View Full Version : My take on Phil Plait's AGW article

2013-Apr-04, 08:07 AM
On another site where I post, someone posted a link to this article (The Earth Is Warming Faster Now Than It Has in 11,000 Years (http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/03/13/global_warming_new_study_shows_warming_is_faster_t han_it_has_been_in_11.html) - By Phil Plait) [March 13, 2013]{Link 1} as if it was the answer to all questions regarding anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Since my thoughts about the article run contrary to Plait's, I thought I'd post them here for comment.

Phil Plait starts with this statement:
Global warming is real.

Let’s get that out of the way right at the start.That declaration misses the point. He has only gotten a non-contested point out of the way. A second consideration is anthropogenic contributions to global warming (e.g. greenhouse gasses, heat islands, aerosols), etc. The third and most contentious issue is the CO2 contribution to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) -- the theory that a trace gas that is already close to saturation in ability to absorb heat, is the primary driver of global temperature.

To make his point, Plait states:
Climatologist Michael Mann’s bombshell study from years back created the “hockey stick” graph, showing that in the past century, the Earth’s overall temperature spiked, like a case of planetary flu. This study was immediately attacked by climate change deniers, who continue to flail away at it today. It has withstood these attacks, and is no longer seriously doubted by scientists who actually study the climate.Yet his methodology was flawed. From AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION (http://a-sceptical-mind.com/Documents/WegmanReport.pdf){Link 2}:

In our further exploration of the social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction, we found that at
least 43 authors have direct ties to Dr. Mann by virtue of coauthored papers with him. Our findings from this analysis suggest that authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface. This committee does not believe that web logs are an appropriate forum for the scientific debate on this issue.

It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility. Overall, our committee believes that Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis.I find when Mann's study is defended, the defense takes the form of other studies that have similar results, not a defense of his assumptions and methodology. This is analogous to someone making a claim that an object is shorter than 36 inches based on the fact that it was was shorter than a meter stick. It may well be shorter than a yard, but the methodology was flawed. When the scientific community is willing to overlook flawed methodology, its credibility is suspect. There is enormous political and peer pressure that influences the objectivity of the scientific community. The method of defending Mann's hockey stick reflects that. Instead of acknowledging that it was a flawed analysis, it is presented as the primary reason to assure us that "global warming is real."

There is another reason to question the objectivity of the scientific community. My naive concept of science is that challenges to issues (settled or not) should be welcome so the questions can be answered and contentions validated or invalidated. As in this article, note how many in the scientific community claim to be skeptics, but they label those who disagree with them as "deniers." It is an effective method of intimidation and suppresses questioning the conventional wisdom of the pack. There are many who deserve the label of "denier" (or "warmist" from the other perspective), but the result is to artificially stifle critical debate.

Another naive concept I have of science is that the data and methodology is available for supporters and skeptics alike. The "climategate" email disclosure revealed active resistance to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for data and methodology. How can one trust results when the basis of those results are hidden from interested parties? Why is a FOIA request required in the first place, let alone having it fought?

To make the point that climate change is real, Plait also posted this: Why Climate Change Denial Is Just Hot Air (http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2012/12/11/climate_change_denial_why_don_t_they_publish_scien tific_papers.html) - By Phil Plait [Dec. 11, 2012]{Link 3}. FTA:
...how many peer-reviewed scientific papers were published in professional journals about global warming, and compared the ones supporting the idea that we’re heating up compared to those that don’t. What did he find? [...snip...] Two dozen. Out of nearly 14,000.

Now I know some people will just say that this is due to mainstream scientists suppressing controversy and all that, but let me be succinct: That’s bull. Science thrives on dissenting ideas, it grows and learns from them. If there is actual evidence to support an idea, it gets published. I can point out copious examples in my own field of astronomy where papers get published about all manners of against-the-mainstream thinking, some of which come to conclusions that, in my opinion, are clearly wrong.He may feel it's bull (with its associated methane contribution), but it plausible. The integrity of those who are most influential in the paleoclimate community has been brought into question by them requiring FOIA requests to obtain data and methodology. Climategate showed even greater ethical lapse when it exposed their efforts to thwart the FOIA requests. The concern over the peer review process was noted in the 2nd link I provided: "...the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent."

Yes, Plait points out personal experience where the scientific method is respected and followed in astronomy. However, astronomy does not call for massive spending and cultural sacrifice. Also, I have never heard of an instance where an astronomer required a FOI request before sharing his data and methodology. AGW has to be sold to the general public and politicians so the appearance of a solid front is essential. The effect results in policies implemented in the name of AGW that cause economic hardship and starvation for millions. With catastrophic consequences of such policies, the need to show a solid front becomes more important than the science behind it.

But let's assume that the peer review process does not exclude dissent and that scientists are not intimidated by the the fear they will be labeled as a denier. The stated criteria for the comparison is "global warming," not AGW. As pointed out earlier, most critics of the current AGW premise that CO2 is the root cause still acknowledge the planet is in a warming stage. Additionally, of those who do climate change research, how many know the warming they detect is caused by CO2 increase? They rely on the work of others, primarily those who developed the complex climate models to ascertain the cause of the effects they are studying.

There is constant whining about funding for AGW skeptics/deniers. Numbers are all over the map, but the estimates are generally in the millions of dollars. However, if you look at the estimated funding for supporters of AGW which also vary considerable), the estimates range in the billions There is at least 10 times (100 times probably; 1000 times possibly) the funding available for AGW supportive research than for contrary research. The simple fact is if one wants to get funding and or use of public facilities, the chances are much greater if the research acknowledges the CO2 aspect of AGW. If the ration of funding was plotted in a pie chart, it would look a lot line the pie chart in the linked article that shows the numbers of published papers.

Accepting AGW theory is about trust. I dare say 99.99% of people (100% of lawmakers) who have an opinion about projected AGW base their opinion by trusting the opinion of the .01% who have actually done the research. (Granted the 99.99% number was pulled out of the air, but I suspect the real number has a few more 9's added to it). The only ones who can predict the effect are those who extrapolate the data available. Extrapolation something this complex has required computer models that combine mankind's total knowledge of the global weather, computer programming and algorithms to simulate this knowledge, and statistical expertise to provide an indication of reliability of the results. There are only a handful of people who have this kind of background and even at that, it has to be a collective effort. The 99.99% of us who lack that knowledge and background must rely on how much we trust the .01%. So far, I see that much of the .01% hiding their data, hiding their methodology, ridiculing dissenting opinions, and discouraging contrary research.

Due to the length of this post, I'll address the remainder of his article in a separate post.

2013-Apr-04, 08:17 AM
Distrust of the paleoclimate community is why I remain skeptical about CO2 being the primary driver of global warming. I don't have near the math or scientific background of Plait, but I suspect on the topic of CO2 contribution to global warming, he too must rely the analysis of people he trusts. I don't trust those who have a financial and professional incentive to derive a given output if they refuse to willingly share their data and methodology. That is a lot of writing to address just the first paragraph of the article, but since that paragraph was designed to preempt critical discussion, it had to be addressed.

After the introductory paragraph, Plait then shows the results of a study that tracked temperature for the past 11,000 years. The point of using this study was to point out there were no similar spikes in that time frame similar to the spike in the past 100 years. Looking at the graph, it appears there were no similar dips similar to the one in the past 1000 years that preceded the current rise. Is there an explanation for that dip? Knowing what caused it, might give an indication of why the sharp rebound.

The next chart in the article shows a reported 1°F near vertical spike. The scale is imprecise and I don't know if it accounts for the leveling of temperature of the last 15 years. From that spike, the report extrapolates a continuation of that near vertical spike another 7°F. Plait does address the leveling I mentioned here: (No, Global Warming Has NOT Stopped (http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/03/18/global_warming_denial_debunking_misleading_climate _change_claims_by_david.html)) - By Phil Plait [Monday, March 18, 2013]{link 4}. I have questions about what appear to be inconsistencies in his comments between the two articles.

From the {link 4} article, Plait says (emphasis on "air" his):
First, the graph is showing air temperatures. These are not the best representation of global warming, since a huge amount of the extra heat is going into the oceans. So right away, you have to be very careful extrapolating this graph to global heat content overall. If my understanding of the study he refers to in {link 1} is correct, the temperatures in that study are surface temperatures. (From the study's abstract: "Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time.") Additionally, I believe most of the proxy temperatures such as tree ring and coral data are derived from surface (or surface ocean temperatures). So are air temperatures a valid representation or not? Plait indicates that deep ocean temperatures are the most reliable indicators, yet the climate models AGW depends on are verified using surface temperatures.

Does the current AGW study really think the oceans will spike 8°F in a a matter of decades? The graph on {link 4} does show an expected increase of .5°C for 20 years that would extend to 2.5°C (4.5°F) over a hundred year spread (assuming 100 years is the scale of the imprecise spike in the chart on {link 1}). Why is that estimate almost doubled in the {link 4} extrapolation, particularly since the observed data tends to show an even slower rate of increase? If there is that much discrepancy, how can we trust the complex climate models?

BTW, I agree that just looking at the past 15 years and claiming it is proof of a long term trend is cherry picking because it starts at the temperature spike in 1998. However, even with 3 years of El Nino, it does run contrary to the effect of 30 billion tons of CO2 being added by man in each of those years. If that is a cheap shot, so is the claim that "nine of the ten hottest years on record have been in the past decade." In the initial paragraph, I mentioned few contest global warming. To pick a top point and then state the temperatures that are level at that time are important enough to count is just as cherry picking as pointing out the section of flat rate of change of temperature. The ticking off the number of years is even less valid, since the rate of change in temperature is the issue, not the current temperature.

Normally a controversy or honest discussion of perspectives on a scientific theory is a good thing. Because, as Plait states, the controversy is a "manufactured political and ideological one," a lot of expensive and dangerous programs have been spawned by this controversy and more are proposed.

Ari Jokimaki
2013-Apr-04, 10:06 AM
However, even with 3 years of El Nino, it does run contrary to the effect of 30 billion tons of CO2 being added by man in each of those years.

Wrong. For example Easterling & Wehner (2009):

"We show that the climate over the 21st century can and likely will produce periods of a decade or two where the globally averaged surface air temperature shows no trend or even slight cooling in the presence of longer-term warming."


Ari Jokimaki
2013-Apr-04, 10:13 AM
So far, I see that much of the .01% hiding their data, hiding their methodology, ridiculing dissenting opinions, and discouraging contrary research.

What you describe here is actually what climate change deniers do, but as there are thousands of researchers on the climate change issue, it would be interesting to see you back up this claim with actual evidence. Can you do that?

2013-Apr-04, 01:23 PM

Climate change and AGW is mainstream science. If you wish to argue against it, you must do so in the ATM forum.

I am going to close this thread. If you wish to continue the discussion, please report this post, make clear your intent, and the thread will be moved to ATM and reopened. You will be expected to follow all the ATM rules.

You should also be aware that Phil has almost no involvement with content on CQ - the odds that he will directly respond to your comments (if that is your wish) is almost zero.