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Glickstein and WUWT's Confusion about Reasoned Skepticism

Posted on 3 July 2011 by dana1981

System engineer Dr. Ira Glickstein has put together a powerpoint presentation regarding what he considers the appropriate "skeptic strategy for talking about global warming".  In a post on "skeptic" blog WattsUpWithThat (WUWT), Glickstein discusses:

"the main points I think are most likely to align people who are both intelligent and reasonable to the Skeptic side."

We were eager to see some intelligent reasonable skeptic arguments, and hopeful we could at least find some common ground.  The first section of Glickstein's presentation deals with basic climate science, like blackbody radiation and the greenhouse effect, acknowledging the role that CO2 plays as a greenhouse gas.  A reasonable enough start, but the presentation goes downhill rapidly from there starting in the next section on "divergent views":

"Divergent Views – There is a valid, science-based argument between people I refer to as Warmists, Lukewarmers, and Skeptics. I distinguish their reasoned views from the far out, unscientific rantings of people I refer to as Alarmists and their equal and opposite reaction opponents, who I call Disbelievers."

The key phrase in this lead-in to the following discussion is "reasoned views".  What follows is apparently what Glickstein (and the WUWT crowd, which fawned over his presentation) believe are reasonable scientific arguments.  On the contrary, as we will see, Glickstein's arguments are the typical denial of basic climate science and repetition of a number of long-debunked climate myths.

800 Year Lag

Glickstein's first few "reasoned views" center around Al Gore's presentation of the Vostok ice core record in his film An Inconvenient Truth, which illustrated the correlation between atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic temperature over the past several hundred thousand years.  Glickstein claims (the italicized text is his):

"there is a fundamental “Inconvenient” truth about the ice core data. It has absolutely nothing to say about the current Global Warming controversy! Gore was misleading the media and the public when he implied that rising CO2 levels would cause corresponding increases in mean temperatures....The Temperature falls eight-hundred or more years prior to CO2 decreases. What this shows, if anything, is that TEMPERATURE CAUSES CO2, or, that something else causes both to change, with CO2 lagging by hundreds of years. Gore got the direction of causation backwards."

Here Glickstein directly contradicts his 'basic science' introduction by claiming that CO2 does not cause temperature changes (what happened to CO2 being a greenhouse gas, absorbing and re-emitting longwave radiation, thus causing warming?  How quickly we forget).  As we have discussed in "CO2 lags temperature", CO2 can act as either a feedback and a forcing, either  amplifying or initiating global warming.  After the initial ~800 year lag in the past climate changes show in the ice cores, CO2 amplified global warming for a further ~4,000 years.  Glickstein actually acknowledges this argument (the bolded text is his):

"When the falsehood of this implied causation was pointed out, Gore’s apologists claimed that it was a minor matter and, after all, despite the 800-year lag, both Temperature and CO2 were up together and down together for about 5/6ths of the record. Besides, they said, we are currently burning historically unprecedented amounts of fossil fuel, and, we know that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”, and so on and on. But, the truth is still that the ice core record is of a time when there were no humans to burn fossil fuels, so why did Gore bring it up since it has no relationship to our current situation?"

Glickstein somehow misses the obvious point that whether CO2 acts as a feedback or a forcing, in either case it causes the planet to warm (remember the greenhouse effect from your first section, Glickstein?).  That is why the Vostok graph is relevant to the current climate, and in fact looking at past climate changes helps us determine how much warming our current and future emissions will cause.  Dr. Richard Alley has referred to CO2 as "the biggest control knob" influencing the global climate.  Alley has also provided a metaphor describing Glickstein's '800 year lag' argument:

"I saw a chicken lay an egg. That proves chickens do not come from eggs."

Glickstein has not raised an intelligent reasoned scientific argument here; he has merely repeated a long-debunked logical fallacy of a myth and contradicted himself.

Defining Lukewarmers

Glickstein proceeds to write a lot of words without saying very much over his next several points.   He spends a lof of time defining what he considers "warmists", "skeptics", and "lukewarmers" without actually examining whether the scientific evidence supports their supposed positions.  For example, on climate sensitivity (which Glickstein calls "carbon sensitivity"):

"Carbon sensitivity, which is the estimate of how much mean temperatures will increase if CO2 doubles from historical or current levels, is one way to determine which of the the three groups a person belongs to. The Warmists tend to accept the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate of 2.0ºC to 4.5ºC. The Skeptics tend to set carbon sensitivity much lower, perhaps 0.2ºC to 1ºC. The third group, which I call Lukewarmers, would suggest 1ºC to 3ºC."

These categorizations are all well and good, but through his point #13, Glickstein has discussed very few scientific points, and not a single "science-based reasoned view".  Where's the beef?

The Magical IPCC

Glickstein proceeds to repeat the "IPCC ‘disappeared’ the Medieval Warm Period" myth.

"According to a figure in the 1990 IPCC report, 1100 to 1300 AD saw temperatures in the northern hemisphere that were higher than current levels. However, the IPCC 2001 report included the infamous so-called “hockey stick” chart that managed to make the Medieval Warm Period of about 1000 years ago disappear!"

As noted in the link above, the figure in question in the 1990 IPCC report was clearly labeled as a "schematic diagram", and was based on Lamb's reconstruction of Central England (not global) temperature.  So once again, rather than raising a valid and reasonable scientific argument, Glickstein is simply repeating a long-debunked myth and using it to build a conspiracy theory, which he proceeds to expand upon.

Hockey Stick Confusion

A key part of Glickstein's conspiracy theory that the IPCC "made the Medieval Warm Period disappear" is the standard "skeptic" attack on the Mann et al. "hockey stick" reconstruction, using the stolen 'Climategate' emails.

"I refer to the CRU as the Climategate Research Unit or, more simply, the Fudge Factory because the words “fudge factor” appear in their computer code. Phil Jones, PhD, is the CRU Director. He confirmed suspicions about the infamous “Hockey Stick” graph when, in an email, he called it “Mike’s Nature trick” (because a version of that graph appeared in a paper by Dr. Michael Mann in the prestigious journal Nature ). He also wrote that the “trick” was designed to “hide the decline” in tree ring proxy data."

Glickstein is mangling history and reality in these claims.  Mann's "hockey stick", which appeared in the IPCC report, did not "hide the decline".  And the IPCC report was very clear in its discussion of the tree ring "divergence problem".  Further, the only "trick" used in the IPCC report was to plot both the instrumental temperature data and the proxy temperature reconstructions on the same graph.  But the IPCC figures clearly labeled which data was which (further details on these points here).  Once again, rather than raising a valid scientific point, Glickstein has merely repeated a long-debunked myth to suggest conspiratorial impropriety by climate scientists whose results he finds inconvenient.  A pattern seems to be emerging.

More Conspiracies

Glickstein proceeds to fail to distinguish between local and global temperatures, which he then weaves into a conspiracy theory involving NASA GISS:

"The most revealing email from GISS...was from Makiko Sato, PhD to her Boss, GISS-Director James Hansen, PhD, detailing the seven different analyses and comparisons of US mean temperatures for 1934 and 1998. The later year was the hottest in the 1990′s, so it was, let us say “inconvenient” that 1934, according to data published by GISS in 1999, was over 0.5ºC warmer. If Global Warming was almost entirely due to recent human activities, and was accelerating, how could the 1930 have been warmer?

Just as the Hockey Stick made the Medieval Warm Period disappear, GISS tried mightily to make 1934 cooler than 1998, but only succeeded in reducing the 0.5ºC lead into a dead heat. Notice that the 0.5ºC “adjustment” is more than half the supposed total warming since 1880."

No, no, no.  The USA is not the entire planet, in fact, it's less than 2% of the Earth's surface.  It is entirely possible for 1934 to be hotter than 1998 in the United States despite the planet warming from 1934 to 1998.  And a 0.5°C adjustment to US temperatures is not a 0.5°C adjustment to global temperatures.  Glickstein is clearly very confused here, his conspiratorial mindset apparently clouding his ability to distinguish between USA and Earth.

Denying the Risks

That's the end of Glickstein's supposed "science-based reasoned views".  They contained not a single valid scientific or reasonable argument, and in fact were nothing more than a regurgitation of several long-debunked climate myths, weaved into a number of conspiracy theories.  Based on these myths, Glickstein arrives at the following conclusion:

"There is not and never has been any real danger of catastrophe or even of serious net detriment to human life due to increased CO2 levels. Indeed, modest increases in these parameters are most likely a net benefit."

Ah yes, another favorite myth (#3 on the most used "skeptic" arguments list), "It's not bad".  Unfortunately Glickstein provides zero evidence to support this proclamation that not only is increased CO2 not a danger, but it's actually beneficial.  He's likely referring to the "CO2 is plant food" gross oversimplification.

A Brief Foray Into Reasonableness

In the end, Glickstein does stumble onto a reasonable position.

"However, we Skeptics have to be realistic in the current political climate. Like it or not (and I do not like it) the official climate “Team” (i.e., the “Hockey Team” :^) has convinced the political and media establishment, and much of the population that something has to be done. We cannot fight something with nothing, so we need something more than a passive policy of do nothing because nothing is necessary....You may be surprised that I favor some version of a straight Carbon Tax, collected at the mine, well, and port, with the proceeds returned on an equal basis to citizens and legal residents."

So despite repeating many "skeptic" climate myths, Glickstein does support an important step in solving the problem that he denies exists - a price on carbon emissions.  However, while we appreciate that we have finally found some common ground, to support a carbon tax when you have just finished arguing that carbon emissions are a net benefit is intellectually incoherent.  Not surprisingly, this is the primary point in Glickstein's presentation which many WUWT commenters took issue with.

Denial is not Reasonable or Intelligent

Ultimately we found this a very disappointing presentation.  Repeating long-debunked myths is a denial of facts and reality, pure and simple.  Weaving these myths into conspiracy theories is a step even further away from reality, into a paranoid alternate reality. If this is what Glickstein and the WUWT crowd believe passes for "science-based reasoned views" which are "likely to align people who are both intelligent and reasonable to the Skeptic side", they seem to have a very low opinion of the intelligence of their fellow "skeptics". 

The only common ground we could find (other than agreeing on the centuries-old science that the greenhouse effect exists) was in Glickstein's capitulation in favor of a carbon tax.  But his rationale for this?  'We must concede because the warmists have made a more convincing case'?  That is an intellectually and morally bankrupt position; if Glickstein had the courage of his convictions, he would stick to his guns.

We stick to our guns about addressing the dangers associated with global warming because, based on the actual evidence, we are convinced they're real.

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Comments 1 to 23:

  1. Dana1981, with all due respect (which is plenty), I think your likelihood of finding a rational, internally consistent, science based post on WUWT is fairly low. You may be looking in the wrong place if you are looking for a valid skeptic argument. tAV (the air vent) and the Blackboard are higher up on the valid skeptical argument food chain. I personally gave up on WUWT a long time ago. I realize it is a popular site, but I haven't found a lot of valid science there. Does anyone know of ANY WUWT post that is complete (ie not a cherry pick), scientifically valid and internally consistent?
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] IIRC there was a good series of posts by Willis Eschenbach (sp?) about why the Mauna Loa CO2 measurements were reliable (may have had a few errors, but it was basically sound). It didn't go down well with the readership.
  2. Actually thoughtful: I think Roger Pielke Sr once tried to educate the Wattsians on greenhouse gases (that wasn't a big success with the commenters), and there was a post on CO2 increase being due to anthropogenic sources that, I think, was reasonably accurate (this also did not gain much approval with certain commenters).
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  3. The best skeptic strategy for talking about global warming is what is known as "science" (i.e. leave out the politics and the conspiracy theory). If the science supports their view, they will make progress. I've often said that scentists should aim to push forward science is the way a good chess player plays chess. Instead of playing the move that maximises your advantage, you play the move that minimises your opponents maximum advantage (in other words, you choose your move assuming best play from your opponent, and don't assume he will blunder by not noticing the obvious counter to your strategy). In science this means not drawing the strongest conclusions you think can be supported by the evidence, but the strongest conclusion that cannot be refuted by the evidence (i.e. expect your scientific opponent to pick holes in your argument optimally). That way progress is slow, but it is almost always in a forward direction. This is merely self-skepticism, it is human nature to have a blind spot about your own opinions, and the difference between a good scientists and a bad scientist is the ability and desire to pick holes in their own arguments. How does this relate to the best strategy for the skeptic? Well in chess there is a thing called a zugzwang, which basically means that a player can be disadvantaged in many games by the fact he is forced to make a move. This isn't true for the true skeptic, he has the option of a null move by simply keeping quiet. In this case Glickstein appears to have voluntarily zugzwanged himself, and made a move that is easily refuted and as a result is in a worse intellectual position than he was before he made the presentation.
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  4. Actuallythoughtful @1, "Does anyone know of ANY WUWT post that is complete (ie not a cherry pick), scientifically valid and internally consistent?" Now that is an excellent question. Their may be some very isolated examples, but I am not willing to wade though the quagmire of BS to find them. Also, even if a reasoned post does appear there, the comments usually take care of cherry picking, ad homs, distortion, vitriol, conspiracy theories etc., and at that point their host, Anthony Watts, is only too happy to gently encourage them. Remember too, Anthony Watts is close to Monckton and has on several occasions allowed his site to be used from which to launch attacks on scientists. And I'm afraid that BlackBoard and AirVent may be better, but remember that it is all relative to an extremely low standard, if one could even venture to use the word 'standard'.
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  5. Marco, The series by Ferdinand Engelbeen on why the rise in CO2 is anthropogenic was indeed pretty accurate. I tried to support Ferdinand on that one until I started getting a "Forbidden" error when trying to access wordpress sites from the IP address I was using - could be a coincidence I suppse ;o).
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  6. Dikran @5, I guess that is the point, from time-to-time a reasoned or scientifically sound post does appear there, but such posts do not go over well at all with the readership. Watts knows that, so he probably has to do so, so as to maintain some credibility, but he also does not wish to divide his readership or educate them with inconvenient truths. Also, posts of the veracity CO2 record are pretty safe territory-- they can still accept that while denying the theory of AGW. I doubt I'll ever see a post at WUWT arguing that climate sensitivity might be close to +3 C for doubling CO2. Or a post stating that the temperature records are robust, the warming is real and mostly caused by anthro GHGs. The most telling and most egregious error made by Watts is that he is reticent to call out and correct the myths, errors and conspiracies that not only appear in the comments but in the feature posts. At the end of the day WUWT is a political site presented under the guise of science, pretty transparent to most people, but sadly enough people have been duped.
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  7. Glickstein's presentation should be sent to all schools and they should be encouraged to show it ... ... but only with this post or similar to provide appropriate context. This is about as clear an example as you will find of the paucity of 'sceptic' argument. A few hours study should convince anyone of where the balance of evidence lies in the 'debate'.
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  8. Albatross@6 The reaction to Ferdinand Engelbeen's series explaining how we know the post-industrial rise in CO2 is anthropogenic. It is the one thing in climate change we know 99.9% for sure (barring little green men stealing out atmospheric CO2 for their own nefarious purposes), but there were still members of the WUWT readership who cannot accept that, and think that it is from natural sources. Maybe rather than betting on when the arctic summer will be free of sea ice, we should be betting on when WUWT will have a post arguing that climate sensitivity is about what the IPCC says it is ;o)
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  9. Warmist: 2.0ºC to 4.5ºC. Lukewarmers: 1.0ºC to 3ºC. Skeptics: 0.2ºC to 1ºC. Makes Mother Nature a lukewarmer.
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  10. Re #9, From the body post: "These categorizations are all well and good, but through his point #13, Glickstein has discussed very few scientific points, and not a single "science-based reasoned view". Where's the beef?" and note the logical fallacies and contradictions, arguing at the same time that AGW is some conspiracy and at the same time trying to claim to know what CS is.
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  11. CW - wrong, it makes Mother Nature a "warmist".
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  12. Something else to consider re: the CO2 "lag". Depending on the Earth's orbital eccentricity and the precession angle, there are times when the Earth's NH will receive a good bit more solar energy than the SH, and vice-versa (i.e., if perihelion occurs during the NH summer, then the NH will receive more solar energy than the SH.) But in the past, even during these periods of "asymmetric insolation", the NH and SH have always warmed/cooled together on Milankovitch time-scales. Why is that the case? If the Earth's temperature were driven mostly by changes in solar energy received by the Earth, as some deniers insist, then why haven't the NH and SH been "out of sync" temperaturewise during the times when precession/eccentricity caused the NH and SH to be "out of sync" with respect to solar insolation? Also (straying slightly off-topic a bit here with a "blast from the past"), folks may (or may not, depending on stomach sensitivity) want to look at how some of the WUWT team treated Nick Stokes when he very calmly and politely tried to explain to them the differences between absolute temperatures and temperature anomalies. For folks who understand this basic concept and haven't yet seen Team WUWT in action, the discussion thread over there will be a real eye-opener.
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  13. Thanks for pointing to that caerbannog. All skeptics allowed to post here should be thankful that this site's standards are so superior to the lynch mob there.
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  14. Watts posted a doozy today: "This makes me wonder if the temperature dip in the 1970′s where everyone was worried about global cooling wasn’t partially driven by atmospheric aerosols." I pointed out that Watts is where Schneider was 40 years ago. "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate" (Science 173, 138–141)
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  15. Chris - there's a forehead slapper. I guess being 40 years behind the times is an improvement over being 100 years behind the times. He also had a great barrier reef decline denial post, which mentioned Ove H-G, which is nice timing, because I'm about to publish a post by Ove H-G on exactly that subject.
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  16. @ dana I'm almost ashamed in defending Glickstein, but I think you are wrong with this: "to support a carbon tax when you have just finished arguing that carbon emissions are a net benefit is intellectually incoherent." It's not necessarily a contradiction. You can deny climate science and propose a carbon tax because of economic benefits e.g. by reducing oil imports. See for example Revkin's post about Charles Krauthammer "A Conservative's case for a Gas Tax" ( And BTW there would be also a political benefit, because it would help to take some pressure out and would help to delaying tougher climate policies. Krauthammer's version is more intelligent, because he avoids ridiculous claims about climate science. Krauthammers approach is interesting. Should I criticize him of doing a good but using the wrong reasons? If you accept WUWT being not a science blog but having a political agenda, then you could find some coherence in all this craziness.
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  17. Here is an example of the level of commentary at WUWT. Read it and weep (or laugh (or both)) "Phil – Visible Light cannot and therefore does not convert to heat the land and oceans of Earth. That comes from bog standard traditional science which I have outlined above. I have also gone to some considerable effort to show that “absorb” is used in different contexts, the context of “absorb” here is in the difference between Light and Heat electromagnetic energy. In this context, Visible is not absorbed to convert to heat as the AGWScience Energy Budget KT97 claims. Because it cannot. It physically cannot. It physically does not. It is Light. Light energies are used, affect, react with matter in a completely different way from the Thermal Infrared electromagnetic wave carrying Heat. Re my: ” These are LIGHT energies, which are REFLECTIVE, in contrast to HEAT energies which are ABSORPTIVE.” More nonsense there is no such distinction. But I’ve just given you the distinction. You don’t have any distinction in AGWScience fiction, because you’re one dimensional., you don’t have differences between properties of matter and energy. Read the wiki piece I gave about how real Visible light waves/photons act in the real world. Read the links to the pages on luminescence etc. That information has been gathered over considerable time by a considerable amount of people who have done real work and real thinking exploring the differences between Light and Heat energies. The myriad applications of this knowledge are in real use by real people who all live in our real world. That there is a difference is a CATEGORY distinction in REAL TRADITIONAL SCIENCE. mods – i THINK THE INTERFERENCE IS KEY STROKE HACKING. aND IT’S BLOODY Iirritating. " Lol (TeeHee (Jesus Wept!))
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  18. andreas - I would agree with you, except Glickstein didn't propose a carbon tax for the economic benefits. He proposed it purely as a capitulation because he felt the 'warmists' have succeeded in convincing the public and policymakers that some action is necessary, and he would prefer a tax to cap and trade. It's not that he thinks a carbon tax would be beneficial, he just thinks it's not as bad as cap and trade. So I think the description in the post is valid.
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  19. Nice post - thank you.
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  20. Ira Glickstein, seems to be like many of the experts on watts (including watts himself) not really an expert. Glickstein is an engineer (it even for once states what he is at the bottom of his comment) There are over 500 of the ill-informed backslapping him for his comments, it's all a bit sad really. Point B.6 shows the dishonesty of these comments Co2 lag is pretty easily explained by the planet taking that period of time to warm to level were Co2 starts to be added then further warming follows, a point Glickstein fails to even mention. P.S. WUWT seem to be crowing about a new paper they claim proves no warming between 1998 & 2008 the choice of the start and stop years is for pretty obvious reasons as it turns out the authors are statisticians not climate scientists, but WUWT are claiming this paper is going to appear in PNAS, I find it hard to imagine they would fall for such a cheap trick.
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    [DB] Note that Whitehouse is a recidivist dissembler and has been eviscerated by Tamino on multiple occasions on multiple points.

  21. Umm, from Watts' paper: "... no matter what CRN class is used, the estimated mean temperature trend for the period 1979-2008 is about 0.32ºC/decade." Did I read that right? That rate is slightly higher than the GISS US surface rate, ~0.30ºC/decade, over the same period. He is co-author of a paper that contradicts one of his main themes, that warming is not really happening? I know this is only US surface station data, and not accounting for lag, or getting too particular about logs, but if he says we are getting 0.32/decade out of ~335 to 380 ppm, would that not put Watts himself in the category of 'warmist'?
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  22. Don't worry Chris, all that warming is still just due to magical natural cycles.
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  23. What temperature dip in the 1970's? The anomaly at the start of the decade was +0.03 degrees, & the decade ended on +0.08 degrees. In between times the temperatures just kind of bobbed up & down-though there was an overall *warming* trend for the decade of +0.06 degrees. Seriously, does Watts *always* just make stuff up as he goes?
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