Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some of what climate models are and are not

The previous post had some thoughts based on a post at Black Hills Monitor where the author, with a thesis of a supposed lack of "skeptical self-criticism" in climate science, seemed to be trying to stake out a position among neither "believers" nor "non-believers" when it comes to climate science.

That thesis is rather subjective, and many assertive individuals including in climate science could potentially be accused of being too cocky about their own work. I would say however it is the would-be climate skeptic camp that actually is more lacking in both skpeticism and self-review. My point here though is to address a mistaken theme, that computer climate models are the lynchpin of climate science and are highly flawed.

Starting with a quote,
"[T]he main basis of the claim that man’s release of greenhouse gases is the cause of the warming is based almost entirely upon climate models."

Regardless of who is saying it, this statement is not accurate. A good resource for learning about climate science is Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming. In particular see the section focused on carbon dioxide and the summary section on climate change. Climate models are very useful tools for investigating climate change, but they are hardly the main basis of knowledge about climate change.

The links above describe the multiple converging lines of evidence form the basis of the understanding anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing warming. The heat-trapping and thus warming properties of greenhouse gases including CO2 were studied in the 19th century. We know greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing and that the increase is due to human activities including burning fossil fuels. Research on past climate variations have helped demonstrate that other processes cause an amplification of warming beyond what the increasing greenhouse gases directly produce.

Saying that climate models are the main basis for asserting anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing warming is like saying that computer models are the main basis for claims than autumn rains and winter snows cause flooding in the Red River Valley.

The other incorrect assumption regarding climate models is that their quality is undermined by the shortcomings of weather models.

First a brief note about weather prediction. It is a long-established cliche that the weatherman is often wrong. There is the issue of what people expect from weather forecasts and whether they understand what forecasts really mean, but that is a whole other discussion. Actually weather forecasting has improved noticeably over recent decades.

They are basically the same tool, but weather models and climate models do very different tasks. I highly recommend this post for explanations of weather models versus climate models.

A weather model is sort of like taking a snapshot of all the cars on the roads of a town at a given time and trying to figuring where they will be in an hour. In this case the better you know the initial conditions (at the start time who with what driving habits is driving where) the better you will likely be at figuring out who will be where an hour later.

On the other hand a climate model is sort of like taking a snapshot of the layout of a city and determining what general traffic patterns will be like. In this case the better you know the boundary conditions the better you will be able to predict the patterns. For example, if you know that almost all the homes are in one area and most businesses and offices are in another area, you can likely predict that weekday mornings will have a lot of movement away from the homes and return flow in those evenings.

Any particular climate modeling group may view their own a bit too highly, but that would be the same as any researchers in any field. There is no reason to single out climate scientists as a whole for any particular lack of a critical eye to their own work. Climate models are not perfect but are useful and improving tools. I contend there is hardly a problem with overconfidence among climate scientists but rather a problem of public confidence in climate science being unduly undermined by a broad misinformation campaign trying to do exactly that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Unexpectedly Diagnosing Black Hills Monitor

Recently I came across a post at Black Hills Monitor echoing something expressed by the recently passed meteorologist JoAnne Simpson - that there is a supposed lack of "skeptical self-criticism" in climate science. The related idea also expressed in the post is that we may not know as much as we think.

It is a common claim from the climate science rejectionists that one way or another 'we don't know enough.' In this case though the Black Hills Monitor seems to agree with the view expressed by Simpson - there is a lot we don't know, but we know we are affecting climate and should move to stop doing so. Sort of just taking the risk management approach, where the threat may not be certain but the combination of its likelihood plus its potential cost make it prudent to not simply ignore the threat. The writer mentions "believers and non-believers" thus suggesting a desire to fall outside those labels, apparently as a "not sure".

Assuming I have a decent grasp of the view from the writer at Black Hills Monitor, I consider it to be the sort of view that is commonly held but not commonly voiced. Folks talking climate change, especially online, are usually not wishy-washy about it. That post though suggests a writer more like your typical person off the street - not highly informed on climate science, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also somewhat misinformed, which is concerning.

How do typical random persons get that way? They are likely not inclined to actively seek out information on climate science, so they pick up bits here and there. The scientific consensus gets decent play, but the misinformation campaign trying to claim human activities are not adversely affecting climate does too. So a lot of people end up confused or at least thinking there is more scientific debate than there really is.

Looking at Black Hills Monitor I see the author's statement of military service (as the writer notes the military takes climate change seriously) and a widget for Wall Street Journal opinion articles (one of the leaders of the climate denial brigade). That points toward the author possibly being pulled in opposite directions and thus not really sure which way to go on it.

Of course this is all speculative based on quite limited information. I could not help though but think a bit upon seeing someone talking climate seriously but being rather noncommital.

Next up I will address some misconceptions regarding climate models in that Black Hills Monitor post. With that I can also touch on that supposed lack of "skeptical self-criticism."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting the message across

There has been a particular thread through the last few posts (1, 2, 3). In summary, a lot of people who are, at very best, ignorant of climate science are pushing a lot of misinformation and thus increasing the risk of a lot of human and financial costs. This blog aims to be a source by which those who want to learn about climate science can, and it will not be a place to debate with or otherwise give voice to the rejectionists, denialists, and willfully ignorant.

Especially since I have been thinking about it myself, though also I think because others have been focused on it also, I have noticed recently many good postings related to communicating climate science, in particular on Climate Progress. A couple of recurrent themes are (1) that scientists do not necessarily make effective communicators and (2) that the media cannot be relied upon to convey information accurately and in context.

There are actually a few different marks held against scientists as communicators, in this particular case trying to communicate the facts about climate change in the face of massive misinformation. The first issue is the idea that scientists in general are not good at the task. The stereotype is of a lab-coat wearing egghead unable to explain in clear and understandable language the area of his (yes, the stereotype is a "he") expertise to the non-expert. Not to call that view universally true, but there is some accuracy to it. It is usually not a key aspect of a scientist's job to explain his or her research to the general public.

With climate science there is the added problem of many people determined to contradict them by any means necessary. Simply trying to defeat such opposition with the facts is often hopeless. Of course the facts matter, but it is very often not enough to recite the facts - for example, when refuting someone whose attempts to refute climate science are basically to huff and puff about taxes, socialism, and taking away of freedoms.

Another issue with scientist as messenger is how this can play into the false notion that all of climate science is highly uncertain. Throw together an excerpt of an actual expert in the field with some political hack pushing a opposing and disproven view, and someone looking on who does not know any better can readily figure that there is real controversy and uncertainty throughout climate science.

That is exactly what the media tend to do. Typically, as to my eye in the case of the Grand Forks Herald, that is simply reflective of journalists being ignorant of the issue and perpetuating their perception of two sides. There is a tendency for people to think there is "on one hand" and "on the other hand" then that the truth lies somewhere in between. But to paraphrase something I read somewhere recently, what good is taking a truth plus a lie and dividing by two?

Regardless of why media may be pushing a supposed debate on whether climate change is a threat, reasonable sources should be pushed to do better. I think the Herald may be responsive. If they do not give airing to 9/11 conspiracy nuttery perhaps they can learn that climate change denial is a similar form of crackpottery and stop spreading it around. Not every story has two legitimate sides, and it is important to point that out in this case.

There is no shortage of recommendations on messaging, including things like only emphasizing for people the positives of addressing it, not using technical terms, and talking values more than science. Or the opposite of all those. There just is no single right answer, and I expect to take many different approaches here. The overall underlying theme though will be consistent. The scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change is broad and solid and points to the need for action to avert whatever we can, while those trying to dispute that rely on cherry-picked, isolated, and misrepresented information, that is when they even attempt to use evidence and not just politics, ideological platitudes, and defamation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paper Tigers

The previous post was about growing realization that the potshots being directed at climate science and scientists cannot be ignored. Not surprisingly there has been faux-indignant reaction to that view. Before going more into the who and how of swinging back at the denialists I want to touch more on who this anti-science brigade is.

There are people out there who are genuinely skeptical of the science. Those are not who must be fought as they make up almost none of the campaigners across the media and internet trying to discredit the science. The rejectionists can, not completely but mostly, be lumped into a couple categories - the prominent professionals (a few scientists, "think tanks", and political types like Marc Morano and Senator Jim Inhofe) and self-selected common folk who are ignorant on the science and highly fearful of government action (local examples found at sayanything and dakotavoice).

This is not about silencing alternative theories. This is about firmly saying 'enough!' to "alternative theories" that range from scientific nonsense to repeatedly debunked ideas to unsubstantiated claims of fraud and hoax to hate of government. As Dr. Peter Gleick recently described,
Deniers don't like the idea of climate change, they don't believe it is possible for humans to change the climate, they don't like the implications of climate change, they don't like the things we might have to do to address it, or they just don't like government or science. But they have no alternative scientific explanation that works.

Just looking at the showing-as-I-write-this comments to the above-cited article exemplifies the 'tear down but build nothing.' There are claims the temperature record is not reliable, citation of the supposedly "bitter cold winter of 2009", mention of east coast snowstorms, accusations of skewing data, invocation of undescribed "cyclical" climate events and "oscillations", assertions there is warming but of uncertain cause, claims of conflict of interest by the writer, appeals to the sun and sunspots, and whines of condenscension.

Again, when there is something from this crowd at least approaching science it critically flawed in being either simply wrong, grossly misinterpreted, irrelevant... Still it is challenging enough, battling that pseudoscience from what is largely a PR campaign built to a significant degree from the ashes of the weapons used in the tobacco wars to dispute the smoking-cancer link. Now a wide swath of highly partisan and hyper-libertarian ideologues reflexively join the mob without even giving much thought to the science besides cranking up the hostility toward those who study it.

Quite simply these people have no credibility when it comes to climate science. You hear something between 'a-ha' and screams of bloody murder over even the smallest things they think support their case against climate science, yet accountability is generally absent when their claims and assertions of fraud are shown false. Explaining climate science now necessarily involves not just conveying the real information but also showing how wrong and misleading that anti-science crowd is.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Standing up

Last time I went into some discussion about why here it is not all Kumbaya, politeness, friendliness, etc. There is a misinformation campaign willing to destroy climate science and scientists in order to avoid the effort needed to avoid the high costs and vast damage of continued unabated greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a growing realization of the need to do more than just recite all the facts, knowledge, and understanding that demonstrate the threat of anthropogenic climate change. The times and situation now call for standing up firmly against those who preach their denial, delay, rejection, and ignorance.

As the journal Nature recently stated, "Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight." Others are expressing the same sort of thing.

From Bill McKibben: "the antiseptic attempt to hide behind the magisterium of Science in an effort to avoid the rough-and-tumble of Politics is a mistake."

From blogger Eli Rabett: "Make no mistake, the barbarians are at the door. ... the war against science broadens. The NAS members are beginning to realize that the attack on Phil Jones and Mike Mann is but the opening salvo."

But back to what was said by Nature, the fight is not all there is. The science must also be repeated. Communicating the science to at least those in the public who may listen to it however is not necessarily simple. That will be the subject of the post after next. The next post touches on who the anti-science crowd is on the other side of this fight and why they are not deserving of much repsect.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On being a big meanie

Preface: I wrote the following almost 2 weeks ago but was in no rush to wrap it up and post it as other topics came up. But I want to discuss more along the lines of what follows here so have decided to go ahead and put this up...

If this blog is ever found I would expect to see the typical criticism and concern trolling about being too harsh, rude, condescending, etc. 'You would convince more people without name-calling' is a common sort of refrain from those who refuse to be convince and earn some of those names like "denialist".

I would prefer being able to discuss only interesting real questions like, what changes will there be with tropical cyclones in a warming world? I would even not mind explaining why it is we know humans are driving substantial climate change. Those things could be done matter-of-factly to the point of blandness.

Unfortunately there is a scourge afflicting much of the discussion of climate, a scourge of lies, arrogant ignorance, distortion, and misinformation. The worst of it are the chorus of baseless accusations and declarations of deceit and fraud by scientists, which has climaxed with assertions the whole of climate science and those who work in it are rotten and corrupted.

A firm stand against this burn-it-all campaign is required.

My hope is that my posting will catch the eyes of genuinely curious people eager to actually learn about climate science and why we must address anthropogenic climate change. A major part of that must be highlighting how intellectually vacuous, incoherent, deceitful, and flat-out wrong almost all the noise is that emanates from those trying to tear down what has been learned about climate science over decades. I have come to understand too that in this environment the teaching entails holding firm being willing to swing some elbows against the slash-and-trash tactics.

That means ignorance, misrepresentations, and distortions must be pointed out clearly and not allowed at least here to propogate freely. It means not shying away from harsh descriptions of claims and actions that merit them. It means sharp counters to make it that those peddling lies that supposedly refute or overturn climate science and defaming scientists and others who understand the science should expect spotlights on and pushback against them.

I came across another blogger's take related to this that aligns quite closely with my views. It is long to be fully reposting, but I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A big one

With the issue of climate change I am quite used to something either false or misinterpreted being splashed onto the internet, spread through an echo chamber that accepts the incorrect information or incorrect interpretation of the information, and further distorted by the internet version of the telephone game. Today we saw the same sort of activity that lit up the web with, of all things, revived claims "Obama wants to ban sport fishing".

For a reality-based overview of this situation I recommend this article.

Basically a story on from Robert Montgomery took that the ending of the public input period for the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force marked a key step for "a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters." We end up with the non-story blowing up as 'Obama banning fishing' unsurprisingly in the very same sorts of places that also promote climate change denial, including nearby on dakotavoice and sayanythingblog.

Where this differs from a typical situation with an issue involving climate change is that this figures to resolve very quickly and clearly showing how wrong the absurd stories are. Of course some people will still howl no matter what, but what will the least delusional say when there is no such ban on sport fishing?

In this case, I am interested to see how ESPN responds after this hubbub - they are one group who may take seriously getting a story so wrong like this. I am sure most other places will just let it all slide away as if they had not said anything outrageous. That is how it is with the climate change rejectionists. There is nothing to which they are being held, so they say something ridiculous like that we are in a cooling period and never bother with answering to being wrong despite their howling about any perceived errors from scientists.

Part of my goal is fighting this single standard (it is not "double" until the denialists have a standard). That includes pointing it out, highlighting the absurd claims, and pushing back with accurate information.

Are Bob Ellis climate posts controlled by climacs?

Since March 4th when I first posted about Bob Ellis and his ignorance of climate science, there has not been a post on his blog under his name dealing with climate. The obvious explanation therefore is that this blog has control over Bob Ellis and his misinformation campaign about climate. Right?

One of the posts from Ellis back on March 4 was about hydrothermal vents. He used that opportunity to repeat his belief that underwater volcanic activity must be a significant contributor to recent warming.

This is a good example of how intellectually vapid Ellis is in his rants against the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Let's look at some of what is wrong here...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Teach the actual controversy

The story of silliness from the South Dakota legislature has grown a bit. Representative Don Kopp was clueless as to the language of his resolution, attributing it to the Legislative Research Council and Governor Mike Rounds has expressed his desire for ""balanced"" teaching. (The double double quotes are to denote my quoting of Rounds oddly using quoting on the word in his form response letter.)

So the SD politicians want to advocate the old "teach the controversy" canard. Okay, let's play that game for a bit.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sign of life in the PSC race

A couple weeks ago the Herald ran a typical little "look who's running for what office" story that new candidates/campaigns get from the press when Brad Crabtree annouced his candidacy for the ND Public Service Commission. Not surprising multiple papers in the state ran such articles about the same time.

Based on that article Crabtree looked like about the best you (or at least I) could expect, definitely better than Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer who is running for Congress and whom Crabtree would replace. That probably merited a note here then, but I decided to push it off maybe until there was more out there than the basically extended press release coverage of the initial tossing of the hat into the ring.

Well, today's Herald Insight section contained a letter from Mike Schmidt of West Fargo.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dakota voices in his head?

I do have to wonder what sort of entertainment I may be missing in limiting myself to only the global warming paranoia from Bob Ellis of dakotavoice. Based on his mental non-gymnastics in attacking climate science, I would think he must have already unraveled or be going to unravel medical science and criminal justice.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bob Ellis climate misinformation - natural cycle?

So far my impression is that the biggest Dakota region anthropogenic climate change denying blowhard is Bob Ellis. I mean "biggest" in terms of volume of ridiculous postings. Such an observation evokes curiosity. Is his ignorance of climate science caused by some natural cycle perhaps involving the sun?

It might be suggested that if we could find some past instance where Ellis said something intelligent about climate, recognize a difference with the drivel he has posted most recently like so far this month, and assume the change indicates a natural cycle due to the sun. However, you may see a crucial flaw or two with that reasoning, such as that there is no mechanism in there by which to conclude the sun is driving his current ignorance. In that case you would be demonstrating much stronger reasoning skills than Ellis employs when going on about climate change.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Getting the pee out of the pool

A study recently came out citing that about 1/4th of American parents erroneously believe some vaccines cause autism. This faulty belief grew from the increasing diagnoses of autism over the last couple decades and a study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet from 1998. I want to walk this story along side climate change to draw some parallels.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Earl Pomeroy - concern troll on climate?

If you have been around the web a bit you surely know what a troll is - someone who tries to poke, prod, goad, and provoke to throw off conversation and discussion. A troll would be someone coming into a health care debate and declaring any reform to be socialism or someone coming into an immigration debate and simply calling anyone expressing concerns a racist or xenophobe.

The concern troll is a particular breed of troll. The concern troll claims to be or tries to act agreeable or supportive but raises questions or doubts that indicate disagreement or lack of support if not complete opposition. The concern troll would say how we definitely need health care reform to decrease costs and cover the uninsured, but it will be tough to deal with the government takeover and rationing that will come with it. Here is a long (translated!) calling out of concern trolls on the issue of climate change.

How is Pomeroy earning a seat under the bridge as a climate change concern troll? First, he has claimed a belief in an overwhelming consensus among the experts that climate is changing. So you might think he would favor doing something to stem climate change, but then you would be wrong. When it is time for action, Pomeroy comes down on the side of so-called "cheap" electricity and the fossil fuel industries.