Should there be ‘debates’ about climate science?

One view is that science doesn’t work like this. Here is Steven Mosher, joint author of the excellent Climategate: The Crutape Letters: …debates are rare because science is not a debate, or more specifically, science does not proceed or advance by verbal debates in front of audiences. You can win a debate and be wrong about the science.

When I read that I could immediately think of a scientific debate or two that I had attended, and not about climate science at all. And Dr Robert G. Brown, of Duke University, a physicist well-known in the climate blogosphere as rgbatduke, wrote nearly 6,000 words disagreeing with Mosher. You can read it all here.

Brown is, in my opinion, always worth reading, and his long essay is a delight. I’m just going to cut and paste, but there are many more best bits than you’ll find here. He says to Mosher, You’re right that you can “win the debate and be wrong about the science”, however, for two reasons. One is that in science, we profoundly believe that there is an independent objective standard of truth, and that is nature itself, the world around us. 

And then, We attempt to build a mathematical-conceptual map to describe the real terrain, but (as any general semantician would tell you) the map is not the terrain, it is at best a representation of the terrain, almost certainly an imperfect one. 

On universities: The tenure system that was intended to prevent this sort of thing has been transformed into a money pump for Universities that can no longer survive without the constant influx of soft and indirect cost money farmed every year by their current tenured faculty, especially those in the sciences. Because in most cases that support comes from the federal government, that is to say our taxes, there is constant pressure to keep the research “relevant” to public interests. 

On research and ‘climate change’: Just go to any of the major search engines and enter “climate” along with anything you like as part of the search string. You would be literally amazed at how many disparate branches of utterly disconnected research manage to sneak some sort of climate connection into their proposals, and then (by necessity) into their abstracts and/or paper text. 

Followed by: I do not intend to imply by the above that all science is corrupt, or that scientists are in any sense ill-intentioned or evil. Not at all. Most scientists are quite honest, and most of them are reasonably fair in their assessment of facts and doubt. But scientists have to eat, and for better or worse we have created a world where they are in thrall to their funding. 

This is the right reply to those who insist that sceptics must believe in some sort of conspiracy.

On peer review: When I review a paper, I’m not passing a judgment as a participant on whether or not its conclusion is correct politically or otherwise…. I am supposed to be determining whether or not the paper is clear, whether its arguments contain any logical or mathematical inconsistencies, whether it is well enough done to pass muster as “reasonable”, if it is worthy of publication, now not whether or not it is right or even convincing beyond not being obviously wrong or in direct contradiction of known facts.

And: …the ClimateGate letters openly revealed that it [peer review] has long since become covertly corrupted, with most of the refereeing being done by a small, closed, cabal of researchers who accept one another’s papers and reject as referees (well, technically only “recommend” rejection as referees) any paper that seriously challenges their conclusions. Furthermore, they revealed that this group of researchers was perfectly willing to ruin academic careers and pressure journals to fire any editor that dared to cross them. They corrupted the peer review process itself — articles are no longer judged on the basis of whether or not the science is well presented and moderately sound, they have twisted it so that the very science being challenged by those papers is used as the basis for asserting that they are unsound.

On models and chaos: The climate is a highly nonlinear chaotic system. Worse, chaos was discovered by Lorenz [Edward Norton Lorenz] in the very first computational climate models. Chaos, right down to apparent period doubling, is clearly visible (IMO) in the 5 million year climate record. Chaotic systems, in a chaotic regime, are nearly uncomputable even for very, simple, toy problems — that is the essence of Lorenz’s discovery as his first weather model was crude in the extreme, little more than a toy. 

And finally: I personally would argue that historical climate data manifestly a) fail to falsify the null hypothesis; b) strongly support the assertion that the climate is highly naturally variable as a chaotic nonlinear highly multivariate system is expected to be; and c) that at this point, we have extremely excellent reason to believe that the climate problem is non-computable, quite probably non-computable with any reasonable allocation of computational resources the human species is likely to be able to engineer or afford, even with Moore’s Law, anytime in the next few decades, if Moore’s Law itself doesn’t fail in the meantime. 

A great, and highly controlled, paper.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a spirited, tough-minded and (so far as I can see) accurate essay on climate science. It’s a joy.

Oh, of course it’s also a powerful response to Mosher’s saying that science doesn’t work through debate — and in spades.

[Update, a few days later: here is a civilised not-quite-a-debate between five scientists on the sun’s influence on climate. Marcel Crok is doing a great thing with this website.

Join the discussion 55 Comments

  • David says:


    If you think the current system of University, funding is intrinsically biased against a fair evaluation of AGW, what other fields of scientific research you see as flawed?

    Science got it “right” with respect to relationship between CFC’s and ozone but not CO2 and temperature. Why is that?

    When you were Chairman of the ARC what did you do that was so correct that subsequent Chairman (here in Australia and elsewhere through out the world) have failed to do?

    I think given that you were academic royalty in your time this line of argument requires does some personal explanation, and perhaps apology, on your part.

    • Gus says:

      Science didn’t get it “right” about CFCs and ozone either. The assertion was never proven, and subsequent observations carried out over decades that followed showed the “ozone hole” over the Antarctic, and there is a smaller one over the Arctic, too, to be a natural phenomenon. They are always there.

      Regarding climate itself and any theories about it, the system is just way too complex to admit a simplistic explanation, e.g., that a single parameter, namely the concentration of a trace gas, CO2, controls it more powerfully than anything else. The idea is absurd and the observed “hiatus” of 19 years proves that it is so. Climate’s primary drivers are the sun, the ocean, and the biosphere. Climate is quite unaffected by small variations in the atmosphere’s chemical composition. Geologists have always been adamant about this, since there is no obvious correlation between atmospheric CO2 concentration and global temperatures in the geologic record, going back billions of years.

      • David says:

        How were your Geologists funded? Try and keep up 🙂

        “Climate is quite unaffected by small variations in the atmosphere’s chemical composition” ?? A doubling of CO2 ppm is hardly a small variation

        • Gus says:

          “>>>How were your Geologists funded?<<<"

          What does this matter? Science is science, regardless of how it's paid for. You are welcome to submit your own paper to, say, PNAS and question results presented by Rothman in his 2002 paper, doi:10.1073pnas.022055499, "Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years." Who paid Rothman's salary at the time? MIT did. The journal's (PNAS) editor handling the paper at the time was Hoffman, whose salary was paid by Harvard University.

          As to doubling of CO2, 2 x 0 = 0. Even when doubled, and most of it not due to human activities at all, because humans contribute 3.4% of total emissions only, the rest being natural, the concentration is still very low. CO2 is still only a trace gas in the atmosphere, of negligible impact on the atmosphere's thermal properties, and … way below the concentrations that are recommended to farmers by, e.g., the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, which is 1000ppm. The current concentration of CO2 is 400ppm, which is still too low for comfort.
          It did not double during the "industrial age", incidentally. Concentrations at or below 200ppm result in CO2 starvation in plants. Such concentrations characterized the Last Glacial Maximum and, indeed, CO2 starvation was wide-spread amongst plants at the time as is seen in pines recovered from La Brea tar pits in California. If you look at Fig. 4, page 4170, in Rothman, you'll notice a disastrous fall in atmospheric CO2 concentration in the past 50 million years. We're doing Nature a favor by taking carbon locked under ground, burning it, and returning it, as CO2, back to the atmosphere, where it belongs.

          • David says:

            You ask “what does it matter?”
            Read to original post again. The whole post is a “the-funding-model-is-crook” shtick.
            “Followed by: I do not intend to imply by the above that all science is corrupt, or that scientists are in any sense ill-intentioned or evil. Not at all. Most scientists are quite honest, and most of them are reasonably fair in their assessment of facts and doubt. But scientists have to eat, and for better or worse we have created a world where they are in thrall to their funding.”

          • Gus says:

            “>>>The whole post is a “the-funding-model-is-crook” shtick.<<<"

            I rather think the posting is on whether there should be debate in climate science, or, more generally, in any science. Of course, there should be. Debate, amongst scientists, by the means of papers published, is how science is done.

          • pjb253 says:

            Hi Gus, You are not a Canberra resident by any chance?

          • Gus says:

            “>>>You are not a Canberra resident by any chance?<<<"

            Luckily no. I can't take life away from the beauty of traditional architecture–19th century is my favorite. Free-standing buildings give me headache, unless it's Queen Victoria Building. Even then, just imagine how different the impression of the building would be, how dead, if you were to take it out of its setting, in the center of a lively, bustling city, and plonk in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but parklands around.

            Where I live currently, which is in the US, unfortunately, the urban disease has progressed way beyond anything that Australian cities have ever been afflicted by, even at the worst of times, which was before the "Building Better Cities Program" of the Hawke-Keating government (it was, I believe, Brian Howe's initiative). Here, the bureaucratic urban vandals allowed for historic buildings to be razed to make space for… open air car-parks! Every US city, perhaps with the notable exception of Manhattan, is littered with them.

          • dlb says:

            Gus is a bit loose with the truth when he says:

            “Even when doubled, and most of it not due to human activities at all, because humans contribute 3.4% of total emissions only”

            The 3.4% is on a yearly basis with nature reabsorbing 97.1%, leaving a yearly increase of 0.5% of CO2 in the atmosphere. So when CO2 doubles form preindustrial levels in 50 to 100 years time, half of that atmospheric concentration will be due to man. Of course I am neglecting any input from warming oceans.

          • Gus says:

            “>>>Of course I am neglecting any input from warming oceans.<<<"

            Of course, you are, but not only.

            The number 3.4% is produced by an accounting exercise carried out by the United Nations Agricultural Commission a few years back. It is not the result of a measurement. There is another number, also produced by an accounting exercise, but this time carried out by a very large group of scientists from some 50 institutions, see doi:10.5194/essdd-7-521-2014, who find that nature absorbs 83% of human emissions. Now, the remaining, unabsorbed, according to this estimate, portion is 17% of 3.4%, which is some 0.6%.

            In summary, if we are to believe these estimates, the unabsorbed human contribution to total emissions is 0.6% only.

            But there is a yet another, more recent number, this time obtained from laboratory measurements that finds plant absorption of CO2 to be 17% larger than hitherto estimated, see doi:10.1073/pnas.1418075111. When combined with the (satellite) observation that semiarid regions of the globe have increased their green cover by 11% in the past 30 years, in agreement with theoretical predictions based on the extent of CO2 fertilization, see doi:10.1002/grl.50563, we may well find that all human CO2 emissions are fully absorbed by nature, the growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration being caused by ocean and soils outgassing in response to increased solar activity throughout the whole of the 20th century, but especially towards the end of the century, and not because of human burning of fossil fuels.

            This issue can be only resolved by satellite measurements. But the only satellite that has been carrying out such measurements is the Japanese GOSAT, and it's not accurate enough. The US Carbon Observatory 2 was finally launched in June this year and is expected to begin returning its first results next year.

            What does GOSAT show? For example, it shows that CO2 absorption in the Great Lakes region of US and Canada in the late spring and early summer is larger than all human and natural emissions (in this region) combined. It shows that the boreal forests of Canada, northern Europe and Asia are net CO2 absorbers. It finds that the tropical jungles of Amazon and Congo are net CO2 emitters. It finds that the ocean absorbs in winter and emits in summer, as we would expect from basic physics.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Most interesting, Gus. I’ll follow up these references in due course.

          • dlb says:

            Good luck with that Don!

          • dlb says:

            Gus, the 0.6% is just what I said above, this is a yearly increase and in 50 to 100 years atmospheric carbon dioxide
            will be double what it was in pre-industrial times. As for the outgasing of the oceans causing the recent rise in CO2, this is small beer (excuse pun). If you believe the Vostock ice core data CO2 has never been above 300 ppm for the past 400,000 years. So what is so special about ocean heat content in the last 50 years?

            I have no problem with your final paragraph about boreal forests, they and the deciduous forests are what causes the saw tooth CO2 graph from observations at Hawaii. Again the oceans exert a small influence as the saw tooth effect is much reduced in the ocean dominated southern hemisphere.

            I would have thought the jungles of the Amazon and Congo to be neither net emitters nor absorbers. Perhaps it is due to deforestation, those rotten humans again!

          • Gus says:

            “>>>So what is so special about ocean heat content in the last 50 years?<<<"

            Solar activity throughout the whole of the 20th century, but especially towards the end of it, that was at its highest in 9000 years, see, e.g., doi:10.1134/S1019331613030015 and doi:10.12942/lrsp-2008-3.

            Note that because of compression, the resolution of data you can infer from ice cores diminishes the farther back you go. Consequently, the cores only show CO2 concentrations averaged over millennia, not resolved to within, say, 50 years, as would be necessary to make a valid comparison. In summary, a short lived fluctuation in response to a short (meaning 200 years long only, or so) burst in solar activity would not show in core layers that go, say, 200,000 years back.

          • dlb says:

            The increase in atmospheric CO2 has very little to do with the oceans except they are absorbing more all the time. In the last 20 years since observations began, global oxygen levels have dropped 60ppm while CO2 has increased by 30 ppm. If the biosphere is sequestering all the anthropogenic carbon (combustion = photosynthesis) one would expect oxygen levels to stay the same, which is not the case.

          • Gus says:

            “>>>In the last 20 years since observations began, global oxygen levels have dropped 60ppm while CO2 has increased by 30 ppm.<<<"

            No, they haven't. Kneeling, who is the topmost authority on O2/N2 measurements, has found no change, see DOI:10.1111/j.1600-0889.2006.00228.x. But he has found severe shortcomings in measurements carried out by other teams and discusses them in the paper.

            Regarding the ocean outgassing, you can see it in real time in GOSAT data. You can clearly see the ocean absorbing CO2 in winter and emitting it back to the atmosphere in summer. It takes only a tiny difference, given how huge the ocean is and how huge the CO2 reservoir contained in it, to produce the rise in the atmospheric CO2 concentration observed throughout the second half of the 20th century, in response to the highest solar activity period, called "grand maximum" by Usoskin, in 9000 years.

            How can you possibly ignore such an obvious event? Mind boggles. Of course, unless you do it out of ignorance or on purpose.

          • dlb says:

            Your reference is a lame attempt to explain away what the oxygen levels the Scripps Institute measure every day. The
            Keeling paper indicates a possible error of +- 4 meg in the measurement of oxygen/ nitrogen ratios from 1993 to 2003 , meanwhile oxygen / nitrogen ratios have decreased over the same period by around 160 meg! See the graph in the
            link below for Cape Grim in Tasmania, supposedly the cleanest air in the world. To convert the meg ratio to the ppm change in oxygen, multiply by 0.208.


            Click on the CO2 plot for Cape Grim and you will see the CO2 rise for the last 20 years, note there is almost no seasonal signal, the CO2 is staying within the ocean during the summer. However look at the oxygen trace you can clearly see the summer release of oxygen from the
            southern ocean due to plankton.

            If you look at graphs from northern Canada you do see the seasonal signal from CO2 but in this case it due to the boreal
            forests, nothing to do with the ocean.

            The most parsimonious explanation for the measured increase in CO2 and the decrease in oxygen the past 20years is the burning of fossil fuels, go to that Scripps Institute link above and click FAQ if you don’t believe me, Ralph Keeling works for them.

          • Gus says:

            Interesting. So, according to Scripps and Keeling, we lose 19 molecules of O2, out of a million, every year for the locations where air samples come from. But note that nature respires, even plants respire, so the loss here may be due to global respiration and insufficient global replacement of oxygen by photosynthesis. Could the 11% greening of semi-arid regions around the world account for this O2/N2 change? More living matter on earth (this also includes more ocean plankton) means that both the carbon and the atmospheric oxygen would have to be consumed to build it up.

            Also, if the ocean was to outgas not only CO2, but N2 and O2 as well–and why wouldn’t it–you would get a similar result because the proportions of CO2, N2 and O2 in the ocean water are not the same as the atmospheric proportions on account of the ocean flora using CO2, N2 and O2 at different rates, also on account of different solubilities of these gases in water (oxygen’s solubility is more than two times higher than that of nitrogen). So, the outgassing of the ocean should result in changing not only the atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the O2/N2 ratio as well. And given that oxygen and CO2 would be consumed at higher rates than the mostly inert nitrogen, the ocean outgassing should result in lowering of the O2/N2 ratio.

            Observe that what is really measured here is the O2/N2 ratio, not the absolute value of O2 concentration in air. This is what you find in the plots.

            So, you have two perfectly natural explanations for what Scripps is observing, without having to drag humans into it.
            This would have to be investigated further before jumping to the conclusion that the changing O2/N2 ratio is caused by humans burning fossil fuels.

            Where do the small oscillations you can see in all plots come from? They obviously reflect seasonal changes that are interposed on the long term change, possibly related to the warming of the ocean, which is, in turn, related to slower long term changes in solar activity. Observe that not only does CO2 fluctuate this way, but O2/N2 as well.

            Ultimately, to answer this conundrum, we would have to wait through the other side of the solar cycle, the cooling, while continuing with the measurements. Suppose, as many solar scientists expect, it will get significantly colder by 2030, will the O2/N2 and CO2 Scripps plots turn the other way as well? If they do, the explanation is … Nature.

          • dlb says:

            Sorry, you can believe that it if it makes you happy, I shall stick with the orthodox science on this.

          • Gus says:

            Off the press, right now: “Ocean’s Living Carbon Pumps,”


            Phytoplankton, as the article tells us, fixes a half of all organic carbon on earth. It’s a huge factor, and, of course, it responds, like all plants (phytoplankton are plants) to the sun, to cloud cover, and it makes its living by photosynthesizing and respiring. You cannot ignore this factor in modeling the ocean’s impact on atmospheric CO2 concentration and O2/N2 ratio. And its impact is non-trivial.

            In summary, apart from plain-physics outgassing on account of temperature dependent solubility, you have this additional factor here, the phytoplankton, that can completely change the equations. How? We really can’t tell until we measure it, which is why the GOSAT and Carbon Observatory missions are so central to the problem.

          • dlb says:

            Yes, I agree plankton is a big factor it is probably the cause the atmospheric spike in oxygen over the oceans during summer.

          • Gus says:

            “>>> the 0.6% is just what I said above, this is a yearly increase and in 50 to 100 years atmospheric carbon dioxide
            will be double what it was in pre-industrial times. <<<"

            This is such a small number, I find it most difficult to believe that it would tilt the scales, that nature could not absorb this additional 0.6%. I reckon, nature will absorb as much CO2 as you give her, because Nature eats it for breakfast.

            The growth in the atmospheric CO2 concentration requires a lot more input than this puny 0.6%. That input can come only from natural sources, that is from the ocean, this being by far the largest CO2 source on earth, plus, of course, whatever you get from the tropics. Recall that GOSAT observations tell us that tropical rain-forest, Amazon and Congo in particular, is the net CO2 emitter.

          • dlb says:

            That 0.6% is not puny, it is currently around 4G tons per year. The most parsimonious cause is the burning of fossil fuels and it will be twice pre-industrial levels in 50 – 100 years. If it were not for sequestration in the biosphere and absorption in the oceans the yearly atmospheric increase in CO2 would be around 1 %.

        • Mike says:

          Perhaps it is and perhaps it isn’t. You have to know your starting point I remember some years ago a satirical show about the mainstream media. This TV station was trying to sensationalise a report about crime in a New South Wales town. The headline was “crime wave police force doubled”. That actually meant an extra policeman because there had only been one in the first place. Here in the ACT in Australia in order to emphasise road deaths they would publish the percentage change as they did with CO2 for many years. So what would be said was something like 20% increase in road deaths. They have ceased doing this because most would quickly wake up this would probably mean two people because Canberra has a very small population and is probably the safest place in the world to drive if you look at statistics. So just saying doubling doesn’t mean much at all.

          But I hear the statement oh CO2 in the atmosphere is something different that is it? I think the doubling relates to what CO2 was thought to be before the Industrial Revolution about 280 ppm now it is 400 ppm that is a gain of 120 ppm. That means 0.012% has been added to the atmosphere in that time now as Gus says humans only contribute 3.4% of CO2 so that means 0.0004% could possibly be controlled by humans. So if the Industrial Revolution hadn’t happened and life was the same as before then we would have an increase of only 0.0116%. Now I know some people can’t get their head around maths and like to compare things by physical items they know so we get things like how many swimming pools is that or how heavy is it in jumbo jets!

          But suppose we want to put an additive in our cars petrol tank which is 70 L in volume. Up-to-date we would have added about a third of a millilitre that is get out your eyedropper and administer six drops. Let us suppose we continue on to double the additive this works out at about two thirds of a millilitre or 13 drops. The question to ask is will our car form better or if we were sold the most corrosive of acids that affect our car? I really doubt it!

      • dlb says:

        Gus, got a reference on the ozone “hole” always being there? As far as I know they didn’t start measuring ozone in Antarctica till 1956 and it was fairly constant at 300DU from then to the mid 60s, then it declined reaching 130DU in the mid 90s. It hasn’t recovered to any extent since then.

        • Gus says:

          The statement that the ozone hole is always there derives from better understanding of how it comes about. See, for example, a very recent paper, doi:10.1038/ncomms6197, that discovers a new mechanism that impacts mesospheric ozone. Also see doi:10.1029/2011GL049784 that discusses a near complete loss of ozone over the Arctic due to one of the coldest stratospheric winters on record, 2010-2011. In turn, this paper, doi:10.1175/JCLI4195.1 discusses the connection between the Antarctic ozone hole depletion and decadal changes of wind stress over the Southern Ocean.

          At this site

          you will find a large number of papers that discuss connections between solar activity and ozone (click on Club du Soleil papers). Note that because of concentration of magnetic field lines at the poles, which also produces aurorae, the poles are particularly vulnerable to such interactions, hence the presence of the ozone holes over both and their modular response to solar activity.

          • dlb says:

            Gus, these are all very interesting papers but nothing even remotely suggesting that the current ozone “hole” has always been there. The studies certainly indicate there are natural drivers of ozone depletion, but most still agree with the CFC hypothesis for what has happened in recent times. What I want to know is, are there natural drivers like solar activity directly linked to the sudden drop in ozone from the mid 60s to the 90s? Any papers giving an alternate hypothesis would indeed be interesting.

          • Gus says:

            “>>>but most still agree with the CFC hypothesis for what has happened in recent times.<<<"

            Not really. Recall that at the time, when CFC hypothesis was advanced, other natural mechanisms for ozone depletion over the poles were not known: their understanding came later. The bans imposed on CFCs throughout the world did not really have any effect on the ozone hole, whereas the observations of its response to natural drivers, in the forms of circumpolar winds, solar activity and seasons (yes) confirmed theories advanced later about its natural origin.

            And this is currently a common opinion amongst geophysicists: that natural causes, including also naturally occurring chemistry, in absence of any human contribution, because nature, after all, emits many complex chemicals into the atmosphere too, contribute substantially to the existence of the ozone hole.

            As nobody looked at it before, e.g., in the 19th century, in the 1920s, until the 1985 publication, of course, we do not have a direct proof that the hole was there before, but neither do we have any proof that it wasn't. The better understanding of how it comes about and what affects it, based on 30 years of subsequent observations and further theoretical work, also, the observation of the similar Arctic hole, convince us that it must have been there all the time.

            It is quite similar to the story of CO2 induced warming. That theory was, again, advanced at the time, in the 1980s, in the absence of other explanations, merely because nobody really bothered to look. But scientists did look at it eventually and learnt more about the role of ocean oscillations (the existence of which wasn't even known in the 1980s), the role of solar activity in cloud seeding and many other natural phenomena that bridge solar input to climate conditions on earth.

            Now, coming back to the ozone hole. We know that it increases during cold years (doi:10.1029/2011GL049784). Recall that the 1970s were very cold, so much so, scientists speculated at the time that another ice age was imminent. This in itself explains the growth of the ozone hole at the time, the decade-long observations summarized in 1985. The observation that decadal changes of wind stress over the southern ocean modulate the Antarctic ozone hole, doi:10.1175/JCLI4195.1, further corroborate conclusions drawn from its dependence on temperatures.

            But the ozone hole depends also on the strength of the earth's magnetic field, which fluctuates all the time and which, we know, has been dropping quite dramatically over the years, so much so, there are now predictions that we may observe the field flip within a century! If this was to happen, the ozone hole would become very large temporarily, before shrinking back upon the restoration of the field, be it polarized in the opposite direction.

            Also see doi:10.1016/j.physrep.2009.12.002, Qing-Bin Lu, Physics Reports, 2010, "Cosmic-ray-driven electron-induced reactions of halogenated molecules adsorbed on ice surfaces: Implications for atmospheric ozone depletion and global climate change."

          • dlb says:

            Even when looking at these papers I see the authors still consider anthropogenic CFCs a driving force in ozone depletion. Perhaps not the only one but still a major player.

            It wouldn’t surprise me if the ozone hole eventually turns out to be due to natural causes. But I think it is a leap of faith to say with such limited knowledge at present that natural causes or alternately CFCs are the cause.

    • don aitkin says:

      I was going to reply, then saw Gus had said what I would have said about the ozone hole — that is another area where the science simply isn’t settled, for the reasons given in the posts below.

      I have elsewhere commented on the push to relate research funding to some kind of national need, which I argued for in the 1980s because I couldn’t see further funds coming to research unless we argued this way. I had some success and those who followed me had more, and the research endeavour today is several times larger than it was in 1987. But it seems to me that the pendulum has swung much too far in the ‘national needs’ direction, and it is time to soft-pedal it — forgive the addled metaphors.

      • Gus says:

        National needs should come first. Australia is remarkably visible in science in spite of her relatively small population, nevertheless, Australia is not a superpower, nor even a major power, economically and scientifically. Smaller nations, like Sweden, South Korea and, indeed, Australia, must be more focused on their own specific needs, as opposed to grand questions of science that *can* be left to those with more money.

        It may well cost billions of dollars to figure out if axions are indeed the answer to the QCD’s CP violation (which is not visible, hence the conundrum). Resolving this issue though would yield nothing in terms of benefits to the payee, neither today, nor in a hundred years. Why then spend money on it, as opposed to, say, addressing the issue of soil salinity in Queensland?

  • Gus says:

    I’d say that all real science is a debate, although not necessarily in front of popular audiences. Primarily, the audience are other scientists working in the area, and the means of debate are papers. The whole point behind publishing a paper is to advance the argument one way or another. And, yes, papers and theories they advance do get challenged by other papers and theories and, best of all, by observations and reported laboratory measurements. Great many theories had been discarded in this way in the past, some, usually far fewer, had been confirmed. It is generally much harder to come up with a correct theory than with an incorrect one. A correct theory is but one in the sea of error.

    Climate science has been debated vigorously throughout its whole history, as well, and is far from being settled. This is seen even in a document as full of propaganda as IPCC AR5 WG1 report. The presence of the NIPCC report, of course, provides a valuable counterpoint for starters, but it’s enough to follow the publications to see a debate everywhere.

    Importantly, American and British journals are not all there is in the world, and if you find it hard to publish your work in them, try Japanese or Chinese publications. They are being read, increasingly, and are not managed by the same “cabal.” Neither does the “cabal” extend its muzzling control over every US and British journal. And so, you will find great papers published in “Atmospheric Research,” “Atmospheric Environment,” “Earth and Planetary Science,” “Ocean Science,” “Climate of the Past,” “Journal of Geophysical Research” (this one is especially good), even “Journal of Climate” that do not toe the line at all and, instead, present arguments that fundamentally weaken or even demolish CAGW and AGW.

    • Mike says:

      Gus I have seen a number of arguments about how long CO2 remains in the atmosphere. You have any information on that does it stay up there a long time? Or is it very short lived?

      • Gus says:

        It is short lived. The estimates of CO2 lifetime in the atmosphere are about 7 to 9 years. Were it not for recycling, that is nature giving it up, e.g., through respiration, it would vanish pretty quickly. That it is so is proven by the observed seasonal CO2 concentration oscillations seen, e.g., in the Mauna Loa record. Such oscillations would not be possible if the CO2 atmospheric lifetime was hundreds of years–as is incorrectly stated, without any proof, but with some circular reasoning involved, by IPCC.

        The strongest CO2 removal mechanism is leaching it from the atmosphere by rain into the ocean, followed by conversion, via photosynthesis and food chain to calcites, that is, creatures’ skeletons, that ultimately depose at the bottom of the ocean. Trapped this way, CO2 is only recycled when the ocean floor is pulled under the continental plates and the carbon itself, as CO2, is then expelled by volcanoes. This process has slowed down on the geologic time scale, which accounts for the dramatic drop in the atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past 50 million years.

        This is very bad news for the planet and the best we can do to help is get at carbon deposits wasting under ground and burn them. The planet and life on earth want us to do just this! This is our biological mission–as species.

        • Mike says:

          Thanks for that Gus I have seen hundreds of years and have always thought it was self-defeating for those that argued that way. If it were hundreds of years there would be little incentive to do anything because so little change would occur.

          I guess you are pretty much cut off from Australian politics so I thought I should tell you Senator Palpatine aka Bob Brown has resigned from the Senate. I think he figured apprentice Milne was never going to cut it so I guess he gave up on ever being Emperor. Besides he is escaped being thrown down a very deep shaft, and I thought being shafted meant something else. So apprentice Christine has taken over the reins until she gets shafted by the Sith Lord in waiting Senator Rhiannon having been given the watermelon award. In the cartoon apprentice Milne is the one on the right. She can speak well pity it is rubbish.

  • 3d1k says:

    On the topic of peer review, Richard Tol (former IPCC), investigated the structure and methodology of the 97% consensus assertion and found

    ‘In sum, one of the most visible climate papers of recent years is not sound. Whereas previous critique could be interpreted as a lack of competence (Tol, 2014a), the later data release suggests that Cook et al., perhaps inadvertently, worked towards a given answer. This reflects badly on the authors, referees, editors and publisher. It also weakens the activists and politicians who cite Cook et al. in support of their position.’

    His occasional blog is well worth a look for more in depth discussion.

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks. It is indeed a pleasure to read such cogent writing and clear thinking. On ‘conspiracies,’ where a large number of scientists are simply ‘tweaking’ their proposals to include a climate dimension because they know it increases their chances of funding, that is not a conspiracy. Where the Climate-Gate letters reveal that a cabal is selecting papers on the basis of whether they agree with their chosen line, that is a conspiracy. Furthermore, it is not the only conspiracy to be discerned in CAGW. Others would include the funnelling of moneys from rich to poor countries supposedly to assist with climate change but in reality for quite other reasons.

  • Peter Donnan says:

    The images that come across about universities, academics, the quality of their research and the integrity of peer review processes in this 15 October clip are quite disturbing.

    The patterns though are recognisable in many parts of our society. This week I saw a news clip where two doctors at a Queensland hospital were stood down because they had spoken to the media rather than directly to authority chains in the hospital hierarchy. Some argue that whistleblowers have poor legal status in our society.

    Universities have long valued academic freedom, critical thinking, independence of thought but the increasing corporitization of universities have been eroding this for years. I recall a vague quote from more than twenty years ago which went along the lines: most people deny their inner voice to be in accordance with the voices of the institution.

    Even in political parties, patterns of dominance, control, surveillance, tight discipline, the absence of leaks, politicians speaking to the central script: this is what has led to the success of the Abbott/Credlin government after years of internal disunity, treachery and disloyalty in the ALP.

    The contract systems for new academics, as well as their dependence on research grants and publications, promotes discipline but also temerity of thinking in a political sense.

    The contest of different viewpoints, debate, dissent, questioning accepted paradigms, critical reasoned thinking, high quality research, independence of thinking: these are some of the best traditional values of universities but this column shows how precarious they are. In terms of climate change I find it interesting that two locals ACT VCs, well known to each other, have very different views about the topic. That is far healthier than the system of surveillance and control that is now so popular in government, in business, in universities.

  • Mike says:

    Hi Don

    Thank you very much will call the link to RG Brown’s about science and debate. He is particularly scathing about the use of climate models as I am as well. I have seen programs that fake their results. All you need is to have a general idea of what results will be acceptable and you can program it accordingly. Brown gives a more detailed explanation than I would be prepared to do because I think it is actually simpler than that anyone doing this process would be pretty clear that it is a fake. All computer software needs specification in other words you need to know the equations to be used and how they are used before you can begin. The idea of fudge factors err parameters means any programmer/analyst knows immediately that it is not known what we’re doing. The climate gate papers had with them comments made by one of the software developers and it was obvious there was no clear direction and he was struggling to know what sort of result they wanted.

  • margaret says:

    Apropos of … science, I watched Brian Schmidt yesterday and found his talk most interesting.

    • margaret says:

      It was the Kenneth Myer lecture and it’s on iView, an hour of interesting comment.

    • Mike says:

      Yes Margaret I watched Brian Schmidt before he is a remarkably well polished advocate for his cause and on the face of it very convincing. His accomplishments are very much political rather than being an expert climate modeller. The problem I have is that there are over 90 climate models
      none of which have forecast what has actually happened. Most are too high a few below when you look at the data of actual measurements. In any normal programming systems the conclusion would be we don’t know what we’re doing we will have to scrap it and start again. I’m sure he would disagree but he has to, his entire reputation depends on this working. If the warming starts again he will breathe a sigh of relief but I suspect it will in fact decrease. There are computer models that predict the share market the creators of these do quite well for a time but since they don’t really know what the market will do next knowing when to get out is the trick.

      • dlb says:

        Mike, I think you might be confusing Brian Schmidt the astrophysicist with Gavin Schmidt the climate modeller and doyen of the warmist website Real Climate.

        • Mike says:

          Yes you are so right I just saw Schmidt guess I better go and see who Brian Schmidt is. Sorry for the mistake Margaret.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Brian Schmidt is an astronomer at the ANU who won a Nobel in physics. He is also a polished speaker, and, alas, a believer in AGW.

          • Mike says:

            Thanks Don I note with the speech that he applies science for work he is directly connected with. But as soon as he gets onto climate change or I should say AGW his insights are no better than anyone else’s in fact far worse than many people. He just accepts the authority of those that work in a different feel to him. Would he goes so far as to accept the word of a cult leader or psychic without question?

          • margaret says:

            I doubt it – but how can you sceptics be so certain of your position on AGW?

          • dlb says:

            Margaret, we are not certain, well Gus might be an exception :), that is what scepticism is about, we look for errors and faults and are prepared to admit uncertainties in ours and others views. The other side they are absolutely certain AGW is settled science, especially as far the public discourse goes. In private the climate scientists probably have many doubts.

            Whenever I hear dogmatic talk about all these things that are definitely going to happen, my sceptical alarm bells go off.

          • Mike says:

            Well Margaret I would echo those thoughts of DLB a skeptic is not certain. That is usually somewhat disturbing by those that are. I would refer you to a short talk by David Eagin

            His views would be fairly close to my own and please realise there are skeptics and there are skeptics. I am a member of a skeptical society but many in the society I would class as not being skeptics they are really people who do not believe in the paranormal and that is the end of it. If you’re a scientist my thoughts are you should apply the scientific method to everything. When I say the scientific method I mean frame and hypothesis design a test for that hypothesis and apply it. If it fails the test then you would assume the hypothesis is wrong. If you are discussing a field outside of your expertise and you assume it is correct and state such as being your own opinion also, you are accepting someone else’s authority without consideration. Many scientists say that if it is outside their expertise they are not going to offer an opinion as they don’t know. AGW has become a very important issue and offering an opinion in this way as Brian Schmidt did gives a great deal of support to the climate activist. Make no mistake these people can be quite extreme what is wanted is the cessation of fossil fuel use. The core beliefs are that we should move the human population to back before industrialisation that is into the 1800s and a population of about 1 billion. This is not in the interest of humans and I think that is what it is about.

            To say blithely as Brian Schmidt did that it is proven AGW that is because of the computer climate models show that it is true, is statement without thought which depends on ignorance and authority. He should be aware that there is in fact a pause because it is admitted by the IPCC in section 9.2 of its last report that 111 of 114 models show a trend higher than the actual measured trend for the last 20 or so years. I think the ones that are not above are in fact below so I would think none of them have worked. He is feeding a very dangerous belief system which is already greatly diminishing the Western world. The Chinese (30% of the worlds GHG), India, Brazil and other undeveloped countries are working flat out to develop their coal deposits as well they might.

            I would say most of the human population is driven by belief systems but the skeptic is somewhat outside of that. This is both a blessing and a curse because belief systems are what humans use to be part of a group. If you are in a group that holds very strong beliefs about something and you become the doubting Thomas it becomes very uncomfortable. Even though what is believed might be entirely ridiculous and even dangerous. If you are to be the part of the group then you must hold its beliefs without question, in religion faith without question is revered. It is such for all groups so for the skeptic it is difficult to be a part of most normal groups. The skeptic is liable to ask how that is known. This is something that is quite often unanswerable because the person being asked has unconsciously accepted whatever it is as an article of faith to belong to the group and not realised it.

          • margaret says:

            However if there were not people of his intellect who believe in AGW the sceptics would have poorer debates about whether or not it’s occurring.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            It’s not really so, Margaret, for Brian Schmidt doesn’t debate AGW, he just accepts it as true, and if pressed, refers to the IPCC and 97% of scientists and all that. Like so many others, he sermonises rather than discusses.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Margaret I watched it and I was really with him the first 36 minutes then he seemed to me to to descend into advocacy. Citing Cook’s 97% consensus argument, the whole idea of this means of reducing evidence is totally wrong.

      Don wrote about this “A short summary of the supposed ‘consensus’” in it he makes the statement “In 2013 Cook et al looked at more than 12,000 abstracts, rated them according to whether or not they implicitly or explicitly endorsed the view that human activity had caused (wait for it) some of the warming, and again found the magic 97 per cent. See! It’s true!

      Unfortunately for Cook, Legates and others later in the same year published a rebuttal. ‘They found that “only 41 papers – 0.3% of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0% of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1% – had been found to endorse” the claim that human activity is causing most of the current warming. Elsewhere, Craig Idso, Nicola Scafetta, Nir J. Shaviv and Nils-Axel Morner and other climate scientists protested that Mr. Cook ignored or misrepresented their work.’”

      Also he expressed his faith in computer models used in the climate area in other words he chose a very large percentage of his speech pushing the veracity of his colleagues in that area. I did not expect more than that but considering the worth of what he said before then it is most disappointing.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    I’ve just updated the essay with a reference to Marcel Crok’s climate dialogue website, where you can see a quasi-debate between five scientists:

  • […] was worth summarising and wrestling with. It was by Steven Mosher, whom I’ve mentioned here as the joint author, with Thomas W. Fuller of an excellent book, Climategate. The Crutape letters. […]

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