Thursday, 16 November 2006

Fisking "the science is settled"

"The science is settled," we're told. Not so, says Dr Vincent Gray, who fisks the conclusions of the Third Assessment Report of the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to see how "settled" the official statement really is. Says Dr Gray, "Even a cursory study of the arguments put forward to support the idea that greenhouse gases are warming the climate would show that the "science" is very far from "settled", and that the arguments for this proposition are not based on science at all, but largely on guesswork."

Dr Gray seeks precision, and looks to ascribe precise meanings to the published statements. He points out however that precision is not what the reports offer.
The most pervasive example is the "equilibrium climate sensitivity", the rise in global temperature from a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration. The range of figures used by the IPCC 1.5ºC to 4.5ºC, was decided by "a show of hands" at an early meeting of "experts". The IPCC Reports are full of statements of how "confident" they are of model results, and how they are "improved" (over what?).

They have developed a series of purely qualitative guesses to judge the model results, to which they have the cheek to assign statistical figures, as follows:

"In this Summary for Policymakers and in the Technical Summary, the following words have been used to indicate approximate judgmental estimates of confidence:
virtually certain (greater than 99% chance that a result is true);

very likely (90-99% chance);

likely (66-90% chance);

medium likelihood (33-66% chance);

unlikely (10-33% chance);

very unlikely (1-10% chance);

exceptionally unlikely (less than 1% chance)."
These creative guesses are obtained from meetings of "experts" who are all people who depend for their livelihood on the success of their models. These figures cannot therefore be taken seriously.

It is useful to consider the following statement of the IPCC (often regarded as a"conclusion") using these assessments.
"In the light of the new evidence and taking into account of remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations..."
"most." not all, but how much?

"observed" "over the last 50 years" restricts it to the unreliable surface record.

"warming' "over the last 50 years" The "observed" temperature fell for the first half, from 1950 to 1976.

"likely" This means, as stated above, one chance in 3 to one chance in 10 that they are wrong.

"greenhouse gas concentrations" No mention of humans. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour and nobody knows whether its concentration has increased or fallen.
Let us look at the other IPCC statements.
"The balance of the evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate..."

"balance" This presumably means more than 50% probability.

"suggests" Who decided that this suggestion should be made? Biased scientists?

"discernible" but has it actually been DISCERNED?

"human influence" No mention of greenhouse gases.
Then there is
"There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities..."

"most" Above 50%?

"warming ... over the last 50 years" Restricted to the unreliable "surface record."

"warming ... over the last 50 years" For the first half (1950 to 1976) the temperature fell.

"attributable" but it has not actually been ATTRIBUTED, has it?

"human activities" which do not include emissions of greenhouse gases.
Then, on top of that, is this statement from Chapter 1 of "Climate Change 2001"
"The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since the late nineteenth century and that other trends havebeen observed does not necessarily mean that we have identified an anthropogenic effect on the climate system.Climate has always varied on all time scales, so the observed change may be natural."
How can anybody claim that this mixture of pronouncements can be interpreted to mean that "the science is settled"?
RELATED: Global Warming, Science, Politics


  1. Even the Royal Society which threw such a wobbly at Exxonmobil for funding 'climate deniers and obfuscators' and basically claims the science is settled so stop going on about the doubts, features views that essentially undermine the basis of the wobbly and the claims of certainty. This from their site.

    "People ask "is it clear that human activity is directly responsible for climate change?" The context for answering this question must be another question: to what extent can the climate change all by itself?

    The answer to the alternative question is: "a very great deal.""


    "Many scientists therefore rely upon numerical models of the climate system to calculate (1) the nature of natural variability with no human interference, and compare it to (2) the variability seen when human effects are included. This approach is a very sensible one, but the ability to test (calibrate) the models, which can be extraordinarily complex, for realism in both categories (1) and (2) is limited [by data issues]. At bottom, it is very difficult to determine the realism by which the models deal with either (1) or (2).

    Thus at bottom, it is very difficult to separate human induced change from natural change, certainly not with the confidence we all seek."

    the writer then says

    "In these circumstances, it is essential to remember that the inability to prove human-induced change is not the same thing as a demonstration of its absence. It is probably true that most scientists would assign a very high probability that human-induced change is already strongly present in the climate system, while at the same time agreeing that clear-cut proof is not now available and may not be available for a long-time to come, if ever. Public policy has to be made on the basis of probabilities, not firm proof."

    The writer is Professor Carl Wunsch, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography,Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.


  2. jeez, PC! You're insensitive, attacking a tender young religion like that!

  3. The IPCC report is so simplistic that even high school students would mistake it for a school assigment given to them by their teacher.

    I noted that there are alot of pro-warming suckers who pop up here and there in blogsphere making comment like that they fully understand the IPCC report. They are forgetting that the report has been drafted a few years ago, not noticing how primitive the numerical models are.

    The confirmation of warming occured only in numerical models and not in the real world. There is nothing wrong with doing numerical models, because this is the norm in science, however there is a HUGE error in blindly accepting dubious models, that seems to be: the lack of proper understanding & thourough analysis about the evolving dynamical nature of climate systems (feedback & feedforward dynamical structures of climate variables), and as far as I know, this is one of the biggest area that is still a mystery to scientists where little progress has been made.

    Finally, I tend to agree with Dr. Gray for his assertion that: [it was decided by "a show of hands" at an early meeting of "experts"].

    The misunderstanding that has been spread around since the of the IPCC report by the general public & politicians is that the 'IPCC report was written by scientists and therefore it MUST be valid'.

    Here are some misconceptions:

    - all scientists who got involved in the IPCC have got the same understanding of numerical modeling. This is the most critical misunderstanding as if the public knows that this is not the case, then they would have some doubts. This is similar to say a group of Physicists, perhaps their expertises are in different areas as 'solid-state' , 'photonics' , 'fluid dynamics' , 'geo-physics' , 'general relativity' , etc, etc, where they got together to draft a report on 'tensor calculus'. The one who specialises in general relativity (GR) will know more than the others even though they are all physicists, because 'tensor calculus' is used more heavily in GR compared to other areas. Their level of understanding is different. This is exactly what perception that the general public has about the IPCC. They are scientists therefore they MUST all understand 'non-liniear feedback dynamical control climate systems'. This is no dis-respect to Dr. Gray, but I believe that even Dr. Gray himself don't fully understand non-linear feedback and also the majority of the scientists who were involved in drafting the IPCC. This proves my point that everyone has different level of understanding. Non-linear feedback is the biggest challenge at the moment for climate scientists and little advance has been made there. The IPCC report is littered with statistical models. Statistical models are not physical (physics) models.

  4. FF: "I noted that there are alot of pro-warming suckers who pop up here and there in blogsphere making comment like that they fully understand the IPCC report."

    Fair enough. As one of the 'suckers' who believes that the scientific theory behind AGW is sufficiently compelling at this point and time to warrant action, how do you reconcile the above with your opening statement:

    "The IPCC report is so simplistic that even high school students would mistake it for a school assigment given to them by their teacher."

    I certainly find some of the technical discussion difficult to follow, and have needed to do various other reading in order to get a handle. The discussion on Mann's 'Hockey Stick'(TM) I have found even rougher going.

    I'm curious - as your argument is a thinly veiled argument from authority - where do you derive your specialist knowledge from? What is your area of expertise?

  5. before this becomes have a go at the IPCC, I don't think it is them that are saying the science is settled, even though that could be the inference you would draw from the opening lines of this post. It is others saying that. So it is a bit pointless fisking the IPCC report on something it isn't really claiming.


  6. DenMT said...
    [What is your area of expertise?]

    My area of expertise is in numerical computing (scientific computation), and that is advanced mathematical & statistical algorithm development plus simulations. Once you are able to do this sort of thing then the domains, which are applicable to, are almost limitless. I am no economist and had no formal training in that field, but I can understand economic models (which are mostly mathematical), with ease and be able to develop numerical codes of algorithms from peer review papers publish in those economic journals. My formal area of training was Physics. At the moment I am a member of the industries international expert group which is currently drafting the version 2 of the official Java Data Mining (JDM) API (application programming interface) software for Java technology, where a final spec is going to be released to the general public in about a month time. Data mining is increasingly adopted for climate modelling, however to the best of my knowledge, there are only a few climate scientists who understand various data-mining algorithms.

    The same thing applied to climate science. The mathematics used in modelling climate change is exactly the same maths that I used in my other previous development, however the only thing change is that it is a different domain. So, it is basically different domain, but SAME mathematics, and this is why I have delved deep into reading more of these peer review papers in climate change, because I can understand the models described and at the same time pinpoint any deficiency of the models. I also do follow, what are the current main hurdles or obstacles in terms of climate modelling. So, obviously I as a non-climate-scientist together with some other climate scientists who are involved in this field full-time can see something (model deficiencies) that the general public cannot comprehend. So, I am a denier based on my opinion regarding the climate modelling methods I have seen. I am not a denier because I read the Herald or seen Al Gore's movie.

    To sum up what I have described, here are different domains that look completely different from your point of view, but actually, it is the same maths that are applied. Look carefully at this algorithm called ICA (Independent Component Analysis) that originated from the field of signal processing, which I am quite familiar with, but it is applied almost everywhere. You don't need to read these papers, just take note of the area of application, because it clarifies my point, that SAME maths but DIFFERENT domains, and that is why I do follow modelling in climate debate.

    "Weather Data Mining Using Independent Component Analysis"

    "Search engine using Independent Component Analysis"

    "Independent component analysis reveals new and biologically significant structures in micro array data (gene & DNA sequence analysis)"


    "Social Network Analysis via Matrix Decompositions (ICA & SVD) for al Qaeda (terrorist detection)"

    "Applying Independent Component Analysis to Factor Model in Finance"

    “Imaging brain dynamics using independent component analysis (medical imaging)”

    “Complex independent component analysis of frequency-domain EEG (electro-encephalo-gram) data for medical signal processing”

    There are hundreds of techniques that I know of, which are also applicable in climate modelling, but ICA is a good example of knowing something (mathematical technique) once but applied everywhere, so I am not a sucker in taking the IPCC report at face value. I am not saying that IPCC is wrong, just that it is too simplistic & incomplete model to be taken seriously. As architecture like yourself, if you half designed a house (meaning pretty slack effort from you) for one of your client, I am sure that he/she wouldn’t be taking your slack effort seriously. He/she will go to an architect who is serious & not slack. You have to be thorough and make sure that every bit of detail is done properly according to your client’s needs.

  7. ROFL!!! nice one Falafulu Fisi!


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