Is Climate Science on trial again?


The climate debate is entering a new state of confusion that will at least bring some of the fascinating technical issues into the popular press.     The first time this happened was during the congressional hearings featuring the “Hockey Stick” debates where critics suggested that some key math and research supporting “unprecedented global warming” was seriously flawed.   Although leading statisticians agreed with the critics the situation is probably best characterized as a stalemate with both sides claiming vindication and little change in the way others have addressed the issues at hand.

The technical issues sound obscure but they impact every man, woman, and child on earth in almost incalculable ways because many nations are preparing to forego a lot of GDP in the interests of climate mitigation, and this has substantial economic consequences.

I do believe in warming and believe it’s human caused.  However  I  don’t think we can afford to do all that much about it and also don’t think the consequences are nearly as severe as advertised.    Therefore I’m not reasonably called a “climate skeptic” .

Many bright people are skeptics however and everyone should resent that they are called “climate denialists”, a bizarre term used to conjure up images of  the ignorance and malice of  holocaust denial.

I am concerned that climate science, especially with respect to mathematical modelling and long term temperature reconstructions, has been compromised by egos and cognitive biases.    I don’t think climate science has been compromised enough to reasonably suggest that human caused warming is “unlikely”, but it’s been compromised enough to suggest climate alarmists, rather than the unfairly branded “denialists”, are the ones often standing on thin ice.

Here’s a comment I tried to post at RealClimate.org but it appears to have been rejected:

It’s unfortunate to see so many insults and tired talking points rather than *key issues* such as:

Is Yamal robust?

Why does proxy selection in papers like Yamal, Kaufman seem to include more proxies with stronger GW signals than a randomized proxy selection process?

Why isn’t there a randomized proxy selection process or at least a well structured one as was suggested (but appears not implemented) in the Kaufman Arctic lakes study?

Why does it take so long to properly archive data and why is there a single shred of resistance to totally transparent archiving of source code and data?

To what degree is observed global warming the product of human activity?

To what degree is the modern warming trend unprecedented?

Role of the Medieval Warming Period and why is there so much disagreement about temps at that time? (another proxy selection issue!) Simply asserting that these questions “have been answered many times” isn’t only wrong and insulting, it’s counterproductive if you sincerely want to challenge the growing mainstream view that climate science has been compromised by cognitive biases and ego. I’m staying open to your insistence that the science has not been compromised at all and McKintyre is just a slinging mathematical mud, but posts like this don’t provide much support for that idea.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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8 Responses to Is Climate Science on trial again?

  1. TreyG says:

    All good questions. I only recently started digging in to climate science. (I’m a research scientist doing modeling and data analysis for a semiconductor company, so the mathematical details don’t bother me.) If I could say one thing to people learning about the subject it is this: the science is not done. If it was, people like yourself wouldn’t be asking those questions. A corollary: there are plenty of good scientists who have heretical views on the subject. Keep in mind that scientific heretics sometimes (not always) turn out to be correct.

  2. JoeDuck says:

    Thx for checking in here Trey. I’m very interested to see how the Yamal deal pans out because it’s one of the studies that comes up very often in climate research. I have been mistakenly assuming there were more long term proxy studies than there actually are, so every major paper deserves careful review.

    If the Medieval warming period had temps as high as suggested by some of the “less popular” reconstructions, it’s a very significant challenge to the idea that we are in for a hot time in the old town tonight.

  3. TreyG says:

    “so every major paper deserves careful review”

    I completely agree. The reasons we’re having this discussion are 1) the climate science community is not scrutinizing their studies well enough 2) climate science has spilled over in to the main stream news and global politics. If the community is going to hit in the big leagues, they are going to have to suffer some big league pitchers like Steve M.

    I find it funny that the AGW side’s argument is not over the science of the Yamal papers. Has anyone on their side run Steve’s Yamal no-hockey-stick R-script to see if it has any problems? Has anyone given a good explanation as to why so few cores were used in the Briffa study and why that is OK?

    No. There seem to be two responses instead. 1) “We have other Hockey Sticks to fall back on.” (This is a “Hockey Team”, a RC-coined term.) Of course Briffa/Yamal was one of these data sets when MBH08 was scrutinized. 2) (The big one.) “Steve is saying that Briffa cherry-picked.” First of all, he didn’t say it, and second, so what if he had? It is certainly possible that Briffa did so, but right now, only he (Briffa) knows that. It is also a reasonable thought to have (that he cherry picked), given that the papers give no clear indications of why ~10 cores were used instead of the bigger data set that was available.

  4. JoeDuck says:

    I find it funny that the AGW side’s argument is not over the science of the Yamal papers

    Yes, and this general “how dare you question our brilliancy!” is what piqued my curiosity a few years back when I started paying attention – basically after watching “An Inconvenient Truth” and feeling strongly that it was far more an advocacy pieced than a science one.

    I naively assumed that was obvious to real climate folks but my initial posts did not go over well at RealClimate where almost everybody allowed to post comments is shouting down any challenge to AGW, usually with silly circular references to oblique posts at RealClimate.

    After that I noted how ClimateAudit’s McK was clearly a superb mathematician and amateur researcher – he’d uncovered problems with MBH that were very legitimate concerns and conducted his own tree ring study using methods that appeared as legitimate if not more methodologically defensible that those of the mainstream researchers.

    I’m still not clear if McK is on to smoking guns with Yamal or simply demonstrating that there are weak links in the paleo reconstruction research chain, but at least now we’ll have a lot more people asking that question.

  5. TreyG says:

    Hi, just checking in again. Since no one else is posting, I’ll mention that someone took up my question “Has anyone on their side run Steve’s Yamal no-hockey-stick R-script to see if it has any problems?”

    TomP has made some modifications to the R code:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7241

    It’s a very long thread, but his basic argument is that he should be able to remove older and older trees and see big changes in the hockey stick (HS) shape. The HS shape stays there until the oldest trees are the only trees left. He says that this means Briffa’s analysis is robust.

    I’m glad to see somebody is taking the scientific approach. Unfortunately, TomP doesn’t understand the statistical definition of robust.

    Steve M has a nice rebuttal at

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7278

  6. horatiox says:

    Some interesting news on missing pieces of IPCC data:

    “……In June 2009, Georgia Tech’s Peter Webster told Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre that he had requested raw data, and Jones freely gave it to him. So McIntyre promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same data. Despite having been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to present his analyses of millennial temperatures, McIntyre was told that he couldn’t have the data because he wasn’t an “academic.” So his colleague Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, asked for the data. He was turned down, too.

    Faced with a growing number of such requests, Jones refused them all, saying that there were “confidentiality” agreements regarding the data between CRU and nations that supplied the data. McIntyre’s blog readers then requested those agreements, country by country, but only a handful turned out to exist, mainly from Third World countries and written in very vague language.

    It’s worth noting that McKitrick and I had published papers demonstrating that the quality of land-based records is so poor that the warming trend estimated since 1979 (the first year for which we could compare those records to independent data from satellites) may have been overestimated by 50 percent. Webster, who received the CRU data, published studies linking changes in hurricane patterns to warming (while others have found otherwise).“””””

    Watts seems a bit Fox-newish, but this article was put up/linked on Richard Dawkins blog, and seems to be getting some fairly serious attention.

  7. JoeDuck says:

    It’s rewarding to see good discussion of the sciences become a mainstream topic. I think the next “chapter” is going to be very interesting. It’s the one where journalists start to realize they’ve been misled into talking about catastrophes when the balanced view suggests:

    There IS global warming

    More than half of it is *probably* caused by humans

    It is NOT reversable

    CHINA (now top in CO2) is VERY UNLIKELY to deploy significant mitigation measures.

    Warming is VERY UNLIKELY to create ANY catastrophic conditions.

    Thus we should keep looking for cheap mitigation measures and deploy existing ones, but stop fretting over risks and address the *actual catastrophic problems* such as water and disease that ravage tens of thousands of people … every day.

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