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Just Put the Model Down, Roy

Posted on 2 August 2011 by bbickmore

This is a re-post of an entry on Dr. Barry Bickmore's blog, Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah

For the past few years, Roy Spencer has had a love affair, of sorts, with “simple climate models”.  After all, who needs some fancy-schmancy global circulation model (GCM) when you can boil down the main features (energy in and energy out) to a simple “1-box” or “zero-dimensional” model that you can run on a spreadsheet?

Spencer wasn’t the first one to use such a model, and every modeler knows that it is usually a good idea to use the simplest model you can get away with to represent complex physical processes.  The key here is to recognize that the simpler the model, the more phenomena are glossed over, so simpler models are only going to be good for particular, specialized purposes.

In this case, Spencer wants to use simple climate models to estimate equilibrium climate sensitivity for a doubling of CO2.  Let’s look back and see how he’s done with that so far.

The Model

The basic model is shown in Eqn. 1 below.

Equation 1:  d(∆T)/dt = (Forcing – Feedback)/Cp

Here, ∆T is the difference between the temperature at time t and the temperature at equilibrium.  (That is, ∆T is the “temperature anomaly” with respect to equilibrium.)  Cp is the total heat capacity of a column of ocean water 1 m^2 on top and h meters deep.  The Forcing tells us the rate at which extra energy is coming in, while the feedback tells us how the climate system responds to the push, by either enhancing the forcing or hitting the brakes.  Another way of putting it is that (Forcing –Feedback) gives you the net change in the energy accumulating in the ocean, and Cp controls how quickly the ocean temperature can change in response.

The Feedback term in Eqn. 1 can be broken down as in Eqn. 2 below.  This means that the hotter the ocean becomes, the more it radiates energy back into space, and the alpha term determines the degree to which this is the case.  The alpha term also determines the equilibrium climate sensitivity

Equation 2:  Feedback = alpha * ∆T

The Forcing term can be divided up into contributions from different sources–changes in solar output, greenhouse gases, aerosols, and so on–or lumped into one.  In some versions of his model, Spencer uses the GISS forcing history, where they are all lumped together.  In others, he multiplies the index for some natural mode of climate variability (like ENSO or PDO) with a scaling factor to obtain a hypothetical forcing, as in Eqn. 3, where beta is a scaling factor and Vi is the natural variability index being used.  In still other incarnations, he combines the GISS forcing with the “internal” forcing provided by Eqn. 3.

Equation 3:  Forcing = beta * Vi

Finally, in the latest versions of his model, Spencer has begun adding more layers to the ocean.  Whereas the original version only had one homogeneous ocean layer of depth h, the latest ones have 30-40 ocean layers, each 50 m deep.  Eqn. 1 governs the net energy input into the top layer, but Spencer also adds a “diffusion” term so heat can escape into the next layer down.  The second through 30th layers all have diffusion terms for heat coming in the top and heat going out the bottom.  Eqn. 4 shows what one of these diffusion terms look like for heat going out the bottom of a layer, where ∆T is the temperature anomaly of the layer in question, ∆Tnl is the temperature anomaly of the next layer down, D is a diffusion coefficient, and Cp is the heat capacity of a 1 x 1 x 50 m column of water.

Equation 4:  -d(∆T)/dt = D * (∆T – ∆Tnl)/Cp

It’s the PDO!

In his first attempt, Spencer asked, what if it isn’t human greenhouse emissions that have been driving climate change, lately, but rather natural, chaotic oscillations?  Spencer thinks that one such oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) may have been the culprit.  He fit his simple climate model (Eqns. 1-3 with only one ocean layer) to temperature data for the 20th century, and found that he could explain most of the observed warming!  He tried to publish these results in a climate journal, but (he says) biased reviewers and editors maliciously quashed the manuscript.  So instead, he decided to take his message directly to the people by publishing this work in his book, The Great Global Warming Blunder.

I wrote about this modeling effort in Part 3 of my recent review of Spencer’s book.  I even went to the trouble of programming his model into MATLAB and fitting the parameters using least-squares regression.  I found that some of the parameters in the model were perfectly covariant, so that there were an infinite number of “best-fit” solutions with climate sensitivities ranging from really low to really high.  You see, if you fool around with alpha and beta, you can control how fast energy builds up in the ocean surface layer, and if you fool around with the depth of the surface layer (h), you can control how much water has to be heated up, which affects how quickly the temperature can approach a new equilibrium.  He also had a couple other fitting parameters (for a total of five) that I discussed in the review.

But even though he could have gotten exactly as good a fit to the data with low or high climate sensitivity, Roy Spencer claimed his modeling provided striking evidence for low sensitivity.  The secret was that he didn’t use a normal optimization routine to get his “best fit” parameter values.  Instead, he made up a bogus statistical technique that automagically allowed him to obtain a low sensitivity (about 1.3 °C for 2x CO2).  Furthermore, by manipulating the starting value of his model temperature series, Spencer was able to make his model fit the first half of the data without much influence from the PDO.  Finally, he used wildly unphysical model parameters, e.g., a 700 m ocean mixed layer.  When you are fitting a model with 4-5 completely unconstrained parameters, after all, it’s hardly surprising if you can explain some data, but it would be foolhardy to take the fitted parameter values too seriously.

To put it bluntly, I found that this work deserved to be rejected–with prejudice–from the scientific literature.

It turned out that my book review became rather popular, and many of Roy’s blog readers were asking him for a response.  He did respond…that he wasn’t going to respond.  Why?  Because he was working on a paper for the peer-reviewed literature, so he couldn’t be bothered to respond to a mere blog critique.  I thought that was kind of funny, given that my review was about work Spencer had published in a book because he claimed the peer-review process had been corrupted, but hey, people have to prioritize.  It’s been months, however, and Spencer still hasn’t gotten around to answering my initial criticisms.  He has, ironically, had time to publish four more blog posts in which he used variants of the same simple climate model to support his claim that climate sensitivity is low.

Ocean Heat Content

In the first of these posts, Spencer drove his model with GISS forcing estimates and fit it to ocean heat content (OHC) data since 1955.  Once again, I reviewed his methods and found he had made several elementary mistakes, ALL of which drove his model climate sensitivity lower.  When I corrected these mistakes, I got a higher climate sensitivity, within the IPCC’s most probable range of 2-4.5 °C (2x CO2).  I also mentioned that it isn’t clear such a simple climate model is really suited for estimating climate sensitivity, especially when only constrained by about 50 years of data.  Isaac Held, for instance, had fit a simple climate model just like Roy’s to the 20th century output of a GCM with a climate sensitivity of 3.4 °C, but the sensitivity of the simple model (which was tuned to give the same output!!!) was only about 1.5 °C.  No response from Roy so far.

Ocean Temperature Change With Depth

Now we come to Spencer’s second and third blog posts of this type (with a follow-up on the third post here), in which he used somewhat more complicated versions of the model.  As I mentioned above, these new versions of the model are different in that they represent the ocean with 30-40 layers, each 50 m deep.  The heat flux into the top layer was determined by the same old simple climate model (Eqns. 1-2), but then for every ocean layer Spencer added another term to represent “diffusion” of heat from that layer into the next one down (Eqn. 4).  In his second blog post, he drove his model with the GISS forcings and fit the output to match a profile of temperature change with ocean depth for the last 40 years, published by the IPCC (2007, WG1, Fig. 9.15).  In his third post, he drove the model using both the GISS forcings and “internal” forcing caused by ENSO (Eqn. 4), and fit his model to the temperature evolution over 1955-present or 1880-present.  He also compared the temperature change from 1955-present in the different ocean layers to the IPCC curve.

The curve fits look pretty impressive, especially when the ENSO forcing is added in.  Even many of the little squiggles in the surface temperature data are matched quite well by the model!  What’s more, the model climate sensitivities were only around 1 °C, much lower than the IPCC estimate of 2-4.5 °C!!!  Indeed, Spencer began one of these blog posts with the following bold proclamation.

The evidence for anthropogenic global warming being a false alarm does not get much more convincing than this, folks.

But wait–remember how I criticized Spencer for the wild and crazy curve-fitting adventures he chronicled in his book?  And how he decided he wasn’t going to respond?  Well, the fact is that he’s making the same kinds of errors again, and patting himself on the back for it.  Here are several reasons why nobody should take Roy’s pronouncements of victory seriously.

In Spencer’s original model, he could tune the beta and h parameters to get ANY CLIMATE SENSITIVITY HE WANTED, with exactly the same quality of curve fit.  That was because manipulating beta and alpha (which determines climate sensitivity) changes the net rate of energy input into the top of the surface layer, while manipulating h changes how fast the ocean heats up in response.  In his latest posts, it’s about the same story.  He can still manipulate beta and alpha to change the net input into the top of the ocean, but now to change the temperature response, he just has to change the thermal diffusion rate out the bottom!  I dinked around with a spreadsheet he provided in one of his posts, and sure enough, I could fit the data just about as well with higher climate sensitivity (within the IPCC range).

That’s a big problem, because Spencer’s entire argument is statistical in nature, but he has made no attempt to find out how sensitive his model fits are to the different parameter values.  If the model fit is about equally as good with low or high climate sensitivity, after all, then the modeling exercise has given us NO INFORMATION about the relative plausibility of either scenario.  It does not count as evidence for ANYTHING, in other words.

Supposing Spencer does try to go back and quantify parameter sensitivity, then good luck with that, because his newer models all have MORE THAN 30 FULLY ADJUSTABLE PARAMETERS (alpha, beta, and diffusion coefficients for heat transfer between layers).  After Tim Lambert over at Deltoid read my review of Spencer’s book, he posted a quotation from the famous mathematician, John von Neumann.

With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.

Well, give me more than 30 parameters, and I can fit a trans-dimensional lizard-goat and make rainbow monkeys shoot out its rear end.

Some Spencer-boosters might complain that the GCMs used by IPCC scientists have many more parameters than that.  That’s a good point, except that those are typically not “fully adjustable.”  When a modeler is using a complicated model, instead of letting all the parameters ride in some kind of statistical free-for-all, he or she typically would constrain most of the parameters to physically reasonable values.  For instance, if in his original attempt Spencer had constrained the mixed-layer depth of the ocean (h) to a physically reasonable value (say about 100 m), he would have come up with much higher climate sensitivity.  Instead, he allowed a 700 m mixed layer depth (!!!!!) to get the answer he wanted.

In the later versions of his model, Spencer would have to constrain his diffusion coefficients to physically reasonable values, but there’s a problem with that.  In the real world, “diffusion” is governed by random molecular motions, and can be described by expressions like Eqn. 4, but it’s typically very, very slow.  Since heat transfer in the ocean doesn’t happen so slowly, it’s apparent that much of the heat transfer is due to “advection,” rather than diffusion.  Thermal advection is essentially movement of heat with the medium, i.e., in currents, and it isn’t necessarily linearly proportional to the temperature difference between layers of the ocean, as in Eqn. 4.  That being the case, I don’t have a clue what “physically reasonable” values for the model’s diffusion coefficients would be.

Let’s ignore that last objection about the form of the model for a moment, and bring up a nitpick about how Spencer set up his model.  That is, he set the initial temperature anomalies to zero for ALL the ocean layers.  Since heat diffusion is dependent on the temperature difference between layers (Eqn. 4), that means Spencer set his model up so there would be NO HEAT TRANSFER among layers at the beginning of the simulation, and it gradually builds up over time.

The Challenge

I could go on with more nitpicks, but I’m going to stop here, because it should be clear that, once again, Spencer has made a big deal out of something that doesn’t have any evidentiary value.  So if, as Spencer claims, “[t]he evidence for anthropogenic global warming being a false alarm does not get much more convincing than this,” then can we please move on?  Can Roy PLEASE put his toy model down?

I doubt he will, but maybe he will accept this challenge.  Instead of complaining about how biased and awful the peer review system has gotten, he should (at the very least) get a statistician to work with him and do the modeling right, and then submit it for publication.  Personally, I don’t think the work can be saved, even then.  However, I think the exercise of working with someone who knows how to properly make statistical inferences would be enlightening for Roy Spencer.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 59:

  1. ...still laughing over the "rainbow monkeys" bit.

    Seriously: >30 unconstrained parameters? What a pointless exercise.
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  2. Roy Spencer is not trying to do science, that much is very clear. What he's trying to do is get "science-y" sounding material propagated into the denial machine. He doesn't care if it's right. He only cares that it motivates the deniers.

    At this point I believe virtually ALL of the lead (faux) skeptics out there know they are wrong. They are now only engaging in ideological battles.
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  3. Great post Barry.

    Seriously though, the mistakes are so simplistic (though not necessarily easy for others to see) that Spencer must be aware of them. I mean, no one would model ocean heat transfer as a purely diffusive process.

    I wonder what edification he get's out of this process? Is he really just so tired of trying to get things through peer review that he's just given up? Has he traded in science for applause from the madding crowds of "skeptics."
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  4. "I wonder what edification he get's out of this process?"

    Good question; however if he wants to get proper ocean heat transfer he really needs to put in some sort of eddy-fication!
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  5. I would be very interesting to use Roy's model to produce a "paper" showing extremely high climate sensitivity and publish it in the same journal this one was published.
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  6. Rob, while it certainly seems like they should "know they are wrong", I don't believe that many of them do.

    Frankly, I consider the evidence for evolution overwhelming... but Spencer disputes that too. Likewise, it seems self-evident that pure free-market capitalism is just as hopelessly flawed as pure socialism... but that doesn't prevent Spencer from ascribing to that viewpoint as well. Ditto his partner Christy. Indeed, ditto most of the 'skeptics'.

    So either these folks are all actively promoting views which they know are false and will lead to potential disaster... or they are deceiving themselves first and their adherents second.

    Self deception is a powerful force and seemingly endemic in modern society. The old saying about, 'you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts' has long since been tossed aside. On many topics there are two (or more) radically different versions of 'reality'.

    Personally, I consider this the single greatest problem we face. Global warming is bad... but we could deal with it if we were all living in the same universe. Spencer and most of the other 'skeptics' aren't.

    Having half the population believe in an array of 'facts' which are actually pure nonsense leads to self-destructive decision making. We have to work on getting everyone accepting the same reality... probably the best way to go about that is to structure things so that the consequences of believing fiction strike the person directly rather than everyone around them. For instance, if some scheme had been enacted in the 80s where avowed AGW 'skeptics' would pay lower taxes if temperature anomalies went down while AGW 'believers' would pay less if anomalies went up then I doubt there would be many 'skeptics' left by now. Yet since there haven't been any consequences to believing this nonsense they have been able to continue updating their false beliefs and still hold that it has 'just recently turned around' every time temperatures dip at all.
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  7. As have been noted by a few, Spencer himself has commented upon what his scientific motives are in the context of his political struggle.
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  8. Rob @2,

    I don't think Spencer knows he's wrong. My impression (and it could be wildly off) is that he has a chip on his shoulder because other scientists haven't been particularly polite about it when he's ticked them off in the past. Maybe some of their objections were even a little overblown. But instead of swallowing his pride and asking himself whether there wasn't anything useful in the criticisms (like the rest of us do when we get a bad review that isn't sugar-coated or is somewhat unfair,) he allowed himself to be embittered. Now he seems to have a vendetta against the rest of the climate science community, and it's his mission in life to find that one key piece of evidence that takes down the whole house of cards. (Which leads me to believe that he needs to read a few books on philosophy of science, as well.)
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  9. Dean...I see... he is supposed to be the yang to Hansen's yin. And that somehow means he can spout such garbage out the yin-yang, while on the federal dime as well.
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  10. Stephen Baines#9: "he is supposed to be the yang to Hansen's yin ... he can spout such garbage"

    Unfortunately, we've been conditioned to listen to both sides and expect that somewhere in the middle lies a form of objectivity (or at least a balanced view). As Paul Krugman observed,

    Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.”

    This creates pressure to move towards increasingly extreme views, so that the 'center' moves in your direction. However, this is supposed to be science, not political debating. In science, it is very possible that one side is utterly incorrect.
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  11. Rob Honeycutt@5
    This would be a great way to expose hypocrisy unless the contrarians chose, once again, to ignore the facts. Likely they would focus only on the flaws in *your* methods and ignore evidence of Spencer's errors.
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  12. Just a quickie, but what if (as the satellite data does tend to suggest) there is actually a delayed build up and release of energy? Might there actually be a possibility that this delay could mask later responses and cause a possible erroneous result (in the case Spencer harps on about, a weaker positive feedback)?

    If an expert could school me on the specifics as to why it wouldn't, I'd be appreciative.
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  13. Dale, this is covered in the article above.

    There is no 'what if' here. It is absolutely the case that there is a delay between the introduction of an external forcing and the climate reaching a new energy equilibrium.

    However, that has nothing to do with feedback direction or strength. As explained in the article (see the 'It's the PDO!' section and the previous article linked therein), Spencer's model can produce a large range of feedbacks. Essentially, he set his ocean energy absorption and distribution variables to the values which would suggest the least global warming... but when those values are compared to real world measurements of ocean heating they aren't even close.

    Let me give you a simple example;
    Assumption 1: "The empire state building is about 16 times as tall as it is wide." - This is true and provides a very basic mathematical model
    Assumption 2: "The empire state building is 10 feet wide." - This is false.
    Conclusion: "16 * 10 = 160, therefor the empire state building is about 160 feet tall."

    That is essentially what Spencer did... except that his model had flaws even before bad variables were put into it.
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  14. Thanks for the response, but I think I might have worded wrongly. I wasn't talking Spencer's model specifically.

    Let's say I wanted to find out the Tibetan Mountain Goat Belch Effect on the climate. If I expected to see a response X between time A and time B, and a different response Y had a different delay to what I originally expected and fell in the same time period, that would in effect through off my result as effect Y is masking the result of effect X in one direction or the other?

    So if I expected a positive response which was masked by a higher negative response, I could in fact proclaim that the Tibetan Mountain Goat Belch Effect is negative.
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  15. We as a species are in deep trouble. Peak Oil and Population Growth are going to put great strains on our way of life, especially on food production. Climate Change is only going to make matters much worse and is thus of even greater significance. If we do not act to combat it, then the very real danger is that millions, perhaps billions, are going to starve to death. In those circumstances it is surely a crime against humanity, albeit future humanity, to do anything that can be shown to be a deliberate attempt to curtail action to combat the issue.

    Spencer is not alone, SKS has a whole set of sections devoted to people whose work is debunked, - Christy, Lindzen, Monckton, etc - yet they continue to present their views to the knicker-wetting joy of their followers and any others that can’t see the flaws. This blog post is a call for Spencer to drop his model. Will he? I doubt it. Will Monckton stop his tomfoolery? Not likely; he enjoys the limelight far too much. He is like a juggler: entertaining, but when it comes down to it, all balls. Ditto all the other denier experts.

    Seeing the work of these people roundly debunked is amusing until one realises that if they get their way: ‘business as usual’, then future generations are in for a torrid time of it. Indeed, even the younger members of this generation. It is surely better for the Spencers of this world to face sanction now, rather than their reputation do so at some time in the distant future. Future generations will surely wonder why we let them off the hook they should surely be hanged upon when all the evidence was staring us in the face. And while we are at it, their sponsors should not be allowed to get away with it either.

    I am not trying to stifle genuine exploration of ideas, far from it. That, after all, is the way science works. But when a so-called expert continues to knowingly present falsehoods then forces other than scientific debate are in play and it becomes a political matter.

    If we cannot resort to legal avenues, is there any way that Spencer and his ilk can be made to wear big red noses and revolving bow-ties? The public would then treat them and their message accordingly. Politicians would still follow them, but you would expect one set of clowns to support another set, wouldn’t you?
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  16. funglestrumpet:
    Galileo was arrested, tried and locked under house arrest for saying the Sun is at the centre of the solar system.

    Contrarian views in science is critical. The to and fro of discussion between scientists is the basic foundation of scientific advancement.

    If people didn't dispute the popularly held science, Earth would still be the centre of the universe, and the world would still be flat.
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  17. Dale - I think in this case the example of Laetrile is far more appropriate than Galileo. The Business and usual, it's not happening, it's not bad memes are quackery, and if those are the treatments, no better than placebos, the patient (climate) will simply become more ill.

    The Galileo gambit only holds if you are both scorned for you ideas, and you are correct. Note that these are not inherently linked.

    More importantly, note that the skeptics consistently fail on the latter qualification.
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  18. Dale,

    This continual reference to Galileo by "skeptics" is tiresome and confused. Back then Galileo was not challenging scientists, rather he was up against the church, ideology and ignorance.

    So please tell me that you are not trying to say that Spencer is Galileo. You are also assuming that Spencer is correct-- he clearly is not. Also, is Lindzen like Galileo for arguing against the established science that smoking is not bad for one's health? No.

    You have your logic backwards. Real scientists are now arguing a similar ideology as what Galileo was faced, but that ideology is now being held by people like Lindzen and Spencer and Christy and the GOP/Tea Party etc..

    "Skeptics" have had since 1842 to prove that AGW is a hoax, and they have still not succeeded. So instead they have to resort to playing all sorts of games and disingenuous tactics; games and tactics that were used by the tobacco lobby and creationists-- very effectively unfortunately because of people like you.

    I have to ask, are you here to defend Spencer's sub-par science? Do you honestly think that he is engaging his peers in good faith with this sort of nonsense, or that he is helping advance the science when scientists have to now use their valuable time to undo the damage done by Spencer's BS? You seem to be naively assuming that Spencer is engaging in good faith, well no, he has a very clear agenda, and has said so much on his blog.

    This is fabricated debate and controversy my friend, not healthy scientific debate, please don't fall for it.
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  19. 16, Dale,

    What is important and often ignored about Galileo was that he represented most scientists of the time. They all pretty much agreed that the earth revolved around the sun, and had for quite some time. But none of them would dare to bring it up.

    It was the political establishment (the Church) and the common man who refused his ideas, not other scientists.

    So the Galileo gambit is, seemingly, very applicable today. Except the proper analogue to Galileo are the hordes of trained and hardworking scientists that are warning you that you've got it wrong, and that climate it change is very real, and very dangerous.

    The woes of Galileo teach us that when people want to believe something, truth doesn't matter. It teaches us that when the science contradicts the wishes and desires of the powerful and affluent, power and affluence win over truth.

    And it teaches us to listen to the actual experts, not the people who pretend to know better, while explaining that the sun can't possibly be the center of the solar system, because any moron can see the way it moves across the sky.

    And, lastly, it teaches us how history and knowledge can be twisted to mean something very different from what actually happened (or is happening).
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  20. Dale,

    Also, think about this:

    "But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." Carl Sagan.

    Well, it is very clear that here we are dealing with the equivalent of the clown in Sagan's quote. Now to be fair to Roy, it is not a perfect analogy, as scientists are not "laughing" at Roy, but becoming increasingly frustrated by his disingenuous actions, his incredibly poor science, and his politicization of science.
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  21. Dale... Also bear in mind that in Galileo's day the church also had its "experts" that asserted that the Earth was the center of the universe. Spencer is clearly the expert asserting the position of the church (the FF industry) relative to the climate issue.
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  22. Barry... You know, I saw an interesting lecture on youtube about the Kitzmiller v Dover School Board case, from the scientist who was the expert witness (can't remember his name).

    He made the interesting comment that, in the case of ID (creationism), the ID people see evolution (in this case) as an attack on the foundations of their religion. They don't really see it as a "which science is correct" issue. In that they can rationalize whatever they want because their higher calling is to protect their religion.

    I think it's somewhat similar with climate change. The climate deniers see climate science as an attack on their political ideology, therefore being right or wrong is of no matter. They can justify being completely wrong because they have, what they would consider, to be a "higher calling" to protect their political position.

    Maybe this is just cognitive dissonance but I believe they have all got to be privately having serious doubts about their position. That's often when people become the most fierce in their position.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Sorry, Rob.  I was restoring a comment from bbickmore which had been accidently deleted.

    But I agree with you, FWIW.

  23. Why was my comment deleted (between the two Rob Honeycutt comments)?
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    Response:

    [DB] Per the Comments Policy:

    " For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' are usually skating on thin ice.  No politics. Rants about politics, ideology or one world governments will be deleted."

    Going where you went was certain to drag this thread far, far off-topic, which is about Roy Spencer's mangling of statistics and climate science. It is true indeed that his ideology colours his science, to the point of obscuring it completely.  But that would be the topic of an entirely different thread.

    If you wish to resubmit your comment, amended to comply with the Comments Policy, then please do so.

  24. Dale, galileo mostly got in trouble because he pissed off the Pope in his book in which he put forth the case of heliocentrism. The pope was pissed off for two reasons:

    1. He had asked galileo to present arguments pro and con without advocating for heliocentrism.

    2. He not write about the Pope's on views on the subject.

    Now read this from wikipedia carefully:

    " Whether unknowingly or deliberately, Simplicio, the defender of the Aristotelian Geocentric view in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was often caught in his own errors and sometimes came across as a fool. Indeed, although Galileo states in the preface of his book that the character is named after a famous Aristotelian philosopher (Simplicius in Latin, Simplicio in Italian), the name "Simplicio" in Italian also has the connotation of "simpleton".[48] This portrayal of Simplicio made Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems appear as an advocacy book...

    Unfortunately for his relationship with the Pope, Galileo put the words of Urban VIII into the mouth of Simplicio."

    Bad move, that ...
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  25. So, Dale, in these modern times, I'd say that conservative orthodoxy as expressed by Inhofe, Monckton, Limbaugh, Fox News, and many others plays the role of "Pope".

    While modern science plays the role of "Galileo" ...

    It is, after all, Hansen who's under criminal investigation by a member of the conservative orthodoxy in Virginia.

    Not the likes of Spencer ...
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  26. In addition, Dale, it's not enough to have an alternative view. Having alternative views is not the goal. If an alternative theory is presented, it must have a consistent physical model and must explain as much or more as the theory against which it is an alternative. It's not enough to simply attack the theory with the highest probability; the attacks themselves must be part of a comprehensive theory. Most (95%) attacks on AGW in the blogosphere are not backed by a comprehensive theory; they're just people saying "it's natural cycles!" with no ability or willingness to explain what they mean. If everything Monckton claimed were true, for example, the universe would be indescribable--physically inconsistent.

    Of the remaining 5%, most accept the physical basis for AGW but disagree with sensitivity in some way. Spencer tries hard to be in the 5%, but he often wanders into the 95%--and in bizarre ways.
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  27. If you want to find a true "Galileo" in the modern world you should look to Michael Mann and Charles Monnett, both of whom are facing politically motivated investigations because their science did not suit somebody elses politics.

    In the words of that famous member of the "Galileo Movement", Christopher Monckton:

    "So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you. We are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up."


    It is extraordinarily hypocritical for deniers to be playing the Galileo card while their fellow travelers are

    a) calling for practicing scientist to be imprisoned;

    b) perverting the legal system to persecute practicing scientists

    c) sending death threats to practicing scientists,

    and all because they do not like the science.

    It is particularly perverse that somebody who is a member of the ill named "Galileo Movement" should be calling for scientists to be locked up for practicing their science.

    And the disturbing thing is that the above is the pleasant face of denialism. The less pleasant aspect in the form of Lubos Motl suggests that not only imprisonment, but mass murder may in time be the appropriate response should anyone implement genuine attempts to prevent a future climate catastrophe. He says of Breivik:

    "At any rate, I don't think that today, in 2011, there exists a problem in Europe that could even remotely justify the killing of dozens of this young people who attend a summer camp. Sorry but this looks unforgivable to me - unforgivable at the level of a death penalty which doesn't exist in Norway. I may speculate and I often speculate about the future in which tough decisions may have to be made to avert threats that are worse than anything we are seeing today but this mass murder didn't occur in the future. It occurred a few days ago and given this fact, it's unforgivable."

    (My emphasis)

    Motl is well known and apparently respected within the denialist community, including among the so called "luke warmers". But that comment received no rejection nor dissociation from deniers on Motl's website; just has Monckton's calls for imprisonment are accepted amongst deniers without demurrer.
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  28. I want to point out that my post which was deleted above, outlined my position.

    My comment I originally directed to funglestrumpet was a point to say, "don't diss contrary opinion in science just because you don't agree with it". My example of Galileo was because the helicentric scientists (AGW scientists if you will) faced persecution from the majority (public) view.

    Basically I was saying that persecuting scientists just for putting forward a different view is bad for science.
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  29. Dale @28, that is an excellent point of view. But as the few AGW "skeptical" scientists are not persecuted, but merely critiqued. The actual persecution all flows the other way.

    Having said that (and having just read Funglestrumpet @15 for the first time), no matter how convinced we are that Spencer (and others) are wrong, that is no basis for any reprisal. Even if they have left the realm of science and are not just politicking under scientific guise, there should be no threat of reprisal or harm except to their reputation. On the other hand, we should certainly be forward in making it plain what they are in fact doing is no longer science.
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  30. Dale#28: "persecuting scientists"

    Persecuting? Giordamo Bruno was persecuted (look it up).

    Spencer is being criticized on scientific grounds. That is not 'persecution'. See Tom's#27 for examples of 'persecution.'
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  31. 28, Dale,

    1. No one is being persecuted for putting forth a different point of view. No one is calling for Spencer to be investigated, or fired, or imprisoned. That only happens on the denial side of the equation.

    2. Spencer's work (not he himself) is being criticized and refuted... not because it doesn't say what others want said, but rather because it is quite simply wrong, and outrageously so. His work is so bad it should never have seen publication.

    I challenge you to provide a single instance where a scientist was persecuted for presenting an unpopular opinion (from the skeptic point of view... this has clearly happened to Mann, Jones and others on the AGW side).

    And remember to distinguish between bad science being challenged and refuted, versus the scientist himself being persecuted, whether or not his publications had any merit... although it would add credibility to your position if you could provide a paper with merit and a scientist who has suffered for his efforts.
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  32. Dale, One thing to consider, Dr Spencer's research is entirely supported by U.S. government agencies: NASA, NOAA, and DOE.. Doesn't sound much like persecution to me. Scientists have to face criticism of their work from their peers, that is what peer-review is all about (both in terms of papers and grant applications). Most are able to take it on the chin and use the criticism to improve the quality of their work. Some whinge that it is unfair and that they are being persecuted; however that is not a reliable indicator that they actually are being persucuted - it could just be that they are not sufficiently self-skeptical to accept that their work is flawed.
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  33. When poster #15 uses language such as sanction, legal action, revolving bow ties, etc, that's not only deriding those scientists but persecuting them as well.
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  34. Dale - I, personally, am not calling for Spencer to be "investigated, or fired, or imprisoned".

    I am, however, more than willing to mock him extensively, and do my best to ensure that the public viewing the discussion is not taken in by deceptive, ideologically driven opinions such as his.

    Now, if there were a good way to publicly censure or identify such behavior - clown noses and bow ties, as funglestrumpet suggested - great. I wouldn't mind a simple identification of idiots. Unfortunately, the supply of idiots appears unlimited....
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  35. Dale:

    When poster #15 uses language such as sanction, legal action, revolving bow ties, etc, that's not only deriding those scientists but persecuting them as well.

    A clearly humorous comment on a blog about "revolving bow ties" counts as "persecution"? Really?

    Evidently, we're going to have to find a much, much stronger term for what Michael Mann has been going through.

    To the best of my recollection, no "skeptic" has suffered the abuse, threats and ridicule for a demonstrably bad paper that mainstream climate scientists routinely suffer for doing competent, peer-reviewed science. The pious hypersensitivity that the average "skeptic" tends to develop when confronted with substantive criticism is, frankly, kind of nauseating.
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  36. I'm not advocating one action or the other, but honestly IMO the ad hominum, insults, threats, legal action (and lets be honest, both sides have been guilty of it) is simply not good for science. This topic is very public and scientists resorting to this level of the playground and the media jumping all over it can only negatively impress on the average person. That's not good for science.
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    Response:

    [DB] In the spirit of honesty and openess, let us all consider that the vast majority of those types of behaviour have been committed by those of politically conservative persuasion, those with little or no knowledge of the science, by those who stand to benefit politically and monetarily from a delay in action on reductions in the use of fossil fuels and by those with no moral compunctions and principles whatsoever.  And all aided and abetted by a mainstream media that long ago abandoned all semblence of impartiality in the expedient search for "ratings" (advertising dollars) and has devolved into pandering and titillating the masses.  Yes, let's not forget that.

  37. Dale, a little context here please.
    'Sanction' means action to prevent the intentional repeating of demonstrated falsehoods.
    'Legal action' and its limits have been discusssed here before.
    Neither sanction nor legal action constitute persecution - else the civilised world would not tolerate laws or regulations, which are exatly the things which make the civilised world civilised.

    If I have to choose between being the victim or a drive-by shooting or having to wear a revolving bow tie I'll take the tie every time.
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  38. Thanks guys, at last some debate that might lead to this side of the argument actually winning the wider battle for public support.

    Excellent as this posting is, it will do very little to change public opinion simply because very few of the general public is going to read it. This side of the debate surely needs to change tactics if future generations are not going to suffer greatly.

    I am glad that my posting at 15 stirred up such a discussion. I personally do feel that, Dale’s comments not withstanding, the deliberate promotion of falsehoods that are clearly designed to counter action on this global issue need some form of sanction. Unlike Galileo being the subject of church doctrine, I did say this sort of misdemeanour should be judged in a court, thus offering the opportunity of a defence. I would love to see Spencer’s defence against the evidence that this post represents. Not only that, imagine the public exposure to the events in court and what that would do to change public opinion. All the more so if the fossil fuel industry can be shown to be implicated.

    We have to realise that despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists are of the view that AGW is a real and present danger, only about 30% of Americans believe in it. We simply cannot carry on with the debate as it is because it is clearly being lost, and if America does not change, no one will.

    Whether the sun or the earth is at the centre of the solar system is of absolutely no consequence to the vast majority of people even today, let alone in Galileo’s day. Climate Change is of very real consequence to everyone, whether they know it or not. A difference, surely?

    I believe this side of the fence has a moral duty to not just put forward valid science as a counter to the Spencers and Moncktons etc, but to take the fight to the opposition. ‘Needs must when the Devil drives.’ At present it feels like we are doing 90mph down a dead-end street. The trouble is that the ‘dead-end’ is literal.

    No matter how reluctant it might be to get involved in the wider politics of the matter, it seems to me that this side of the fence is about the only grouping capable of forcing change. Can there be any doubt that change is necessary when public opinion is still as it is despite the science? Can the debate linger on in its current form while we commit future generations to what is still, but only just, an avoidable catastrophe?

    I will close with a suggestion just as a thought starter, no more than that (which was the motive behind my post at 15). How about a global strike by all scientists, regardless of discipline, that feel that action is both essential and urgent?
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  39. fungle#38: "How about a global strike by all scientists"

    Only effective (at least in the US) when the strike cuts into the production of some popular product (or shuts down pro football).

    The problem is that the message is always too soft, too qualified, too tentative. Those days should be over (see the extreme weather threads); it is time to publicly attribute the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms, etc to climate change.

    Why don't the folks on the Weather Channel, the National Hurricane Center, etc, take every opportunity to insert a science-based climate change message into a forecast? TV is pure power; there's no means for the denialist crowd to respond with their 'no its not' version of 'four legs good, two legs bad.' Even phone calls to the stations could be met with a sternly worded 'that's what the science says.'
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  40. 39, muoncounter,
    Why don't the folks on the Weather Channel, the National Hurricane Center, etc...?
    Because that takes money, and they need to spend money elsewhere. As an organization, promoting climate change awareness isn't in their business or designated interests.

    The only way this will happen, methinks, is if a "consumer advocacy" group arises to collect funds, organize people, organize advertising campaigns, and execute them.

    So it sort of falls to people like us to get the ball rolling. In addition to trying to explain the truth to the common man (which we can't) through science blogs, we should also be organizing and promoting, just to keep the issue at the forefront and motivate people to learn more about it... the same way beer commercials keep you thinking about beer.

    We need to prove democracy is alive, I think, and not just for silly, selfish tea partiers, but for something important and necessary.
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  41. Sphaerica#40: "that takes money, and they need to spend money elsewhere."

    It doesn't need to be that elaborate. When the head of the NHC is on the nightly news, he has a bully pulpit, if only for a few seconds. What is needed is the freedom from fear of reprisal, ie, job threats.

    "a "consumer advocacy" group arises to collect funds, organize people, organize advertising campaigns, and execute them."

    What gave the tea party life was a unifying issue (the health care reform debate of last summer) and the organizing power of outside agitating groups (Americans for Prosperity and their ilk). Of course, they also have a built-in propaganda apparatus.

    What about the Union of Concerned Scientists? They do have a global warming 'take action' page, including sending Sean Hannity a failing report card. Can they be motivated to become more aggressive than that?
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  42. Q. Why doesn't the mainstream media in the US devote more time and energy into covering what scientists are telling us about climate change?

    A. The amount of money spent by the fossil fuel industry and its allies on advertising is staggering, i.e., "Never bite the hand that feeds you."
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  43. @muoncounter #41:

    SkS ought to form partnerships with like-minded advocacy organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists to aggressively educate the media and the general public about the consequences of manmade climate change.
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  44. Badger#43: "like-minded advocacy organizations"

    We're veering off-topic; John C., how about compiling a list of advocacy groups and organizing a framework?

    A quick search shows global warming activism under the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the ABA.

    Of course, today is a good day:

    James E. Hansen, is the 2011 recipient of the Klopsteg Memorial Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). Hansen will receive the award on August 3 at the 2011 AAPT Summer Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. The theme of the meeting will be communicating with the public about physics and Hansen's work on global climate change has been an exemplar in this area.

    So we know which side those radical pinko physics teachers are on!
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  45. @muoncounter #44:

    A cautionary note -- Although sarcasm is a way to vent, it is not a very effective communication tool.

    Much better for you to have said:

    "Kudos to all those physics teachers who recognize quality work when they see it!"
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  46. In this case, having the science on our side is actually a detriment. When a scientist becomes an advocate, he tends to lose credibility in the scientific arena. There was one climate scientist I recently asked to do a guest post on SkS - he said even though he liked our site, we had "taken a side" in the debate, and he wanted to remain impartial, so he declined the offer. Basically he was afraid of being seen as more of an advocate than a scientist.

    "Skeptics", on the other hand, don't worry about appearing impartial. They can make politically-tinged arguments, and since "skepticism" tends to be politically-based, they don't lose any credibility. Even Spencer has made very political statements, and hasn't lost any standing amongst "skeptics". Can you imagine the reaction if James Hansen said his job was to increase the role of government? It would have been on every blog, every newspaper, "skeptics" would have called for his resignation, etc. Spencer says his job is to minimize the role of government, and there are no consequences, other than losing credibility with scientists and others who already didn't think very highly of him.

    The problem is that it's science vs. politics/ideology, and it's easier to sway people with the latter.

    Regarding the Union of Concerned Scientists, it's an excellent group. We've collaborated with them in the past, for example in responding to "skeptic" testimony before US Congress in real time. I think they're already doing just about everything they can on the climate front.
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  47. Badger#45: "sarcasm"

    Me, sarcastic about phyzzics teachers? 10 years ago I couldn't even spell it and now I are one.
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  48. dana1981 writes: "There was one climate scientist I recently asked to do a guest post on SkS - he said even though he liked our site, we had "taken a side" in the debate, and he wanted to remain impartial, so he declined the offer."

    There's a man whose moral integrity as a scientist is more important to him than his moral integrity as a human being. Like James Hansen, if he really believes what his work is telling him then he should have no doubt what needs doing. Sometimes one has to stand up and be counted for the sake of future generations.
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  49. John #48 - the scientist in question believes he can be most effective by maintaining his credibility as an impartial climate scientist. I'm not sure how he arrived at that conclusion, since impartial climate science has utterly failed to convince humans as a whole to take sufficient action to address climate change.
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  50. Never forget the political effect.
    Many people view the world through an ideological lens rather than a fact based one.
    In discussions with some people about climate science, just as I feel I'm about to bring them around to an understanding of the measured effects of climate change, they retreat to their comfortable position of accusing me of being of a certain political persuasion (Jeepers, I'm being careful not to use any specific political terminology here.)Both side of politics do it. Of course one side is traditionally opposed to anything supporting the environment.
    As a wiser man them me once said, "ideology trumps facts every time".

    Many of the public have already made up their minds around their political beliefs and only accept evidence which supports what they have already decided. Quality of argument is not relevant and their are plenty of media outlets happy to promulgate pseudoscientific garbage just so long as it supports their own established position - and the facts be damned.

    Once upon a time I was a policy committee member of a political party. Once I realised that ideology trumps facts I resigned my membership but at least I kept my conscience.
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