. That they work at all is a minor miracle in my book, and a testament to the folks who develop them.

        One thing I think has happened in climatology is that the political pressure to make more certain statements has made a lot of climatologists and modelers uncomfortable. There is typically a desire for researchers to keep things close to the vest, take their time, and make conservative predictions with generous dollops of uncertainty. The IPCC overpromised and underdelivered. The moral outrage over that is not entirely unwarranted in my view, so I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few researchers are feeling some shame. [shrug] But that’s just me speculating. Must be time to move on …

        Re: Mann fired the first shot in the incivility debate. [sigh] “He did it first” is my least favorite argument in any conflict. Everyone claims the other guy did it first. I frankly just tune it out. What matters to me is that it’s going on now, and it needs to be drastically throttled back. Someone has to be the first one to do it, but there are a lot of people involved. Prediction: the debate won’t happen until downtown Miami is under three feet of water, if then. (That was my obligatory, once-per-post snark.)

        On models and parameterization: there’s an open challenge from the modeling and general climatology community for the skeptics to do better. I echo that challenge because that’s simply good science. Nobody would be happier than me for someone to put forth an alternative hypothesis and turn AGW on its head. That has not happened.

        Going to quote and respond mode now:

        Okay, AGW will result in higher level of retained solar energy. That does not translate into higher temperatures in the atmosphere, as we have clearly seen. Also, I have yet to find a clear explanation, class and other reading, on precisely how much CO2 energy is reflected per molecule, and how many molecules there are. We really need that–to correctly identify how much CO2 is contributing.

        Yes, the greenhouse effect (naively) predicts that total energy in the system will increase as GHG concentration in the atmosphere increases. And that’s it. I say “naive” because of all the inherent complexities with feedbacks. Things are further complicated by the question of where that retained energy will go. From pretty far back — like 1950s — it was recognized that the oceans would be one place for that energy to go. By the ’70s I think the prevailing thinking is that the top 700m of the oceans would be where most of that retained heat would go.

        That does currently appear to be true. It’s either gone deeper (2000m is ARGO’s limit) or else it’s gone back out into space. Those are literally the only two reasonable options. Because the satellites aren’t really up to snuff by my standards, it’s difficult for me to not consider it a coin-toss. But I’ve got a bunch of tie-breakers. I just wish the satellites weren’t so bad.

        As for a precise value on how much energy per CO2 molecule, that’s not how it’s thought about … which may explain your difficulty finding an answer. In terms of energy flux, a reasonable estimate is that CO2 accounts for ~30 W/m^2, or about 20% of the ~150 W/m^2 total greenhouse effect. Water vapor accounts for 50%, clouds 25%, methane, ozone and all the rest account for the remaining 5%. The total greenhouse effect in terms of surface temperature is about 30C, so CO2 contributes about 6C to the greenhouse effect at present. That’s not to say that scrubbing all CO2 out of the atmosphere would drop average surface temps by 6C, it would drop even more … remember the feedbacks. Good enough for an ice age, no doubt.

        We know the parts work, but we don’t know if the “circuit” itself works.

        I agree. That’s why I get agitated when someone, anyone, gets focused on one area of the system as the be-all-end-all smoking gun “proof” that AGW is/is not happening. We know how some parts work quite well, others not, and there are a lot of parts we don’t even know about yet.

        I still don’t see a “slam dunk”. All I see is an energy budget–that may or may not account for all the nuance-saying that more radiation (heat) is coming in than going out.

        I don’t think of it as a slam dunk either … hence the qualifier “seems”. As in the temptation is to point at melting arctic sea ice and say, “Yup, AGW diddit.” It’s one indicator of many, which add up to strong evidence. One part of the system alone doesn’t get it.

        Actually, it’s coming in and being amplified by the CO2 in the atmosphere, according to AGW.

        I think you need to check that. In any given moment, CO2 does what any other GHG (or cloud) does: reduce the rate at which IR can escape back out into open space. That little bit of extra time those photons spend in the atmosphere raises the equilibrium temperature. Do that a bunch, and that little bit becomes a lot … to the tune of 30C at the surface as I mentioned above.

        Changes in CO2 concentration over time are amplified by feedbacks. Different concept.

  4. Brandon: Number 2–no scientists are not in the habit of speculating about mythical animals from fairy tails, but there are a number of them out there that appear on shows about UFO’s, Bigfoot, etc, so mythology is not out of the realm of “science”. There is no reason to believe scientists funded by the government would not be in the business of saying things “may” exist if it gets them more grant money.
    There are reports of hair, DNA and so forth from Bigfoot, pictures of UFO’s and crop circles, so I will be sure to leave out unicorns and go with UFO’s and Bigfoot if needed in the future. (Maybe it’s a latent “girl gene” that keeps throwing in the unicorns…..)
    Your new challenge is certainly better and I will get onto searching ASAP. I believe this will better illustrate what I consider science and what I consider wide guessing or professor/grant pleasing.
    Number 5: Yes, I can see where you become frustrated with the “non-testable” hypothesis, especially since that is the frequently quoted reason for climate change being called something other than science. I have previously noted that I personally would want much higher probability of an outcome that the 2 sigma standard. Physicists use five sigma (http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2012/07/does-5-sigma-discovery.html). If we are to call this science and base future policy on it, at least three sigma, preferably more. If we can’t get that, then we either stop calling it science or stop making policy till we do get that high of probability. Models (I’m looking for examples) that fall outside the 2 sigma bars are not viable. Too much error. I am not asking for 100%. I can’t fix the “correlation is not causality” problem, because it is what it is. I fully understand how frustrating it is–my college professor would say we can’t say with certainty the sun will rise tomorrow just because it did today. It leaves us with nothing.

    Geologists that say they can predict earthquakes don’t know what they are doing. They know many things, many things they suppose to be true (some of geology can never be verified in any way), and some things they know nothing about. It’s not the lack of ability to predict, it’s saying you can when you can’t. I have noted that if anyone actually read the IPCC document, it clearly states they cannot predict with any degree of accuracy. They hide it in the science section (I read that governments made them take it out of the policy section–maybe so. Your example might not be any better than mine since geologists tend to not believe AGW, though for question, that does not matter.)

    I have to note that I personally question the NWS and its existence. However, since they are the ones with Doplar radar and the ability to detect tornadoes and hurricanes, we keep them around. Surely you hear people say “It’s forecast to rain tomorrow so don’t worry, it won’t”? Also, I would note that people really don’t understand the probability used in weather–it means x% of the time under these conditions this occurs. All it really is is the compilation of data used to calculate what percentage of the time rain, sun, snow etc occurs under specific conditions. I hear they are getting better, but the range in the forecasts is still huge between sources. It’s also not a theory—it may be based on some theory or it may be simple calculation of probability. I tend to go with the later. It’s models and the more information you have in the model, the better the forcast because small details are often important.

    I was referring to AGW. Part of the theory of AGW and the modeling predicts a rate of melt for the Arctic. That prediction is clearly wrong. I did not say this falsifies the theory. I stated that is calls into question the theory because the secondary effect is not occurring at the rate predicted. It does indeed indicate a problem with the models.

    That is not how my argument goes.
    1. We have close to 20 years of flat temperatures. The models did not forecast this. AGW is based on the models. If the models are wrong, then we must find a different way to prove AGW. It is not a viable theory using our current data and methods.
    2. We’ve got 5 or so years of of rapid melt in the Arctic. The models said this would happen later. This is a serious problem in modeling. This does not prove nor disprove AGW. It does mean new modeling is in order.

    What makes ice melt? Temperature (from above or below as in air, earth’s heat from volcanoes, surface temperature below ice), friction (waves, sand, etc), and wind.

    • Sheri,

      Number 2:

      There is no reason to believe scientists funded by the government would not be in the business of saying things “may” exist if it gets them more grant money.

      That’s a dual-edged ax you’re wielding: There is no reason to believe scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry would not be in the business of saying things “might not” exist if it gets them more grant money.

      Reasonable beliefs also require reasonable evidence, not just a reasonable supposition. I was randomly surfing last night and found this interview with Robert Bindschadler, a glaciologist with 35 years at NASA:

      http://truth-out.org/news/item/25509-nasa-scientist-warns-of-three-to-four-meter-sea-level-rise-by-2200

      Then we get up to the fourth IPCC report in 2007, and we were starting to get some models that incorporated our best understanding of the ice sheets that were showing that there might be some dramatic impact in terms of contribution to sea level. They were acknowledged, with verbiage like, ice sheet dynamics can change rapidly and contribute large amounts of water to cause excess sea level rise, but the dynamics are not well enough understood for predictive capability. The sea level numbers were pretty low, and the words around said they didn’t really know how high they might go. So the story at that time was that we didn’t really know what the numbers were.

      I asked the head of Working Group I on that report which had ultimate responsibility for everything that was in the Working Group I report, I said, “All the words say don’t trust the numbers; why are there numbers there at all?” She told me that governments insisted that there be numbers, that they gave them the table and said you put the numbers in this table. Thus, she felt compelled to do that because the report was not going to be accepted by the government until there were numbers in the table.

      So now the most recent report is just out, and we worked very hard to use the best models we had of ice sheet dynamics.

      This is only one example, so care must be taken to not overgeneralize, but it does point to political pressure on scientists to give government politicians what they want — in this case numbers where the researchers themselves are saying the numbers are NOT to be trusted … that they’re only indications of what MIGHT happen. The press and other media tend to overstate certainty, overstate importance and generally mangle science to suit their own agendas or out of simple ignorance … or both. It’s often hard to know which.

      This is one reason why I insist on reading primary literature when possible. I see the IPCC as a clearinghouse of information, but also as a potential sausage factory not to be trusted over the original research itself. This article is one datum justifying my point of view that politics has contaminated the science … not so much in the research itself (which is certainly possible: Jones, Briffa, Mann, et al. being the poster-child examples of questionable behavior) but in how the IPCC presents the science to policymakers and the public. Knowing what’s actually published in journals, or what the researchers themselves say in public but out of committee help me find the corruptive political influences.

      To falisfy AGW requires going to the literature. Looking to the IPCC dirties politicians more than researchers. In my opinion, of course — I do have my own biases here.

      Number 5:

      Physicists use five sigma …

      CERN runs experiments using high-precsion equipment in a highly controlled (isolated) environment. Science can only be done in whatever environment is available. GCMs, love ’em or hate ’em, are the only reasonable way for us to study climate in lab-controlled conditions. James Hansen has a number of interesting things to say about them in this slide presentation from 2008:

      http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf

      I’ll start with Slide 1:

      Climate Threat to the Planet:*
      Implications for Energy Policy
      and Intergenerational Justice
      Jim Hansen
      December 17, 2008
      Bjerknes Lecture, American Geophysical Union
      San Francisco, California
      *Any Policy-Related Statements are Personal Opinion

      That disclaimer once again speaks to the political … er … climate he’s dealing with.

      Slide 4 is where he makes the point I’m after:

      Basis of Understanding
      1. Earth’s Paleoclimate History
      2. On-Going Global Changes
      3. Climate Models
      (note: modeling #3, but aids other two)

      Our understanding of climate change, our expectation of human-made global warming comes principally from the history of the Earth, from increasingly detailed knowledge of how the Earth responded in the past to changes of boundary conditions, including atmospheric composition.

      Our second most important source of understanding comes from global observations of what is happening now, in response to perturbations of the past century, especially the rapid warming of the past three decades.

      Climate models, used with understanding of their limitations, are useful, especially for extrapolating into the future, but they are clearly number three on the list.

      Emphasis mine.

      Let’s review now Richard Betts’ statement about models, from the context of the blog post wherein he made them. First the concluding (and most relevant) paragraphs of the blog post:

      But it is inescapable that the climate models fail to capture this important process [much of the missing heat is to be found in the Atlantic], if indeed it is real. This is understandable, given that Chen and Tung don’t yet have an explanation for why the process changes.

      Once again this brings us back to the thorny question of whether a GCM is a suitable tool to inform public policy.

      My opinion: yes, it’s understandable that models won’t capture a process which is poorly understood or completely unexplained. No, that doesn’t mean that the question of GCMs and public policy is a thorny question. It’s a good question, but only when it’s not loaded up with qualifiers like “thorny” which presuppose a desired conclusion. A better question is, “Are GCMs a suitable tool to inform public policy?” But I digress.

      Moving on, Betts’ first comment in the thread in its entirety:

      Bish, as always I am slightly bemused over why you think GCMs are so central to climate policy.

      Everyone* agrees that the greenhouse effect is real, and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
      Everyone* agrees that CO2 rise is anthropogenic
      Everyone** agrees that we can’t predict the long-term response of the climate to ongoing CO2 rise with great accuracy. It could be large, it could be small. We don’t know. The old-style energy balance models got us this far. We can’t be certain of large changes in future, but can’t rule them out either.

      So climate mitigation policy is a political judgement based on what policymakers think carries the greater risk in the future – decarbonising or not decarbonising.

      A primary aim of developing GCMs these days is to improve forecasts of regional climate on nearer-term timescales (seasons, year and a couple of decades) in order to inform contingency planning and adaptation (and also simply to increase understanding of the climate system by seeing how well forecasts based on current understanding stack up against observations, and then futher refining the models). Clearly, contingency planning and adaptation need to be done in the face of large uncertainty.

      *OK so not quite everyone, but everyone who has thought about it to any reasonable extent
      **Apart from a few who think that observations of a decade or three of small forcing can be extrapolated to indicate the response to long-term larger forcing with confidence

      Out of all of that, the main thing being focused on the blog post which launched this discussion: “We don’t know.” He says a lot more than that in his comment. My takeaway: it’s not an all or nothing binary choice on the role of GCMs in advising policy. You may hold that opinion, of course — free thought and free speech are things which I value as an American — but the professionals with domain expertise simply carry more weight with me when it comes to discussing what their own science is all about, and how it should or should not be done.

      On page two of the comments, I’ll excerpt another comment from Betts:

      The ‘settled science’ and ‘97% consensus’ are not really things that you typically hear most actual climate scientists talking about. They are comms tactics by campaigners. Most climate scientists prefer to base statements on evidence rather than ‘consensus’ and they acknowledge that there are still many things we don’t know (good job too, else we’d be out of a job!)

      But I don’t particularly like the somewhat sinister tone of the rest of your comments, like ‘Climate scientists have a lot to answer for’ and ‘Organised and coordinated action against climate scientists’. What with that and Jake’s use of the word ‘contempt’ I think it’s clear we’ve sadly reached the point where discussion ceases to be constructive.

      If you read the entire comment thread, which I recommend, and pay attention to the sheer number of unsubstantiated accusations and personal insults it should be apparent to you why the conversation ceased to be constructive. Whether you agree with the accusations or not isn’t relevant — one cannot have a constructive scientific discussion if the focus of the debate is everywhere else BUT the evidence (or lack thereof) for the phenomenon being debated.

      Also, I would note that people really don’t understand the probability used in weather–it means x% of the time under these conditions this occurs.

      I actually goofed in my original statement: it’s not true that I have better than a 50% chance of winning the wager I proposed. That will teach me to post when I’ve been awake all night.

      Since GCM output isn’t probabalistic (they’re physics simulations, not regressions or other statistical forecasting techniques) they have to do something else to make probabalistic statements. That necessarily entails assuming a bunch of parameters. I don’t think they just pull these things out of a hat, but as far as my level of understanding goes given the complexity, it may as well be magic. I don’t like it that it feels that way to me, but I simply don’t have the time to learn about everything. I am, and have been since forever, skeptical of model projections.

      Part of the theory of AGW and the modeling predicts a rate of melt for the Arctic. That prediction is clearly wrong. I did not say this falsifies the theory. I stated that is calls into question the theory because the secondary effect is not occurring at the rate predicted. It does indeed indicate a problem with the models.

      Others on that blog, especially its owner, are saying the failed surface temperature predictions over the past 17 years falsifies the CO2 theory of AGW. Unless you explicitly qualify your own statements on that blog, I don’t see that it is entirely unreasonable to read the same argument into what you write. Now that I’m clear on your more nuanced argument, I apologize to you for taking your statements to mean something you did not intend.

      We obviously have different definitions of AGW theory. That’s a problem. Until we nail down the definition of the theory (or hypothesis if you wish) and agree upon that definition, we’ll continue to talk past each other.

      Yes, the models on sea and land ice melt are wrong. That doesn’t necessarily falsify any other hypotheses or theories other than the assumptions which were loaded into those particular models. Logically, we can work our way back the chain of assumptions and hypotheses to the radiative forcing/feedback hypotheses of AGW, but just because it is logical to do so does not mean those hypotheses are necessarily called into question.

      Radiative forcing/feedback theory is based on solid empirical evidence, both from the lab and in situ observations from ground instruments and satellites. Nothing is ever settled in science, of course. But, to crib a line from Orwell, some things are more settled than others. At its core AGW states that higher GHG levels will result a higher level of retained solar energy. Period, full stop.

      How much, when and where that energy will be retained, what it will do wherever and whenever it makes itself known, how it got there and where it will go after, is where the models are off: in the oceans, in the cryosphere, and in the atmosphere. There’s a lot we don’t know. That doesn’t trouble me with respect to the equilibrium theory of radiative forcing/feedback. It does trouble me from the standpoint of making clear policy decisions — which is already troublesome enough because politicians are generally … well … often idiotically ignorant on this issue, usually outright liars, and always self-interested to boot; both sides of the aisle.

      That is not how my argument goes.
      1. We have close to 20 years of flat temperatures. The models did not forecast this. AGW is based on the models. If the models are wrong, then we must find a different way to prove AGW. It is not a viable theory using our current data and methods.
      2. We’ve got 5 or so years of of rapid melt in the Arctic. The models said this would happen later. This is a serious problem in modeling. This does not prove nor disprove AGW. It does mean new modeling is in order.

      1. AGW has been demonstrated by empirical observation over LONG periods of time using models which contain components of internal variability, atmospheric aerosols (including from volcanic eruptions), ice mass and extent, snowmelt, clouds and other things which affect albedo, solar activity, land use changes, etc. A forward-looking model does not have the benefit of having all of that additional empirical data. Forecast is always more difficult than hindcast.

      ENSO is one internal variability that defies prediction. Here’s just one paper (a little dated, 2008) which speaks of some of the difficulties:

      http://www.iges.org/people/Shukla%27s%20Articles/2008/Current.pdf

      Although the representation of ENSO in coupled models has advanced considerably during the last decade, several aspects of the simulated climatology and ENSO are not well reproduced by the current generation of coupled models. The systematic errors in SST are often largest in the equatorial Pacific, and model representations of ENSO variability are often weak and/or incorrectly located (Neelin et al. 1992 ; Mechoso et al. 1995; Delecluse et al. 1998; Davey et al. 2002). These studies suggest that improvements in CGCMs are not yet sufficient to achieve realistic ENSO simulation (AchutaRao and Sperber 2006).

      Failing to properly model ocean currents is a problem for ocean current hypotheses more than it is for radiative forcing theory. Just to put into perspective how important all that water is:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming#mediaviewer/File:Energy_change_inventory,_1971-2010.svg

      The atmosphere contains 1% of the entire energy added to the system, and land 3%. That 4% is where most of the surface temperature records are coming from. 93% of the added energy has gone into the oceans. Looking at surface temps only misses the vast majority of the picture.

      2. No argument here. Do you not think they’re attempting to find out what’s actually going on so that they can model it better?

      What makes ice melt? Temperature (from above or below as in air, earth’s heat from volcanoes, surface temperature below ice), friction (waves, sand, etc), and wind.

      Volcanic activity is sporadic. The decline in arctic sea ice has been following a rather steady trend. That pretty much leaves water and air temperature and wind. My understanding for the arctic is that it’s mostly down to warmer water at the poles, followed by changes in atmospheric circulation bringing in more warm air in from the south (conversely sending cooler arctic air to the south and making mid-latitude winters cooler than normal).

      Seems a slam-dunk that this points to a warming planet overall, but the antarctic sends mixed signals — sea ice down there is increasing in extent.

      • Brandon: I didn’t say in any way that fossil fuels would not defend their territory too. Of course they would. It’s a battle of the media and money–not science. Many believe those that run Heartland are financed by fossil fuels. There are many articles on progressives funneling money to climate change–some openly, some not. The most fascinating thing is the progressives and those who got rich on oil and gas and now want it shut off. A clear case of “I got mine, screw you”.

        I will not read anything from Truthout.org. It may agree with what I am saying to some degree, but I still won’t read it. I tried before and it’s nothing but a left-wing rag with a lie for a name. In return, I won’t ask you to read anything from Prison Planet (which at least has a more honest name).

        Yea, reasonable beliefs require reasonable evidence, not just supposition. I suppose that’s why I have hundreds of research articles on all my subjects. For a two page blog entry, I may have 20 articles, from both sides and generally the research itself. We are in agreement on this.

        It was quite clear reading the 5th policy statement from the IPCC that they removed most predictions and replaced them with “might”, “may”, etc. I fully acknowledge there is great political pressure on the IPCC, but a truly respectable scientist would leave and maintain their reputation. Science is not about politics unless you’re willing to be a politician first, then a scientist, which is what we are seeing.

        While physics is high-precision equipment in a controlled environment, quantum physics is almost all mathematics and circumstantial evidence. None can be measured directly. Allowing that we can actually see and measure climate factors, 5 sigma may not be unrealistic. Quantum mechanics is much more complex than climate–or if it isn’t, we need to give up now and go home. I do understand your point. I was stating what I think would be scientific “proof” but I do realize it is asking a great deal. When we start to claim the world is in danger, I really do want more than the current probabilities.

        Somehow a statement from a scientist who said the oceans would boil really isn’t that convincing. Sorry, but Hansen lost all my respect with that grandstanding. I do read his early stuff, but he never really followed it. Or we would not have the “oceans boiling” statement, would we?

        I certainly agree that “We don’t know” is becoming more and more common among the actual climate scientists. I don’t “hold the opinion” that GCM are a huge part of climate science–they ARE, except now they failed, so maybe they can back out. What we have without them is as stated “We don’t know”. You cannot base policy on “we don’t know”. At least not in the current political climate. Terrify people into stopping using fossil fuels and thus destroying industrialization is the only option given throughout this process. So today we say “Oops. Maybe we weren’t all that sure”. NO–we double down. This is politics–and unless some other party shows up in America with rational thinking and an inspirational speaker, global warming punitive policies will be the policy.

        I believe Michael Mann suing people, calling skeptics “deniers” and basic lack of civility began in the warming community. Yes, they were attacked and they could defend their science. But Brandon, they let this happen. They did not come out and say “NO” when the IPCC was formed. They took the grant money and gave the results requested. They obediently put “we find no other cause so it could be climate change” in their papers, even when there was no reason. It’s not the “attacks”, it’s the complete lack of ability to defend the science so hostility was the response.

        No, the models are not magic. They do require lots of computing power due to variables. That is the complexity, along with what to do with “parameterization”, using numbers where real values are not available. There seems to be no standard for how to parameterize. Models as they currently are written are not the only way–it’s just the only way scientists are currently studying the process. They are based on suppositions and refined for simplicity. There are other ways.

        Okay, AGW will result in higher level of retained solar energy. That does not translate into higher temperatures in the atmosphere, as we have clearly seen. Also, I have yet to find a clear explanation, class and other reading, on precisely how much CO2 energy is reflected per molecule, and how many molecules there are. We really need that–to correctly identify how much CO2 is contributing.

        In my class, the professor made an interesting statement: You can know that all parts of a circuit work, but the circuit itself may not. This is the way it is in climate science. We know the parts work, but we don’t know if the “circuit” itself works.
        I found that an interesting admission–one I have asked about repeatedly.

        I still don’t see a “slam dunk”. All I see is an energy budget–that may or may not account for all the nuance-saying that more radiation (heat) is coming in than going out. Actually, it’s coming in and being amplified by the CO2 in the atmosphere, according to AGW. My definition of slam dunk is not the same as yours, obviously. I do understand the complexity of this–the use of proxies, the circuit that may or may not light when we put the pieces together, the variables we cannot account for, the reality that we don’t know how the climate works to any real degree. To me, you can’t have a slam dunk with that many unknowns. It’s just not realistic.

  5. Sheri,

    Number 2: Clearly, saying that there might be unicorns is absurd if we have no reasonable way to test for the existence of them. Scientists are not in the habit of speculating about mythical beasts from fairy tales.

    Quantifying uncertainty can only be done when there are data from actual observations. When such data exist, no paper should ever pass peer-review without quantified uncertainty being stated as one of the outputs of whatever statistical models were used. The bulk of the conclusions made by the paper should be based on those statistics and their quantified uncertainties. This is not always possible, so we often see in conclusions a mix of statiscically inferred rejection of the null hypothesis, with mights and maybes to fill in the gaps which the observations themselves did not illuminate. That’s a nuance missing in your analysis — there’s a difference between:

    a) postulating unicorns without having ever seen one, or having seen unicorn poo, or horn marks on treebark in the forest which don’t match up to how bears and elk mark trees, and

    b) postulating that unicorns might exist even though we’ve never seen one because we found poo that was significantly different from horse poo at a 95% confidence level, p <= .05.

    My challenge to you was to pick a scientific paper and count the qualifiers. Now that I reread it, I think a better challenge is to pick a paper and lift out some text which uses those qualifiers, then discuss the use of those terms by concrete example instead of in the abstract.

    Number 5: There is no dispute in my mind that if a prediction fails to come true that there is something wrong with the model which was used to generate it. To be even more academic about this point, recall George E. P. Box: “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” It’s the part of that statement after the semicolon that is in contention here. The reason I so often ask you and others to quantify how right a predictive model needs to be for you to accept it is because I often get the impression that if the IPCC doesn’t hit +/- 0.01 C each year for the next two decades that you will reject their utility. This frustrates me to no end, especially when a paragraph later I read, “correlation is not causation”.

    What insistence on dead-nuts accurate forward-looking predictions (which necessarily entails a high correlation coefficient) combined with “correlation is not causation” with respect to past observations results in is a complete inability to falsify any proposition based on empirical evidence. This is otherwise known as a non-testable hypothesis … which is the very definitnion of non-scientific.

    Since we’re doing analogies here, with some trepidation I ask you to consider this: nobody, I mean no one, can predict earthquakes with any degree of precision or accuracy as we’re used to thinking of those terms. The best the USGS gives me is a 65% chance of a >6.5 magnitude quake in the next 40 years.

    Geologists don’t know what the heck they’re doing, right? Plate tectonics are completly bunk, right? Something else must cause earthquakes, right?

    Lemme tell you, they’ve got all kinds of models to tell us about the chance of that magnitude quake in that period of time. Fat lotta good that does me, right? Those models are junk, right?

    I assert that the first set of questions have the opposite answers than the answers to the second set.

    On to your examples of forecasting precipitation, which I like because they’re real world examples. We have models for doing weather prediction, and by the time their output reaches my computer they look like this:

    Today Sunny, with a high near 70. Southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.
    Tonight Patchy fog after 11pm. Otherwise, increasing clouds, with a low around 59. West southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.
    Sunday Patchy fog before 11am. Otherwise, partly sunny, then gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 70. West southwest wind around 6 mph becoming south southeast in the afternoon.
    Sunday Night Patchy fog after 11pm. Otherwise, increasing clouds, with a low around 60. Southwest wind 6 to 8 mph.
    Labor Day Patchy fog before 11am. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 72. South southwest wind around 6 mph becoming calm in the morning.
    Monday Night Patchy fog after 11pm. Otherwise, mostly cloudy, with a low around 60.

    Look at all the qualifiers and vagueness. It’s too bad there’s no precipitation in the forecast because a) we’re in a drought and need the rain and b) that’s the one thing in a weather forecast they usually publish a percentage chance of. If I told you that I can all but guarantee you that Monday night’s low is going to be 61degrees or more instead of 60, you’d probably not bet against me since 61 degrees is well within the upper error bound of that forecast and I probably have better than a 50% chance of being right about the NOAA being wrong at that degree of precision.

    There’s an irony in meterology that everyone complains constantly about the weatherman being wrong, but the forecasts have been getting steadily better and better. But not too many people seriously talk about doing away with the National Weather Service. We know they’re right often enough to be useful even as much as we like to grumble when they’re not.

    The other thing we never talk about is weather forecasts being “theories”. They’re forecasts. Otherwise known as predictions.

    Which brings me to the real point of item Number 5. You wrote: “Yes, the arctic melting faster than predicted does call into question the theory.” You were ambiguous on which theory you were talking about: global warming, or arctic ice melting. Well, the summertime Arctic sea ice extent isn’t a theory by my defintion just above. Global warming is the theory. The arctic ice extent is a prediction of that theory, as a secondary effect. A busted prediction on sea ice melt doesn’t falsify the theory of global warming, it means that the models used to make those ice extent predictions have something (more) wrong with them than we previously thought.

    So here’s how your argument goes:

    1) We’ve got 20 some odd years of flat trending surface temperatures. It’s supposed to be warming. The models are wrong. AGW is wrong.

    2) We’ve got 20 some odd years of Arctic sea ice melt that is faster than was predicted. The models are wrong. AGW is wrong.

    Question: What causes ice to melt?

    We should probably talk about the Antarctic next.

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