Tag Archives: cherry-picking

Matt Ridley needs to take some advice from Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a techno-optimist of the Lomborgian mold, with all of the cherry-picking and source misrepresentation that goes with it apparently. He gave a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh [corrected - see below] that has “skeptics” falling all over themselves in delight.

What groundbreaking evidence does Ridley marshal in defense of his rejection of mainstream science?

I was curious. Ridley ostensibly is a cut above the average denizen of WUWT. He was trained as a zoologist before taking up science writing. He has articles frequently published in the mainstream press, as the delicious-in-hindsight tweet by Andy Revkin reflects. He’s widely acclaimed for popularizing science concepts for mainstream reading audiences. So whatever Ridley had must be good, I thought. His arguments would reflect the best of the “skeptics’” best.

It turned out I was wrong. Or perhaps, I was right, and Ridley was bringing the best of the “skeptics’” best. Either way, it was an enormous disappointment. Ridley’s speech turned out to be a textbook Gish Gallop, full of false claims, logical fallacies, and trivially true but irrelevant “facts”. It was, as I put it at Keith Kloor’s blog, “skeptic” bingo.

  • Sea level rise is small and is decelerating!
  • Methane isn’t increasing!
  • Hockey Stick!
  • Etc.

I don’t think I will do a point by point rebuttal to every claim in Ridely’s speech at this time (maybe later, for sport, time permitting). But suffice it to say that while Ridley is being lauded by the denialosphere now, he’s actually done them a tremendous disservice. With this speech, he’s fully exposing himself as a crank, and has thus reduced the ever-dwindling list of “credible skeptics” one further.

And in case anyone is curious, while the year-to-year variability is significant,  on climate-relevant timescales, sea level rise is indeed accelerating (Church and White 2011; Rahmstorf and Vermeer 2011).

But more to the point, absent emissions stabilization, sea level rise is going to increase, reaching 1m or more by end of century (Vermeer and Rahmstorf 2009).

Failure to stabilize emissions will almost assuredly result in the eventual collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, committing the world to multimeter sea level rise that will be for all practical purposes irreversible. Many of Ridley’s claims similarly depend on falsely equivocating between concern over future climate changes absent emissions stabilization (and their relative irreversibility over human timescales) and what is happening at present. This couldn’t be more misleading.

As you might imagine, given the way this is going, Ridley’s claim that methane isn’t increasing is also false. Methane levels today are much higher than they’ve been over at least the past 800,000 years and continue to increase (Loulergue et al., 2008; NOAA AGGI).

The “hockey stick” nonsense has been done to death. And “skeptics” like Ridley inevitably fail to mention the main points: the “hockey stick” has basically nothing to do with either the attribution of recent warming to humans or the seriousness of future warming; the ostensible statistical problems in the original Mann et al. paper were overstated by its critics, and the actual problems it did have don’t tremendously affect its results (Huybers 2005; Wahl and Amman 2007); moreover, independent Northern Hemisphere reconstructions (including “skeptics’” own) show more or less the same results as Mann et al.’s recent work- the warming during the instrumental record exceeds peak Medieval temperatures (Ljunqvist 2010; Loehle and McCulloch 2008; Mann et al., 2008; Moberg, et al., 2005).

People like Ridley spend an awful lot of time listening to “skeptic” bloggers like Jo Nova and Bishop Hill, but seem to have no grasp of basic Earth systems science. And it shows. There is a total lack of coherence in Ridley’s claims. Ridley wants us to know that the climate changed rapidly in the past- but yet we’re also supposed to believe that climate sensitivity is very small. He also flubs basic concepts- equilibrium sensitivity is not the same thing as transient sensitivity (i.e. how much we will warm in response to a given increase in radiative forcing is larger than how much warming we’ll experience in the near term due to things like the thermal inertia of the ocean).

Perhaps Ridley can follow his own advice and “unlearn” the lies, fallacies, and nonsense he’s being cheered for regurgitating. Though let’s just say I’m a little skeptical of the prospect.

References:

  • Church, J.A., and N.J. White (2011): Sea-Level Rise from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Century. Surveys In Geophysics, 32, 4-5, 585-602, doi:10.1007/s10712-011-9119-1.
  • Huybers, P. (2005): Comment on “Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance” by S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, L20705, doi:10.1029/2005GL023395.Ljungqvist, F.C. (2010): A new reconstruction of temperature variability in the extra-tropical northern hemisphere during the last two millennia. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, 92, 3, 339-351, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2010.00399.x.
  • Loehle, C. and J.H. McCulloch (2008): Correction to: A 2000-Year Global Temperature Reconstruction Based on Non-Tree Ring Proxies. Energy + Environment, 19, 1, 93-100.
  • Loulergue, L., et al. (2008): Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800,000 years. Nature, 453, 383-386, doi:10.1038/nature06950.
  • Mann, M.E., et al. (2008): Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 105, 36, 13252-13257, doi:10.1073/pnas.0805721105.
  • Moberg, A., et al. (2005): Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data. Nature, 433, 613-617, doi:10.1038/nature03265.
  • NOAA AGGI: The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index. URL: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/
  • Rahmstorf, S., and M. Vermmer (2011): Discussion of: “Houston, J.R. and Dean, R.G., 2011. Sea-Level Acceleration Based on U.S. Tide Gauges and Extensions of Previous Global-Gauge Analyses”. Journal of Coastal Research, 27, 4, 784–787, doi:10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-11-00082.1.
  • Vermeer, M., and S. Rahmstorf (2009): Global sea level linked to global temperature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 106, 51, 21527-21532, doi:10.1073/pnas.0907765106.
  • Wahl, E.R., and C.M. Ammann (2007): Robustness of the Mann, Bradley, Hughes reconstruction of surface temperatures: Examination of criticisms based on the nature and processing of proxy climate evidence. Climatic Change, 85, 33-69, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9105-7.

Roger Pielke Jr. just can’t help himself

At Keith Kloor’s a little while back, I tried to reach something of an amicable cease-fire with Roger Pielke, Jr. I decided to set aside his constant attacks on the scientists who blog at RealClimate in the interest of moving the discussion on mitigation options forward.

Roger, though, just can’t help himself.

Stefan Rahmstorf and Dim Coumou published an article in PNAS examining the influence of warming on the likelihood of extreme temp events, notably in the context of the blistering 2010 Russian heat wave. Roger accuses Rahmstorf of cherry-picking his period of analysis, and then uses this accusation to cast aspersions on the integrity of climate science more generally.

Here is another good example why I have come to view parts of the climate science research enterprise with a considerable degree of distrust.

Climate science — or at least some parts of it — seems to have devolved into an effort to generate media coverage and talking points for blogs, at the expense of actually adding to our scientific knowledge of the climate system. The new PNAS paper sure looks like a cherry pick to me.

What’s Roger’s actual complaint with the Rahmstorf and Coumou paper? Roger writes:

Look at the annotated figure above, which originally comes from an EGU poster by Dole et al. (programme here in PDF). It shows surface temperature anomalies in Russia dating back to 1880. I added in the green line which shows the date from which Rahmsdorf and Coumou decided to begin their analysis — 1911, immediately after an extended warm period and at the start of an extended cool period.

Obviously, any examination of statistics will depend upon the data that is included and not included. Why did Rahmsdorf and Coumou start with 1911? A century, 100 years, is a nice round number, but it does not have any privileged scientific meaning. Why did they not report the sensitivity of their results to choice of start date? There may indeed be very good scientific reasons why starting the analysis in 1911 makes the most sense and for the paper to not report the sensitivity of results to the start date. But the authors did not share that information with their readers. Hence, the decision looks arbitrary and to have influenced the results.

Roger obviously didn’t bother to actually read the paper he’s attacking.

If there’s one thing Roger can’t stand, it’s scientists pointing out that man-made global warming is making certain kinds of extreme events worse. If there’s another thing he can’t stand, it’s the scientists who blog at RealClimate. Put them together, and Roger goes off the deep end.

UPDATE:

Caught out, Roger is predictably moving the goal posts rather than acknowledging that his attacks were unjustified.

First Roger attacked Rahmstorf and Coumou for ignoring the pre-1911 data. He uses this ostensible sin of omission to smear the larger field. Except of course this is completely false. When this is pointed out, Roger moves the goalposts and claims that Rahmstorf and Coumou didn’t actually look at the 1880-2009 data because they didn’t use a linear trend to look at the 1880-2009 data. [Edited to add: this is an implicit rather than explicit claim by Roger, as we'll see.] The paper is quite clear about making the case that the data (for 1911 on and for 1880-2009, for synthetic data and actual obs) are better described by a nonlinear trend, and the passage I cited in the original point makes it clear that the 1880-2009 data were analyzed using a nonlinear trend.

Roger then has the chutzpah to claim that Rahmstorf has “confirmed” Roger’s “critique”:

It would be quite shocking indeed if Rahmstorf actually “confirmed” Roger’s critique. But of course he did no such thing. When Roger claims “they did not run the analysis from 1880″, he’s completely wrong (see the above excerpt from the paper). When he claims Rahmstorf has “confirmed” his critique, what Roger really means is that Rahmstorf confirmed that they did not look at the 1880-2009 data using a linear trend- which, again is perfectly clear in the paper itself. So it has gone a bit like this:

Roger: “They didn’t look at the whole record!”

Uh, yes, they did.

Roger: “No, they didn’t perform The Analysis* for the whole record!”

*Valid only for Roger’s definition of “The Analysis”.

Roger has taken a concession that the paper did not do something it never claimed to have done and declared victory. Perhaps at some point he’ll realize that claiming something does not make it so.

FURTHER UPDATE:

Roger has repeatedly made the claim that Stefan Rahmstorf “confirmed” Roger’s critique. Roger’s original critique was that the 1880-1910 were not analyzed by Rahmstorf and Coumou. This original critique is patently false, as the paper shows in the excerpt I posted above.

The basis for Roger claiming that Rahmstorf “confirmed” his critique was Rahmstorf stating that a linear trend was not used in analyzing the 1880-2009, as is clear in the paper.

I let Rahmstorf know that Roger was claiming Rahmstorf confirmed Roger’s critique. Rahmstorf responded:

That is truly bizarre, since what I responded to Pielke (in full) was: “We did not try this for a linear trend 1880-2009. The data are not well described by a linear trend over this period.” As shown in the paper and above, our main conclusion regarding Moscow (the 80% probability) rests on our Monte Carlo simulations using a non-linear trend line, and of course is based on the full data period 1880-2009. Nowhere did we “use 1910-2009 trends as the basis for calculating 1880-2009 exceedence probabilities”, and I can’t think why doing this would make sense. Faced with this kind of libelous distortion I will not answer any further questions from Pielke now or in future. As an aside, our paper was reviewed not only by two climate experts but in addition by two statistics experts coming from other fields. If someone thinks that using a linear trend would have been preferable, that is fine with me – they should do it and publish the result in a journal. I doubt, though, whether after subtracting a linear trend the residual would fulfill the condition of being uncorrelated white noise, an important condition in this analysis.

And on a final note, Pielke actually had the nerve to write this:

You may read the paper differently than I do and you may interpret Rahmstorf’s comments differently than I do — happens all the time on these blogs. In such a situation I propose that the best course of action would be to solicit further information to resolve the dispute. Or, perhaps you’d rather we just make comments about motives and call each other names

This, after he wrote a post impugning the field over an “omission” that existed only in his mind. Unreal.

A test for establishment climate journalists

Image courtesy of Flickr user just.Luc

Over at Keith Kloor’s blog, I wrote:

Keith, respectfully- either you can acknowledge that [Bjorn Lomborg] engages in blatant misrepresentation of key indicators of climate change like [sea level rise] and [temperature] trends, or you cannot.

If you can’t, I’m not particularly interested in whether it’s a refusal to do so due to adherence to some imagined journalistic allegiance to neutrality or out of a lack of ability to understand that he’s doing it.

If climate journalists either can’t see what he’s doing or refuse to acknowledge it, then we’re in far worse trouble than I ever imagined.

I’ve submitted a similar question to Dot Earth. Can establishment climate journalists acknowledge what Lomborg does? If not, what hope is there that the general public can make an informed assessment of his credibility?

Untold gallons of figurative ink have been spilled over the efforts of climate “skeptics” to discredit Michael Mann and colleagues’ paleoclimatic reconstructions on the grounds of bad statistics. Republicans even went so far as to get “statistics expert” Ed Wegman to put an official seal on the supposed discrediting, and we can see how that’s all working out for them. Meanwhile, the overall conclusions of the Mann et al. papers have been upheld by independent reviews, other multiproxy reconstructions, and independent lines of paleoclimatic evidence, even though some of Mann’s initial statistical choices could have been better.

By contrast Lomborg takes a metric like temperature or sea level rise and then cherry-picks an interval to get the lowest possible trend out of it. If it’s an interval of two years at the time of press, so be it. If he needs to write another article and using the same interval no longer gives the lowest possible trend, he’ll use four. It’s inarguable that using his own intervals from previous claims completely contradicts his current ones, and that there is no physical, statistical, or logical justification for doing so. He is just cherry-picking. Period.

But you’d never know it reading Andy Revkin’s or Keith Kloor’s blogs. Why not? What good is climate journalism if it must slavishly attend to largely unfounded claims of “skeptics” but can’t identify clear-cut cases of misrepresentation by people like Bjorn Lomborg?

“Cool It” yourselves

Since it looks like it’s going to be wall-to-wall Lomborg in the press for a while, it’s probably worth reviewing why he is not only not taken seriously by many people actually concerned about climate change, but why a great many people actively dislike him. It’s not that he proposes “alternatives” to mitigation efforts like cap-and-trade, although he would certainly love for people to believe that.

It’s because he presents himself as someone credible, someone who isn’t a climate denialist- i.e. he proclaims to accept the reality of anthropogenic warming and to consider it a serious threat. But as anyone who has dealt with denialism knows, few if any people in the grips of denialism actually consider themselves to be denialists. There are plenty of “intelligent design” proponents who claim not to reject biology but rather believe that key aspects of evolution are overstated (e.g. irreducible complexity). Many anti-vax denialists claim to support vaccines but only want to “make them safer/greener”.

It’s not so much what someone professes to believe that determines whether or not they’re engaging in denialism, but the way they misrepresent evidence.

And Lomborg has quite a history of doing just that. Let’s take a look at just three such cases:

On polar bears:

Lomborg has frequently and grossly misrepresented scientific data and literature on polar bears and other aspects of climate change.

He has claimed that the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment says polar bears have nothing to worry about, they’ll just devolve into brown bears:

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment finds it likely that disappearing ice will make polar bears take up “a terrestrial summer lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved.”

The implication is that polar bears aren’t actually threatened by (anthropogenic warming-induced) sea ice decline, because they can just go back to acting like brown bears and everything will be fine. It sounds ludicrous, so much so that an an interviewer for Salon.com asked Lomborg if that is actually what he was claiming. Lomborg made it crystal clear that it was, and that it was his genuine understanding of the Impact Assessment report:

Salon: Are you saying that polar bears will be OK, that the species will survive if they evolve backward?

Lomborg: Yes, that’s certainly how I read it.

But the Impact Assessment said no such thing. Sea ice decline presents a dire, possibly fatal threat to polar bears. In a summer ice-free Arctic, there is no “okay” scenario. Polar bears face demise or might eke out a grim survival among threats from other species of bears and humans. The Impact Assessment states:

It is difficult to envisage the survival of polar bears as a species given a zero summer sea-ice scenario. Their only option would be a terrestrial summer lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved. In such a case, competition, risk of hybridization with brown bears and grizzly bears, and increased interactions with people would then number among the threats to polar bears.

Far from representing a scenario in which polar bears are “okay” living like brown bears, the Impact Assessment presented it as a last hope, fraught with major threats of its own.

In good company with many other climate denialists, Lomborg has also tried to give the impression that polar bears aren’t really in danger from anthropogenic warming because their populations are increasing, not decreasing.

He does by citing historic population levels at 5,000 in the 1960s and present numbers at 25,000. He conveniently omits population estimates that put historic numbers at 18,000-20,000 and the present numbers as low as 20,000. In other words, given the spread of the estimates, it’s possible to cherry-pick numbers that give you anything from no increase whatsoever, to a modest increase, to a monstrous increase of 20,000 bears. Lomborg chooses the latter, without justification for doing so or informing his audience of the full range of estimates.

But suppose we ignore this blatant cherry picking. According to Lomborg’s numbers, had polar bears been recovering from a low brought about by unregulated hunting? Yes. Does this recovery mean that they aren’t threatened by global warming? No.

Or, characterized this way by UCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group Chair, Andrew Derocher:

The various presentations of biased reporting ignore, or are ignorant of, the different reasons for changes in populations. If I thought that there were more bears now than 50 years ago and a reasonable basis to assume this would not change, then no worries. This is not the case.

The bottom line here is that it is an apples and oranges issue. The early estimates of polar bear abundance are a guess. There is no data at all for the 1950-60s. Nothing but guesses. We are sure the populations were being negatively affected by excess harvest (e.g., aircraft hunting, ship hunting,self-killing guns, traps, and no harvest limits). The harvest levels were huge and growing. The resulting low numbers of bears were due only to excess harvest but, again, it was simply a guess as to the number of bears….

Comparing declines caused by harvest followed by recovery from harvest controls to declines from loss of habitat and climate warming are apples and oranges. Ignorant people write ignorant things.

Derocher is saying that such claims (even granting their numbers) are at heart a combination of two forms of fallacious reasoning, the cherry pick (polar bear populations are increasing during a certain interval) and the non sequitur (therefore they are not threatened by anthropogenic warming). The claim that polar bear populations are rising only holds true because the period is selected to begin at a low point brought about by unregulated hunting. Once hunting restrictions were put in place, populations had begun returning to their historic norms.

However, that does not mean that polar bear populations are increasing across the board. The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group found in 2005 (well before the 2007 publication of “Cool It!”) that of the 19 polar bear subpopulations, only 2 were increasing, while 5 were flat and 5 more were actually in decline (there were insufficient data for the remaining 7). Relative to their historic levels, only 6 subpopulations were believed to be “not reduced” while 6 were “reduced” or “severely reduced” (there were insufficient data for the remaining 7).

(In case anyone is curious, in 2009 the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group found that only “1 of 19 subpopulations is currently increasing” while “3 are stable and 8 are declining” with insufficient data for the remaining 7.)

Lomborg does not appear to have corrected or retracted his claims.

[Edited to add: this of course doesn't even get into the discrepancies between Lomborg's "don't worry" attitude and the scientific literature on projected polar bear population trends as sea ice declines. I may add that in later.]

On sea level rise:

Lomborg also has a nasty habit of claiming that sea level isn’t rising as fast (or at all!) as mainstream climate science believes. To do so, he picks whichever start and end points he can to get the smallest trend in sea level rise.

Writing in the Guardian in March 2009, Stefan Rahmstorf exposed Lomborg’s cherry-picking as the dishonest misrepresentation that it was:

Why does Lomborg cite the trend [2005-2008 1.6mm/year]? Last October, he cited that of the previous two years. Why now four years? Because the trend of the past two years (2007-2008) is now + 3.7 mm/year? It is even worse. The trend since the beginning of any year of the data series varies between 1.6 mm/year and 9.0 mm/year, depending on the start year chosen. Using 2005, Lomborg cherry-picked the by far lowest.

Sound familiar? This kind of dishonesty is all the more reprehensible because Lomborg is (was?) an associate professor of statistics! This isn’t the naive error of someone acting in good faith, it’s entirely, despicably deliberate.

On Global Temperatures:

In much the same way that Lomborg is fond of misrepresenting polar population dynamics and sea level rise, he also enjoys misleading the public about global warming’s most well-known symptom: rising temperatures. It’s occasionally claimed that while there is political disagreement about what to do about global warming, no credible scientist or policy wonk actually doubts that the planet is warming. Judging by surveys of scientists and statements by various governmental organizations, that’s probably broadly true.

And then, there’s Lomborg:

It is hard to keep up the climate panic as reality diverges from the alarmist predictions more than ever before: the global temperature has not risen over the past ten years, it has declined precipitously in the last year and a half, and studies show that it might not rise again before the middle of the next decade.

This was Lomborg writing about cooling back in 2008, as we were experiencing a fairly strong La Niña. Cooling! No warming since 1998! Claims at home in the comments section of the most ignorant and paranoid of climate denialist blogs (or George Will columns).

Most people relatively conversant with major features of the climate system, let alone “climate experts” holding international conferences and writing books on the subject, are aware that La Niñas don’t equal global cooling. In case there was some confusion about the La Niña and the appearance of a lack of warming among the general public, climate institutions like Met Hadley and others had handy pages explaining that, no we weren’t cooling several months prior to Lomborg’s claim.

Lomborg (like other denialists) was simply taking one slice of time (1998-2008) out of a much larger data set- without any attempt at justification- to get the results he wanted- results in complete opposition to what a serious examination of the data would show, requiring an ignorance of basic physics, meteorology, and statistics to believe.

A Question for Journalists:

What is it about Lomborg that allows you to engage in collective amnesia about his dishonesty? Have you forgotten that people like Kåre Fog and Howard Friel (not to mention the blogosphere) have exposed him for what he is?

Pre-emptively debunking the coming “La Niña equals ‘global cooling’” meme

Back in early August, I noticed a rather curious claim from Roger Pielke Sr. [insertions and emphases mine]:

We are, also, of course, at the time of the year in Russia with the warmest temperatures at these levels. [ed. note: i.e. "summer"] However, the absolute temperatures will soon start to fall both in Russia [ed. note: i.e. "winter"] and globally (i.e. we will have global cooling for the next 6 months or so) . If global warming (as diagnosed by an annual global average) was a more-or-less linear accumulation of heat, than the heat accumulated (as a positive temperature anomaly) in the lower troposphere must remain in the coming months. The regional anomaly in Russia, of course, can be displaced to other locations.

We will  follow this analysis in the coming months, as we have a valuable test as to whether global warming in the annual average is progressively continuing or if natural (or human) climate forcings and feedbacks provides higher than average cooling in the coming months.

Let me set the stage.

At the time, Moscow’s environs looked like a holocaust, Pakistan was flooding, we were experiencing record temperatures globally, and people finally seemed to be recognizing that leaked emails and some IPCC errors didn’t mean that global warming was a hoax.

The 12 month record global temperatures were reached in no small part due to an El Niño boost atop the underlying anthropogenic warming signal. But already, we had transitioned to La Niña conditions and forecasts we being made for the La Niña to prevail for at least several months . And just as El Niños bump the globally averaged temp up, La Niñas bring them down.

ENSO is the one of the dominant drivers of interannual temperature variance. This has been and remains true even as anthropogenic warming marches on (though ENSO’s relative importance might somewhat decrease as unchecked warming progresses). We should expect a significantly strong La Niña to not only temporarily counterbalance, but even overwhelm underlying the anthropogenic warming signal. This in no way means that the planet will not continue to warm to a higher equilibrium due to the build up of GHGs in the atmosphere.

Clearly, a La Niña could push global temps down from their record highs, and if strong enough, would even push them temporarily below average. It happened in 2008, after all, and yet here we were in August 2010 with record temperatures. Pielke hadn’t claimed that 2008 represented a falsification of global warming (to the best of my knowledge). Yet in August he was saying something suspiciously like that. Was I misreading him? It was such a blatant cherry-picking excercise I thought I must have somehow misunderstood him. I sent a few emails noting his post [one saying: "The developing La Niña is almost sure to cause 'higher than average cooling in the coming months.' Who [knew] how easy it was to falsify this silly “global warming” nonsense?”] and more or less forgot about it.

Then I’m pointed to this post, in which Pielke not only reiterates his intent to cherry-pick the La Niña as evidence against warming, but adds the twist that it will somehow be positive evidence for some as-of-yet-undiscovered negative feedback in the climate system:

What is very interesting in this latest analysis is that almost the entire globe has above average lower tropospheric temperatures. If this persists while we are in a La Niña pattern (when we expect cooling) it will provide strong support for those who expect a long term warming to occur as a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other hand, if the temperatures cool to average or below average over large portions of the globe, this would indicate that the climate has a self regulation which mutes temperature excursions.

I couldn’t believe it. ENSO will continue to drive short term variation atop the underlying anthropogenic warming signal. The multivariate ENSO index is showing this current La Niña to be stronger than the one from 2008.

If it persists (currently forecast to do so at least until Spring 2011), we can and should expect a drop to average or possibly even below average lower troposphere temps for a little while. And if/when we do, that is hardly a falsification of enhanced greenhouse warming or positive evidence of some sort of self-stabilizing climatic negative feedback. If we don’t (although it might be unexpected) that isn’t in and of itself “proof” of anthropogenic warming. (Were it actually true, by Pielke’s own standards we’d already have “proven” global warming, as La Niña conditions first developed in May-June and global temperatures have remained above average for the interim five months.)

I’m open to the possibility that I’m simply reading Pielke wrong. It’s certainly possible. But I’m also a little hesitant to unduly extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who claimed that Arctic sea ice conditions over the past several years show there has been no recent decline. So rather than wait until a neutral or below average UAH lower troposphere temperature reading, I thought I might as well get out in front of this one.

UPDATE: Like clockwork.

Climate denialists George Will, Mark Steyn and school children

George Will just can’t help himself. And Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) just can’t help enabling him and insulting their readers. In his latest assault on climate reality, Will decries attempts at global mitigation in a whine that reduces to “but…but…China!”- the familiar “reasoning” that the developed world is demanding that developing nations sacrifice their economies/development to curb emissions, the developing world won’t, ergo we should do nothing about it. Will scrupulously avoids discussing the very real, significant steps to shift to clean energy that countries like China are pursuing even as they resist firm emissions targets, as well as any discussion of technological leapfrogging, a key tool in balancing global emissions reductions with improving standards of living.

The only time Will brushes up against “facts” in terms of climate itself is once again to spread the myth that the world has stopped warming, and he does so this time by quoting National Review pundit Mark Steyn (original here). As Carl Zimmer points out, Will used to cite the World Meteorological Organization as the source for his claims before the WMO rightly smacked him down for it. Going from the WMO to Steyn is indeed “quite the upgrade” as Carl snarked. Will, with Steyn in quotes:

Fortunately, skepticism about the evidence that supposedly supports current alarmism about climate change is growing…

“If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.”

Notice how Will/Steyn are attempting to use the “no warming since 1998″ canard [see here and here] without showing their hand?

If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.

If you’re 29 now (born in 1980-1979) and your “adult life” began when you turned 18, that unsurprisingly gets you right back to the 1997-1998 El Niño.

If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.

If you’re graduating high school in 2009 (likely age 17-18), and you entered 1st grade at the typical age (6-7), that brings us back, once again, to……… 1998.

I, for one, am shocked (SHOCKED!) that Will and Steyn would resort to such strained, bizarre accounting gymnastics to perpetuate this tired, cherry picked, denialist crap.

What if their arbitrary cutoffs had been 28 or “since you entered second grade”, putting the starting period at 1999? The trend would inconveniently be strongly and significantly positive [as would 1996, 2000, etc.]. Of course, we know via Robert Grumbine that you want to use 20-30 years of temperature data before you start drawing conclusions about trends. If your “trend” is dependent on such specific cherry picking, it isn’t a legitimate trend. And if your cherry-picked “trend” has been so debunked that you’re reduced to hiding it behind children’s birthdays and grade school dates, it’s well past time time to retire that lie.

Grow up, gentlemen, will you?

[UPDATE: In addition to Carl Zimmer, The Wonk Room's Brad Johnson, Media Matters, and Joe Romm have more. Tim Lambert also points out Steyn's illiteracy on that other favorite conservative science denier topic- evolution.]

Ones for the Road

Reliable sources: Climate Realists, Craig Idso, ocean acidification edition

Robert Grumbine has explored the unreliability of a particular source in several of his posts, and I thought I’d comment on a similar experience with the same group, “Climate Realists (formerly CO2 Skeptics)”. Looking for media coverage of the InterAcademy Panel’s statement on ocean acidification (more on that later), I came across this post by Craig Idso, entintled- I kid you not- “The Ocean Acidification Fiction”.

Idso is a favorite of the denialists, as unlinke the vast majority (e.g. the gruesome twosome of Monckton and Inhofe) he has a science background (and ostensibly some relevant publications), and can at least mantain a veneer of sanity. This by no means makes him or “Climate Realists” a reliable source on climate change and associated issues however, as the post in question reveals in short order.

Idso cites Liu et al.’s Instability of seawater pH in the South China Sea during the mid-late Holocene: Evidence from boron isotopic composition of corals as the first supporting study for his claim that ocean acidification is “fiction”.

Idso [emphasis mine]:

Working with eighteen samples of fossil and modern Porites corals recovered from the South China Sea, the nine researchers employed 14C dating using the liquid scintillation counting method, along with positive thermal ionization mass spectrometry to generate high precision δ11B (boron) data, from which they reconstructed the paleo-pH record of the past 7000 years that is depicted in the figure below.

As can be seen from this figure, there is nothing unusual, unnatural or unprecedented about the two most recent pH values. They are neither the lowest of the record, nor is the decline rate that led to them the greatest of the record. Hence, there is no compelling reason to believe they were influenced in any way by the nearly 40% increase in the air’s CO2 concentration that has occurred to date over the course of the Industrial Revolution. As for the prior portion of the record, Liu et al. note that there is also “no correlation between the atmospheric CO2 concentration record from Antarctica ice cores and δ11B-reconstructed paleo-pH over the mid-late Holocene up to the Industrial Revolution.”

But as Liu et al. explicitly state in their abstract [emphasis mine]:

The paleo-pH records of the SCS, reconstructed from the δ11B data, were not stable as previously thought but show a gradual increase from the Holocene thermal optimal and a sharp decrease to modern values. The latter is likely caused by the large amount of anthropogenic CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution but variations of atmospheric pCO2 cannot explain the pH change of the SCS before the Industrial Revolution. We suggest that variations of monsoon intensity during the mid-late Holocene may have driven the sea surface pH increase from the mid to late Holocene. Results of this study indicate that the impact of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 emissions may have reversed the natural pH trend in the SCS since the mid-Holocene. Such ocean pH records in the current interglacial period can help us better understand the physical and biological controls on ocean pH and possibly predict the long-term impact of climate change on future ocean acidification.

This is a beautiful example of the classic denialist tactic of citing studies that explicitly refute your argument as though they support it. As the utter dearth of refereed studies supporting denialists’ claims became ever more apparent (highlighted memorably by Naomi Oreskes’ metanalysis of the consensus view in Science), they had little choice but to pretend the opposite. Hence the Heartland Institute claiming Michael Mann and others’ published work “Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares” when it consists of years and even decades of supporting it.

Idso then cites Pelejero et al.’s Preindustrial to Modern Interdecadal Variability in Coral Reef pH as further support that ocean acidificaiton is “fiction”. However, Pelejaro et al. open [emphasis mine]:

The oceans are becoming more acidic due to absorption of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems is unclear, but it will likely depend on species adaptability and the rate of change of seawater pH relative to its natural variability. To constrain the natural variability in reef-water pH, we measured boron isotopic compositions in a È300-year-old massive Porites coral from the southwestern Pacific. Large variations in pH are found over È50-year cycles that covary with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation of ocean-atmosphere anomalies, suggesting that natural pH cycles can modulate the impact of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the burning of fossil fuels has increased the CO2 content of the atmosphere from È280 to more than 370 parts per million per volume (ppmv), a level unprecedented in the last 420,000 years (1). To date, a large part of anthropogenic CO2 emissions has been absorbed by the oceans (2), which have become more acidic, thus reducing their capacity to continue to absorb CO2. Estimates of global oceanic pH trends to the year 2000 indicate that the oceans have already acidified by 0.1 pH units relative to preindustrial times (3, 4). Geochemical models forecast an exponential decrease of nearly 0.8 pH units by 2300 (4), a scenario for which there is no obvious precedent over the last hundreds of millions of years (5), with the possible exception of abrupt changes such as those associated with the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum 55.5 million years ago (6).

Although Pelejaro et al. quite explicitly contradict Idso’s broader assertion (that acidification is a “fiction”), what Idso/Climate Realists is attempting here is better viewed as a different tactic than that used with Liu et al., another favorite of denialists- the cherry pick.

If a study cited by a denialist doesn’t outright refute what he claims it supports, it will almost assuredly consist of a study that deals with an isolated instance or location and concern itself with phenomena that have nothing to do with or in no way obviate the broad effects of climate change (or as here ocean acidification).

Idso cites the lack of a statistically significant decline decline in pH in addition to the large amount of variability experienced by Flinders reef as though it somehow invalidates ocean acidification:

These researchers also found that “there is no notable trend toward lower δ11B values.” Instead, they discovered that “the dominant feature of the coral δ11B record is a clear interdecadal oscillation of pH, with δ11B values ranging between 23 and 25 per mil (7.9 and 8.2 pH units),” which they say “is synchronous with the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation.”

Pelejaro et al. explain the likely cause of the variability:

The most likely explanation for the variability in pH at Flinders Reef is that coral reef calcification combined with limited flushing of reef water exerts an important local control over the extent of the buildup of partial pressure of CO2 (PCO2) within the reef…

And discuss their findings in context of the acidifying ocean:

The interdecadal cycle in seawater pH observed at Flinders Reef has relevance for predicting its response to future ocean acidification, given that it will either enhance or moderate the local effects of the projected long-term decrease in pH (3, 4). For example, the next rise in the ~50-year cycle of reef-water pH should counteract the lowering of pH values at Flinders Reef until ~2035 A.D. Conversely, the subsequent fall in the reef-water pH cycle will lead to an abrupt shift toward low pH reef water. The extent to which corals and other calcifying reef organisms can adapt to such rapid decreases in pH is largely unknown.

Our findings suggest that the effects of progressive acidification of the oceans are likely to differ between coral reefs because reef-water PCO2 and consequent changes in seawater pH will rarely be in equilibrium with the atmosphere. Although the relatively large variations in seawater pH at Flinders Reef suggest that coral reefs may be resilient to the shorter term effects of ocean acidification, in the coming decades many reefs are likely to experience reduced pH that is unprecedented relative to “natural” levels. Additional paleo-pH records are required from a range of coral reef ecosystems to improve our understanding of the physical and biological controls on reef-water pH, and the long-term impacts of future ocean acidification.

Note that Pelejaro et al. explicitly are not claiming that the natural variability in pH that Flinders reef experienced due to its particular geographic circumstances is evidence that Flinders will be immune to the negative consequences of acidification on longer timescales, and in no way refute (and as we’ve seen extensively reference) the reality of acidification generally. Indeed, they repeatedly state that Flinders reef’s local geography cannot be compared to open ocean for purposes of discussing pH and dissolved CO2 in response to comments about the implausibility of their findings.

Idso proceeds to cite, if you can believe the chutzpah, Evidence for ocean acidification in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The abstract [emphasis mine]:

Geochemical records preserved in the long-lived carbonate skeleton of corals provide one of the few means to reconstruct changes in seawater pH since the commencement of the industrial era. This information is important in not only determining the response of the surface oceans to ocean acidification from enhanced uptake of CO2, but also to better understand the effects of ocean acidification on carbonate secreting organisms such as corals, whose ability to calcify is highly pH dependent. Here we report an 200 year δ11B isotopic record, extracted from a long-lived Porites coral from the central Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This record covering the period from 1800 to 2004 was sampled at yearly increments from 1940 to the present and 5-year increments prior to 1940. The δ11B isotopic compositions reflect variations in seawater pH, and the δ13C changes in the carbon composition of surface water due to fossil fuel burning over this period. In addition complementary Ba/Ca, δ18O and Mg/Ca data was obtained providing proxies for terrestrial runoff, salinity and temperature changes over the past 200 years in this region. Positive thermal ionization mass spectrometry (PTIMS) method was utilized in order to enable the highest precision and most accurate measurements of δ11B values. The internal precision and reproducibility for δ11B of our measurements are better than ±0.2‰ (2σ), which translates to a precision of better than ±0.02 pH units. Our results indicate that the long-term pre-industrial variation of seawater pH in this region is partially related to the decadal–interdecadal variability of atmospheric and oceanic anomalies in the Pacific. In the periods around 1940 and 1998 there are also rapid oscillations in δ11B compositions equivalent changes in pH of almost 0.5 U. The 1998 oscillation is co-incident with a major coral bleaching event indicating the sensitivity of skeletal δ11B compositions to loss of zooxanthellate symbionts. Importantly, from the 1940s to the present-day, there is a general overall trend of ocean acidification with pH decreasing by about 0.2–0.3 U, the range being dependent on the value assumed for the fractionation factor α(B3–B4) of the boric acid and borate species in seawater. Correlations of δ11B with δ13C during this interval indicate that the increasing trend towards ocean acidification over the past 60 years in this region is the result of enhanced dissolution of CO2 in surface waters from the rapidly increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, mainly from fossil fuel burning. This suggests that the increased levels of anthropogenic CO2 in atmosphere has already caused a significant trend towards acidification in the oceans during the past decades.

Idso finishes [notation mine]:

In light of these several diverse and independent assessments of the two major aspects of the ocean acidification hypothesis — [1] a CO2-induced decline in oceanic pH that [2] leads to a concomitant decrease in coral growth rate — it would appear that the catastrophe conjured up by the world’s climate alarmists is but a wonderful work of fiction.

On the first point, not one of the studies Idso cites backs his claim that this is not occurring, and in fact they all explictly refute him. Indeed the general decline in ocean pH due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions is a robust finding, apparently unchallenged in the primary literature.

On the second point, Idso appears to be passing off the Pelejaro et al. paper, which explicitly rejects the claim that longterm acidification will have no effect on the corals studied, as a complete rebuttal to the threat of acidfication to corals and coral growth. Idso also necessarily ignores the numerous papers published testing and confirming the “alarmist” view that he claims is unsubstantiated, e.g. Hoegh-Guldberg et al. Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, 2007; Guionette and Fabry Ocean acidification and its potential effects on marine ecosystems, 2008; Jokiel et al. Ocean acidification and calcifying reef organisms: a mesocosm investigation, 2008; Anthony et al. Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders, 2008; Doney et al. Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem, 2009; Silverman et al. Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles, 2009; etc.

Bottom line: Climate Realists [aka CO2 Skeptics] and Craig Idso are an unreliable source engaging in deliberate falsehoods designed to mislead readers. Whenever possible, and especially when dealing with claims that are far outside the mainstream, check references and read primary sources. Denialists have no qualms about misrepresenting papers or even citing studies that directly refute their claims.

Lomborg yet again tries to mislead on SLR, gets taken to the woodshed by Rahmstorf

Lomborg is at it again, taking to the pages of The Guardian in an attempt to downplay the seriousness of sea level rise and denigrate the upcoming Climate Change Congress. Stefan Rahmstorf completely demolishes Lomborg, and his response is well worth reading in full.

I don’t have much to add- I discussed how dishonest Lomborg was being on SLR and the IPCC back in August of last year- but I did want to point out the chutzpah the Dane displays in accusing Rahmstorf of cherry-picking the time series to exploit 1998 (which Lomborg has been doing consistently and incorrectly for temp) when Lomborg’s entire argument about recent SLR being “low” is based upon picking the period that gives the lowest possible trend.

What Lomborg lacks in factual accuracy and integrity and he more than makes up for in shamelessness.

I wonder how much more of this Lomborg’s “reputation” can endure before he finds himself out of favor among the right wing, market fundamentalist front groups he is so cozy with.