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Denier peer-review trickery

My recent spat with Marc Morano taught me that deniers are becoming far more insidious. As the public in general becomes more aware of the absolute importance of peer-review, deniers are faced with a dilemma because the peer-reviewed literature overwhelmingly supports the theory that our GHG emissions are causing climate change (hence the consensus). What is a denier to do? Well people like Marc Morano, have decided that they don’t actually need peer-reviewed research that supports the conclusions they are pushing, because few people will take the time to look at the actual research, so all they need to do is claim that a paper casts doubt on climate change when in fact it does nothing of the sort, and may even explicitly support the theory of climate change.

This is exactly what Marc Morano tried to do to me, but unfortunately for him, I being aware of his reputation, took a closer look at his lists. What I found was that his lists were mostly filled with non peer-reviewed articles (op-eds, blog posts) that have absolutely no bearing to the scientific debate, and some ‘research’ (usually from conservative think tanks) masquerading as peer-review. Buried within the lists were a few actual peer-reviewed articles, but despite what Marc claimed none of them even tried to debunk climate change theory.

And this is the denier trickery. Because they know that the majority of people wont take the time to read the actual literature (and Marc purposely makes this very difficult to do) they know that their claims wont usually be challenged. And while this highlights the dishonesty of deniers it is a real problem.

This presents an interesting question though. What does it take to challenge the theory that humans are causing climate change? And equally important, what doesn’t disprove climate change?

The first question can be answered relatively easily with two words: climate sensitivity.

The main reason for concern about anthropogenic climate change is not that we can already see it (although we can). The main reason is twofold.

  1. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere due to human activity. This is a measured fact not even disputed by staunch “climate skeptics”.
  2. Any increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will change the radiation balance of the Earth and increase surface temperatures. This is basic and undisputed physics that has been known for over a hundred years.

But how strong is this warming effect? That is the only fundamental doubt about anthropogenic climate change that can still be legitimately debated.

Climate sensitivity refers to the change in global average temperatures that would occur with a doubling of atmospheric GHG. The IPCC estimates that climate sensitivity is “likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values.“. But of course it isn’t that simple. The IPCC’s estimate is for what is general called Charney sensitivity and it assumes the land surface, ice sheets and atmospheric composition (chemistry and aerosols) stay the same. Newer estimates of sensitivity (sometimes called ‘earth system sensitivity’) allow for those to vary and feed back on the temperature response. And while the difference between the Charney sensitivity, and the earth system sensitivity is debatable, it is a safe bet to assume that the earth system sensitivity will be higher than the Charney sensitivity. So to successfully challenge climate change one needs to make a convincing argument that the climate sensitivity (preferably the earth system sensitivity) is close to zero. Unfortunately that isn’t an easy thing to do especially since a recent peer-reviewed article in Nature found that “a climate sensitivity greater than 1.5 °C has probably been a robust feature of the Earth’s climate system over the past 420 million years, regardless of temporal scaling“.

One thing to watch out for, are deniers who purposely ignore all feedbacks, both fast (the most important of those being water vapour which is responsible for 66% to 85% of the total warming effect) and slow in order to arrive at climate sensitivity values that are unrealistically low.

The second question cannot be answered definitely, simply because we can’t know to what depths of trickery deniers will descend. But we can lay out a few example that should make it relatively painless to determine if deniers are even on the right track. The most used attack on climate change has to do with the Mann ‘hockey stick’, and the medieval warm period. Deniers love to claim that the medieval warm period was warmer that today (or that Greenland used to be green) mainly because of some possible statistical errors made by Mann when he created the ‘hockey stick’. But besides the fact that newer and better climate reconstructions have fallen within the ‘hockey stick’s’ error bars, that the NAS found that Mann’s general conclusions to be valid, that the IPCC’s conclusion that “The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate” predates the ‘hockey stick’, and that it is very likely that the medieval warm period was a only a regional effect, completely refuting the ‘hockey stick’ and even proving that the medieval warm period was warmer (everywhere) than current temperature doesn’t in fact cast doubt on climate change. Why? Because, as I explained above it doesn’t address the issue of climate sensitivity. It is perfectly possible that natural variation caused the medieval warm period, and in fact if we go back far enough (say 55 million years) we have quite solid evidence that the earth was warmer than it is today. Natural temperature variations can be very large, but as I explained above it doesn’t in fact disprove that the current warming trend is caused by our GHG emissions.

The next favourite tactic involves the fact that Greenland has been loosing ice for at least the past hundred years. Now aside from the fact that the industrial revolution (generally accepted as the beginnings of climate change) was more than one hundred years ago, anyone who uses a regional effect, to argue for a global phenomenon, shouldn’t be taken seriously, especially if they use Greenland, because as one of the peer-reviewed papers Marc Morano sent me states “There are significant differences between the global temperature and the Greenland temperature records within the 1881–2005 period”, Which would make it an especially poor indicator of global climate.

Lately a few papers have predicted (unsurprisingly) that going forward yearly temperature variation could temporarily swamp out the relatively small warming signal. Of course what the deniers wont tell you is that these papers fully accept climate change and specifically state that over longer time scales (decades) the warming trend caused by our GHG emissions will be the dominant trend.

Another favourite method used by deniers is to ‘prove’ that climate change is false is the notion that polar bears are doing fine. But even if we accept that (and there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t accept that), we need to make the distinction between what causes climate change and what the effects of climate change are thought to be. The claims that polar bears are in trouble are very clearly effects of climate change, not evidence used to support climate change. The fact that polar bears are adapting to a rapidly changing arctic (and again there is reason to believe they are not) does not in anyway challenge the theory of climate change.

There are bound to be several other misguided attacks on climate change theory (see here for more), but the bottom line is that if those attacks do not attempt to convince us that climate sensitivity is near zero then they are barking up the wrong tree. What deniers are doing now is nothing but a dishonest irrational defence of their fixed beliefs. Don’t take their word that the peer-reviewed literature is filled with dissenting scientists (I thought they claimed that dissenting scientists were preventing from publishing their work… so much for constancy), look it up, read the papers look at the conclusions the authors arrive at and see if they match with the conclusions the deniers are pushing. You likely wont believe how dishonest they can be.

12 Responses to Denier peer-review trickery

  1. You got your science wrong, Scruffy Dan.

    “Climate Sensitivity” is the ratio of change in average annual air surface temperature to the change in irradiance (measured at the tropopause) that results from a “forcing” perturbation.

    The “climate sensitivity (parameter) to the doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide” is generated by computer models and the value of it varies widely from model to model, and the IPCC knows that.

    Schwartz obtained the parameter by reducing global heat capacity data and the time constant for a first-order response form empirical data – and his results imply a degree rise in temp from carbon dioxide over about a hundred years (i.e., imperceptible in the background noise).

    By the way Marc Morano appears to be interested in promoting the truth about all this on behalf of the American people, so the public won’t have to suffer the consequences that result from the rhetoric promoted by alarmists like you.

    Your interests seem to be limited to bashing people like Marc Morano – for various and unknown reasons

  2. This is the IPCC’s definition of climate sensitivity:

    In IPCC Reports, equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the equilibrium change in annual mean global surface temperature following a doubling of the atmospheric CO2-equivalent concentration. The evaluation of the equilibrium climate sensitivity is expensive and often hampered by computational constraints. The effective climate sensitivity is a related measure that circumvents the computational problem by avoiding the requirement of equilibrium. It is evaluated from model output for evolving non-equilibrium conditions. It is a measure of the strengths of the feedbacks at a particular time and may vary with forcing history and climate state. The climate sensitivity parameter refers to the equilibrium change in the annual mean global surface temperature following a unit change in radiative forcing (K/W/m2)

    Seems pretty much in line with what I wrote.

    The “climate sensitivity (parameter) to the doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide” is generated by computer models and the value of it varies widely from model to model, and the IPCC knows that.

    Which is why in my post I included the IPCC estimate of climate sensitivity which is “likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values

    Schwartz obtained the parameter [climate sensitivity]

    I discussed Schwartz, paper here. Suffice to say that there are some serious criticisms of his work, and the balance of evidence (ie most peer-reviewed papers) points to a higher sensitivity. Perhaps overtime the balance of evidence will shift towards Schwartz, but right now it seems foolish to put so much weight on one estimate of climate sensitivity and ignore other larger estimates.
    And if that wasn’t enough Schwartz himself still views climate change as a serious problem.

    Marc Morano appears to be interested in promoting the truth about all this

    Really? is that so? Then why does he claim that the peer-reviewed papers he cites claim that climate change is bunk when the do no such thing? Some of them not only explicitly say climate change is real, but that we are already feeling the effects of climate change.

    A man interested in promoting the truth wouldn’t do that. I’ll believe Morano is being truthful when the conclusions he is pushing match those from the peer-reviewed journals he cites. Right now, however Morano is acting exactly like my definition of a denier.

  3. The IPCC (as well as a lot of others) confuse an “equilibrium” state with a “steady state,” but this is a discussion of thermodynamics terminology that can be saved for another time.

    Marc Morano has never “… claim[ed] that the peer-reviewed papers he cites claim that climate change is bunk …”

    that I am aware of. Marc has presented “peer-reviewed” evidence that shows human contributions to GLOBAL “climate change” are at most marginal and at the least, imperceptible.

    Marc has also presented evidence that shows many of the reported claims of the influences of “global warming” on global or regional environments to be specious and at worst, erroneous.

    The real problem, Scruff, is that although “greenhouse gas” concentrations in the atmosphere have been rising (and in particular, in response to a warming trend that could be traced through the years 1975-1990 for example) – temperatures have not been rising as predicted in response to this.

    Concepts such as the “[eq] climate change sensitivity parameter to the doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide” apply to an “idealized” climate, in my view, – and random and determinate influences on “real world climate” have [and may always have] overshadowed the effects of such irradiant forcings.

    Obviously this can only be described statistically, which is the subject of a forth coming paper that I hope will see the light of print in J Appl Meteorol Climatol by year’s end

    Any such claim obviously requires an immense amount of labor to support it; comparable amounts of labor have been expended by the IPCC, to be sure.

  4. The IPCC (as well as a lot of others) confuse an “equilibrium” state with a “steady state,”

    That may be so, but I am defining climate sensitivity in a manner consistent with the IPCC and the majority of papers I have read on the subject.

    Marc Morano has never “… claim[ed] that the peer-reviewed papers he cites claim that climate change is bunk …”

    Perhaps not in so many words, but he definitely twists the conclusions of the papers he cites (sometimes by 180 degrees). As I said above I will continue to call Morano a denier until he accurately portrays the papers he cites.

    Marc has presented “peer-reviewed” evidence that shows human contributions to GLOBAL “climate change” are at most marginal and at the least, imperceptible.

    He didn’t even really do that. The Schwartz paper was about as close as he came, but as Schwartz himself says, climate change is still a very real problem.

    But aside from that paper his lists were filled with non-scientific garbage, (op-eds, and blog posts) that despite his claims to the contrary have absolutely no bearing on the scientific debate.

    temperatures have not been rising as predicted in response to this.

    Says who? In fact two of the papers Morano cited are all about a temporary levelling off of temperature. Though both of these paper explicitly state that over longer time scales (decades) the dominant trend will be one of warming. One of the papers explicitly states that we are already seeing the effects of climate change.

    As I am sure you are aware the warming ‘signal’ is far smaller than the weather ‘noise’. Thus over short time scales it can be completely swamped by natural yearly variation. But that doesn’t mean the warming ‘signal’ is bogus. The papers I talked about above are merely attempting to predict what the weather ‘noise’ will be, yet Morano uses them as ‘proof’ that climate change has stopped.

    which is the subject of a forth coming paper that I hope will see the light of print in J Appl Meteorol Climatol by year’s end.

    I wish you luck, and if your paper meets the minimum standard of peer-review then I look forward to seeing what impact is has on the scientific debate.

  5. Briefly, a system is in equilibrium if it can be isolated and no changes in time can be observed in state variables that define the system, a system is at steady state if that doesn’t apply to isolation of the system. Obviously a system that is open to energy exchanged can’t be “isolated” and we won’t see anything “happen” in time.

    If Marc cites “op eds and so on that have nothing to do with the scientific debate” then he is citing opinions of others that make it pretty clear that not everybody believes the human global warming thing is “happening” “right now”

    … he is perfectly in his right to defend the rights of others to voice their own opinions, just like some bloggers might throw out a lot of “opinions” that wouldn’t exactly be described as “scientific statements” – right, Scruffy?

    If we agree that climate change is at least more persistent (in a well defined sense of magnitudes of variables about a mean) than are changes in any variables that can be associated with the temporal dependence on the chaos that describes (defines) weather, then we have agreed on something, at least.

    Thanks for your good wishes, and I am sure you defend Marc’s right to introduce opinions into the debate – just as you reserve the right to voice your own.

    I think we have a case of “cold fusion” science here. The idea seemed reasonable to some folks – then people pointed out the obvious: oceans would be impossible if the phenomenon was real

    … the world would look at lot different, Scruffy, if carbon dioxide did very much to influence the climate.

  6. [Marc] is citing opinions of others that make it pretty clear that not everybody believes the human global warming thing is “happening” “right now”

    Obviously not everyone believes that climate change is happening, that humans are causing the climate to warm, or even that the climate is warming. But when the IPCC and others refer to the consensus they are referring the the scientific consensus found the the peer-reviewed literature. The fact that blog posts and op-eds disagree with the consensus doesn’t in anyway disprove that such a consensus exists.

    [Mark] is perfectly in his right to defend the rights of others to voice their own opinions

    I never said he didn’t have the right to do what he does, but if he is going to be dishonest in what he writes I will certainly call him on it (as do many others). This isn’t a rights issue in any way.

    If we agree that climate change is at least more persistent (in a well defined sense of magnitudes of variables about a mean) than are changes in any variables that can be associated with the temporal dependence on the chaos that describes (defines) weather, then we have agreed on something, at least.

    If I am reading you correctly then, yes I would agree with that statement.

    the world would look at lot different, Scruffy, if carbon dioxide did very much to influence the climate.

    And yet the overwhelming majority of published research on the subject says otherwise.

  7. Well, I’m grateful you aren’t calling for my arrest.

    If you want to call somebody a “denier” who “denies” climate change – I think you have a very limited number of people under consideration in your parameter space.

    The IPCC may or may not have achieved a “consensus” – I don’t know, I wasn’t at their team leader meeting when they hashed out the final product.

    But the world is full of obvious things, Scruffy, that no one, by any chance, ever happens to notice.

  8. What is your definition of a scientist, Scruffy?

    Is it someone who purports to demonstrate a physical phenomenon by demonstrating that an (assumed!) exponential function of time eventually grows exponentially in time?

    Maybe anyone who would do that simply played too much hockey???

  9. It isn’t easy to define who exactly qualifies to be called a scientist. Is it someone with a Phd? Someone who does technical work in a lab? What about someone who does basic science as a hobby?

    But defining who is a scientist isn’t that important. What is important is deciding who the relevant experts are. I tend to define experts (on scientific issues at least) as those who conduct research and publish (or at least have published recently) in the peer-reviewed literature.

    It isn’t a perfect determination of who is or isn’t an expert but it functions as a great rule of thumb for non-experts (who could be swayed by convincing junk science) to determine who to trust.

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