An eminent climate scientist describes the frontiers of climate science

Summary: Here is a status report on climate science by an eminent climate scientists, helping us see its frontiers and so better cope with one of the major challenges of the 21st century. (Second of two posts today.)

A new paradigm for assessing the role of humanity
in the climate system — and in climate change

By Roger Pielke, Sr.
Posted with his generous permission.

A note about progress in science

Geological ages ago at Cornell, I learned that science usually takes place on the frontiers of observation. That’s the important insight Thomas Kuhn overlooked in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Freeman Dyson described this hole as “tool- or instrument-driven revolutions.” These are as or more common than paradigm-driven revolutions. Galileo looks through his telescope at the moons of Jupiter and our view of the universe changes. Watson and Crick looked at an X-ray diffraction image of DNA and saw its structure; four years later Watson formulated the “central dogma of molecular biology” and began a revolution still in its early stage.

My guess (guess) is that new observational tools, not just new theories, will end the climate wars. If not, then eventually the changing climate will tell us which side was correct.

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Testing Skeptical Science: is Roger Pielke Sr. a climate misinformer?

Summary: A post last week examined a darling of the Right, Zero Hedge. This post takes an equally harsh look at a darling of the Left, Skeptical Science. Both show how our stronger loyalty to tribe than truth encourages our information providers to feed us a mix of fact and politically appealing misinformation, shaping our beliefs and maintaining internal cohesion of the tribe (and our distrust of the “others”). We’ll remain gullible and easily led until we learn skepticism and demand more accuracy from those we trust.

“Truth is strong enough to overcome all human sophistries.”
Timarchum by Aeschines (389–314 BC).

The Truth is Out There

Smearing scientists is a staple on both sides of the climate wars — the debate about the public policy implications of climate change. Such smears not only overflow the comment sections of popular websites, they’re often seen in the writings of major players on the public stage.

For example, see the 40 “climate misinformers” listed on John Cook’s Skeptical Science. It’s one of the climate-focused websites most widely cited on the Left, known for its flamboyant claims.  This post examines the first of 4 SkS page about eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr.

Before examining the details of SkS’s content, note the vast amount of work that went into creating it. The 4 pages about Pielke Sr. are one of 40 about “climate misinformers” — which is one of 10 “resources”, which are just one part of the SkS website (which has aps for iPhone, Android, and Nokia). This shows a major difference between the websites of climate “warriors” and “skeptics”. Despite claims that the skeptics have vast funds from evil oil, their websites are a ramshackle pile of contributions from volunteers (however skilled). Several the climate warriors have professional-quality websites.

About a misinformer

What was are the myths of Roger Pielke Sr.? How do SkS’ claims look today? The SkS page (it’s undated) gives ten quotes which they call “myths”. Not one of their rebuttals looks correct. A lot of the SkS content is like that, which is why people so often report their critical comments get deleted (no Smackdowns page there). I’ve slightly expanded some of Pielke’s quotes, and made small edits for clarity (e.g., numbering the myths).

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Thomas Kuhn tells us what we need to know about climate science

Summary: The history of science provides a vital perspective for anyone watching our time’s high stakes climate science debate. Look at Twitter and you will see the theories of the great Thomas Kuhn at work, helping us better understand the public policy debate.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Speech by union leader Nicholas Klein (1918). This applies just as well to paradigm challenges in science.



  1. The nature of science.
  2. The structure of real science.
  3. The structure of scientific revolutions.
  4. The state of climate science.
  5. What happens next?
  6. For More Information.

(1)  The nature of science

Much of the debate among laypeople about climate science (the only rational foundation for public policy debates about climate change) revolves around misunderstandings of how science works. There is the concept of “consensus” in science, politically useful but implies that the majority view indicates truth (as if vox populi, vox dei applies to science). There are more useful perspectives.

As scientists studying science have long known, it’s a social activity like any other. Our “wetware” evolved on the African plains and included nothing to produce intellectuals in the selfless pursuit of knowledge. Like war, western society has evolved it into a ferociously efficient mechanism that’s often not as pretty as shown in 1930’s films about heroic scientists challenging orthodoxy.

Science is a field with barriers to entry, training mechanisms to produce people who (usually) behave according to its canons, rules for their competition, and a hierarchy to control its workings and allocate its rewards. The winners climb to the top, basking in their community’s prestige (often unknown to the wider society), preferentially reward and advance their allies and protégés, withhold resources from their rivals, and bake their beliefs into the community’s thinking.

It’s the way of the world.

The study of science as a social activity tended to focus on its normative processes (i.e., how they should be). For example, Karl Popper said that scientists validate theories through attempts at falsification. A compelling theory, but study of actual scientists disproved it.

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Do models accurately predict climate change?

Summary: Climate models are important for several reasons. Large flows of tax dollars go to their construction and operation. Their predictions dominate the public policy debate about climate change (to the exclusion of other tools, such as predictability studies). In this post eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr. explains that long-term model forecasts have shown little skill at forecasting. Post your questions in the comments; he’ll answer as time permits.  {1st of 2 posts today).

“I offer a toast to the future, the undiscovered country.”
— Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country“.

The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of? …And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.  {Hamlet}

Temperature change in NOAA's GFDL CM2.1 model.
Projected change in annual mean surface air temperature from the late 20th century (1971-2000 average) to the middle 21st century (2051-2060 average). This is based on a “middle of the road” estimate of future emissions ( IPCC SRES A1B). These results are from the GFDL CM2.1 model, but are consistent with a broad consensus of modeling results. From NOAA.

How accurately do the global climate models simulate the real climate?

Guest post by Roger A. Pielke Sr.

The climate models are useful as sensitivity experiments but using them to claim an ability to skillfully project climate, even on the global scale, in the coming decades has not been shown.

The new seminal Stephens et al paper provides a clear documentation of the level of model skill: “The albedo of Earth” in Reviews of Geophysics, March 2015. There is also a power point talk on this: “Is the Earth’s climatesystem constrained?” Among their conclusions is that …

“Climate models fail to reproduce the observed annual cycle in all components of the albedo with any realism, although they broadly capture the correct proportions of surface and atmospheric contributions to the TOA {top of atmosphere} albedo. A high model bias of albedo has also persisted since the time of CMIP3, mostly during the boreal summer season. Perhaps more importantly, models fail to produce the same degree of interannual constraint on the albedo variability nor do they reproduce the same degree of hemispheric symmetry.”

The technical term albedo “is the fraction of solar energy (shortwave radiation) reflected from the Earth back into space. It is a measure of the reflectivity of the earth’s surface. Ice, especially with snow on top of it, has a high albedo: most sunlight hitting the surface bounces back towards space” (From the Earth & Space Research website). CMIP3 is phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). They collect the output of global climate models (i.e., coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models).

Stephens et al further bolsters the conclusions we summarized in the preface to Climate Vulnerability: Understanding and Addressing Threats to Essential Resources (5 volumes, 2013)…

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In the center ring: scientists debate the process of climate science

Summary:  Here’s one of the best conversations I’ve seen about the state and process of climate science (not the technical details for professionals). If he were alive, Thomas Kuhn would smile at this evidence that his theory so well describes the workings of science — on which we rely for prosperity and perhaps survival.  The public policy debate would become clearer if people paid more attention to these debates, rather than listening to the more entertaining but useless posturing of activists.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

Truth in science
Graphic designed by IdeaTree Company.

Eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr published “NASA’s Dr. Gavin Schmidt goes into hiding from seven very inconvenient climate questions” at Watts Up With That. The discussion shifted over to the blog And Then There’s Physics (run by an anonymous scientist), where Chris Colose took a leading role (PhD student in an Atmospheric Science program at the U of Albany; bio at his website).

This twitter conversation among us nicely illustrates the state of climate science today: the debate about basic physics, the time-wasting personal invective, the confidence of those in the mainstream and their contempt for scientists on the fringes, and the blurred boundaries between scientists and amateurs and mountebanks.

All of these are common in the history of science, and well-described by Thomas Kuhn in his great classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Paradigms are “universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.” They define for a community of scientists the important questions for investigation and how to conduct science. Paradigms cannot be disproven; they can only be replaced (they’re necessary). Normal science becomes a paradigm crisis when a new paradigm begins to emerge.

I’ve combined and lightly edited these tweets for clarity.


RogerAPielkeSr: Unfortunately, very true. They just want to play “gotcha” rather than work together to expand perspectives and approaches. “admitting an error is a poor strategy.” Says a lot about state of climate science. Admitting errors is how we learn.  “I also don’t think that the term forcing in climate science is quite equivalent to a force in physics.” Wow.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.): It was excellent discussion, IMO. Disagreement about basic physics gives a clear demo of the weak fundamentals of climate science. My background is in history of science. These debates are characteristic of science on the frontiers, not settled science.

Roger A. Pielke Sr: Except they are trying to force it as “settled science”.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.): That’s standard operating procedure for science debates. Paradigms define settled science; crisis destroys consensus, hence their ferocity. See relativity, continental drift. A discussion that finds disagreement of such basic physics is IMO a success. is there any mechanism for follow-up? That’s a weakness of blogs.

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How warm was the world in July, amidst the historic heat waves?

Summary:  The most accurate source of global temperature data comes from satellites, with their full coverage and more standard sensors. Thanks to the internet we need not rely on secondary sources; we can see the data for ourselves. For analysis, of course, we must rely on scientists. Previous posts have discussed the 2 century long global warming. Today we look at the data and analysis of July’s global temperatures, neither of which well matches the heat wave hysteria washing through the news media.

Preliminary Global Temperature Report for July 2012
From the National Space Science & Technology Center at the University Of Alabama At Huntsville

Click to expand image to full size.

Summary (from section 2):

  • Global composite temperature: +0.28 C (about 0.50 degrees F) above 30-year average for July.
  • Northern Hemisphere: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees F) above 30-year average for July.
  • Southern Hemisphere: +0.11 C (about 0.20 degrees F) above 30-year average for July.
  • Tropics: +0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees F) above 30-year average for July.
  • Global climate trend since 16 November 1978: +0.14 degrees C per decade.
  • Compared to global seasonal norms, July 2012 was the coolest July since 2008.


  1. Introduction
  2. Analysis by John Christy (red emphasis added)
  3. Other perspectives on temperature trends in our warming world
  4. About this data and analysis
  5. About the research team
  6. For more information

(1)  Introduction

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Climate science: the debate, the eventual solution, and the best cheap seats from which to watch the action.

Summary:  A look at the public’s view of the debate among climate scientists, and what it shows about us.

Debates among layman about technical matters say nothing about the actual issues — but reveal much about the state of the American public.  So it is with the debates about climate and economics.  Both reflect the history-changing insight by our ruling elites that Americans have become weak and foolish, easy subjects controlled by propaganda.  Our character and minds have weakened, so that even intelligent and educated Americans become subject to simple propaganda. 

This website has examined this dynamic in economics.  Such as how so many people have come to believe a false history (example here) and faux theory (i.e., that cutting taxes increases revenue).   Did we believe such foolish things in the 1950’s?  1960’s?  Nothing comes to mind.

The public debate about climate change has similar dynamics.  The professions consists of cutting edge science. 

  • Uncertain data about past and present trends.  Using a few long-term proxies measure past changes in temperature and precipitation.  Interpreting crude measures, such as ocean temperatures derived from bucketfuls of  seawater, to determine global temperatures.  Using weather stations designed to measure runway conditions to detect tiny long-term temperature changes. 
  • Immature models of global climate dynamics, with uncertain understanding about basic factors.  Such as the interrelationship of humidity, clouds, and how the resulting feedbacks increasing or decreasing temperature.
  • Almost unknown sciences for which there is provocative data but little knowledge of causal mechanisms.  Such as influence of solar and volcanic events on climate.

All of these issues are debated — and will ultimately be resolved — in the scientific literature (see a small sample of the literature on the FM reference page Science & climate – studies & reports).   The solution will probably come slowly due to gross underfunding of research.  Today climate science is a “garage” science, with individuals or small groups tackling questions requiring large teams of multi-disciplinary experts.  Eventually answers will emerge.  Either through new instruments, new theories, or the slow accumulation of data and analysis.

While we wait, it’s fun to watch greenies see lists of peer-reviewed articles debating fundamental climate science issues.  For them these articles don’t exist, and they can do nothing but change the subject.  To acknowledge the debate among scientists destroys the foundation for massive immediate public policy measures.  Odd that they often label as “deniers” those who are skeptical about the magnitude and causes of anthropogenic global warming, when so often they deny the simple fact that a debate among scientists exists about the global warming of the past two centuries.

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