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

Guardian Images of Global Warming Part 2 – A Starved Dead Polar Bear

In the Part 2 of my look at Ashley Cooper’s photographs of global warming published in The Guardian on June 3rd I concentrate on the single image of a dead, emaciated, polar bear.
The caption reads

A male polar bear that starved to death as a consequence of climate change. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt their main prey, seals. Western fjords of Svalbard which normally freeze in winter, remained ice free all season during the winter of 2012/13, one of the worst on record for sea ice around the island archipelago. This bear headed hundreds of miles north, looking for suitable sea ice to hunt on before it finally collapsed and died.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has monthly maps of sea ice extent. The Western Fjords were indeed ice free during the winter of 2012/13, even in March 2013 when the sea ice reaches a maximum. In March 2012 Western Fjords were also ice free, along with most of the North Coast was as well.  The maps are also available for March of 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. It is the earliest available year that seems to have the minimum extent. Screen shots of Svarlbard are shown below.

As the sea ice extent has been diminishing for years, maybe this had impacted on the polar bear population? This is not the case. A survey published late last year, showed that polar bear numbers has increased by 42% between 2004 and 2015 for Svarlbard and neighbouring archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.

Even more relevantly, studies have shown that the biggest threat to polar bear is not low sea ice levels but unusually thick spring sea ice. This affects the seal population, the main polar bear food source, at the time of year when the polar bears are rebuilding fat after the long winter.
Even if diminishing sea ice is a major cause of some starvation then it may have been a greater cause in the past. There was no satellite data prior to the late 1970s when the sea ice levels started diminishing. The best proxies are the average temperatures. Last year I looked at the two major temperature data sets for Svarlbard, both located on the West Coast where the dead polar bear was found. It would appear that there was a more dramatic rise in temperatures in Svarlbard in the period 1910-1925 than in period since the late 1970s. But in the earlier warming period polar bear numbers were likely decreasing, continuing into later cooling period. Recovery in numbers corresponds to the warming period. These changes have nothing to do with average temperatures or sea ice levels. It is because until recent decades polar bears were being hunted, a practice that has largely stopped.

The starvation of this pictured polar bear may have a more mundane cause. Polar bears are at the top of the food chain, relying on killing fast-moving seals for food. As a polar bear gets older it slows down, due to arthritis and muscles not working as well. As speed and agility are key factors in catching food, along with a bit of luck, starvation might be the most common cause of death in polar bears.

Kevin Marshall

Myths and Reality of Polar Bears

There is the Greenpeace view.

The noble beast is brought low by pollution, rubbish, and CO2 emissions. The huge white beast passes unnoticed through the bleakest parts of London. Unnoticed by homeless people, people in parks and people sitting in their cars. Only a young girl sees the beast, and then with sympathy. It is meant to be a metaphor for the Greenpeace “reality”. The collective callousness of the British people, with their comfortable lifestyles are destroying the pristine Arctic, just as grasping capitalistic societies have polluted the atmosphere, potentially destroying the climate for future generations. For them, it is a truth so obvious even this cuddly beast knows all about it. These falsities are used to gain support and money.

Then there is the Reality

For human beings, polar bears are one of the most dangerous carnivores on earth. There are many thousands, each  roaming huge areas. There are many cases where they have attacked people. We also know, from this David Attenborough clip, that when polar bears are particularly dangerous when hungry.

In 2011 Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple was tragically killed when camping on Svarlbard island. Any human responsibility for this tragedy has yet to be decided by an inquest. However, what is clear is that the proximate cause of death was by a polar bear attack.

If a polar bear ever got loose in London, it would have to be shot on sight. It would likely be highly stressed. It would certainly not be calmly wandering around taking no notice of people and cars. There would be no reasoning with the beast for it’s behavior is wired in. In a similar way there is no reasoning with those who run Greenpeace, for the false view of the world portrayed  in this clip encapsulates their core  belief system. Yet they would impose this on others, and protest against those who act contrary to their codes. Such views were common in the days of established religion – although their methods of imposing those religious codes were far more gruesome that the noisy eco-warriors. The solution to this imposition of beliefs on others was worked out over two centuries ago, and stated in the US First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

The Greenpeace video accessed at http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/climate July 2014