Tag Archives: climate science

A whistleblower challenges NOAA’s climate data

Summary: An insider at NOAA has blown the whistle on improper practices at NOAA. This might be the most serious challenge to practices at the major climate science institutions since release of the “Climategate” emails. This occurs when they are vulnerable to scrutiny and pressure from Team Trump. The broad significance of Bates’ claims remains unclear, as are their validity. Here is a summary. It’s a story worth following.


Lots of pearl-clutching over this — David Rose at the Daily Mail published “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” The Mail is a British tabloid (i.e., big headlines for sensational stories, lots of graphics). Rose is an award-winning investigative journalist who has written for the BBC, Vanity Fair, London Observer, and The Guardian. See his bio and Wikipedia entry. We rely on journalists such as Rose to provide information and perspectives that contradict the institutional consensus.

For those that prefer hard news, we can skip the Daily Mail and go straight to the source: “Climate scientists versus climate data” by John Bates at Climate Etc. Bates is a distinguished principal scientist at NOAA, and has long been involved in both setting procedures for insuring data integrity and supervising its climate data products. See his bio at LinkedIn and the American Geophysical Association (elected to the Board in 2012). He is an insider to the workings of NOAA’s climate machinery. His report deserves close attention. The following quotes are from Bates’ article at Climate Etc.

Bates’ claims at Climate etc.

In the opening he gives an introduction of his case.

“The most serious example of a climate scientist not archiving or documenting a critical climate dataset was the study of Tom Karl et al. 2015 {aka K15), purporting to show no ‘hiatus’ in global warming in the 2000s {see NOAA’s press release}…. The study drew criticism from other climate scientists, who disagreed with K15’s conclusion about the ‘hiatus.’ (Nature: “Making sense of the early-2000s warming slowdown“). The paper also drew the attention of the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Representative Lamar Smith, who questioned the timing of the report, which was issued just prior to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan submission to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 {details here}.

“In the following sections, I provide the details of how Mr. Karl failed to disclose critical information to NOAA, Science Magazine, and Chairman Smith regarding the datasets used in K15. I have extensive documentation that provides independent verification of the story below. I also provide my suggestions for how we might keep such a flagrant manipulation of scientific integrity guidelines and scientific publication standards from happening in the future.”

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Disturbing research about the use of “narratives” in climate science papers

Summary: A new paper provides valuable information about climate science — evidence of the politicization that helped collapse the public policy debate. The authors conclude that narratives are “used to positive effect” in peer-reviewed papers. It puts science on the slippery slope to becoming propaganda (or, in today’s jargon, “fake news”). Scientists achieve career success but destroy the public’s esteem accumulated over centuries.


Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science

By Ann Hillier, Ryan P. Kelly, and Terrie Klinger.
From PLOS ONE, 15 December 2016. Red emphasis added.

Climate change is among the most compelling issues now confronting science and society, and climate science as a research endeavor has grown accordingly over the past decade. The number of scholarly publications is increasing exponentially, doubling every 5±6 years. The volume of climate science publications now being produced far exceeds the ability of individual investigators to read, remember, and use. Accordingly, it is increasingly important that individual articles be presented in a way that facilitates the uptake of climate science and increases the salience of their individual research contributions.

…Despite this, professional scientific writing tends to be more expository than narrative, prioritizing objective observations made by detached researchers and relying on the logical proposition “if X, then Y” to define the structure of the argument.

Narrative writing, on the other hand, is commonly used to good effect in popular science writing. Both simple narratives and apocalyptic climate narratives are known to capture public attention and spur action. Moreover, narratives can influence perceptions of climate risk and policy preferences among the public, and the narrative style has been proposed as a powerful means of research to address problems of knowledge, policy, and action as they relate to climate change.

Here we explore the influence of narrative in the professional communication of climate science research, acknowledging that the perception of narrative can be subjective and context- dependent.

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Paul Krugman explains how to break the climate policy deadlock

Paul Krugman — Nobel Laureate economist, #5 on Prospect magazine’s 2015 list of the world’s top “thinkers” —  gives us powerful advice about the climate policy debate in his August 12 NYT op-ed (similar to this from a February column).

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman. Creative Commons license.

Here’s how I would approach the issue: by asking how we know that a modeling approach is truly useful. The answer, I’d suggest, is that we look for surprising successful predictions. General relativity got its big boost when light did, in fact, bend as predicted. The theory of a natural rate of unemployment got a big boost when the Phillips curve turned into clockwise spirals, as predicted, during the stagflation of the 1970s.

So has there been anything like that in recent years? …Were there any interesting predictions from … models that were validated by events?

In fact he is discussing his own field, macroeconomics — but this insight has deep roots in the philosophy of science and applies as well to climate science. Predictions are the gold standard for validating theories. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) Thomas Kuhn described failed predictions that undermined dominant paradigms (e.g., the Michelson–Morley experiment) and successful predictions that helped establish new paradigms (e.g., the orbit of Mercury). He said…

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns us about climate change

Summary:  This is the second post looking at statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s insights about “ruin” risks, and what they tell us about climate change. Here we look at his warning about climate change and two factors he ignores: the duration of the climate risk window and the odds of a climate disaster. The danger is real but the stories that we face certain doom are wild exaggerations, which make rational preparation more difficult. The previous post was Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the risks threatening humanity.

Cover of "Turning the Tide On Climate Change" by Robert Kandel

Cover of “Turning the Tide On Climate Change” by Robert Kandel (2009).

Yesterday’s post examined a methodology developed by a team including Nassim Nicholas Taleb for identifying “ruin” risks, where the result is non-recoverable for global civilization — or even the biosphere (described in “Mathematical Foundations for the Precautionary Principle“).

They wrote a note applying their method to one of the major risk debates of our time: “Climate models and precautionary measures” in Science and Technology, in press. The authors are brilliant, and it states with unusual clarity common arguments for radical and immediate action to fight climate change. Here’s the core of their analysis (it’s worth reading in full).

“Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects; those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action. These two alternatives are not exhaustive. One can sidestep the “skepticism” of those who question existing climate-models, by framing risk in the most straight-forward possible terms, at the global scale. That is, we should ask ‘what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models?’

“We have only one planet. This fact radically constrains the kinds of risks that are appropriate to take at a large-scale. Even a risk with a very low probability becomes unacceptable when it affects all of us –– there is no reversing mistakes of that magnitude.

“…While some amount of pollution is inevitable, high quantities of any pollutant put us at a rapidly increasing risk of destabilizing the climate, a system that is integral to the biosphere. Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us.

“…This leads to the following asymmetry in climate policy. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated tube large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm icon those who would deny it.”

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Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”

Summary:  The public policy debate about climate science shows the dysfunctional nature of the US media. It’s one reason why making effective public policy has become difficult or impossible. Here’s another example of how propaganda has contaminated the news reporting of this vital subject, looking at stories about a new study of our oceans.

Oxygen loss in the oceans

Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR. It is freely available for media use.

NCAR’s press research accurately describes the paper: “Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s” (although it omits a crucial detail, mentioned below). Phil Plait at Slate turns this into agitprop:  “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans“. His conclusion: ““messing with {the ocean} habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.” Maddie Stone at Gizmodo also has a sensational headline “The Oceans Are Running Low on Oxygen” (the paper says nothing like that; for example, “detectable change” does not imply a “low” level).

To see how science becomes sensational propaganda let’s start by looking at the paper — “Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen” by Matthew C. Long et al, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, February 2016. Ungated copy here. It is interesting and valuable research about climate dynamics. The abstract…

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Imagine the horrific fate of the losers after the climate policy debate ends

Summary: The appropriate public policy response to climate change is one of the great issues of our time, driving one of the longest yet inconsequential debates in modern US history. Yet everything comes to an end, eventually. This post speculates what that end might mean for the activists and scientists on each side if they lose. The consequences of defeat might mar the lives of ten thousand people in America (more around the world), yet has been little discussed.

Are you now, or have ever been, a climate denier?

Burning of Anne Hendricks as a Witch in 1571. Engraving by Jan Luyken (1685).

Burning of Anne Hendricks as a witch in 1571. Engraving by Jan Luyken (1685).

The US public policy debate about climate has run for 28 years, starting the clock from James Hansen’s famous Senate testimony. Although the results have been meager, I suspect it’s like a geological fault. Massive forces moving but locked together, with the stress accumulating year by year. People live on it, complacent since nothing has happened. Then …boom.

There are many possible intermediate outcomes, such as slow political and climate change over generations. We remember the exciting outcomes — ice ages and revolutions — but slow evolution is the most frequent outcome. But sometimes the extreme outcomes become unusually likely. I believe climate is one of them. The political debate has become a game in which nobody claims the pot. It grows to immense size as both sides bet more than they can afford to lose. Each confident of victory; neither prepares for possible ruin. It’s a commonplace in military history.

The outcome will result from a combination of weather and politics, contingent on random (or unpredictable) events. Whatever the outcome, the long-term fate of 21st century climate change might mock it. The good guys often lose in politics.

Here are guesses about some “tail outcomes”, two possible extreme outcomes that illustrate the stakes in this now deadlocked political debate. Either the climate science institutions — and climate scientists — win, or the skeptics win.

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We can end the climate policy wars: demand a test of the models

Summary: This is the last of my series about ways to resolve the public policy debate about climate change. It puts my proposal to test the models in a wider context of science norms and the climate science literature. My experience shows that neither side of the climate wars has much interest in a fair test; both sides want to win through politics. Resolving the climate policy wars through science will require action by us, the American public.

Global Warming

Ending the climate policy debate the right way

Do you trust the predictions of climate models? That is, do they provide an adequate basis on which to make major public policy decisions about issues with massive social, economic and environmental effects? In response to my posts on several high-profile websites, I’ve had discussions about this with hundreds of people. Some say “yes”; some say “no”. The responses are alike in that both sides have sublime confidence in their answers; the discussions are alike in they quickly become a cacophony.

The natural result: while a slim majority of the public says they “worry” about climate change — they consistently rank it near or at the bottom of their policy concerns. Accordingly, the US public policy machinery has gridlocked on this issue.

Yet the issue continues to burn, absorbing policy makers’ attention and scarce public funds. Worst of all, the paralysis prevents efforts to prepare even for the almost certain repeat of past climate events — as Tropical Storm Sandy showed NYC and several studies have shown for Houston — and distracts attention from other serious environmental problems (e.g., destruction of ocean ecosystems).

How can we resolve this policy deadlock?  Eventually, either the weather or science will answer our questions, albeit perhaps at great cost. We could just vote, abandoning the pretense there is any rational basis for US public policy (fyi, neither Kansas nor Alabama voted that Pi = 3).

We can do better. The government can focus the institutions of science on questions of public policy importance. We didn’t wait for the normal course of research to produce an atomic bomb or send men to the moon. We’re paying for it, so the government can set standards for research, as is routinely done for the military and health care industries (e.g., FDA drug approval regulations).

The policy debate turns on the reliability of the predictions of climate models. These can be tested to give “good enough” answers for policy decision-makers so that they can either proceed or require more research. I proposed one way to do this in Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate & win: test the models! — with includes a long list of cites (with links) to the literature about this topic. This post shows that such a test is in accord with both the norms of science and the work of climate scientists.

We can resolve this policy debate.  So far America lacks only the will to do so. That will have to come from us, the American public.

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