Patterico's Pontifications

11/14/2018

Alarmist Global Warming Study Turns Out to Have Been Flawed

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:52 am



Global Warming Earth

The #FAKENEWSBEZOSPOST has the story:

Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists’ work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans “have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought.”

“Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. “I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them.”

I’m not someone who believes climate change is a “hoax”; I call myself a “global warming skeptic skeptic.” (Yes, I meant to type that word twice.) My fuller thoughts on the topic are available here. For non-clickers, here’s the summary:

[I]t’s my belief that the planet is warming, and my best guess is that man contributes to that. I don’t know to what extent man’s contribution affects the rate of warming.

I think the idea that climate scientists are engaged in some kind of active “hoax” or “conspiracy” seems, um, conspiratorial. It does not strike me as likely. But, just as folks in Big Media tend to lean mostly one way politically, I can believe that climate scientists, by and large, have a herd-like mindset.

It doesn’t strike me like a hard science the way physics is. The models never seem to predict anything accurately. Predictions are commonly and provably exaggerated.

But, in the end, I am a lawyer by trade and a writer (and musician, and other things) by hobby. What I am not, is a scientist. And I recognize my limitations.

My concern with the Scripps study is the “herd-like mindset” of climate scientists, which causes them to be less critical of studies warning about dire consequences of climate change, and to unthinkingly reject as ignorant any criticism of such studies. I understand the mindset, since much criticism of climate science is indeed ignorant. But some of it is also appropriately skeptical about the limitation of what we can know, and this skepticism is far too often dismissed with an airy wave of the hand by Those Who Know Better.

Instructive in this regard is the way that the problems with the Scripps study were found: by an independent researcher who said the errors were … rather glaring.

However, not long after publication, an independent Britain-based researcher named Nicholas Lewis published a lengthy blog post saying he had found a “major problem” with the research.

“So far as I can see, their method vastly underestimates the uncertainty,” Lewis said in an interview Tuesday, “as well as biasing up significantly, nearly 30 percent, the central estimate.”

Lewis added that he tends “to read a large number of papers, and, having a mathematics as well as a physics background, I tend to look at them quite carefully, and see if they make sense. And where they don’t make sense — with this one, it’s fairly obvious it didn’t make sense — I look into them more deeply.”

Gee. How did “fairly obvious” deficiencies in a climate change study make it past the Hard Scrutiny of all of those scientists?

(He asked, with a wry smile, knowing that his audience recognizes the rhetorical nature of the question.)

The studies of climate scientists, endorsed by other climate scientists, are then amplified by Big Media, which is also largely populated by people who share the scientists’ political views as well as their views about climate change (and one’s views on the politics are, unfortunately, often closely linked with one’s views on the science — a problem evident on both sides of the political aisle). For example, the Washington Post, which is reporting the errors in the Scripps study today, was unsuspecting in October, when they called the study “startling.” (And as of the publication of this post, the October article has no addendum regarding the infirmities in the study — meaning that if you run across that article through Google, you wouldn’t know any better.)

This is a problem, whether you are a climate change believer or skeptic. Everyone should want science to be carefully examining evidence and questioning the soundness of conclusions — regardless of one’s politics, and regardless of the issue.

With climate change, one worries that this isn’t happening.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

51 Responses to “Alarmist Global Warming Study Turns Out to Have Been Flawed”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  2. Patterico, thank you. I am a scientist. So I have LONG been worried about the way politics is invading science. And it’s not new; look at eugenics.

    I’m kind of with Freeman Dyson on the topic of AGW. And the funny part, when Dyson announced that, how everyone piled on him, calling him senile.

    It’s not science in this area; it’s religion. Period.

    Here is the thing: if the models are accurate, they should be “back predictable.” That is, if the claim is made that a particular concentration of carbon dioxide leads to a certain degree of overall warming…and we know the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the past…we should get an accurate number.

    We don’t.

    The explanation is “forcing events”…but this always seems to “force” the data in one direction.

    The key to being a good scientist is to go where the data takes you. Bad science is letting your expectations or hopes infect the process. Sure, that latter happens a lot. And it hurts science.

    Naturally, folks on the Right go nuts on the subject, making bizarre and over the top statements in the other direction. And it gets nasty, as I know from personal experience.

    It reminds me very much of Sagan’s “nuclear winter” argument in the 80s. The idea there was that if you toss enough nukes around, it causes a global deep freeze. That data was based on the Martian atmosphere, which is, um, quite different from our own. And people jumped on the bandwagon because nuclear disarmament was all the rage then (“What, you are in favor of nuclear explosions?”). So the science was used by politicians, and politically tinged scientists like Sagan.

    So here we are.

    Is it great to burn fossil fuels? Nope. We should be going nuclear. Probably with thorium reactors. But that won’t work in our political climate. I just think it is silly to burn things for power, if you have a better way.

    But AGW is a religion now, as your article will prove. Just watch the comments in the media on it…on both sides.

    Thanks again, Patterico.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  3. Nice 2009 article about Dyson, who is awfully smart.

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/freeman-dyson-and-the-irresistible-2009-04-30/

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  4. Heck, I have friends in the English department here, who haven’t had a science course since they were in high school in the 1950s, because I privately expressed reservations as I described above. AND they tried to complain to our Dean that I was “anti-science.”

    Religion, I tell you.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  5. Last comment, I promise, but Julian Simon’s statement says it all:

    https://www.claremont.org/crb/article/the-church-of-environmentalism/

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  6. Why I call them the sky dragon cult, Simon. One would half suspect this would be an alien scheme,

    Narciso (9b9220)

  7. I think the AGW crowd is another iteration of the Church of Marxism, dressed up in concern for the health of the planet. I agree with Patterico that the Earth is warming; but is it warming enough to be a concern? I don’t think there is enough evidence to justify the recommendations of the AGW crowd. I would also like to use more nuclear or natural gas because it does release less CO2 into the atmosphere. But, as Simon has stated, building more nuclear power plants isn’t politically feasible right now. IMO, two things need to happen to usher coal and oil out of use; the creation of batteries that are able to store wind/solar power to make it available at the flick of a switch or a way to safely launch nuclear waste on a rocket into the Sun/or a way to safely incinerate nuclear waste.

    CygnusAnalogMan (9c66ec)

  8. Volcanoes put off more toxic gases than people could ever create.

    mg (9e54f8)

  9. 8… you’ve never met my Uncle Milt. The man could clear a room.

    Colonel Haiku (97712e)

  10. there’s only the most minimal science to support the theory the global warming hoax is based on

    there’s absolutely ZERO science behind any of the policy prescriptions the climate change hoaxers advocate

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  11. [I]t’s my belief that the planet is warming, and my best guess is that man contributes to that. I don’t know to what extent man’s contribution affects the rate of warming.

    I think the idea that climate scientists are engaged in some kind of active “hoax” or “conspiracy” seems, um, conspiratorial. It does not strike me as likely. But, just as folks in Big Media tend to lean mostly one way politically, I can believe that climate scientists, by and large, have a herd-like mindset.

    Corresponds more or less exactly with my own views on the subject.

    One thing worth noting, though, is that in this case the system worked, albeit belatedly. The mistake was found, acknowledged, and corrected.

    Here is the Lewis blog article which first raised the red flag.

    It appears one error involved something so simple as incorrectly fitting a set of points to a line. The fitted value of the slope they reported does not agree with the data. This is something reviewers could well miss, as it requires redo-ing the numerical analysis. Frankly, linear regression is such a basic task that I’m not surprised reviewers didn’t catch it. Peer review generally focuses on the soundness of the technique, not catching arithmetic errors (unless they are glaring).

    The second error, related to the uncertainty in the fit value of the slope, is more subtle and concerns whether the uncertainties in different points are treated as statistically independent or correlated. This is more the type of thing reviewers are expected to find, although it would take more of a “crunchy” (statistics-savvy) reviewer like Lewis to recognize it.

    Dave (9664fc)

  12. The fact they consistently get it wrong ‘a big not a feauture.

    Narciso (9b9220)

  13. “Heck, I have friends in the English department here, who haven’t had a science course since they were in high school in the 1950s“

    In the media world, they’re called “journalists”.

    After reading a heavily biased news article in which skeptics were only referred to as “deniers”, I wrote to the reporter and asked on what basis was it fair to use such a pejorative. She responded that respected scientists like Bill Nye used it all the time, so it was acceptable.

    Nicholas Lewis sounds like a very brave man.

    Munroe (d491b5)

  14. My skepticism was already baked into the original alarmist reporting, and this follow-up is why. The more conservative forecasts are of concern enough.

    Paul Montagu (70fe18)

  15. BTW, Patrick, your first link should have gone to this, not the October 31 report.

    Paul Montagu (70fe18)

  16. Is Freeman Dyson related to the vacuum Dyson (,James), who himself is a sort of conservative icon across the pond for his strident pro-Brexit views.

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  17. Funny, Col.

    mg (9e54f8)

  18. [I]t’s my belief that the planet is warming

    the planet’s always in the process of reverting to the mean temperature

    that’s what planets do

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  19. The goalposts on climate-change denial have moved from “the earth isn’t getting warmer” to “the earth is getting warmer but not because of anything humans are doing” to “the earth is getting warmer and humans are partly responsible, but a warmer earth is actually a good thing.” A climate change denier today believes very different things than a climate change denier 20 years ago.

    JRH (f51cae)

  20. Peer review generally focuses on the soundness of the technique, not catching arithmetic errors (unless they are glaring).

    I think Dave kind of hit the nail right on the head here. Steven Hayward over at Powerline often runs stories about the follies of academic research, and at one point he pointed to an interesting article where several prominent scientists admitted that “peer review” is far less than meets the eye, as the review is very often superficial (I worked in the academic publishing industry for two decades, so I know first-hand how uninspired textbook reviewing can happen when you contract with a lazy reviewer) and doesn’t seek to engage with the topic. Some people in the self-described “science-based community” would have us believe that peer review means that a particular study has been thoroughly vetted all the way through and then independently reproduced several times, but as Dave suggests often it just means that the reviewers agree with the methodology and just assume that the data and the calculations are all legit.

    JVW (42615e)

  21. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/08/epa-chief-scott-pruitt-global-warming-may-good-thing/318850002/

    “No one disputes the climate changes,” Pruitt said. “We obviously contribute to it … our activity contributes to it.”

    (former) EPA Chief Scott Pruitt

    JRH (f51cae)

  22. A climate change denier today believes very different things than a climate change denier 20 years ago.

    That dovetails nicely with the climate change alarmists forever resetting the clock on the whole “we must act by [insert quickly coming date here] in order to stave off global catastrophe” schtick. As a lot of people have pointed out, Al Gore had polar bears being almost extinct and the entire eastern seaboard under three inches of water right about now.

    JVW (42615e)

  23. Your summary is good as far as it goes, but AGW is an economic problem more than a scientific one

    So you don’t deal with the real issues, which are “What are damages flowing from warming (or cooling), how can those damages be quantified, who will incur the damages, who should pay for them, what are the benefits, who will get them and should those beneficiaries keep them.

    For example, it’s pretty clear that Canada and Alaska, northern Europe and Russia will benefit enormously from warming at least with millions of new acres of arable land.

    It’s also pretty clear that the damages will be incurred over a period of hundreds of years making the present value very small.

    The economic blogger Tim Worstall has written about this many times. He notes that we can simply depreciate and walk away from low lying coastal areas as the get flooded for very little real cost.

    As always, it’s about money, and present day efforts by leftists to grab a great deal of our money to fight problems requiring only a little money to solve.

    Fred Z (05d938)

  24. The contours of the global warming debate always seems to be about whether it’s happening or not, and not how we do anything about it, and whether the change in climate is all that large and worth making major sacrifices to correct.

    When a policy debate is mostly about belief, and not actually policy — we are talking about something that looks a lot like a religion, and rationality is likely going to be out the window.

    Appalled (d07ae6)

  25. Dave:

    It appears one error involved something so simple as incorrectly fitting a set of points to a line. The fitted value of the slope they reported does not agree with the data. This is something reviewers could well miss, as it requires redo-ing the numerical analysis. Frankly, linear regression is such a basic task that I’m not surprised reviewers didn’t catch it. Peer review generally focuses on the soundness of the technique, not catching arithmetic errors (unless they are glaring).

    The problem here is that the bs detectors should have gone into red alert with such a startling result. The fact that it didn’t suggests that confirmation bias with both the original scientists, the peer reviewers, and the scientific magazine is kinda out of control.

    Appalled (d07ae6)

  26. As always, it’s about money, and present day efforts by leftists to grab a great deal of our money to fight problems requiring only a little money to solve.

    Ditto.

    nk (dbc370)

  27. Yes… follow the money. This facilitates the expansion of the State.

    Which is their true goal in the end…

    Colonel Haiku (97712e)

  28. Socialism masquerading as environmentalism, with side orders of crony capitalism, hypocrisy, and outright fraud.

    nk (dbc370)

  29. “Yes… follow the money. ”

    Who do you think gets paid more: An environmental scientist working for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, or an environmental scientists working for Exxon?

    Davethulhu (fab944)

  30. Who do you think gets paid more: An environmental scientist working for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, or an environmental scientists working for Exxon?

    The French President’s barber, with money from the EU carbon tax; and Al Gore’s “clean energy” buddies with government subsidies and “carbon credits”.

    nk (dbc370)

  31. Who do you think gets paid more: An environmental scientist working for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, or an environmental scientists working for Exxon?

    Which one generates the tax revenue and foundation funding that supports the other one?

    JVW (42615e)

  32. @ Haiku – ding ding, winner winner, chicken dinner….

    CygnusAnalogMan (9c66ec)

  33. “Volcanoes put off more toxic gases than people could ever create.”

    Incorrect.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earthtalks-volcanoes-or-humans/

    “According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide.”

    Davethulhu (fab944)

  34. “Which one generates the tax revenue and foundation funding that supports the other one?”

    Compared to oil company subsidies it’s a drop in the bucket.

    Davethulhu (fab944)

  35. Well which ones also fund the alarmists to create false scarcity market conditions o.k.a. that thing known as Peak Oil?

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  36. Peer review and testability of hypotheses are two cornerstones of science. The latter is severely lacking in climate science, and the former also seems to be weak, as you article here shows.

    Bored Lawyer (998177)

  37. The contours of the global warming debate always seems to be about whether it’s happening or not, and not how we do anything about it, and whether the change in climate is all that large and worth making major sacrifices to correct.

    When a policy debate is mostly about belief, and not actually policy — we are talking about something that looks a lot like a religion, and rationality is likely going to be out the window.

    Bingo. There seems to be a short line from “climate change is real” to “we need to impose world socialism to stop it.” There is no reason to think that world socialism would do anything to stop it, nor that it would be worth the misery to do so.

    Bored Lawyer (998177)

  38. Like you, I’m a Climate Skeptic Skeptic. I don’t think of the herd-like behavior of Climate Scientists is a conspiracy, rather I think of it as a natural consequence of how science works. In his book THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS (https://www.amazon.com/Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-50th-Anniversary/dp/0226458121), Thomas Kuhn talked about the value and danger of scientific paradigms. Paradigms, the consensus of a scientific belief at a particular point in time, allow for the practice of normal science. They allow for research to be done and for engineers/practitioners to have reliable referents for application. The danger of paradigms is that they are sticky even as their assumptions begin to collapse and the consensus community resists skeptical arguments. This continues until a new and better model replaces the old.

    What makes Climate Science interesting is that it behaves in a paradigmatic way, even as the application isn’t in the normal science time frame. For it to be in the normal science time frame, the models should be largely predictive with the errors being small or unimportant at the scale of application of the model. Think Newtonian physics here. We can rely largely on basic mechanics when modeling behavior on Earth, but there is a point where the predictions break down and new models are needed. With Climate Science, the models are still incomplete. Climate systems are dynamic. We are pretty darn good at predicting weather behavior (Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise has a good chapter on this for us lay people), but the predictions break down in large time windows. There are similar problems with Climate Science models in that we don’t know all of the variables involved yet and how they interact yet.

    None of which is to say that mankind is contributing to the emission of a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere at high levels and that this has no effect on climate. It clearly does. The extent of the effect, what to do about it, and how to approach that what to do about it, are all unanswered questions. Some of those are scientific questions. Some of those are political questions.

    Infrequent Guest (21fe6a)

  39. Compared to oil company subsidies it’s a drop in the bucket.

    If you’re advocating for ending all corporate subsidies, you’ll get no argument from me. As long as it is coupled with a heavy reduction in government regulation too.

    JVW (42615e)

  40. Solar activity ebbs and flows. We are in danger of a new mini Ice Age and historically not far off from a major Ice Age.

    So when it happens, don’t forget to turn out the lights.

    NJRob (b87d43)

  41. Hey, by the way, Patterico. Cool artwork attached to this post. Where’s it from?

    JVW (42615e)

  42. “I think the idea that climate scientists are engaged in some kind of active “hoax” or “conspiracy” seems, um, conspiratorial.”

    East Anglia emails highlighting “hide the decline”

    jb (a3c1bc)

  43. when the methane frozen at the bottom of the ocean begins bubbling to the surface what do you think will happen to climate change denighers and maybe their families.

    lany (79111b)

  44. Some people in the self-described “science-based community” would have us believe that peer review means that a particular study has been thoroughly vetted all the way through and then independently reproduced several times, but as Dave suggests often it just means that the reviewers agree with the methodology and just assume that the data and the calculations are all legit.

    It’s simply impossible to expect that the reviewers of a journal article completely redo and check every detail of the analysis. That deeper process usually happens over a longer timespan as others try to independently replicate or improve the original measurement.

    Smaller research teams are probably more prone to mistakes like this. In my experiment, published results have been presented and vetted internally by the analysis subgroup (10-20 people), the physics group (50-100 people), and finally an editorial board (half a dozen experienced people not originally involved in the analysis) where it usually goes through multiple drafts in a process that takes months. Of course, any of the thousands of physicists in the experiment can also scrutinize the result, ask questions or make suggestions; only a fairly small fraction do, but that still translates into another couple dozen people reviewing the result. Once the experiment signs off, the laboratory then reviews it. And this is all before it gets sent to the journal and is seen by the referees (who nearly always make comments requiring another round of edits). It is soul-crushingly tedious, but also necessary.

    If your team is only half a dozen or so people, it puts a lot heavier burden on everyone to get it right the first time.

    Dave (9664fc)

  45. I agree with the Infrequent Guest…..climate modeling appears to be a very, very hard technical problem because of the number of uncertainties and inherent non-linear feedback mechanisms involved. We could very well be heading for Armageddon…or maybe not. How should a window like that inform politics? I like to test people’s seriousness about climate change by asking them if they would be willing to go to war to force a country to limit its emissions? Would they be willing to scale back nuclear power plant regulations and go on a massive nuke plant building path to retire our coal plants and facilitate a transition to electric cars (and away from oil)? The point being, what is the right response….and how do we know what the right response is if we have no good way to rigorously estimate costs and benefits.

    AJ_Liberty (3c84de)

  46. Significant AGW is a complete fraud, based on intentionally corrupted/gamed data.

    Ed from SFV (6d42fa)

  47. My issues with the whole Climate Change scam are as follows;

    1) While there may well be a warming trend to the 20th Century, the advocates of urgent action have been caught so many times applying ‘corrections’ to various batches of data that only a fool believes the whole mess is not driven by a political agenda. It may be a well meaning political agenda. It’s base assumptions about climate change may well be true. But by lying unthriftily – that is, not only lying, but doing so repeatedly AND GETTING CAUGHT – they have undermined their own case. The Climate Change advocates badly need to clean house.

    2) Calling Climate Change Skeptics ‘Deniers’ is a cheap trick, and cheap tricks make me doubt the underlying case of the side that uses them.

    3) Many of the ‘solutions’ proposed to deal with Climate Change are clearly useless. I don’t care how many people the Climate Change advocates get to clap for Tinkerbell, intermittent energy sources that have to be backed up by conventional generators are a solution to nothing. They cost a lot of money, drive the price of electricity up, and involve high tech and highly toxic minerals that are a nightmare to dispose of once the things they are built into reach the end of their service life. Also; assume that tomorrow morning we wake up and the intermittency problem is solved and that the materials can be cheaply recycled into something harmless. The advocated of Solar and Wind are still proposing to take one hell of a lot of energy out of dynamic systems where it is presumably doing SOMETHING. Does anybody know what the side effects of that will be? Has anyone even looked?

    4) No political OR scientific position that will not debate its opponents has my unreserved approbation. Ever.

    C. S. P. Schofield (d61c66)

  48. “The advocated of Solar and Wind are still proposing to take one hell of a lot of energy out of dynamic systems where it is presumably doing SOMETHING. Does anybody know what the side effects of that will be?”

    I’m not sure what this is asking. We already have grid-connected wind and solar….and though their intermittency is a challenge for utilities to manage….it’s not clear that engineers are altering the climate by harnessing this energy….if that is what you are worrying about…

    AJ_Liberty (3c84de)

  49. We all know, or should know, that peer review is worse than useless. And with the climate everyone has to acknowledge that the trend is bad, not good, not for anything even though for some things it is good, Cold kills people.

    Besides everything else, the temperature is not going up so much – what is hapepning is that the standard deviation is increasing, with a slight bias toward higher temperatres and more rain.

    That’s why we had snow.

    It’s probaby caused by more di-hydrogen monoxide in the atmosphere, which is up about 5% since the year 1900.

    Sammy Finkelman (102c75)

  50. What’s ridiculous about the calls for action is that whatever effect civilization has hgad, that is the sum total of everything that was aded to the atmosphere in the last 150 year. Each year makes very little diffeence. And there are other things that coiuld added that could counteract it or have other effects. Trying to emit less carbon dioxide is the furthest thing from being conservative.

    Sammy Finkelman (102c75)


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