Sunday, December 23, 2007

Attack of the climate skeptics XXII: Inhofe's last stand

Like most horror movie sequels, this flick is worse and even less plausible than the last. I normally hate to draw attention to this drivel. Unfortunately, the latest supposedly consensus-busting release from US Senator James Inhofe did not go straight to DVD. It received attention from the NY Times, inspired a shouting match on Fox News, granted, that's not much of an accomplishment, and naturally ticked off the blogs (Romm, desmogblog).

Climate change “skepticism” began with an industry-funded effort to question the science. It has since morphed into questioning whether the effects of climate change would really be so bad, a move I call the Smiling Lomborg. The latest salvo by Inhofe is a real throwback, like a greatest hits reunion tour from a band that broke up in the 70s. The report randomly quotes all four hundred people who have ever publicly questioned climate change in an effort to question the existence of a consensus in the scientific community (Eli's posted the list). The band has no new music. The concert just recycles the same old tired mis-hits.

The real deception, here, is the way the members of the 400 club claim expertise on climate change. Here are three of the most common tricks:
1. “An IPCC expert reviewer”: The claim of many a 400 Clubber. It means absolutely nothing. The IPCC reports are public documents. As Tim Lambert pointed out, anyone who asks to see them and considers submitting a comment can call themselves an expert reviewer. Even if you were actually asked to review a section, it still means nothing. On request, I reviewed the corals and climate sections of WGII. That doesn’t mean I can claim the authors had any respect for my review, nor could I claim any responsibility whatsoever for the final report.
2. “Weather expert”. I'm reluctant to pick on this. But the fact is, weather-people or meteorological experts are not climate scientists nor do they have experience with climate models. They have a grounding in basic atmospheric physics similar to many climate scientists but they operate at massively different scales in time and space. This is not a comment on the value of their work, or their expertise, just a reminder that it is different. As a climate person, I know a fair bit about meteorology, but you wouldn’t want me doing your weekend forecast. Vice versa.
3. Peer-reviewed” scientist: Being a “peer-reviewed” scientist doesn’t make you an expert in every branch of science. I am a peer-reviewed scientist. I regularly publish articles on climate change, biogeochemistry and corals in peer-reviewed journals. You would not turn to me for expertise on protein structures, HIV vaccines, environmental toxicology, mammalian genetics, galaxy formation, nor to build a bridge, design an interplanetary craft or remove your kidney. Freeman Dyson, the eminent physicist in Imhofe’s 400 Club, is no doubt a very brilliant man. One thing he is not, however, is an expert on climate science, something rather evident from reading his quotes on the subject.
Try hard enough, and you could dredge up 400 people with some scientific credentials who would doubt the theory of gravity. Hmm, now that would be a good project.
Consensus is unusual in science. That’s what makes the widespread agreement among the community of experts around the world on the basic science of climate change and climate change impacts so remarkable.


Tom said...

Try hard enough, and you could dredge up 400 people with some scientific credentials who would doubt the theory of gravity.

Why don't you support this claim by giving us the name of just one such person?

EliRabett said...

Lubos Motl

Caspar Henderson said...

I like the idea of a challenge to the theory of gravity. It´'s a real problem in our house, where our eight month old is abusing it. I note, by the way, that you have less of the stuff in Canada (see: "Canada's low-gravity zone is still on the rebound", New Scientist, 19 May 2007). Could this help the country of peace, order and good government soar free its Kyoto target?

Anonymous said...

The IPCC 2007 Report is not the definitive word on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Only research published through May of 2005 is included. Subsequent peer revied papers have shown that the claims made in IPCC on the observed results of global warming are better explained by other factors other than AGW.

This should come as no surprise since ther has been no change in global surface temperatures in the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

The temperature anomalies of the last 10 years are where they should be, given the AGW signal+natural variability.

Pick any analyses you wish:

Anomalies are offset up or down to give each linear trend a y intercept of 0. X axis is months since January 1979, the first month that both satellite analyses have data.

Simon Donner said...

There will always be some contrarians or skeptics of any science that has real-world policy implications, even years after the science is resolved. That's inevitable, and the world can laugh and move on. One shame about the 400 Club is that some of the members are perfectly good scientists who are damaging their otherwise well-earned reputations by speaking on an issue way outside their area of expertise (and being grouped with the rest of the 400 Club).

Anonymous said...

I remember an article I once read where AGW modeling was compared to the Drake equation. Basically the Drake equation is based on a few known variables and an infinite number of unknown variables. Postulate the unknown variables even though it is quite possible you do not even know all the variables or what they are and you arrive at a very speculative conclusion.
When scientists as a group come to a consensus they are the most dangerous. New ideas are dismissed out of hand and traction toward a different consensus is basically impossible even if it is true.
Scientists need to be more open and able to accept that they may be wrong without it destroying there reputation or their funding.
I am completely open to the idea that AGW is true or false but it does not seem that current techniques and theories are sophisticated enough to be completely trusted. When every year can be predicted accurately then the underlying model could be considered trustworthy.
Having said that the environmental direction and education is positive but why is it so focused on AGW when there are other environmental concerns that are just as important and could have consequences as severe as global warming. Education and awareness need to brought up about these issues too in an aggregate and individual manner relative to the future consequences they could have. This would have a broader impact then focusing solely on CO2.