Thursday, 30 April 2015

Week 1–Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


I had a think about all the slick little videos I watched yesterday and Tuesday and tried to distil the main ideas:

  1. I’m told there’s no doubt about climate change. Pretty blah statement.  I’m inclined to agree. I even agree humans may well have some effect.
  2. The 97% mantra is really about marketing, not science. Mr. Cook is unhappy that his 97% consensus doesn’t translate to the US population.  (Apparently, all the other populations on the Earth don’t matter.) Consensus is important because it influences what non-climate-scientists believe. Silly me, I thought it was about science and, ultimately, truth, not belief.
  3. The terms are really badly defined.  A couple of examples
    1. Who are climate scientists? What distinguishes them from physicists, geologists, meteorologists etc.?
    2. Similarly, who are deniers? I looked at the course discussion groups and one example was “I also cannot recall encountering someone who believes that CO2 has not increased. But I have encountered people who worry that the CO2 measurements were made near the summit of a volcano. And I have even run into people who denied that the CO2 increase was caused by burning fossil fuels.” To me these are perfectly reasonable questions. Is is possible that the CO2 measurements on Mauna Loa are distorted by the nearby volcano?  Has this been studied? Why aren’t CO2 measurements taken in lots of places? Is CO2 evenly distributed across the planet? What fraction of CO2 is produced by human endeavour? How do we know? What are the other sources of CO2? All these questions are attributed to ‘climate deniers’. Shouldn't the ‘climate scientists’ be asking these questions?  If not, why not? Could it be that these ‘climate deniers’ are really straw men?
  4. Apparently, there are magical ‘fingerprints’ that leave no question about human influence on climate. Does that mean it’s dangerous? Could it be a good thing? How much has that alternative been studied?

It looks like I’ve raised more question than I’ve answered.  I have no doubt that all will be revealed next week.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Week 1 – Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


Well ‘O’ week is all in the past.  It’s time to crack the books or whatever it is you do with a MOOC.

A MOOC is a Massive On-line Open Course or some such.  This one’s rune by the famous John Cook AKA Mr. 97%.

Who better than a ‘cognitive psychologist’ to run a course about climate change.

Well, actually, it’s not about climate change at all.  It’s about dealing with deniers.

The course is fairly well attended with over 1000 students (as at day 2, 53% in North America, 25% in Australia, 16% in Europe and rest in Asia, South America and Africa.

The topics this week are:

Consensus, Psychology of denial and Spread of denial.

There’s quizzes and a discussion forum.

The first lesson, Consensus was all about, well, consensus.

The first thing we had to do was answer the questions “How would you define scientific consensus? What wouldn't be considered consensus? How does a scientific consensus form?

My I expect my answer “What does consensus have to do with science?  Prior to 1905 the scientific consensus  in physics would be that light travelled through a luminiferous aether.”  would be pretty typical.

The first thing we were told is that there are lots of ‘fingerprints’ about climate change and that the only explanation that matches all of the is human induced greenhouse gasses.  No question.  It’s true and that’s all that needs to be said on the subject.

Then came a big, university style word ‘consilience’ which means all the climate scientists agree. Next we learned that we’re all too busy to think for ourselves, so we need to listen to the experts. And 97% of the experts all agree. Mr.Cook himself wrote one of the papers so that makes it particularly true.

A petition of 31,000 scientists in the US was debunked because they weren’t all climate scientists.

Oh and a sceptic is sort of the opposite of a denier and it’s OK to be a sceptic as long as you’re a climate scientist. Or a psychology student.

The next lecture was something about dentists recommending toothpaste, the peer review process, 97% again, and the dwindling number of scientists funded to study anything but the ‘CO2 is the devil’ brand of climate science.

Lectures are actually little five-minute long videos with lots of pretty graphics. If my university had worked that way I could have gotten my degree in about a day-and-a-half.

In The Psychology of Denial we learned that there’s a gear loose in the heads of conservatives that makes them deny climate stuff. 

We even got to do a nifty psychological profile. I’m one of sixteen ‘Hierarchical, Individualistic’ people doing the course. Almost all of the remaining thousand or so are proper ‘Egalitarian Communitarians’.

It turns out the nasty deniers use FLICC to fool nice people.  That’s not Australian fly spray, but a clever acronym meaning:

5 Characteristics of science denial

Each of these is a very bad thing done all the time by deniers and never by the 97%.

All this was followed by interviews with climate experts like historian Naomi Oreskes and psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky. Stephan became famous by discovering climate sceptics also believe the moon landing were faked. (I believe NASA in this case, just for the record.)

The week finished with an expose of how Exxon Mobile and Koch funded all sorts of secret organisations trying to spread climate denial.


The short story is that between 2005 and 2008 the bad guys spent $US8.45 million per year.  By my count that 42 of the organisations got an average of $201,000 per year while the other 28 got nothing at all. By comparison, Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy get more than $US1 billion per year in donations.

The little cartoon at the end of the lesson was mislabelled, I think.

David and Goliath

The week finished with a quiz. I had three goes before I could get all the answers wrong.  I’m trying for ‘low score’ in this course.

My final action was to participate in the discussion forum.  One message caught my eye in particular.

This MOOC reviewed by skeptics

At Judith Curry's blog (

Curry is a fairly prominent atmospheric scientist (textbook author, for example) who is a critic of AGW activism, though certainly not a denier of climate science. But you will encounter some real fire-breathing deniers adding comments in the blog's forum section.

I couldn’t help but reply:

First, I strenuously object to the word 'denier'. I'm not a holocaust denier, I believe the moon landings happened as presented by NASA and I don't do what the voices tell me to do. I seldom breath fire.

I'm not aware of anyone who actually denies that there is more CO2 in the air than there was in 1957 when measuring at Mauna Loa began.

I also don't know anyone who denies that a molecule of CO2 will absorb photons in the visible light range and re-emit them in the infrared.

I haven't found one name of an actual 'denier' in any of the lectures or discussions.

I became interested in the global warming scare after studying chaos theory. Meteorologist Edwin Lorenz is generally credited with the initial development of this discipline and he was driven by curiosity about why synoptic forecasting was reasonably accurate while physical models had much poorer predictive skill.

His discovery that the climate was chaotic, that is highly sensitive to initial conditions, led him to the conclusion that predicting weather more than two weeks in advance was impossible.

I was was confused, therefore, when I read that prediction were being made about conditions hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. Yes, I understand the difference between weather and climate, but strongly believe Carl Sagan's (actually Pierre-Simon Laplace's) dictate that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

That scepticism remains with me today: In the IPCC's AR5 (Chapter2 page 193, Table 2.7) there's a table showing the rate of warming of the Earth between 1880 and 2012. The value attributed to the Hadley Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia is 0.062 plus or minus 0.012 degrees Celsius per decade.

We're asked (told) to accept that the rate of heating of the whole Earth, land and oceans, can be measured to within twelve ten-thousandths of a degree Celsius over a period of 132 years, when measuring is done with thermometers with an accuracy of about 0.2 degrees Celsius.

I'm sorry, I won't just accept the word of the 'experts'.

BTW news of this course also appeared on WUWT and in Australia on Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt”

More next week.  I’m not sure I can stand six more weeks of this.

Monday, 27 April 2015

‘O’ week’s almost over

When my oldest went off to university he told me all the fun things that happened during ‘O’ week (Orientation week).  Apparently beer drinking was a skill the college master feared the students might be lacking.

My ‘O’ week, of course, applies to the University of Queensland’s course Making Sense of Climate Denial that’s due to start tomorrow.

My own climate explorations might have to be put aside for the next seven weeks while I learn at the feet of the masters.

There’s links to the course site on my main page. One of the lecturers.John Cook of “97% consensus” fame, proposes Inoculating for climate denial. You can read his article by following the link.

The course’s Facebook page is here: Making sense of climate change denial.

I’ll post a weekly wrap up of our activities.

Extraordinary Claim: The whole world is hotter than it was in 1880 and we know by how much. - continued

The Extraordinary Claim

The claim of rising temperatures depends, of course, on knowing what the temperature used to be and what it is now. I’m going to be starting with now and working backwards.

The following table is copied from page 196 of Chapter2 of the IPPC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

Data set

1880 - 2012

HadCRUT4 (Morice et al, 2012)

0.062 ± 0.012

NCDC MLOST (Vose et al, 2012b)

0.064 ± 0.015

GISS (Hansen et al, 2010)

0.065 ± 0.015

The left-hand column is the data set, along with a reference to the scientific paper that describes the data set. HadCRUT4 is the world temperature data calculated by the Hadley Research Centre of the University of East Anglia in the UK. NCDC is the National Climatic Data Centre of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US. GISS is the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, part of the NASA in the US.

The right-hand claims to be the temperature rise per decade between the years 1800 and 2012 measured in degrees Celsius. It’s a bit of a mystery how the GISS paper by NASA’s James Hansen and others can document the temperatures in 2011 and 2012 when the paper was written in 2010, but I’ll let that go for now. These are scientists, after all, and we shouldn’t question them.

What’s fascinating are the number themselves. Take the first one: 0.062 ± 0.012.

It says “Every ten years since 1880 the Earths has warmed sixty-two one-thousandths of a degree Celsius. That number is accurate to within twelve one-thousandths of one degree Celsius.”

Wow! We know, with an accuracy of better than one one-hundredth of a degree Celsius, what the temperature of the entire Earth was over every ten-year period from 1880 to 2012.

Notice that if I want to know the rate per year, its 0.0062 ± 0.0012. These are really tiny numbers! I suppose that’s why the rate is reported per decade instead of per year.

This is particularly extraordinary as the limit of accuracy of a thermometer about 0.2 º C. That’s about 17 times greater than the claimed accuracy.

Think about that. Somehow, almost magically, the accuracy of the temperature record at every place on the Earth over a period of 132 years is 17 times greater than the accuracy or one thermometer, in one place, at one time.

How is the Earth’s temperature measured?

If you ponder the matter of measuring Earth’s temperature, you’ll soon see some of the many, many problems:

  • The Earth is large, with a surface area of about 510 million square kilometres (197 million square miles) of which about 70% is water and 30% is land.
  • Global warming is about warming of the atmosphere. The various bureaus of meteorology around the world measure the land surface temperature, normally with a thermometer in a standard enclosure called a Stevenson screen. The screen is located 1.2 – 2.0 meters above the ground. The screen keeps direct sunlight from falling directly on the thermometer. Direct sunlight is just one of the multitude of things that can effect and distort temperature readings.
  • The temperature of the oceans, on the other hand, are made by ships and special buoys.  These measure sea surface temperatures (SST) that, naturally, is the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air just above the water. Water temperatures are converted to air temperatures with complex calculations.
  • For the Earthly average, the land and sea temperatures are ‘blended’ with complex computer algorithms.
  • Just in case all that seems straightforward, since 1979 a series of satellites have been launched that measure the temperature of the Earth from space.

Over the next several posts I’ll look at a number of the issues in the temperature record.

I’ll focus on what I believe is the main issue. The extraordinary claim of extraordinary accuracy.

One of the surface data sets, CruTEM4, the surface record for HadCRUT4, is based on data from 4828 weather stations world wide.  Of these, 1760 or 37% are in North America. By comparison, just 336 or 7% are in Australia. I’ll look at the distribution of weather stations and the machinations that their raw temperature data is subjected to in a separate post.

It’s interesting to note that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) lists 20,104 past and present weather stations in Australia. Of those, 896 or 4.5% have a World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) number. Of those only 336 or 1.7% are considered by the Hadley Climate Research Unit for inclusion in CruTEM4. Makes me wonder what’s wrong with the other 98.3%. How widespread is this practice? How many weather station are there across the world that are not considered by the climate change “authorities” like The Hadley Climate Research Unit? Another topic for another post.

To focus even closer, for this post I’ll limit myself to the surface temperatures and one type of thermometer, the maximum-minimum thermometer, sometimes called Six’s thermometer. These have been used for many years but have been replaced by newer temperature loggers that record the temperature at various intervals. Automatic weather stations used by the BOM record temperature every minute.

I’ll start with the simplest case: Measuring the average temperature at one spot. If you’ve been following this, I’ll be using data from my two temperature loggers that I’ve imaginatively named Red and Green. As before, Red and Green are located on the windowsill of my office in Traralgon, Victoria, Australia.

Another simple experiment

I’ve run Red and Green for several days collecting data every 10 seconds. In the samples shown below, I’ve only included complete 24-hour days. For each day I’ve shown the actual minimum, maximum and average temperatures using all of the available data. The Average I’ve shown is the actual average, within the 0.5 º C accuracy of the temperature logger

Experiment 6 Calculating averages

I’ve then calculated the average temperature the way BOM and other meteorological organisations do: I added the minimum and maximum and divided by two. That gave me the green column ‘Calculated average’.

I then subtracted the real average from the calculated average to get the error, shown in the first red column.

The second red column is the absolute error, done simply for this example, by just making any negative differences positive.  I want to know how much the error is different from zero.

When I average the absolute errors, I get a 0.7 º C. In other words, every day I do this the calculated average temperature is about 0.7 º C different from the real average temperature for that day.

That’s bigger than the accuracy of the temperature logger. I’ve introduced a systematic error due to the way I calculated the average.

I’ve made my measurements less accurate, not more accurate, and by a fair margin.

I’ll look at this and other errors in the temperature records of organisations like The Hadley Climate Research Unit in later posts and leave you with this question:

How can the rate of global warming as shown by the temperature record be measured to an accuracy 17 time better that the accuracy of a thermometer?

To me, accepting that is more a matter of faith than science.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Extraordinary Claim: The whole world is hotter than it was in 1880 and we know by how much. - continued

The whole basis for the ‘climate change’ scare is based on several assumptions, among them:

1. That the Earth’s surface, its oceans and its atmosphere are warming.

2. That the warming is dangerous.

3. That warming is caused by increases in carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse’ gasses.

4. That human activity is the cause of the increases in greenhouse gasses.

5. That humans can’t adapt to a warmer world and so reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to ‘save the planet’.

6. That reducing green gas emissions will actually have the desired effect, that is, will actually lower the Earth’s temperature.

In this and a few future posts, I’ll focus on the first assumption in more detail: How is it possible to measure the Earth’s average temperature both now and in the past to determine whether its warming, cooling or staying the same?

This raises a critical second question: how accurately can something like the Earth’s temperature be measured?

The Claim

As previously reported, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in their Fifth Assessment Report “The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend, show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] º C over the period 1880-2012.”

When we unpack that statement a bit, it means that the IPCC claims that the temperature of the whole planet and its atmosphere can be measured to sufficient accuracy that we can6 detect a change of 0.85 º C over a period of 132 years. That’s a change of just 0.006 º C per year, or as the IPCC reports, 0.06 º C per decade.

Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013, Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis, Chapter 2, Observations: Surface and Atmosphere. Page 161.

Temperature measurements are calculated (no, they’re not just measured) from a number of sources.  The IPCC uses a blend of three sets of temperature records:

1. HadCRUT4 - Data collected by the Hadley Climate Research Unit for the University of East Anglia in the UK.

2. NCDC MLOST – The Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis data set is produced by the Earth System Research Laboratory, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which is, in turn, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

3. The GISS data  set is produced by the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, a department within the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

All three claim extraordinary accuracy.

The processing of temperature data is described in mind-bogglingly complex scientific papers. I’ll focus on the HadCRUT data. HadCRUT4 (Morice et al, 2012 *), as is probably not surprising, replaces HadCRUT3 (Brohan et al, 2005 **).



HadCRUT4 vs HadCRUT3

The two sets of data are pretty similar, as the graph above shows, except that the newer HadCRUT4 shows higher recent temperatures starting around 2005. How can past temperatures change? The answer is in how these numbers are calculated.

These number are not just read from a thermometer and written down.  On no! There is a huge amount of processing / fiddling that goes into the temperature records.

In my next post, I’ll review the level of claimed accuracy in the past temperature record and compare it to the result of a little experiment of my own.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A great interview with a great physicist, Freeman Dyson, a good read and an astounding calculation

A great interview.

This interview was shown done by The Vancouver Sun. It's well worth watching.

Freeman Dyson

Click here to see the Interview with Freeman Dyson.

Professor Freeman discusses climate models in some detail, and points out the rarely acknowledged benefits of increased CO2.

A good read

I've been reading a book by Alex Epstein called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. In the book Mr. Epstein points out how much we've benefited from their use.

Here's a review by a greeny who at first claimed he "wouldn’t read it, never mind review it." He then goes on to compare fossil fuel use to slavery. If you have a strong stomach and stronger streak of gullibility, you can read the review by clicking: Review of Alex Epstein's book

Later on I'll do my own review.

An astounding calculation

The IPCC says that doubling CO2 will raise the temperature of the atmosphere by between1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.  I was astounded to learn where this number came from.

In the 1970s, a  Japanese physicist,Syukuro Manabe, developed an one of the first climate models. It predicted an increase of 2 degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2.  James Hansen, formally of NASA, had a different model that predicted an increase of 4 degrees Celsius. Both models were assumed to have an error of 0.5 degrees Celsius.

In 1979 a committee of the US National Academy of Sciences decided to subtract 0.5 from the lower estimate and add 0.5 to the bigger estimate giving the range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees that remains nearly unchanged today.

This incredibly unscientific piece of nonsense could only have come from a committee. It's more that a little worrying that it came form a committee of 'scientists'.

You can read more at: Wikipedia article on climate sensitivity The section that claims this is in the section entitled 'Consensus estimates', as if consensus had anything to do with science.