"We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet."
["Assaults" presumably refers to the email scandal, commonly referred to as "Climategate," and to the furor that ensued. To dismiss the latter, which does include investigations — this site hopes there will more — of the principals, as "political" is misleading. What the emails reveal is a small group of scientists conniving to promote their own work and to silence their critics. Further revealed are conscious, coordinated efforts to mislead the readers of the journals in which they published, i.e. their fellow scientists, the agencies that funded their research and the general public. The emails further show the principals conspiring to resist Freedom of Information requests that were legitimate, not only in the legal sense, but also in the sense that the individuals making the requests had both a genuine interest in the scientific issues and the requisite skills necessary to re-analyze the data. In some instances, the requesters were arguably better equipped by virtue of temperament and training to analyze the data than the scientists themselves.
All of this was done at taxpayer expense and with the purpose of promoting policies that, whatever their merit (or lack thereof), carry an enormous price tag. It was not, in short, an edifying performance, being, to the contrary, despicable, counter to the general welfare and detrimental to science.
"But wait," as the man hawking housewares says in the commercial, "There's more!" One of the files, Harry_Read_Me.txt leaked by the Climategate "hacker" documents problems with the methods by which East Anglia scientists, more accurately, their graduate students, attempted to measure the earth's temperature. One does not, after all, simply grab hold of a large rectal thermometer and ask the old girl to bend over. They don't make them large enough; and if they did, she probably wouldn't. Nope. What one does is to piece together weather station records, thousands of them, from around the globe. Problem is the stations were never intended to function as part of a world-wide network capable of estimating the earth's average temperature to ±0.2° C. The stations move around; cities grow up around them; instrumentation changes and, LOL, their identity codes change. Writes "Harry," a programmer brought in to clean up the code,
"Now, I admit the lats and lons aren't spot on. But c'mon, what are the chances of them being different? The two year 2000s are almost identical.Over at The Strata-Sphere, A. J. Stata reproduced additional gems. Try this one:
0 -1550 12450 12 KURI BAY AUSTRALIA 2000 2006 -999 -999.00 9420800 -1548 12452 29 KURI BAY AUSTRALIA 1965 1992 -999 -999.00
0 -1550 12810 11 WYNDHAM AUSTRALIA 2000 2006 -999 -999.00 0 -1550 12820 11 WYNDHAM AERO AUSTRALIA 2000 2006 -999 -999.00 9421400 -1549 12812 11 WYNDHAM POST OFFICE AUSTRALIA 1968 2000 -999 -999.00 9421401 -1547 12810 20 WYNDHAM (WYNDHAM POR AUSTRALIA 1898 1966 -999 -999.00
"Come On!! This is one station isn't it."
"But what are all those monthly files? DON’T KNOW, UNDOCUMENTED. Wherever I look, there are data files, no info about what they are other than their names. And that’s useless ... ."Most important, the stations don't always report. As a result, the scientists felt compelled, to adjust, to average and to interpolate. And did they ever! There was raw data, original data, adjusted data, gridded data — Lord knows what else. To compensate for the urban heat island (UHI) effect, older temperatures were reduced, the consequence in some (many? most?) cases being to increase the apparent warming. Even worse, missing records were replaced with "synthetic" data. Get that? Numbers were invented; "-999" became the average of "nearby" stations, where "nearby" could mean hundreds of miles away.
As Richard Brook observed,
"The complexity of the calculations, and the considerable element of human judgment ... leave the process wide open to error and bias. Thus, the final results may actually reflect, to one degree or another, no more than the opinions of the scientists producing them."Brooks' assessment is mild. Not only was the methodology ad hoc, but the computer programs implementing it, poorly documented and "buggy." At one point in the log that records his efforts to sort things out, Harry remarks,
"Had a hunt and found an identically-named temperature database file which did include normals lines at the start of every station. How handy - naming two different files with exactly the same name and relying on their location to differentiate! Aaarrgghh!!"Often, sometimes on purpose, run-time errors, the bane of programing, were not trapped for, with the consequence that programs could continue merrily on their way, generating garbage with no one the wiser. "So with a somewhat cynical shrug," writes Harry,
"I added the nuclear option — to [allow the user to] match every WMO [World Meteorological Organization] possible, and turn the rest into new stations ... . In other words what CRU [Climate Research Unit at East Anglia] usually do[es]. It will allow bad databases to pass unnoticed, and good databases to become bad ..." [hat tip HJS]In short, there is staggering contrast between the cocksure comportment of the Climategate principals and the mess on which they based their conclusions. Like the rooster cock-a-doodle-doing from the highest dung heap in the barnyard, these self-appointed lords of the manor — dare I say, "manure" — didn't look down.
John Tierny, writing in the New York Times ("all the news that fits, we print"), put it this way:
"While Harry’s log shows him worrying about the integrity of the database, the climate scientists are e-mailing one another with strategies for blocking outsiders’ legal requests to see their data.The thermometer record is one of the principal pillars on which rests the argument for anthropogenic warming (AGW), and the problem is, not that there is "some uncertainty," but that it is utterly unconvincing. What about the other pillars? Well, there's the models and there's paleoclimatology. Regarding the models, I will comment below. As to paleoclimatology, three considerations undercut using it to justify anything with real world consequences.
"While Harry is puzzling over temperatures ... the scientists are confidently making proclamations to journalists ... and plotting revenge against those who question the dangers of global warming. When a journal publishes a skeptic’s paper, the scientists ... focus instead on retaliation against the journal and the editor ... ."
- Reconstructions of climates past rely on proxy variables: tree ring widths, isotope ratios, etc., all of which can be influenced by multiple factors. As such, the view they provide of temperatures past is "through a glass darkly."
- Trying to distinguish "signal" from "noise" led to the use of esoteric statistics — calculations of the 'lies, damned lies and statistics" kind. This, in turn, resulted in considerable wrangling regarding over the calculations' legitimacy, the brouhaha surrounding the hockey stick, being a noteworthy example. Based on his own experience, admittedly limited, the present author believes that such techniques should be used with caution. Better to put time and money into searching for proxies with higher signal to noise ratios.
- Paleoclimatologists have not been above resorting to deception when the results don't go their way. "Mike's Nature trick" to hide the infamous "decline" — see Marc Sheppard's explication — is one example; replacement of the hockey stick in IPCC3 by the "spaghetti graph" in IPCC4 is another.
Bottom line: The precautionary principle cuts both ways. Failure to base policy on what the NAS signatories characterize as "compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence," far from posing a "dangerous risk to the planet," will, in the short term, avert catastrophic damage to the world's economy and its human population. As to the consequences fifty or a hundred years down the road, only the Fellow Upstairs, by virtue of expertise and experience, is qualified to an opinion.]
Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modelling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial— scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That's what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of "well-established theories" and are often spoken of as "facts."
[This is sophistry. To equate AGW with the discoveries of Galileo etc. betrays cynicism on a truly grand scale. Who, but the ideologically committed, blinded by faith — see Botkin on "Global Warming Delusions" — would believe it? And let's get this straight. There are no potentially falsifying experiments. The models are "tuned," their parameters adjusted to fit the data already in hand. By the time predictions begin to fail, the modelers have a new set of models, better ones, they tell us, better because they are bigger, because they incorporate more processes, each of which requires more parameters to be estimated, more fudge factors to be adjusted. Moreover, the complexity of the models is such that it is impossible to understand their behavior mathematically. What the climate modelers offer humanity are models that can't be understood as substitute for a system that isn't understood. And for this, mankind pays — today, in treasure; tomorrow, in blood.
Historians of science have debated whether or not Eddington fudged his data in the famous experiment that confirmed General Relativity. The current opinion is that he did not. But the important point is that the theory could have been falsified. Had things worked out that way; had the theory failed, had Einstein been obliged to concoct a new one consistent with discordant observations, what would would have been been gained? A new hypothesis, nothing more. And that is the critical point. The climate models are hypotheses. What comes out of them are predictions, not results.
Right now, those predictions aren't doing very well. From 1970, to 1995, if you believe the folks at East Anglia, the forecasts seemed to be holding: Atmospheric carbon was on the rise, and so was temperature. Since then, [CO2]atm has continued to increase, while temperatures have stabilized. Natural variability? Apparently. Soon to be overwhelmed by continuing greenhouse gas accumulation, maybe yes, maybe no.]
For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5bn years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14bn years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today's organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.
[More sophistry. In the first place, the theories with which AGW is compared are well established. AGW is a far weaker hypothesis. Gorian sturm und drang to the contrary, there is no convincing evidence that humans are causing climate change, nor, for that matter, that contemporary climates are in any way extraordinary. Second, note the spin. What is known and what remains problematic are blended together. Take the "fact of evolution," what Darwin called "descent with modification." For this, the evidence is overwhelming and continues to accumulate. But the pattern, common descent, should be distinguished from the mechanism that produces it, and about that matter, hypotheses continue to come and go.
Even if one accepts the reality of late twentieth century warming, and that's a big "if," one is left with question as to "Why?" And, if the mechanism turns out to be other than AGW, what then? What if today's stabilized temperatures are harbingers of tomorrow's cooling? What if we reduce our capacity to produce energy and wake up one morning to find the glaciers once more advancing? I'll tell you what: Should the future bring ice, not fire, today's proponents of carbon abatement will hang from lamp posts — from which vantage they can contemplate a freezing, starving and, yes, vengeful humanity, whose misery will have been exacerbated by science in the service of ideology.]
Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected.
[Ah yes! The fabled thousands! But, as those familiar with the IPCC process know full well, the folks who write the reviews and those who write the literature on which the reviews are based are far fewer in number. And guess what? Surprise! Surprise! The folks who do the reviewing and the folks who do the research are often the same. Let's be clear. I'm not speaking of camp followers. I'm speaking of the Mann's, the Briffa's, the Jones's, etc. For it is on their shoulders that all else rests. Of course, there are thousands of others — mainly environmental scientists of one stripe or another — who piggyback on the process. I call these people "what-iffers;" they do "what if" studies: what are the consequences to X if the climate warms, where X is a species, a renewable resource, an ecological process, etc. Like the birds that follow army ants, "what-iffers" rely on beaters to flush out the next meal. In the case of the birds, the beaters are the ants, whose passage through the forest is marked by an eruption of insects leaping out of the foliage to escape being being devoured by the advancing column. In the case of "what-iffers," the beaters are climatologist fear mongers, who stir up taxpayer dollars. An acquaintance tells the following story: A prospective graduate student walked into her office announcing that he intended to study the consequences of global warming to some ecological process. "And if the climate cools?" my friend inquired. The student, unnerved by such heresy, mumbled something incoherent and fled.]
But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:
With regard to UHI, Roy Spencer recently posted the graph shown at the right. Here, raw data are used to sort rates of twentieth century warming (° C / decade) by population density (persons / Km2. Unsurprisingly, the least densely populated regions manifest the least warming, less than half than the 0.2 ° C / decade estimated by Jones. If one extrapolates the curve back to zero density, the estimate of the "true" warming is 0.06 ° C, less than a third of Jones' estimate and well within the range of observational error. Of course, this was posted on a blog — no peer review. We'll see if Spencer gets it past the lions defending the gate.If he doesn't, I'd like to read the reviews.
And note the spin. Evidence contrary to AGW is not a recent phenomenon. It has been emerging at a steady pace, the efforts of the Climategate correspondents to suppress it notwithstanding.]
(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
[Studies of Pleistocene deglaciation suggest that increasing [CO2]atm follows, rather than precedes, increasing temperatures. To say that this is consistent with AGW is like arguing that lynx, by virtue of being predators, exert a negative effect on hare populations even were the latter to increase when there are more lynx. Were this the case — it's not, the example is hypothetical — one can imagine explanatory scenarios: maybe lynx eat other predators that prey on the hare; maybe lynx eat animals that compete with the hare for food. But they don't just eat "wabbits." Nor would assuming such allow you to predict the consequences of ordering a halt to the taking of lynx for their pelts.
Once again, note the spin: No significant warming for the past 10+ years — Jones now says since 1995 — and unpredicted in simulo, becomes "a snowy winter in Washington."]
(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
[If one accepts the reality of past temperatures in excess of those currently observed, the correct conclusion is that increasing [CO2]atm isn't the principal driver of temperature.]
(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
[This is a postulate, more accurately, the cardinal precept of AGW canon. For the past 10-15 years, temperatures have been stable, whereas [CO2]atm has continued to increase.]
(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
[These and related claims are all subjects of dispute. Most recently, tropical upper ocean heat content appears to have declined precipitously. Regarding this observation, Roger Pielke Sr. writes as follows:
"An interesting question is to where this heat has gone. It could have moved north and south in the upper ocean, however, to the extent the sea surface temperature anomalies map to the upper ocean heat content, there is no evidence of large heat transfers except, perhaps, in the tropical Atlantic see [here].
The heat could have been transferred deeper into the ocean. However, if this is true, this heat would have been seen moving to lower levels, but, so far, there is no evidence of such a large vertical heat transfer.
The heat could, of course, be lost to space. This appears to be the most likely explanation." [Emphasis added.]
So we are back to my friend's question: "And if the climate cools?"]
Much more can be, and has been, said by the world's scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business- as-usual practices. We urge our policymakers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels.
[Two points: First. The world's scientific societies, etc. need to get out of the business of promoting policy and back to the business of doing science, which is figuring out how Nature works, as opposed to predicting the unpredictable. The climate system is the mother of all nonlinear dynamical systems. It is undoubtedly chaotic — where else could all those cycles: AO, PDO, etc., come from? And predicting the time evolution of chaotic systems is effectively impossible. Failure to get back to doing science will result in the scientific community's being perceived as what it has already become — another interest group sucking the public teat, concerned principally with the promotion of its own agenda: power, money, influence; power, money, influence; ... .
Second. The burning of fossil fuels is what makes civilization as we know it possible. Shut down the coal mines; stop the flow of oil and calamity is certain and immediate, not probable and not prospective.]
We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.
[Pulease! Whether or not the behavior of the Climagegate principals was illegal, it stinks to high Heaven. What they did, they did with taxpayer money. When you feast at the public trough, your business becomes public business. Neither the climatologists, nor the "what-iffers," etc., were forced to become scientist-activists. They did this on their own, worked hard at it and, having done so, became public figures subject to public scrutiny. As to the "good news," sober economic analysis suggests that if one accepts AGW premises, carbon abatement will achieve little beyond wrecking the world economy. The NAS signatories, being men and women of intelligence, one can only wonder if that isn't what they really want: consigning H. sapiens to his proper place, the diminution of his works and especially his numbers — go search on "Optimum Population" if you think that's a stretch.]
Gleick, Peter H, Pacific Institute, Oakland [corresponding author]
1. The signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but are not speaking on its behalf. [Signatory affiliations, originally available as a supporting document, added by The Guardian, along with links to signatory web pages — hat tip.]