Pro Logica

January 31, 2010

Climategate

Filed under: Sociology — Tags: , — Ron Toczek @ 1:44 am

Its been awhile siince the my first post but the intended second one got a little complicated and besides, I’m into reading “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by N. T. Wright of which his section on St. Paul’s Epistles delves deeply into the rhetoric contained therein.

Climategate was in the news and as a scientist (math is usually considered a science), I am quite perturbed about the brouhaha and most of the comments made by people who should know better.  I particularly dislike the political types like Al Gore, IPCC and  others who have exploited a scientific concept for both money and power even before it has been fully thrashed out within the scientific community.  It might do the deniers of global warming some good to read up on the past history of other scientific squabbles–they might then tone down their noise.  I have nothing against global warming skeptics, but, by golly, get your scientific evidence out where it too can be looked over and evaluated.  Just be sure your not as prejudiced as many of the global warming advocates are.

Let’s start with a brief but recent historical sketch.

Until the 1990’s, ordinary people didn’t discuss climate, weather–yes, but climate–what’s that?  Sure, we know about ice ages and interim periods and that we  are living in an interim period (we think) but that has nothing to do with the current weather which for the most part has been pretty stable but with plenty of variation including some catastrophic storms and/or seasonal weather.   Over a generation  or two, a one degree rise or fall in temperature  is definitely not noticeable in any ordinary human sense.  Some of us were probably also aware of recent episodes  of climate distinction as the Medieval Warm Period followed by the Little Ice Age–which was declared to have ended about 1800 A.D.  The problem with all these climate eras is that there are no reliable dates for any of them; the latest may well be off by a hundred years and the earlier ones could be off by thousands of years.

Let’s briefly review some very recent climatological history.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s  some scientists noticed!! that some places on earth seemed to be a little warmer than they used to be.  I assume(but cannot be sure) that they proceeded like good scientists:  to corroborate their hunch, look around for a cause, found an increase of carbon dioxide in the air as a possible cause, did their experiments on the heat retention of carbon dioxide and found that figure to match the increase in temperature.  I believe this work was peer reviewed but have not corroborated such(yes, there are problems with the process but these have usually been found and subsequently corrected)and eventually summarized in  a published book.  One thing to keep in mind is that an unchallenged peer-reviewed article is not scientific gospel; it only means that there are no major mathematical errors and that enough data has been provided so that another scientist could reproduce the results if he chose to do so.  Einstein followed this same procedure in producing his theory of relativity–he had a hunch about the relation between the speed of light and a purely mathematical concept called the Lorentz transformation, he gathered his data, he carried out his calculations and behold, relativity was born.

I have no information at my disposal as to how the increasing carbon dioxide concentration made its way into the large computer-based climatological models but it did and there is no reason it shouldn’t have.  For predicting climate, these models have two major problems:  There are many of them, each having their own set of assumptions and they are statistical in nature making them notoriously inaccurate despite any claims made by their sponsors and personnel.  By adding in this new datum, more assumptions had to be incorporated into the models making their results even more inaccurate; but scientists plug on:  the updated models were run  and the results published.  So far, this is standard scientific operating procedure, however, a very human element now inserted itself and whatever  motives and processes were involved, the end result was the publishing of Al Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance” and the beginning of climategate.  From a scientific viewpoint this book misrepresents the conclusions worked out by the participating scientists since it presents a very worst case scenario that has a very minute probability of occurring, as something that will definitely come to pass.

(A few digressions at this point.  We can in no way fault the publisher of the book–his motives are not ‘correct science’ but include monetary profit among other things.  One only has to look at the amount of twaddle  that has been published to realize that there is no sense of ethics in the publishing industry considered as a whole–yes, there are some but even these slip up from time to time.  One would hope that a free market economy would eliminate those unethical publishers but there always seems to be a niche market for whatever piffle is produced, so that an independently wealthy sponsor of such trash could probably be found to back the publishing house in spite of its losses.

Al Gore’s book is a prime example of the use of the rhetorical device labeled “scare tactics”–if we don’t do something now look at what will happen in the future.  This is a very popular device used in politics–witness the Republican Party’s tactics during the Bush administration, but, personally, I consider it to be one of rhetoric’s unsavory devices.  Also, unfortunately, this device is used in many pleas for money, charitable or otherwise.  When this device is used it is always a good idea to ask yourself if there is an underlying  motive for its use and if there is, you might also question the validity of the scare itself.)

Back to the main topic.  What happened might be described as a small scale public delusion since most of the public seemed willing to combat carbon dioxide emissions in some way.  Although the more conservative scientists did get their views out, they remained unconvincing–they were simply drowned out by the believers.  Then came the supposedly hacked e-mails which ignited the naysayers and effected a slowdown in the process of controlling carbon dioxide emissions.

Let’s now turn our attention to the event which caused the turn-around in media hype; the release on the internet of a number of e-mails belonging to the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of East Anglia University in Britain.  The CRU is the group which has been supplying climatological data to those world politicos, such as the IPCC, who believe that carbon dioxide emissions must be catastrophically reduced in order to reduce catastrophic changes in the world climate. Whatever data or results were fed to these believers we may never know but you can be sure it did not dampen their beliefs or it could be that these politicos are  exceptionally good liars, probably some of both.  Also the push for atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction was much more political posturing than reasonable action.

While I have not personally  examined  any of the released e-mails, I have read many articles which were published in response  to that release along with a multitude of comments most of which were deplorable.  These are my impressions:  First, some person attained or had access to the e-mails, either an insider–more probable, or a computer hacker, and this access probably was to the entire file of CRU e-mails.  Second, the released e-mails were only a portion of the entire file and every one of them was chosen to discredit CRU in some way.  Third, not every scientist at CRU was exposed.  Fourth, there is no evidence linking the person who got original access to the person who released the e-mails.  And fifth, if the effect of the release was to derail the Copenhagen meeting as seems likely, it succeeded.

At a glance, one might think that a  right-winger was responsible for the release.  These people have been against human assisted global warming (AGW) from its first inception considering it to be a power grab by the extreme environmentalists.  But another possibility is the energy industry whose primary concern would be  the added expense of producing energy.   Less likely possibilities might be a disgruntled or disaffected CRU associate wanting to undermine the unit, one faction in a political power struggle or even an outside scientist wanting to restore a semblance of scientific sanity.   There are more possibilities but it is not necessary to name them and so the motive for the release is unknown at this time.  I include this paragraph only to show that any accusations as to who or why are totally unjustified until the culprit is caught or, more probable ,confesses.

In response to the above noted theft (justified or not it was still theft) the CRU did release all of their e-mails (but not immediately) indicating that they had nothing to hide and would thereby be vindicated. Also, the AP put out a notice wherein they have stated that they have examined the originally released e-mails and found that the actions portrayed were not out of bounds for science dealing  with huge amounts of data(my choice of words).  I presume AP stands for Associated Press but I’m not sure since those letters are what appeared in the Christian Science Monitor article and there could be some credibility problems.   Personally, I do not see how the dubious activity expressed in a few e-mails portrayed amidst the mountainous amount of climate data disproves the  hypothesis that the carbon dioxide produced by humans over the last two centuries has had an effect on the earth’s climate.  This is essentially saying, that the bad spot on your orange tells me that the apple your eating must be rotten without doing any investigative work whatsoever, to use an old cliche.

One small word about AGW or Anthropogenic Global Warming.  This acronym really stands for the catastrophic climate warming described in Al Gore’s book, an almost negligible possibility but, nevertheless a possibility.  In the current scientific controversy it should not be used unless it is described as a worst case scenario and as something highly unlikely to happen; however, I don’t expect miracles.

For the time being, climategate is not hot, shuffled off by health reform?? and Massachusetts.  There are smatterings of news items showing both increases and decreases in temperature in various areas, slight arctic ice increase, a technical article explaining how the warmer arctic decreases the temperatures in Siberia and Northern Canada (this article is intriguing since the phenomena it describes was used to predict a coming ice age), another technical article justifying the decrease in temperature recording stations and another technical article defining how some of the climatological norms are computed.  There are also two recent articles, one describing the current loss of Antarctic ice and another placing 2009 among the warmest of years.  Its somewhat strange but I have  been able to find only one article authored by a scientist from CRU.  There are probably many more but I do not make a habit of trying to read all the articles on one topic.  The overall picture of climatology is that of a very complicated subject requiring tons of data as input.  The use of tree ring data does puzzle me, for it cannot be used in any climate prediction models since individual tree growth is too variable over short distances and is more closely correlated with precipitation rather than temperature.  Of course, I am not a climatologist so I could be wrong but it seems to me that any useful tree data would be very local and very sparse, probably sparse enough to be ignored.

Let’s look at some climatological essentials.  According to Wikipedia, climatology is the  scientific study of weather conditions averaged over time,  an almost useless definition as are most general language  descriptions of any specific scientific study.  In order to have a semblance  of what this means, we need to know about  weather conditions and  averaging over time, concepts much more sophisticated than  horse or  arm.  So it seems that a certain level of education(history of prior knowledge) is needed to even talk about complicated concepts.  It is one of the jobs of education to teach this prior knowledge without having to repeat the entire history.  Assuming such, we find that weather conditions  consist of temperature readings, precipitation readings, wind readings, humidity readings barometric readings, types of precipitation and wind, and patterns of temperature, precipitation, pressure and wind.  The study of weather has also invented the concepts of  front, warm cold and stationary and high and low pressure areas.

We also know that the weather readings fluctuate over the day and that these are superimposed upon a seasonal fluctuation of warmer and colder weather along with some seasonal wind variation; hence the need for averaging.    Nowadays local weather forecasting usually just gives an estimated high and low temperature reading, an estimated precipitation reading and probability, a range of wind speeds from a general direction and a single choice of four sky conditions.  Humidity and pressure are usually presented as qualitative aspects.

Since climatology is concerned with long range weather patterns, both past and future, it certainly could not be expected to produce the intricate details of everyday weather.  In my incomplete perusal of this subject, I gather that the climatological models are primarily fixated on a mean annual global  temperature  along with some patterning.  The global models when run with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere showed increasing global average temperature with the poles  warming up much more than the tropics and that the nighttime lows would increase more than the daytime highs.  Now mathematical modeling is a topic I know very little about but I do know they can be tweaked to answer different queries but when operated in this manner I wonder about the simultaneity of the results.

The biggest problem with climatological models can be summarized by questions like:  How does one define the mean annual global temperature?  What are the minimum number of stations needed give a meaningful annual average?  What is the difference between the sea water temperature and the atmospheric temperature above it and if there is a difference how should be compensated for?  How should past weather data be incorporated into the model since it is not of the same kind nor of the same validity?  How does one compensate when a change in measuring procedures produces different measurements?  How does one compensate when a station moves?  What physical factors should be incorporated into the models such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor (an especially tricky one since it is also an output), solar radiation (which can be highly variable), oceanic oscillations, the earth’s wobble and possibly other unknowns at this time. A formidable amount of assumptions and simplifications.

All in all, climatology  is best left to the experts and I, for one, am not.  Neither are those who claim that global warming is a hoax or non-existent solely on the basis of a few e-mails indicating that some things were done which looked dubious to an untrained eye especially when that person is already prejudiced against the other parties conclusion.  Even those naysayers who have had climatological training, have presented no real evidence for disclaiming a mild rise in mean global temperature (MGT).

My personal assessment of climatology and its findings are these:  MGT in 2009 is a bit higher than it was in 1880–no systematic data prior to that year.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide (ACD) is higher in 2009 than in 1780 at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (could it be a coincidence that the Little Ice Age was declared ended at approximately the same time).  The MGT has stabilized over the last ten years.  The computer global climate models have essentially no predictive power at this stage–MGT may go up, down or stay the same.

There are a couple of caveats though.  The heat retention calculations of ACD cannot be denied so that when all other factors are equal, an increase of ACD will cause a rise in MGT.  And the earth’s weather system can be described as non-linear meaning that it could oscillate wildly.  Ice ages???  Paleoclimatologists have found indications of smaller wild oscillations in previous glacial interims.  Hence, it is quite possible for a catastrophic climate change to occur within the next one hundred years or so.  It might be wise to follow the Boy Scout’s motto, “Be Prepared”.

Advertisements

2 Comments »

  1. Great blog!
    There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes some issues connected with climategate and “embarrassing” evidence.

    In the pipeline is an analysis of the economic effects of the proposed emission reductions. Watch this space or should I say Blog

    http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.

    Cheers

    Roger

    PS The term “porky” is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Slang.( So I’m told.)

    Comment by rogerthesurf — February 2, 2010 @ 4:05 am

  2. I must apologize for some lack of historical data. The 18 Dec issue of Science states that Arrhenius stated a concern about the increasing carbon dioxide from human sources back in the late 1800’s and Revelle in 1957 expressed the same concern. So we see that human assisted global warming is not a new scientific speculation of the 1990’s, only Al Gore’s scare tactics.

    Comment by Ron Toczek — February 5, 2010 @ 4:11 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: