Sunday, December 02, 2012

How scientists pull the wool over the eyes of the public

A study just out in "Science" has already been ingested by media outlets all over the world and then pooped out in considerably altered form.  Why it has been taken so seriously is a bit of a mystery as it is in fact pretty run of the mill stuff.

It has been taken as "proving" human-caused warming but in fact it didn't address human influence at all!

What the article does is a type of meta-analysis:  It tries to combine ALL the information on the subject to produce a more reliable conclusion than any single study could do.  Such studies are often relied on in the medical literature due to the deluge of conflicting claims there.

As it happens, I know a little bit about meta-analyses and know how important goodwill is to their usefulness.  To put it bluntly, you can prove just about anything you like in a meta-anaysis by what you select to include.  Selecting the date from which you begin to assemble data is a classic dodge  -- and one that seems to have been used in the present study -- but it gets as crude as  ignoring hundreds of articles and datasets that you simply dislike.

So a good, sincere and unbiased attitude in the researcher is vital.  If you start off with (say) a Warmist bias you will usually produce Warmist results.

As it happens, the bias readily apparent in the present study is mild.  It seems to show only in the chosen starting point for the analysis.  Why 1992 and not (say) the beginning of satellite measurements in 1979?  1992 must just have produced the best results.

But, even so, the results are not spectacular.  As one summary put it:
They’re saying that only E Ant is gaining mass, and that at a low rate, so overall Ant is losing, and Greenland is losing even more. Still – that adds up to 0.6 mm/yr. So it will have to grow if its to become interesting by 2100. And undoubtedly it will, but that means predicting it remains interesting, since (linear) extrapolation is obviously pointless.

In case that's still not clear, the sea-level rise they assert is tiny and even if it continued in a steady way (most unlikely given past known variations in polar ice) it would take 100 years or more to become noticeable.

So the only way in which the study is notable is its claim to produce pooled wisdom  -- and how influential that claim is depends very much on how much we believe in the objectivity of the researchers.  As they would not be in their jobs if they were global warming skeptics,  believing in their objectivity would be quite heroic.  It's just another dodgy appeal to authority

I append the journal abstract.

Higher temperatures over the past two decades have caused the polar ice sheets to melt at an accelerating rate, contributing to an almost half-inch rise in global sea levels, according to the most comprehensive study done so far.

Scientists long have struggled to get a fix on whether the permanent ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are gaining or losing ice. Past satellite-based measurements either were limited in scope or suffered from methodological inconsistencies.

The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, estimates that the melting of the ice sheets as a whole has raised global sea levels by 11.1 millimeters (0.43 inch) since 1992. That represents one-fifth of the total sea-level increase recorded in that period.

In the 1990s, melting of the polar ice sheets was responsible for about 10% of the global sea-level rise, but now it represents about 30%, the data suggest.

Higher temperatures can raise sea levels in several ways. Some estimates suggest that roughly half of the increase relates to the thermal expansion of the oceans: as the water warms, it becomes less dense and expands.

Another source is the runoff from melting glaciers. A third is the increased melting of the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland.

Greenland in particular has seen a greater melting of its permanent ice. One reason is that Northern Hemisphere ocean currents are warmer, which leads to more vigorous melting.

In addition, the air temperature in Greenland is much warmer than that in the Antarctic, so a rise in temperature in Greenland has a more profound effect.

"If you extrapolate these results, Greenland is going to be a serious contributor to global sea-level rise" in coming years, said Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, England, who wasn't involved in the Science study. "Its contribution, relative to other sources, is becoming greater and greater," he said.

The issue of rising sea levels has gained more attention in recent months. The destructive flooding caused by the storm Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in late October, revived anxieties about rising ocean levels in heavily populated coastal regions.

To assess the contribution from melting ice sheets, scientists try to measure "mass balance," which is the difference between the annual snow that falls on the permanent ice sheets each year, and the total mass of ice that melts or breaks off the sheets.

It is an extremely complex measurement, because there are so many factors at work: shifting ocean currents, the dynamics and movement of large ice shelves, and the varying temperature and saltiness of water at different places.

Consequently, researchers don't yet know exactly how much of the ice-sheet melt is caused by a warming atmosphere and how much by a warming ocean.  [That's easy.  There has been NO significant atmospheric warming in the atmosphere over the study period]

The last major assessment of mass balance was published in a 2007 report on climate change issued by the United Nations. But those findings were based on limited observations, and many scientists considered them to underestimate the melting.

The latest effort reconciles the differences among dozens of earlier measurements and includes new data to compile an estimate that is believed to be twice as accurate as previous ones, according to researchers involved.

"It allows us to make some firm conclusions," said Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds in England and a lead author of the study. "It wasn't clear if Antarctica was gaining or losing ice. Now we can say with confidence it is losing ice."

The 2007 U.N. report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that similar amounts of ice were being lost at both the polar regions. By contrast, the new study concludes that two-thirds of the ice loss was in Greenland and the remainder in Antarctica.

The latest findings show that the rate of ice loss in Greenland has increased almost fivefold since the mid-1990s, while Antarctica overall has been losing relatively small amounts of ice at a more or less constant rate.

"Antarctica is so cold that even if warming occurs it won't melt" at the rate seen in Greenland, said Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle and a co-author of the new paper.

One tricky question is whether the overall accelerated melting of the ice sheets can be linked to man-made climate change.

The shrinkage of the permanent ice sheets can't entirely be explained by any of the decades-long or century-long natural shifts in climate cycles, according to Prof. Shepherd.

Scientists note that current climate-change models predict that some parts of the Antarctic ice sheet will grow while other parts will shrink, and that parts of the Greenland ice also will melt. Observations have borne out these projections so far.

"The signals suggest there is no immediate threat" from rising sea levels, Prof. Shepherd said. "But we can at least warn people that there are instabilities that need to be investigated."

The study involved 26 laboratories and was supported by the European Space Agency and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The data used for the study were based on measurements from 10 separate satellite missions

A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance

By Andrew Shepherd et al.


We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earth’s polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methods—especially in Greenland and West Antarctica—and that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by –142 ± 49, +14 ± 43, –65 ± 26, and –20 ± 14 gigatonnes year−1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year−1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.

Science 30 November 2012, Vol. 338 no. 6111 pp. 1183-1189


It’s that time of year again when some call the global annual average temperature for the year, even though there are still two months of data remaining. Such a premature declaration is done for political reasons, such as the current UN climate meeting in Doha.

The UK Met Office, on the 28th November 2012, issued a ‘State of global temperatures in 2012,’ and it makes interesting reading.

The Met Office uses three “leading global temperature datasets” to conclude that the average temperature of 2012 is 0.45 +/- 0.10 deg C above the 1961-90 average. They add that these error bars mean that 2012 could be between the 4th and the 14th warmest year of the instrumental period, since 1850. Realistically though it’s going to be ninth or tenth. Fig 1 shows the Met Office data.

The Met Office then adds that due to a La Nina 2012 is cooler than the average for the last decade. Statistically speaking that is not the whole story. According to the data we already have, taking the errors into account, 2012 is statistically identical to all the other years of the past decade and beyond. The recent global temperature standstill continues.

What is an obvious standstill to some – the global temperature hasn’t increased for 15 years – is to others a not so rapid warming, or as the Met Office puts it; “Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s.”

The Met Office continues: “This variability in global temperatures is not unusual, with several periods lasting a decade or more with little or no warming since the instrumental record began. We are investigating why the temperature rise at the surface has slowed in recent years, including how ocean heat content changes and the effects of aerosols from atmospheric pollution may have influenced global climate.”

Now I beg to differ. Since instrumental temperature records began in about 1850 lengthy standstills, such as the one between 1940 – 80, are evident. But we are not in that regime. We are supposed to be in the era of anthropogenically-dominated global warming. The IPCC put the transition between natural and anthropogenic influence as 1960-80. Since the global temperature started to rise about 1980, and continued to 1997, this makes the lack of variability seen in global temperatures since 1997 highly unusual. Indeed, as we have said before, it is the recent warm periods major characteristic, and climate models strain to account for it.

The Met Office carries on: Interannual variations of global surface temperature are strongly affected by the warming influences of El Niño and the cooling influences of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. These are quite small when compared to the total global warming since 1900 of about 0.8 °C but nevertheless typically reach about +/- 0.10 °C, and can strongly influence individual years.

True, but a more pertinent point is that El Nino and La Nina have no effect on the 15-year global temperature standstill. Individual years go up and down due to these effects, but there is no statistically significant trend since 1997. In fact looking at the post-1997 data the El Nino and La Ninas seem to be the only statistical cause of variations from year to year.


Last year the Met Office said that 2011′s placing near the top of temperature datasets, which go back to 1850, continues a long-term warming trend in global climate. (Actually 2011 was even cooler than 2012, last year the Met Office put it as 11th warmest).

Again, the long-term warming trend is true if you combine the natural and AGW era, but not if one just considers the AGW period. Taking away 2012’s temperature from the recent data doesn’t make much difference, yet at the end of 2011 we had “the warming trend continues”, but after just one more year of data we now have “temperature rise at the surface has slowed.” If there is evidence that at the end of 2012 it has slowed, then there was also evidence it had slowed at the end of 2011.

To summarise: There is no point in putting out conclusions about the global temperature for any year until all that year’s data is available. It is misleading to only say that the global temperature rise has slowed down since 1980, when the evidence is that it has remained unchanged for the last 15 years.

The 15-year standstill is a real feature in the data. Arguments that it has been cherry picked are irrelevant. The climate models give probabilities of global temperature standstills – the longer the standstill the lower the probability. Such models do not make any stipulation other than the duration of the standstill, not its place in the dataset. The standstill is El Nino-La Nina independent.

It seems that the release of a years global temperature before the year has ended is a statistical dance we have to go through every year. But those who make decisions based on the Met Office press release announcing the year’s temperature do so without a complete picture.


Who Caused Sandy?

Meteorologist William M. Gray offers some logic more in accord with the facts

The main misconception among those who believe in human-induced global warming is to assume that all the many large and varying energy terms of the natural climate system remain constant over long periods and that the only changes that matter for climate are the very miniscule variations of human effects.  As extensive and tragic as Sandy’s destruction has been, it is not at all beyond the range of what is known about the natural variability of the different meteorological elements which came together to produce it.  What is more amazing, at least from an intellectual point-of-view, is the number of prominent government officials, the media, and private citizens who have concluded that Sandy’s destruction was the result (or partly the result) of human influences.

There is no rational basis for such a conclusion other than the prevalent psychological need of so many people to assign a simple explanation for any unusually rare and destructive weather event.  Associated with this need for a simple explanation is the parallel psychological need of so many to find a scapegoat for our misfortunes.  And this need for a scapegoat can often take the form of blaming ourselves (original sin) or the society in which we live.

History tells us of the strong link between the deteriorating weather which occurred in Europe between the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA), and the burning of women believed to be witches.  Estimates are that fifty thousand or more witches were burned to death during the 15th through 17th centuries in Europe.  These women were imagined to have a pact  with the Devil that enabled them to bring forth damaging weather events or deterioration of climate.  And if the weather improved after such burnings it was taken as a sign that these women did indeed have a direct link to the Devil.

Despite the world’s enlightenment that has occurred since those times – there appears to still be a residue desire within our human nature, even today, for an easy explanation for unusual damaging events, a need to find a scapegoat and a need to look to ourselves for part of the explanation of destructive weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves, floods, etc.  Blaming last summer’s US droughts, wild fires, and hot weather on human-induced climate change is a recent example.  As if we humans would ever be able to influence such large and unique nature events!

Why must we, as in previous ages, continue to try to suggest that humans may have been a contributing element in major destructive weather events?  If it were really possible for humans to be a contributor to severe weather or worsening climate, would it not also be logical to believe that humans might also be a contributing element to spells of good weather or favorable climate change?

The longest recorded period of no major (Cat 3-4-5) hurricane landfalls in the US has occurred during the last seven years (2006-2012).   We have also had 20 fewer major US hurricane landfall events in the last 47 year period (1966-2012) than we had during the earlier 47 year (1919-1965) period.  And this decrease in landfalling major hurricanes occurred during the time of rising CO2 levels.  If humans could really influence destructive climate-weather events like Sandy, should they not also be able to take some credit for influencing the recent decades of reduced number of US landfalling major hurricanes?   Landfalling US major hurricanes are known to cause about 80-85 percent of all normalized US landfalling tropical cyclone destruction.

It appears that we humans have, unknowingly, made an enormous contribution in recent decades to the reduction of US hurricane destruction (see Figure).  Should we not pat ourselves on the back and continue to increase our fossil-fuel utilization?

Illustration of how US landfalling major hurricane numbers have been trending downward while atmospheric CO2 amounts have been increasing.

Received via email

Major British Science Body practices  Global Warming Censorship

Shock new email revelations show that since 2007 senior members of the UK’s prestigious Institute of Physics (IoP) cynically locked down any debate about man-made global warming. Now seasoned writer, Andrew Montford, draws on hundreds of leaked emails exposing how a clique of Big Green activists hijacked one of Britain’s most venerated institutions to shamelessly promote a one-sided version of the hottest environmental issue.

In his startling new pamphlet, ‘Institutional Bias’ Montford lays out the evidence selected from a vast body of leaked internal emails. Two whistleblower insiders were the source, Peter F. Gill, formerly the chairman of the IoP’s Energy Group and Terri Jackson (MSc Mphil), former science adviser to Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Rev. Ian Paisley and Founder of the IOP’s Energy Group.

The incredible correspondence details a conspiracy to silence any and all dissent challenging the alarmist mantra of human-induced climate change. Self-serving senior figures within the IoP are shown to have harassed and harangued every attempt for a grassroots debate among members over the global warming controversy.

Montford, a well-respected figure on the skeptic side of the debate and author of the best seller ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion,’ the book that exposed climatologist, Michael Mann’s iconic ‘hockey stick’ graph, is damning in his assessment of this fiasco.  Montford argues the leaked emails prove, “The voice of the membership is increasingly being silenced, with headquarters staff having arranged to abolish the annual representatives meeting, at which grievances had formerly been aired.”

The IoP is a vast organisation of 45,000 members with a multi-million income derived from member subscriptions, journal publishing and meetings. This new evidence puts flesh on the bones of what has for too long been glibly dismissed by elements of the mainstream press as “conspiracy theorization.”

We see in black and white the email evidence of how, when the Climategate controversy hit the news, pro-green elements in the IoP and British press were quick to paper over the cracks. Despite an upswelling among members for a full debate the IOP’s hierarchy silenced criticism in preference of a  “clear” message on global warming. In this the IoP chose to state “there is no doubt that climate change is happening, that it is linked to man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, and that we should be taking action to address it now,” much to the ire of disenfranchised grassroots members. IoP’s Jackson was snipped by the green censor’s scissors when a version of her dissenting article, ‘Pouring cold water on global warming’ published in The Belfast Telegraph and due to also appear in The Times,  was “blocked” by green activists in London. Meanwhile Gill’s integrity was thrown into question by The Guardian.

Gill is delighted with the impact Montford’s pamphlet is making, “I must say that the reaction so far has been largely positive albeit that it has made some people sad and depressed.”


UK Energy Plan Is Dangerous And Dated

Dieter Helm

After 12 years of reviews, white papers and some legislation, the UK government has finally come forward with what it regards as a definitive set of energy policy reforms. Sadly the Energy bill is anything but definitive. Over the long period of the bill’s gestation, the world’s energy markets have changed radically.

At the heart of the bill is the idea that the government should contract directly for new power stations, agreeing in advance a fixed price for the electricity they will generate. Contracting is not in itself a bad idea. Britain needs investment, much more than the market will deliver left to its own devices. The upfront capital required to develop nuclear power stations, in particular, requires political commitment. But there is a world of difference between auctioning contracts and politicians fixing them.

Once the government is picking the winners, it matters which sectors it chooses. Ed Davey, the energy secretary, comes armed with explanations. He predicts the future will be one of “volatile” gas prices, which will head ever upwards. And Mr Davey believes that his chosen technologies will insulate Britain against them.

For the past decade, gas prices have indeed been rising. But it is one thing to know the past and another to know the future. While officials and ministers have been working away at one energy plan after another, the world around them has changed. The idea of “peak oil” (the point at which the world’s oil supplies go into irreversible decline) has turned out to be nonsense. There has been a revolution in fossil fuel technologies. With shale oil and gas, North America is rapidly reaching energy independence and the price gap between the US and Europe on gas is now so enormous as to undermine Europe’s competitiveness and begin a process of re-industrialisation in the US. America’s shale bounty will feed through to world prices – and therefore Britain’s prices.

If this part of the rationale behind the energy bill has collapsed, it might be argued that the government is at least doing something about climate change. But a moment’s reflection yields the unfortunate conclusion that not only are current renewables making little difference to global warming but that they never could. Wind in particular is a low-density, intermittent energy source. Future renewables might well close the gap, but not the current forms of renewable energy.

Before deciding which technologies to award government contracts to, it would be wise to think through what might happen if the secretary of state turns out to be wrong. Power stations tend to be long-lived, which means that mistakes hang around the economy’s neck for a long time. Suppose the future is not going to be the one conjured up by the peak oil brigade, the supporters of current renewables, and by the secretary of state. Suppose world fossil fuel prices fall but Britain is committed to high- cost current renewables.

The UK’s carbon production might indeed fall: the deindustrialisation that might result from high energy prices is a sure route to lower emissions. But that would be a false blessing, offset by carbon-intensive imports, as is already happening. Energy demand would probably fall, too – not because of the Green Deal, Mr Davey’s programme to increase British homes’ energy efficiency, but because of higher prices. Reducing emissions by contracting energy-intensive industries and reducing household incomes is hardly an attractive route to decarbonisation.


China seeks delay over global climate treaty

Beijing wants industrialised countries to commit to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions before agreeing to an extension of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol

Beijing's top climate negotiator said yesterday that international discussions for a new global climate treaty starting from 2020 should not begin until next year, after the securing of renewed pledges by developed nations at climate talks starting next week to reduce their greenhouse gas emission from 2013.

But Xie Zhenhua also said that countries are still divided on which of the two focal points should be prioritised, resulting in a cloud of uncertainty over the United Nations talks due to begin on Monday in Qatar, which will last until December 7.

China, the world's top carbon dioxide emitter, wants to first secure a second commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that would go into effect from January 1 and which China hopes will include strong commitments from industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, according to Xie, who is deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission.

"Building on such progress, countries can move forwards to seek a consensus for the post-2020 scheme, with formal negotiations to be launched next year," Xie said.

Analysts said China's preference to delay negotiations is likely to be met with strong opposition from countries such as the United States, which has been trying to blur the divide between developed and developing countries in climate negotiations.

The Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which expires at the end of this year, is the only existing global treaty that binds most industrialised nations on their emissions of greenhouse gases, while sparing China, India and other large, emerging economies, which have caught up quickly in carbon emissions.

Li Yan, a Greenpeace China climate campaigner, said that an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, with fewer countries ready to renew their emission-reduction pledges, would have only limited effectiveness in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But Li said the accord remains politically significant after serving as the foundation for climate talks for nearly two decades.

"It is understandable that China and other developing nations do not want to see the new treaty move too fast before the sorting out of other problems - rich countries' commitments on emission reduction, financing and technical aide," Li said.

Delegates at UN talks in South Africa last year agreed that nations would hammer out a new deal by 2015 to fight climate change after 2020.

Li said that Beijing was prepared to take on some emission-reduction obligations after 2020, but it was not yet ready to formally commit to such obligations.

Xie also voiced strong opposition to the European Union's carbon tax scheme for airlines, calling it a violation of international laws. But he said China will take part in negotiations on emission cuts for the aviation industry.




Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


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