Two valuable perspectives on global warming

Here are two posts providing valuable perspectives about the global climate debate, understandable even to non-scientists.

I.  Data secrecy and the battle to allow replication of studies

Is Briffa Finally Cornered?“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 30 July 2008 — Excerpt:

In 2000, Keith Briffa, lead author of the millennial section of AR4, published his own versions of Yamal, Taymir and Tornetrask, all three of which have been staples of all subsequent supposedly “independent” reconstructions. The Briffa version of Yamal has a very pronounced HS and is critical in the modern-medieval differences in several studies. However, the Briffa version for Yamal differs substantially from the version in the publication by the originating authors (Hantemirov, Holocene 2002), but is the one that is used in the multiproxy studies …

An important characteristic of tree ring chronologies is that they are sensitive to the method used. Chronologies can be quickly and easily calculated from measurement data. Rob Wilson, for example, will nearly always run his own chronologies from measurement data so that he knows for sure how they were done and so that they are done consistently across sites.

Osborn and Briffa 2006 was published in Science, which has a policy requiring the availability of data. It used Briffa’s versions of Yamal, Taymir and Tornetrask. At the time, I requested the measurement data, which had still not been archived 6 years after the original publication of Briffa 2000, despite the availability of excellent international archive facilities at WDCP-A (www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo). Briffa refused.

I asked Science to require Briffa to provide the data.  After some deliberation, they stated that Osborn and Briffa 2006 had not used the measurement data directly but had only used the chronologies from an earlier study and that I should take up the matter with the author of the earlier study, pointedly not identifying the author, who was, of course, Briffa himself. I wrote Briffa again, this time in his capacity as author of the 2000 article in Quaternary Science Reviews and was blown off.

So years later, the measurement data for key studies used in both canonical multiproxy studies and illustrated in AR4 Box 6.4 Figure 1 (along, remarkably, with Mann’s PC1), remains unarchived, with Briffa resolutely stonewalling efforts to have him archive the data.

But has Briffa, after all these years, finally made a misstep?  Maybe.

Recently Briffa published Briffa et al 2008 in Phil Trans Roy Soc, a journal with a long history, and with a life outside IPCC. A reader drew my attention to the fact that Phil Trans Roy Soc has a clear and forthright policy. As I reported a little while ago, I wrote to them observing that Briffa had not observed their requirements on data availability and that their editors and reviewers had failed to require observance of a data archiving policy that would require provision of a url as a condition of publication.

… Last week, I received a cordial replying undertaking to look into the matter and stating:  “We take matters like this very seriously and I am sorry that this was not picked up in the publishing process.”

Imagine that. A journal that seems to have both a data policy and that takes it seriously. Unlike, say, Science or Nature, which have refused to make similar requirements of IPCC authors. On the face of it, a real science journal. That’s right: Real. Science.

However, Briffa is a wily data stonewalling veteran and may yet outwit the editors of Phil Trans Roy Soc. We shall see.

The journal discussed, Phil Trans Roy Soc, is Philosophical Transactions of the {British} Royal Society.  From Wikipedia:

Begun in 1665, it is the oldest scientific journal printed in the English-speaking world and the second oldest in the world, after the French Journal des sçavans. It is still published, making it the world’s longest running scientific journal. The use of the word “philosophical” in the title derives from the phrase “natural philosophy”, which was the equivalent of what we would now generically call “science”.

The rest of the post and the comments provide more data on this vital aspect of the global warming debate, one which has played a large role in shaping public policy regarding climate change.  Esp note this commenton why data is selectively shared among a small circle of researchers and effectively concealed from others.  While this makes sense in terms of their professional life, it is obviously wrong to restrict access to data from publicly funded work on such a vital subject.  It indicates how dysfunctional climate research has become that this problem continues for so many years after being widely identified.

Update:  seeing how far Climate Science falls short of our standards for government research

I recommend reading this post:  “Openness & Government“, Shane Deichman, at MountainRunner, 26 July 2008 (hat tip to Zenpundit) — Relevant and excellent material, including this gem.

One of the major opportunities for enhancing the effectiveness of our national scientific and technical effort and the efficiency of Government management of research and development lies in the improvement of our ability to communicate information about current research efforts and the results of past efforts.
— President John F. Kennedy’s opening statement in the “Weinberg Report“, 10 January 1963

II.  A rare evaluation of global climate models

D. Koutsoyiannis, A. Efstratiadis, N. Mannassis & A. Christofides, “On the credibility of climate predictions” Hydrological Sciences-Journal-des Sciences Hydrologiques, 53 (2008) — Abstract:

Geographically distributed predictions of future climate, obtained through climate models, are widely used in hydrology and many other disciplines, typically without assessing their reliability. Here we compare the output of various models to temperature and precipitation observations from eight stations with long (over 100 years) records from around the globe. The results show that models perform poorly, even at a climatic (30-year) scale. Thus local model projections cannot be credible, whereas a common argument that models can perform better at larger spatial scales is unsupported.

For a less-technical discussion of this article and its significance, see “Koutsoyiannis et al 2008: On the credibility of climate predictions“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 29 July 2008 — “Par Frank observes: ‘In essence, they found that climate models have no predictive value.'”

I strongly recommend reading this comment posted by the lead author about the difficulty of getting non-consensus papers published in climate science.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about global warming

(a)  Other posts on this site

  1. A look at the science and politics of global warming  (12 June 2008)
  2. Global warming means more earthquakes!  (19 June 2008)
  3. An article giving strong evidence of global warming  (30 June 2008)
  4. Worrying about the Sun and climate change – cycle 24 is late  (10 July 2008)
  5. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle  (15 July 2008)
  6. Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?   (15 July 2008)

(b)  Information from other sources

  1. SURFACE TEMPERATURE RECONSTRUCTIONS FOR THE LAST 2,000 YEARS“, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES (2006) — aka The North Report.
  2. Report of the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Hockey Stick Global Climate Reconstruction”, commissioned by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (July 2006) — aka The Wegman Report.  Also note this excerpt from the Q&A session of the Dr. Edward J. Wegman’s testimony.
  3. The role of statisticians in public policy debates over climate change“, Richard L. Smith, American Statistical Association – Section on Statistics & the Environment Newsletter (Spring 2007) — One of the too-few reports by statisticians on the climate change literature.
  4. A timeline of the science and politics of climate science.
  5. Bibliography by year of climate science research. 

10 thoughts on “Two valuable perspectives on global warming

  1. As far as I can tell, peer-reviewed papers serve a primarily credential-oriented function. They seem to be similar to how U.S. physicians must periodically get re-certified to practice.

    Papers are not the best way to teach students; they do not convey the actual experience of doing science; they do not communicate the nitty-gritty technical details needed by engineers. The people who use them most (IMHO) are hiring committees who must decide whether to hire a potential professor.

    I would like to see some kind of documentation that straddles the ground between peer-reviewed papers and textbooks. A paper has convinced an editor and some referees; a good textbook is suitable for convincing everyone.

  2. “As far as I can tell, peer-reviewed papers serve a primarily credential-oriented function. They seem to be similar to how U.S. physicians must periodically get re-certified to practice.”

    That’s seems overly cynical as far as I can tell. From personal experience and from talking with friends in other academic departments, including scientific ones, journal articles are often the cutting edge of research. Other researchers look at them to better understand their own research, to figure out where to take their projects, sometimes to show what’s wrong with a particular conclusion, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong, a lot of articles are published solely for credentialing purposes. But those are bad articles. And while the majority of articles are bad, not all of them are.

  3. The relevelant point is not the utility of peer-reviewed journals for scientists, but the suitability of this process for review and replication for critical public policy questions.

    If a small number of climate scientists establish control over key journals and committees (e.g., IPCC), that is a small bump on the road for science. It will work itself out eventually.

    It is another matter if this results in flawed public policy measures, affecting trillion-dollar economic decisions. The alarms sounded by many climate scientists require extraordinary measures, such as review and research by multi-discliplinary teams. For example, many climate science papers involve sublte and sophisticated statistical analysis, but are conducted and reviews by non-statasticians.

  4. The scientific issue is nowhere near as simple as you present. My over simplified summary (and horrors, I even got a degree in this stuff) of how to quickly evaluate a paper is:

    1) Determine whether the scientific paper is being used to justify or advocate political policy:
    a) If not, the paper is usually pretty well vetted in terms of science and data.
    b) If it is, it is certain that all related press releases are falsified propaganda. It is possible that the paper itself and the data are scientific, but you will be unable to determine this for sure for some time.
    This logic is a rephrasing of Wunch’s observation that politics demands short simple unambiguous answers from science. If good science cannot provide them, then charlatans and bad science will fill the void.

    2) Consider how old the analyzed time period is, the farther in the past, the more scientific the paper.

    3) Does the paper have an accompanying press release? If yes, assume it is not scientific.

    This results from the conflation of science with policy, based on bizarre but religiously appropriate logic. Their religious advisors have trained the public to accept logic like “Scientific observation A is true, therefore Al Gore should be made economic dictator.” It’s odd, but makes sense on a religious basis. I could argue with similar logic that all the evidence of global warming is proof that Bush’s economic policies are necessary.

    Most of the real science (and I will repeat the recommendation that anyone interested in real science start with Saltzman’s Dynamical Paleoclimatology) takes a very different approach and can be summarized as:
    1) There are huge unknowns
    2) Past climate variations have exterminated thousands of species. More recent small wiggles have destroyed civilizations. Climate variations are very dangerous. Climate variations are also inevitable.
    3) CO2 is a core component of the climate system. This is not one of the unknowns. How it works is the unknown.
    4) CO2 levels are being changed dramatically by mankind. This is also not an unknown. Direct measurement and isotopic measurement support this claim.

    Conclusion: Making dramatic changes to a system that is known to be very dangerous when you do not know the outcome or how the system works is dangerous and really stupid.

    (Why I consider most of the advocates to be religiously motivated rather than scientifically motivated)

    Available resources are finite. There are many other important competing demands for resources that are also of great importance. So, if you are serious about CO2 reduction, then one of your first policy decisions will be to maximize the reduction per dollar spent. This means that CO2 reduction per dollar should be a primary point of discussion. For some people it is. Others I know have heard this logic and realized, yes, they should be asking about reduction per dollar. The religiously motivated view this as an attack on their religion and fight back vigorously. That’s the most common reaction that I get.

    Alternate phrasing: Asking “do you believe in global warming” is like asking “do you believe in Christ our savior”. It’s the opening of a religious discussion, not a scientific one.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand what you are attempting to say here.

    Esp I do not see on what basis do you say “The scientific issue is nowhere near as simple as you present.” I never say the situation is simple — or even clear.

    In this series I discuss (a) the public debate (not the science) (b) methodological issues (e.g., failure to publish data and calculations, making replication impossible), (c) data issues (e.g., that the US surface stations are not, as claimed, of “uniformly high quality” — and probably not adequate for the uses to which many climate scientists put their records, and (d) other related issues (e.g., solar cycles). All of these are aspects understandable by non-experts.

  5. “Global Warming” will probably become seen as somewhat of a hoax, and certainly not a good example of science and policy making. “Climate Change”, due to the increase in CO2, might well save many of the reputations, but it’s clear that most countries which DID sign Kyoto, are NOT fulfilling their own, signed obligations.

    All the data used, especially for any tax funded research, should become publicly available immediately after publication. It should be intolerable that all the data is not.

  6. I found a rterrific quote by Leonard Susskind in his new book “The Black Hole War”. Now you can have any opinion on Susskind but you cannot deny he is a “serious scientist” His contribution to Theoretical Physics are well recognized.

    The Quote: “The Black Hole War (Susskind vs Hawking on information loss at singularity in a black hole)was a genuine scientific controversy-nothing like the pseudo-debates (sic) over intelligent design or the existence of global warming.Those phony arguments cooked up by political manipulators to confuse a naive public, don’t reflect any real scientific differences of opinion”.

    Now I realize that a guy who has the chair of Theo Physics at Stanford is making a comparison between AGW and Creationism in scientific debate must be painful to some but there it is. And if there is squawking about Susskind’s not being a climatologist, well neither were most of the signatories of the IPCC report. And I will trust the opinion of a Theo Phys any day over a PHD in Ecology.
    JLK

  7. This is a fascinating point in time in the climate debate. The papers you mention are but a small part of the counter-attack by realists against the alarmists.

    The rest of the world can do as it wishes, but until the US signs on to the trillion dollar redistribution scam advocated by Gore, Pachauri, Pelosi, Obama, Boxer et al, the damage can be contained.

    Once the US buys into the scam, everything begins to go down very quickly.

  8. Climate change skepticism is a symptom of American culture. It is a small minority view outside the US.

    Since the Average American has no way of verifying the truth or otherwise of the climate change claims it is largely a political decision whether they believe it or not.

    Americans have a great fear of conspiracies. Of things being imposing on them by government or corporations and that means that some sort of conspiracy by climate change scientists to foist climate change on the rest of the world is believable.

    Combine that with the American right to have an opinion no matter how shallow and we get people looking at pseudo-science papers and claiming fraud.

    I have a background in physics and computational mathematics but reading a few papers in the field and trying to divine if it’s all a big fraud is a joke – I have no idea to it’s validity and unless you have spent 20 years as a climatologist neither do you.

    I just look at the poor quality of the skeptics – only a few are actually climate change scientists – the leading ones seem to be economists or geologists or worst of all political scientists (Lomborg). And they are joined by skeptics like Big Oil and Neocon Think Tanks.

    They have a pile of vested interests and history of self-serving political manipulation that is a mile high.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not see the basis for much of what you say.

    “Climate change skepticism is a symptom of American culture.” Skepticism, insistance on review and replication, is an essential aspect of science.

    “Americans have a great fear of conspiracies.” Is this a steriotype or national prejudice, or do you have cross-cultural data? For example, does America have anything like the fear of Jewish cabals seeking global domination that feature so large in Europe’s history?

    “I have no idea to it’s validity and unless you have spent 20 years as a climatologist neither do you.” The appeal to authority, one of the great conversation-stoppers among logical fallacies. The issues I raise in this series concern public presentation of the debate and issues of methodology and data quality — all understandable by non-scientists.

    “I just look at the poor quality of the skeptics – only a few are actually climate change scientists.” Just like the proponents of AGW (you seem to confuse AGW with GW, although they are distinct issues). Or do you consider Al Gore a scientist? This is a characteristic of most public policy debates.

    “They have a pile of vested interests and history of self-serving political manipulation that is a mile high.” Again, a characteristic of most public policy debates — which have few disinterested angels on either side.

  9. Well, I am a student (international relations) who spends much time digging through journals and try to be as cynical and questioning as possible.

    What really surprises me is that we were hit over the head from day 1 about where one gets there information from (more to avoid plagiarism) but also to make sure that your sources are relatively good quality. I find it hard to believe that such high profile professionals (and on such an important matter) effectively ‘fudging’ their numbers and others seemingly happy to play along.

    As for the trouble of getting non-consensus papers printed is an alternative to set up a peer-reviewed journal prepared to publish these dissenting voices? Yes it would come under considerable criticism, but all publicity is good publicity.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Science is a social activity. It works well over long periods of time, but only erratically over the short-term. For examples I suggest reading Stephen Jay Gould’s books, which describe folllies of the physical and social sciences. Better yet is Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

  10. Updated posted: seeing how far Climate Science falls short of our standards

    I recommend reading this post: “Openness and Government“, Shane Deichman, at MountainRunner, 26 July 2008 (hat tip to Zenpundit) — Relevant and excellent material, including this gem.

    One of the major opportunities for enhancing the effectiveness of our national scientific and technical effort and the efficiency of Government management of research and development lies in the improvement of our ability to communicate information about current research efforts and the results of past efforts.
    President John F. Kennedy’s opening statement in the “Weinberg Report“, 10 January 1963

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