‘the game’: the way the global warming scare is played

I’ve written before about sea-level rise, and it continues to interest me, as it does very many, from politicians to coastal dwellers. Judith Curry’s Climate etc website ran a most detailed post, by an inventor and author called Rud Istvan, on what might be happening with respect to glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica. It is really worth reading, plus the Comments, which run to more than 200, because the sheer uncertainty of it all cannot fail to get to you.

Like so much in ‘climate science’, measurements so often come with errors that are larger than the differences reported, and those are the errors that we know about. How sure can we be that Antarctic is losing ice? Satellites tell us that a lot of ice is going every year. What exactly is it that the GRACE system is measuring? It is, after all, well below freezing pretty well all the time in most of Antarctic. I wrote about the ‘collapse’ of an aspect of the Antarctic ice shelf the other day.

My view is that we simply don’t know enough about almost any of it to be confident. Yet the orthodox remain supremely confident. In the Comments I came across a short summary of  ‘the game’ by Steven Mosher, who appears regularly on both Climate etc and WUWT. Mosher is his own man, and gets criticised by both sides, which probably makes him pretty happy. He wrote an excellent book with Thomas W. Fuller about the Climategate emails (Climategate. The CRUtape Letters) which appeared in 2010.

Mosher joined a discussion about how university media and other PR entities make more out of a scientific paper than is really there. His comment (slightly edited by me) went like this.

The game is pretty simple. The scientist says 97% agree (which is pretty close to the truth, depending on the subject). The media and message pushers say the science is settled.

It goes like this:

Scientist: Nearly all of us agree that humans cause warming.
Message Pusher: The science is settled.
Skeptic: Science is never settled.
Scientist: We never said the science was settled.

Scientist: There is a possibility that the WAIS [West Antarctic Ice Sheet] will increase its melt to 1mm per year in 200 to 900 years, and eventually lead to 12 feet of SLR [sea-level rise].
Message Pusher: Collapse in 200 years, we will have to move LAX [Los Angeles Airport].
Sceptic: What?
Scientist: We never said 12 feet in 200 years.

There is an asymmetry of concern. Read the Climategate mails. The concern is always about a message being misread in one direction. Concern that a message will lead to less alarm. There is never any concern that the message will lead to more alarm. In behavior there is always a proactive effort when the press gets it wrong on the “less alarm” side and no proactive effort when the mistake is on the more alarm, side. There is one exception, when somebody argues that we have gone too far, and that there is no hope.

You want just the right amount of alarm. Not too much to make the situation hopeless, not too little to justify delay… Just the right amount, [as with] Goldilocks.

I think there is a lot in this pithy précis. I have noticed myself how the media ‘sex up’ the scientific material, and the same seems to be true of university PR people. They want the media to take notice of the paper, because it’s good for the university. They know that anything that says that ‘things are bad’, or that ‘it’s worse than we thought’, will get attention.

A published paper that says, on the contrary, that sea level doesn’t seem to be rising faster, or that Greenland ice seems pretty solid, will get little media attention. I can’t speak confidently about the university PR people, who should be trying to get attention whatever the paper says, but they may well feel that there’s not much use — the media won’t take any notice. And no one ever comes out of the scientific establishment to complain that the news report overstates the reality. Indeed, some scientists do their own inflation of the importance of their paper, as in the case of the paper about bees.

What can anyone do about this? As I’ve argued before, Nature is in charge here. In two or three years we will see whether or not warming has ‘resumed’. If it hasn’t it will get progressively harder for the orthodox position to be defended, and the media will begin to shift, as will the scientific journals. There seems to be a bit of a shift already, with more dissenting papers being published. If warming starts again, things will go on as before.

We should remember there has been a shift by governments too. The Ukraine situation is making the EU think again about where it gets its energy, and greenhouse gas emissions aren’t as important as they were. The Abbott Government is not talking much about ‘climate change’, and where it does it intones the orthodoxy, but it is cutting out funding for mitigation about as fast as it can.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see more scary stuff over the next few month, especially if an el Nino develops in the Pacific. All one can do is to read the papers, monitor the data and make what sense of it one can.


Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks. Well put by Stephen Mosher. The first rule of propaganda is that, when the enemy introduces news that supports his side, you must immediately hit back with your own news. Last week a report came out about an increase in Antarctic ice. A day or two later a report came out indicating that the Antarctic ice was in imminent danger of collapse. The first rule of negotiation is ‘what does the other fellow want?’ The answer to this (in relation to CAGW) will reveal the hidden agenda (if any) of the proponents.

  • Lysander says:

    The ABC last night reported on GRACE and that we are losing ice at an unprecedented rate; they reported 1 BILLION TONNES per annum.
    This was accompanied by video of ice sheets collapsing and commentary on massive sea level rise.
    The very last line in the report said we can expect this to occur within 1,000 years.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes! I watched it too, and at the end said to the presenter, ‘Just as well you said that!’

    • Peter Kemmis says:

      So if I use a bushy’s measure that 1 cubic metre of ice is one tonne (I reckon that’s close enough), that’s a block of 1 cubic kilometres per annum. The land mass is 14 million square kilometres. That works out at a fraction of a millimetre of ice thickness per annum, averaged across the whole land mass. Something may be amiss here.

      I’ve just checked this site http://www.antarcticglaciers.org/glaciers-and-climate/antarctic-ice-sheet-surface-mass-balance/ and quote ” GRACE . . . found that total mass loss increased by 26 ± 14 gigatonnes per year from 2002 to 20099. Rignot et al. (2011) found a smaller acceleration of 14.5±2 gigatonnes per year from 1993-2011″ . If we take the higher figure of of 26 gigatonnes, then that would mean an average loss of a little under 2 millimetres per annum. Over 1000 years that would be 2 metres. Please check my maths.

      It seems the ABC presented an annual loss rate that is too low. However, to project 1000 years ahead, Minister, would be a courageous move.

    • Mike O'Ceirin says:

      “I have a
      problem with the widespread implication (in the popular press) that
      the West Antarctic collapse can be attributed to anthropogenic
      climate change,” said Mike Wolovik, a graduate researcher at
      Lamont-Doherty who studies ice sheet dynamics. “The marine ice sheet
      instability is an inherent part of ice sheet dynamics that doesn’t
      require any human forcing to operate. When the papers say that
      collapse is underway, and likely to last for several hundred years,
      that’s a reasonable and plausible conclusion.” http://phys.org/news/2014-05-clock-west-antarctic.html

      The author an American thinks the adaptive response is don’t build in Florida.

    • John Morland says:

      1000 years? Really? I thought we will be rooned a lot further in the future, say, as little as 500 million years time when the Earth will go (ok, possibly) into a runaway greenhouse (warming) effect due to a 5% increase in solar radiance (the sun is increasing its radiance by about 1% every 100 million years). This extra 5% may just be enough to raise the heat trap (where water vapor condenses to water droplets) sufficiently high for solar UV to break up water into hydrogen and oxygen.

      Earth’s gravity cannot hold on to Hydrogen -so effectively we start to loose our water. Another 1000 million years should see our ocean vapourise.

      Then the heat really starts. We will all be rooned says Hanrahan if this solar radiance don’t stop or we don’t move the Earth further away.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Published in 2012 I think, was a letter to an Australian newspaper by a person holding a senior position in a notable Australian body (not the Bureau of Meteorology, whose data is referenced below). It was about sea level rise, and appeared to be seeking to counter an earlier article by a sceptic. The author stated that sea level rises in the north and west of Australia at the time were in the order of 8-9 mms per annum, and I understand this is correct. The writer did not provide other relevant information, such as that at Sydney’s Port Denison, the average rise over the last 100 years is around 2 mm per annum, with no significant acceleration (http://www.bom.gov.au/ntc/IDO70000/IDO70000_60370_SLD.shtml). Nor were any other observations provided.

    There was no discussion of issues around measurement, of matters of tectonic plate movement. I thought it was a bald attempt to provide a skewed picture to support an ideological point of view. It was deception by omission. If challenged, of course the response would be “what I said is accurate.” Yeah, tell that to the Marines.

    I wouldn’t hire that person, no matter how substantial the credentials.

    • Mike O'Ceirin says:

      I remembered an early website in this hysteria by one John Daly http://www.john-daly.com/ A line was scratched into the rock on the “Isle of the Dead” in 1841. It marked the mean sea level! It is hard work to out how much sea level has changed there but certainly it has fallen. If you go to the BOM site on this you will find this statement “Sea level is affected by the combination of tidal, weather, climate and oceanographic conditions as well as geodynamic processes” in
      http://www.bom.gov.au/ntc/IDO60202/IDO60202.2005.pdf It is believed that the volume of the sea has increased which is quite a reasonable assumption but what this means to any individual at a point on the coast is entirely a different matter since there are many factors involved. For instance on 23 December 2004 the sea rose 20 cm at Spring Bay because of a magnitude Mw 8.1 earthquake north of Macquarie Island. Australia is though reasonable stable and 2.8 mm per year hardly noticeable amongst the other factors. New Orleans in many parts is sinking 25 mm a year, the UK is tipping sinking at one end rising at the other so Terra Firma is just not that stable! Do any of us though lie awake at night worrying about the fact that Australia is moving north about 7 cm a year. Soon I feel sure that humans will be responsible because of our use of chlorine or some such.

  • David says:

    “My view is that we simply don’t know enough about almost any of it to be confident. Yet the orthodox remain supremely confident.”

    Don, all sides of the debate are presented with the same set of uncertain facts and imperfect scientific models. Each person will make sense of them as best they can. But it does not really make sense to argue that one side is intrinsically more or less “confident” in their ability to make conclusions than the other. For example, I could
    argue that you are confident that we should wait and see

    • Don Aitkin says:


      Yes, that’s true. But I’m not pushing my own theory. I don’t have one, and don’t have to have one. I simply provide a critique of the orthodox theory, which is possible for me to do, though one needs to do a lot of reading and thinking, and not just wave one’s hands.

      The disappearance of the Antarctic ice is a perfect illustration of the whole AGW debate. As it happens, no one much is even saying that it is anthropogenic global warming that is melting the ice — it is as though that is simply taken for granted. I have not read any potential explanation for how this would occur, and would be happy to be directed to one. The alleged loss of ice is the result of satellite measurements based on very large assumptions of what is happening in a continent twice the size of Australia that has few measuring stations, and no data of any long-term nature. Yet the Governor of California can tell his people that he may have to move Los Angeles airport, and even the scientists are taking about hundreds of years. It is the stuff of comedy, but no one is laughing.

      • David says:

        “But I’m not pushing my own theory. I don’t have one, and don’t have to have one. ”

        One way to “protect your hypothesis”, is to deny having one! 🙂

        • Don Aitkin says:

          If I had to have a hypothesis, it would be that much/most of the warming and cooling we have seen has been caused by factors outside human activity, which is of course the null hypothesis.

  • Gus says:

    Well, the leftist media likes to talk about the Antarctic losing ice, but in fact, the opposite is true. The continent has been gaining ice. The total ice covered area is the largest ever seen on satellite record. Researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute found that Antarctic ice shelves are not melting at all, contrary to computer models’ predictions (see an article by Lewis Page in The Register, 25th June 2012). The ice loading on the Antarctic Peninsula, that’s the one that is said to be melting fastest, because it’s affected by the Southern Ocean and reaches far north, has actually increased since 1850 (doi:10.1029/2012GL052559). The current expectation is that the Antarctic Snow Pack will continue to grow during 21st century (doi:10.1038/nclimate1590).
    What is the game in all of this? The game is to lie about “climate change/disruption” and scare/prompt the public into voting for the most dangerous gang of reactionaries that the Western democracies have spawned since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wherever these people come to power, be it through democratic processes or, more often, through bureaucratic infiltration, everything grinds to halt. Economic paralysis and vandalism is what they’re really after and what they unfailingly deliver.

  • margaret says:

    Just wanted to say that this post was interesting!

  • […] in the way the media and the academic bodies talk about ‘climate change’. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it seemed to be the case that more dissenting papers were being published, and that said […]

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