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Follow-Up Case Study in Skepticism

Posted on 30 January 2011 by dana1981

Recently, in A Case Study in Climate Science Integrity, we examined the reactions to a report by Universal Ecological Fund (Fundaciíon Ecológical Universal [FEU-US]) and an article written by Dr. Richard Lindzen.  In both cases, the authors had performed calculations which neglected the thermal inertia of the oceans and impacts of aerosols and other cooling factors.  Despite making the same errors, the two papers arrived at dramatically different conclusions - the FEU-US wrongly concluded that the planet will warm 1.5°C over the next decade, and Lindzen wrongly concluded that the global climate is insensitive to atmospheric greenhouse gas changes (in a future article we will look at Lindzen's errors in depth and quantify them).

The reactions from the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) camp and the self-proclaimed "skeptics" were also diametrically opposed.  Climate scientists, journalists, and bloggers consistently wrote articles acknowledging and correcting the FEU-US mistakes.  On the other hand, the "skeptic" media re-published Lindzen's article with little commentary or analysis, allowing his errors to propagate to a wider audience, which generally also received Lindzen's piece with an uncritical eye.  The Skeptical Science article concluded that in this case study, it was the AGW camp which had behaved like the true skeptics. 

Subsequently, the article was picked up and re-published by The Guardian Environment NetworkThe Guardian allowed comments on the article for 3 days, and over that period, 310 comments were posted.  The comments were fairly evenly split between the AGW camp and the "skeptic" camp.  This provided an opportunity to observe how the self-proclaimed "skeptics" would react when confronted with the lack of true skepticism coming from their camp with regards to Lindzen's errors.  Would they acknowledge his mistakes, or would they continue to turn a blind eye to their fellow "skeptic" while criticizing the FEU-US for making the exact same errors?

If you guessed the latter, you win a gold star.  I must say I was rather disappointed, but not surprised that both camps confirmed the conclusions of the Case Study in The Guardian comments.   None in the AGW camp defended the FEU-US, and there was universal criticism for the group's unwillingness to correct the errors themselves when they were notified of them.

The self-proclaimed "skeptics", on the other hand, behaved in a much more biased manner.  They almost universally attempted to defend Lindzen's errors.  Several attempted to blame the FEU-US errors on the IPCC.  The "logic" was that the FEU-US scientific adviser (Osvaldo Canziani) was previously an IPCC co-chair, and the report heavily referenced the IPCC report.  The fact that the IPCC had nothing to do with the FEU-US errors did not dissuade these self-proclaimed "skeptics".   Although the projected temperature increase was listed as the report's first "key finding", it was not integral to the rest of the report.  The majority of the paper was effectively a summary of the IPCC and other UN report predictions about climate change impacts on agricultural production, which did not assume or depend upon the unrealistically rapid temperature rise projection in the FEU-US study.

Many "skeptic" commenters also engaged in ad hominem attacks against myself, John Cook, and Skeptical Science.  The amount of dirt they were able to dig up (mostly about other people who share my name, or outright falsehoods promoted by "skeptic" bloggers about this site and its founder) would have almost been impressive, if it wasn't so misguided.  The Guardian moderators were kept busy deleting these inappropriate comments.  An approximate breakdown of the comments (courtesy of Rob Painting):

19 comments defended Lindzen's error

0 comments defended FEU-US error

47 comments were deleted (ad hominem or otherwise off-topic) 

51 remaining comments were off-topic (on ocean heat content, blaming the IPCC, etc.) 

The remainder consisted of arguments among commenters

In the end, The Guardian comments provided a secondary case study about the behavior of both camps.  The actual skeptics, who acknowledged the mistakes where they were made, happened to be in the AGW camp.  Those who refused to look at all the evidence with an equally critical eye and were unable to set their biases aside were in the "skeptic" camp.

In this follow-up case study, we are once again reminded who the true skeptics are.

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Comments 51 to 82 out of 82:

  1. Scaddenp - I think you understand that we are all part of that experiment right now -whether we want to be or not. I restate it because I am not sure my post at 49 was clear.

    The CO2 injections into the atmosphere are an experiment with our biosphere, with no control, and no undo button in our lifetimes.
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  2. 49 actually thoughtfull

    Yep you actually did make me scream this time.

    48 dana1981

    I didn't say it was cooling I described it as unrealised. The cooling was in relation to aerosols in the way you use it. But no worries I look forward to the post.
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  3. HR - do think that projected climate change poses no threat to food production? Is that your beef?
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  4. HR "Yep you actually did make me scream this time." Just to be clear - that is not a response based on fact or logic. It appears to be your emotional response to the fact that global warming is a threat to our civilization.

    In some circumstance, I too would scream - but I don't think you meant your scream that way.

    Are you going to stick with the emotion? Or try to structure an argument, based on facts and logic, that attempts to counters the fact that the threat exists?
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  5. 54 actually thoughtfull

    There is no possibility of a logical discussion between us on this subject. You see humanity as passive victims of change. I see us as dynamic problem solvers. That simple fact is not going to be resolved by trading science.

    I guess you're on "The Road" with Viggo Mortensen, I'm in the Shuttle with Bruce Willis.

    Of course that assumes CAGW is on the horizon.
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  6. HumanityRules,

    Thank you for admitting that you are arguing belief. You are correct that such a discussion is not going to be resolved by "trading science".

    This is the core problem in self-proclaimed skepticism - the two "sides" are not having the same discussion.

    I do agree that humanity is comprised of dynamic problem solvers. Dismissing the results of that problem solving because it conflicts with belief is not beneficial.

    The original instance of the term CAGW, that I know of, is the Oregon Petition.
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  7. Humanity Rules:

    I see us as dynamic problem solvers.

    It's not either/or. We accomplish amazing and inspiring things, and we're also guilty — frequently — of incredible stupidity and shortsightedness and brutality.

    To be "problem solvers," we have to be able to acknowledge that a problem exists. Currently, you seem to be trying to avoid doing so, for reasons that you yourself acknowledge are largely emotional.

    My feeling is that if this problem can be solved, it will be solved by people who are capable of looking it in the face, accepting it rationally, and taking personal responsibility. In the absence of that commitment, your platitudes about "humanity" seem more like some conscience-numbing narcotic than an expression of true optimism.
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  8. #49 I agree, facts are wonderful: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Droughts, Precip, Snow.
    The snow data were more difficult to obtain, NCDC likes maps more than trend plots. I see no threat to civilization in the current trends.

    Concerning statistical significance, Roy Spencer said it best with "The fact is that the ‘null hypothesis’ of global warming has never been rejected: That natural climate variability can explain everything we see in the climate system."

    Now on to your CO2 source, using an Earth radius of 6370 km, I get 5.23 ppm/year from CO2 emissions, not 6 ppm. The current yearly trend in CO2 increase is 2 ppm, not 3 ppm. According to the correct calculations, 3.23 ppm of the yearly CO2 dump is being absorbed, half from natural processes, 1.615 ppm. So where is the other 1.615 ppm going? How can you estimate the CO2 increase in 50 years when you don't fully understand all of the absorption processes?
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  9. thepoodlebites - Um, what is the relevance of your comment to the current topic?

    You might want to discuss CO2 concentrations on the Are CO2 levels increasing or Comparing CO2 emissions to CO2 levels threads.
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  10. thepoodlebites - Spencers challenge should probably be discussed on It's a natural cycle.

    Interestingly, several regulars here (including me) are finding their comments in reply to his challenge not showing up on his blog. They don't seem to be making it through moderation. In the meantime, 40 new replies have shown up since I tried to post there...
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  11. Humanity Rules-
    You have stumbled upon the deep irony. It is, indeed, those who accept climate science (and the necessary fellow-traveler, AGW) who, as a rule are the "dynamic problem solvers."

    Indeed, I make my living as a very, very dynamic solver of the global warming problem (sadly I own/operate but one small company - the need is great)!

    So, I certainly understand you not wanting to debate the science - as global warming is so far on the fact side of the theory/fact spectrum as to be an embarrassing discussion for those with your view.

    Anytime you want to stop playing the passive victim and jump in and work towards positive change on this issue, I will certainly support you (for whatever small value that has).

    As for me I am optimistic that we can forestall catastrophe (can-do, dynamic problem solving at your service!), but I am becoming pessimistic that we WILL forestall catastrophe - too many people (you among them, as far as I can tell from your posts) would like to minimize this, or ask for more research, or any level of sophist arguments that, in the real world, force humanity into the position of passively accepting nature's response to human emissions rather than make relatively minor adjustments to avoid nature's inevitable response.

    I can't do anything but fight it. It is in my nature.
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  12. #59 Um, er, replying to #49. It took time to look up appropriate sources, no alarming trends that I can see. And the website CO2 tonnage seemed out of date.

    I checked "Are CO2 levels increasing," thanks. I'll continue the CO2 airborne fraction over there but I was wondering, is it about 40% absorbed, 5.23*(0.4) ~ 2.0? #49's website was a bit confusing too.
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Fixed broken link. Further replies to specific atmospheric CO2 concentration questions should go here.
  13. The poodlebites @58, (continued in 62). I didn't realize you were replying to me.

    You seem to be continuing the misguided notion that the null hypothesis in climate science is something like this:
    "If we dump 26.7 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, natural variability will cover our tracks."

    What a bizarre way to think about the climate! In what legitimate school of scientific method do you take the control knob for what you are testing (temperature sensitivity to greenhouse gases) and twist it as hard as you can and call THAT your null hypothesis?!

    No, the null hypothesis for climate and climate is this:
    Climate variability explains climate in the absence of climate forcings.

    If you could get the word to Dr. Spencer about this basic aspect of posing scientific questions I am sure the level of debate will be greatly elevated. It is a shame to see so much effort spent on pretending this isn't an issue (and there are many legitimate scientific areas for learning, not the least of which is solving Trenberth's tragedy.)

    (That you respond by attacking the number/weight/amount of CO2 (which, sure is probably NOT 26.7 billion. Let's say there is a 10% error bar on either side) speaks volumes about the quality of your argument)
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  14. 56 Bibliovermis

    If you accept that we are dynamic problem solvers then you should also accept that some sort of predictable descent into barbarism is complete folly.

    It would have been near impossible to predict global food production thru the 20th century maybe even 30 years in advance given the non-linear development of agricultural practises and global distribution. Why should we hold anymore belief in present future predictions? These predictions have to assume a passive role for humanity in this process because there is no way of predicting where future generations will take these.

    War - where to start? All the dirty little wars of the late 20th century can't be explained from within their national borders never mind anything to do with their national climate statistics. They're all proxy wars serving the interests of powerful nations, the cold war period is an obvious example. You won't find the cause of 21st century civil wars and border disputes by limiting your analysis to anything that is happening on a local level, that includes looking at climate. It would be a simple observation that societal problems do not have to be resolved through war, including those future predictions presented by the IPCC. What makes me want to scream is that 'naturalizing' the cause of war is letting the warmongers off the hook.

    Phila we might agree that social problems should be solved thru rational action. But first we have to agree the cause of those social problems before we can come to some agreement on the path we should take. I happen to think that the politics of climate change is a continuation of the irrational aspect of society that we both possibly dislike. I don't mean that we have rationalists and irrationalist, I mean both sides are using the issue to argue their own particular interests. In the wider world, outside John's blog, climate change is about politics not science.

    My response to AT isn't based on emotion it's based on a recognition that we have different views of human nature and social relations. As I said that particular aspect won't be solved by trading science. A "threat to civilization" is basically a political position not a scientific one.
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  15. HR @64 "It would have been near impossible to predict global food production thru the 20th century maybe even 30 years in advance given the non-linear development of agricultural practises and global distribution. Why should we hold anymore belief in present future predictions? These predictions have to assume a passive role for humanity in this process because there is no way of predicting where future generations will take these.

    Consider migrating climate zones, especially in commercial agricultural areas. As they move are they going to move into areas where agriculture can be conducted or will those areas already be in use for other purposes? Also factor in the growing world population which not only demands more food but land area use as well. Your scenario seems to suggest that climate change is chasing food production but will never catch it. To me it looks like they are running at each other rather than one after the other.
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  16. Humanity Rules:

    I happen to think that the politics of climate change is a continuation of the irrational aspect of society that we both possibly dislike.

    We do both dislike it. The problem, of course, is that I (sometimes) see your remarks here as typical of that irrational aspect, in that you allow generally unexamined ideological assumptions to trump peer-reviewed science, as well as the logical conclusions of what that science is telling us.

    To me, that's a totally untenable position, philosophically and ethically. And frankly, I'd continue to believe that even if the inactivists turned out, by some miracle, to be correct. That would simply be an exceedingly lucky guess on their part, kind of like winning the lottery; it wouldn't be the result of having more information, a coherent alternative theory, or a superior understanding of the science.

    There are plenty of reasonable grounds for debating how to deal with AGW. But my feeling is, we have to start from a position of accepting the science as it stands, and the recognition that there's really no other game in town, theory-wise. Simply suggesting that "humanity rules" because we're "problem solvers" is naive; it belongs to an earlier, more childish outlook that we can't afford right now.

    My response to AT isn't based on emotion it's based on a recognition that we have different views of human nature and social relations. As I said that particular aspect won't be solved by trading science.

    "Trading" implies that something of value is being exchanged. I haven't seen much that I'd call science on the "skeptical" side. And when it comes to economic arguments, I've seen little but handwaving and the repetition of paranoiac talking points...most of which only cohere if you begin with the assumption that the consensus is wrong or fraudulent.

    The only way to discuss risks, costs and benefits is to have an accurate picture of the science. In that regard, the concept of "trading science" is basically meaningless to me. On the one hand, there's what the vast majority of the experts say. On the other, there's a bunch of carping and wild speculation and witless red-baiting. So what's to trade?

    Also, saying that you simply have "different views on social relations" doesn't really answer the charge that those views are basically emotional or irrational. Statements like "I see us as dynamic problem solvers" gives me a pretty good idea of what those views are based on, and it ain't science. Also, social relations depend on what people see as fact, how they assess risk, and so forth. So again, the science is crucial in determining what responses are and aren't possible.

    A "threat to civilization" is basically a political position not a scientific one.

    Again, it's not either/or. It'd be easier to take your views seriously if they didn't seem to be founded so often on hypersimplistic binary thinking.
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  17. f you accept that we are dynamic problem solvers then you should also accept that some sort of predictable descent into barbarism is complete folly.

    Sorry, but the historical evidence is that civilisations have failed before and all the dynamic problem solvers of the day didn't save them. There is no magic rule written into the universe which says we are able to solve all problems.

    I please stop using "CAGW". What is the point of term for which there is no definition? (And no meaning in science since I challenge you find a single peer-reviewed piece of science which uses the term).

    I ask you again - do you accept that a threat to food production would also endanger civilisation IF we couldnt solve that problem?
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  18. HR,

    It is rather difficult to be a problem solver when you don't acknowledge that there is a problem.

    How society goes about implementing solutions is political, but the empirical research that shows a threat to civilization isn't. Disclaiming a field of science as politics in defense of preconceived notions is political.
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  19. If you accept that we are dynamic problem solvers then you should also accept that some sort of predictable descent into barbarism is complete folly.

    Wow. Somehow, I missed that statement when responding to HR earlier. That is an absolutely colossal strawman, even by "skeptical" standards.
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  20. "If you accept that we are dynamic problem solvers then you should also accept that some sort of predictable descent into barbarism is complete folly."

    This is a strawman argument on a Wicker Man level.
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  21. HR - I actually had a more sympathetic view of your comments than did some other posters.

    I can accept that "threat to civilization" is a political fallout from the scientific reality of climate science.

    Can you?

    And, once accepting that, I can accept that dynamic problem solving could be applied. But it seems a bit late. I have noticed that hungry people and people in pain find logic and long term problem solving quite challenging (I am here thinking of my immediate family). I always find it easier to feed first, then discuss the future.

    What do we do when that is not possible? It is possible that "dynamic problem solving" will carry the day when food supplies are dramatically less than that required to feed the people.

    But is it likely?
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  22. #63 (AT) Let's stick to the facts. My main point was no significant trends in hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, precip, snow. The website you provided is not accurate. The average radius of the Earth is 6,370 km, not 5,925 km. The present rate of CO2 increase is 2 ppm/year, not 3 ppm/year. The parameters used should be accurate, that's all I was trying to point out. The conclusion concerning deforrestation is in dispute, see Tans 2009, specifically, Fig. 3. You seem to be setting up strawman arguments about null hypotheses so that you can knock them down. From current observations, the CO2-induced AGW signal is still inconclusive. That's how I see it.
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  23. The Poodlebites,

    "My main point was no significant trends in hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, precip, snow."

    Actually there are trends in drought and heavy precipitations around the globe (e.g., Dai et al. (2004):

    "Together, the global land areas in either very dry or very wet conditions have increased from ~20% to 38% since 1972, with surface warming as the primary cause after the mid-1980s. These results provide observational evidence for the increasing risk of droughts as anthropogenic global warming progresses and produces both increased temperatures and increased drying."

    I provided links to several papers investigating the increase in heavy rainfall events around the globe here and here.

    And there is also a statistically significant trend toward less N. Hemisphere snow cover in the spring and summer as documented by Dery and Brown (2007).

    Numerous papers using fingerprinting techniques have identified the AGW signal, as discussed in section 9.4 in the IPCC AR4 and here and here and here on SkS.

    Those are the facts. Sorry, but while you and I are entitled to our opinions and interpretations of the science and data, the facts stand on their own and they present a very clear and consistent picture. To deny that is not being "skeptical".....
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  24. Poodlebites,

    Thanks for the link to the Tans paper. What we have to keep in mind is that the forests can act as a net carbon source (as opposed to a C sink) during and shortly after drought, as the recent paper of the Amazon droughts in Science demonstrates.

    Anyhow, some good news, the forests are still providing a buffer-- a buffer that is very much needed.

    on a side note, a concern is that the pine beetle invasion has progressed from British Columbia into Alberta, scientists are concerned that is could spread into the Canada's Boreal forest.
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  25. #73 I've had a chance to review the Dai, Trenbreth, Qian (2004) paper. From PCA, we have observational evidence of surface warming since the 1980's (temperature + precipitation) and drying in regions prone to droughts during El Nino events. The PC1 temporal patterns seem enhanced by the surface temperature data. And we've had more El Nino's than La Nina's in the '80's and '90's. But to connect these results directly to anthropogenic global warming takes a leap of faith. This looks like another case of circular reasoning, assuming the conclusions in the premises. Here's an AMS article that presents possible alternative hypotheses that also should be considered. I conclude that the CO2-induced AGW signal from the observational drought evidence is inconclusive.
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  26. thepoodlebites - From that AMS paper's summary (emphasis added):

    "The first three components from the PCA explain 29% of the total variability in the combined runoff/SST dataset. The first component explains 15% of the total variance and primarily represents long-term trends in the data. The long-term trends in SSTs are evident as warming in all of the oceans. The associated long-term trends in runoff suggest increasing flows for parts of North America, South America, Eurasia, and Australia; decreasing runoff is most notable in western Africa. The second principal component explains 9% of the total variance and reflects variability of the El Nin˜o– Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its associated influence on global annual runoff patterns. The third component explains 5% of the total variance and indicates a response of global annual runoff to variability in North Atlantic SSTs."

    Note that the major component is long term trends, or climate change. You've just supported the AGW theory.

    Nobody argues that cyclic variations like ENSO aren't relevant to short term (<15 year) changes. But the long term trends are not to be ignored.
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  27. thepoodlebites - I'll note that there are a few lines in the conclusions of that paper that point out alternate causes, such as solar irradiance (which is dropping, not rising, so not a valid argument) or long term random processes (I've yet to see a reasonable paper on this topic that doesn't ignore known forcings). Hardly a ringing endorsement of said alternative causes...
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  28. thepoodlebites - My apologies, I should have put in a reference for the "random walk" discussion.

    Gordon and Bye 1993 examined climate temperature progressions, and found that 'random walk' progressions could only be justified for natural periods up to the order of ~5 years; ENSO, QBO, and the like cycles - long term temperature rise cannot be supported as such a random progression.
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  29. # 76 I’m not disputing the surface warming since 1980, about +0.4 C in the UAH satellite record. I’m disputing the amount of the human component, specifically, CO2 induced global warming. There are alternative hypotheses that should be considered for both surface warming and droughts, including solar and SST variability, specifically ENSO and PDO. If the PDO shifts to more negative this decade with more La Nina’s than El Nino’s, then the global drought patterns will change and the Dai et al results will be more about drought patterns associated with persistent El Nino’s than any CO2-induced AGW signal.

    # 77 I have repeatedly pointed out that solar irradiance has not been dropping since 1960, according to LISIRD, TSI. The accuracy of PMOD reconstruction is in dispute, specifically, that the PMOD TSI trend is incorrect. But solar cycle 24 is weaker than 21-23 and it will be interesting to see how the global temperature record responds.
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  30. thepoodlebites - Solar activity change hasn't been large enough to be significant since the late 70's; some measures (as you correctly point out) rising, some dropping, neither movement significant enough to change the climate based on our understanding of climate sensitivity.

    And statistically, random walk components including ENSO and PDO don't hold up (not numerically supportable) as drivers of the climate over oscillatory periods >11-15 years. For longer time scales the various forcings including CO2 emissions are the statistically relevant issues.
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  31. # 80 Thanks KR, I found the ACRIM vs PMOD link after I posted #79. Actually, the paper I wanted to cite for PMOD TSI reconstuction is Frohlich, the observed trend since 1978 is not significantly different from zero. Shouldn't Figure 1 here be replaced by Fig. 1 in the Frohlich paper? Thanks for the lively debate on climate trends.

    I'm reading about the Steig vs O'Donnell controversy with the 2009 Antarctic temperature reconstruction. Apparently, PCA can be tricky with sparce data fields. I searched but couldn't find a thread on this topic. I'm sorry to read that the matter became overly personal.
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  32. thepoodlebites - You're quite welcome, glad to add my tiny bit of pocket change to a reasonable discussion.

    To be honest, I don't have enough information about ACRIM vs. PMOD vs. Frohlich to definitively say which measure is most appropriate; just that all of them seem to indicate low levels of solar variation that don't line up with temperature changes.

    And yes, Steig vs. O'Donnell looks to be quite the mess. I think it points out that the reviewed should not be able to identify and yell directly at the reviewers, and that researchers disagreeing with each other should likely not be reviewing each others work. Most unfortunate.
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