A Climate of Belief not believable

Discussion of Skeptic magazine and Letters to the Editor

A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #1  Postby Ken Fabos » Wed Jun 25, 2008 9:43 am

I was disappointed that "A Climate of Belief" got published at all in Skeptic Magazine. The gist of the argument - "If the uncertainty is larger than the effect, the effect itself becomes moot." - is presented as a truism, without being shown to be entirely, mostly or in any scientific sense, a statement of truth. As a rhetorical statement it serves as convincing only to those without intimate knowledge of climate modelling. When people who do have in-depth knowledge of the subject look at Dr Frank's  article they point out that the mathematics of projection as used by Dr Frank are not the mathematics of GCMs and suggesting they are constitutes a misrepresentation. A gross one given the grave importance of this issue. According to one scientist at RealClimate.org Frank has produced a "toy model" that is nothing like the computer representation of climate physics constrained by the real laws of physics that is modern climate model. Again and again the point was made to Dr Frank that were GCM's really like Frank says they are they would be entirely unable to work to the extent that they demonstrably do - without producing any huge blowouts of uncertainty Frank's reasoning says they must.  To quote Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York at RealClimate.org  in comments at RealClimate.org  -"You (Frank) did not show any error propagation in a GCM - you showed it in a toy linear model that is completely divorced from either the GCMs or the real world. Statements you make about GCMs therefore have an information content of zero."

At a time when clarity about climate science is most needed we get an article by Dr Pat Frank that sounds knowledgeable only to  the unknowledgeable and presents arguments that, whilst having strong rhetorical impact are, according to working climate scientists, deeply flawed. Presenting "A Climate of Belief" as some kind of sound scientific basis for doubts about AGW does your magazine's credibility a grave disservice.
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #2  Postby bcull » Sat Aug 02, 2008 8:04 am

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment here.  I have discussed the matter elsewhere with Dr. Frank and pointed out that models aside the effects of man-made CO2 emissions are all to real.  They are occurring and are observable; from the melting of the glaciers, to the increase in extreme weather, the rise in sea levels, ecological disasters (pine beetles destroying alpine pine trees in Canada's BC because they aren't dying off in winter - as one example).

Calvin documents the world's scientific consensus quite well in his book Global Fever and he is realistic about the need for change.  He points out that most "naysayers" are well funded by vested interests that work to confuse the general public into delays in enacting public policy.  As I pointed out to Frank in my discussions with him, there may be a slim chance that we are wrong about climate change, there is no doubt about the toxicity of industrial reliance on Big Coal and Big Oil, so reducing our dependence on the same seems sensible.  

Dr. Frank has also been less than open when I asked him who, if anyone, is funding his research.  He claims that it is unscientific of me to ask.  Maybe, but as a skeptic I'd like to know whether a report of "findings" is a paid political announcement.  A little research on the net reveals that Dr. Frank is employed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a project funded through the US Department of Energy.  His research is on spectrographic analysis of decaying materials as far as I can tell. There may not be a vested interest here, but why not be clear at the outset on where you work and whether your field of research is directly related to what you have written?

Barry Cull :o
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #3  Postby landrew » Sat Aug 02, 2008 2:53 pm

bcull wrote:I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment here.  I have discussed the matter elsewhere with Dr. Frank and pointed out that models aside the effects of man-made CO2 emissions are all to real.  They are occurring and are observable; from the melting of the glaciers, to the increase in extreme weather, the rise in sea levels, ecological disasters (pine beetles destroying alpine pine trees in Canada's BC because they aren't dying off in winter - as one example).

Calvin documents the world's scientific consensus quite well in his book Global Fever and he is realistic about the need for change.  He points out that most "naysayers" are well funded by vested interests that work to confuse the general public into delays in enacting public policy.  As I pointed out to Frank in my discussions with him, there may be a slim chance that we are wrong about climate change, there is no doubt about the toxicity of industrial reliance on Big Coal and Big Oil, so reducing our dependence on the same seems sensible.

You made a link that's an easy target for "climate-change skeptics" when you said,"the effects of man-made CO2 emissions are all to real.  They are occurring and are observable..."

Right or wrong, the assertion that actual climate changes are occurring is questioned by very few.  But attributing them all to humankind's CO2 emissions is an assertion being questioned by many more.  The consensus about global warming is very real and easy to document, but its a leap to extend that consensus to the certainty of known causes.  There is a good deal of debate (increasing, I think) about whether the warming is a direct result of our CO2 emissions or something else, and that's the thorn in the shoe of the "climate change consensus."
bcull wrote:Dr. Frank has also been less than open when I asked him who, if anyone, is funding his research.  He claims that it is unscientific of me to ask.  Maybe, but as a skeptic I'd like to know whether a report of "findings" is a paid political announcement.  A little research on the net reveals that Dr. Frank is employed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a project funded through the US Department of Energy.  His research is on spectrographic analysis of decaying materials as far as I can tell. There may not be a vested interest here, but why not be clear at the outset on where you work and whether your field of research is directly related to what you have written?

Barry Cull :o

Aside from the fact that consensus does not confer truth, it shouldn't matter who is funding research as long as it can stand up to scientific scrutiny.  If your disliked next door neighbor is telling you your house is on fire, its not incorrect information merely because you don't like him; the evidence and the logic of the arguments have to stand on their own.  

Politics and science don't mix, and unfortunately the climate change issue seems more political to me than scientific. Taking sides against the "other side" is no way to get at the truth, and I think we're still a long way from discovering the elusive truth about what is happening to our earth, our sun and our solar system in this latest upswing in temperature.
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #4  Postby bcull » Thu Aug 07, 2008 2:08 pm

I have read and re-read Dr. Frank’s article on the accuracy of global climate models (GCM) and most of it leaves me in the dust.  I’m familiar enough with statistics to understand the point he is making about the accuracy and will concede that he may have a point when it comes to the accuracy of the models.  I won’t quibble about his  analysis of the models and their accuracy – he likely has done his homework well enough to get this part right.  I’ll leave any criticism of his analysis of the models to those who have skills and expertise in this area.

Where I will take issue with Frank is in his concluding remarks where he caricatures the skeptics of his conclusions about global warming in this way:

‘Some may decide to believe anyway, “We can’t prove it”, they might say, “but the correlation of CO2 with temperature is there (they’re both rising after all), and so the causality is there, too, even if we can’t prove it yet.”’

               Frank is right in suggesting that some of us have noticed that man-made CO2 production has seen a precipitous increase since 1850.  Since 1850 the amount of carbon we have put into the atmosphere per year has risen from insignificant amounts, through to two billion metric tons in 1950, to 8 billion tons in the latter part of the 20th century to present day.  Furthermore, direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere show an increase from 312 ppm in 1958 to 375 ppm in 2005 (this is the so-called Keeling curve).  Measurements of global mean temperature show an increase of 0.60 C  ±  0.2o C in 20th century. (see  http://www.greenfacts.org/studies/clima ... _1.htm#1p3).  These are the correlations in the data that give some of us pause.

               Frank points out that it is an error in logic to go from correlation to causation – no problem here (we’re all taught this in Stats 101).  But isn’t there another alternative in our application of scientific principles than jumping from correlation to causation?  Those of us who notice the correlation just might suggest that we continue with the investigation.  We might argue that the continued use of fossil fuels isn’t sustainable (we’ll simply run out) and we may be concerned that all of the pollution generated by fossil fuels may be a causal factor in some of the ecological events of recent decades (the bleaching of coral just one of many).  If that were the case, couldn’t we act rationally and try an experiment that would meet the gold standard of science?

               In psychology, the behaviourists taught us a really good technique to test  a causal inference called the A-B-A design.  In phase A of the experiment we measure behaviour at baseline.  In phase B we institute the treatment and note any changes in behaviour.  Finally, in the second phase A we withdraw the treatment and note whether the behaviour returns to baseline.  That observed pattern leads to pretty strong statement of causality, but to be on the safe side we institute the treatment phase again and run another B.  What is practical in the climate change scenario is to do an AB design.  We already have the baseline data as noted above.  Now we do the B part – run the treatment; namely reduce CO2 (William Calvin has some excellent suggestions on how this might be done in his book Global Fever).  If things get better, and it will take time to get the data – these things take decades given the size of events we are talking about, a tentative hypothesis can be made about man’s involvement in global warming.  If the results are negative – no effect on climate change, we have at least found cleaner energy that is less polluting and all those other toxins and particulates will have made our air and water safer.  

To just simply deny that there is a possibility that climate science has some of the picture right and to continue as usual seems counterproductive and not very scientifically minded – we have the chance to conduct a wonderful experiment in living in more sustainable manner; what could be more scientific than that?

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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #5  Postby landrew » Thu Aug 07, 2008 3:33 pm

bcull wrote:...‘Some may decide to believe anyway, “We can’t prove it”, they might say, “but the correlation of CO2 with temperature is there (they’re both rising after all), and so the causality is there, too, even if we can’t prove it yet.”’

Exactly. I have a problem with such pseudologic too.

Imagine being arrested for a crime you didn't commit and being told, "We know you did it, even if we can't prove it yet."  It happens, and DNA evidence has cleared almost a hundred people so far, whilst they were sitting on death row.
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #6  Postby ronpate » Tue Aug 12, 2008 8:39 pm

bcull said: What is practical in the climate change scenario is to do an AB design. We already have the baseline data as noted above. Now we do the B part – run the treatment; namely reduce CO2 (William Calvin has some excellent suggestions on how this might be done in his book Global Fever). If things get better, and it will take time to get the data – these things take decades given the size of events we are talking about, a tentative hypothesis can be made about man’s involvement in global warming. If the results are negative – no effect on climate change, we have at least found cleaner energy that is less polluting and all those other toxins and particulates will have made our air and water safer.

To just simply deny that there is a possibility that climate science has some of the picture right and to continue as usual seems counterproductive and not very scientifically minded – we have the chance to conduct a wonderful experiment in living in more sustainable manner; what could be more scientific than that?


Based on current projections, time is of the essence.  We don’t have the decades required to conduct the experiment proposed by bcull.  We may have only one kick at the can.

And, this will be no minor experiment.  The social upheaval, if it’s to be done in timely fashion, will be horrendous.  Assuming that our politicians can overcome their timidity and legislate the strong  governmental coercion that will be required,  serious citizen resistance, some of it violent, can be anticipated.

Large corporate interests will not fade away quietly;  they have ample resources to impede affective change.  Businesses, large and small, will be forced to close, whether by loss of markets or legislation, creating massive labour dislocations.

We need to be sure that we are attacking the right problem in order to justify the extreme measures that will be required to ensure a timely remedy.  Dr. Frank has shown that, presently, we can’t be certain that CO2 is the cause;  nowhere, however, does he advocate ‘business as usual.’

We can all agree that it would be a real boon for mankind to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for reasons of human health, geo-political stability, environmental destruction, etc.  We need to start down that road, but we must not fail to support further research that will provide the urgently needed scientific proof  that we’re on the right path.  

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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #7  Postby landrew » Tue Aug 12, 2008 9:54 pm

ronpate wrote:
bcull said: What is practical in the climate change scenario is to do an AB design. We already have the baseline data as noted above. Now we do the B part – run the treatment; namely reduce CO2 (William Calvin has some excellent suggestions on how this might be done in his book Global Fever). If things get better, and it will take time to get the data – these things take decades given the size of events we are talking about, a tentative hypothesis can be made about man’s involvement in global warming. If the results are negative – no effect on climate change, we have at least found cleaner energy that is less polluting and all those other toxins and particulates will have made our air and water safer.

To just simply deny that there is a possibility that climate science has some of the picture right and to continue as usual seems counterproductive and not very scientifically minded – we have the chance to conduct a wonderful experiment in living in more sustainable manner; what could be more scientific than that?


Based on current projections, time is of the essence.  We don’t have the decades required to conduct the experiment proposed by bcull.  We may have only one kick at the can.

And, this will be no minor experiment.  The social upheaval, if it’s to be done in timely fashion, will be horrendous.  Assuming that our politicians can overcome their timidity and legislate the strong  governmental coercion that will be required,  serious citizen resistance, some of it violent, can be anticipated.

Large corporate interests will not fade away quietly;  they have ample resources to impede affective change.  Businesses, large and small, will be forced to close, whether by loss of markets or legislation, creating massive labour dislocations.

We need to be sure that we are attacking the right problem in order to justify the extreme measures that will be required to ensure a timely remedy.  Dr. Frank has shown that, presently, we can’t be certain that CO2 is the cause;  nowhere, however, does he advocate ‘business as usual.’

We can all agree that it would be a real boon for mankind to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for reasons of human health, geo-political stability, environmental destruction, etc.  We need to start down that road, but we must not fail to support further research that will provide the urgently needed scientific proof  that we’re on the right path.  

ronpate

Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment for me in that argument is my skepticism.  I've seen this rationale used before; "We have to get on the train or get off the track, or we'll get run over."  More often than not, the outcome has been no train "barreling down on us" but it was a fairly effective tool for those who wanted to influence minds to get their way.  

In my case it was shareholders being told to vote for a corporate merger that turned out to be bad advice for everyone in the long run, except for those who urged it.  I may be wrong, but whenever I hear that message, I am wary.

I think there's too much uncertainty about the issue to start spending trillions on a "solution" that may not do a thing to fix the "problem."
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #8  Postby bcull » Wed Aug 13, 2008 7:39 pm

Ronpate:

You and I are not disagreeing on the need for solutions.  And you are right, we are seeing a rapidly closing window on the time frame for change, so our responses need to be immediate.  My comment was that we will not see the results of our changes in the short-term, it will take till the end of the century to know whether our experimental predictions were right.  

You are also right to suggest that action will result in major changes and upheaval of the status quo.  I have just finished reading William Calvin's book "Global Fever" and I am optimistic that the changes can be made with the will; changes of similar importance have been done in the past.  The ingredient we lack right now, globally, is leadership.

Barry
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #9  Postby landrew » Thu Aug 14, 2008 2:21 am

bcull wrote:Ronpate:

You and I are not disagreeing on the need for solutions.  And you are right, we are seeing a rapidly closing window on the time frame for change, so our responses need to be immediate.  My comment was that we will not see the results of our changes in the short-term, it will take till the end of the century to know whether our experimental predictions were right.  

You are also right to suggest that action will result in major changes and upheaval of the status quo.  I have just finished reading William Calvin's book "Global Fever" and I am optimistic that the changes can be made with the will; changes of similar importance have been done in the past.  The ingredient we lack right now, globally, is leadership.

Barry

I don't disagree on the goals so much as the methods.  Social engineering has never worked well. I'm talking about man-made plans to modify society along someone's ideal guidelines.  In every case, it seems, people rebel against such plans and tend to make the opposite outcome the de facto plan. Even public service initiatives such as "just say no" incur a significant backlash.  Communism is the best example of course; nearly every original objective failed.

I think we have to work individually for a better world, to show and inspire others to do great things. Instituting plans is not the way, they won't succeed.
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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #10  Postby ronpate » Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:22 pm

landrew wrote:[I think there's too much uncertainty about the issue to start spending trillions on a "solution" that may not do a thing to fix the "problem."


The clearest exposition of the skeptics' position--that I've found, to date--is a speech presented by Michael Crichton to the National Press Club, Washington DC,
January 25, 2005.  From the first page:

Michael's detailed explanation of why he criticizes global warming scenarios. Using published UN data, he reviews why claims for catastrophic warming arouse doubt; why reducing CO2 is vastly more difficult than we are being told; and why we are morally unjustified to spend vast sums on this speculative issue when around the world people are dying of starvation and disease.

   http://www.michaelcrichton.com/speech

                             -ourenvironmentalfuture.html

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Re: A Climate of Belief not believable

Post #11  Postby Ken Fabos » Sun Sep 14, 2008 12:21 am

Whilst a simple, clear, absolute and uncontrovertable "proof" for AGW that everyone can understand is probably always going to be elusive due to the complexity of Earths climate system, there is still an abundance of evidence for it and next to none that contradicts it. An absence of evidence for alternative natural processes that explain recent changes in climate may not be "proof" of AGW but with nothing of substance that shows it as false and plenty that shows it as valid there's not a real debate. What we get is stuff like Dr Frank's - the misrepresentation of an aspect of climate science that most readers will be unable to refute, basing a 'logical' demolition of AGW on that false and misleading misrepresentation and persuading lots of people to doubt the veracity of the real scientific inquiry by people and organisations who's job it is to make sense of our climate. That someone who has a PhD can get things so wrong is indicative of the very phenomena climate change denialists are so keen to shine a light on - the capacity of supposedly smart people to jump on a bandwagon and jump to conclusions whilst dimissing and ignoring contrary opinion. Too bad they won't aim that light on themselves.

Despite the abundance of well funded and influential vested interests who would strongly support scientists that can produce a 'natural changes only' explanation for recent climate change, none has emerged that has the scientific substance to pass muster.

I will continue to take my views on this from the scientists and very respectable institutions that do real climate science.

That the challenge climate change represents is huge is no excuse to fail to face up to it. Failure to do so is not an option. Failure to do so based on the opinions of people like Crichton or Frank - putting greater weight on their opinions than on what comes out of NCAR, NOAA and Hadley - doesn't sound like a reasonable application of skepticism. On the contrary, the seems-like logic Frank has espoused is the kind of non-science this site is supposed to be showing for what it is - worse in my opinion than most of what gets debunked here because it so thoroughly cloaks itself in the cloth of scientific reason.
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