Archive for January, 2011

The Scientific Consensus On The Mistreatment Of Climate Uncertainties

2011/01/28 2 comments

For future reference, a collection of statements about the mistreatment of climate-related uncertainties by climate scientists.

Notably, there is not a skeptic in sight among the authors of the statements below.

  • Mike Hulme about the BBC’s recent “Science under attack” docufiction

I do not recognise [Nurse’s] claim that “climate science is reducing uncertainty all the time”. There remain intractable uncertainties about future predictions of climate change. Whilst Nurse distinguishes between uncertainty arising from incomplete understanding and that arising from irreducible stochastic uncertainty, he gives the impression that all probabilistic knowledge is of the latter kind (e.g. his quote of average rates of success for cancer treatments). In fact with climate change, most of the uncertainty about the future that is expressed in probabilistic terms (e.g. the IPCC) is Bayesian in nature. Bayesian probabilities are of a fundamentally different kind to those quoted in his example. And when defending consensus in climate science – which he clearly does – he should have explained clearly the role of Bayesian (subjective) expert knowledge in forming such consensus.

  • Lord Oxburgh, during one of the hearings by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee

Q40 Chair: So you concluded that the approach that Professor Jones had adopted was one of dealing with presentation of the data rather than an attempt to deceive?

Lord Oxburgh: Absolutely. I think when you come to the presentation of complicated scientific observations and making them available to a much wider audience, you come up against some very tough “honesty” decisions. How much do you simplify? It is the same when you are teaching undergraduates. How much do you simplify in order to get a general idea across? I, personally, think that in various publications for public consumption those who have used the CRU data and those who have used other climatic data have not helped their case by failing to illuminate the very wide uncertainty band associated with it.

Recent public discussion of climate change and summaries and popularizations of the work of CRU and others often contain over- simplifications that omit serious discussion of uncertainties emphasized by the original authors. For example, CRU publications repeatedly emphasize the discrepancy between instrumental and tree-based proxy reconstructions of temperature during the late 20th century, but presentations of this work by the IPCC and others have sometimes neglected to highlight this issue. While we find this regrettable, we could find no such fault with the peer-reviewed papers we examined

  • Lord Oxburgh’s Panel member Michael Kelly, Professor of Electronics at Cambridge

Up to and throughout this exercise, I have remained puzzled how the real humility of the scientists in this area, as evident in their papers, including all these here, and the talks I have heard them give, is morphed into statements of confidence at the 95% level for public consumption through the IPCC process. This does not happen in other subjects of equal importance to humanity, e.g. energy futures or environmental degradation or resource depletion. I can only think it is the ‘authority’ appropriated by the IPCC itself that is the root cause

On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a „trick‟ and to „hide the decline‟ in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.

Understanding requires proper statistical interpretation, i.e. to determine the confidence level associated with a statement such as “the present is likely warmer than the past”. To do this as objectively as possible would require a complex (and difficult) study to perform hypothesis testing in a mathematically rigorous way, taking proper account all of the uncertainties and their correlations. We are not aware that this has been done in the production of IPCC reports to date, but instead qualitative statements have been made based on definitions of ―likely‖, ―very likely‖ etc according to criteria laid down by the IPCC ( ̳Likely‘ means a probability greater than 66%, and ̳Very Likely‘ means a probability greater than 90%).

The best one might hope for the future of peer review is to be able to foster an environment of continuous critique of research papers before and after publication. Many writers on peer review have made such a proposal, yet no journal has been able to create the motivation or incentives among scientists to engage in permanent peer review (50-52). Some observers might worry that extending opportunities for criticism will only sustain maverick points-of-view. However, experience suggests that the best science would survive such intensified peer review, while the worst would find its deserved place at the margins of knowledge.
This process of weeding out weak research from the scientific literature can be accelerated through more formal mechanisms, such as the systematic review. A systematic approach to selecting evidence focuses on the quality of scientific methods rather than the reputations of scientists and their institutions. This more rigorous approach to gathering, appraising, and summing up the totality of available evidence has been profoundly valuable to clinical medicine. There may be useful lessons here for the IPCC. Climate sceptics and climate scientists, along with their colleagues in other scientific disciplines, would likely welcome this greater rigour and scrutiny. It would certainly promote quality and strengthen accountability to a more critical public (and media) with higher expectations of science. More importantly, intensified post as well as pre publication review would put uncertainty – its extent and boundaries – at the centre of the peer review and publication process. This new emphasis on uncertainty would limit the rhetorical power of the scientific paper (53), and offer an opportunity to make continuous but constructive public criticism of research a new norm of science.

  • The InterAcademy Council, in their Climate Change Assessment, Review of the Processes & Procedures of the IPCC

Characterizing and communicating uncertainties. IPCC’s guidance for addressing uncertainties in the Fourth Assessment Report urges authors to consider the amount of evidence and level of agreement about all conclusions and to apply subjective probabilities of confidence to conclu- sions when there was ‘high agreement, much evidence.’ However, such guidance was not always followed, as exemplified by the many statements in the Working Group II Summary for Policymakers that are assigned high confidence but are based on little evidence. Moreover, the apparent need to include statements of ‘high confidence’ (i.e., an 8 out of 10 chance of being correct) in the Summary for Policymakers led authors to make many vaguely defined statements that are difficult to refute, therefore making them of ‘high confidence.’ Such statements have little value. Scientific uncertainty is best communicated by indicating the nature, amount, and quality of studies on a particular topic, as well as the level of agreement among studies. The IPCC level-of-understanding scale provides a useful means of communicating this information.

Chapter Lead Authors should provide a traceable account of how they arrived at their ratings for level of scientific understanding and likelihood that an outcome will occur.

In addition, IPCC’s uncertainty guidance should be modified to strengthen the way in which uncertainty is addressed in upcoming assessment reports. In particular, quantitative probabilities (subjective or objective) should be assigned only to well-defined outcomes and only when there is adequate evidence in the literature and when authors have sufficient confidence in the results. Assigning probabilities to an outcome makes little sense unless researchers are confident in the underlying evidence (Risbey and Kandlikar, 2007), so use of the current likelihood scale should suffice.

Studies suggest that informal elicitation measures, especially those designed to reach consensus, lead to different assessments of probabilities than formal measures. (Protocols for conducting structured expert elicita- tions are described in Cooke and Goossens [2000].) Informal procedures often result in probability distributions that place less weight in the tails of the distribution than formal elicitation methods, possibly understating the uncertainty associated with a given outcome (Morgan et al., 2006; Zickfeld et al., 2007).
Climate change assessments | Review of the processes and procedures of the IPCC 41
►The likelihood scale should be stated in terms of probabilities (numbers) in addition to words to improve understanding of uncertainty.
► Where practical, formal expert elicitation procedures should be used to obtain subjective probabilities for key results.

According to the IPCC uncertainty guidance, quantitative scales should be used when the results are themselves quantified and when there is ‘high agreement, much evidence.’ For many of the Working Group III conclusions, this is clearly not the case.

The IPCC uncertainty guidance provides a good starting point for charac- terizing uncertainty in the assessment reports. However, the guidance was not consistently followed in the fourth assessment, leading to unnecessary errors. For example, authors reported high confidence in statements for which there is little evidence, such as the widely quoted statement that agricultural yields in Africa might decline by up to 50 percent by 2020. Moreover, the guidance was often applied to statements that are so vague they cannot be disputed. In these cases the impression was often left, incorrectly, that a substantive finding was being presented.

The Working Group II Summary for Policymakers has been criticized for various errors and for empha- sizing the negative impacts of climate change. These problems derive partly from a failure to adhere to IPCC’s uncertainty guidance for the fourth assess- ment and partly from shortcomings in the guidance itself. Authors were urged to consider the amount of evidence and level of agreement about all conclu- sions and to apply subjective probabilities of confi- dence to conclusions when there was high agree- ment and much evidence. However, authors reported high confidence in some statements for which there is little evidence. Furthermore, by making vague statements that were difficult to refute, authors were able to attach ‘high confidence’ to the statements. The Working Group II Summary for Policymakers contains many such statements that are not supported sufficiently in the literature, not put into perspective, or not expressed clearly.

(whole section: Use the appropriate level of precision to describe findings)

The quantitative scales used by Working Group I raise four additional issues: 1. It is unclear what the use of separate confidence and likelihood scales accomplishes. For example, one could have very high confidence that obtaining two sixes when rolling a pair of fair dice is extremely unlikely. But why not just say that obtaining two sixes when rolling a pair of fair dice is extremely unlikely? This suggests that the confidence scale is redundant when the likelihood scale is used, a point also made by Risbey and Kandlikar (2007).
It is well-documented in the literature that people interpret the terms ‘very unlikely,’ ‘likely’ etc. in Table 3.3 in different ways (Patt and Schrag, 2003; Budescu et al., 2009; Morgan et al., 2009). Specifically, the use of words alone may lead people to underestimate the probability of high- probability events and to overestimate the probability of low-probability events (see also Lichtenstein et al., 1978).

More consistency is called for in how IPCC Working Groups characterize uncertainty.

The extent to which results are quantified and measurement or model uncertainty is presented differs significantly across the chapters of the Working Group II report.

The extent to which results are quantified also differs in the Working Group II Summary for Policymakers and the Technical Summary. The Summary for Policymakers presents quantitative information on the extent of agreement between different physical and biological trends and trends in temperature. Conclusions about observed impacts of climate on the natural and human environments and about future impacts (Sections B and C of the Summary for Policymakers) are usually stated in qualitative terms using the confidence and likelihood scales. No additional informa- tion is presented to characterize the uncertainty in the results of individual studies or to indicate the range of estimates across studies. In contrast, the Technical Summary includes more quantitative information about uncer- tainty.

In the Committee’s view, assigning probabilities to imprecise statements is not an appropriate way to characterize uncertainty. If the confidence scale is used in this way, conclusions will likely be stated so vaguely as to make them impossible to refute, and therefore statements of ‘very high confidence’ will have little substantive value.11 More importantly, the use of probabilities to characterize uncertainty is most appropriate when applied to empirical quantities (Morgan et al., 2009)

(the whole chapter 3. IPCC’s evaluation of evidence and treatment of uncertainty)


2011/01/26 7 comments

Has skepticism invaded the Oval RoomOffice? Just as the Climate Czarine finds something better to do with her life, President Obama allocates six-thousand-eight-hundred words to the State of the Union, in which we can notice:

  1. Zero instances of “climate change”
  2. Zero instances of “global warming”
  3. Zero instances of “climate”
  4. Zero instances of “environment”
  5. Zero instances of “sustainability” (in the greenish sense)
  6. One instance of “protect our planet”

The one or two optimists among the climate alarmists will find solace in the concept that one is infinitely more than zero.

Notably, Obama’s “Sputnik moment” (what a lame analogy…as if China had just come out with a 100-TW solar power station the size of a football field…) concerns itself with getting 80% of electrical (only electrical) power by 2035 using clean (that is, not necessarily sustainable) means.

Then it’s time for “clean coal” and the curtains closing down on the Romm- and Gore-esques of “the defining challenge for our generation”.

Dear Tamino’s, Greenfyre’s, McKibben’s, Skeptical Science’s, Connolley’s of the world: stop wasting your time with us dull, pea-brained, big-oil-paid skeptics, and try to get at least the consensus of One.

Until you manage that, everything else will be a joke.

Climategate, or The Self-Destruction of Climate Science – From The Italian Translation Of The GWPF Report

2011/01/25 4 comments

Italian think-tank Istituto Bruno Leoni publishes today Jan 25, 2011 the Italian translation of Andrew Montford/Bishop Hill‘s report “The Climategate Inquiries” for the GWPF.

Yours truly is the translator and has been kindly asked to write the Introduction, hereby translated back into English.

Many thanks to Carlo (and David, and Benny) for helping making all of this possible.

The Self-Destruction of Climate Science
by Maurizio Morabito

The science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is dying, reduced to its last breaths by ‘Climate Pasdarans’ who forced it to become an ideological fetish, going as far as to conspire behind the scenes to defend its dogmas at all cost. Some of the most important characters in the AGW story have committed the greatest sin: they got themselves caught out red-handed, when someone (one of them?) decided in November 2009 to publish on the internet a ‘treasure trove’ of documents and emails about the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Those are the documents and messages whose content is now known as ‘the scandal of Climategate’.

The outcome, rather than a direct undermining of the science of AGW, has been the crushing of the interface between science and policy, with consequences on the science itself, self-defeated and therefore now less relevant and more subordinate to policymaking. Whatever the unassailable evidence they might be able to collect, scientists will find it difficult in the future to persuade politicians to act in a concerted way on any global issue, unless the problem is imminent if not declined in the present tense, immediately relevant and more than certain. In other words, thanks to the ‘Climate Pasdarans’ much or maybe even all hopes of medium- and long-term global risk management have been eliminated before they were even born.

Yet everything seemed to go full speed from 2007 onwards, with Al Gore winning the Oscar in the Peace category, and the Nobel Documentary Prize (or vice-versa) together with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); a relentless propaganda at all levels to convince everybody to lower CO2 emissions; and dozens of international meetings in often-pleasant locations, aimed at organising the largest ever UN Summit, in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. But that very Summit proved a disaster broadcasted on live TV, the greatest ever UN Anti-climax followed by just as vapourous an agreement in 2010 in Cancún, Mexico. In the meanwhile, silence has greeted the demise of CO2 exchange trading in Chicago, that had started not long ago also thanks also to some Barack Obama.

The IPCC itself has been at the received end of heavy criticism by a super-authority called InterAcademic Council (IAC), an organization that brings together the most prestigious Academies of Sciences in the world. However, the main pivot of the climate science disaster has been the ‘treasure trove’ called Climategate. Some call it a case of hacking, computer piracy, but after a year of investigation the only crime is the almost certain failure by the University of East Anglia to comply with UK freedom-of-information (FOI) legislation. For others, the published material is old stuff, easily manipulated. But some of the information is very recent, and Ralph Cicerone, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and well-known AGW supporter, had no hesitation at the beginning of November 2010 to declare of having no problems with the media coverage of Climategate, because it was’ news’, in other words not just a manufactured issue.

Some say, there were three Commissions of inquiry in Britain and they did not reveal anything untoward. And why they did not! Exactly those investigations proved to be incomplete almost to the point of reticence, for example focusing on the behavior of scientists, rather than on the consequences to science. Indeed, the Science Assessment Panel of Lord Oxburgh did not concern itself with reviewing the science, and later on the head of another Commission candidly revealed to the British Parliament that he had not probed certain aspects because in some ways they could have seen the emergence of allegations of criminal offences possibly committed by the scientists involved. And if he suspected as much …

It is precisely to understand what has happened with the UK Inquiry Commissions that the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Lawson, has appointed Andrew Montford, bloggers and author of a book on Climategate, ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ , to produce the report ‘The Climategate Inquiries’, published today in Italy in exclusive by Istituto Bruno Leoni. So what has Montfort reported? It is possible to identify four main areas: some problems recognized by all, some cunning plans and stonewalling on the part of the British Establishment, a bunch of still unanswered questions and accusations, and the crumbling of the science of climate change.

Climategate, as amply documented by Montford, has revealed errors and omissions about which everyone agrees, including the Inquiry Commissions. For example, the ‘disappointing’ lack of involvement of statistical experts in the CRU work (paragraph 131 of Report), and a kind of ‘authority’ temptation regarding the IPCC, that transformed scientists well aware of the limitations of their research (paragraph 140) in misleading advisers (167), too sure of themselves (140), and totally against making their raw data publicly available (74) to the point of negatively affecting the IPCC itself (135).

Then there is the ‘craftiness’ question, with countless examples of small interpretative changes and minor omissions here and there that always end up pushing the reader towards believing in the existence of absolutely grave dangers caused by global warming and its anthropogenic origin, and in the complete absence of anything unusual in the work at the CRU and in general of scientists that are also activist campaigners against global warming. A prime example is the ‘hide the decline’, where differences in tree ring growth data and measured temperatures after 1960 have been papered over: a so-called ‘trick’ that is to some extent legitimate when accompanied by an open justification in peer-reviewed scientific articles. But that transforms also into something of the night when that same justification does not appear in publications made available to the public and to policymakers. And how is this apparent inconsistency solved? Why, with the absurd notion that policymakers and the public should always go back and read the original articles (39, 41), thereby undermining the very idea that scientists could be any useful in helping design public policy.

Similar problems occur about the ‘data adjustments’ (aka ‘fudging’ and ‘bodging’), explained in some scientific articles, but not in others (48). The Commissions have also declared of not being able to ‘consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU’ (70), after refusing to deal with the documentation provided in that regard. And we could go on and on: the blatant composition of the Commissions (98, 99, 157, 160); the failure to invite the main critics of the CRU work to testify in person (90); the fake list of scientific papers to be examined, prepared not by the Royal Society as stated, but by the UEA, as if the accused were given the task of presenting the evidence against them in court (114-117); the lack of probing questions (181, 188, 197), as if one trusted the fox declaring itself innocent after the chickens have disappeared; demonstrated lies taken instead as confirmed truths (225, 226); the Commissions’ work conducted informally and non-professionally (127), with ignored experts’ advice (171, 176), and abrupt, very convenient misunderstandings of the way the IPCC works (185), etc etc.

It is against this ‘wall of stones’ that all the still-unanswered questions and accusations stand out, thus preventing any real closure of the Climategate scandal. On what basis did the CRU Director refuted in the IPCC report a scientific article (59)? Why did the same Director not distance himself from some dubious data (65)? What has led scientists to reject in principle the public sharing of CRU data (73)? Why isn’t there much clarity as yet around tree ring growth data (130)? It gets worse, though, and this is the very large wound left over by Climategate: the crumbling of the science of climate change itself.

Let’s ask ourselves what is is, that science … is it perhaps the balance of evidence and theories concerning the mechanisms of those climatic changes that have already happened? Then some ‘little question’ might be honestly asked, after Climategate, and woe to the ‘science’ that considers some ‘little questions’ too uncomfortable to ask. Or is it the attempt to understand how the climate will evolve in the future? In that regards, Climategate has changed many things: the ‘little questions’ are too many to mention. But in truth, the ‘science of climate change’ is something bigger, because it includes its presentation to policymakers in an updated, comprehensive and authoritative way: the task, that is, of the IPCC.

Regarding that, Climategate really has changed everything. The IPCC was created at the interface between science and policymaking and its output is a report, not an encyclopaedia, aimed at relevance for policy response to anthropogenic climate change. It therefore contains what scientists (and politicians…it’s an ‘intergovernmental’ panel, not ‘interacademic’ or ‘interdisciplinary’) consider essential to state regarding those policies. But Climategate has destroyed that interface, showing how the same scientists who wrote carefully-worded articles in professional journals (140) went instead for bombastic statements in the IPCC reports and other publications that were policy-relevant and/or for the general public (131, 167). The IPCC itself has been shown guilty of oversimplifications, even according to most gentle Inquiry Commissions, and of omitting uncertainties that were clearly spelled out in the scientific literature. After Climategate, policymaking can no longer trust a ‘science’ that finds itself enslaved, forever forced to be useful, usable, accurate, focused on CO2 emissions of human origin and never to be questioned. This kind of science ends up being subordinate, a mere tool instead of a partner in policymaking: and that’s exactly what happened at Copenhagen, and has been admitted by Mike Hulme in the pages of The Guardian on 16 November 2010.

Perhaps the clearest sign that Climategate is much more serious than what some people keep repeating, is the absence of defamation trials against the GWPF, Montford, McKitrick, McIntyre, Holland, Keenan, no shy of making serious allegations against some of the scientists involved in Climategate. English law in this area is particularly onerous in respect of the defendant. Yet, nobody has come forward. Possibly, those at the receiving end of the allegations are convinced that the backstage of climate science shouldn’t be scrutinised too much. And if they themselves do not trust climate science, what should we infer?

Yet Another Amazing Detail About Climate Science

2011/01/24 3 comments

They’ve got incredible supercomputers to play with, but still our climate scientists build up global anomaly charts from only a handful of stations (1,000 or so if the guys at Climate Monitor are not mistaken, or one on average for every area the size of Bangladesh).

You’d think world-rescuing climate specialists would have computers and bandwidth enough to handle data from a million stations by now, or a billion even. But they say they don’t even need that.

Why not? Because they have discovered that 1,200-km grids are ok. Why are they ok? Because

temperature anomaly patterns tend to be large scale

How so? Here’s the root of it all, from 1987:

The 1200-km limit is the distance at which the average correlatiom coefficient of temperature variations falls to 0.5 at middle and high latitudes and 0.33 at low latitude

Who would believe that it all depends on a correlation coefficient of…0.5?

Recycled Grandchildren Worries

Whilst reading recommended material by “Climate Crocks”‘ Peter Sinclair about the “record melt” SEEN in Greenland in 2010 (my main curiosity being collecting evidence that somebody somewhere has actually SEEN the “record melt“, rather than just modeled about it), I have found this little gem at the end of a 1939 NYT article (titled, needless to say, “True Winters Are Not What They Used To Be“):

Whether sleigh-bells will make winter-music for our grandchildren, let no man dare to forecast

Ever the green campaigner, Granddad Jim will be happy to know he has recycled his concerns from a past generation’s.

Sun Rises In Greenland, Sets In (A Few) AGWer Brains

2011/01/20 4 comments

(many thanks to Sancho and the guys at Climate Monitor for inspiring this blog)

Just like with the drowning polar bears that weren’t in 2008, the Daily Mail is now the source of another idiotic “it’s climate change!” story. Ver shortly, reports of the town of Ilulissat having seen the sun two days earlier than usual after the darkness of winter, have been presented as the result of “melting ice caps” that “have lowered the horizon allowing the sun to shine through earlier“.

Of course this was unsubstantiated speculation, starting from the simple fact that in the direction of the rising sun (due South, in these days in Ilulissat) there is no ice to melt. There have been a few theories on the “inexplicable” phenomenon. The simplest one by far, is the Novaya Zemlja Effect (h/t Fabrizio). Perhaps, it should go without saying:

The Novaya Zemlya effect will give the impression that the sun is rising earlier than it actually should… manages to make a good article out of it. The best one can do about this sad story is to use to check which AGWers have been victim of scichosis (h/t TomFP), “whose sufferers use perverse extension of uncontroversial science to frighten themselves and others witless“:

1-  Thomas Posch, of the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Vienna (proving there’s always a scientist available to wildly speculate to a reporter about anything)

2- The Daily Mail Editor (as the article is unsigned)

3- Accuweather’s Mark Paquette

4- An untold number of bloggers I cannot be bothered to link to

5- That’s it

Very few people have fallen for the latest Daily Mail pearl. Maybe it’s because of Climategate, maybe catastrophism is going out of fashion (see Guardian’s “false claim” story, a journalistic indictment of the AAAS). Hope at last!

Non-technical Comment For Curry’s Technical Thread

2011/01/19 2 comments

This comment of mine in reply to Judith Curry’s “Pierrehumbert on infrared radiation and planetary temperatures” might or might not survive the night at Climate Etc:😎

Well, if you are wondering whether any progress in understanding of an issue like this can be made on the blogosphere you can’t leave this thread as purely technical can you?

raypierre is the perfect example of what has gone wrong between mainstream climate scientists and the rest of the world, starting from the “blogosphere”. One can be the smartest kid this side of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies, but if in one’s mindset questions are considered as instances of lèse majesté and examples for the general public are routinely simplified in the extreme, so as to make them pointless, well, one will only be able to contribute to the hot air: because the natural reaction of most listeners will be to consider whatever one says (even the good stuff) as just a lot of vaporous grandstanding.

From this point of view, SoD‘s work should be more than highly commended.

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