Sunday, January 17, 2010

A credibility gap

The belief that many have in catastrophic anthropogenic climate change (CACC) is based, not entirely unreasonably, on faith: they themselves know little of science or statistics and trust that those who claim to do so are, in fact, telling the truth.

Those of us who are—to say the least—highly sceptical of the alarmists' claims have constantly worried at not only the science but also the credibility of those presenting it. Because, if those people are themselves compromised then so is the quality of the evidence.

This tactic might be—and is—dismissed as a series of ludicrous ad hominem attacks, but it has been forced upon us largely by the climatologists' refusal to release the raw measurements on which they have based their reports.

What has not helped the alarmists' case is that these attacks on their own personal credibility have proved to be justified. When evidence has been released, it is often not the raw figures, e.g. the Met Office's recent stats release, which leads to (entirely justified) accusations of obfuscation; when the raw figures are released, all too often they show precisely the kind of deeply unscientific manipulation that we sceptics have constantly accused them of; their computer models, which lead to the catastrophic claims, are constantly derided by those who know the concepts intimately, as well as being catastrophically undermined by their own documents.

Most recently, of course, the CRU documents leak* was incredibly embarrassing and damaging for the CACC Club: the code undermined the reliability of the evidence itself, whilst the emails revealed the climatologists at the very centre of the CACC to be a bunch of under-hand, biased, unpleasant little shits who had utterly undermined the peer-review process that formed the large part of the basis of their reports' reliability.

It was also highly damaging to the great god of CACC—the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This institution is chaired by multi-millionaire businessman, Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, who has been, to put it mildly, highly compromised through the revelations of his extensive CACC-dependent network business interests—revelations which have been driven entirely, in a perfect example of brilliant investigative journalism, by the tenacious Dr Richard North.

As such, alarmists' have been falling back to the position that the IPCC is the ultimate peer-review: so uncompromised are its scientists that its every word must be treated as Gospel, so rigorously peer-reviewed are its papers that the periodical ARA reports are not to be questioned.

Which is why the revelation about the Himalayan glacier predictions, reported as hearsay by The New Scientist and as fact by the IPCC's ARA4, is another nail in the coffin of the CACC faction—especially now that it has reached the MSM in an article that gives rather more detail than the NS snippet that I relayed a few days ago.
Some scientists have questioned how the IPCC could have allowed such a mistake into print. Perhaps the most likely reason was lack of expertise. Lal himself admits he knows little about glaciers. "I am not an expert on glaciers.and I have not visited the region so I have to rely on credible published research. The comments in the WWF report were made by a respected Indian scientist and it was reasonable to assume he knew what he was talking about," he said.

Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, has previously dismissed criticism of the Himalayas claim as "voodoo science".

Last week the IPCC refused to comment so it has yet to explain how someone who admits to little expertise on glaciers was overseeing such a report.

This kind of revelation strikes at the very heart of the CACC foundations because without the IPCC there is no catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. Let me explain...

Despite the claims to the contrary, there is very little concrete evidence for the idea that man is warming the planet. What there are, apparently, is lots of little indicators and it is these that add up to the evidence for CACC.

In fact, in the course of calling me a fuckwit, LeftOutside illustrated this point quite eloquently.
From Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science:
The logo of the Cochrane Collaboration features a simplified “blogogram”, a graph of the results from a landmark meta-analysis which looked at an intervention given to pregnant mothers. When people give birth prematurely, as you might expect, the babies are more likely to suffer and die. Some doctors in New Zealand had the idea that giving a short, cheap course of steroid might help improve outcomes, and seven trials testing this idea were done between 1972 and 1981. Two of them showed some benefit from the steroids, but the remaining five failed to detect any benefit, and because of this, the idea didn’t catch on.

Eight years later, in 1989 a meta-analysis was done by pooling all this trial data. If you look at the blobbogram in the logo you can see what happened. Each horizontal line represents a single study: if the line is over the to the left, it means the steroids were better than placebo, and if it is over to the right, it means the steroids were worse. If the horizontal line touches the big vertical “nil effect” line going down the middle, then the trail showed no clear indication either way. One last thing: the longer the horizontal line is, the less certain the outcome of the study was….

The diamond at the bottom shows the pooled answer: that there is, in fact, very strong evidence indeed for steroid reducing the risk – by 30 to 50 per cent – of babies dying of complications of immaturity.

I hope the comparison and implication is clear. Asking the doctors to look at the various mentioned above would not have elicited a response that the treatment was “good” or “very good,” the responses would, in fact, be somewhat similar to the attitude to various climate models in our survey.

But the combination of these results – or our climate change models – is greater than the sum of their results. This is what DK, Bishop’s Hill and PJM have all missed. This is the fatal flaw in their logic.

The gap between climate scientist’s confidence in the various climate models and their professed belief in anthropogenic climate change does not mean they have a “faith” in climate change in excess of the evidence.

The trouble is that whilst climatologists might have a rather better overview of these studies than myself or Bishop Hill (who are, after all, merely amateurs with a day job to hold down), it is very unlikely that they have actually read all of these studies.

And the politicians certainly haven't.

All of these people rely on those at the IPCC whose day job is to study and collate these reports to draw the evidence together.

One of the weaknesses of climate science is the relative paucity of raw data: despite the protestations of warmists, there is only one network of climate stations across the world; there are only a few trees suitable for tree ring proxies; there are only a few suitable ice core sites, etc. And all of the agencies doing temperature reconstructions use those same data. These agencies then apply their own adjustments to determine the information that they want (apart from GISS, which takes NOAA's adjusted figures and then add their own adjustments).

In the same way, most climate scientists do not collect their own data: they rely on the data and findings of previous papers. If those data and findings are wrong or compromised, then so are all of the reports based on them—which is the majority of them.

Think of the process as a massive inverted pyramid with the downward-facing point as the raw data and the ever-increasing mass on top as the multiplicity of reports based on said data. Obviously, if the data are wrong, so are all of the models, reports and prognostications based on them.

Similarly, the faith in CACC is based on the credibility of the IPCC simply because people do not have the time to do what the IPCC does, i.e. to collate and assess the many hundreds of reports on climate. And the IPCC is increasingly compromised.

To bring it back to Goldacre's analogy, imagine if it emerged that those who were involved in the Cochrane Collaboration were in the pay of the makers of infant steroids; not only this, but they had deliberately overlooked critical studies and included results that were mere hearsay to back up their report.

This is the situation that the IPCC is in—its credibility is increasingly being shot to pieces and, with it, the major underpinnings of the CACC movement. Once the lights are switched on and the IPCC god is shown to be nothing more than a man in a crudely painted suit, the entire CACC religion will come crashing down.

And then governments will have to think up some fresh global disaster to ensure the compliance of their increasingly unsettled peoples.

* An overview of the implications gleaned from the CRU documents—especially some of the more overlooked aspects—is long overdue, and I will start working on that as soon as I can.

18 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

I'll tell you what else puzzles me.

There's a diagram in that IPPC report (scroll down a bit) showing all the energy flows between sun, atmosphere and earth's surface, which suggests that out of 350 w/m2 infra-red coming from the earth's surface that doesn't go straight through into outer space, 324 w/m2 is reflected back to earth as infra-red.

Assuming that to be correct ...

a) How is that physically possible, surely gases can't "reflect" more than half what hits them, and

b) Doesn't that suggest that we are already close to the upper limit of 'global warming' already. As nothing terrible has happened so far, what is there to worry about?

The Great Simpleton said...

This meta analysis thing will always work in the warmists favour. If someone scientific team is a believer in the theory they will get our money to do further research. And this is where my conspiracy theories start (see bella).

Lets say they come up with a new model and when they first run it they get an answer that doesn't show warmng, what do they do? Well, the evidence from HARRY, and my guess, is that they "plug" the model to get the near right answer, which can easily be defined as around all the other peer reviewed results.

Once they are happy with that answer they wave and scream to all their mates: "hey, look, over here, we've found another one". Their mates all look on and nod sagely, yes, your right and stamp it "PEER REVIEWED".

They then claim its their secret and they aren't telling anyone how its done, even though they used our money.

So, a review of all the peer reviewed models is bound to show warming because nobody can get dissenting results published.

marksany said...

What a great pity that Richard Feynman is mo longer alive. He could study the data and explain the science in a much more accessible way than anyone does now. And the absorbtion and re- emmission of infra red photons by the Carbon-oxygen bond is governed by Quant Electrodynamics, for which Feynman received his Nobel prize in physics.

jonathan said...

I saw Jim Al-Khalili on BBC4 this week presenting "The Secret Life of Chaos":

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pv1c3/The_Secret_Life_of_Chaos/

He ended by saying that, because of chaos, no equation, even if every piece of data was known, could ever predict the future- of markets or the weather. Which seemed to me to scupper any claims made for climate modelling. Of course, I could be wrong. Interesting show though.

Tomrat said...

Mark,

I'll have to revise the physical chemistry aspect (as I was an organic chemist specialising in chemical biology and supramolecular chemistry) but the basic breakdown goes like this:

Certain quanta of IR radiation is absorbed by the C=O bond which results in it undergoing various types of strain: stretching, bending, etc. These types of bond change all take a particular amount of energy which is then emitted, normally within a few nanoseconds; however, they are many other energy levels which the excited electrons can jump into which release a smaller amount of energy through others means; mainly translational- I.e. Caused by collisions of molecules causing energy to be exchanged.

This is actually one of the basic flaws in our understanding of the greenhouse effect; as this awesome post at Counting Cats demonstrated. The more molecules you have in a space the more collisions thus the more energy remaining in one area - the difference being that translational energy tends to be fractions of what a similar "containment" of IR radiation would be (itself disproved to be the driver of the greenhouse effect).

Lots more to it, and I've been meaning to read Atkins again on the subject so I will find out if I'm completely wrong or not.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Tomrat, thanks, I read the CC post a couple of days ago which was most helpful.

The closest you come to answering my actual question was this: "The more molecules you have in a space the more collisions thus the more energy remaining in one area..."

I agree, it is possible that infra-red radiation hits an increased number of molecules and just ping-pongs back and forth forever, but why does anybody assume that more than half the infra-red radiation would be "reflected" whence it came?

I am happy to accept either of the following

a) Half is reflected and half diverted off into space;

b) It is all 'absorbed' thus adding to overall average temperature of atmosphere, and thus increasing overall pressure and hence temperature at surface level (following the mechanism that CC explained) by half of the energy 'absorbed' - but following CC's logic, half the energy would still radiate into space.

I can't think of any rational explanation that says that more than half would come back to the surface (bearing in mind the IPPC said that 93% comes back down).

TheFatBigot said...

I'm not qualified to talk about the science, but I am qualified to talk about the argument.

What has been presented is a single argument involving a number of elements. Each element is an essential part of the catastrophic global warming argument, if one is riddled with holes the catastrophic conclusion is necessarily undermined. That does not mean it is wrong, but it does mean that the argument put forward for it to date is a false argument.

The first question in all of this is: what do we know about historical temperatures? It is the first question because no conclusion can be drawn about what causes current measured temperatures unless we know how they compare to past temperatures.

At this first stage we find that serious doubts arise about the way past temperatures have been estimated. Indeed we also find that temperature measurements from the last 100 or so years have been adjusted (as they must be to take account of variable factors in the way measurements are taken) in ways that involve a significant margin for error.

I am yet to hear a satisfactory answer to the point made by the most distinguished climate scientist in the world, Prof Lindzen. He asserts that the margin for error in both assessments of past temperatures and in adjustments made to measured temperatures is so great that all conclusions asserted by the warmists fall within the margin for error and are of no significance.

Jiks said...

Regarding that diagram under discussion, one thing to bear in mind is that I imagine all the nice figures there have been entirely made up alcohol safe limits style.

Amusingly it doesn't actually show any warming if those figures are real anyway as energy in/out of the atmosphere are both shown as 342 w/m2 while surface enery absorbed/emmitted are both 492 w/m2...

Tomrat said...

Mark,

Hmm, really gonna have to revise this more thoroughly!

I'm siding with B but I think there are 2 answers that the CC posts hints on; translational energy (collisions) relating to pressure is responsible for the near 40C higher temp on energy balance grounds that the earths surface is, whilst IR itself yes is absorbed by CO2 but tends to be radiated within a few nanoseconds; without a collision (highly unlikely when considering the molecular level) none of this energy is retained.

As I recall the Coyote blog had it's own interesting perspective on IR adsorption of CO2 which made some sense of this, but this document is a little old so may be dated in places.

Chuckles said...

@Mark W,

The claim is not that the gases 'reflect' the infra red, rather that they absorb and re-radiate it. This would be ALL the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, not just CO2.

If you add up all the numbers flowing in to the atmosphere component in that diagram - 67+24+78+350 = 519 Watts/sq m.

The outflows to space are 165 and 30, which, subtracted from 519 give us your 324, which is assumed to re-radiate into the system.

Lots of caveats and assumptions float around here - the system is in equilibrium, so the radiation has to go somewhere. The re-radiation occurs with no heating of the gas, i.e. it is ALL re-radiated, etc etc.

This is also I think where the CO2 positive feedback to water is implied, and where Gerlich and Tscheuschner start muttering about the second law of thermodynamics, and 'perpetuum mobiles of the second kind'.
I think it's also one of the many areas of 'climate science' that is poorly understood, so I'd hesitate to make any guess as to the answer to your second question

Anonymous said...

Tomrat, Only an organic chemist could come up with this description. ( No offense, my ability at synthesising complex molecules is limited ) And Aktins will just comfuse you more.

Max the Impaler said...

If I understand Chaos Theory correctly,even if all known facts are correct it is still impossible to make any predictions.All these highly technical arguments are a complete waste of time.

Tomrat said...

Anon 10:19,

I work with what I got.

Atkins was the only Physical text I kept once finish; the idiot "abridged" version at that.

Will give the coyote blog article a read first; more appropriate here.

Anonymous said...

Its useful to note that the IPCC wasn't formed to adjudicate for or against AGW but was founded specifically to promote AGW. See point one here for example.

JohnW

Kevin B said...

Is their any real evidence that steroids help premies, or is this whole point based on the meta-analyses? Or, as the great John Brignall calls them "Making a strong chain by combining weak links."

neil craig said...

A serious problem with meta-analyses in general that Goldacre doesn't mention & should certainly know of, is that when researchers find no result or a contrary one within statistical error limits they may well not bother to publish. In theory they should but being human who wants to publish thousands of reports saying that there was no measurable correlation between wearing red pajamas as a kid & becoming an accountat[green/lion tamer etc etc}.

The end result of this is that by removing all nulls it becomes much more likely than chance would suggest that the remaining results, having been artificially selected, are going to show what is being looked for. This applies to all sorts of other scare stories, a particularly blatant example being passive smoking.

Chuckles said...

I'm not even sure what DK is referring to when he talks about his 'lots of little indicators'.
Not helped much by reading the linked LeftOutside article, as that is a demand that DK admit he is an f'whit, linked to a lot of free association.

If it refers to the multiple model outputs, well that is the IPCC methodology - run a variety of scenarios against the models to produce a range of projections.

Clearly this produces a 'consensus' of the models, which is no doubt the fabled consensus of which we are constantly reminded.

If however it refers to a collection of the usual 'proof' of AGW - melting glaciers, tornadoes, droughts etc etc, then I'm with Kevin B and John Brignell above.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Tomrat, Chuckles, thanks anyway.

My new motto is "Bugger the science. It's the physics that matters"