Winter Storm Juno warns scientists not to burn away their credibility

Summary: We expect our leaders, and the scientists they consult, to warn us of threats. As NYC learned, again, that’s difficult to do. Should they error by warning too aggressively (false alarms), or too conservatively (fails to warn)? The consensus favors the former, ignoring the potentially massive cost of crying “wolf” too often. Someday you warn, but nobody listens. Loss of public confidence in science might be the big risk to avoid.

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”
— Journalist Edward R. Murrow, testimony as the Director of USIA before a Congressional Committee in May 1963.

The Day After Tomorrow
January has not yet ended and already we’ve had two waves of climate fear.  Last year we had only one, last Spring’s fear barrage about the coming super monster El Nino (that never appeared). 2015 began with reports that the “sweltering” 2014 was the the “hottest year ever” (eventually walked back to “perhaps”). This week we had the “snowpocalypse”.  It’s weather porn, collusion between publicity-hungry scientists, click-bait-seeking journalists, and activists.

But beneath the hype there are serious issues for climate scientists and our weather agencies. When and how do they issue warnings? Should they prioritize warnings — minimizing the number of times they failure to alert the public — or preserve their credibility by minimizing the number of false warnings?

The Snowpocalypse: the aftereffects might be bigger than the effects

New York City and NY State took strong precautions before the storm which so many meteorologists warned would be “historic”. In fact it largely missed NYC, hitting to the North.  Weather.com shows the records for New England, sloppily not stating the length of the record. The Boston Globe did better: NYC had the 6th largest snowfall in past 80 years. Update: these records are comparable only for roughly the past 20 years due to changes in measurement methods.

Now comes the aftereffects: TIME blamed Governor Christie and Mayor de Blasio for over-reacting, seriously inconveniencing NYC’s people — at a large economic cost.

The AP does an autopsy on the forecasts:

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, a defensive Uccellini {Director, National Weather Service}, who wrote textbooks on winter storms, wouldn’t say his agency’s forecast was off. Instead, he blamed the way meteorologists communicated and said the weather service needs to do a better job addressing uncertainty. Uccellini said the agency would review those procedures and consult with social scientists to improve messaging. But Uccellini said he’d rather warn too much and be wrong, than not warn enough. He said the weather service’s predictions, and citywide closures that they prompted, made for a faster recovery. “This was the right forecast decision to make,” Uccellini said.

Private meteorologist Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics slammed the public agency for ratcheting up forecast storm amounts before the system arrived, instead of telling people how uncertain it was. “The public should be upset that the forecast was blown for NYC and ask for answers” …

Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) gave a typically excellent analysis of what happened and why: “Snowpocalypse – not“. Skipping to her conclusions…

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Was 2014 the warmest year? NOAA says that was “more unlikely than likely”.

Summary: To learn if 2014 was the warmest year let’s read the annual reports of NOAA and NASA. They give clear answers (different from the headlines). It might have been the warmest, but if so, only by a insignificant amount. The hysteria of activists about this is absurd. The data shows that the pause continues.

  1. Last year was 0.04°C (0.07°F) warmer than 2005 according to NOAA’s surface temperature data (0.02°C per NASA). NOAA gives it a 48% probability of being the warmest of the past 135 years (a 38% probability per NASA ). NOAA describes this as meaning “more unlikely than likely”.
  2. Berkeley Earth’s data shows it as tied with 2005 and 2010 (within the margin of error).
  3. Neither of NASA’s two satellite datasets of lower troposphere temperature show it as close to a record (data back to 1979).

Before we jump into the details, here’s a cautionary note from Colin Morice (climate monitoring scientist at the UK Met Office):

Record or near-record years are interesting, but the ranking of individual years should be treated with some caution because the uncertainties in the data are larger than the differences between the top ranked years. We can say this year will add to the set of near-record temperatures we have seen over the last decade.

Earth Burning

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Contents (1st of 2 posts today)

  1. How warm was 2014?
  2. How certain is the result?
  3. The Berkeley Group looks at 2014.
  4. Update: the UK Met Office
  5. The satellites disagree with the “hottest year” story.
  6. Conclusions
  7. Other articles about the warmest year
  8. For More Information

(1)  How warm was 2014?

The Most Dishonest Year on Record“, Robert Tracinski, The Federalist, 19 January 2015 — Excerpt:

If 2014 is supposed to be “hotter” than previous years, it’s important to ask: by how much? You can spend a long time searching through press reports to get an actual number on this — which is a scandal unto itself. Just saying one year was “hotter” or “the hottest” is a vague qualitative description. It isn’t science. Science runs on numbers. You haven’t said anything that is scientifically meaningful until you state how much warmer this year was compared to previous years — and until you give the margin of error of that measurement.

The original NASA press release did not give those figures — and most press reports just ran with it anyway. This in itself says a lot. When it comes to global warming, “journalism” has come to mean: “copying press releases from government agencies.”

That’s our journalists! But annual reports by NASA (who runs the GISS dataset) and NOAA (runs the NCDC dataset) provide the answers for journalists interested in news rather than the pack’s narrative. For answers let’s first turn to NOAA’s 2015 “State of the Climate” report. From the Global Analysis section:

The year 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since records began in 1880. The annually-averaged temperature was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F), easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04°C (0.07°F).

So the fireworks are about a temperature increase of 0.04°C (0.07°F) over 7 years?

(2)  How certain is the result?

How certain is NOAA of this conclusion? We turn to the section Calculating the Probability of Rankings for 2014:

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Scientists speak to us about the warming pause, while activists deny their work.

Summary: I feel sad watching the Left liquidate its credibility by denying climate scientists’ work on the pause in warming of the atmosphere since roughly 2000. Although their voices dominate the news media, we must not rely on activists to tell us about the world. We can see the cutting edge of science for ourselves. Seeing the world clearly is a requirement for our success in the 21st century.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

— From “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), said first by a prison warden and later by the prisoner Luke (Paul Newman).

World in eye

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Activists have published scores of articles denying the existence of the “pause” (or “hiatus”). That’s politically convenient — the pause contradicts their narrative of imminent catastrophic warming and arouses doubt about the computer models that create the forecasts. But it displays an astonishing disregard for the work of climate scientists, and science — just like those on the Right they mock.

Here we again we see the similar behavior of Americans on both ends of the political spectrum, obvious to all who look — except the participants themselves. It’s one of the things that gives our politics that Oz-like air of absurdity.

While activists earnestly deny the pause, scores of peer-reviewed papers discuss the pause, analyze its causes and forecast its duration. We see the cutting edge of this work at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society, in their two sessions about the “Global Warming Hiatus”: Part I and Part II.

Global average temperature has increased by 0.80°C over the 20th century but this warming trend has slowed or even stalled for the past 15 years. This warming hiatus has caused much confusion and debate but at the same time offers a scientific opportunity to study climate change dynamics in action. Mechanisms proposed include a slowdown in net radiative forcing, and interference by natural variability.

This session showcases rapidly advancing research on the physical mechanisms and various impacts of this hiatus event. Topics of particular interest include interdecadal variability and the interaction with forced climate change, radiative forcing and related processes, and ocean heat storage as pertinent to the hiatus.

Especially note this one, an A-team climate scientist revising the consensus: Projections of a rebound in warming out of the current hiatus, Matthew H. England, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Abstract, red emphasis added:

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The record closes on 2014. Was it the warmest year on record?

Summary: Alarmists trumpeted that 2014 was the warmest on record, seldom mentioning how long the record, or how much warmer, or if all the datasets agree. It’s innumeracy, an ignorance (sometimes feigned) of mathematics and the scientific method. It’s sad, since they’re repeating long-failed attempts to arouse public fear of climate change by statements beyond those of the climate science consensus — and often contradictory to it. (2nd of 2 posts today)

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I

Earth Burning

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Contents

  1. Appeals to fear. Will they work?
  2. What do satellites tell us about global warming?
  3. What’s the trend?
  4. Who produces this satellite data & analysis?
  5. For More Information

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(1) Appeals to fear. Will they work?

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Joe Romm at ThinkProgress is a poster child for the Left’s failure to build public support through propaganda. For an example see “2014 Was The Hottest Year On Record Globally By Far” — “The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record-keeping — by far.”  Quite a bold statement, but not what JMA said.

The annual anomaly of the global average surface temperature in 2014 (i.e. the average of the near-surface air temperature over land and the SST) was +0.27°C above the 1981-2010 average (+0.63°C above the 20th century average), and was the warmest since 1891. On a longer time scale, global average surface temperatures have risen at a rate of about 0.70°C per century.

Five Warmest Years (Anomalies): 1st. 2014 (+0.27°C), 2nd. 1998 (+0.22°C), 3rd. 2013, {4th.} 2010 (+0.20°C), 5th. 2005 (+0.17°C).

No mention by JMA of “warmest by far”, since it was the warmest by only +0.05°C — far smaller than the accuracy of the hodge-podge global surface temperature network (run by individual national weather services, with widely varying funding and effort).

The world has warmed for 2 centuries, since WWII largely due to our emissions (natural cycles caused the warming from the early 19thC). Activists like Romm seldom mentioned how much it has warmed, which allows alarmists to more easily arouse fear. For the answer we turn to the NASA-funded global temperature data from satellites.  This post shows the numbers: the warming since 1979 is small (so far; the future might be quite different). The truth is out there for people willing to see it. Only with it can we prepare for our future.

Before we dive into the numbers, read this cautionary note from Colin Morice (climate monitoring scientist at the UK Met Office):

Record or near-record years are interesting, but the ranking of individual years should be treated with some caution because the uncertainties in the data are larger than the differences between the top ranked years. We can say this year will add to the set of near-record temperatures we have seen over the last decade.

(2)  What do satellites tell us about global warming?

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Satellites provide the most comprehensive and reliable record of the atmosphere’s warming since 1979, measuring lower troposphere temperatures.

The 2014 Global Temperature Report
by the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville
(Blue is cold; red warm}. Click to enlarge.

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UAH satellite 2014 temperature data

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Do scientists play dumb on climate change?

Summary: Both Right and Left in America show a FAILure to learn from experience. Has it become part of our national character, perhaps our greatest weakness? Today we look an example of the Left’s attempts to mobilize us to fight climate change. So far failing to gain substantial public support, frustrated by failure of their amateur predictions of extreme climate, they double down. Perhaps they believe the Green Lantern Theory works in political activism — sufficient willpower can overcome any obstacle.

This follows up on my post predicting (guessing) that in 2015 the now-deadlocked climate wars will tilt decisively to one side. Either dramatic weather will spark a change in public opinion (albeit not necessarily changing the opinion of climate scientists) or the public will tire of the alarmists’ confident predictions of future doom which doesn’t happen. Either way the tide will turn on climate change: the political debate.

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Do scientists play dumb on climate change?

I recommend reading “Playing Dumb on Climate Change“, an op-ed by Naomi Oreskes (Prof history of science at Harvard, co-author of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future), New York Times, 3 January 2015.  It’s standard alarmist fare, of the sort fed to us during the past 25 years. The characteristics of this rhetoric reveal much about public policy debate in our 21st century New America, and points to a likely near-term future of the public policy debate about climate change (Earth’s climate will write the ending).

Excerpt, from the opening and closing:

Scientists have often been accused of exaggerating the threat of climate change, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that they ought to be more emphatic about the risk. The year just concluded is about to be declared the hottest one on record, and across the globe climate change is happening faster than scientists predicted.

… Years ago, climate scientists offered an increase of 2°Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) as the “safe” limit or ceiling for the long-term warming of the planet. We are now seeing dangerous effects worldwide, even as we approach a rise of only 1°Celsius. The evidence is mounting that scientists have underpredicted the threat.

She doesn’t list the kinds of climate change “happening faster than scientists predicted”.  A wise decision, since most of the predicted forms of client change are not happening (such claims have less force when made only as forecasts). See the details here; also see this by Prof Botkin (Prof Ecology, UC Santa Barbara) and this recent book. The “hottest year on record” label is exciting, but less so with the vital details (lay climate alarmists tend to avoid numbers) — with the atmosphere only a few hundredths of a degree above the previous high, and only in some datasets (not the 2 more accurate satellite datasets).

Are scientists incompetent or irresponsible?

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Men in space: an expensive trip to nowhere

Summary: NASA dreams of manned space flight to the planets, and spends billions to do so. They focus on “how” with no thought of why, repeating the error that led to the failure of Apollo. Like the State Department (wrecked in the 1950s, never fixed) and DoD (same mistakes in a succession of failed wars), NASA seems unable to learn from its experience. For 52 years manned space programs have provided expensive entertainment for Americans and welfare for its aerospace corporations. FAILure to learn is a serious weakness for the government of a great nation.

Given time, a desire, considerable innovation, and sufficient effort and money, man can eventually explore our solar system.Given his enormous curiosity about the universe in which he lives and his compelling urge to go where no one has ever been before, this will be done.

Report by President John F. Kennedy’s advisory committee on space, 10 January 1961.

Space Dreams

Science Photo Library

Contents

  1. Men and Women in Space: a dead end.
  2. Next steps on the road to nowhere.
  3. Journalist cheerleaders.
  4. Comparing space to other big projects.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Men and Women in Space: a dead end.

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History consists of missed opportunities and wrong turning onto dead ends. For example, what if Charles Babbage had completed his Difference Engine (a mechanical calculator) by 1850, and on that success he or his successors completed his Analytical Engine (a programmable computer) in the 1870s? What if America had not poured so much of its energy, creativity, and technical talent into the space program in the 1960s? What if we had spent it on some other form of research?

It’s not just hindsight. During the 1950s and 1960s the government commissioned numerous committees to consider the benefits of manned spaceflight; most of them repeated the conclusions of the 1960 Hornig Committee and the 1961 Weisner Committee (quoted above; the Chairman became a life-long opponent of the manned space program): the cost would outweigh the benefits.
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Space Station from "2001"

Space Station from “2001”

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The first 53 years of men and women in space validated their forecasts. It produced little useful science. The technological spin-offs have been even smaller (many commonly cited ones are myths, such as Tang, Teflon, Velcro, MRI, barcodes, quartz clocks, or smoke detectors). As for the commercial benefits of opening the final frontier, we turn to the definitive account of this wrong turn is Dark Side of the Moon by Gerard J. DeGroot (2006) — “The magnificent madness of the American lunar quest.”

Those who justified the presence of men in space argued that the early astronauts were like the medieval seafarers, looking for places to colonize. But the efforts of Columbus and Magellan were inspired by the commercial potential of new territories — exploration was pointless unless commerce followed. The Portuguese and Spanish courts would have pulled the plug on the explorers quicker than you can say Vasco da Gama if their voyages had been exclusively esoteric, or if they had brought back only worthless rocks. Instead, they returned with valuable commodities — precious metals, spices, trinkets, potatoes — which thrilled the medieval money crunchers.

In addition, the places they sought to explore were, by virtue of their existence on Earth, actually habitable. The same could not be said for colonies on the Moon or Mars. … The Moon, remember, makes Antarctica seem like an oasis.

NASA, with other nations, built the $150 billion space station that does little of commercial or scientific value. Now they plan further adventures.

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2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us

Summary: Beam us down to Earth on 31 December 2015. What will we find? My guess is that the massive experiments now underway by experts will have borne fruit, and we’ll know if they were sweet or poisoned. Interesting times lie ahead, and none can say how they will end.

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Crystal Ball

Contents

  1. The age of experts’ experiments on us
  2. Warnings of Climate Change
  3. Economics: monetary and fiscal magic
  4. For More Information

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Photo from the Star Trek episode “Miri” – The landing party arrives in response to a distress call. Experts on the planet have run a massive experiment to produce a better world. Looks like it didn’t end well.

TOS: "Miri" - Landing Party

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(1)  The age of experts’ experiments on us
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The 21st century has seen some of the largest experiments ever by experts, different from the often-mad amateur experiments that shaped so much of human history (e.g., the French and Russian revolutions, the Fascist social “engineers” in the 1930s, the 1970s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia). Some have run to completion, such as the US military’s expeditions to Iraq and Afghanistan — using the techniques of COIN to defeat local insurgents and build new western-style nations (quite mad given the history of almost total failure since WWII by foreign armies fighting insurgents). Other and larger experiments continue running. Let’s look at two of the biggest.

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