Great Moments in "Science"

You know that relative of yours, who last Thanksgiving called you anti-science because you had not fully bought into global warming alarm?

Well, it appears that the reason we keep getting called "anti-science" is because climate scientists have a really funny idea of what exactly "science" is.

Apparently, a number of folks have been trying for years to get articles published in peer reviewed journals comparing the IPCC temperature models to actual measurements, and in the process highlighting the divergence of the two.  And they keep getting rejected.

Now, the publisher of Environmental Research Letters has explained why.  Apparently, in climate science it is "an error" to attempt to compare computer temperature forecasts with the temperatures that actually occurred.  In fact, he says that trying to do so "is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side".  Apparently, the purpose of scientific inquiry is to win media wars, and not necessarily to discover truth.

Here is something everyone in climate should remember:  The output of models merely represents a hypothesis.  When we have complicated hypotheses in complicated systems, and where such hypotheses may encompass many interrelated assumptions, computer models are an important tool for playing out, computationally, what results those hypotheses might translate to in the physical world.  It is no different than if Newton had had a computer and took his equation Gmm/R^2 and used the computer to project future orbits for the Earth and other planets (which he and others did, but by hand).   But these projections would have no value until they were checked against actual observations.  That is how we knew we liked Newton's models better than Ptolemy's -- because they checked out better against actual measurements.

But climate scientists are trying to create some kind of weird world where model results have some sort of independent reality, where in fact the model results should be trusted over measurements when the two diverge.  If this is science -- which it is not -- but if it were, then I would be anti-science.

  • Montjoie

    What? Global warming is not a hurricane. A hurricane is a single event. You don't model hurricanes 30 years in the future. You model them after the storm appears.

  • FelineCannonball

    It's called an analogy. Pick the chaotic system of your choice. Single model runs or run averages are not meant to be precise predictions.

    GCMs provide predictions related to dynamics and an envelope of possible climate trajectories. They fundamentally can not predict the global temperature in 2015 or 2016 or 2017. They can allow you to compare the effect of forcing on the envelope of possible trajectories.

  • Gil G

    The tobacco companies were right: smoking is harmless and perhaps even healthful. Not everyone who smokes dies in middle age from cancer or emphysema and instead some can live healthy long lives whereas non-smokers can die before their time for no obvious reason. Unless every smoker dies in middle-age and with an obvious age difference between those who don't smoke then smoking can't be considered dangerous.

  • ClimateLearner

    I wonder if this 'policy' re models is uniformly applied in the odious subculture of climate alarm promotion, a subculture boasting the likes of ERL? A random number generator, artfully equipped with some autocorrelation would, inevitably, provide some matches to some observed phenomena some of the time. Global Climate Models are nothing if not artful, so surely their 'good', as in roughly in line with observations, results would be liable to be trumpeted by those whose careers depend on them so much?

  • joshv

    And continuing that thought, we have very little idea of how energy is distributed, as we don't have accurate measures of ocean heat content.

    So basically the models cannot be validated against observation then?

  • Zachriel

    joshv: And continuing that thought, we have very little idea of how energy is distributed,

    We don't have to know how the energy is distributed to know that it is increasing. Greenhouse warming is basic physics.

    joshv: as we don't have accurate measures of ocean heat content.

    See Levitus et al., World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010, Geophysical Research Letters 2012
    http://www.zachriel.com/blog/Levitus2012.gif

  • marque2

    Your quandary is a dilemma in all science. If you have a 2 standard deviation requirement, just by random luck 1/24 experiments will show a positive result even when set up properly. Of course the 24 that turned up negative do not get published - but the one flawed study which shows the positive result gets published. It will be haphazardly peer reviewed - but no-one bothers to reproduce the experiment any more unless it is not the utmost importance - just no government grant money in reproduction - so it stands and the press reports something hysterical like there is a 2x chance of getting some extremely rare cancer is you wore disposable diapers as a child - allowing Eco groups to go nuts - etc etc.

  • marque2

    Not sure what the point of your argument is. Seems almost like a non sequitur.

  • marque2

    Exactly - which is why the argument made below, by some others, that long term and short term weather forecasts use the same models is silly. They try toodel different things and therefore have to be different if they are both to be effective.

  • joshv

    If you do not know how the energy is distributed, you cannot make predictions about what it will do, where.

    I see that our knowledge about the top 2000m of the ocean has indeed improved greatly.

  • SteveMGD

    Holy cow! If climate science keeps going the way it is, eventually it's going to end up like string theory, dispensing with evidence all together.

  • NormD

    "Greenhouse warming is basic physics"

    Huh? What?

    How much light is reflected and never hits the Earth?
    How clouds form?
    How heating CO2 causes more/less H20 in the atmosphere?
    Where the heat is stored?
    How the planet will respond to more warming?
    What parts of the atmosphere will heat or cool?
    How atmospheric air movements will change?

    These are all just basic physics?

    You have no clue what you are talking about.

    Just before the 2008 Financial Crisis all the big banks had VAR models developed by the best and brightest that said nothing could go wrong. All these models were wrong. Any model can be wrong. Right now all the leading economic institutions have models that are just "basic economics" that say they can print trillions of dollars and nothing will go wrong. Do you believe them? Are these models as correct as gravity? Are people that question these models "deniers"?

  • Zachriel

    Norm D: How much light is reflected and never hits the Earth?

    It varies somewhat, but the Earth's albedo is about 30-35%, but this is increasing as snow and ice melt.

    Norm D: How clouds form?

    Condensation due to adiabatic cooling.

    Norm D: How heating CO2 causes more/less H20 in the atmosphere?

    CO2 doesn't direct affect water vapor content, but CO2 warming due to the greenhouse effect increases evaporation. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas, especially in the upper atmosphere, so this increased evaporation amplifies the greenhouse effect due to CO2. See the review by Knutti & Hegerl, The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience 2008. See also Dessler et al., Stratospheric water vapor feedback, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2013.

    Norm D: Where the heat is stored?

    Most in the hydrosphere, but some in the cryosphere, and some in the atmosphere.

    Norm D: How the planet will respond to more warming?

    Over the long run, global mean surface temperatures will increase 2-4°C per doubling of CO2.

    Norm D: What parts of the atmosphere will heat or cool?

    The lower atmosphere will warm, while the stratosphere will cool.

    Norm D: How atmospheric air movements will change?

    That's not known with any certainty, but is of great interest to researchers.

    Norm D: These are all just basic physics?

    No, greenhouse warming itself is basic physics, and the Earth's radiation budget shows that the greenhouse effect is increasing. Thinks like circulation patterns matter a lot to how humans respond to climate change, but don't change the basic equation of global warming.

    Norm D: All these models were wrong. Any model can be wrong.

    Sure, and there is still some uncertainty, but that uncertainty is becoming less with more data. As we said, that the Earth will warm is basic physics worked out over a century ago. See See Arrhenius, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, London, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 1896. The details of how it will affect regional climate is still uncertain, but this uncertainty doesn't change the basic equation of global warming.

    Norm D: Are these models as correct as gravity?

    Depends what you're trying to model. Gravitation theory is still in conflict with quantum mechanics. It's okay for modeling most 'ordinary' phenomena, though.

  • Zachriel

    It varies somewhat, but the Earth's albedo is about 30-35%, but this is decreasing as snow and ice melt.

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