Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What the climate wars did to science

From Matt Ridley. Excerpts:
"Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

Look what happened to a butterfly ecologist named Camille Parmesan when she published a paper on “ Climate and Species Range” that blamed climate change for threatening the Edith checkerspot butterfly with extinction in California by driving its range northward. The paper was cited more than 500 times, she was invited to speak at the White House and she was asked to contribute to the IPCC’s third assessment report.

Unfortunately, a distinguished ecologist called Jim Steele found fault with her conclusion: there had been more local extinctions in the southern part of the butterfly’s range due to urban development than in the north, so only the statistical averages moved north, not the butterflies. There was no correlated local change in temperature anyway, and the butterflies have since recovered throughout their range.  When Steele asked Parmesan for her data, she refused. Parmesan’s paper continues to be cited as evidence of climate change. Steele meanwhile is derided as a “denier”. No wonder a highly sceptical ecologist I know is very reluctant to break cover.

Jim Hansen, recently retired as head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA, won over a million dollars in lucrative green prizes, regularly joined protests against coal plants and got himself arrested while at the same time he was in charge of adjusting and homogenising one of the supposedly objective data sets on global surface temperature. How would he be likely to react if told of evidence that climate change is not such a big problem?

Michael Oppenheimer, of Princeton University, who frequently testifies before Congress in favour of urgent action on climate change, was the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior scientist for nineteen years and continues to advise it. The EDF has assets of $209 million and since 2008 has had over $540 million from charitable foundations, plus $2.8 million in federal grants. In that time it has spent $11.3 million on lobbying, and has fifty-five people on thirty-two federal advisory committees. How likely is it that they or Oppenheimer would turn around and say global warming is not likely to be dangerous?

Why is it acceptable, asks the blogger Donna Laframboise, for the IPCC to “put a man who has spent his career cashing cheques from both the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace in charge of its latest chapter on the world’s oceans?” She’s referring to the University of Queensland’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely."

"But you really cannot have much of a consensus about the future. Scientists are terrible at making forecasts—indeed as Dan Gardner documents in his book  Future Babble they are often worse than laymen. And the climate is a chaotic system with multiple influences of which human emissions are just one, which makes prediction even harder.

The IPCC actually admits the possibility of lukewarming within its consensus, because it gives a range of possible future temperatures: it thinks the world will be between about 1.5 and four degrees warmer on average by the end of the century. That’s a huge range, from marginally beneficial to terrifyingly harmful, so it is hardly a consensus of danger, and if you look at the “probability density functions” of climate sensitivity, they always cluster towards the lower end.

What is more, in the small print describing the assumptions of the “representative concentration pathways”, it admits that the top of the range will only be reached if sensitivity to carbon dioxide is high (which is doubtful); if world population growth re-accelerates (which is unlikely); if carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans slows down (which is improbable); and if the world economy goes in a very odd direction, giving up gas but increasing coal use tenfold (which is implausible)."

"Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”. That’s just a lie (or a very ignorant remark): as I point out above, there is no consensus that it’s dangerous.

So where’s the outrage from scientists at this presidential distortion? It’s worse than that, actually. The 97 per cent figure is derived from two pieces of pseudoscience that would have embarrassed a homeopath. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made—not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent.

The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. As the Australian  blogger Joanne Nova summarised Tol’s findings, John Cook of the University of Queensland and his team used an unrepresentative sample, left out much useful data, used biased observers who disagreed with the authors of the papers they were classifying nearly two-thirds of the time, and collected and analysed the data in such a way as to allow the authors to adjust their preliminary conclusions as they went along, a scientific no-no if ever there was one. The data could not be replicated, and Cook himself threatened legal action to hide them. Yet neither the journal nor the university where Cook works has retracted the paper, and the scientific establishment refuses to stop citing it, let alone blow the whistle on it. Its conclusion is too useful."

"The assumption is that modest warming from carbon dioxide must be trebly amplified by extra water vapour—that as the air warms there will be an increase in absolute humidity providing “a positive feedback”. That assumption led to specific predictions that could be tested. And the tests come back negative again and again. The large positive feedback that can turn a mild warming into a dangerous one just is not there. There is no tropical troposphere hot-spot. Ice cores unambiguously show that temperature can fall while carbon dioxide stays high. Estimates of climate sensitivity, which should be high if positive feedbacks are strong, are instead getting lower and lower. Above all, the temperature has failed to rise as predicted by the models."

"And of course there was the mother of all scandals, the “hockey stick” itself: a graph that purported to show the warming of the last three decades of the twentieth century as unprecedented in a millennium, a graph that the IPCC was so thrilled with that it published it six times in its third assessment report and displayed it behind the IPCC chairman at his press conference. It was a graph that persuaded me to abandon my scepticism (until I found out about its flaws), because I thought Nature magazine would never have published it without checking. And it is a graph that was systematically shown by Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick to be wholly misleading, as McKitrick recounts in glorious detail in his chapter in The Facts.

Its hockey-stick shape depended heavily on one set of data from bristlecone pine trees in the American south-west, enhanced by a statistical approach to over-emphasise some 200 times any hockey-stick shaped graph. Yet bristlecone tree-rings do not, according to those who collected the data, reflect temperature at all. What is more, the scientist behind the original paper, Michael Mann, had known all along that his data depended heavily on these inappropriate trees and a few other series, because when finally prevailed upon to release his data he accidentally included a file called “censored” that proved as much: he had tested the effect of removing the bristlecone pine series and one other, and found that the hockey-stick shape disappeared.

In March this year Dr  Mann published a paper claiming the Gulf Stream was slowing down. This garnered headlines all across the world. Astonishingly, his evidence that the Gulf Stream is slowing down came not from the Gulf Stream, but from “proxies” which included—yes—bristlecone pine trees in Arizona, upside-down lake sediments in Scandinavia and larch trees in Siberia."

"Judith Curry of Georgia Tech moved from alarm to mild scepticism and has endured vitriolic criticism for it. She recently wrote:

There is enormous pressure for climate scientists to conform to the so-called consensus. This pressure comes not only from politicians, but from federal funding agencies, universities and professional societies, and scientists themselves who are green activists and advocates. Reinforcing this consensus are strong monetary, reputational, and authority interests. The closing of minds on the climate change issue is a tragedy for both science and society.

The distinguished Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson was so frightened for his own family and his health after he announced last year that he was joining the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation that he withdrew, saying, “It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.”

The astrophysicist Willie Soon was falsely accused by a Greenpeace activist of failing to disclose conflicts of interest to an academic journal, an accusation widely repeated by mainstream media."

"Pielke is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and a hugely respected expert on disasters. He is no denier, thinking man-made global warming is real. But in his own area of expertise he is very clear that the rise in insurance losses is because the world is getting wealthier and we have more stuff to lose, not because more storms are happening. This is incontrovertibly true, and the IPCC agrees with him. But when he said this on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website he and Silver were savaged by commenters, led by one Rob Honeycutt. Crushed by the fury he had unleashed, Silver apologised and dropped Pielke as a contributor."

"Or that the length of the pause is now past the point where many scientists said it would disprove the hypothesis of rapid man-made warming. Dr Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in 2009: “Bottom line: the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.” It now has."

"Garth Paltridge is a distinguished Australian climate scientist, who, in The Facts, pens a wise paragraph that I fear will be the epitaph of climate science:

We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavour."

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