Co2: The Climate Change Light Post

The street light effect is a metaphor for knowledge and ignorance and is captured in the observation by Noam Chomsky that (climate) “Science is a bit like the joke about the drunk who is looking under a lamppost for a key that he has lost on the other side of the street, because that’s where the light is. It has no other choice.”

Climate advocates have used increases in CO2 to predict that they will lead to catastrophic warming unless action is taken to reduce emissions.  And, the models that are the foundation of climate orthodoxy have been built on the basis of this assumption because CO2 is a greenhouse gas.  But, CO2’s warming potential is not linear, so as more is added to the atmosphere the warming of each increment is less than the prior one.

Even though climate models routinely over predict the warming associated with changes in CO2 and climate history shows that the lack of causality, the assertion of catastrophic warming is accepted as fact by many policy makers, the mainstream media and scientists who succumb to groupthink by not taking the time to do their own analysis.

The only explanation for this wrong-headed  is that CO2 can be measured, it can be taxed and regulated, whereas the predominant greenhouse gas, water vapor cannot.  Climate change advocates continue to assume that increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will produce a positive feedback that enhances the warming effect of CO2 emissions.  This would be caused by increases in the amount or distribution of water vapor and clouds according to a 2013 paper by Ken Gregory—Water Vapor Decline Cools the Earth: NASA Satellitia Data.  His observation is not new.  In 1990, for example, Robert Jastrow, Fred Seitz, and William Nierenberg made the same point in a George C Marshall Institute report—Global Warming—What Does The Science Tell Us.

Gregory’s analysis concludes “Climate models predict upper atmosphere moistening which triples the greenhouse effect from man-made carbon dioxide emissions. The new satellite data from the NASA water vapor project shows declining upper atmosphere water vapor during the period 1988 to 2001” which represented at the time the latest available data.

Until climate advocates abandon the GroupThink that has been their unifying force, they will be like the drunk who uses a light post for support instead of for illumination.


Climate Orthodoxy: The Limits of Professional Judgment

The climate orthodoxy that human activities are primarily responsible for warming since the mid-20th century rests mainly on a foundation of professional judgment, not scientific research involving falsifiable hypotheses.  That foundation is also the basis for the so-called consensus of scientists, which has been shown to be an “alternative fact.

There is nothing wrong with being guided professional judgment as long as it is recognized that professional judgment does not equate to factual certitude.  Michael Lewis in his most recent book, The Undoing Project writes about the work of two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (a Nobel Laureate in economics) whose research completely changed our understanding of human decision making and behavioral economics.  The bottom line is that humans—no matter what their calling and education—are not as rational as they think they are.

Tversky and Kahneman’s insights on professional judgment and the use of subjective probabilities justify a reasonable level of healthy skepticism about the role of professional judgment in shaping the narrative on climate change.

All of us give weight to professionals who advise us or who are considered experts in a particular field.  However, Tversky and Kahneman demonstrate that too much weight and too little skepticism is given to professional judgment, especially on subjects not rich with empirical data.  In a paper on how people make judgments, Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness, they wrote, “The decision we make, the conclusions we reach, and the explanations we offer are usually based on our judgments of the likelihood of uncertain events … .  In … many other uncertain situations, the mind did not naturally calculate the correct odds.”    Instead, “it replaced the laws of chance with rules of thumb”. When people make judgments they compare the specific topic with a mental model.

They also addressed when the rule of thumb—heuristic—approach leads to “serious miscalculation and concluded it was when the matter involved judgments under uncertainty.  “ People do not appear to follow the calculus of chance or statistical theory of prediction.  Instead, they rely on a limited number of heuristics which sometimes yield reasonable judgments and sometimes lead to severe and systematic error.”

Their work is relevant to climate change  because it is a relatively new field of knowledge and much about how it operates is not well understood. Distinguishing between what is reasonably well known about climate processes and what represents assumptions and best judgments should be more explicit, leading to a greater level of humility and less certitude.

The weakness in this perspective is the implication that scientists who believe that the science is settled and support the climate orthodoxy have the same failing. How could that be?

Many, perhaps most, of the scientists who represented the thinking in the 1980s when climate change was just emerging issue had been active in the environmental movement and advocates of the limits of growth narrative.  Maurice Strong, an environmental activist, and John Houghton, the first chair of the IPCC, were instrumental in recruiting scientists who would support climate alarmism.  Once that core was in place, billions of dollars in funding was directed to the IPCC process and research on the climate system and the threat of it posed.  Climate change became an industry that enriched those who embraced the notion that human activities, burning fossil fuels, was causing a climate catastrophe.

Professor Paul Romer of NYU made an insightful observation about the failure of a scientific field that relies on mathematical modeling.  Although he was referring to macroeconomics, his comments are equally as applicable to climate science. “Because guidance from authority can align the efforts of many researchers, conformity to the facts is no longer needed as a coordinating device. As a result, if facts disconfirm the officially sanctioned theoretical vision, they are subordinated. Eventually, evidence stops being relevant. Progress in the field is judged by the purity of its mathematical theories, as determined by the authorities.”

That represents the Group Think phenomenon, which holds that groups with common interests or purposes seek cohesion and collegiality as the expense of independent thinking and challenge.  Those who do not conform are sanctioned.  In the case of climate change they are labeled skeptics and deniers.


Scientific Shenanigans Equals Loss of Credibility

The CEO of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, Rush Holt, recently said, “scientists are partly to blame for skepticism of evidence in policy making.” He was referring to a “haughty attitude has generated a backlash with the body politic against all types of scientific evidence. That is undoubtedly true but that is a very superficial explanation. The climate change debate is a case in point.

The treatment of science and the scientific process by the climate establishment is clear evidence that scientists who promote the climate orthodoxy do not have what Holt refers to as “reverence for evidence”. Their reverence is to self interest and ideology.

Homan Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal recently exposed the shenanigans that NOAA and NASA have been engaged in reporting annual temperatures. While both organizations reported that 2016 was the warmest year on record, Jenkins pointed out that this was only the case because both agencies have since 2009 left out any reference to measurement uncertainty. When error bars are included 2016 and 2015 are essentially the same as are a number of earlier years starting with 1998.

When the difference between years is less than a tenth of a degree or a few tenths of a degree, the news value of these annual reports goes to zero. Omitting any mention of measurement uncertainly is not only misleading but also a sign of what the author Darrell Huff labeled “How to Lie With Statistics”. The problem of data manipulation is not limited to the reporting of annual temperatures. Dr. John Bates, a Department of Commerce Gold Medal winner and former principal scientist at the National Climatic Data Center exposed a 2015 NOAA study that relied on unverified data and was rushed to publication to discredit the global warming pause for the purpose of influencing negotiations at climate summit in Paris.

NOAA’s statistical chicanery with temperature data is not a case of a few well meaning scientists engaging in trickery to draw public attention to an impending climate catastrophe. It is part of a well organized initiative to promote the sustainable development agenda. In 2009, the famous Climategate scandal exposed how an influential group of scientists were engaged in a conspiracy to discredit so-called skeptics, were manipulating the peer review process for self enrichment and political ends, and distorting statistical data to advance the climate orthodoxy.

Citing the “haughty attitude of scientists as the reason for a loss of credibility is analogous to blaming the sinking of the Titanic on a weak hull. The misuse of the scientific process to exploit climate change and other scientific issues will continue as long as scientists don’t pay a price for using it to pursue political agendas and self enrichment and the leadership of scientific organizations doesn’t demand integrity, openness, and respect for dissenting views

If Mr.Holt wants to improve scientific credibility, he should take the lead in promoting an initiative to establish a higher standard of excellence and transparency for scientific research and research used for policy making. In particular, since peer review has been gamed, as Climategate revealed, the peer review process needs to be reformed. Also, since science is about challenging prevailing hypotheses and theories, dissent must be promoted and protected; not demonized.

The bottom line, is that the scientific establishment needs to do a better job of policing itself and holding scientists and scientific work to the principles set by Richard Feynman and Karl Popper.