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October 26th 2009 print

Bob Carter

The science of deceit

Though no scientist doubts that humans influence climate at local level - causing both warmings and coolings - no definitive evidence has yet been discovered that a human influence is measurable, let alone dangerous, at global level.

Science is about simplicity

A well-accepted aphorism about science, in the context of difference of opinion between two points of view, is “Madam, you are entitled to your own interpretation, but not to your own facts”. 

The world stoker of the fires of global warming alarmism, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cleverly suborns this dictum in two ways. 

First, the IPCC accepts advice from influential groups of scientists who treat the data that underpins their published climate interpretations (collected, of course, using public research funds) as their own private property, and refuse to release it to other scientists. 

Thus, confronted in 1996 with a request that he provide a U.S. peer-review referee with a copy of the data that underpinned a research paper that he had submitted, U.K. Hadley Climate Research Centre scientist Tom Wigley responded: 

First, it is entirely unnecessary to have original “raw” data in order to review a scientific document. I know of no case at all in which such data were required by or provided to a referee ….. Second, while the data in question [model output from the U.K. Hadley Centre’s climate model] were generated using taxpayer money, this was U.K. taxpayer money. U.S. scientists therefore have no a priori right to such data.  Furthermore, these data belong to individual scientists who produced them, not to the IPCC, and it is up to those scientists to decide who they give their data to

In the face of such attitudes, which treat the established mores of scientific trust and method with contempt, it is scarcely surprising that it took Canadian statistics expert Steve McIntyre many years to get the primary data released that was used by another Hadley Centre scientist, Keith Briffa, in his published tree-ring reconstructions of past temperature from the Urals region, northern hemisphere. When he finally forced the release of the relevant data, McIntyre quickly proceeded to slay a second climate hockey-stick dragon which – like the first such beast fashioned by U.S. scientist Michael Mann, and widely promulgated by the IPCC – turned out to be based on faulty statistical methodology (see summary by Ross McKitrick here). 

A variant on this, along “the dog ate my homework” path, also involves the Hadley Centre – which is the primary science provider of global temperature statistics to the IPCC. Faced with requests from outside scientists for the provision of the raw temperature data so that scientific audit checks could be undertaken, Hadley’s Phil Jones recently asserted that parts of the raw data used to reconstruct their global temperature curve for the period before about 1980 cannot be provided to outsiders because it has been lost or destroyed. In other words, it is now impossible to conduct an independent audit of the Hadley temperature curve for 1860-2008, on which the IPCC has based an important part of its alarmist global warming advice. 

So much for data perversions. The second type of common distortion of normal scientific practice by the IPCC and its supporters concerns not data but hypotheses – which IPCC likes to define in its own way to suit its own ends. This attitude often manifests itself in the fashion expressed in a recent letter sent to me, viz: 

Proponents of AGW claim that their theory is supported by peer reviewed literature whilst the case against it is not. This is a very effective argument and, although Solomon’s book The Deniers goes some way to counter it, I am not aware of an equally effective refutation. If there is one I would be most grateful if you could point me to it. 

In an Australian variation of this, Greg Combet, assistant to climate Minister Penny Wong, earlier this year asserted with blatant inaccuracy that “we use only peer reviewed science and our opposition doesn’t”. Other IPCC sycophants phrase it slightly differently, such as: "if you climate sceptics had a scientific point of view it would have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals".

Statements such as these all reflect a fundamental lack of understanding about the way that science works. They also exemplify the way in which climate alarmists always seek to frame the debate in ways that delivers them control, especially by clever choice of language (clean energy; climate change instead of global warming; carbon dioxide is a pollutant instead of a beneficial trace gas, etc.), or, in this case, by framing a hypothesis for testing that suits their political ends rather than Science’s ends. 

If you accept at face value questions and comments like the ones enumerated above, you fall into a carefully laid climate alarmist trap. For the question “why are there no papers in peer-reviewed journals that disprove the hypothesis of dangerous human-caused global warming” is predicated, as is all related IPCC writing, on faulty science logic; specifically, it erects a wrong null hypothesis. 

Scientists erect hypotheses to test based upon the fundamental science assumption of parsimony, or simplicity, sometimes grandly referred to as Occam’s Razor. That is to say, in seeking to explain matters of observation or experiment, a primary underlying principle is that the simplest explanation be sought; extraneous or complicating factors of interpretation, such as “extraterrestrials did it”, are only invoked when substantive evidence exists for such a complication. 

Concerning the climate change that we observe around us today – which, importantly, is occurring at similar rates and magnitudes to that known to have occurred throughout the historical and geological past – the simplest (and therefore null) hypothesis, is that "the climate change observed today is natural unless and until evidence accrues otherwise"

In regard to which, first, no such evidence has emerged. And, second, like any null hypothesis, that about modern climate change is there to be tested, as it has been. There are literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in major scientific journals that contain observations, data, experiments and theoretical reasoning that are consistent with the null hypothesis, which has therefore yet to be falsified (but, of course, one day might be). 

The onus is therefore on Penny Wong and her scientists to provide some “evidence otherwise”. To give a clue how hard that task is, note that since 1988 (when the IPCC was created) western nations have spent more than $100 billion, and employed thousands of scientists, in attempts to measure the human signal in the global temperature record. The search has failed. Though no scientist doubts that humans influence climate at local level – causing both warmings (urban heat island effect) and coolings (land-use changes) – no definitive evidence has yet been discovered that a human influence is measurable, let alone dangerous, at global level. Rather, the human signal is lost in the noise of natural climate variation.

That the correct null hypothesis is the simplest hypothesis is, of course, no reason why other more complex hypotheses cannot be erected for testing. For instance, should you wish to test (as the IPCC should) the idea that "human carbon dioxide emissions are causing dangerous global warming", then there are several ways that that can be done. 

The result, long ago, has been the falsification of the dangerous human-caused warming hypothesis. Failed tests include: that global cooling has occurred since 1998 despite an increase in carbon dioxide of 5%; the lack of detailed correlation between the carbon dioxide and temperature records over the last 100 years; consideration of cause and effect timing of past carbon dioxide and temperature levels in ice core records; the absence of the model-predicted temperature hotspot high in the tropical troposphere; the low sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide forcing as judged against empirical tests; and the demonstrable failure of computer GCMs to predict future climate. 

These matters, and that the dangerous warming hypothesis fails numerous empirical tests, have been described in many places. Such writings, whether in refereed journals or not, are simply disparaged or ignored by those who wish to pursue the alarmist IPCC line. 

It bears repeating that the onus is on Minister Wong, or her advisory IPCC scientists, to provide any evidence that the null hypothesis regarding modern climate change is false. Because she cannot do so, the clever trick is used of inverting the null hypothesis to demand that climate rationalist scientists demonstrate that human-cased global warming is not occurring. 

Perhaps none of this would matter particularly were we dealing only with a squabble amongst scientists. But when ministers in our governments write, as did the Queensland Minister for Climate Change recently, that “The Queensland Government, along with the Australian Government and governments around the world, supports the findings of the IPCC”, it becomes a critical matter of necessity to understand that, in addition to being political in the first place, IPCC advice is also based upon faulty, indeed manipulative, science practice. 

As independent scientific advisors to Senator Fielding have shown, the IPCC-derived science advice that the Australian Government is using as the basis for its carbon dioxide tax legislation is utterly flawed. This finding has yet to be rebutted. 

Senators who vote for the second version of the misbegotten and misnamed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill will be supporting strongly harmful legislation that is based upon faulty science. Thereby, they will be abandoning their duty of care for the welfare of the Australian people. 

DISCLOSURE: Bob Carter is one of the four independent climate scientists who, at Senator Fielding’s request, undertook a due diligence audit of the global warming advice being provided to Climate Minister Penny Wong by her Department. The three other scientists were David Evans, Stewart Franks and Bill Kininmonth.