30 July 2011

Forbes Version of Science Is More Than A Little Deluded

Posted by Dan Satterfield


Warnings about the damage we are doing to our climate come mainly from ice cores and not climate models. Dan's pic from NEEM in Greenland

Someone on twitter asked me about an op-ed in Forbes with the breath-taking title NEW NASA DATA BLOWS GAPING HOLE IN GLOBAL WARMING ALARMISM. With a title like that, you know right off the bat that this article is written for people looking for confirmation to their belief that ALL of the planet’s major science bodies are wrong and a very tiny handful of skeptics are right.

The Forbes piece would have been perfect for the now defunct News Of The World.

Furthermore, this is not from the editorial board of Forbes or a Forbes reporter, but instead from a writer for the ultra conservative Heartland Institute. The same people who sent me (and hundreds of other meteorologists working in TV) a glossy paper claiming that the surface temperature record could not be trusted based on a blog post by a blogger whose claim was totally discredited by NOAA.

The junk science piece in Forbes was based on a paper written by Dr. Roy Spencer a well-known climate skeptic here in Huntsville and was published in an open access journal of apparently rather dubious reputation in the open access journal MDPI. Some of these journals have a rather dubious reputation with the Bentham open access journal recently agreeing to publish a paper designed to be totally meaningless. That in itself does not mean the paper is wrong, and it is important to remember that peer review has often said to be a necessary but not sufficient check on accuracy. Several climate experts have expressed surprise it was published in a refereed journal.

While a big name like Forbes is clearly unable to produce a decent science story, Stephanie Pappas at Live Science certainly can. Her piece on the paper is excellent, and well worth a read. Live Science asked some of the very top experts in the field about the paper like Kevin Trenberth at NCAR, and Gavin Schmidt at NASA. Pappas couldn’t find one climate scientist who agreed with the conclusions in Spencer’s paper.

A scientific critique of the claims in Spencer’s paper has been written by Barry Bickmore a geochemist at Brigham Young University. Hardly a center of liberal learning! Bickmore describes himself as ” a geochemistry professor at Brigham Young University, an active Mormon, and an active Republican.  From 2008-2010 he was a County Delegate for the Republican Party.  Anything he posts here (obviously) represents his personal opinions, and does not necessarily reflect the position of his employer, Brigham Young University.

Bickmore’s post is written for those with some background in science, but for those who are not, you will have to trust me when I say that the critique (IMHO) is devastating. That said, I gladly give Dr. Spencer the opportunity to answer it and will publish it here. Bickmore does the same.

Gavin Schmidt is quoted in Live Science as follows: “Climate sensitivity is not constrained by the last two decades of imperfect satellite data, but rather the paleoclimate record”. Let me try to explain what Dr. Schmidt is talking about in a few short paragraphs, and trust me it is eye-opening. To start with, forget about climate models, the urban heat island effect ,cosmic rays and all those other long discredited straw men that the climate sceptic political machine has trumped-up in the past.

The past (not climate models) is why scientists are convinced we are dangerously interfering with the Earth's climate. From Hansen-Sato linked in post.

Let’s ask the question this way: How much did the Earth’s temperature change in the past, when the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled? There is a good reason for asking this question because in a few decades we humans are going to accomplish what mother nature in the past took millennia to do. Just that, double the CO2 levels from preindustrial times.

The answer is well-known from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica and from sediment cores taken from the deep oceans. The answer is 3 degrees C. This same answer has been found by numerous scientists over the last 30 years.

The first person to use Physics to attempt to answer this question was a scientist named Svante Arrhenius.  This was over 100 years ago and his answer was around 5C but modern calculations with climate models come up with, wait for it…. 3 degrees C..  This is why scientists are alarmed. Climate models can tell us more, like how fast things will change, but the past is the rock foundation the science sits on.

The physics of the carbon dioxide molecule and how it traps infrared radiation has been well understood for many decades. John Tyndall did the ground breaking work while Lincoln was President! There’s a great video from the BBC illustrating this by using an IR camera in a glass tube filled with CO2.

One of the world’s experts on paleoclimate is Dr. James Hansen the head of NASA Goddard in NY. He has just published a paper where he discusses the implications of the past on our future. Hansen writes scientific papers in a way that is truly exceptional. He never tries to show how much he knows by using complicated language when plain English will suffice.

Anyone with the time and inclination can read Hansen’s paper and it’s well worth doing so.

So here’s the bottom line – If you want to convince those of us who make up scientific organizations like the AMS, AGU, the Royal Society etc. that the tiny handful of skeptics are right…

Then show the world how the past is wrong.

Write it up, and submit it to a real journal, and if you followed the rules of scientific investigation, it will get published. The Forbes article was designed to confuse the public into thinking there is some real doubt about the climate situation. That’s what companies like Exxon pay them for (if you do not believe me read Naomi Oreskes’ book).

Pick up and read some real science journals and you will see nothing that calls it into question. Not because there is a big secret conspiracy to keep truth from the people, simply because all the science says so. It truly is an inconvenient truth.

PS: Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo have a guest post today on Real Climate that also is extremely critical of Spencer’s paper.

One more note: Michael Lemonick at Climate Central has a superb piece explaining (better than I did for sure) the bass ackward idea put forth in the paper in question. I also see the Trenberth used the Einstein quote- wish I had not taken that out for length reasons!

Note- in my original post I made the mistake of linking MDPI with the spoofing of Bentham. While there has been much discussion of the quality of the peer review in some open access journals (including this case), I know of no such claim against remote sensing by MDPI. Apologies for linking them unfairly to what happened at Bentham.

Commenters- Sorry to say but there was a serious html issue that caused this post to look wonky on Safari browsers and I had to delete it and repost it. Previous comments were lost. Feel free to add them back in!