Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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The Uncertainty Monster

January 23, 2017

Robert Tracinski writes about climate change at The Federalist. (My emphasis below.)

This is the point that Judith Curry makes when writing about climate.

Why NYT Hid The Numbers For The ‘Hottest Year On Record’

When you read a science report claiming that 2016 was the hottest year on record, you might expect that you will get numbers. And you would be wrong.

They say that mathematics is the language of science, which is a way of saying that science is quantitative. It is moved forward by numbers and measurements, not just by qualitative observations. “It seems hot out” is not science. Giving a specific temperature, measured by a specific process at a specific time, compared to other systematically gathered measurements — that is science.

So when you read an article proclaiming that, for the third year in a row, last year was the hottest year on record, you might expect that right up front you will get numbers, measurements, and a statistical margin of error. You know, science stuff. Numbers. Quantities. Mathematics.

And you would be wrong.

I just got done combing through a New York Times report titled, “Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year.” The number of relevant numbers in this article is: zero.

We are not told what the average global temperature was, how much higher this is than last year’s record or any previous records, or what the margin of error is supposed to be on those measurements. Instead, we get stuff like this.

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016—trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.
Note to the New York Times: “trouncing” and “blown past” are phrases appropriate to sports reporting, not science reporting. Except that no sports reporter would dare write an article in which he never bothers to give you the score of the big game.

Yet that’s what passes for “science reporting” on the issue of global warming, where asking for numbers and margins of errors apparently makes you an enemy of science. Instead, it’s all qualitative and comparative descriptions. It’s science without numbers. […]

It’s almost like they’re hiding something. And that is indeed what we find. I finally tracked down an exception to this reporting trend: the UK newspaper The Independent gives us the relevant numbers.

They should have been in the first paragraph, but at least they’re in the third paragraph: “This puts 2016 only nominally ahead of 2015 by just 0.01C — within the 0.1C margin of error — but….” There’s stuff after the “but,” but it’s just somebody’s evaluation. Even this report can’t give us a straight fact and leave it alone.

For the benefit of science reporters and other people who are unfamiliar with the scientific method, let me point out that the margin of error for these measurements is plus or minus one tenth of a degree Celsius. The temperature difference that is supposedly being measured is one one-hundredth of a degree—one tenth the size of the margin of error. To go back to sports reporting, that’s like saying that the football is on the 10-yard line — give or take a hundred yards. […]

When I was learning lab technique, a lot of time was spent on the importance of margin of error because that’s the limit of what you can know. In fact, I had a professor who would take credit off when people carried more decimal places in their results than the margin of error would allow.

It was one reason he preferred slide rules to electronic calculators. (Yep, it’s been a few decades.) The people with slide rules would skip those gratuitous digits because of the extra work, but people with calculators wanted to keep those extra digits because they were “free”.

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Judith Curry moves on

January 8, 2017

I mentioned Judith Curry a few weeks ago. She’s a Professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

This week she announced that she’s leaving her academic post and planning to devote her time to a business she co-founded called Climate Forecast Applications Network.

On January 3rd, she wrote at her Climate Etc. blog:

JC in transition

Effective January 1, I have resigned my tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech.

Before reflecting on a range of things, let me start by answering a question that may have popped into your head: I have no plans to join the Trump administration (ha ha).

Technically, my resignation is a retirement event, since I am on the Georgia State Teachers Retirement System, and I need to retire from Georgia Tech to get my pension (although I am a few years shy of 65). I have requested Emeritus status.

So, I have retired from Georgia Tech, and I have no intention of seeking another academic or administrative position in a university or government agency. However, I most certainly am not retiring from professional life.

Why did I resign my tenured faculty position? […]

It’s worth a read if you want to get a feel for how climate research is being funded and handled in academia these days.


Here Dr. Curry talks with Tucker Carlson on January 6th about this topic.

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In that case, let the good times roll

December 1, 2016

Here’s a news item from New Zealand about a biology professor from the University of Arizona. (Mr. McPherson is a professor emeritus at Arizona.)

Humans ‘don’t have 10 years’ left thanks to climate change – scientist

There’s no point trying to fight climate change – we’ll all be dead in the next decade and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, a visiting scientist claims.

Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona, says the human destruction of our own habitat is leading towards the world’s sixth mass extinction.

Instead of fighting, he says we should just embrace it and live life while we can.

“It’s locked down, it’s been locked in for a long time – we’re in the midst of our sixth mass extinction,” he told Paul Henry on Thursday. […]

Where the hell is Julian Simon when we need him?

And check out Professor Curry’s talk that I mentioned recently.

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Was the election also a referendum on climate change?

November 27, 2016

A couple of days ago, I watched a video of Judith Curry talking about Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster. Her presentation is long (and a little dry) but she brings up some interesting points.

One of the slides in Curry’s presentation was a map of state-by-state support for President Obama’s climate change programs. Here’s Curry’s map, captured from the video. (You can find a very similar map at ThinkProgress.)

curry-state-map

Look familiar? Here’s a map of Electoral College results (via 270toWin.com).

2016-election-results

I was struck by the correlation between the two maps, even though it’s not perfect.

Since the election, I’ve read any amount of commentary along the lines of "Trump’s victory means (fill in the blank)." The collection of opinions I’ve read reminds me of the elephant and the blind men. Everyone’s putting his own interpretation on the Trump elephant and frequently, I suspect, with little knowledge about Trump himself.

But I suppose you could add my interpretation here to that collection because what I’ve gathered from the people I know is that reaction to new Federal regulations under the Obama administration – climate change, among many others – was a factor in Trump’s win.

But back to the maps: It doesn’t surprise me that states whose governors & legislatures support active measures against climate change voted Democrat while those that don’t support those measures voted Republican. Before liberal readers begin buffing their halos as members of the Reality Party, though, it seems to me the Democrat support for action on climate change could have any number of explanations.

And that brings me to an article that John Tierney published in City Journal recently. I found Tierney’s article pretty interesting and you should RTWT. (My emphasis below.)

The Real War on Science
The Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress.

My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?

My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples. […]

The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; those failings are bipartisan. Some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats, but there’s plenty of ignorance all around. […]

The first threat is confirmation bias, the well-documented tendency of people to seek out and accept information that confirms their beliefs and prejudices. In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology. […]

And that brings us to the second great threat from the Left: its long tradition of mixing science and politics. To conservatives, the fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. […]

(H.T. Jeff G)


Update 11/28/16: Here’s a more recent, post-election, column by Tierney. (My emphasis again.)

Trump and Science

What will a Trump administration mean for scientific research and technology?

The good news is that the next president doesn’t seem all that interested in science
, judging from the little he said about it during the campaign. That makes a welcome contrast with Barack Obama, who cared far too much — in the wrong way. He politicized science to advance his agenda. His scientific appointees in the White House, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration were distinguished by their progressive ideology, not the quality of their research. They used junk science—or no science—to justify misbegotten crusades against dietary salt, trans fats, and electronic cigarettes. They cited phony statistics to spread myths about a gender pay gap and a rape crisis on college campuses. Ignoring mainstream climate scientists, they blamed droughts and storms on global warming and then tried to silence critics who pointed out their mistakes. […]

Trump has vowed to ignore the Paris international climate agreement that committed the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. That prospect appalls environmentalists but cheers those of us who consider the agreement an enormously expensive way to achieve very little. Trump’s position poses a financial threat to wind-power producers and other green-energy companies that rely on federal subsidies to survive. […]

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Sounds like a conspiracy to me

April 11, 2016

Last week, Megan McArdle wrote about a group of attorneys general and about one in particular, who had served a subpoena to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is getting subpoenaed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands to cough up its communications regarding climate change. The scope of the subpoena is quite broad, covering the period from 1997 to 2007, and includes, according to CEI, “a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information.”

My first reaction to this news was “Um, wut?” CEI has long denied humans’ role in global warming, and I have fairly substantial disagreements with CEI on the issue. However, when last I checked, it was not a criminal matter to disagree with me. It’s a pity, I grant you, but there it is; the law’s the law. […]

Speaking of the law, why on earth is CEI getting subpoenaed? The attorney general, Claude Earl Walker, explains: “We are committed to ensuring a fair and transparent market where consumers can make informed choices about what they buy and from whom. If ExxonMobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable.”

That wasn’t much of an explanation. It doesn’t mention any law that ExxonMobil may have broken. It is also borderline delusional, if Walker believes that ExxonMobil’s statements or non-statements about climate change during the period 1997 to 2007 appreciably affected consumer propensity to stop at a Mobil station, rather than tootling down the road to Shell or Chevron, or giving up their car in favor of walking to work.

State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” […]

No matter how likely you may think catastrophic global warming might be (and Ms McArdle thinks it more likely than I), I’m hoping you’ll think this move by the group of A.G.s sets a bad precedent. And that’s a point McArdle makes later in her column.

And it’s a bad precedent regardless of your opinion about the CEI. Say that you think the CEI is a tool of greedy oil companies; it’s still true that the antidote to "bad speech" is free speech and not censorship.

Today, I ran across Glenn Reynolds’ column on the same topic. He puts a much finer point on the A.Gs’ actions and press conference.

Dear attorneys general, conspiring against free speech is a crime

Federal law makes it a felony “for two or more persons to agree together to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).”

I wonder if U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, or California Attorney General Kamala Harris, or New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have read this federal statute. Because what they’re doing looks like a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with. They should look up 18 U.S.C. Sec. 241, I am sure they each have it somewhere in their offices.

Here’s what’s happened so far. First, Schneiderman and reportedly Harris sought to investigate Exxon in part for making donations to groups and funding research by individuals who think “climate change” is either a hoax, or not a problem to the extent that people like Harris and Schneiderman say it is.

This investigation, which smacks of Wisconsin’s discredited Putin-style legal assault on conservative groups and their contributors, was denounced by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Hans Bader as unconstitutional. Bader wrote:

Should government officials be able to cut off donations to groups because they employ people disparaged as “climate change deniers?” … Only a single-issue zealot with ideological blinders and a contempt for the First Amendment would think so. …

The First Amendment has long been interpreted as protecting corporate lobbying and donations, even to groups that allegedly deceive the public about important issues. … So even if being a “climate denier” were a crime (rather than constitutionally protected speech, as it in fact is), a donation to a non-profit that employs such a person would not be.

Nope, but conspiring to deprive “deniers” of their free speech rights would be. […]

But here’s what happened next: After Bader’s critique, Walker, the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general, subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s donor lists. The purpose of this subpoena is, it seems quite clear, to punish CEI by making people less willing to donate.

This all takes place in the context of an unprecedented meeting by 20 state attorneys general aimed, environmental news site EcoWatch reports, at targeting entities that have “stymied attempts to combat global warming.” You don’t have to be paranoid to see a conspiracy here.

Not everyone believes that the planet is warming; not everyone who thinks that it is warming agrees on how much; not everyone who thinks that it is warming even believes that laws or regulation can make a difference. Yet the goal of these state attorneys general seems to be to treat disagreement as something more or less criminal. That’s wrong. As the Supreme Court wrote in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” […]

If there was ever an example of a Chilling Effect, this is one on steroids.

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Nothing’s certain but uncertainty

October 31, 2015

Here’s an entertaining column by Mark Steyn about climate change and some reactions to his new book “A Disgrace To The Profession,” which is about what other climate scientists think of Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” graph of temperatures.

The defamation suit against Steyn by Michael Mann, inventor of the global-warming “hockey stick”, is about to enter its fourth year at the DC Superior Court.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

Nine years ago self-proclaimed “climate hawk” David Roberts was contemplating Nuremberg trials for deniers:

When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.

But in his latest piece, at Vox.com, he’s singing a rather different tune:

Basically, it’s difficult to predict anything, especially regarding sprawling systems like the global economy and atmosphere, because everything depends on everything else. There’s no fixed point of reference.

Now he tells us. […]

Read the whole thing; it’s brief.


Update 11/03/15

More about those uncertainties; here’s an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor.

Antarctica is actually gaining ice, says NASA. Is global warming over?

A new NASA study found that Antarctica has been adding more ice than it’s been losing, challenging other research, including that of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that concludes that Earth’s southern continent is losing land ice overall.

In a paper published in the Journal of Glaciology on Friday, researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland in College Park, and the engineering firm Sigma Space Corporation offer a new analysis of satellite data that show a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001 in the Antarctic ice sheet.

That gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008. […]

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Conversation with a heretic

May 25, 2014

Jeff sends a link to this interesting interview which appears at an Australian site called Quadrant Online. RTWT.

Chatting With ‘A Climate Heretic’

Doing science by consensus is not science at all, says the climatologist all the alarmists love to hate. Not that the enmity bothers Judith Curry too much — and certainly not as much as the debasement of impartial inquiry by which the warmist establishment keeps all those lovely grants coming.

When climatologist Judith Curry visited Melbourne last week she took the time to chat with Quadrant Online contributor Tony Thomas. The professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology is something of a stormy petrel in the climate-change community, as she has broken ranks with alarmist colleagues to question the articles and ethics of the warmist faith. This has made her less than popular in certain circles, even inspiring Scientific American, house journal of the catastropharians, to brand her “a heretic” who has “turned on her colleagues.”

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More about climate alarmism

April 8, 2014

Here’s is an interesting confirmation of something that skeptics of a man-made climate apocalypse have been saying for years.

Dutch Professor Leaves UN Climate Panel

Dutch professor Richard Tol took his leave from the UN climate panel, as he does not agree with the negative conclusions in the latest UN climate report. The consequences of climate change are over-estimated in his opinion. 

“The panel is being governed from within the environmental policy, not from the science”, Tol said. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented their fifth climate change report in Yokohama, Japan.

The report is warning that any chance of reversing global warming will be lost if something is not done on a global scale to change climate policies.

Climate economy professor Tol finds the report “alarmist and apocalyptic” and that the effects of climate change are being exaggerated. “That over-estimation is being encouraged by a self-selection of authors and referents in the panel”, Tol tells Belgian paper De Morgen. Tol refused to sign the report, according to the Daily Mail.

“There are leading scientists with the IPCC, but there are many average researchers who are just as good. Next to that we seat a number of other people who have the right political connections. The organization is being led and controlled by people who have a stake in climate policy. The IPCC is being governed from within the environmental policy, not from the science.”

I wonder whether Professor Torcello has factored this into his evaluation of what constitutes misinformation about climate science.

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Another take on a Smart Home

April 7, 2014

Here’s a video from Honda about its Smart Home concept house.

If (like me) you’re not very worried about your "carbon footprint" then it will seem a little like a lot of to-do about nothing.

But on the other hand, if you’re interested in decentralization and self-sufficiency (again, like me) it will pique your interest. A 10 KWH battery is sort of intriguing by itself, since I’ve been making back-of-the-envelope calculations on how to store 20-30 KWH in a flywheel.

What I’d like to know, though, is what the carbon footprint is to ship volcanic ash around to make cement as well the answers to similar questions that occurred to me as I watched.

Via Gizmag

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Alarmism muted?

March 29, 2014

Matt Ridley (Mr. Rational Optimist) had an article in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal about a report soon to be released by the IPCC. (I wonder whether Professor Torcello has heard of this.)

Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm
Even while it exaggerates the amount of warming, the IPCC is becoming more cautious about its effects.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will shortly publish the second part of its latest report, on the likely impact of climate change. Government representatives are meeting with scientists in Japan to sex up—sorry, rewrite—a summary of the scientists’ accounts of storms, droughts and diseases to come. But the actual report, known as AR5-WGII, is less frightening than its predecessor seven years ago.

The 2007 report was riddled with errors about Himalayan glaciers, the Amazon rain forest, African agriculture, water shortages and other matters, all of which erred in the direction of alarm. This led to a critical appraisal of the report-writing process from a council of national science academies, some of whose recommendations were simply ignored.

Others, however, hit home. According to leaks, this time the full report is much more cautious and vague about worsening cyclones, changes in rainfall, climate-change refugees, and the overall cost of global warming.

It puts the overall cost at less than 2% of GDP for a 2.5 degrees Centigrade (or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase during this century. This is vastly less than the much heralded prediction of Lord Stern, who said climate change would cost 5%-20% of world GDP in his influential 2006 report for the British government. […]

Via CoyoteBlog’s We Are All Lukewarmers Now

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