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December 21st 2009 print

Bob Carter

Why Barry Jones is wrong

In so far as bias can be detected in press coverage of global warming it operates in favour of the alarmist message, which is, of course, no surprise to those familiar with the ways of the media.

Professor Bob Carter replies to Mr. Barry Jones

On December 8, ABC’s The Drum – Unleashed posted an opinion piece of mine entitled “Kill the IPCC”. As submitted the piece was entitled, a little more gracefully, I think, “The bell tolls for the IPCC” [full text published in Quadrant Online here]. But the essential message can be represented by either heading.

And that the IPCC should be closed down was indeed the essential message that I wished to convey. For during its 20 year-long existence it has done incalculable economic and political damage (which continues in Copenhagen as I write), but above all else it is the damage that the IPCC has inflicted upon Science that concerns me.

Our citizenry used to able to rely upon practitioners of the scientific method to provide dispassionate analysis of the pros and cons of a problem of public concern. But no longer, I fear, as Climategate has recently displayed.

After my article was posted, there ensued a day or so of busy emailing at The Drum, which included the writing of over 500 blog postings. The authors of most of these contributions seemed particularly upset that the ABC had permitted the expression of a climate rationalist viewpoint – and allegedly an ignorant one at that – on the website of what they had hoped was a balanced public broadcaster.

The rush of emails was shortly followed by an article on The Drum by former Labor Science Minister, Mr. Barry Jones, entitled (doubtless by the editor) “Bob Carter’s attack on reason”, which seems to have been intended as a commentary on, and perhaps a reply to, my own original posting. By December 20, Mr Jones’ piece had attracted a further 792 blog comments, most of which supported his views.

In turn, therefore, I now provide this reply to eight of the points that Mr. Jones raises.

1. Mr Jones has the impression that the press are anxious to publish the views of independent climate scientists, saying “How easy it is for climate sceptics to obtain media coverage”.

I wish he were right, but my impression is precisely the opposite. Though I don’t have accurate counts, the ratio of alarmist to independent media stories about climate change over the last few years must surely run at least ten to one in favour of the alarmists. And it is certainly the case that my article “Kill the IPCC” is one of only a tiny handful of dissident postings that the ABC has ever made on the subject of global warming. “Thank you, and well done” would be my comment to The Drum.

Furthermore, the nadir of Australian public commentary on global warming is surely represented by The Drum’s big brother, ABC TV. Though SBS does give them a run for their money, ABC TV has yet to provide even a semblance of balance in the unending stream of climate alarmism that they broadcast on their news and current affairs programs.

In short, in so far as bias can be detected in press coverage of global warming it operates in favour of the alarmist message, which is, of course, no surprise to those familiar with the ways of the media.

2. Mr Jones continued “those [commentators in the media] with a science background have no need to go through the tedious process of researching, writing and submitting papers for peer-review”.

It is generally untrue to say that the independent scientists who speak up in the media against the prevailing global warming alarmism do not write peer-reviewed papers.

Quite to the contrary, many of the so-called climate “sceptics” (those mythical denizens of the thickest undergrowth in the forest) known to the public are scientists of high calibre who publish regularly in prestigious science journals. Scientists such as Roy Spencer, John Christie, Willie Soon and Richard Lindzen are known worldwide for the high quality of their research and writing.

Furthermore, these people and many others, including me, are misbadged as “sceptics”, for their position is actually agnostic as to whether the human influence on global climate is dangerous – a non-presumptive state of mind that is the start of any proper scientific analysis on any topic. Independent scientists (meaning those who are not formally involved in the IPCC process) simply ask that the hypothesis of dangerous human warming be tested in a non-presumptive way against real world data, and that all relevant data and procedures be fully disclosed, in the usual way of science.

3. Mr. Jones also asserts that “Publications by climate change denialists/sceptics” “… are rarely published in refereed journals”.

Science works by erecting and testing hypotheses, not by accumulating lists of papers that might favour one particular viewpoint or another, whether refereed or not. For the record, though, and for those who wish to proceed down such a path, a list of more than 450 [now more than 900] peer-reviewed papers sceptical of dangerous human-caused warming can be found here. [Link updated July 11, 2011]

Given the great natural variability exhibited by climate records, and the failure to date to compartmentalize or identify a human signal within them, the proper null hypothesis – because it is the simplest consistent with the known facts (Occam’s Razor, to use Mr Jones’ alternative terminology for essentially the same concept) – is that global climate changes are presumed to be natural unless and until specific evidence is forthcoming for human causation.

There are literally thousands of papers published in refereed journals that contain facts or writings consistent with this null hypothesis. Whether particular papers were written by “alarmists” or “sceptics” – apparently angels and devils in Mr Jones’ eyes – is, of course irrelevant. Science facts and interpretations are entirely independent of the good character or otherwise of those who describe or fund them; post-modernists and political cynics please take note.

In contrast, no paper has yet been published which unambiguously invalidates the hypothesis of a natural origin for observed, modern climate change, and that despite an estimated expenditure since 1990 of around $100 billion ($79 billion in the USA alone; Nova, 1979) and the intense efforts of many scientists towards finding evidence in favour of dangerous human-caused warming.

As recently explained by Martin Cohen in his article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, the world’s very best advertising agencies have been employed to help the IPCC fashion the most effective climate alarmist messages possible. Such agencies are professionally both expert and thorough in devising ways to hoodwink the public, which they have indeed helped the IPCC to achieve.

Thus counselled, one of the most effective of the climate alarmists’ ploys has been to reverse the null hypothesis. In a perversion of scientific method, the onus of proof is then claimed to fall upon those who challenge the hypothesis of dangerous warming caused by human carbon dioxide emissions.

Throughout his article, Mr. Jones seems to favour the same inverted null hypothesis as do the supporters of the IPCC, whereby any observed global warming is presumed to be human-caused unless it can be shown otherwise. But because both the rate and the magnitude of recent warmings and coolings fall within the bounds of previous natural climate variation, the burden of proof of a human causation for change lies with those who would assert it rather than those who question it.  

In summary, Mr Jones should note that for the recent climate changes for which we have accurate instrumental measurements, including expressly the mild late 20th century warming, the null hypothesis that they have a natural origin remains unfalsified.

4. An underlying presumption of the first part of Mr Jones’ article is that peer-reviewed articles set a “gold standard” of rectitude, and that no other scientific writings need to be considered. In reality, this has never been the case, and it is increasingly untrue today.

The heavy emphasis laid on peer-reviewed journals by the IPCC and its supporters is, of course, a gambit, and one which has become more widely understood since the release of the Climategate papers. As climate rationalists have pointed out, the reviewers and editors of leading science and climate science journals have been acting for many years as gatekeepers for the global warming mafia. And woe betide any editor who steps out of line, for as CRU’s Professor Phil Jones remarks in one of the leaked emails (dated 2003):

“This was the danger of always criticizing the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?” 

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor… It results from this journal having a number of editors. The responsible one for this is a well-known skeptic in NZ. He has let a few papers through by Michaels and Gray in the past. I’ve had words with Hans von Storch about this, but got nowhere. Another thing to discuss in Nice !” 

Climate Research was the journal for which heated controversy arose over their publication of a 2003 Soon and Baliunas review paper on the Mediaeval Warm Period and Little Ice Age, the fracas culminating in the resignation of editor Hans von Storch plus several other changes in the editorial stable.

If you control the journals, then of course you are going to harp on about the importance of only considering science that is published in the journals that you control. However, thanks (apparently) to Mr Al Gore, we now have the internet, and it is through this medium that independent scientists have kept the global warming debate alive over the past ten years. To exclude any and all web-based discussions from the knowledge base is therefore to deliberately shut your eyes and ears to about half of the relevant material and argument on human-caused climate change.

The IPCC is quick to proclaim that it was set up to consider only papers in international, peer-reviewed publications, and that other science somehow doesn’t count. This self-righteous attitude simply ensures that IPCC scientists fail to consider some of the most innovative and recent research results available, which at any one time are to be found as preprints of papers in press or preparation, or as postings on the web.

Essentially, the science in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, published in 2007 and the basis for the policies being pushed at COP-15, is already about four years out of date. Furthermore, several papers published since 2007 contain tests of the hypothesis of dangerous human global warming, which it fails.

5. Mr Jones introduces as evidence for global warming alarm the U.K. Hadley Centre’s graphed reconstruction of global temperatures from 1850-2007, which has always been the iconic temperature record of choice for the IPCC.

It is surely an unintended irony that Mr. Jones has chosen in support of his arguments the very same global temperature curve that has been busted beyond repair by the Climategate affair. But long before this scandal broke, knowledgeable scientists had ceased to accept the Hadley Climate Research Unit (CRU) or the equivalent US Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) temperature curve as an accurate record of recent climate, preferring to use either the weather balloon dataset (available since 1958; Thorne et al., 2005) or the satellite MSU dataset (available since 1979; Spencer, 1979).

Together, these two latter temperature records indicate that no global warming has occurred since 1958. Further, the satellite record currently displays ten years of cooling since 1998, a fact remarked upon by senior IPCC scientist Kevin Trenberth in one of the CRU leaked emails: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data pubished in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows that there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate”.

Does it perhaps not trouble Mr Jones that public climate policy is being set on the basis of advice from scientists who believe that when real-world data and climate model predictions conflict, then it is the data that need to be corrected?

The two main global thermometer temperature histories, which extend back for about 150 years, are provided by the Hadley Centre, and NASA GISS. Both graphs are based on similar (inadequate) historical data sets that have to be massaged to take account of various errors, which include: instrument changes, site changes, changing site environs (think Urban Heat Island effect), poor maintenance, biased distribution of measuring sites and changes in the way or time that the daily reading is taken. In principle, these and other errors can be corrected for, but in many cases the requisite historical information is lacking and educated guesses have to be substituted.

It is therefore one of the mysteries of life that the IPCC has always preferred the inadequate CRU temperature curve over the much more accurate temperature histories measured with weather balloon radiosondes or satellite microwave-sensing-units. For it was understood through peer-reviewed papers at least as long ago as 2002 that the CRU and GISS graphs, in the form that they are presented to the public, contain an artefactual warming trend of 0.05 deg. C per decade that is not present in the satellite data (balling and Idso, 2002). 

On top of that, Steven McIntyre’s forensic statistical analysis revealed last year that the GISS record contained significant errors in the warming direction, and Tony Watts’ team of U.S. weather station sleuths have documented the unreliability of siting of the majority of U.S. temperature gauges stations that contribute data towards the GISS product, with a consequent warming overprint.

Meanwhile, and as Alan Moran pointed out in his related piece on The Drum, ripples from Climategate have reached out to lap on Australian shores. For example, it has become apparent that corrections were made to data supplied by our Bureau of Meteorology to the CRU – for example data for Darwin, and in such a way that a “no temperature change” record was changed into a “Darwin warming” one (Eschenbach, 2009).

There are several other reasons why the Hadley Centre graph (or it’s GISS equivalent) is not an adequate basis for making public policy on climate change. The most important of these is that, despite its apparently distinguished parentage, the CRU product is not a scientific graph. For the data on which it is based, and full disclosure of the techniques used to massage it into its “official” form, are not in the public domain. Science is about testability and repeatability, and because of lack of disclosure currently neither can be accomplished for the CRU temperature curve.

The far-flung ripples from Climategate make it crystal clear that current versions of the last 150-year surface temperature curves are unreliable, if not part-fabricated. Whether it will ever be possible to prepare an adequate updated version remains uncertain, for one of the more spectacular documents that has emerged through the Climategate leak is a report that contains an otherwise unpublished error analysis for the CRU reconstructed temperature for 1969. The errors of 1 to 5 deg. C that are indicated across the globe (Fig. 1) make a mockery of CRU and IPCC claims that it is known beyond doubt that global average temperature increased by ~0.7 deg. C during the 20th century.

Fig. 1. Temperature anomaly sampling errors (C) for January 1969 on the HadCM3 atmosphere grid. (Fig. 4 in Brohan et al., 2005).

6. Mr Jones says that “A mantra vigorously pursued by Prof. Carter … is that the hottest year in meteorological records was 1998 and that the decade since has been a period of cooling”.

A “mantra” is the chant of a religious group, repeated on the basis of belief and without any necessary rational basis. Scientists don’t do mantras.

The reason that I, and many other scientists, make statements similar to the one that Mr Jones attributes to me above is because they are an accurate summary of two important facts, one of which is that the globe is cooling at the same time that the IPCC’s modellers have insisted that it should be warming.

To take but one example from the peer-reviewed literature, Perlwitz et al. (2009) have recently reported “a precipitous drop in North American temperature in 2008, commingled with a decade-long fall in global mean temperatures”, adding (after Easterling & Wehner, 2009) that “noteworthy has been a decade-long decline (1998-2007) in globally averaged temperatures from the record heat of 1998”.

I do not know why Mr Jones thinks that this is a matter of belief, for the facts are there for all to see.

7. Mr Jones asserts that denialists/sceptics ignore or downplay the fact that “the fourteen year period 1995-2008 included thirteen of the hottest years on record, the exception being 1996”.

Quite so. For the fact related by Mr. Jones, which is correct, is a piece of endlessly repeated science trivia that no knowledgeable scientist would use as evidence for a dangerous human influence on climate.

One wonders what “record” Mr Jones had in mind? Surely he does not wish to ascribe climatic relevance to the short, 150 year-long meteorological record derived from thermometers (and which Climategate has now shown to be fundamentally unreliable)? Or to the even shorter, though much more accurate, 30 year-long satellite record? For these records correspond to precisely five and one climate data points, respectively. To make meaningful judgements about climate change requires the use of records with thousands of data points that extend over at least thousands of years.

And of course several hot years cluster around the turn of the 21st century, for exactly the same reason that the hottest parts of each day cluster around 12 noon and just after – the reason in both cases being that we are talking about cyclic phenomena.

When real climate records are considered, as available from ice cores and deep seabed cores, it is apparent that climate continually changes in terms of cycles of many different wavelengths. Such cyclicity includes the one hundred, forty and twenty, thousand year cycles that relate to Earth’s orbital variations (Milankovitch variations), down through 1,500, 200, 80, 22 and 11 year long cycles of solar origin. On top of which are imposed shorter scale, multi-year or multi-decadal cycling associated with atmosphere-ocean heat adjustments such as the El Nino-La Nina oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), plus one-off climate adjustments such as the Great Pacific Climate Shift of the late 1970s.

I find it hard to believe that our former Minister of Science does not know these elementary facts, and also that the PDO changed from its warm to its cool phase around 2000, which is why many independent scientists (though not those advising the IPCC) are predicting that the 1998-2008 gentle cooling will probably deepen and continue through to 2020 or beyond.

The practice, promulgated by the IPCC, of endlessly analysing short trend lines fitted in carefully selected ways through temperature data that is inherently cyclic has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics.

8. Finally, Mr. Jones asserts that “there has been an odd refusal by climate change deniers/sceptics to examine risk – or even use the word”.

Mr Jones must be reading the work of “sceptics” who are unknown to me. The independent scientists that I know who have written on the issue of climate policy all acknowledge that there is a 100% risk of climate events and change inflicting human and environmental damage, as news reporters describe daily from around the world.

But the relative risks that have to be assessed are those that stem, firstly, from natural climate events and change (which are certain), after which attention can be turned to the risks of allegedly dangerous, human-caused climate change (which, despite herculean efforts and expenditure by IPCC supporters to convince the public otherwise, remain entirely speculative).

Many supporters of the IPCC evade, indeed conflate, this critical distinction, and deliberately scaremonger to the public by asserting that various entirely natural climate disasters are a result of human influence.

Conclusion.

The most disappointing thing about the majority of media comment on global warming is that it continues along the unproductive path of “he says, she says” slanging matches, when the real need is for calm scientific discussion towards finding a realistic way out of the policy fiasco that the Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen COP-15 conference have led us into.

IPCC’s Plan A – to “stop climate change” by limiting human carbon dioxide emissions (usually disguised under the umbrella euphemism of “mitigation”) – has never been remotely feasible and looks even less so now as Copenhagen dissolves into a welter of recrimination. Where, then, is Plan B?

It seems that I need to restate again the moderate and constructive conclusion that I have essayed many times before. It is that, of course, Australia needs a new national climate policy in place of the economically and socially highly damaging “perhaps carbon dioxide emissions will cause dangerous global warming” policy that the present government espouses.

Properly devised, such a national policy will be one of preparation for, and adaptation to, the likely range of natural climate hazards. The policy will first and foremost deal with the known risks of natural climate events and change that Australia is heir to, such as bushfires, droughts and floods.

An inevitable result of planning to adapt to the large range of natural climate change as it occurs is that the ensuing policy will also cope easily with the likely small human influence on global climate, should that ever be able to be measured and shown to be dangerous.

References:

After AJStrata, 2009 (Dec.). How not to create a historic global temp index. http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/11824

Andrew at Popular Technology, 2009. 450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of  AGW caused Global Warming. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/11/15/reference-450-skeptical-peer-reviewed-papers/.

Balling Jr., R.C. & Idso, C.D., 2002. Analysis of adjustments to the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) temperature database. Geophysical Research Letters 10.1029/2002GL014825.

Brohan, P., Kennedy, J., Tett, S., Harris, I. & Jones, P., 2005. Revised optimally averaged global and hemispheric land and ocean surface temperature series including HadCRUT3 data set. MS—RAND—CPP2004/5—Product, p. 5. 

Carter, R.M. 2009. A new policy direction for climate change. Quadrant (April) LIII (4). http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2009/4/a-new-policy-direction-for-climate-change

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Easterling, D. R., and M. F. Wehner (2009), Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L08706, doi:10.1029/2009GL037810. 

Eschenbach, W. 2009. The smoking gun at Darwin zero. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/08/the-smoking-gun-at-darwin-zero/

McIntyre, S., 2007. Lights off upstairs. http://www.norcalblogs.com/watts/2007/08/lights_out_guest_post_by_steve.html

Nova, J., 2009. Skeptics Handbook II! Global Bullies Want Your Money. http://joannenova.com.au/2009/11/skeptics-handbook-ii-global-bullies-want-your-money.

Opinion Times, 2009. East Anglia confirmed emails from the Climate Research Unit – 925829267.txt. http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=105&filename=1255558867.txt.

Perlwitz, J., Hoerling, M., Eischeid, J., Xu, T. & Kumar, A., 2009. A strong bout of natural cooling in 2008. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L23706, doi:10.1029/2009GL041188, 2009.

Spencer, R., 2009. Latest Global Temperatures. http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/

Thorne et al., 2005. Radiosondes 1958-2002. Journal of Geophysical Research 110 D18105, doi:1029/2004JD005753.

Watts, A. 2009. Is the U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable? http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/surfacestationsreport_spring09.pdf