Feb 062011

Last Monday evening, BBC2 broadcast a Horizon programme with the title Science Under Attack. Both the title and the content of the programme were deeply misleading but, no doubt unintentionally, it may reveal far more about the scientific establishments confused and panic-stricken reaction to the onslaught of criticism that it has witnessed since the Climategate scandal broke just over a year ago than either its illustrious presenter or the programme makers realise or intended.

The white knight who galloped to the rescue of our beleaguered ‘community of climate scientists’ (the presenter’s words) was Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist and the newly appointed president of the Royal Society. His rather blokeish, seemingly modest, but relentlessly confident and avuncular style in front of the camera, together with a gift for appearing to explain complex issues in a fair-minded and easily digestible way, were more than enough to lull any audience into a complacent acceptance of anything he might have to say. So what went wrong?

Sir Paul’s primary mission was to persuade viewers that the questions posed by global warming sceptics are of no consequence, and that climate science has emerged from a traumatic year of unsavoury revelations without a stain on its good name. But there was another theme that underpinned his thesis: everyone should listen to what scientists say and then meekly accept it as incontrovertible truth. Whether his efforts were appropriate for a scientist of his distinction is very doubtful. It is not unreasonable for the public to expect the president of our national academy of science to take a well-balanced view of such an important subject as climate change, but there was absolutely no evidence of this.

The Royal Society recently attempted to dump its indefensible claims that the science of anthropogenic global warming is settled and the debate is over by drafting a new, and far more cautious, report on the present level of scientific understanding of this vexed topic. It would appear that their new president has no such doubts or concerns about the vast uncertainties that dog climate research. One wonders just how much Sir Paul knows about the present state of play in climate science, which is well outside his field of expertise. It would also be interesting to know how he has informed himself about this subject.

This Horizon programme would seem to have been part of a concerted PR campaign that was launched soon after compromising emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were released on the Internet. The narrative that the scientific community, and it’s cheerleaders in the eNGOs, the government, and parts of the media seek to implant in the public consciousness is that the scientists whose behaviour was laid bare in their correspondence were in fact innocent victims of politically motivated and unscrupulous climate sceptics, rather than the perpetrators of apparently disgraceful behaviour. This is to turn logic on its head, but if Nurse has noticed, eminent scientist that he no doubt is, then he sees no reason to comment.

For all his ‘man of the people’ delivery, one could hardly accuse Sir Paul of false modesty. Only seconds into his presentation, we were informed that “science created our modern world”, a fatuous and arrogant claim that seems to be emerging as a new mantra from the beleaguered science community.  Professor Brian Cox used almost the same phrase in his Wheldon lecture last December “science … delivered the modern world” while attempting to justify the BBC’s lack of impartiality when reporting climate related matters.

If this is the way that scientists are now inclined to see themselves, and an endorsement of that notion from such an eminent personage as the president of the Royal Society would certainly seem to send a message that it is quite OK to do so, then that is truly terrifying. Are scientists really so hubristic now that they ignore the contributions of philosophers, engineers, businessmen, explorers, academics from a host of non-scientific disciplines, social reformers, entrepreneurs, politicians, and countless others in order to assign all accolades and glory to themselves?

A few moments later, we were treated to a clip of Sir Paul barking, ‘Are you saying that the whole community, or a majority of the community of climate scientists are skewing their data? Is that what you are saying?’ at a rather startled looking James Delingpole. The camera immediately cut away giving the impression that the redoubtable ‘Dellers’ had no response to this salvo, which seems unlikely. Not many sceptics think anything of the kind, although they are well used to hearing the worst kind of climate alarmist, who is clutching at straws, making this accusation. Why the president of the Royal Society should choose to use such a notoriously threadbare ‘straw man’ argument without allowing a reply from his victim is something that each of us must decide for ourselves. And this sets the scene for most of the rest of the programme in which Sir Paul’s views are paramount, and the arguments of climate sceptics the attackers of the programme title are not given any serious consideration.

The message that Sir Paul evidently wishes to get across and there can be no doubt that this edition of Horizon was about getting a very specific message across and doing so ruthlessly was not particularly complex. If a Nobel Prize winner chooses to lay down the law on a matter as important as global warming, there is no room for dissent from anyone outside the cosy academic world of the scientific establishment that he inhabits. The views of an acclaimed researcher, albeit in a totally unrelated field, who is the new head of the world’s oldest and arguably most respected scientific institution, and by his own estimation a creator of the modern world, are beyond criticism or challenge because they represent SCIENCE. Particularly, no one should pay any attention to the questions that global warming sceptics pose because they are not part of the SCIENTIFIC ESTABLISHMENT and must therefor be politically motivated troublemakers. In this scenario there are legions of impartial and scrupulously fair-minded mainstream climate scientists queuing up to explain everything, while the sceptics just cause trouble.

As examples of such worthy personages, it is remarkable that Sir Paul chose to interview a very complacent glaciologist from James Hansen’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at NASA who seemed to have a less than adequate understanding of the carbon cycle and, believe it or not, Phil Jones, the researcher at the centre of the University of East Anglia Climategate scandal.

The man from NASA had some very pretty video presentations to show how satellites collect vast quantities of data about Earth’s climate, and how weather models can mimic observed data. No mention was made of the relatively short period that satellite data covers, or that GSMs that can predict weather patterns over a period of days with reasonable accuracy are not necessarily capable of telling us much about what the climate is likely to do during the rest of this century. A brief excursion into the carbon cycle lead to this amazing exchange:

Bob Bindschadler [NASA scientist]: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It’s about seven gigatons per year right now.

Paul Nurse: And is that enough to explain…?

Bob Bindschadler: Natural causes only can produce – yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year. So there’s just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.

Paul Nurse: So seven times more.

Bob Bindschadler: That’s right.

So it would appear that neither the NASA expert, nor the president of the Royal Society who has chosen to enlighten the public about the climate debate in an hour long TV programme, know that anthropogenic emissions of Co2 are generally estimated as about 5% of natural emissions into the atmosphere, not 700%.

However Sir Paul did confide, rather breathlessly, that GISS burns $2bn (no it’s not a typo) in funding for climate research each year, rather implying that any data that cost that much must be pretty darned good. The possibility that funding on this scale might be a distinct disincentive to following up on any evidence that casts doubt on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) seems not to have crossed the presenter’s mind. This is strange as, at other points in the programme, Sir Paul stresses the importance of scientists considering all the evidence relating to the research they are conducting and to testing their theories to destruction. As his programme appears to be an exercise in assessing the credibility of climate scepticism in face of the wisdom handed down by the creators of the modern world, one might expect him to follow his own excellent advice so far as methodology is concerned. It would seem that he reserves such good practices for the day job in the genetics lab.

Concerning the availability of research funding to those concerned about the climate, there is a deep irony in the fact that the Horizon programme was broadcast about the same  time that Jeff Id, who has made a valuable, and sceptical, contribution to the climate debate, announced that he was closing his Air Vent blog because of business and family pressures, and Antony Watts of Watts Up With That took a decision to scale back his activities for similar reasons.

The sceptics that Professor Nurse chooses to interview, supposedly to find out what evidence climate scepticism is founded on, are James Delingpole and Fred Singer.

The former is a journalist who happily admits that he is an arts graduate who only became interested in the climate debate about a year ago, and that he can hardly be expected to be a match for a scientist of Nurse’s standing. Fred Singer, now in his mid-eighties, was introduced as ‘one of the world’s most prominent and prolific climate sceptics’ and interviewed in a crowded and very noisy Washington diner where a few mumbled remarks about solar influence on climate were hardly audible, but gave the impression as the film makers presumably intended that he was talking nonsense.  Of the multitude of climate sceptics who could have presented arguments that Sir Paul would have had trouble sweeping aside, there was no sign, but then we were not watching that kind of programme and he was not considering all the evidence or testing his theories to destruction on this occasion.

The interview with Phil Jones, on the other hand, was conducted in the tranquil setting of the CRU library and the University or East Anglia campus, where not a syllable of the Climategate emailers responses to sympathetically posed leading questions could be missed.  This was an obvious attempt to rehabilitate this still beleaguered scientist, but why should Sir Paul want to do such a thing when doubts about both Jones behaviour and his research findings still so obviously exist?  The day after the programme was broadcast, the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology published their review of the supposedly independent inquiries into the Climategate affair. They found that the inquiries were not independent, and that they failed to examine issues that could have proved damaging to Jones and his colleagues.

What is perhaps rather strange is that, while giving Jones and the University of East Anglia such an easy time, and claiming that the Climategate emailers have been exonerated by ‘independent’ enquiries even though these just happen to have been set up by their employers, the very institutions that would suffer most if any malfeasance had been reported, Sir Paul omits to mention that he was born (and bred :correction, see below) in the city of Norwich, where UEA is based, and that he received his PhD from UEA in 1973. Nor does he mention that Jones was a part of the Society’s climate advisory network that produced the now discredited and replaced statement on climate change referred to above. Given the degree of mistrust that exists between warmists and sceptics, those would seem to be matters that he should have been quite open about.

There is much more that one could say about this programme which, while purporting to be a dispassionate analysis of the climate debate by an eminent scientist, is just another shocking attempt to influence public opinion by being very selective in the evidence it considers. Instead of reviewing the criticisms, or in the words of the programme title ‘attacks’, that climate research has been subject to, Nurse prefers to home in on a very mild criticism that comes from those within the establishment fold who seek to defend the scientists.

Scientists may not be willing enough to publicly discuss the uncertainties in their science, or to fully engage with those that disagree with them, and this has helped to polarise the debate.

The hostile and arrogant attitude of climate scientists to anyone who may be so impertinent as to want to ask questions about their findings were displayed for all to see in the  Climategate emails. Engaging with those who disagree with them and acknowledging uncertainties will not prevent a polarised debate, it will simply bring an increased deluge of embarrassing questions from sceptics, and climate scientists must know this. But the suggestion that climate scientists may merely have been a little bit reticent sounds benign and reassuring to the uninitiated when delivered with a steady gaze looking straight into the lens of the camera. The problem is that if the uncertainties that attend every step on the way to an anthropogenic climate change hypothesis were frankly discussed, then the credibility of climate science would vanish like snowdrifts in a heatwave. Too many unjustified claims of certainty or near certainty have been made in the past for researchers to publicise the true state of affairs now.

But if all else fails, one can always blame the media for any woes. This seems to be a very strange line for Sir Paul to take. In an age when ‘churnalism’ (journalists regurgitating undigested press releases, stories from wire services, and PR packages without checking them) assures any sensational story about imminent environmental catastrophe a place in the headlines it is hard to know what climate scientists have to complain about. But Sir Paul says:

It’s not surprising that the public are confused reading all of this different stuff. There’s these lurid headlines and there’s political opinions, I think, filtering through, which probably reflects editorial policy within the newspapers, and we get an unholy mix of the media and the politics, and it’s distorting the proper reporting of science. And that’s a real danger for us, if science is to have its proper impact on society.

He seems to  be referring to the Daily Express, Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph where climate scepticism is freely reported, but not of course to the Guardian, the Independent, and very often the Times and Sunday Times, which seem to be prepared to print any scare story about ‘new scientific research’, however ill founded and preposterous it might be. And Sir Paul certainly doesn’t address what Steve McIntyre has called ‘the silence of the lambs’: the failure of the climate science community to criticise or correct inaccurate and exaggerated reporting when it stirs up alarm about human impact on the climate.

Indeed there are moments of pure unreality in Sir Paul’s diatribe against those who attack science.

There’s an overwhelming body of evidence that says we are warming our planet. But complexity allows for confusion, and for alternative theories to develop. The only solution is to look at all the evidence as a whole. I think some extreme sceptics decide what to think first and then cherry-pick the data to support their case.

Of course the possibility that climate scientists might be victims of precisely the same affliction is not addressed. As for the so-called consensus view of climate science, he has this to say:

“Consensus” can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time, and if it’s working well – it doesn’t always work well – but if it’s working well, they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that, so there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move, you have to wonder: is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough?

It is this utterance, perhaps more than anything else in the programme, which suggests that Sir Paul is way out of his depth where climate science is concerned. The idealised scenario that he proposes may be possible in mathematics, chemistry, physics or genetics, but in climate research it would be professional suicide, as the Climategate emails show. In this field, if no other, dissent is viewed as heresy pure and simple, regardless of how well founded it might be.

And while we are on the subject of the scientific consensus on climate change, it is very strange that Sir Paul has omitted any mention of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from this programme about the inviolable authority of climate science. I wonder why?

Controversy surrounding AIDs and GM crops are touched on briefly, but the programme’s focus is relentlessly on climate change. A sequence dealing with aids includes a long, and very sympathetic, discussion with a man called Tony who does not believe that HIV causes AIDs because, although he was diagnosed HIV positive years ago, and has not taken any of the medication he was prescribed, he is still alive and apparently healthy. This would seem to have been included for no other purpose than to suggest that climate sceptics are no different from HIV sceptics, and therefor totally irrational.

Controversy about GM food crops is also given a brief airing, but Sir Paul seems to be oblivious to the irony that the green activists who trash fields of GM maize, and therefore science must be scientific ignoramuses because they do not listen when researchers say there is no danger, are likely to be the very same people who will turn out for anti fossil fuel demonstrations and presumably fully accept all that the climate science community has to say on that subject.

This episode of Horizon begins and ends in the archives of the Royal Society with Sir Paul admiring – almost worshiping – the early minutes of the Royal Society’s meetings and works by Newton and Darwin. No one can doubt the outstanding record of scientific achievement of the Society in the past, and Sir Paul is obviously thrilled to be at its head, but the inclusion of these sequences seem to say to the audience, don’t you dare question what I, the successor of these great men, am telling you.

In the eyes of many scientists, it seems to be becoming as unacceptable to challenge scientific dogma today as it was to question the theology of the medieval church, although it is not yet quite so dangerous. Yet anyone who has read the Climategate emails must know that in climate science a reformation is long overdue: this branch of science definitely needs a spring-clean. In the emails we see a world of people whose sole preoccupation seems not to be curiosity and discovery, but keeping one jump ahead of their critics. And how do they view those critics? As politically motivated ignoramuses of course, while Sir Paul describes, the CRU in the following terms:

‘The unit’s headquarters are [sic] tiny, yet Dr Jones and his colleagues have had a truly global impact’.

Why should such titans of the scientific world be concerned about sceptics who want to check their research? What could they possibly have to fear? And why, in the wake of the Climategate scandal, did the University of East Anglia promise a review of the research that has come out of the CRU, and then quietly drop the idea? And why is asking questions about such matters considered to be an attack on science?  Indeed why, if there isn’t any problem really, has such controversy triggered an hour-long programme from the BBC starring the president of our national academy of science?

No one could possibly expect the scientific world’s new chief representative (and shop steward?) to say anything that might stand in the way of concern about global warming providing billions of pounds of research funding, but the subject did deserve something rather better than a tedious and often confused defence of the establishment view; just leave it all to the scientists Sir Paul seems to be repeating endlessly, like Phil Jones, who understand all these things and cannot possibly be wrong.

But how can any fair-minded person, inside or outside the scientific establishment, be indifferent to demands that climate scientist, who have so much influence on public policy at present, should be subject to intense scrutiny, and particularly by those who are most hostile to their views. Only then can their research findings be fully tested and finally trusted. Although Sir Paul says he is keen on scientists testing their ideas to destruction, he seems terrified if that process is instigated from outside the scientific establishment and applied to climate science. And therein lies the real thrust of his programme.

Sir Paul is now at the pinnacle of the scientific establishment. His views on climate science matter, regardless of whether he really knows anything about the controversies that have engulfed this subject or not. Although he purports to be considering whether the attacks that have been made on climate science during the last year can in any way be justified, it seems evident that his mind was closed to any such possibility from the outset. Had this not been the case he would have chosen very different climate sceptics to talk to and would have attempted to establish just what their concerns are.

The title of the programme, Science Under Attack, points to a fascinating sidelight on the way that the scientific establishment now view the climate debate. As I have said, what controversy exists over GM crops and the cause of AIDs is of a very different type and order from that concerning anthropogenic global warming, and their inclusion in this programme is ancillary to the main theme. So far as I am aware, mathematicians, physicists, chemists and astronomers are not conspicuously under attack. Only climate science and climate scientists are in the cross hairs of public condemnation at the moment. So why was this programme called Science Under Attack? Is this meant to imply that anyone who fails to embrace the consensus view on climate change is challenging science, and the scientific method, in its entirety? If so that would seem to be a very dangerous position for Sir Paul and the scientific establishment to adopt.

If the Royal Society is prepared hold up climate science as the poster child of science as a whole, then the credibility of science is being linked to just one discipline that has a distinctly short and chequered record. This leads to two serious pitfalls. In the first, the old established disciplines maths, physics, chemistry, astronomy etc are likely to resent the hype and razzmatazz surrounding their junior colleagues, and become hostile and inquisitive. It would seem unlikely that climate science would come out of such scrutiny by other disciplines smelling of roses.

The second is that the public may come to judge science as a whole by the performance and behaviour of one high profile discipline; climate science. This would seem to be a most ill advised and offering a hostage to fortune. At the moment the frenetic revelations of last year have quietened down, but it would be quite unjustified to assume that all the skeletons have tumbled out of the climate science cupboard and that more will not follow.

Added to these considerations, it seems that criticism is something that the scientific establishment now finds impossible to cope with in an open and constructive way. Hence the rather hysterical title of Sir Paul’s programme and its utter failure to acknowledge and address the origin of the problems that climate scepticism are causing to those who seek to promote and defend science. As I have said, it would be unreasonable to expect the president of the Royal Society to express any outright scepticism about global warming in a popular television series, but one might expect him to acknowledge that doubts exist when it is so manifestly obvious that uncertainties in the science have not been acknowledged in the past. In fact, he does no more than acknowledge that some uncertainties exist, but in a dismissive way that suggests that this need worry no one.

There are various possible explanations for this obtuse behaviour.

It is of course possible that Sir Paul is simply being disingenuous, but this would seem unlikely. Then there is the possibility that, when assessing a controversy in a discipline that he is not familiar with, he has been credulous and willing to retail uncritically the views of his cronies in the scientific establishment. But perhaps the most likely explanation, based on Sir Paul’ own words, is that an overweening arrogance has seized the world of science. Here is part of Sir Paul’s peroration:

I’m here in the Royal Society,[which represents]  350 years of an endeavour which is built on respect for observation, respect for data, respect for experiment. Trust no-one, trust only what the experiments and the data tell you. We have to continue to use that approach, if we are to solve problems such as climate change.

It’s become clear to me that if we hold to these ideals of trust in evidence, then we have a responsibility to publicly argue our case. Because in this conflicted and volatile debate, scientists are not the only voices that are listened to. When a scientific issue has important outcomes for society, then the politics becomes increasingly more important. So if we look at this issue of climate change, that is particularly significant. Because that has effects on how we manage our economy and manage our politics. And so this is become a crucially political matter, and we can see that by the way that the forces are being lined up on both sides. What really is required here is a focus on the science, keeping the politics and keeping the ideologies out of the way.(Emphasis added)

This would appear to be a plea for acceptance of scientific hegemony on a scale that brooks no dissent, but at the same time it is contradictory. The climate sceptics who precipitated the Climategate scandal were, in fact, attempting to establish that trust in the experiments and data is justified. Why hinder them?  Concern that only the voices of science should be listened to from someone with Sir Paul Nurse’s influence sit very uneasily with the plea that the evidence for AGW is overwhelming. If this is the case, what does scientific establishment have to fear? And anyway, why should the voice of climate science be unchallengeable? As for the importance of not trusting anyone other than climate scientists when assessing the evidence of AGW, it is necessary for most of us to do so, and not least the audience that has spent an hour soaking up Sir Paul’s anything but objective views on the climate controversy, even though he is a geneticist. Is the title ‘scientist’ really enough to convey the ability to pontificate on any branch of science with authority?

Finally lets look at what a couple of commentators who can definitely not be described as climate sceptics had to say about Science Under Attack. Here is Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre, one of the most influential climate alarm advocates, writing on the BBC College of Journalism website :

Many, including colleagues in the science communication world, felt that it [Nurse’s programme] was a classic example of ‘scientism’, a growing tendency to demand that science should trump everything else as the only sound basis for good public debate and decision-making.


And Mike Hulme, former director the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia

In this programme from BBC’s Horizon team, the incoming President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, offers a vigorous defence of the trustworthiness of science. He also reveals an exalted view of the normative authority of science: both in the world of political decision-making (e.g. the cases of climate change and GM crops which the programme selects) and in the private lives of citizens. I suggest that he betrays an underlying adherence both to the linear view that science should drive policy-making and, to a lesser extent, to the deficit model of science communication.


If concerns such as these are being expressed from the heart of the warmist community, then Sir Paul’s tenure at the Royal Society is likely to be an interesting one. As he acknowledges in Science Under Attack, public belief in anthropogenic global warming is steadily declining in spite of all the efforts by scientists, politicians, the eNGOs and a large part of the media. Evidently it is not enough for scientists to shout ever more kindly that they are right and everyone else is not only wrong, but is not even capable of having a valid opinion.

And so we finally return to the programme title: Science Under Attack. Is Sir Paul really saying that because climate scientists are being criticised, all science is being attacked and threatened? It would appear that he is, but choosing climatology as the champion and exemplar of science would seem to be illogical and very risky, so why do it? Does he really think that the reputation of scientists everywhere depends on the public image of climate scientists? He may be right, but if so, then the world of science risks being hopelessly compromised by any shortcomings that become evident in a field that is now mired in controversy and, as he admits in the programme, failing to convince the public that human activity is warming the planet.

Science has not been well served by Sir Paul’s programme. If he is right, and the image of science as a whole has suffered from the ructions in climatology over the last year, then the scientific establishment would be wise to cut climate science adrift before it inflicts any more damage on the rest of the profession. Instead, the science establishment seem to think that it can to shore up the reputation and authority of their profession with a blatantly partisan TV film fronted by a man who seems very proud to be following in the footsteps of Newton, Wren and Darwin.

H/t to Alex Cull for an excellent transcript of the programme, which can be found here.

(UPDATE 11/02/2011: I have corrected this post which originally said that Sir Paul was ‘born and bred’ in Norwich.  Although he was born in Norwich, he was brought up in London)

197 Responses to “Nurse puts science on life support”

  1. PeterM

    OK. I’ll play your silly game (even though this no longer has anything to do with Paul Nurse and probably belongs on the other thread).

    I think we’ve agreed in the past that the effect of CO2 on temperature rise is logarithmic.


    So CO2 has risen since pre-industrial times by approximately 40% so this means that we’re nearly half way there in logarithmic terms.

    Half way where? (If you are referring to “half way to twice the pre-industrial CO2 level”, then the logarithmic value is 48%, or close to “half way”.)

    So also I think we’ve agreed that all the non CO2 factors just about cancel each other out. CH4, particulates etc.

    Yes. IPCC tells us that all the other anthropogenic factors cancel one another out, and I have no data indicating that this is not correct.

    So if we just multiply the measured rise, over land and ocean, since pre-industrial times by 2.1, we do get 0.75 x 2.1 = 1.6deg C, which is somewhat higher than your estimate.

    The measured linear rate of increase over the entire HadCRUT record since 1850 is 0.0414C per decade; the total linear rise of the entire period is 0.67C (a bit less than your 0.75C). 0.67/.48 = 1.4C (a bit closer than your 1.6C)

    If we multiply the measured rise over land , which is where most numans live you get 1 x 2.1 = 2.1 degC

    Why has the land warmed faster than the land? I’ll leave that question as an exercie for the student!

    The “land warmed faster than the land”? I assume you meant to write:

    Why has the land warmed faster than the sea? I’ll leave that question as an exercie for the student!

    The sea surface temperature is one of the weak spots in the entire HadCRUT record, as TonyB and others have pointed out to you with detailed explanation of why this is so. This makes the overall HadCRUT record, in itself, suspect, but let’s accept it at face value. However, it does make the sea surface record even more suspect.

    The land temperature record is bedeviled by the UHI effect, which is estimated by several studies to have caused a significant spurious warming signal, which would, of course also have skewed the overall record.

    This distortion would not have affected the sea surface record, however, so this upward distortion of the land surface record could well be a very logical answer to your question about apparent faster warming over land.

    Another explanation could be that the atmosphere warms and cools more rapidly than the sea. However, since we are talking about very small changes in annual and global averages of widely changing seasonal and diurnal temperatures, this explanation seems a bit far-fetched.

    But the two factors mentioned above make it rather futile to try to compare warming over land with that over the sea. The land may have apparently warmed faster, but this could well be due to the errors mentioned above rather than anything else.

    And why do the IPCC say, even if that 3 degs C is a more likely eventual figure for the total warming? Again another exercise for the student.

    I’m not sure I fully understand the question. Let me assume that you meant to write:

    And why do the IPCC say that 3 degs C is a more likely eventual figure for the total warming, which we might experience from pre-industrial times to some point in the future when atmospheric CO2 has reached twice the pre-industrial value of 280 ppmv?

    That one is easy to answer: because that is what the cited models tell them (check AR4, WG1, Ch.8: “Climate Models and Their Evaluations”, pp. 630-633). The 3C figure is model-derived.

    I would add the following questions for the student:

    Do you assume that all of the warming we have observed since 1850 (0.67C, that is) has been caused by anthropogenic forcing and none by natural factors?

    If you answered, “yes” to the above question, how would you explain the warming we have seen since emerging from the Maunder Minimum or the later Dalton Minimum, both prior to any significant human GHG emissions?

    And how would you explain the early 20th century warming period (1910-1944), prior to any significant human CO2 emissions, with a total warming of 0.53C over the period?

    And finally, a last question for the student.

    Let’s assume the IPCC cited models are correct, that there are no significant natural climate forcing factors and that a doubling of CO2 could cause a temperature rise of 3C. Let’s also assume that the CO2 level by 2100 will reach 560 ppmv, or twice the pre-industrial level. If we have already seen half of the warming expected, how much more warming could we theoretically expect to see from today until 2100?

    I’ve answered your questions, so please answer mine.


  2. Peter 175

    It was YOU who used the term pre industrial-you obviously didnt mean this at all.

    Taking it from 1950 makes previous periods non co2 induced then-i.e. completely natutral variability.

    Having just suffered the second coldest December in 350 years and the 20th warmest February in 100 years we can either assume that natural variability overwhelms the co2 signal or that the excess co2 suddenly ‘disappeared’ in December and returned in February…or something.

    With a very gently rising trend for 350 years there is nothing to suggest this is outside natural variability.

    You just refduse to engage on the accuracy of the global temperature record when citing this fractional temperature change.


  3. Max,

    I would expect that temperatures between now and the end of the century, under a business as usual scenario of CO2 concentrations rising steadily to 560ppmv, will carry on rising at about 0.15 degC per decade. So another 1.35 degC. Added to that, will be the 0.75 deg C rise we’ve already seen from pre-industrial times, which will make 2.1 degs.

    There is always a time lag between cause and effect when anything is warmed. Because the thermal mass of the Earth is large, the time lag will be several decades or even longer. So, even if CO2 levels don’t rise any higher, after the end of the century, the warming will continue until equilibrium is reached. In other words the incoming and outgoing radiation will be equal when the total warming is approximately three degrees. This could happen over the course of the 22nd century.

    Mind you, there is a danger that this scenario could be too optimistic due to the possibility of couple of extra feedbacks kicking in but we’ll leave these for now.

  4. PeterM

    Please answer my “questions to the student” (176), just as I answered yours.

    Now to your statement:

    I would expect that temperatures between now and the end of the century, under a business as usual scenario of CO2 concentrations rising steadily to 560ppmv, will carry on rising at about 0.15 degC per decade. So another 1.35 degC.

    Since the first decade of this century showed no warming (as confirmed by Kevin Trenberth, Phil Jones, and others of the “dangerous AGW” insider clique) you are apparently expecting a reversal of the natural factors that caused this unexplained lack of warming despite record CO2 increase and a resulting resumption of late 20th century warming.

    This is a nice leap of faith. Let’s hope you are right and not the several scientists, who tell us we are headed for colder climate for the next few decades.

    But it tells me that even you are no longer concerned about AGW as a potential threat requiring immediate mitigating action, since it is clear to one and all that possible warming of 1.35C is really nothing one should be too concerned about.

    I am breathing a sigh of relief that even Peter Martin now tells us he does not expect AGW to cause dangerous warming by 2100.


  5. PeterM

    You have given me your “expectations” of what will happen to our global temperature over the next 90 years with a “business as usual” scenario and atmospheric CO2 rising to a level of 560 ppmv.

    Fortunately, this estimate is not alarming at 1.35C additional warming above today’s level.

    Your basis for this estimate is simply that the late 20th century warming rate of 0.15C per decade would now resume after a brief 10-year pause and would last for the next 9 decades.

    Now let me give you mine.

    I think we will continue on the long-term cyclical trend we have seen since the record started in 1850. Since 1850 we have seen a net warming of 0.67C, occurring in 3 statistically indistinguishable warming cycles of around 30 years each with 30-year cycles of slight cooling in between, all with an underlying warming trend of around 0.04C per decade.

    Some of this warming may well have been caused by AGW. My guess is that there will be a continued slight GH warming effect from human GHG emissions (primarily CO2) plus strong natural effects. Just how these will interact over the next several decades is anyone’s guess.

    Due to the logarithmic relationship, it is reasonable to assume that the GHG-related portion will be roughly equivalent to what we have already seen, as you pointed out.

    If we assume, as postulated by several solar studies, that roughly half of the past warming can be attributed to the unusually high level of 20th century solar activity and we ignore any other natural forcing from PDO, ENSO, clouds, etc., we are left with roughly 0.32C attributable to AGW.

    So I would guess that it would be reasonable to assume that we will again resume a slight warming trend and that this will continue in a cyclical fashion, resulting in net warming by 2100 of around 0.7C, of which roughly half will have been attributed to AGW and the rest to natural factors. If the natural factors reverse a warming trend, then this could be somewhat lower.

    So with your guess of 1.35C warming, we would have a range of 0.7C to 1.35C warming from today to 2001, and nothing to get excited about.

    And I’d forget about more potential atmospheric warming “hiding in the pipeline” of the upper ocean, waiting to jump out of hiding by some as yet unknown mechanism to fry us all.


  6. Max,

    You’re fond of saying that there is no empirical evidence but the warming that we are currently seeing, and no it hasn’t stopped as the 00’s were 0.16 deg warmer than the 90’s, is quite consistent with the IPCC’s estimate of three degrees.

    It seems that even people like Roy Spencer have come around, in the last year or so, to the idea that the IPCC may not be too far off in their estimations.


    Of course, the evarge

  7. cont.

    Of course the average person may not think that just 2 or three degrees is that serious. A scientific assessment would suggest otherwise:


    The oceans may well start to suffer from the “warming soda” effect. As soda water warms it loses its fizz. If the oceans warm they lose their capacity to absorb CO2 and may even become net emitters of CO2.

    Your basic problem is not that you don’t understand concepts like time delays, although you pretend to by coming up with silly arguments about heat “lurking” etc, but that you still have changed your opinion that the scientific interpretation of the available evidence is anything other than a hoax.

    You’ve started with your conclusion and you are working your backwards in an attempt to justify that conclusion. You can’t consider yourself to be a serious scientific sceptic until you admit you were wrong to claim that the scientific interpretation of the available evidence was all a hoax.

  8. PeterM

    Yeah. I cited the Spencer reanalysis of the Camp and Tung paper previously. Using Tung’s data, Spencer comes up with a 2xCO2 CS of around half that used by IPCC (and independently concluded by Camp and Tung). I’d say this is “pretty far off”.

    Spencer’s caveats:

    The results of this experiment are pretty sensitive to errors in the observed temperatures, since we are talking about the response to a very small forcing — less than 0.2 Watts per sq. meter from solar max to solar min.

    Spencer’s analysis also

    “ignored the possibility of any Svensmark-type mechanism of cloud modulation by the solar cycle…this will have to remain a source of uncertainty for now.”

    I’d say the biggest uncertainty in both the Camp and Tung paper and Spencer’s reanalysis is the assumption that there are no other forcing factors at play.

    As one blogger wrote:

    The problem is that they (Camp and Tung) essentially assume that the apparent solar cycle component is caused by the TSI alone. This leaves out the possibility of a coincidence (spurious correlation) or some amplifier of the solar cycle variations. I don’t want to start a debate about the controversial cosmic ray hypothesis, but Camp and Tung do implicitly exclude it from their analysis, and anything which is not known.

    For a better picture of Spencer’s thoughts on climate sensitivity see this recent analysis on his blog site:

    This is based on actual physical observations from CERES satellites (not just model simulations, as used by IPCC) and concludes:

    A net feedback of 6 operating on the warming caused by a doubling of atmospheric CO2 late in this century would correspond to only about 0.5 deg. C of warming. This is well below the 3.0 deg. C best estimate of the IPCC, and even below the lower limit of 1.5 deg. C of warming that the IPCC claims to be 90% certain of.

    So you see that Spencer is a long way from “coming around, in the last year or so, to the idea that the IPCC may not be too far off in their estimations” as much as you might like for this to be the case.


  9. Max,

    I notice that Roy Spencer has written “Note there is a time lag of about 1 year between the solar forcing and the temperature response, as would be expected since it takes time for the upper ocean to warm.”

    I think you might want to put him right on the issue of time lags. Just give him your usual spiel and tell him to ” forget about … hiding in the pipeline or lurking in the upper ocean, waiting to jump out of hiding by some as yet unknown mechanism etc etc”

    Just tell him that effect immediately follows cause. Any self respecting climate change denier shouldn’t shy away from that delusion!

  10. PeterM

    In the second half of your post (182) you opine:

    Your basic problem is not that you don’t understand concepts like time delays although you pretend to by coming up with silly arguments about heat “lurking” etc, but that you still have changed your opinion that the scientific interpretation of the available evidence is anything other than a hoax.

    Then you cite a “scepticalscience” blog.

    John Cook’s fantasy is great. Just don’t take him too seriously – he doesn’t have a clue.

    The “coca-cola” effect he warns of is absurd.

    We are talking about globally and annually averaged warming of fractions of a degree, as compared to seasonal and diurnal fluctuations of several times this amount, whereby CO2 is being absorbed and degassed minute by minute in a massive natural cycle.

    Just do a quick calculation, Peter – you’re a physicist so this should be a piece of cake. Let’s call it a “scientific interpretation of the available information” (as you did).

    Let’s say that 1°C future atmospheric warming is following Hansen’s suggestion and “hiding” in the upper ocean (0-700m), waiting to reach “equilibrium” (you can do the same calculation for 2°C, 3°C or any number that fits your fancy).

    How much warming would this energy cause in the upper ocean?

    If it went “hiding” in the deep ocean (as some scientists have speculated, since it could not be found in the upper ocean), how many degrees warming would it cause there?

    Once you have figured this out, Peter, tell me how (i.e. by which physical mechanism) this “stored energy” is going to come back out of the ocean to add warming to the atmosphere?

    Then, using the published solubility tables for CO2 in seawater, calculate how much CO2 will be released as a result of this oceanic warming.

    Once you make these calculations, you will no longer have silly nightmares like your goofy compatriot, John Cook.

    Let me know once you’ve figured it out, so I can check your calculation and find out if you “really understand concepts” like thermodynamics.


  11. PeterM

    Make the calculation I requested, Peter, and you will understand the folly of Hansen’s “hidden in the pipeline” postulation.

    Now to Spencer’s remark regarding time lag from solar warming of the ocean. When the sun heats our planet (as Spencer stated) some of the incoming SW radiation is reflected by Earth’s albedo (surface and clouds) and the remainder immediately warms the surface of the Earth on land and sea.

    The ocean’s skin warms quickly, but it takes more incoming energy for the sun’s rays to warm deeper down into the ocean (same is true for warming soil, sand, rocks, concrete, or anything else on the land surface). This heat transfer takes time (Spencer estimates a full year before the ocean has absorbed the very slight incoming energy increase over a solar cycle).

    So it first goes to the upper several centimeters (the skin) and the atmosphere before penetrating deeper. It also causes evaporation, which cools the surface again and transports the heat to the atmosphere.

    This has nothing to do with Hansen’s hypothesis that GH warming is hidden for decades (in the upper ocean?) waiting to be released into the atmosphere some day in the future causing more global warming.

    Hansen derived this concept and quantified it using circular logic, as I pointed out to you here much earlier.

    As long as there were no reliable measurements of upper ocean temperature, his co-writer, Josh Willis, could tell him that the expendable XBT devices, moorings, and other sources (TonyB’s canvas buckets, etc.) were telling him the upper ocean was warming.

    This changed in 2003, when ARGO measurements were installed.

    A 2009 study by Craig Loehle showed that through 2008 these showed COOLING instead of warming, much to the dismay of Willis, who called this a “speed bump”.

    From the NOAA blurb, it appears Willis is now “correcting errors” in the ARGO record with “AVISO satellite altimeter data” to try to get a warming trend back into the record. Unfortunately for Willis, the cat is out of the bag on that one.

    The upper ocean has stopped warming for a bit, at the same time as the atmosphere has done the same. Hansen’s “missing energy” is long gone.


    PS Don’t forget the calculation. Let’s see if you are able!

  12. Max,

    I can’t believe you are serious in saying there is any difference in principle in which the time lags work in each case. There is no energy to calculate as you suggest.

    If you are looking at the effect of a 12 year cycle Spencer has calculated that a mixing depth of 25 metres is reasonable. But the sea is much deeper than that, so if the cycle length is longer, or if there is no cycle, the heat has time to penetrate much deeper.

    Mathematically , if atmospheric conditions change such as will lead to a generalised warming the temperature approaches a final value but never quite gets there. It’s like the way an exponential fucntion approaches a limit. For the Earth, time constants of the order of even centuries are not unreasonable.

  13. PeterM

    Sorry if you “can’t believe” what I wrote. That’s your problem, not mine.

    Do the simple calculation I asked you to do, Peter, and you’ll see.


  14. Max,

    You might want to look at:


    I don’t suppose it will do much good though!

    You seem to have a fundamental problem grasping the concept of a system not in equilibrium.

    If the Earth is warming, and there is more heat entering the system than leaving, we should, for instance, see things like polar ice melt. We do. It means that where we still have melting ice, the temperature will be close to 0degC. However, when it’s all gone the temperature will start to rise. So, if there is still ice present, in a particular area, but it’s noticed that it’s getting less, than it can fairly be said that there is ‘warming in the pipeline’.

  15. PeterM

    You opined that I “might want to take a look at” a RealClimate blurb on the Hansen et al. “hidden in the pipeline” paper.

    Not really, Peter. For two reasons.

    – RealClimate is a poor source for realistic climate information (despite its name). It is a DAGW propaganda site originally set up to defend Mann’s discredited “hockey stick”.

    – I have read the original Hansen et al. paper, and have confirmed that it is a good example of circular logic and poor arithmetic, both of which I have pointed out to you in the past.


  16. PeterM

    Do YOU understand enough about heat transfer and thermodynamics to do the simple calculation I asked you to do?

    I am beginning to have doubts that you really are a physicist.


  17. Max,

    I’ve always thought there was more to science than an ability to do maths. You need to get the concepts right first and I don’t believe you’ve done that. So you go first and I’ll take a look.

  18. OK. Peter I’ll go first:

    First the questions from 176:

    Do you assume that all of the warming we have observed since 1850 (0.67C, that is) has been caused by anthropogenic forcing and none by natural factors?

    No. Several solar studies tell us that around half could be attributed to the unusually high level of 20th century solar activity (highest in several thousand years). In addition, there has been a portion of the late 20th century warming that was caused by several strong El Niño events, including the record year 1998.

    If you answered, “yes” to the above question, how would you explain the warming we have seen since emerging from the Maunder Minimum or the later Dalton Minimum, both prior to any significant human GHG emissions?

    See earlier rematk on 20th century impact of solar activity (same goes for earlier periods of recovery from very low solar activity)

    And how would you explain the early 20th century warming period (1910-1944), prior to any significant human CO2 emissions, with a total warming of 0.53C over the period?

    This is part of the 20th century warming caused by high solar activity

    And finally, a last question for the student.
    Let’s assume the IPCC cited models are correct, that there are no significant natural climate forcing factors and that a doubling of CO2 could cause a temperature rise of 3C. Let’s also assume that the CO2 level by 2100 will reach 560 ppmv, or twice the pre-industrial level. If we have already seen half of the warming expected, how much more warming could we theoretically expect to see from today until 2100?

    Under those assumptions, we would see a warming of 1.6C

    Now to the questions in 185:

    Let’s say that 1°C future atmospheric warming is following Hansen’s suggestion and “hiding” in the upper ocean (0-700m), waiting to reach “equilibrium” (you can do the same calculation for 2°C, 3°C or any number that fits your fancy).
    How much warming would this energy cause in the upper ocean?

    The upper ocean would warm by 0.005C

    If it went “hiding” in the deep ocean (as some scientists have speculated, since it could not be found in the upper ocean), how many degrees warming would it cause there?

    It would warm the deep ocean by 0.001C

    Any comments?


  19. Max,

    I thought were talking about time lags? You say that if the surface of the Earth warmed by 1.6degC that the upper ocean would warm by 0.005 degC and the deep ocean by 0.001 degC.

    So where have these figures come from?

  20. PeterM

    I thought were talking about time lags?

    You thought wrong, Peter.

    You say that if the surface of the Earth warmed by 1.6degC that the upper ocean would warm by 0.005 degC and the deep ocean by 0.001 degC?

    No, Peter. That’s not what I said.

    Read the questions again, then the answers.


  21. Max,

    You said “Make the calculation I requested, Peter, and you will understand the folly of Hansen’s ‘hidden in the pipeline’ postulation.”

    Why don’t you just explain what you are talking about?

  22. PeterM

    I am moving my response to your #196 to the NS thread, since our exchange no longer has anything to do with the Paul Nurse interview on BBC.


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