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Watts Interview – Denial and Reality Mix like Oil and Water

Posted on 14 March 2013 by dana1981

A website called Oil Price recently conducted an interview with climate contrarian Anthony Watts.  In the interview, Watts tries to portray himself as the reasonable skeptic in the middle of the climate 'debate'.  Watts claims that he's a "lukewarmer" (a term which frankly just refers to people who ignore inconvenient evidence), trying to position himself between the denialists and the climate scientists.

However, as Richard Alley has explained, in reality climate scientists are the reasonable skeptics in the middle, with denialists at one extreme and doomsayers at the other.  The sheer number of myths Watts manages to jam in his Oil Price interview confirms Alley's view.  In fact, the interview offers us a case study in the tactics climate denialists use to misinform the public.

Denial Strategy #1: Self-Contradictory Arguments are Welcome

The first two interview answers reveal one of the most common flaws in climate contrarian arguments: self-contradictions.  First Watts (wrongly) suggests that global warming 'proponents' expect the warming to happen in a steady, linear fashion, but then a few moments later admits that the climate is much more complex than that (which, believe it or not, climate scientists realize).

watts vs. watts

Image created by John Cook

In reality, climate scientists are well aware that a number of different factors influence short-term global surface temperatures.  The climate system is noisy, and this is reflected in climate model temperature projections, as illustrated in this simple animation made by Ed Hawkins.

hawkins gif

Denial Strategy #2: Rewriting History

In the same quote, Watts has asserted that 'proponents' switched from using the term "global warming" to "climate change" because it "can be liberally applied to just about anything observable in the atmosphere."

In reality, the term "climate change" has been used for decades, including in Gilbert Plass' seminal 1956 study 'The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change'.  A Google Scholar search reveals that the term 'climate change' was in use before the term 'global warming', and has always been the more commonly-used term in scientific literature.  There is also an organization you may have heard of called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, formed in 1988.

In fact, perhaps the only individual to actually advocate changing the term from 'global warming' to 'climate change' was Republican political strategist Frank Luntz in a controversial memo advising conservative politicians on communicating about the environment:

It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

As usual, Watts has got the facts completely backwards and is trying to rewrite history.

Denial Strategy #3: Damage Control by Misrepresenting Data

A new study published in Science by Marcott et al. (2013) has effectively extended the so-called 'hockey stick' graph and found that current temperatures are higher than they've been for 75% of the past 11,500 years, and the current rate of warming is faster than at any point during that timeframe.


This is a very inconvenient result for climate contrarians, who have made attacking the 'hockey stick' one of their prime objectives.  This is evident from the six separate posts on Watts' blog (to date) desperately trying (and failing) to find a fundamental flaw in the results of Marcott et al.  Watts rehashes one of those attempts in his interview:

"the climate of the past has been warmer than today as well as colder as indicated by ice core isotope records."

The link goes to a plot of temperatures not for the whole planet or northern hemisphere, but in one isolated location – central Greenland – which conveniently ends over 150 years ago.  Watts' x-axis is incorrectly labeled 'Years Before Present (2000 AD)'; in reality, "Present" in this Greenland ice core data is 1950, and the last data point is 95 years before that, in 1855.  Thus Watts' graph leaves out about 1.5°C of Greenland warming over the past 158 years. 

Watts' Graph:


Same data including the past 150 years (Click the image for a larger version):


Watts was also aware of this error, because I notified him of it in a comment on his blog post.  However, either he or his moderators deleted the comment.

Denial Strategy #4: Exaggerate Uncertainty

Inflating uncertainty is a common tactic amongst climate contrarians, and Watts tries this strategy in his interview.

"Predicting an outcome of a chaotic system over the long term is a very, very big task, one that we’ve really only scratched the surface of."

In reality, making long-term climate projections is easier than short-term projections, which are complicated by the noise in the system.  Climate model projections have also been pretty darn accurate so far.

It's also important to note that uncertainty is not our friend.  More uncertainty means that the consequences of climate change may not be as bad as we expect, and it also means they may be worse.  The only way to argue for climate inaction is if we have certainty that the consequences of climate change will be small.  As Watts has admitted, we do not have that certainty, and in fact the body of scientific evidence strongly indicates the consequences of climate change will be bad.

Denial Strategy #5: Peddling Blog "Science"

Watts also peddles the myth that the surface temperature record is unreliable, thus arguing that human-caused global warming is smaller than climate scientists believe.

"my recent study (preliminary) shows that not only is the deployment of weather stations faulty in siting them, but that the adjustments designed to solve those issues actually make the problem worse ... the trend from the compliant weather stations that don’t have heat sink effects--can be attributed to CO2. That value appears to be half of what NOAA claims."

The "preliminary" paper in question has not even been submitted to a journal, let alone been subjected to the peer-review process, and contains several fundamental flaws which completely undermine the conclusions that Watts asserts in this quote.

In a previous interview, Watts criticized Richard Muller of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team for discussing his project results before they had passed peer-review:

"Unfortunately he has not succeeded in terms of how science views, you know, a successful inquiry. His papers have not passed peer review."

Perhaps that Anthony Watts should have a talk with this Anthony Watts.

Denial Strategy #6: Downplay Climate Impacts

Watts somehow manages to downplay the intensity of Hurricane Sandy, which was the second-most energetic hurricane on record, with the second-largest property damage cost among Atlantic hurricanes at about $75 billion.

"The idea that Hurricane Sandy, a minor class 1 storm, was somehow connected to CO2 driven “climate change” is ludicrous"

If he ever visits New Jersey or New York, we would advise Watts not to refer to Hurricane Sandy as "a minor storm."

Human-caused global warming also indisputably amplified the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.  Higher sea levels mean larger storm surges, warmer oceans mean stronger hurricanes, and more moisture in the atmosphere means more rainfall and thus more flooding.

To deny that CO2 amplified the impacts of Hurricane Sandy is ludicrous.  And as Kevin Trenberth has discussed, all weather now occurs in a climate that humans have altered.

"it is important to recognize that we have a “new normal,” whereby the environment in which all storms form is simply different than it was just a few decades ago.  Global climate change has contributed to the higher sea surface and sub-surface ocean temperatures, a warmer and moister atmosphere above the ocean, higher water levels around the globe, and perhaps more precipitation in storms."

Denial Strategy #7: Misrepresent Successful Climate Predictions

Climate contrarians love to claim that climate predictions have failed.

"catastrophic predictions of the future just haven’t held up when you look at the observed data compared to the early predictions."

This particular quote is rather bizarre, because climate scientists and models have not predicted catastrophic effects would occur by 2013.  They have predicted that the planet would warm, ice would melt, sea levels would rise, the atmosphere would hold more moisture, and a whole slew of other changes which have indeed occurred.  In fact, climate scientists have under-predicted many key climate changes.

If you want to see some bad predictions, just look at some made by Watts and other climate contrarians.  They have been far less accurate than those made by climate scientists.

Predictions Comparison

Denial Strategy #8: Misrepresent Basic Economics

Ultimately Watts admits his contrarian motivation.

"many of the “solutions” that have been proposed are to increase taxes on energy"

In reality, the proposed solutions in question put a price on carbon, not energy.  There are plenty of low-carbon energy sources which would not be impacted by a carbon price. 

The fact that the cost of the damage caused by carbon emissions via climate change is not reflected in their price is a failure of the free market.  There is a high cost associated with this damage, but if that cost is not reflected in the prices of the products causing those greenhouse gas emissions, consumers can't factor the cost into their purchasing decisions.  This is economics 101.  Failing to put a price on carbon emissions is effectively a massive subsidy; anybody who supports a free market should support pricing those emissions.

Denial Strategy #9: Misrepresent Climate Solutions

Of course Watts includes the obligatory disparaging of renewable energy.

"Wind and solar require fossil fuel backups to manage their inconsistent energy production, which changes with the whims of weather, so they really aren’t making much of a dent."

When solar energy is meeting up to 50% of Germany's electricity demand, does that count as 'not making much of a dent'?

In reality there are several ways renewable energy can supply consistent energy production without necessarily needing fossil fuel backup.  And whenever the wind is blowing and/or the sun is shining, renewables are significantly reducing our fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Denial Strategy #10: Cherrypick the Noise

Finally, Watts completes the interview by once again cherrypicking the noise in the data.

"Given that CO2 has a logarithmic, not linear effect in returning a portion of outbound LWIR energy to Earth’s surface, slowing the transfer to the top of the atmosphere, this suggests that a crisis of temperature from a doubling of CO2 is not likely. This low sensitivity near saturation is supported by the lack of observed warming at the surface for more than a decade."

This argument is just very, very wrong.  There was a rapid warming of surface air temperatures in the 1990s, and a slower surface warming in the 2000s.  Does Watts really think that the greenhouse effect suddenly became saturated overnight?

In reality there was a preponderance of El Niño events in the 1990s and a preponderance of La Niña events since 2000.  The former cause short-term surface warming, the latter cooling.  If we just look at the surface warming trend for El Niño years, for La Niña years, and for neutral years, in each case the trend is very consistent.

ENSO temps

More importantly, only about 2% of global warming goes into heating the atmosphere.  About 90% of global warming goes into heating the oceans, and when we account for all of the data, it's clear that global warming continues unabated.  Only considering the convenient bit of data is just another cherrypick.

Fig 1

True Skeptics Consider all the Data

The lone constructive result of this Oil Price interview is that it has provided us with an excellent case study in the difference between skeptic climate scientists and extreme climate denialists.  Real skeptics consider all the data, while denialists cherrypick and misrepresent data, rewrite history, and give more weight to blog 'science' than peer-reviewed science, all because they oppose the solutions to human-caused global warming.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 108:

  1. Mr. Watts is now clearly showing the traits of someone in denial-- just look at all the examples that Dana found in a short interview.  He is also demonstrating his ignorance of climate science.

    Alas, those in denial have a slew of tricks and techniques that they draw upon to misinform and mislead others.

    But in doing so they almost always make some critical mistakes-- not only factual mistakes, that alone would be bad enough, but they have trouble formulating an internally consistent and coherent message.  What is more they tend to present logical fallacies.  Maybe that is one way that those in denial try and deal with their cognitive dissonance.

    So what we have here is a failure by someone in denial to communicate coherently (with apologies to Axel Rose). Along those lines, this is very much a war on science and scientists by those in denial.  The likes of Mr. Watts seem oblivious to the fact that they are fighting a losing battle with the laws of physics.

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  2. I am not sure if the first one is a real contradiction on Watts' part - you could call the one on the right a lie or a strawman, and the one on the left exaggerated ("hundreds" of variables?), but the two statements are not mutually exclusive. At least, they do not seem so to me.

    But far be it from me to defend Anthony Watts. I think he gets far too much attention, anyway.

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  3. shoyemore @2 - the statements are contradictory when taken in context.  The first (red Watts) essentially says that we expect linear warming, and the fact that we haven't seen it has scientists scrambling to switch to the term 'climate change'.  The second says the climate is complicated and we shouldn't expect linear warming.

    It's the intent of the first quote and subsequent baloney that makes them contradictory.

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  4. I've been led to understand that Global Warming and Climate Change are two different things. Global Warming means global temperature increase which causes Climate Change - a shift in the long-term weather patterns.  Watts 'proponants shifted the term' argument is very easy to deflate when you explain it like this.

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  5. Cornelius @4 - also true.  They are causally related (global warming causes climate change), so the terms are often used interchangeably, but they're not the same thing.

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  6. Thank you dana - I'm very pleased that even a layman like me can grasp a little science :)

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  7. The argument in talking point #3 is a guest post by Don Easterbrook, who still refuses to acknowledge getting the dates wrong in the ice core data (he isn't even consistent; his graphic indicates that the last known date in the record would be 1905 yet he refers to the end of the ice core data as 1950 in the body of his text).

    Even though Easterbrook is well aware of these things, I posted a comment to that effect. We'll see if it gets through WUWT moderation unmolested.

    All this is evidence that there should be a Denial Strategy #11: never give up on a bad argument no matter how often or thoroughly it's debunked.

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  8. 1: WRT DS#1, looking just at those two quotes, I agree with the thrust of shoyemore #2. I think the two Watts quotes misrepresent scientists, but they are consistent with each other and in painting a picture that Watts is more rational than the scientists. "Hey, Watts is rational and one of us normal people who realizes the climate is complex and obviously wasn't going to behave as predicted by scientists. The scientists are alarmists and don't even realize obvious things. The scientists are backpeddling and can't be trusted." Do you have other quotes by Watts making predictions that are incorrect?

    2: I really like the first graph at DS#10. I hadn't seen that before. Will use it.

    One simple improvement to this graph to me would be to have the frame showing the 3 trend lines display a little longer. Another small improvement might be to make the colored squares larger (or grow in some animated fashion as you transition to the 3 trend lines) so we can more easily verify the 3 trend lines (the skeptic that I am) by more easily seeing the colors and that the points do come from where alleged.

    The impact of the graph might also be improved if juxstaposed with several other graphs: (a) the one showing clustering of el nino and la nina, (b) the escalator, and (c) the pic (or vid) showing an animated removal of cyclical effects from the temperature leaving a mostly rising temp. Putting the above 4 graphs into a little animated story would be nice. (a) suggests cycles are real and logical. The current graph, also showing the cycles are logical due to their clustering and periodicity, then highlights that a move to a higher trend might almost be inevitable. (c) offers an animated backup confirmation that the cycles are the problem. And (b) shows that in the absence of these further explanations, many of us will find it easy to fool ourselves.

    3: DS#7 is a good point but also presents a lose-lose situation in the short term. If the climate scientists are right, you can say they are lucky, that alarmism is having a lucky streak, that they have simple minds and any day now the climate will prove them wrong. OTOH, if they misshoot too much, that clearly wouldn't be good either.

    The slog is to try to offer as much evidence as possible as accessible as possible (eg, as is the goal and much success of this website) and within that context show that their decent predictions make sense while many contrarians have been far more incorrect, something that would be more clear only as time ticks away, unfortunately. A reality is that the skeptical mind without time to become an amateur climate scientist ultimately will wait out nature if they suspect scientists are untrustworthy an likely to exaggerate.

    Another point is that it is important to try to avoid over-shooting on the high end, downplaying error bars, and downplaying our always somewhat limited understanding. People frequently judge success subjectively based on expectations being met or not. We know the story about crying wolf. While individual contrarians will cry wolf and come and go, the scientific community as a whole would be a greater loss if it placed itself in a position to be dismissed. The label "alarmism" effectively paints scientists as full of naivite or even as full of hubris, supposedly over-estimating dangers at every turn with lots of self-assuredness. Plus, if you are a bit conservative and undershoot a little, what are others going to do? Pick the top side and essentially promote action? Hopefully. Or they may undershoot more so and make it clear the closest predictions was the still conservative scientists. Of course, it's hard to do science in earnest and not try to be as accurate as possible, but the reality is we are biased creatures and we should continue to be careful and guard against actual alarmism.

    The FAR report, even if using models less accurate than what we have now, did well in their summary by stating the following in a section titled "How much confidence do we have in our predictions"

    > Uncertainties in the above climate predictions arise from our imperfect knowledge of

    > future rates of human-made emissions
    > how these will change the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases
    > the response of climate to these changed concentrations

    > ... Secondly, because we do not fully understand the sources and sinks of the greenhouse gases, there are uncertainties in our calculations of future concentrations arising from a given emissions scenario

    > Thirdly, climate models are only as good as our understanding of the processes which they describe, and this is far from perfect

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  9. The other misrepresentations are bad enough, but surely Watts knows by now that "BP" refers to 1950, not 2000 or 2013 or some other date. Sure, I can understand how someone might make that faulty assumption initially, as the naming convention isn't exactly intuitive, but at this point it just seems like it would have to be an intentional error by Watts. There isn't a good excuse for making this mistake repeatedly.

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  10. Jose @8

    "I really like the first graph at DS#10."

    In this case, credit goes to John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist, who first used this kind of analysis here and here.

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  11. WheelsOC -

    Years of what could be termed 'discussions' with Creationists would lead me to refine #11 to 'when completely and utterly debunked, leave the argument for a while, waiting until you hope people have forgotton, then bring it back'

    This goes past intellectual bankrputcy into the concept of negative credit scores..




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  12. In this interesting article, it is stated that renewable energy can substitute for fossil fuels and doesn't even need fossil fueled backup. There is then link to a treatment on this site of the IPCC report on the potential of renewable energy. However, the IPCC report - while full of interesting information - does not at all inspire confidence that renewable energy is able to replace fossil fuels. The IPCC report in fact states in so many words that renewable energy sources will *not* likely reduce GHG emissions as much as is necessary. The claim of 'almost 80% renewables' is no more than an outlier single report by Greenpeace, which is itself deeply unsatisfying and superficial.

    I love this website and consult it frequently as a valuable resource for understanding why and how climate change deniers are wrong. However, the treatment on this site of renewable energy and the challenge of moving to them for 100% of our energy supply is very, very poor indeed, I'm sorry to say. I urge the website owner to overhaul that part of the site thoroughly by noting (for example) very carefully the serious problems with the content of the IPCC renewable energy report, as detailed comprehensively by Ted Trainer here:

    Another option would be for this site to refrain from tackling the question of sustainable future energy systems altogether, which is obviously not it's speciality. As it stands, the treatment of energy systems on this site damages the reputation of SS as a credible source, which I lament. Hopefully, it will be understood that this message is constructive criticism.

    Beste regards,


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  13. To be clear, I work for a 400+ employee engineering consultancy company in the Netherlands and my function title is Sr. Specialist in Energy and Sustainability. I have 10 years work experience, for what it's worth. My conclusion is that solar and wind energy will grow, but cannot by themselves solve the GHG emission problem. That problem can only be solved by drastic cuts in energy usage (= lifestyle change = not a credible solution pathway) OR a dramatic shift to nuclear power (entirely feasible and sustainable long term in all respects). In my humble opinion, if SS would promote this view than SS has claimed the high ground of a science-based position on sustainable energy systems. If not, then you have opened this site up for unnecessary criticism, which would weaken your cause and mine.

    Best regards,


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  14. Like Jose, I like the graph in DS#10.  I followed the links, but am curious about a couple of things.

    Since it represents a trend, what are the respective confidence limits?  Are they (the three trends) close as far as confidence limits goes?

    Since the graph has been updated since 2007 when it was first done, have the trend lines been recalculated, or have the lines just been extended?

    Was this paper peer reviewed?  I am assuming it is, but can't find it.

    Is there enough data points to say there is a trend?  On a different thread, I was told that 16 years was insufficeint to generate a trend, but here we have 45 years, with 6 years removed for volcanic activity, leaving 39 years to generate 3 different trends?

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  15. Dana,

    You need to take much more personal credit for Watts claiming to be  a "lukewarmer".  I define "Lukewarmer" as a new name deniers call themselves because everyone knows their "skeptic" arguments have been shown to be bunk.  They think that if they put on a new hat they can go on as they always have.  SkS has been so successful in countering their false claims that Watts no longer wants to be associated with his own legacy!  

    Keep up the good work!  Don't let them get away with putting on a new hat, they are still just deniers.

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  16. JvD,

    Renewabel energy has been discussed repeatedly on SkS.  Frankly, I used to be in favor of Nuclear, but the people supporting that position here have not made a good case and I no longer support nuclear.  Where I live in Florida, the local power company has wasted $1.5 billon US dollars planning a nuclear plant (they have not broken ground yet and never will) and has a second plant that has sustained irrepairable damage during maintenance worth $5-10 billion.  Nuclear is simply not economic in the USA.  As someone who is familiar with the field, you must know there are many peer reviewed studies that disagree with your assessment that renewables cannot be used to power the entire globe.

    If you want to continue this discussion find a suitable thread, perhaps this one, nuclear always goes on forever.

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  17. "As someone who is familiar with the field, you must know there are many peer reviewed studies that disagree with your assessment that renewables cannot be used to power the entire globe."

    Yes I have read probably all of them. None of them disagree with my assessment, since none of them show how renewables can power the globe. All they do is show that there is enough sun, wind, etc. It saddens me that SS it not able to recognise the difference between that and showing actually *how* renewables can power the globe, which is what is demanded in a scientific discussion. IPCC does not do this. Greenpeace does not do this. WWF does not do this. They make a mockery of serious efforts to move to low-carbon economy. This kind of denial is similar to climate change denial and just as damaging to the effort to save the planet for human welfare. I repeat my call for an overhaul of the treatment of this important subject on SS. Dr. Ted Trainer has clearly shown the problem and SS should take it from there. I can't do more than that.

    Best regards,


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  18. An outstanding dissection of Watts's arguments. The claim to be a 'lukewarmist' is the most transparent fiction imaginable, designed, I suspect, only to draw in gullible 'undecideds'.

    What also come across is the extraordinary shallowness of his ideas, and the increasing reliance on selective data . In that sense he is the essential climate skeptic. 

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  19. Joris, most of the discussions on SkS (not SS) about renewable energy have included the point that we need to reduce consumption by increasing efficiency.  As for moving to 100% renewable energy, I don't agree with you (this can be achieved by connecting a large network of various different types of renewable energy - solar PV, wind, solar thermal, geothermal, etc.), but it's a moot point for several decades anyway, and not relevant to this blog post.

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  20. Inquiry to JvD on thread suggested by michael sweet.

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  21. JvD - I have replied on an appropriate thread

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  22. Kevin @14

    I assume you addressed John Nielsen-Gammon's analysis? If so, AFAIK, it is not published in the peer-reviewed literature but only his blog. He may work on it though and has recently updated it on his blog.

    With respect to years analyzed for the trend, John gives the stats. If you have questions, email him.

    16 years? What matters is the period, not the number of data points. Fewer than 16 data points can give a significant trend, but it may not be accurate if the period analyzed is too short. In this graph's case they span a longer period though. Aka, you probably misunderstood what you were previously told, namely that one should not analyze short periods for trends because the noise can overwhelm/bias it. However, if the period is long enough, even fewer data points can accurately represent the underlying trend.

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  23. JvD at 17 says

    None of them disagree with my assessment, since none of them show how renewables can power the globe. All they do is show that there is enough sun, wind, etc. It saddens me that SS it not able to recognise the difference between that and showing actually *how* renewables can power the globe

    What is the difference between your assertion that Nuclear can supply the world's energy needs and those who propose renable energy?

    You seem to be suggesting that these reports are only able to identfy a resource without being able to identify the technologys needed to utilise those resources, which is clearly wrong.

    All you can do is identify what nuclear resource is avalible and show there is the technology to make use of that resource. You may be able to show that we can dig the uranium up, refine it into useful form, and then convert it into useful energy, of course renewable energy technologies are able to convert those abundant resources without the need to dig anything up or refine anything.

    Your favored technology has a number serious draw backs, to access the resourse requires energy intensive & distructive extraction, energy intensive refining, the process of extracting useful energy is too expensive to build without massive government subsidy and are uninsurable (what ever happened to the promise of too cheap to meter), creates long lived polutants that after more than fifty years of use still can not be safely disposed of and can be used to make the most distructive bombs ever created, is not available to everyone (especially if your frendly to the USA), and if something goes wrong hundreds of thousands of people will never be allowed to go home.

    On the other hand, renewables are not finite by there nature, the conversion equipment is quickly becoming much cheaper, can be scaled to any size required (nuclear power is not much use to a village in India).

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    Moderator Response: [d_b] Those will have to serve as the last words on nuclear energy versus everything else on this thread. Further completely redundant and off-topic debate on that tiresome topic will be deleted from this location. Bear in mind also that it's possible another moderator will take a harsher view and retroactively purge the thread.
  24. oops that should be (especially if your not friendly to the USA),

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  25. gws,

    Thanks for the info.  Do you happen to know where I can find the confidence limits for his trends?  His blog did not show them, at least not that I found, not even in the comments.

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  26. The "preliminary" paper in question has not even been submitted to a journal, let alone been subjected to the peer-review process, and contains several fundamental flaws which completely undermine the conclusions that Watts asserts in this quote.


    In light of the fact that the paper that produced the graph in DS#10 has not been peer review, nor has it been submitted, and in fact is presented on a blog, is the above quoted argument fair?

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  27. Kevin - Given that Watts unsubmitted work is woefully flawed (as pointed out here and by many others), while the graph in DS#10 is both incredibly simple (just dates and ENSO classifications) and uncontroversial, yes, it is a fair argument. The point here is that Watts' paper is wrong, not that it is unsubmitted.

    If that paper had passed peer-review (with actual reviewers, rather than in a journal such as E&E) that would be a point in it's favor - given the fundamental and publicly discussed errors, however, I really don't see that happening. 

    As to the graph in DS#10, a simple plot of temperatures against ENSO phase, I would point out that it's probably sub-publication in size. And more importantly, that the graph is correct - unless you have some issues with it, in which case you should say so. 


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  28. While Watts—and many of his more 'politically astute' fellow climate conspiricists—has started recently to claim to be a 'lukewarmer', I note that he still gives a platform and tacit encouragement to anyone who wants to attack mainstream climate science. As others have noted, this position seems to go along with a recent acceptance of a climate sensitvity less than 2oC. Although on the surface this can be seen as an advance of sorts, it's a change in position that totally fails to alter the underlying stance that no action should be taken because of the uncertainty/cost/etc. 

    To use a military analogy; Watts and his co-conspiracy-theorists appear to be dropping armed insurrection and instead taking up a terrorist or 5th columnist approach to their ideological struggle.

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  29. Kevin:

    As far as I am aware neither John Nielson-Gammon nor Skeptical Science are presenting that graph as science of any kind, only as a debunking tool, similar to the Escalator, to use against claims that global warming has 'paused' or 'stalled'.

    Can you say the same thing about Watts given what he states?

    What I learned is that the government weather service (NOAA) had it right at one time, but they’d dropped their guard, and my recent study (preliminary) shows that not only is the deployment of weather stations faulty in siting them, but that the adjustments designed to solve those issues actually make the problem worse.

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  30. Kevin @26:

    "is the above quoted argument fair?"

    Yep.  Watts is arguing that decades of peer-reviewed scientific research is wrong based on blog 'science'.  We're showing that comments made in an interview were wrong.  It's just sliiiiightly different.  If we were using the graphic in question to try and disprove peer-reviewed research, then you would have a point.

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  31. Jose@8 & Kevin&14

    If you were fans of the graph in DS#10, I might also recommend the paper Foster & Rahmstorf (2011). SkS does an admirable job summing it up here

    In essence, they use a multiple linear regression to isolate the relative contriburtions to the climate from ENSO, volcanism, solar variability and the anthropogenic contribution. It results in a far clearer picture of the anthropogenic effect on climate

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  32. Jose@8 & Kevin&14

    If you were fans of the graph in DS#10, I might also recommend the paper Foster & Rahmstorf (2011). SkS does an admirable job summing it up here

    In essence, they use a multiple linear regression to isolate the relative contriburtions to the climate from ENSO, volcanism, solar variability and the anthropogenic contribution. It results in a far clearer picture of the anthropogenic effect on climate

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  33. Personally, I think it is a mistake to criticize the 'lukewarmer' name and position generally, because we should let the deniers name their own transitional positions...en route to reality.  Individually, we can describe Anthony as a 'skeptic lukewarmer' - one who accepts CO2 as a greenhouse gas, but who denies the research and motivation behind every other aspect of climate science.

    There is a clear distinction between the two positions.  A 'lukewarmer' will on occasion speak out in support of those aspects of climate science he/she agrees with.  The 'skeptic lukewarmer' sees himself in singular opposition to the rest of consensus climate science - and will downplay his points of agreement, to keep those not sharing this agreement on his side. 

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  34. Sorry to be picky but was 2010 an El Nino year? It is described on the chart as neutral.

    I see John Nielson-Gammon also has it as ENSO-neutral, but I have seen it described as an El Nino year or maybe El Nino conditions happened for a few months? For example, here:

    I may use this chart and want to have my rebuttal ready! :)

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  35. shoyeore @34 - it just depends how you define what's an El Niño/La Niña year.  My methodology is discussed here.

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  36. As this topic is centred on Anthony Watts I visited his website to "have a look for myself".  Interestingly the figure you show from Marcott's Science paper, also shown on Watts' blog but not here, is virtually identical to a figure from Marcott's PhD thesis in all respects for the early periods but not for later periods.  Notably reconstructions given as negative in the PhD figure are given as positive in the Science paper and even more notably the uptick at the end seen in the Scince paper is absent in the figure from Marcott's Ph.D. Are there any explanations for these discrepancies of which you are aware?  I must say I am rather surprised these differences are not mentioned here given your heading  "True skeptics consider all the data" . 

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  37. 36, Ray,

    A skeptical person would have found and downloaded the Ph.D. thesis, and attempted to answer the question for himself, before making veiled implications of impropriety and malfeasance, both on the part of Marcott and Dana.

    If you had downloaded the thesis here (sorry, it's rather poorly compressed and 63Mb) you would see that the goal of the thesis was to investigate three longstanding questions of paleoclimatology:

    1. A longstanding question in glaciology is the nature and mechanism of the so- called “Heinrich events” of the last ~60 ka.
    2. In the field of glacial geology a longstanding question has been the timing of alpine glacial advances during the Holocene.
    3. In the field of paleoclimatology a question regarding how global temperature varied over the entirety of the Holocene epoch has remained to be answered for some time.

    A brief review of those three goals quickly reveals that the purpose of the original thesis was to answer questions related to climate many thousands of years ago.  Current temperatures are obviously irrelevant to that goal, so the graph does not extend beyond what was required.

    And yet, as might be expected, Dr. Marcott chose to build upon his previous work and to take it in a new direction, one relevant to a major issue of the day, anthropogenic climate change.

    Why is this surprising to you, or to anyone?

     But... thank you, because you've added another bit of evidence pertaining to Mr. Watts' denial, and his willingness to intentionally mislead readers such as yourself.  He took a perfectly innocuous and pedestrian example of the way science is conducted (do one study, earning one's doctorate, and then build on that work later in one's career) and presented it with implications of nefarious impropriety.  Of course, he won't come out and actually make his accusations.  He just asks innocent questions like "I wonder what accounts for the difference" (much as you did), then lets that hang in the air like a foul stench.

    And you and others fall for it hook, line and sinker.

    Maybe, next time, you'll trust Watts less and invest some of your own energy into figuring out how he's led you astray.

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  38. Did Ray just criticize this post for 'not showing all the data' because it showed a graph with more data than a previous version in Marcott's PhD thesis?  It sounds to me like Ray should be directing these accusations at Wattsy.

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  39. In fact, perhaps the only individual to actually advocate changing the term from 'global warming' to 'climate change' was Republican political strategist Frank Luntz in a controversial memo advising conservative politicians on communicating about the environment:

    It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

    Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

    I've quoted it once before on SkS; According to Stephen Poole in his book Unspeak...


    "The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other oil-producing countries lobbied the U.N. in the late 1980s to change the language of early resolutions from 'global warming' to 'climate change' because the latter is vaguer and less frightening, and also because it doesn’t point the finger so directly at the burning of fossil fuels as the cause. While 'climate change' is scientifically correct (because a local climate might get colder rather than hotter), it obscures the fact that such changes will be a result of the rising mean temperature of the planet — i.e., of global warming."

    Poole mentions that part of his book at his blog, here (but there he says the talks occurred in the early 1990s). It's also referenced here. If correct, it might be worth mentioning that everyone who tried to change the language was on the 'skeptical' side of the debate.

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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed link html.
  40. Sorry about the formatting. :(

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  41. Ray #36,

    Anyone with a feeling for fair play would (I hope) agree that the accusations flung at Marcott over his PhD thesis are shrill and unjust. And also irrelevant.

    Ask yourself: Do the contents of Marcott's PhD thesis suggest any grounds for the recent paper to be withdrawn or modified in any way? Who will submit a comment to Science based on a difference in the results of the paper and the thesis?

    My answers are "No" and "Nobody".

    Theses often end up as papers or books, but in this case Marcott was not "working up" his PhD thesis as a paper, based on Sphaerica #37.

    I am glad to see the hysteria over Marcott et al is being mostly ignored by good science blogs. Nor has the paper been accepted without reservation among the climate-change blogging community. If anything, it has been greeted with a proper degree of caution, or real scepticism.

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  42. Alas, Poole could've used a more robust representation of "climate change" instead of just equating it with temperature as Luntz does.  Climate change somewhat obviously can be changes in temp, general circulation, precipitation, weather patterns, wind, cloud cover, frequency of "extreme" events, etc.  

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  43. Sphaerica @37, Chapter 4 of the thesis is specifically about the reconstruction of Holocene temperatures, and is analogous the Science paper, and has the same authors as the Science paper.  It is also noted that that chapter would be submitted to Nature for publication.  It is a reasonable supposition the Science paper is Chapter 4 as modified in the process of publication.  That Marcott adresses other issues in other chapters of his thesis is not germaine, and does not rebut the general equivalence of Chapter 4 and the Science paper.

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  44. Ray @36, the graph you mention is not the only one to have altered between thesis and paper in Science.  Specifically Fig 1 G (Science; Fig 4.3 C in the thesis) also differs.  That figure shows the number of proxies available at different time periods.  Most importantly, in the thesis it shows less than 10 proxies extend into the twentieth century.  In contrast, in the Science article, shows 20 proxies available at the same time interval.  As the same proxies appear to be used in each, this suggests that either Marcott has recieved additional, more recent data for several of the proxies, or that the interpolation using RegEm (as discussed both in paper and thesis) has been more extensively applied.  

    Regardless of the course, less than ten proxies is a very limited sample for determining global surface temperature and such a small sample is likely to have considerable biases.  Therefore, more than doubling the number of available proxies is likely to result in changes in the reconstruction where the proxies are sparce (twentieth century), although adding the same number of proxies will have little effect where the proxies are more extensive (ie, prior to AD 1500).

    Failing further evidence to the contrary, this would appear to completely answer the issues raised.  You may want to ask yourself why this change in the number of available proxies has not been commented on at WUWT.

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  45. And has McIntyre or Watts actually asked Marcott about the differences (instead of quite publicly insinuating that Marcott is guilty of some sort of fraud)?  Have you addressed this issue with the presumably more "skeptical" Watts and McIntyre, Ray?

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  46. Tom,

    The purpose of the project as a whole is explicitly and clearly stated in the opening chapter:

    This dissertation addresses three issues related to paleoclimate in an attempt to shed new light on the mechanism and timing of climate and glacier changes in the past.

     While the individual chapters may have strayed into other potential conclusions and uses, and while it may have evolved by this point in time to have a different application and to be published as a paper in its own right in Nature, there is no doubt that this was not the original intent, so to complain explicitly about the lack of careful comparison to current temperatures is an erroneous and baseless complaint.

    And I did not dispute that elements of the paper did evolve into Marcott et al.  Quite to the contrary, I explicitly stated:

    And yet, as might be expected, Dr. Marcott chose to build upon his previous work and to take it in a new direction, one relevant to a major issue of the day, anthropogenic climate change.

    All of my points still stand, specifically:

    1. The purpose of the original project, regardless of tangents, was not to evaluate past climate as a benchmark for current climate change, so no complaint can be made about the completeness of the thesis for that purpose.
    2. It is not only not unexpected, but rather to be expected that Marcott would use this as a foundation for further work, including application directly to current climate change.  it would be surprising if he had not done so.

    The Watts/McIntyre complaint is a complete and total misdirection, and anyone who falls for it should be ashamed of themselves (for failing to be more skeptical and sensible).  Anyone who fell for it should do some introspection about what their own motives and desires might be (i.e. to ascertain the truth, or to arrive at a seeming truth which supports their hoped for outcome).

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  47. Sphaerica @46, from the Science article:

    "We then assessed the sensitivity of the temperature reconstruction to several averaging schemes, including an arithmetic mean of the data sets, a 30° × 30° area-weighted mean, a 10° latitudinal weighted mean, and a calculation of 1000 jackknifed stacks that randomly exclude 50% of the records in each realization (Fig. 1, C and D, and fig. S4). Although some differences exist at the centennial scale among the various methods (Fig. 1, C and D), they are small (<0.2°C) for most of the reconstructions, well within the uncertainties of our Standard5x5 reconstruction, and do not affect the long-term trend in the reconstruction."

    From the thesis:

    "To test the reproducibility of our two methods for reconstructing the temperature stack, we experimented with various ways of calculating the globally stacked temperature anomalies (Figure 4.3 a,e). We divided the records into 10° latitudinal bins and weighted them by their cosine of latitude to test the sensitivity of our datasets being skewed toward the northern hemisphere. A jack-knife technique, where for each of the Monte Carlo simulations 50% of the records were randomly excluded, was also implemented to determine the sensitivity of the global stack to any one record or group of records. While some differences exist at the centennial scale amongst the various methods (Figure 4.3 a), they are very small (<0.2°C) for most of the reconstruction, well within the uncertainties of our stacked temperature record, and do not affect the long-term trend in the reconstruction, demonstrating the robustness of our record at the multi-centennial and multi-millennial scale."

    And regarding the specific figure under discussion, from Science:

    "(CandD) Global temperature anomalies stacked using several methods (Standard and Standard5x5Grid; 30x30Grid; 10-lat: Arithmeticmeancalculation, area-weighted with a 5° × 5° grid, area-weighted ith a 30° × 30° grid, and area-weighted using 10° latitude bins, respectively; RegEM and RegEM5x5Grid: regularized expectation maximization algorithminfilled arithmetic mean and5°×5°area-weighted). The gray shading [50% Jackknife ( Jack50)] represents the 1s envelope when randomly leaving 50% of the records out during each Monte Carlo mean calculation. Uncertainties shown are 1s for each of the methods."

    And from the thesis:

    "Comparison of different methods and reconstructions of global and hemispheric temperature anomalies.

    a, Mean values of our global and hemispheric temperature anomalies using several methods (Standard – Arithmetic mean calculation; StandardNH – Arithmetic mean calculation of Northern Hemisphere records only; CosLat – Arithmetic mean calculation, cosine of latitude weighted; RegEM – Mean calculation using RegEM). The gray shading (Jack50) represents the 1! band when randomly leaving 50% of the records out during each Monte Carlo mean calculation."

    There is no doubt, given the similarity of these descriptions that Fig 1 c from Science, and Fig 4.3 a from the thesis serve the same purpose within their respective documents.  Therefore it is intirely reasonable to ask about differences between them.

    What is not reasonable is to make insinuations of fraud when an entirely adequate potential reason is shown in the same group of graphs.

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  48. ...given the similarity of these descriptions...

    So what?  I've said repeatedly that the Nature paper was clearly based on Chapter 4 from the thesis, and it makes sense to have done so.  Of course there were similarities.  The question Watts posed was why was that particular change (adding the recent temperature record) made to the paper when it was not the original thesis, and the answer is clearly that it was not necessary given the objective of the original project.

    That's all that matters here.  Watt's inane query was "I wonder why the difference" and the answer is "because it was irrelevant to the purpose of the original thesis."

    That's all.

    Therefore it is intirely reasonable to ask about differences between them.

    No, it's not.  The reasons for the differences are obvious, and the reasons for pursuing it further are obvious as well – to stir up false controversy and to cast doubt upon the motivations and methods of Marcott. That's all this is, is a Watts/McIntyre denial hatchet-job, and it has no foundation whatsoever.

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  49. TC, Sph: in what world are you not both right?  Questioning the difference between the graphs is a legitimate enterprise if done to further one's understanding of the research.  I questioned the difference myself until I saw the reasons (confirmed more completely by TC).  It's clear from Watts' and McIntyre's rhetoric that they have no interest in furthering their understanding or disseminating that understanding to the people they've already confused.

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  50. DSL,

    Alas, Poole could've used a more robust representation of "climate change" instead of just equating it with temperature as Luntz does.  Climate change somewhat obviously can be changes in temp, general circulation, precipitation, weather patterns, wind, cloud cover, frequency of "extreme" events, etc.

    While illuminating the definition of climate change in this way may be laudable, Poole's thesis was on the politicisation of language, and he articulated the intent of the political actors at the time. It would be great if the faux skeptics just dropped the talking point, but seeing as they bring it up as a political argument (cf Anthony Watts) it's worthwhile knowing how discussion of the terminologies actually played out. Watts claims that AGW 'proponents' fiddled with the language. But it wasn't the scientists or the media or Greenpeace that focussed on the political ramifications of the two phrases, it was those with vested interests in downplaying AGW. It still is.

    Watts is not only wrong, his criticism is completely misdirected.

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