Evidence for the Stupidest Paper Ever

Judith Curry tweeted a few days ago

This is absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published.

What might cause Judith Curry to make such a statement about Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy? Below are some notes that illustrate what might be considered stupidity.

Warmest years are not sufficient evidence of a warming trend

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) both recently reported that 2016 was the warmest year on record (Potter et al. 2016), followed by 2015 and 2014. Currently, 2017 is on track to be the second warmest year after 2016. 

The theory is that rising greenhouse gas levels are leading to warming. The major greenhouse gas is CO2, supposedly accounting for about 75% of the impact. There should, therefore, be a clear relationship between the rising CO2 levels and rising temperatures. The form that the relationship should take is that an accelerating rise in CO2 levels will lead to an accelerating rate of increase in global average temperatures. Earlier this year I graphed the rate of change in CO2 levels from the Mauna Loa data.

The trend over nearly sixty years should be an accelerating trend. Depending on which temperature dataset you use, around the turn of the century warming either stopped or dramatically slowed until 2014. A strong El Nino caused a sharp spike in the last two or three years. The data contradicts the theory in the very period when the signal should be strongest.

Only the stupid would see record global average temperatures (which were rising well before the rise in CO2 was significant) as strong evidence of human influence when a little understanding of theory would show the data contradicts that influence.

Misrepresentation of Consensus Studies

The vast majority of scientists agree that most of the warming since the Industrial Revolution is explained by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations (Doran and Zimmerman 2009, Cook et al. 2013, Stenhouse et al. 2014, Carlton et al 2015, Verheggen et al. 2015), 

Doran and Zimmerman 2009 asked two questions

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

Believing that human activity is a significant contributing factor to rising global temperatures does not mean one believes the majority of warming is due to rising GHG concentrations. Only the stupid would fail to see the difference. Further, the results were a subset of all scientists, namely geoscientists. The reported 97% consensus was from a just 79 responses, a small subset of the total 3146 responses. Read the original to find out why.

The abstract to Cook et al. 2013 begins

We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. 

Expressing a position does not mean a belief. It could be an assumption. The papers were not necessarily by scientists, but merely authors of academic papers that involved the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. Jose Duarte listed some of the papers that were included in the survey, along with looking at some that were left out. It shows a high level of stupidity to use these flawed surveys as supporting the statement “The vast majority of scientists agree that most of the warming since the Industrial Revolution is explained by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations“.

Belief is not Scientific Evidence

The most recent edition of climate bible from the UNIPCC states (AR5 WG1 Ch10 Page 869)

It is extremely likely that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in GMST from 1951 to 2010.

Mispresenting surveys about beliefs are necessary because the real world data, even when that data is a deeply flawed statisticdoes not support the belief that “most of the warming since the Industrial Revolution is explained by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations“.  

Even if the survey data supported the statement, the authors are substituting banal statements about beliefs for empirically-based scientific statements. This is the opposite direction to achieving science-based understanding. 

The false Consensus Gap

The article states

This chasm between public opinion and scientific agreement on AGW is now commonly referred to as the consensus gap (Lewandowsky et al. 2013)

Later is stated, in relation to sceptical blogs

Despite the growing evidence in support of AGW, these blogs continue to aggressively deny the causes and/or the projected effects of AGW and to personally attack scientists who publish peer-reviewed research in the field with the aim of fomenting doubt to maintain the consensus gap.

There is no reference that tracks the growing evidence in support of AGW. From WUWT (and other blogs) there has been a lot of debunking of the claims of the signs of climate apocalypse such as

  • Malaria increasing as a result of warming
  • Accelerating polar ice melt / sea level rise
  • Disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro due to warming
  • Kiribati and the Maldives disappearing due to sea level rise
  • Mass species extinction
  • Himalayan glaciers disappearing
  • The surface temperature record being a true and fair estimate of real warming
  • Climate models consistently over-estimating warming

The to the extent that a consensus gap exists it is between the consensus beliefs of the climate alarmist community and actual data. Scientific support from claims about the real world come from conjectures being verified, not by the volume of publications about the subject.

Arctic Sea Ice Decline and threats to Polar Bear Populations

The authors conjecture (with references) with respect to Polar Bears that

Because they can reliably catch their main prey, seals (Stirling and Derocher 2012, Rode et al. 2015), only from the surface of the sea ice, the ongoing decline in the seasonal extent and thickness of their sea-ice habitat (Amstrup et al. 2010, Snape and Forster 2014, Ding et al. 2017) is the most important threat to polar bears’ long-term survival.

That seems plausible enough. Now for the evidence to support the conjecture.

Although the effects of warming on some polar-bear subpopulations are not yet documented and other subpopulations are apparently still faring well, the fundamental relationship between polar-bear welfare and sea-ice availability is well established, and unmitigated AGW assures that all polar bears ultimately will be negatively affected. 

There is a tacit admission that the existing evidence contradicts the theory. There is data showing a declining trend in sea ice for over 35 years, yet in that time the various polar bear populations have been growing significantly, not just “faring well“. Surely there should be a decline by now in the peripheral Arctic areas where the sea ice has disappeared? The only historical evidence of decline is this comment in criticizing Susan Crockford’s work.

For example, when alleging sea ice recovered after 2012, Crockford downplayed the contribution of sea-ice loss to polar-bear population declines in the Beaufort Sea.

There is no reference to this claim, so readers cannot check if the claim is supported. But 2012 was an outlier year, with record lows in the Summer minimum sea ice extent due to unusually fierce storms in August. Losses of polar bears due to random & extreme weather events are not part of any long-term decline in sea ice.

Concluding Comments

The stupid errors made include

  • Making a superficial point from the data to support a conjecture, when deeper understanding contradicts it. This is the case with the conjecture that rising GHG levels are the main cause of recent warming.
  • Clear misrepresentation of opinion surveys.
  • Even if the opinion surveys were correctly interpreted, use of opinion to support scientific conjectures, as opposed looking at statistical tests of actual data or estimates should appear stupid from a scientific perspective.
  • Claims that a consensus gap between consensus and sceptic views when the real gap is between consensus opinion and actual data.
  • Claims that polar bear populations will decline as sea ice declines is contradicted by the historical data. There is no recognition of this contradiction.

I believe Harvey et al paper gives some lessons for climatologists in particular and academics in general.

First is that when making claims crucial to the argument they need to be substantiated. That substantiation needs to be more than referencing others who have said the same claims before.

Second is that points drawn from referenced articles should be accurately represented.

Third, is to recognize that scientific papers need to first reference actual data and estimates, not opinions.  It is by comparing the current opinions with the real world that opportunities for advancement of understanding arise.

Fourth is that any academic discipline should aim to move from conjectures to empirically-based verifiable statements.

I have only picked out some of the more obvious of the stupid points. The question that needs to be asked is why such stupidity should have been agreed upon by 14 academics and then passed peer review?

Kevin Marshall

Lamar Smith and Implementing effective policy on climate change

There has been considerable ire directed at Texan Congressman Lamar Smith for his Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “Overheated rhetoric on climate change doesn’t make for good policies

Lamar begins

Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options

Lamar concludes

Instead of pursuing heavy-handed regulations that imperil U.S. jobs and send jobs (and their emissions) overseas, we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us. Designing an appropriate public policy response to this challenge will require that we fully assess the facts and the uncertainties surrounding this issue, and that we set aside the hyped rhetoric.

I could not agree more. Judith Curry shows that the so-called “scientific” criticism is less balanced than the politician’s initial comments.

To think critically and objectively about any complex problem, it needs to be broken down into sub-sections with relevant areas of expertise. This is no more important in climate change policy, which science demands belief and people get lost in irrelevant detail. A starting point is to divide the issue into three parts, with the relevant experts in brackets.

1. Whether there is a potential problem. (Scientists)

2. Whether that potential problem is non-trivial. (Economists interpreting the scientists work)

3. Whether there is the ability to do something positive about that problem. (Economists and public policy-makers to formulate any policy. Economist/auditors, with some input from scientists, to interpret the results.)

1. Whether there is a potential problem.

The potential problem most would accept. Increase the level of greenhouse gases and average temperatures goes increase. It actually folds into the second.

2. Whether that potential problem is non-trivial.

But the second is far more important. The starting point to see if the size of the problem, it to break any potential impacts down into the components of magnitude, likelihood, time for changes to occur and the weighting that can be given to the scientific evidence. This is discussed here. Like in many other areas, the weighting we give to expert opinion should be based on a track record. Climate science is still very much in its infancy and many of the projected signposts were either wrong (worsening storms, accelerating sea level rises) or much too extreme (temperature rises). In fact any alleged successes are either through luck or through the initial prediction being so vague that it could hardly fail to be correct. There should also be a recognition concerning any potential benefits. For instance, Scotland would benefit from being a tad warmer, and increased CO2 may help plant growth. There is also a question of the quality of the climate model projections. There seems little or attempt at quality improvement through learning from past mistakes and building on successes. Further I see plenty of claims of being on the side of peer-reviewed science, and on consensus, whilst have a huge public-relations effort but little about building on the traditions of the greatest scientists, or learning from the philosophers of science. “Climate Science” seems somewhat out of that mainstream.

3. Whether there is the ability to do something positive about that problem.

The third is where the policy-makers step in. Are they able to deliver a policy that will tackle the issues at a lower costs than the benefits? To give a medical analogy, have they sufficient qualifications and the moral duty of care, that where they inflict painful treatments, the patient (the human race and/or Mother Gaia) is better off than if they had done nothing. Given the massive policy failures so far, the answer seems highly negative. Given that much of the effort is going into shutting down and policy discussion by believers in the science and in the policy, failures seem set to continue through deliberate negligence of this issue.

To take the medical analogy further, treatment is tempered by the uniqueness of the ailment and the track record in treating that ailment. For instance hip replacements have been performed for many years and are quite frequent, so the risks and pain of treatment, along with the mortality rates are known. So an otherwise reasonably healthy person of forty whose hip joints need replacing to enable them to walk would be recommended for the operation. A frail ninety year old would not. But we have never had human-caused climate change before. Indeed, there is a huge dispute about how serious the symptoms will actually be. They have not come to fruition just yet. Furthermore the “treatment” has not been properly tested. Neither have those devising the treatment any sort of qualifications or track record in devising similar treatments. Why do I know this? Because there has never been a global initiative to use economic tools to drive through a solution to a problem whose outward characteristics (though not necessarily the causes) are a naturally-occurring phenomena, neither are involved people who have experience is getting consensus on global issues, such as nuclear non-proliferation.

Note on the Moral View

I have a strong moral view that politicians should act to make the world a better place, as the underlying desired outcome of public service. It can be on the world stage or in a local community. Climate policy means imposing costs now to avoid much higher costs later. It might be a simplistic and naïve view, but the opposite – that politicians work to make a net negative impact, or do not care what effect they have, or simply work to serve some small factional interest (and to hell with everybody else) – are views that are at least distasteful and at worst downright evil. Like a medical professional, they have a duty of care to make sure there is a reasonable expectation that net positive outcomes will happen, and to monitor that progress.

Kevin Marshall

Are Climate Change and Obesity Linked?

Judith Curry has a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) look at the links between climate change and obesity.

One of the two references is to the care2 website.

Consider the three alleged “links” between climate change and obesity that Dr Curry summarised:-

  • Rising inactivity rates because of hot temperatures
  • Drought-induced high prices on healthy foods
  • Food insecurity promotes unhealthy food choices

Rising inactivity is commonly thought to be due to less manual work, the rise of the car and evermore staring at the TV or computer. If a rise of 0.8C in temperature were a major factor then in Britain you would see (for instance) the Scots being more active than those in the South of England, or people being more active in winter than summer. In both cases the opposite is true.

Drought-induced high prices would have to show that droughts were the main cause of high prices of health foods compared to junk foods. Maybe convenience and taste have something more to do with the preference for unhealthy diets. Also you would need to show that rising food prices are connected to decreasing crop yields. Biofuels may have more with the rising food prices.

Food insecurity diminishes as per capita income rises, whilst obesity increases. That is the poorest of the world have hunger as a problem, whilst the rich countries have obesity as a growing problem. Obesity may be a problem of the poor in the developed nations, but food as a whole is not a problem.

The above article is a very extreme example of

The underdetermination thesis – the idea that any body of evidence can be explained by any number of mutually incompatible theories

Kuhn Vs.Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science – Steve Fuller 2003 Page 46.

Kevin Marshall

Climate Journalists now out of line with scientists

Judith Curry has reviewed the major climate stories of 2012. She notes

The theme of these seems to be dangerous impacts of climate change, bypassing of course the issue of attribution of these events.  Maybe the big story is that a critical mass of bad weather events happened in the U.S., so we are experiencing in the U.S. another round of what we experienced post Katrina in terms of elevating concern about global warming.

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 3 Lines 46-47

Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed, but the level of confidence in these changes varies widely depending on type of extreme and regions considered.

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 4 Lines 10-11

There is low confidence in observed large-scale trends in drought, due to lack of direct observations, dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice, and geographical inconsistencies in the trends

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 4 Lines 14-16

Tropical cyclone data provides low confidence that any reported long-term changes are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities. This is a revision from previous IPCC Assessments Reports…

Are the commentators going to come into line with the consensus of scientific opinion, or will it be the other way round? Maybe, like in the disaster movies, they will continue to insist to believe that the world only consists of USA.

For those who still think that extreme weather is still increasing, check out the Wattupwiththat “Extreme Weather” page. In particular take a look at Ryan Maue’s accumulated cyclone energy graph.